Walking After Midnight

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Maggie Walsh was the picture of arrogance and calm as she stalked through the dank sewer. On either side, she was flanked by a heavily armed commando and as she neared her destination, she drew a cross from her waistband and gripped it firmly in her palm. Nodding at the young man on her right, she watched as he kicked in the doorway that housed a maintenance room. The commando on her left flipped the switch on a large light he had carried with them and Maggie smiled as the vampires that had been sleeping soundly sprang upward in confusion, game faces raging. "Rise and shine," she barked, before stepping inside the room.

"What do you want?" asked the leader, the same burly vampire who had tossed a flaming bottle into the Slayer's house.

Maggie held the cross up and the commandos stepped forward, protecting their boss with laser guns that hummed noisily when they were activated. As the vampires hissed and drew back, she smirked and surveyed the demons. "There were more of you, weren't there?"

"The Slayer and her friends took out several," the large vampire said, trying not to look at the crucifix.

"I see." Walsh stared around the room. "Which one of you would like to tell me how a crippled Slayer and a handful of misfits were able to 'take out' what was once the Council's elite?"

One of the vampires, another large and hulking man, cleared his throat and stepped out of the shadows. "We attacked her again at her place, but her Watcher came in from behind and he had all kinds of weapons. Water guns-"

"Water guns?" Maggie shook her head and glanced upward, chuckling softly. "Tell me ... what exactly were you going to do to the Slayer this time? Kill her? You tried and failed."

"We was sidetracked that first time. After everything you told us, I figured you wouldn't care that we didn't kill her," the leader announced, his voice tinged with a heavy southern drawl. "She's got a vampire stayin' with her now. Spike - William the Bloody - and for some reason, he stopped us from killin' her the first time. We figured he was just wantin' to do her in by his lonesome, but he saved her life and now he's living there. We went back to kill him for being a turncoat to his own kind."

"Hmm, interesting," Maggie replied. "The Slayer, however, is of no concern to us. I've seen to it that she won't heal and we have more pressing matters at hand. A few months ago, before the Slayer was injured, we captured and implanted a Hostile. He escaped. Inside his head is a one of a kind implant that we have been unable to reproduce. He was our first and only test subject and he has the only implant. I want you to find him."

"We don't owe you nothin'," the southern vampire replied. "You sure do seem forgetful. Our debt to you was paid when we done the Slayer in. She's out of commission, just like you was wantin' and there ain't no other one being called to come to the Hellmouth. You're free and clear to run this place yourself." He pointed at the two commandos. "And you've got all them boys running around with fancy gear. You don't need us. Let us be."

Maggie stared at him for several long minutes, until he began to fidget under her scrutiny. When he broke eye contact and looked at the floor, she took a deep breath. "Our deal? Our deal means I own you. I can put in a telephone call to my father right now and let him know that I've found his runaways."

A female vampire stepped into the light and gazed at Maggie. "If your father knew what you had done to that Slayer he'd-"

Clearly startled, Maggie moved quickly to one side and backhanded the woman across the face with the crucifix. "You don't speak to me. The only reason you are still alive is because I know how much you loathe the thing that you've become."

The female pulled her lips back, exposing her white fangs, and smiled. "No, Maggie, I do not loathe the thing I have become. I loathe the only thing I created when I had mortality. You, my daughter."

Maggie turned on her heel and grabbed a briefcase from one of the commandos. Opening it quickly, she yanked out a photograph of the missing Hostile and held it up. "This is Hostile Seventeen. You have three days to locate him and bring him to me. Don't dust him. I want him whole and with as little damage as possible." Thrusting the photo toward the leader, she glanced at her mother once more. "And you, don't tempt me. Having you killed once was easy enough. If you contact my father, he'll be joining you."

The leader watched as Maggie turned on her heel and stormed out of the small room. The two soldiers followed, taking their source of light, and the vampire asked for a candle to be lit. As soon as he was able to see the photo clearly, he smiled. "Well, well. Paybacks are a bitch."

"That's Spike!" one of the vampires shouted, pointing at the photo. "I'll be damed!"

"You already are." Licking his lips in anticipation, the vampire in charge folded the picture and turned to the others. "Walsh has threatened us for the last time. Now we know where Spike is and we know that Walsh don't want that Slayer dead because another one will be called and sent here. After we kill Spike, we're gonna take that Slayer, take off whatever mojo Walsh put on her, and make her one of us. Then we're gonna tell her the whole story about what Maggie done to her and then let her loose."

"Ain't gonna be nothing worse than a vamped out Slayer," one of the vampires replied with a chuckle.

"No. There is something a lot worse than a vamped out Slayer." The female, who had once been very much alive and very proud of her daughter, shook her head. "A Watcher with vast knowledge and a heart as black as night. A Watcher who had it in her head that she should be the Slayer and went about corrupting everything in her path when it wasn't to be so. And she was just here."


Giles read the text in front of him for the third time, and for the third time, he found his mind wandering back to Buffy's face as he had told her the truth about the Council. Certainly, when he had first joined the ranks as a bonafide Watcher, he had questioned the techniques and practices used, but he had accepted it. He had accepted the demons that were paraded back and forth on display, accepted the myriad of young girls who were constantly conditioned on the off chance that their calling came next, and he had accepted that the ways were archaic, but necessary.

When the Slayer before Buffy had perished in a battle with a Draloc demon, there was an eerie hush in the Council headquarters and all of the active Watchers had been called in. They had flown from all over the country, many of them bringing their female charges, and many hoping to be assigned a charge. However, none of the girls was the one. The Chosen One. Merrick, an older man with the ability to read signs, had been called in to locate the girl. He had pinpointed her location to Los Angeles, and for unknown reasons, she had not been made aware of her lineage.

Naturally, the Council had been up in arms. Could it be possible that a girl who had never been trained and never been exposed to demons survive in their world? Merrick seemed to think she could and had set out to find her. Word came back within weeks that his charge had accepted her fate and had slain upward of thirty vampires in just three weeks. In three months, Merrick was dead. The Council blamed the Slayer, blamed her carelessness and her lack of experience.

Discussions were called again, this time to decide if the girl should be killed so that the next in line, someone conditioned, could take her place. Giles had listened intently, hearing nothing but reasons for her to be taken out of commission, and finally, he had raised his hand and spoken clearly. "There seem to be hundreds of reasons that this girl, this child, is a liability, but shouldn't the Council take responsibility for her lack of training? Before you make any rash decisions and end a precious life, please consider what Merrick said to us about her. Her potential, her raw ability, is like nothing he had seen. Surely there is a Watcher who can harness that ability. Think of the possibilities, if she truly is as exceptional as Merrick claimed."

They had put him on the next plane to Sunnydale, California, after a Seer had told them that was where she would be. He was not a fool. He knew exactly why he was sent. Not because of his own track record, but because the Council felt that an untried Watcher and untrained Slayer would surely fail and perish, quite neatly solving the problem without anyone getting their hands dirtied. It had been a struggle from the first moment he clapped eyes on her, the dainty little blonde who seemed to live in a bubble. She was stubborn, willful, and uncooperative, but Giles had continued forward, unwilling to admit that he could see glimpses of himself in her. It wasn't until Angel had given him the Pergamum Codex, and the prophecy it contained, that he'd been forced to confront his feelings. The prophecy foretold Buffy's death and had hit him like a hammer blow, making him realize just how much his Slayer had touched his heart. Other watchers buried their Slayers and moved on, but the thought of losing Buffy was practically unbearable.

The fates must have heard his silent cries, because she followed through with her destiny and died, but through some miracle, she had been resuscitated and had come back to him. If it was at all possible, she came back stronger, even more powerful and the Council had seem pleased when she defeated the Master. Her death, however, had brought about another Slayer, forever altering the balance of things within the Council, and from that moment on, things inside the organization began to spiral out of control. His colleagues on the inside had alerted him early on that there were rumblings about the way he had handled his responsibilities. He allowed her to have friends, allowed her to see a vampire socially, and ultimately had done nothing to stop her from taking that vampire as a lover. His superiors had been less than pleased with that shocking turn of events.

Giles pulled off his glasses as he recalled Kendra's death, Faith's appearance in town, and the eventual testing on Buffy's eighteenth birthday. When it had ended, when he had been fired and she sat at the research table, shaking and covered in her own blood, he had gone to her, not as her Watcher any longer, but as her friend. He had bathed her wounds, hoping that she knew the truth in what Quentin had told him. He did have a father's love for her, and he made no apologies for it.

Now, alone in his apartment, Giles slammed his books shut and stood, pacing the length of his living room. Maggie Walsh had been a thorn in his side for much of his training as a Watcher. He had only seen her a handful of times when they were both very young, and never would have connected the dots between Buffy's psychology professor and his old nemesis. If anything, he'd made certain that Walsh was far removed from his thoughts. She was crazy. And if he recalled correctly, she had been determined to be a Slayer. Even after she was far too old to ever be considered, she had worked with her father, her 'Watcher', and he had placated her by giving her false hope.

When it became apparent that the Council would only offer her a job as a Watcher, she had trained alongside Giles, learning the finer points of the quarterstaff. From the moment that Giles had bested her in a meet, she focused on him, going out of her way to trip him up or put him into situations that were not only deadly, but earned him the ridicule of the others. It wasn't until her mother vanished that Maggie grew solemn and concentrated all of her attention on her father and her schooling. By the time Giles had completed his training, he only saw her in passing, and she seemed to be oblivious to all that was around her.

But now she was in Sunnydale. She could have targeted Buffy in order to get back at him, or, given her mentality, she could have had Buffy attacked because Buffy was everything she never got to be. And since her father was in charge of the Council, he could brush her activities under the rug. Darren Walsh had always been far too doting on Maggie, never allowing her to take responsibility for her own actions.

Moving back across his living room, Giles took a seat at his desk and tried to read the passage in his book for the fourth time. He was about to give up entirely when the phone rang, startling him. "Yes? Hello?

"Giles, it's Angel."

"Oh, Angel, hello." Giles closed his book and sat back in his chair. "Is everything all right in Los Angeles?"

Angel glanced at Wesley, who was holding a cloth to Cordelia's head. The girl was sniffling quietly, hugging herself. "Yes, things are fine here. How are things there?"

Giles shifted uncomfortably. At Willow's insistence, he had never mentioned Buffy's injury to Angel during their many phone calls. Willow felt that a visit from Angel would only serve to upset Buffy, and he had been forced to agree that he felt the same way. However now, with all of the new information and the looming threat of the Council, he took a deep breath and prepared himself for a long story. "I'm afraid not, Angel. It seems that-"

"Is Buffy okay?"

"No, she's not. Not at all. I haven't been forthright with you in our conversations for quite some time."

"I see." Angel turned away from his friends, not willing to let them see the panic on his face. "Why don't you start at the beginning?"

Taking a deep breath, Giles relayed everything that had happened to Buffy, leaving out the details about the Council. He allowed Angel to shout at him and did not argue when Angel said that he would be coming to Sunnydale that night. When he hung up the phone, he stood again, unsure of what to do with himself until nightfall. Moving to his couch, he sat down roughly and leaned his head against the back. His temples throbbed, the tension, worry and exhaustion taking its toll. Shutting his eyes, he told himself he would only doze for a second.

He was asleep before it ever dawned on him that he should alert Buffy that Angel was coming.

Part Eleven


Spike pulled the popcorn from the microwave and dumped it into a large bowl. Grabbing a can of soda and his glass full of blood, he walked into the living room and sat down beside Buffy. He still wasn't sure what had happened with her that afternoon, or why she had been so distant, but he was hell bent on helping her put it out of her mind. And his. "So, you've never seen this movie, huh?"

Buffy shook her head and took the bowl of popcorn, popping several pieces into her mouth. After a short nap and a couple of hours alone, she had decided that she would keep pretending, just until she could pull herself together. "I'm the Slayer. Or, I was. That kinda kept me busy when it was movie time."

"Well, thank Xander for his impeccable movie collection." Pressing play on the remote control, he winked at her. "You're in for a treat."

"Does it matter that I've never seen any of the other Star Wars movies?"

"And you call yourself an American?" Spike shook his head and pointed at the stack of movies on top of the television. "We've got them all."

Buffy relaxed a little, enjoying the feel of his thigh pressing against hers as they shared the popcorn. All the lights were off, with just the television flickering from one corner of the room. Several times, her hand brushed his inside the bowl and she tingled with every encounter, forcing herself to concentrate on the movie. Soon, she was transported to a galaxy far, far away, and by the time the credits rolled, she was thoroughly enraptured. "Ooh, I can't believe I've never seen that!"

"Ready for The Empire Strikes Back?" Spike stood and stretched, rubbing the back of his head.

"I need a bathroom break and then we're set," she replied and motioned for her chair.

"I'll just carry you." Spike swooped her up in his arms with a flourish, like Luke Skywalker about to swing through the air with Princess Leia. As he carried her toward the bathroom, Buffy decided that he was much closer to Han Solo than Luke.

"How gallant of you," she teased.

"I'm not gallant, I'm just in a hurry to see the next film. And, no offense, Slayer, but you aren't exactly hell on wheel."

"Hey!" Buffy giggled and punched his shoulder. "If you're gonna treat me like I'm helpless, I'll act it," she moaned lightly, pretending to faint as she let her body go limp, her head rolling back on his arm.

"Good thing you're not an actress," Spike replied with a chuckle, keeping a firm grip on her.


Angel stepped onto the porch of the Summers' home and drew his hand back to knock. A motion inside caught his attention and he peered through the small windows, stunned to see Spike carrying a very limp Buffy in his arms. Drawing back, he charged, kicking the door in and gripping the blonde vampire's shoulder. "Buffy!?"

Spike spun, almost dropping the Slayer and she screeched, wrapping her arms around his neck. Instinctively, to protect them both, Spike lashed out with his foot, kicking their attacker in the midsection.

Buffy recognized Angel immediately, and laid her hand on Spike's arm. "It's Angel. Spike, stop!"

"I see who it is and he should know better than to sneak up on people," Spike growled, his eyes fiery gold and blazing. "You almost made me drop her, you ponce."

Angel stared from one to the other. "What are you doing with her? Buffy, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Buffy said, then turned to look at Spike. "Bathroom break?"

Spike nodded, keeping his gaze locked on his sire's. "Excuse us."

Angel shifted uncomfortably as Spike took Buffy around the corner. A second later, Spike came back into the room and breezed past him, walking into the living room to retrieve Buffy's chair. Angel followed him, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Looking after the Slayer while her mum's away." Spike spread a small throw into the seat of the chair, leaving room on either side to pull over her legs. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Giles told me what happened. I called because Cordelia thinks Buffy is in danger."

Spike smiled bitterly. "Where was Cordelia several months ago? That's when Buffy was almost dead and so miserable that she wanted to be. Where were you then?"

"I asked you what you are doing here," Angel said evenly, not betraying his emotions. Seeing Spike with her was like a knife in his gut. The last time he had seen his childe, Spike had been torturing him nearly to death for the Gem of Amarrah.

"Things have changed in this town, Angel." Spike leaned close, menacingly close. "You've been replaced."

Angel's fist flew. connecting with Spike's jaw, and he ducked in time to avoid the same from Spike. "You better not be taking advantage of her situation, Spike. I swear to god, I'll kill you."

Buffy had relieved herself and quickly pulled her underwear up when she heard the commotion in the other room. She yanked the door open and shouted for Spike. When he didn't appear, she dropped onto the floor and pulled herself along, using only her arms. Her rational mind was telling her that it would be a perfect time to just walk into the room, but she ignored it and pulled herself along, trying to shut out the sound of her legs dragging behind her. Once she was in the foyer, she saw her toppled over chair and the two vampires swinging at one another furiously. Gripping a large glass vase from the corner of the room, she tossed it, striking the wall near their heads. "Stop it!"

Angel turned toward her, exposing his jaw for a perfectly placed right hook from Spike. The blonde watched in satisfaction as his sire half spun, then he turned toward Buffy, righting her chair as he crossed the small space. Holding his arms toward her, he was stunned when she pushed him away and glanced past him. He watched her gaze at Angel for a few seconds, then growled in anger, gripping her under the arms and depositing her in her chair.

"Angel, are you okay?" She stared at the blood on the dark haired vampire's lip, then turned to look up at Spike. "Have you lost your mind?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? He threw the first punch!" Spike pointed his finger toward Angel. "He blew in here looking for a fight."

"And you just had to give it to him, didn't you?" Buffy shook her head and rolled toward Angel. "What are you doing here?"

Angel fought the lump in his throat at the sight of her in the wheelchair. Of course she was unmarred physically, and she was still the most beautiful woman he had laid eyes on, but a=seeing her vulnerable like this was a shock. "I heard what happened to you, Buffy. I- I needed to see-"

"You saw." Buffy rolled her chair back and spread her arms wide. "Get a good look."

Angel's face clouded, confusion and hurt rolling across his features. "I just meant that I - I was worried, Buffy."

Spike laid a protective hand on her shoulder. "He says Cordelia had a vision about you."

"Is that right?" Buffy kept her gaze on Angel, her eyes never leaving his.

Angel shifted and stared at Spike's possessively placed hand. "She saw you alone and breathless in a dark alley. Your clothes were torn, your face was bloody and you were in agony, Buffy. She said that your heart was breaking. I've never seen her react to a vision the way she did with this one. Something's going to happen here. Soon."

"Did she see anything else?" She gripped the wheels of her chair, her fingers curling tightly around the rubber.

Angel nodded and met her eyes again. "She saw Giles fighting with some woman and several men in suits fighting with demons inside some kind of lab."

"The Council." Spike knelt down next to Buffy. "It's the Council, isn't it?"

"What does the Council have to do with anything? What's going on?" Angel narrowed his eyes when he saw Spike push a lock of Buffy's hair out of her face.

"The Council has everything to do with it," Giles spoke up suddenly, stepping through the open doorway.

"Giles, what are you doing here so late?" Buffy asked, worrying at the look on his face.

"I came to tell you that Angel was on his way," he said as he surveyed the broken glass and splintered door. "It appears that I'm a little late." Lifting the door, he fitted it back into the frame and shook his head when it fell straight through and landed on the porch. "This won't do at all. It's not safe."

"Vampires can't come in unless they're invited, Giles. We'll call someone to replace the door in the morning," Buffy said.

Giles ran a hand through his hair and exhaled loudly. "Vampires aren't the only thing you need to be worrying about. Have you forgotten this quickly that the Council could very well be behind this entire attack?"

"Whoa, back up." Angel gestured toward Buffy. "The Council did this to her?"

"It's possible," Giles nodded.

"It's not your concern, Angel," Spike snapped. "We've got it under control."

"No, it *is* my concern." Angel paced a few feet, putting his hands on his hips. "Buffy, they wouldn't be trying to kill you if you hadn't quit. This is all my fault."

"Oh, hell!" Spike groaned. "How in the *hell* do you get that? Everything is not always about you, you, you -- you bloody poof!"

"She quit because of me, Spike. That's how in the *hell* I got that," Angel told him, mimicking his tone.

Spike's eyes widened and he glanced up at Buffy from where he was still kneeling beside her. "You quit because they fired Giles, right? That's what you told me."

"Well, I- I . When they fired him I-" Buffy closed her eyes, rubbing her forehead. "It's a long story."

"Faith poisoned me and when the Council refused to help save my life, Buffy quit." Angel smirked slightly, enjoying his childe's obvious annoyance. "She quit for me. It was *about* me."

"I quit for me too," Buffy quickly corrected. "I quit for Giles, for you, for every Slayer behind me, but most of all, for me."

Giles noticed how thick the tension had gotten, watching closely as Spike stood up and glared at Buffy, crossing his arms over his chest. He cleared his throat. "Buffy, would you like to come to my house tonight? With the door being-"

"No." Buffy shook her head. "I'm not going to run."

"I can take down another door, use the hinges, and nail this one shut," Angel told Giles.

"I do hope you don't plan on staying here," Spike replied.

"Spike-" Buffy began, but closed her mouth when he turned his gaze back on her. She swallowed hard, and looked away, unable to see him looking at her with such contempt.

Giles cleared his throat again. "Actually, Angel, I was hoping you would accompany me to Willy's Alibi Room tonight. We need to find out everything we can and Willy always has been intimidated by you."

"Willy is intimidated by everyone." Spike turned on his heel and left the room, heading toward the basement to get the toolbox he had seen resting on a shelf.

"Excuse me," Buffy said, rolling herself backwards. She rounded the corner into the kitchen just in time to see Spike opening the door that led to the basement. "Spike, what are you doing?"

Spike spun on his heel. "I'm getting the hammer and some nails, and when I'm finished and they are gone, you and I are going to discuss that lie you told me."

"I can explain."

"Oh, you damn well better."


Angel parked his car behind Giles' and followed him into Willy's Alibi Room. Glancing around the small bar, he was pleased to note that it was mostly deserted. There were three vampires playing pool in one corner, and two squid-like demons with tentacles sitting in one of the booths. Angel and Giles sat at the bar and waited for Willy to come and take their order. The short bartender stopped short when he saw who had entered his club.

"Angel, man. What are you doing back in town?" Willy sat the glass he'd been polishing in front of the vampire, then put another one in front of Giles. He reached for a bottle of scotch and then turned back to face them.

Angel took the bottle from Willy and filled his glass. "I'll give you two guesses."

"The Slayer, right?" Willy filled Giles' glass with cognac and put the bottle beside the man. "I don't know much of anything."

Angel downed the barely passable liquor and filled his glass again. "Why don't you tell me what you do know."

"I already told Giles." Willy lifted his towel and dabbed at the bar nervously.

"You're fidgeting. I can always tell when you're hiding something because you fidget." Angel moved with lightning speed, gripping the man by his collar and yanking him halfway across the bar. "And you didn't even tell me it was good to see me. You already started off on the wrong foot so I suggest you toe the line."

"Okay, Okay!" Willy held his hands up, surrendering to the vampire. "I'll tell ya, but if word gets out ..." Angel growled menacingly and Willy continued, "Three limousines rolled into town today carrying about eighteen men." Pointing toward Giles, he added, "They all sounded like you do."

"You spoke to them?" Angel loosened his grip and glanced at Giles. "And what did they say?"

"They asked a lotta questions about the Hellmouth. It scared the hell out of me that they all knew so much about me. That sorta thing ain't good for the clientele, you know." Lowering his voice, he leaned forward again. "They asked me if I had heard of something called the Initiative, too. I'm thinking that has something to do with all those soldiers that are running around having open season on the demon varieties in this town, but I didn't say nothing."

"Anything else?" Giles prodded.

"They kept referring to someone as 'her'. I don't think they were talking about the Slayer. They said that the lack of demonic activity at the Hellmouth was because of 'her' and that she was doing more harm than good because of it. Something about prophecies not being fulfilled because of her interference. They didn't sound too pleased." Willy began to wipe down the bar again, indicating that he was finished sharing information with the two men.

"Did they mention Buffy at all?" asked Angel.

"Not to me, but I heard one of them say that they'd give anything for the Slayer's help with something." Willy put the bottle down and looked at the vampires that were playing pool. "Hey,[" he called out. "we're closing in ten minutes. Pay up."

Angel watched the vampires for a couple of seconds, trying to collect his thoughts. "Have you seen the vampires who attacked Buffy around lately?"

"Not for a few days, no."

Angel pulled a business card from the pocket of his duster and held it between two fingers. "You call my cell phone if you do. You call me if you find out anything. And if anyone comes in here asking anymore questions, you give them my name and tell them I've got their answers. You understand that?"

"You got it, man." Willy poked the card in the breast pocket of his plaid shirt and patted it. "Call you."

Giles dropped a ten on the counter and followed Angel out of the bar. In the parking lot, he leaned against the hood of his car and crossed his arms. "It's the Council, but--"

"And they fit into Cordelia's vision. Men fighting demons." Angel leaned against his own car, a perfect replication of Giles' position. "But what?"

"I have reason to believe that they aren't here officially."

"Why's that?"

"In all my time at the Council, I never knew of them spending money for capricious luxuries such as limousines."

"They wouldn't even spring for airfare for Wesley," Angel supplied. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking that there are those within the system who aren't at all pleased with Darren Walsh and his leadership. I think that there are elders who have remained loyal to what being Chosen represents and they view what Maggie Walsh is doing as blasphemous." Giles paused. "And I think we may have an unlikely ally in them."

"Maggie Walsh?"

Giles sighed and let his keys dangle from his fingertips as he pointed toward the twenty-four hour diner across the street. "I can see that I will have to start at the beginning. Interested in some coffee?"

"Only if coffee can provide some answers."

"It's a good place to start."


Part Twelve

This part was co-written by Lynx


Buffy sat a few feet away from Spike as he worked, but as far as the vampire was concerned, it might as well have been miles. He worked meticulously, not even bothering to acknowledge her as she cleared her throat several times. To the casual observer, he would have appeared to be engrossed in the job at hand, but Buffy could see the telltale signs of his fury - the glittering eyes, the gritted teeth...the muscle that twitched in his cheek every couple of minutes. She could feel his anger slamming against her like a battering ram, and at the moment, she was grateful for the chip that prevented him from attacking her.

Spike was aware of the Slayer's gaze as he finished repairing the door and it only served to fuel his rapidly increasing rage. She had lied to him, and about Angel, no less. She couldn't have picked a better way to piss him off. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised, really. Every single time his unlife went bollocks up, it ultimately had to do with his sire. It always came back to fucking Angel ...

He slammed the tools down and stalked into the kitchen, trying to delay the inevitable confrontation with the Slayer. Retrieving a fresh packet of blood from the fridge, he tore into it cold, yellow eyes rolling as he threw back his head and quickly drained it dry. He heard the sound of her wheels behind him as he finished. Unsatisfied and left with nothing else to do but face her, he stalled for time, clenching the bag in his fist. His temper flared again as he recalled the smug look on Angel's face and, snarling, he threw the blood bag at the trash bin as hard as he could.

Buffy caught the empty packet as it came very close to striking her in the face. Saying nothing, she tossed it into the trash, then looked up at him. "Are you going to talk to me?"

"So you can lie to me some more?" he countered, nostrils flaring as he struggled to control himself.

"I didn't lie to you," Buffy tried to protest. "Not really. I just ... didn't ... tell you ... everything," she finished lamely.

"That's rich, Slayer," he snorted. "You have a bloody excuse for everything. Ever heard about the sin of omission?" He tried to move past her, shaking his head in disgust.

Buffy grabbed his arm. "It was a long time ago, Spike. It doesn't even matter anymore."

Spike jerked away from her. "It matters, Slayer. It matters a hell of a lot. I've done everything in my power to help you, and you couldn't even be honest with me. If it wasn't for me, you'd probably be in a nursing home right now, sitting in your own piss and riddled with bed sores."

Buffy was stunned by his gall. If it wasn't for him? Who did he think he was? Okay, so he'd helped her, big deal. That didn't give him the right to assume responsibility for her entire life. "Hold on just one minute!" she yelled, pointing a finger at him. "Don't act like you're here out of the goodness of your little demon heart. *You* needed a place to hide! You didn't care about me. The only thing you cared about was your own ass!"

"Right," he fumed. "I only cared about my own ass. Get off it! I could have left town and those vampires never would have found me. More to the point, I could have left you to them in the first place!"

She blinked, remembering that awful night. The night he'd saved her life. Some of the fight went out of her and she tried to apologize. "You're right, I'm sorry. And I'm sorry for not telling you the whole truth. It's just that I know how much you hate Angel and I didn't think you'd -"

"Didn't think I'd what? Didn't think I'd be mature enough to handle the truth? Didn't think I'd enjoy hearing about how much Angel means to you?"

"It's in the past!" she screamed. "Whatever Angel and I had is over, it's done with!"

"It'll never be done with. That wasn't the past that came crashing through the door ready to rip my head off. He's your future, he's what you dream about at night. He fucking owns you!"

Buffy stiffened. "Nobody owns me," she said with deadly intensity.

"Angel does. His mark is all over you - I can smell it." He shook his head at the irony. "Why did I think you'd be any different than Drusilla? It's the same thing all over again - he quirks his little finger and the two of you come running." He threw his hands in the air and turned away. "It's always going to be Angel," he said quietly. "No matter what I do. You're bonded to him just as surely as if he sired you. Just like Dru."

Buffy's hand automatically went to her throat. "But the scar isn't even there anymore," she murmured.

Spike's head whipped around to face her. "What?" He fed off you? You actually let him..." He closed his eyes against the image of Angel drinking from Buffy... sinking his fangs into her soft flesh, tasting her... "When? Was it when you slept with him? No," he continued, murmuring to himself, "Angelus would have bragged about that little incident, no question."

Spike turned to look at her. "It had to be when he was all soul-having. I can't believe the ponce actually bit you." He stared at her in disbelief. "And I can't believe you allowed it."

"I didn't have a choice, Spike. He would have died, it was the only way to cure him of the poison."

"Oh, of course. I should have known. The brave little Slayer sacrificed herself for her vampire lover. How poetic," he sneered. "Tell me, Buffy, did it make you come? Did all that biting and sucking get you off?"

Buffy's face grew red as she remembered just how erotic the experience had been. "Shut up! You don't know anything about it and I won't let you try to turn it into something sleazy. And furthermore, don't you ever compare me to Drusilla! I'm nothing like that crazy bitch -"

"Shut your mouth, Slayer!" He pointed a finger in her face. "You don't get to say anything about her."

"You brought her up! And while we're talking about sacrifice... Exactly how many times did you practically emasculate yourself for your precious Dru?"

"Piss off," he snarled.

"Did I strike a nerve? What's the matter, didn't Drusilla appreciate your efforts?"

"Probably about as much as Angel appreciated yours. Seems to me he didn't stick around too long afterward, did he? Funny, I never figured him for the 'wham bam, thank you, ma'am' type. I guess it depends on the girl, huh?"

"You're a pig, Spike. I can't believe I ever wanted you to kiss me."

"You don't know what you want," he growled, bracing himself on the handles of her chair. "This is me, *this* is who I am. I'm not some romantic hero, I'm not the kind of guy you bring home to mama, and I'm not ever going to love you." His voice turned low and menacing. "I. Am. *Not*. Bloody. Angel."

"No," she whispered, stung by his words, looking up at him with glistening eyes. "You're not. And I don't want Angel. I want you."

"Do you? Do you really think you could be happy with me? With this?" Before she could even blink, he grabbed her upper arms and morphed. As she gasped in surprise, his open mouth came down on hers in a blinding attack of teeth and fury.

Buffy tried to struggle. She needed to, just on principle alone. He was rough, angry, and her lips were bleeding from where his fangs had cut into them. But she wanted it. God, how she wanted it. It was all she could do to keep her lower half immobile as the inevitable heat move through her body. Within seconds, she melted under his onslaught, returning the kiss with equal fervor.

The moment Spike had grabbed her an agonizing pain had pierced his skull. He called upon every ounce of vampiric strength he had and fought against it, torn between wanting to teach the Slayer a lesson and wanting to drown in her indescribable sweetness. The pain started to ease as - incredibly - she began kissing him back. Despite everything he'd said and done, she was still responding and thrusting her tongue against his. And he wanted to kill her for it, for making him want her like this. For making him want Angel's leftovers.


His hate for Angel at that moment was nearly overwhelming, a hatred that had festered and grown to mammoth proportions over the years. Angel had always gotten there first - with Dru, with Buffy - in every way possible he'd branded and then ruined them for anyone who came along after he'd cast them aside.

Snarling, Spike pushed away from Buffy, shoving her back against the chair. "*That's* what it's like to kiss a real vampire."

Breathing heavily, she stared up at him dazedly, her mouth swollen and bruised, smeared with blood from a dozen tiny cuts. She looked vulnerable, aroused, and so beautiful that it made him want to run away and never look back. He licked the traces of her blood from his lips, wondering as he did why he bothered to torture himself. She was too delicious, and in her present state of weakness, the very thing that had always attracted him. Forbidden fruit ...

Buffy watched the tip of his tongue taste her blood and felt the moisture pool between her legs. She fought against squirming, and forced herself not to pull him down and finish what he'd started. His face transformed back into its human guise, but his expression was still angry. His nostrils flared, his jaw tightened, and his eyes glittered with so much repressed rage that she could almost feel their heat scorch her flesh. As she watched, an evil look came over his face and she shrank back instinctively, gripping the wheels of her chair.

Spike leaned forward until they were practically nose to nose. As her mouth moved closer, inviting him to kiss her again, he shook his head, smiling slightly. "You just don't get it, do you? I don't want you. I mean, let's face it, if you weren't woman enough for Angelus, what makes you think you'd be able to keep me interested? Sloppy seconds just don't do it for me anymore."

His head slammed back from the force of the roundhouse punch and it took him a minute to get his bearings. When he opened his eyes, Buffy was glaring up at him, green flames shooting from her eyes.

"I won't be toyed with, Spike," she said fiercely.

"The truth hurts, doesn't it, baby? Maybe you should stick to lying."

"And maybe you should leave!" she yelled.

"Maybe I should," he answered quietly.

Part of Buffy went cold at the thought, but her anger wouldn't let her beg him to stay. Why should she have to put up with his insecurities regarding Angel? He was impossible to live with, and despite the chip in his head, he was still just as evil and just as dangerous as he was before the implant.

At least, that's what she tried to tell herself. He was dangerous all right, but not because he was William the Bloody. The danger didn't come from him biting or attacking her.

It came from her falling in love with him.

No, no way, not possible, she thought. There is no way in hell that I'm falling in love with another vampire. Lust, maybe, but never love. Especially not with Spike. He all but despised her at the moment, and his reaction to Angel? Totally over the top. But why should he care so much about something that happened months ago?

Not to mention the despicable things he'd said. He was lying about not wanting her. She'd felt his desire several times, and the kindness he'd shown her up until now had meant that he cared about her. Was this all an act to make her stop wanting him? Or was it the demon inside him coming out to play? Whatever it was, she didn't feel like dealing with it anymore, but perversely, she still wanted to know.

"What is it about Angel that makes you so crazy?" she asked softly. "Do you really hate him that much?"

"I hate him with everything I am, Slayer. And you will never, ever understand where I'm coming from."

"No, I don't think I ever will." She was suddenly very tired. Trying to understand the inner workings of a dysfunctional vampire family wasn't really top on her list of things to do. She doubted that it ever would be. "I can't do this anymore, Spike. Just get out...go." She ran her hands through her hair, closing her eyes so she wouldn't have to look at him. "You've more than made your point."

"Fine. You don't have to tell me twice," he retorted. Grabbing his duster from one of the chairs, he stormed out the kitchen door, slamming it behind him.

Buffy jumped at the sound. She started rolling forward, intent on calling him back, but stopped after only a few inches. She couldn't - wouldn't - go after him. Not after the things he'd said. She still had *some* pride left.

Yeah, right, she thought sarcastically. Lying to people you care about, there's something to be proud of.

No matter how she tried to rationalize it, she knew that pretending to still be crippled was wrong. But every time she thought about just getting up and revealing the truth, the fear would paralyze her. Fear of being alone, fear of having to be the Slayer again.

Fear of losing Spike.

The moment he walked out the door, she could feel his absence so acutely that the pain was almost unbearable. She depended on him too much. She needed him too much. And she couldn't help but do everything possible to keep him with her.

No matter how dirty it made her feel.

With a heavy sigh, she braced herself and headed for the door. Her pride was at a minimum, and anyway, what else did she have to lose? All that really mattered was getting Spike back, provided he wasn't already gunning for the city limits in his eagerness to get away from her.

Praying that he hadn't gone far, she reached for the doorknob and prepared to grovel, shaking her head at the concept.

Groveling to Spike. If she didn't know better, she'd swear that the Hellmouth had opened, and the world as she knew it was coming to an end.


Spike stalked across the yard, pausing only long enough to light a cigarette. His head throbbed and he was shaking with anger and unresolved lust. Puffing furiously, he hit the street and kept going until he reached the corner, then turned around stared helplessly in frustration at the Summers house.

"FUCK!" he screamed, gripping his head in his hands.

What had he been thinking, playing nursemaid all these months? Letting the Slayer get close, letting himself actually feel something for her? It was bloody insanity, the lot of it! When had he become such a masochist?

Who am I kidding? he snorted to himself. Since when *haven't* I been on the receiving end? And now, this mess with the Slayer? What made me think I could ever get away with touching her?

Touching the Slayer meant touching Angelus, exposing himself once again to all the pain, hatred, and fury his sire always managed to invoke with his presence.

But she felt so fucking good, the voice in his head whined. Soft and strong, stubborn, willful - she could kill him in a heartbeat, and nothing had ever gotten him off more than the thrill of danger. Not to mention the fact that he hadn't had a woman in months, and certainly no one as tempting as Buffy. Harm had been little more than a convenient wet hole - okay, several holes - but the rest of the annoying package hardly made it worth his effort. He didn't miss having her around, that was for sure.

The Slayer, though ...

He didn't seem be able to stay away from her. How many times had he come back to this stinking pit of a town, anyway? It certainly wasn't the atmosphere that led him back time and time again. No, it was the lure of someone small and blonde, with a delicious scent and a killer right hook. Someone who made him hard just by being in the same room with her. Someone whose absence he was already feeling, even though he'd only left her a few moments ago.

"Bloody fucking hell!"

What was he supposed to do, just turn around and go back with his tail between his legs? Go back and face her after all the things he'd said? After he'd kissed her so brutally he'd drawn blood?

"Well, mate," he murmured softly, "you can be sure the implant hasn't affected your ability to act like a total prick. You should be very proud."

The kicker of it was, he did feel proud. To a point, anyway. He'd been afraid he'd gone soft over the last few months, and now his demon could rejoice in the hurt he'd caused the Slayer. The poor sod had to get his jollies where he could, and who was he to deny his evil side? Still, he didn't relish the thought of facing Buffy after all this. Maybe he could just wander the streets for a bit, until she fell asleep.

Yeah, right. And get his ass buggered by commandos, or dusted by those renegade vamps. No thanks, he thought, weighing the choices. Hurt and angry Slayer on one hand, lab guinea pig and annihilation by his own people on the other. It was a close call.

He sighed and scuffed his boot across the pavement. Either way, he was fucked. But Buffy needed him and that made all the difference. Who'd have thought, eh? he wondered. A vampire with a Florence Nightingale complex? Welcome to my ridiculous unlife. I should have my own bloody sitcom.

Calling himself every kind of loser in the book, he turned around and headed back to Buffy's house, walking as slowly as possible. At the edge of the yard, he stopped, staring at the back door. Almost as if she sensed him, the door opened and the Slayer was there, the light from the kitchen turning her hair into a golden halo. Bugger it, why did she have to be so goddamn beautiful? he fumed. Why couldn't he just walk away and never come back?

"Spike?" she called. "Are you coming back in?"

"Do you really want me to?" he countered, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Yes," she answered softly. "I do." Her fingernails were digging into her palms as she waited expectantly for him to come to her.

"Why?" he asked, not moving.

"What?" she blurted, the air leaving her body in a rush.

"Why do you want me to come back?"

"Why do I want you to come back?" she replied dumbly. What was his problem? Her temper flared again. "So I can kick your bleached blond ass for being such a prick!" she screamed at him.

He smirked. She really did have him pegged. And at least she didn't try to manipulate him, the way Dru always had. "It's what I do best, luv, remember? I thought you would have figured that out by now."

"Stop playing games and get back in here, Spike. You're outside the protective circle."

"Don't tell me you actually care, Slayer," he said as he took a step. "You'll make me all weepy if you -"

The lasso came out of nowhere and landed around his shoulders, yanking him roughly backward. Buffy watched in shock as his feet shot out from under him and he landed on his back, his head striking the concrete with a loud pop. Someone shouted, "Yeehaw!" and she turned toward the sound, watching as the vampires that attacked her began to rope Spike in.

Looking to her left, she saw two long pieces of wood, and leapt from her chair, snatching them up. Jumping over the edge of the porch, she ran as fast as she could toward the road, where the vampires had successfully pulled Spike, taking him farther away from the shield that had been placed around the house. Her body came alive, each step drawing her closer and closer toward saving him.

One of the vampires charged at her and she ducked, using his momentum to push him away and plunge her makeshift stake into his back. By her estimation, there were five: four large men and one woman. The woman took one look at her and held her hands up, backing away. Buffy focused on the man in the cowboy hat, who almost had Spike hogtied. "Hey, cowboy!" she shouted.

The vampire turned just in time to see a piece of wood flying end over end in his direction. He held up his arm too late and the wood pierced his heart. "Well, son of a bitch!" he managed to exclaim before he plumed into dust.

Spike's head was swimming, aching from where he had struck it on the sidewalk, but as soon as he smelled the blood scented ashes falling around him, he snapped out of it and struggled out of the rope. His first thought was of Buffy, hoping she'd stayed on the porch and out of harm's way. Scrambling to his feet, he staggered for a second and tried to focus. He blinked several times, only to be rewarded by more dust flying into his face. Growling, his demon emerged, allowing him to see clearly.

And he saw her.

The Slayer was on her feet, fighting with the two remaining vampires. She swung efficiently, carefully ducking and leaping over kicks and blows. Her face was red, her hair whipping in the air and her bare feet flying as she landed kick after kick on her opponents. He watched her nostrils flare slightly as the vampires backed off, then charged her simultaneously, coming from either side. She waited, half slumped as if she were trying to catch her breath, then stood, holding the long piece of wood out flat in front of her. The vampires were impaled on either side and vanished, just as the moon began to sink behind storm clouds.

Even in the dim glow of the streetlights, Spike saw her clearly. He saw her standing strong, feet firmly braced at shoulder width, as sure-footed as he had ever seen her, and he saw the weapon she still held in her hands. Swallowing hard, he waited for her to face him.

Buffy was painfully aware of his eyes on her back. Turning slowly, she dropped the wood in her hand as if to show him that she would never dream of hurting him.

The silence stretched on as he stood there, not moving or saying a word. In the distance, the town clock began chiming the hour, shattering the stillness. Buffy held her breath, wondering what was going through Spike's head, but as her eyes met his, the stunned look of betrayal on his face told her everything she needed to know.

He would never forgive her.

"Spike?" she whispered, as the clock continued its relentless bonging. Six, seven, eight...

Glacial eyes bored into hers, chilling her to the bone. When he spoke, his voice dripped with icicles, every syllable filled with contempt. "So, *you* won't be toyed with, huh, Slayer?"

Spike's mind struggled with what he'd just seen - with the fact that she could walk - and everything Angelus had ever done to him suddenly seemed like child's play. When it came to fucking with people's heads, the Slayer was a real pro. And Spike had finally decided that he was through being played.

"I guess that makes two of us."

He stared at her a moment longer, not really registering anything except the clock's distant tones. The sound seemed to come from his chest, substituting itself for the long absent beat of his heart. Nine, ten, eleven...

Buffy shook her head slowly, fear seeping into every pore of her body. She could see his body poised for flight, see his gaze sweep over her hatefully one last time...

And as the clock struck twelve - the midnight hour - and the Slayer stood there with tears running down her cheeks, Spike did what he'd promised to do if she ever got her legs back.

He turned and ran.


More (updated Sep, 9, 00)

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