Walking After Midnight

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Buffy couldn't breathe as she stared down at Maggie Walsh's body, now covered in the ashes of the woman's own mother. She had to struggle to keep from collapsing as the reality of their deaths came crashing down on her.

It had been Spike's work. He'd killed again.

Spike...no chip...Oh God...

Maggie's eyes were staring, unforgiving, straight up her, and Buffy's stomach churned violently as the room began to spin. Strong arms embraced her before she could hit the ground and she knew instinctively that it was Angel. "Come on, Buffy. Climb the ladder."

Numbly, she hooked her hands on the ladder and stepped up. Angel's hand was on her back, urging her silently, and when she paused to look back, he blocked her view. "Don't. Don't look back."

"Angel-"

"Just go. We can talk up there." Angel put a little pressure on her back and was relieved when she began to climb. He looked over his shoulder, made eye contact with Giles, who nodded, and then he followed Buffy up the ladder, guiding her away from the pit and the view it offered.

There was a water cooler set up next to an office and Angel filled one of the cups, handing it to Buffy, who took it and downed it thirstily. When she had finished, she leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. "What's going to happen now?"

"I'll take care of Spike," Angel replied softly.

Buffy's eyes flew open and she stood up straight. "Stay away from him."

"He's a killer again, Buffy. How long do you think it will be before he decides to make you his third Slayer?"

"Spike is my business, not yours." Buffy tossed the empty paper cup in the wastebasket and gestured out over the Initiative's compound. "Besides, I meant what's going to happen here?"

Angel's frowned, not wanting to ignore the issue of Spike, but replied, "Well, the original plan was for them to officially charge Maggie and take her back to England."

"Well, now they can take the bitch home in a box. I hope they don't pay for a good one. They should crate her ass and-"

Angel rebuked her angrily. "She's dead, Buffy. Her debt is paid so I think a little respect-"

"Respect?" Buffy raised her voice as she met his accusing eyes. "I'm sorry, I didn't know that was a job requirement. It's my job to slay the bad guys and she was a bad guy. I should be sending Spike a thank you card." Even as she said it, her mind flashed to the image of Maggie lying dead a few feet away. Her heart began to hammer furiously and she took a deep breath, trying to keep up her fašade. "She deserved to die."

"So what, you're judge, jury and executioner now? Maybe you have a lot more in common with Spike than I thought. A match made in hell." Angel shook his head in disbelief. "You're really not the person I thought you were."

"Oh, I **so** don't need this from you." Buffy put her hands on her hips, eyes blazing. "You know, you've been judging me since you came back to Sunnydale and the last time I checked, you were not in a position to judge anyone. You've got a soul, so what? That doesn't make you the voice of reason, the moral conscience, or the Saint of Wisdom. It just makes you ballsy enough to think your opinion counts."

"Oh, that's classic! Lash out at the person closest to you since the real culprit isn't here." Angel took a step toward her, trying to control his temper. "What you really want is for me to fight back, to give you a reason to let it all out, and I'm not going to. You hang onto it, Buffy, and you give it to the monster that deserves it." He saw her blanch, and continued. "That's right. Spike. You want a piece of wisdom from me? Do your fucking job and stake the bastard."

Buffy gasped. "How dare you tell me what to do!" she seethed. "You have no idea what went on when Spike was taking care of me! You don't know what the circumstances were, or anything about what happened between us!"

"I don't have to." Angel gripped her arm angrily. "I know Spike well enough to know that it was never the circumstances - it was the conquest that dictated his actions. How did he play you, Buffy? Did he pull his nursemaid act, tending to your every want and need? Or did he just play hard to get until you were so hot you dropped your pants for him?"

Buffy yanked her arm free and shoved him back. "You're about three seconds away from landing on your ass."

"Would that make you feel better?" Angel asked, his voice deceptively calm in spite of the turmoil raging inside. "I know what you're feeling right now. Your soul is stained with regret, and guilt, and remorse, and most of all ... confusion. But don't take it out on me. I came here to help you and-"

"And you're done. You can feel free to go now," she replied.

"Is that what you want?"

"What? You're suddenly giving me a choice? Some kind of say in the matter?" Buffy chuckled hatefully. "Irony, thy name is Angel."

"Dammit, Buffy!" he burst out. "I'm not the one who hurt you here, you know?"

"Don't even go there." Her voice was deadly as she glared up at him. "I think it would be best if you leave. I don't need your help, and I don't want you here anymore."

"Of course you need my help! You obviously can't - or won't - take care of this problem," Angel snapped. "He's a dead man, Buffy. When I get my hands on him-"

"Stay out of it or I'll put you out of it," Buffy said, her voice as cold as her eyes.

Angel couldn't remember the last time he'd been this angry. Not in this tooth-grinding, fist-clenching, red-haze kind of way. And certainly not with her. His demon slipped ever closer to the surface as he struggled with the urge to meet her challenge. Her aggressive stance and defiant face weren't helping matters, and the silence grew more and more oppressive with each passing moment.

"I can't talk to you anymore," he finally said, stepping back, knowing that he had to distance himself from her immediately. He bumped into Giles as he turned to go, then walked away without saying a word.

"I mean it, Angel!" Buffy called. "Leave it alone."

Giles glanced over his shoulder, watching as Angel vanished around the corner, and then he turned his full attention back to Buffy. "How are you?"

Quelling the urge to snap, she shrugged. "I'm okay."

"Shall I ask what that was all about," he said, motioning in the direction Angel had gone, "or shall I pretend that the tension wasn't so thick here that I could have cut it with a knife?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Buffy said flatly. To one side, there were several commandos pulling their fallen comrades from the pit. Buffy noticed Riley Finn being hoisted over the edge and frowned. "This is a mess, isn't it?"

"The Council is already taking care of it." Giles followed her gaze and sighed. "But yes, it is quite a mess. So much valuable information perished with Maggie and -" Trailing off, Giles turned to face her again. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not." The expression on her face disturbed him, but he kept silent. "She knew that she would make enemies with what she was doing. It's not my fault that it caught up with her."

Giles narrowed his eyes, studying his charge closely. "I see. So am I to take it that you aren't at all bothered that Spike seems to have gotten his chip removed?"

Buffy looked away, staring at nothing as she tried to appear impassive. If she let herself cry, if she let herself give in, she wouldn't stop. An elderly man caught her eye and waved, then walked toward them. Buffy groaned and crossed her arms.

Giles cleared his throat and put a hand on Buffy's shoulder when Malachai was just a few feet away. "Buffy Summers, I'd like you to meet Malachai-"

"She needs no introduction," Malachai said, extending his hand toward Buffy. "Her reputation precedes her."

Buffy stared down at the old man's wrinkled hand. "Did my feelings about your Council also precede me?"

Chuckling, Malachai dropped his hand and nodded. "I'm sure we had an inkling when you quit. And then again, when you told Wesley Wyndam-Price to tell us to, what was it, 'piss the fuck off'?"

She grinned despite herself. "At least he got the message right."

"There's a new day dawning for the Watcher's Council, Miss Summers. We plan to restore it to the institution that it once was and having a Slayer of your caliber as we begin that process would be most rewarding." Malachai smiled down at her. "Of course, I don't expect an answer right now, but it's something for you to consider. Regardless of your decision, you have my word that we will aid you in any crisis that may arise."

Buffy said nothing. Giles extended a hand and nodded. "Thank you, Malachai."

"What will you do with the Initiative? With all the soldiers and technology and - everything?" Buffy asked, indicating the structure around them.

"Restoring the Council to what it once was means that there is no room for this sort of technology. And our only soldier is you, my dear." Malachai glanced at the stretcher carrying Riley Finn as it was wheeled past. "And to be honest, that's the way it should be. There are magicks that will erase the soldiers' memories and return them to their lives before the Initiative and we'll move on."

"Just like that?" Buffy asked. "You honestly think it'll be that easy?"

Malachai shook his head. "The things that come easy are rarely the things worth achieving. And with that, I must bid you farewell, Buffy Summers. It was truly a pleasure to meet you."

Giles shook the man's hand, then watched as he walked away. Chewing her bottom lip, Buffy noticed the sad look in Giles' eyes. The look of longing, of nostalgia - of belonging. When he turned to face her again, she mustered a small smile. "You miss it, don't you?"

"What? Miss having a society of like-minded individuals with resources that could rival the pentagon and have enough man power to move mountains? Why would I?"

"I. Think. I. Get. The. Point." Buffy told him. "But I'm too tired to let it register. I need to go home."

"If you'll give me just a moment, I'll walk you."

"No." Buffy held up a hand. "You know, walking was never really something I enjoyed until I couldn't do it anymore. As much as I appreciate the offer, I think I want to do it alone."

Giles knew better. He took a step toward her and squeezed her hand. "Buffy, as your friend, I can tell you that if you're going to look for Spike-"

"Just don't, okay?" Sliding her hand out of his, she was silent for several seconds, then said, "I'll call you tomorrow."

"Be careful." Giles' heart swelled with pride and not a little bit of fear as she walked across the building. He smiled when he saw several of the Councilmen turn to watch her as well, offering greetings, and no doubt commending her for her efforts. How many nights had he spent lying in his bed, wide awake, praying to whatever forces there were that she would mend?

And how many more nights would be spent in the same manner?

She had regained her legs.

But he doubted that the carefree bounce that used to be in her step would ever return.

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Angel had reopened the gash on his knuckle, courtesy of Willy's teeth. He had pulverized the bartender, showing no mercy until the man caved and shouted Spike's whereabouts. Then he had taken out every vampire in the establishment and two Povrux demons just for the hell of it. With a stake in his pocket, his duster billowing behind him, he stalked into the cemetery, heading for the crypt. His eyes were unfocused, blurred with fury, his muscles still tight from the fight at the bar.

There was no question that Spike was going to die. The only dilemma he had was whether to do it swiftly, or take his time, inflicting every torture he could devise on his errant childe. As Angelus, he'd been a master at doling out pain, and no one was more deserving of it than Spike. Hell, he didn't even need much in the way of tools. He flexed his hands. They'd served him well in the past, inflicting all sorts of creative damage on humans and demons alike. All he needed was time alone with his prey...

Shit! Time was something he didn't have. No doubt Buffy would come running after Spike as soon as she finished up with the Initiative. If she found him there... Okay, he'd just barge in, stake him, and leave. And Buffy would never have to know.

He rounded a large monument and froze. Spike was emerging from his crypt, fingering a wad of cash in his hands. The blonde glanced up, eyes widening briefly, and then he had the audacity to grin at Angel. A red flag had been waved. Angel charged, tackling Spike and sending them both tumbling back into the empty sepulcher.

Dust flew as they rolled across the dirty floor. Spike leaped to his feet first, readying himself for another attack. Momentarily blinded, Angel quickly wiped the debris from his eyes as he stood and faced the blond vampire.

Spike laughed lightly. "Aww, if I'd known you were coming, I would have dusted."

"Don't worry," Angel growled. "You will."

"Oh, that's a good one." Spike crouched a little, motioning for Angel to bring it on. "But you lose points for lacking conviction."

Angel pulled the stake from his pocket and laid it on top of the sarcophagus. "One stake. Two vampires. You do the math." Taking a step back, Angel pulled off his duster, and laid it over a broken stone bench.

Spike eyed the stake, his palms itching to grasp it. He had only seen this look on Angel's face once before. And that had been when he had driven Penn away for bedding Darla. Angel had starved his childe for days, then beaten him within an inch of his unlife. The only reason Penn had escaped had been because several minions had intervened. Spike knew he wouldn't be that lucky. His only ally in town had been Buffy and the Scooby Gang -

Buffy-

Spike felt like someone had punched him in the gut. Then he realized someone had. Angel began to rain blows along his torso, and Spike pulled himself together, blocking and dodging as Angel began a new assault. He pulled a perfect right hook, spinning Angel around, then delivered a high kick to Angel's jaw, sending him spiraling into the wall.

The dark vampire shook it off, turning just in time to block a crunching kick at his ribs. Grabbing Spike's boot, Angel shoved as hard as he could. Spike slapped against a column that ran down the center of the room, sending chips of stone clattering against the far wall and floor. Before Spike could right himself, Angel gripped his shirt and belt, half lifting him as he rammed him into the column again and again.

Spike's lip split open and he stiffened when his blood filled his mouth, bringing both legs up and kicking off the column, avoiding a blow that would have broken his nose. Both vampires tumbled to the ground, with Spike at a slight advantage. He leapt to his feet and made a grab for the stake, only to have his feet kicked out from under him. His head slammed against the floor and he howled in pain. "Bloody hell!"

Angel seized the stake and towered over him, wiping his own blood from his face. "Oh, it's gonna be bloody, all right. And painful, Spike. More painful than you can imagine and it still won't be punishment enough for you."

Spike staggered to his feet, cautiously putting the tomb between them. "It can't be worse than this."

"You'd be surprised," Angel replied. He watched as Spike lifted a shaking hand, running it over the side of his bleeding head. "Why her? Why did you have to - She was crippled! You've always been a fiend, but-"

"She started it!" Spike shouted. "I tried to keep her at arm's length, but-" He stood up straight. "You've been there! It's impossible."

Angel's eyes widened. "Don't you dare compare the- the abomination that you had with Buffy to what I had with her!"

"Oh, and what exactly was that?" Spike grabbed a shirt off a pile in his ragged armchair and held it against his head. "A godsend? Heaven? Newsflash, we're **both** demons."

"I have a soul."

"And I've always had more heart," Spike said.

"Yeah, it took a lot of heart to fuck her and leave her wounded and lying in an alley. One more good deed like that and we'll have to make you a saint."

"At least I didn't fuck her and then try to kill her, like the martyr in this room did."

Angel's nostrils flared. "That was different! I didn't have my soul then!"

"And I've never had one. I guess that just makes me the better man, eh?" Spike tossed the bloody shirt to one side and took a step toward him. "Now let's finish what you started."

Angel stared his opponent up and down, letting his gaze linger over the blood that rolled down his temple. "She loves you. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why."

"You think I can?" Spike shook his head. "You think I wanted to hear her say it? It made me sick!"

Lowering the stake to his side, Angel sighed. "Heartsick. Because you know you don't deserve her."

"What I don't deserve is this conversation. It's kill or be killed, mate, not bore each other to tears. Unless of course your method is to get me to kill myself." Spike took a step toward Angel, half hoping he'd raise the stake and end it all. He had been planning on taking his money, buying a car, and driving as fast as he could away from this place, but he doubted he would have made it far. Seeing the Slayer again, seeing the look on her face when she registered what he'd done, that was worse than being staked in the heart. Worse than bathing in holy water. "How is she?" he asked, before he could stop himself.

Angel stepped forward and punched him hard across the jaw. "You don't get to ask that, Spike. How the hell do you think she is?"

The cut on his mouth reopened, filling his mouth with blood, which he swallowed. "I think she's better off."

"That's the first sane thing that's come out of your mouth in quite a few decades." Angel raised the stake and took a step closer. "Got any famous last words to go with that?"

Spike glanced at the stake, then looked up at Angel. "Tell her that you can't love something to life. And I was too much of a coward to love her to death."

Angel faltered mid-strike, registering Spike's words. He felt his soul twist in agony, felt the claws that were forever digging into his heart tighten, and closed his eyes. Killing him was too easy.

Spike's eyes widened in disbelief. "Do it! Do it, goddamn you!" He grabbed Angel's arm, pointing the stake against his chest. "You came here for revenge, now take it!"

Angel wrenched his arm away and threw the stake with such force that it shattered against the wall. "You're pathetic, Spike."

"I- I-" Spike's shoulders slumped, and he took a deep unneeded breath as he stared at the floor. "I don't want to live without her."

"But you will," Angel growled, gripping a handful of his childe's hair and tilting his head back so he could see his face. "When you're alone in the middle of the night and you're aching for her, when you're in agony like you've never felt because you think she might be in another man's arms - think of me. Because if anyone will know my pain, you will."

Spike watched in shock as Angel turned, slowly lifted his duster from the bench and slipped his arms into the sleeves. His sire walked over the money that had been strewn when they'd fought, and then he paused at the door. "Killing you might have made me happy. Letting you live makes us even."

And as the door slammed, echoing through the dank crypt, Spike knew that for once, his Sire's words held all the conviction in the world.

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Buffy trudged slowly toward Revello Drive. She dreaded entering the empty house, dreaded sitting down inside alone, dreaded everything. If she slept at all, she was sure to dream of Spike, and if she didn't sleep, she'd be stuck thinking about nothing else. She wasn't sure which was worse. It wasn't like she had control over either one. No matter how hard she tried not to think of him, he was always there.

As much as she hated to admit it, a part of her was happy that Spike had gotten his own revenge on Maggie. In this instance, it had been his own brand of justice, and she couldn't begrudge him that. What really troubled her was the look in his eyes afterward. She had no idea what he'd been thinking or feeling at that moment. Had he been wishing that it had been **her** neck he'd snapped? She didn't doubt for one second that if he'd had the chance, he would have tried.

Would she have stopped him?

She felt tears welling in her eyes and angrily rubbed them away. She had to refocus! Another chance at a semi-normal life had fallen into her lap and she had to embrace it. Just a few days before, she had been convinced that her life would be the four walls of her mother's house, a wheelchair, and not much else. Now she had the world at her feet. All she had to do was cover as much of it as possible and live her life. She was the Slayer! The one girl in the entire world who was strong enough to defeat demons.

Except maybe one.

Her thoughts had come back around to Spike. No sooner than she had gotten herself pumped up to move on, she was right back at square one. She turned the corner of Revello Drive and shoved her hands in her pockets. A car started in the distance and she looked up in time to see Angel's black convertible pulling away from the curb in front of her house. "Angel!" she shouted, breaking into a run.

If he saw her, he didn't acknowledge her, because the car raced around the corner and the sounds of the engine faded into the night. Feeling even worse, if that was possible, she pulled her keys from her pocket and walked up the sidewalk. She saw the piece of paper stuck in the door as she climbed the steps and her heart thumped against her chest. Spike?

Pulling it loose, Buffy sat down under the porchlight. Leaning against the front door, she opened the folded letter. Angel's familiar handwriting was scrawled across the page, and she felt guilty for being disappointed. Taking a deep breath, she began to read.

Dear Buffy,

I came by to tell you goodbye, something that I failed to do the last time I left town. I didn't want to leave here with any regrets, and that's why I'm telling you this. I tried to stake Spike tonight. I wanted to. I probably should have. His heart got in the way.

If you ever need me, you know where to find me. I pray to god I didn't make a mistake.

Always,
A

The ending is finally here! :) <><><>

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