DISCLAIMER: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon, and Fox Studios. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2001 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

Gravity

Part 7 – Restoration

by Djinn

 

"Come on, put your back into it. A Watcher scoffs at gravity." – Giles to Spike, Restless

 

It had been three days since Giles had called the Watcher's council on her behalf, and Buffy was tired of waiting to hear if they were going to help her regain her life.  She paced the basement nervously. 

 

Spike didn't look up from the book he was reading.  "Would you sit down?  You're giving me a headache."

 

"I just don't understand what the hold up is," she complained. 

 

"Well, it's not like they're going to tell me, now is it?  Haven't even got my union card yet."  He closed the book.  "Not that this isn't a pleasant surprise, you being down here and all, but what do you want, Buffy?"

 

She had thought he'd be happy to see her.  Her mind went back to the last time she'd been down in the basement.  She could feel her cheeks turning red.  She had tried to put the memory of the kiss they had shared to rest but she couldn't.  She looked over at Spike.  His eyes showed only polite interest.  He seemed to be doing fine not obsessing over what had happened between them.

 

"It was too quiet upstairs.  With the others gone."  She knew the excuse sounded weak.  Why had she come down to see him?  She didn't even like him.

 

He put the book aside and stood up.  Moving past her, he started to lay down some mats.  "This will help you relax."

 

"You're going to be my watcher?" she asked with amusement.

 

"Not bloody likely.  Got my hands full with your sister.  Just thought you could use a sparring partner.  But if you don't want to..." he walked back to the chair and picked up the book.

 

"No.  I mean yes.  I want to.  Sparring's good."

 

"Fine."  He walked back over. 

 

"Won't the chip make this hard for you?"

 

He shook his head.  "It won't bother me as long as I'm not trying to hurt you."

 

She thought back to the night she had returned to life.  She had tried to stake him.  He had struck at her and the chip had retaliated, the pain had distracted him, nearly cost him his life in fact.

 

"Buffy," he said as he threw her.  "Pay attention or I'm going back to my book."

 

"Right.  Sorry."  They circled each other.  She looked for an opening, saw one and took it.  He was on the mat in seconds.

 

"That's better," he smiled as he got up.  His movements became more purposeful.

 

She lost herself in the motion, in the intricate dance that was the slayer's fight for dominance.  Spike fought well, countering her moves with a skill she had forgotten he had.  He feinted left but she caught him as he moved back, threw him hard.  He turned the fall into a roll, was up quickly.  She realized she was smiling.

 

"This is good, isn't it," his answering grin was almost feral.  "What you're made for."

 

"Shut up and fight," she taunted as she kicked him hard and followed up with a move designed to trip him.  He kept his feet though, and caught her with a hard kick of his own.  She dropped and tried to roll but he followed her down and landed on top of her.  His hands pinned hers. 

 

"Give up?" he asked.

 

"Not on your life," she said as she called on strength that her small body shouldn't have held and kicked him over her.  She was on him before he could rise.  "You give up?"

 

"Not bloody likely," he tried the same move on her but she gripped him with her thighs, riding him easily. 

 

"You're not getting me off you."

 

"God, I've had fantasies like this," he smirked.

 

"Did they include this?" she asked as she stretched his arms over his head.

 

"Do you even have to ask?"  He wrenched his hands away with a violent jerk.  She nearly crashed into his face but her hands landed hard on either side of his head.  He took advantage of the moment, heaved his body up and sent her crashing to her back. 

 

She expected him to follow her but he just lay there.  She looked over at him.  "What's the matter?  Did I hurt you?"

 

He turned his head.  "No.  You didn't hurt me."  He gave her a strange smile.  "Just trying to tame the wolf inside."

 

"I thought the chip did that?" she teased.

 

He rolled over.  His body was pressed against her side.  "There's more than one wolf inside me." 

 

"Is that supposed to scare me?"  She watched his face come closer to her own.

 

"Hope not.  Was going more for exciting you."  His hand tangled in her hair.

 

She studied his face.  His mouth was curved slightly in a small smile, his eyes were intent on her own.  She knew he was judging what she would do.  One move from her and he'd stop.  One move from her and he'd realize what a bad idea this was.

 

She didn't move.  His mouth crept nearer.

 

Just as his lips touched hers, she heard footsteps on the stairs, then Giles' voice calling out, "Buffy?  Are you down there?"

 

"Crap!"  She pushed Spike away, was on her feet in an instant.  The vampire was only seconds behind her.

 

Giles walked in, followed by a stranger.  "Oh, here you are, Buffy.  Training I see?"

 

"Yes.  Training.  Working out.  Very strenuous.  Nervous energy and all that."  She knew she was babbling so she turned a look of suspicion at the newcomer.  "Judging from the high tweed factor, I'd say you're from the Council?"

 

He nodded.  "That's right.  Tristan Haversham.  You can call me Mr. Haversham."  The watcher turned to Spike.  "And you must be the vampire who thinks he's one of us."

 

"I'm Dawn's watcher," Spike agreed carefully.

 

The new watcher turned to survey the basement.  "And you live down here?"

 

"I've told you all this, Tristan."  Giles sounded annoyed.

 

Haversham walked back to the stairs.  "Miss Summers, if you don't mind, I have some questions for you."

 

She rolled her eyes but followed him upstairs.  He sat down at the dining room table, gestured for her to sit opposite him.  Taking out a notebook, he began to fire questions at her.  "Who knows you're alive aside from the people in this house and Giles and Faith?"

 

"Xander and Anya.  And Amy, but she's in LA right now."

 

"That's all?"

 

"Well, no.  Angel knows.  And I suppose he's told Cordelia and Wesley, and that Fred woman.  And I think another guy works with them now.  He might know."

 

He looked at her with irritation.  "Perhaps it would have been easier to ask for a list of the people who don't know?"

 

"It's not that many people."

 

He ignored her.  "How many times have you been outside since your return?"

 

"Twice."

 

He seemed displeased at her answer.  "At night?"

 

"One was.  The other was about 7:30 in the morning."

 

"That was foolish.  To the best of your knowledge, did anyone see you?"

 

"I don't think so.  I mean, it's possible, I guess.  But I didn't talk to anyone, or see anyone I knew.  I mean other than the gang."

 

"Ah yes.  The 'gang.'  Quentin Travers filled me in and gave me transcripts of the interviews he and his staff recently conducted with you and your associates.  The new slayer wasn't interviewed."

 

"Her name is Dawn," she corrected, "And no, she wasn't a part of this then."

 

Haversham looked her over somberly.  "Unlucky girl to be a part of it now. "

 

Buffy bristled.  "She's all right."

 

"For now.  It's hard to tell how a slayer will turn out.  Take yourself, for instance.  At that age you seemed to be full of potential."

 

"Sorry to disappoint you."

 

"Not me, Miss Summers.  The Council."

 

"Well they were a bit of a disappointment to me too."

 

"I'm sure."  He closed his book, then stood and walked over to the stairs, called down them.  "I'm leaving, Rupert."

 

A few seconds later Giles came into the room.  "You have what you need from Buffy then?"

 

"I do."

 

"So you're going to help me?" Buffy asked skeptically.

 

"I'm under orders to help you, Miss Summers.  Whether I like it or not, that's what I'll do."

 

"Oh.  Well, good."  She couldn't resist a dig.  "Too bad you can't stand me.  Or is it slayers in general you don't like?"

 

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

 

"Denial is a river in Egypt," Giles commented archly.

 

"I guess you know little about that.  Since you deny yourself virtually nothing where your other slayer is concerned."  Haversham's face was pinched.  "Disgusting."

 

Buffy defended her watcher.  "Oh, like it doesn't happen all the time between watchers and slayers."

 

Haversham's eyes were like ice as they turned to her.

 

"Not between Giles and me."  She clarified quickly.  "But in the past.  When the slayers didn't have anyone but their watchers to confide in.  You think that they weren't finding some solace in each other?"

 

"If they were, the watcher should have been relieved."

 

"Giles and Faith aren't doing anything wrong."  Buffy couldn't believe she was defending the other slayer. 

 

"He's sleeping with an impressionable young woman.  That is wrong."

 

"You haven't met Faith yet, have you?"

 

"No. That dubious honor has eluded me."  He glanced at Giles.  "She was out when I met your watcher at his apartment."

 

Buffy smiled meanly.  "Well, you'll quickly discover that there is nothing impressionable about her.  She's been making her own decisions for a while now."

 

"Yes.  Decisions that landed her in jail.  So much for not impressionable."  He walked to the door, looked back at them.  "I'll be back tomorrow at 5 pm sharp, Rupert.  And I want everyone here."

 

"Of course."  Giles glanced out the door to Haversham's rental car.  "You can find your way back?"

 

"It's not that big a town, now is it?"  Haversham nodded at Buffy.  "Good day."

 

"Yeah.  Bye."  As soon as Giles shut the door, she let out a big sigh.  "What a jerk."

 

"He is arrogant.  But there is probably no better man for this."

 

"I hope so," Buffy whispered.  "I've got to get out of this house before I do something really stupid."

 

"Something like what I nearly caught you at in the basement just now?"

 

"I don't know what you mean."

 

"It was awfully quiet down there.  For two people sparring, I mean."  He gave her a significant look.  "Don't bother answering, I know you'll just lie." 

 

She watched him walk away into the kitchen.  As she heard him on the phone she felt guilty for what he had almost seen.  Or part of her did anyway.  The other part was just angry that the kiss had been interrupted.  That part of her was dangerous.  It needed to be locked up.  No more trips to the basement during the day, she resolved.  But somehow her inner voice didn't sound very sure about that resolution.

 

---------------------------------------

 

Giles was relieved when he heard the British accent at the end of the other line.  He really wasn't in the mood to deal with Cordelia.  "Wesley, it's Giles."

 

"You don't sound very happy."

 

"I've got a Council representative here to help us get Buffy back into mainstream life.  He's clearly not pleased at his assignment.  What do you know about Tristan Haversham?"

 

"What do I know?  Correct me if I'm mistaken, but weren't you two good friends?"

 

"That was a long time ago," Giles said with some bitterness.  He and Tristan had been the golden boys of the Council.  Even with his youthful follies, Giles had been one of the chosen, and Tristan had been right there with him.  They had been close once but hadn't spoken since Giles had been fired.  "You've got better connections, Wesley.  I thought you might know what he's been up to lately."

 

"He's been doing special projects for the Council.  Things of a rather sensitive nature.  Oh and you do know he was supposed to be the Watcher for the next slayer?"

 

Giles smiled cynically.  "That explains a great deal."

 

"Yes.  Must grill him quite a lot to have to help, especially with the special circumstances surrounding Dawn's current watcher."

 

"Do you think Spike is accepted in that role?"

 

"I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for him to get an invitation to the Watcher's Retreat.  And I'm not sure if they would help him if he called on them.  But they seem to have given up any ideas of trying to get rid of him."

 

"But they were thinking about it?"  Giles wasn't really all that surprised.

 

"I think so.  But when it became clear that he was doing quite well in the role, I think they decided to leave well enough alone."  Wesley chuckled.  "No one really wants to get involved with the current batch of slayers.  There were a number of disappointed people when Dawn was called.  A new slayer, free of the rather rebellious ties of the Sunnydale strain, would have been welcome."

 

"Welcome perhaps, but not to be.  I feel as if I'm overseeing a dynasty."

 

"Three slayers is rather an embarrassment of riches."  Wesley cleared his throat.  "I was in the vicinity when Angel was talking to Buffy.  I heard about you and Faith."

 

Giles felt his hackles go up.  "And?"

 

"Well the phrase, 'Have you lost all reason?' comes to mind."

 

"I don't expect you to understand."

 

"Why?  Perhaps because I was the one that she tortured?"

 

"As Angelus tortured me.  But I managed to put that behind me."

 

"Angel wasn't himself when he did that."

 

"Faith has changed.  Although if she wants to torture you again, I just might let her."

 

Wesley sighed.  "We just can't seem to stay civil to each other for very long, can we?"

 

"I'm sorry.  That was uncalled for."

 

"No.  It's none of my business.  I'm sure you know what you're doing.  Frankly your instincts about Faith have always been better than mine.  I was as much to blame for her turning to evil as anyone."

 

"Probably more," Giles agreed.

 

"Well I don't know if I'd go that far."

 

"I'm sure you wouldn't."  Giles saw Buffy watching him.  "I have to go, Wesley.  Thank you for the information."

 

"Of course."  The other man sounded as relieved as Giles did that the conversation was over.

 

"So?" Buffy asked with concern.  "What did the gutless wonder have to say?"

 

"You should be nicer to him.  He really does want to help."

 

She laughed meanly.  "Well yeah, since the council fired him.  So what's the story on Haversham?"

 

"He was slated to be Dawn's watcher."

 

"That explains his antagonism toward Spike.  Not that it takes much to dislike him."

 

Giles looked at her carefully.  She appeared to mean what she said.  Why then did he have the feeling that something was going on between her and the vampire?   Part of him was appalled, even as another part pointed out that no one would have picked Faith and him for couple of the year, and they were doing quite well.  He tried to be generous.  Buffy should be with whomever made her happy.  But Spike?

 

Buffy had started to pace.  She was ranting about Haversham's attitude.

 

He interrupted her, "If you want your life back, Buffy, you'll need to work with him."

 

"I know."  She sighed.  "I just don't want to."  She pulled her arms close around her body.  "I get nervous whenever the Council is in town.  And this guy bothers me almost as much as Quentin does."

 

"It'll be alright.  Just give him the chance to help you."

 

"I will.  I'm just worried.  I've got a bad feeling about this." 

 

Giles didn't want to tell her that he did too.

 

---------------------------------------------

 

Dawn thought school would never end.  It was last period and the teacher had been droning on forever about Reconstruction.  Like she was ever going to need to know about the rebuilding of the South.  She turned her thoughts to the next patrol.  Things had been dull for the last two nights.  Maybe tonight they would see more action. 

 

It took her a moment to realize that the bell had rung and her classmates were getting up.  She looked over at Lisa Mathis.  Her friend's eyes were suspicious.  "What?" Dawn asked defensively.

 

"I don't get you, anymore."  Lisa grabbed her book bag and hurried out of the classroom. 

 

Dawn sighed, then realized that she wasn't alone in the room.  She turned to see Kevin Berman staring at her. 

 

"Still got a lot of stuff going on, huh?"

 

"I guess."  She tried to be casual, to not act goofy like she always did every time he talked to her.  But he was just so cute, she thought to herself. 

 

"You're really out of it.  If you want to be a stoner that's cool, I guess."  He turned away and walked to the door.

 

"I'm not a stoner," she said hotly, following him into the hall.

 

Lisa was standing there.  She looked at Kevin.  "I told you she'd say that."

 

"What is this?  You're ganging up on me?"  Dawn was angry. 

 

"We care about you.  Which is a good thing because you don't seem to care about anything anymore."

 

"Yeah, well how about you lose your mom and your sister?  See how you like it."  Dawn spun away from both of them and walked away.  She blinked back hot tears.  Lisa had been her closest friend.  They had told each other everything.  And she'd thought that Kevin was becoming more than just a classroom chum.  But it was obvious they looked down on her now.  She already felt lonely.  Being the slayer really sucked sometimes.

 

Faith was waiting out front for her.  "Hey kid.  What's got you so upset?"

 

"I don't have any friends."  Dawn realized how that sounded.  "I mean at school."

 

"I know what you mean.  Yeah, that bites.  But maybe a little kicking vampire ass will improve your mood?  Ready to clean out a nest?"

 

Dawn nodded.

 

Faith laughed.  "You know, not too long ago, I wouldn't have waited till you were done with school.  Did I ever tell you about the time I got Buffy to leave class in the middle of a test?"

 

"No way."

 

"Way."  Faith launched into the story.  By the time she finished they were coming up on an abandoned warehouse.  There were boards nailed over the windows.  Faith grinned evilly as she pulled the first one off.  Dawn helped her clear off more.  They moved down to the next window and did the same. 

 

"Lame-asses.  Maybe next time they'll nail the boards up on the inside."  Faith smirked.  "What?  Were they expecting a hurricane?"

 

Dawn laughed.  "Are any of these vampires very smart?  I mean really?'

 

"Does seem like there are two schools.  The idiots we fight every night, and then those like Angel."

 

"And Spike."

 

Faith grinned.  "I forget he's even a vampire half the time."

 

"Don't let him hear you say that."  Dawn led Faith to the next window.  "He hates it when people act like he's all harmless."

 

"I don't mean that.  I just guess I trust him.  Like when I turn my back on him, I don't have to worry he's gonna try to cop a drink.  Can't say I feel that way about most vamps."  Faith found a crowbar in the rubble below the window.  "Wicked useful."  Using it, she made short work of the boards.  They moved around to the back.  "Not like I worried around Angel, but he's got that whole soul thing working for him."

 

"Spike has the chip."

 

"Yeah.  But it's different.  Angel doesn't want to do the whole vampire shtick.  Spike probably still does but chooses not to.  You told me he could have gone off with Drusilla if he'd wanted to."

 

"He stayed for Buffy.  If it weren't for her, he might have left."

 

"But now he stays for you.  Seems to me, Spike's always finding a reason to be good.  That should tell you something."

 

The windows were all uncovered.  They walked back.  Faith pulled out some stakes, handed a couple to Dawn.  Pausing at the door, she looked at the younger slayer.  "You ready?"

 

Dawn took a deep breath, dropped her book bag at the door.  She could already feel the adrenaline pumping.  "Ready."

 

Faith kicked the big door open.  Light rushed in ahead of them.  "Cock-a-doodle-doo," she taunted as she stepped into the room.

 

Ten vampires stood in shadows in the middle of the room.  There was very little space in the warehouse not flooded with sunlight. 

 

"Gosh, guess we went and ruined your nice place, huh?"  Dawn laughed.  She couldn't help it.  She loved this.  She stepped deliberately close to one of the vampires and he reached for her.  She countered quickly, grabbing him and tossing him into the sunlight.  He scurried for the shadows, but not before his coat started to blaze and nearly lit one of the other vampires on fire.  The second vamp threw him back into the sunshine.  He fell on the ground, then was gone.

 

"So who wants to be next?" Faith asked.  She looked disappointed as the sullen vampires just stared at her.  "Looks like we have no volunteers, squirt."

 

"This one'll do," Dawn pointed to a male in the front. 

 

He snarled at her.  His leg came out to kick her and she grabbed it and pulled him into the sunshine.  He fought her but she kicked him toward the open door.  He hit the full sunshine and exploded into dust.

 

Faith strode into the group, fighting with several of the vamps before tossing two more out the front door.

 

Dawn liked the odds better.  She stepped into the shade and immediately went after a female.  The woman fought well but she made the mistake of stepping too close to the border of the shadows.  Her hand began to sizzle and she screamed.  Dawn staked her and turned to find a huge male blocking her way. 

 

His hands came up around her neck.  "That was my woman!" he roared.

 

"Join her then," Faith suggested as she staked him from the back then turned back to the three she was fighting. 

 

Dawn went after the vamp nearest her, staking him quickly before turning to help Faith.  She could feel the other slayer as she fought, their movements perfectly in tune.  Faith kicked one of the vampires back toward her, and Dawn staked him with one smooth motion.  Faith dusted another.  The last vampire went after Faith, all fighting style abandoned as he tried only to get his hands on her.  Dawn hit him from the back as Faith stabbed him from the front.  They both pulled back and he was gone in a shimmer of dust.

 

"Hey!" a voice sounded behind Faith.  She spun, her stake already coming down to take out the unexpected opponent.

 

"No!" Dawn screamed as she saw who stood there.

 

With an almost superhuman effort, Faith managed to pull the blow and the stake just grazed Lisa's shirt, ripping it but leaving Dawn's friend unharmed.  Faith stared down at the stake, all color leaving her face for a moment.   She seemed very far away.

 

The girl looked at Dawn, then at Kevin who stood behind her.  She turned and stared up at Faith.  Lisa's mouth was moving, but words weren't coming out.

 

Kevin did better.  "What the hell is going on?"

 

Dawn stuck her stake into the back of her pants.  "Nothing.  What do you mean?"

 

"What is that thing," Lisa pointed to the stake, then ran her finger over the long tear down the front of her shirt.

 

"We saw it all."  Kevin looked around the room.  "We were outside when you threw those first few out.  They like blew up or something when they were in the sunlight.  And these others."  He tried to touch the stake, but Faith jerked it away.  "That's a stake isn't it?  And those are vampires."

 

Dawn's laugh was brittle.  "Vampires are make-believe."  She looked at Faith. 

 

The other slayer just shrugged. 

 

"This isn't make-believe," Lisa said, still touching the rip.  "Being almost killed isn't make-believe."

 

Dawn tried to distract her.  "What are you even doing here?  Were you following me?"

 

"Yeah," Kevin said.  "We were worried about you."

 

"Oh, like you care," Dawn retorted.

 

"I do care.  I thought after your mom died that you and I were really talking, you know communicating.  But then you disappeared for a while and we heard your sister had died and suddenly you were back in town, but you never called me."

 

"Or me," Lisa jumped in.  "We used to talk every day."

 

"And when school started, you were all different."  He looked at her.  "We saw you go off with her," he pointed at Faith.  "And we didn't know what to think.  So we followed you."

 

"And here we are."  Lisa met Dawn's gaze with steely resolve.  "We've been best friends forever.  Or have you forgotten that?"

 

Dawn looked at the other girl.  She did feel as if they'd been close for a long time.  But in her heart she knew that before the monks did their spell, Lisa had probably had another best friend.  Or maybe no one.  Dawn considered that.  Did it matter how it happened?  Lisa was the closest friend she had.  And Kevin, well he might be more someday.  She decided to trust them.  She pointed at the other slayer, "This is Faith."

 

"Hey," Faith said evenly.

 

"And she is sort of like a big sister to me.  Well except that..."

 

Faith cleared her throat, then shook her head slightly when Dawn looked over.

 

She realized she'd been about to talk about Buffy being alive.  She had to leave that part out, at least until they knew how they were going to explain all that.  "Except that she isn't related or anything."

 

"Yeah, ok.  So were those vampires?"  Kevin seemed determined to get his original question answered.

 

Dawn nodded.

 

"Like suck your blood, hissing at crosses vampires?"

 

"Pretty much, yeah."  Dawn looked over at Lisa.

 

"This is too weird."  Her friend sat down suddenly.  She looked up at Dawn with awe.  "You were fighting them."

 

"Yeah.  That's what we do."  Faith replied

 

"We're slayers," Dawn offered.  "Vampire slayers."

 

"Vampire slayers," Kevin repeated.  "How do you get that job?  Did you like apply for it or something?"

 

"Slayers are called.  One girl in all the world to fight the vampires and other evil."

 

"One girl?"  Lisa looked at both of them with a confused look as she stood back up.

 

"Well ok, thr..two right now."  Faith started to explain, then thought better of it.  "Look, we'd be here all day if I told you the whole story.  And you really don't want to be in this neighborhood once the sun sets, believe me." 

 

"We'll walk you home," Dawn said.

 

Her friends were quiet at first as they walked back to their neighborhood.  Then Lisa whispered.  "I heard things, about your sister.  That she was always in fights.  But that she was usually protecting people.  She was a slayer too, wasn't she?"

 

Dawn nodded.

 

"But she died."  Kevin thought about that.  "Fighting vampires?"

 

"Something worse."  Dawn didn't want to think about that night.  "When she died, I was called."

 

"That doesn't seem fair, somehow," Lisa observed. 

 

"Tell me about it."  Dawn looked over.  "I'm sorry about the way I've been acting.  It's just so much has happened and then this.  It was all too much, I guess."

 

"So now that we know, you won't be all weird around us, will you?"  Lisa's face got stern.  "I mean I don't care if you are the slayer.  You used to care about school and your friends."

 

"I know.  I'll try to be better."  Dawn stopped in front of Lisa's house.  "Don't tell anyone, ok?  Either of you?"

 

Lisa gave her a quick hug.  "Don't worry, your secret is safe with me."  She began to laugh.  "I guess this explains why you're suddenly so good in PE?"

 

"I guess it does," Dawn smiled sheepishly.

 

Her friend just nodded, then headed up the walk.  Once she was safely inside, they started walking again. 

 

Kevin looked over at her.  "You look different too.  Older."

 

She smiled.

 

"And scarier."

 

Her smile faded.

 

"You were really getting into that fight, Dawn.  That's kind of creepy."

 

"Might as well enjoy your work," Faith offered breezily. 

 

Dawn tried to explain, "They aren't really alive.  I mean, they had to die first before they became a vampire.  And they're monsters, you know?"

 

"Yeah.  I guess.  But you two were really going for it.  Like you got off on it or something."

 

"Maybe we do."  Faith's voice was defiant.

 

"Would that be so bad?  Would it really be better if we had to be dragged out every night kicking and screaming?"

 

"You do this every night?"  He seemed disturbed at the thought.

 

Dawn nodded.  "Till we die."

 

"Dawn," Faith looked at her in concern.

 

"Well it's true.  Nobody ever says it but it is."

 

"Till you die.  And then someone else gets called."

 

"That's right, Einstein," Faith strode on ahead.

 

"What's her problem?"

 

Dawn shrugged.  "It's a touchy subject.  And she doesn't like too many people."

 

"What about you?  Do you like me?"  Kevin looked at her seriously.  "Because I thought we were hitting it off and then you got all weird.  Kirsty said you were on drugs."

 

"I thought we agreed not to listen to her," she said sternly.

 

"Yeah, we did, but that was before you zoned out on me.  I didn't know what to think."

 

"I like you, Kevin.  I like you a lot."  She looked down, feeling suddenly very shy. 

 

He reached over and took her hand.  "Well, I like you a lot too."

 

They walked the rest of the way to his house in silence.  He didn't let go of her hand till he had to.

 

Faith stepped close to her as they watched him wave from the front door, then close it behind him.  "Somebody's got a boyfriend."

 

Dawn blushed.  "What?  Don't you approve?"

 

"No, he seems nice.  They both do."  She smiled at the younger girl.  "Hell, Buffy's got a bloody back-up group, why shouldn't you?"

 

"Bloody?"  Dawn laughed.  "I think Giles is wearing off on you."

 

"It could happen."  Faith laughed.  "Don't tell him I said that.  He'll be way too pleased."

 

Dawn grinned.  "Do you love him, Faith?" 

 

The other girl smiled.  "Yeah."

 

"That's cool."  Dawn looked over at the other slayer.  "Race you back to the cemetery?"

 

"You're on," Faith said and took off running. 

 

"No fair," Dawn laughed as she tried to catch her.  She didn't really care though that Faith was winning.  All she could think of was Kevin and how she could still feel the touch of his hand on hers.

 

------------------------------

 

Faith slept in late the next morning.  Giles was already up when she finally opened her eyes.  She walked down to find him drinking coffee and staring out the window.  "What's wrong?"

 

"Tristan."

 

"Oh.  Can't you just ignore him while he's here?"

 

Giles gave a soft laugh.  "I wish I could."

 

"You want me to kill him?"

 

He turned to her in surprise, relaxed when he saw the teasing smile.  "Best not."

 

"Suit yourself."  She snuggled in under his arm.  "Did he say something about us?"  She could feel him tense.  Knew she was right.  "It doesn't matter what any of them think.  Isn't that what you've told me like a thousand times?"

 

His arm tightened around her.

 

She kissed his cheek.  "I love you.  You love me.  Bunch of old geezers in England don't get that, too bad."

 

He looked down at her, a grin of pure affection transforming his face.

 

"That's the look I like to see."  She pulled his mouth down to hers.  "We have lots of time before that meeting."

 

He laughed.  "Yes I suppose we do.  Did you have an idea for how to spend it?"

 

She leaned up, whispered in his ear.  He blushed but let her lead him back up to the loft. 

 

Much later, he whispered into her ear, "Don't fall asleep.  We have to go soon."

 

She roused herself.  "And I want to look my trashy best."  She chuckled and got out of bed.  Reaching into the closet she pulled out her black leather pants and a low cut top.  "What do you think?  Push-up bra too much?"

 

"Probably."  He got an evil smile.  "Although if you want to wear it later..."

 

"You're a very bad man," she replied as she headed downstairs for a shower.  Minutes later, she was drying her hair and putting on makeup.  She resisted the urge to go all out with the kohl. 

 

When she joined Giles he looked at her in approval.  "You're beautiful."

 

"You have to say that."

 

"No, I don't.  I could say you were sexy, which you are.  Or pretty.  Or handsome.  But you are beautiful."

 

She felt something crack inside of her.  It was as if he knew where all the walls were around her heart and was systematically battering them down in his gentle way.

 

He pulled out a box.  "This was my grandmother's.  I want you to have it."

 

She opened the box, hoping that it wasn't something formal like a cameo, and was pleased to see a small onyx figure on a heavy silver chain.  "It's beautiful.  What is it?"

 

"An Indian deity.  Kali or KaliMa.  She was the protector of women.  And occasionally the destroyer of men.  And demons.  She is sometimes referred to as the slayer."

 

"Cool."  She held it up, admiring the fearsome goddess.  "This was your grandmother's?"

 

"Yes, well, grandmum was not your average woman."  He took the necklace and fastened it around her neck.  "And neither are you."

 

She walked over to the hall mirror.  The four-armed goddess sat on Faith's skin as if she were made to be there.  The old onyx shone with a velvet gleam as the chain caught the light.  It was perfect.  She hugged Giles.  "I love it."

 

"I'm glad.  I realized that I've never given you anything."

 

"Giles, you've given me more than you will ever know."  She kissed him, felt him respond. 

 

Then he gently pushed her away.  "As much as I would like to continue this, we must be going."

 

She nodded, grabbed her jacket, and followed him out.  The short ride over was quiet, their silence comfortable and full.  Faith pulled down the visor so that she could admire her new necklace in the mirror.  She saw Giles glance over at her once and she smiled at him.  He looked very pleased with himself.  His pleasure faded as soon as they parked the car at Buffy's.  Tristan had also arrived, was just getting out of his car. 

 

"Ah, right on time, Rupert."  The watcher walked over and inspected her as she sat in the convertible.  "And you must be the elusive Faith."

 

"In the flesh."

 

"Yes."  He sniffed.  "Quite a lot of it."

 

"You don't like my outfit?"

 

"Faith..."  Giles tone was warning.

 

"It's alright, Giles.  Your girl, and my how that phrase conveys a multitude of meanings, can dress however she pleases."

 

"Wicked generous of you," Faith got out of the car and walked toward the house.

 

"Miss—"

 

She cut him off.  "Just Faith."

 

"Right.  Faith.  I'd like to talk to you for a moment.  Alone."  He turned to Giles, who had begun to protest.  "This has nothing to do with the relationship between you two.  I just want to talk to the slayer."

 

Giles finally walked inside.

 

Faith narrowed her eyes.  "Just one of three."

 

"Pardon me?"

 

"I'm not the slayer.  I'm a slayer.  There's a difference."

 

"Quite.  That's what I wanted to speak to you about."  He sighed heavily.  "I want to talk seriously about what's going on here.  All this fuss to get back Miss Summers' life.  A worthy cause I'm sure, but quite a lot of effort for one girl.  One girl that might be more than a little affected by her experience in the portal."

 

"Affected?"

 

"Faith, let me be perfectly candid.  I want you to do the same.  Haven't you had some doubts about her mental stability?  Are we doing the right thing putting her back into the line of fire?"

 

"You want me to say that I think she's crazy?"

 

"I can't ask Dawn to go against her sister.  I know she wouldn't, even if she agreed that something was wrong.  But one signed statement from you and we could take Buffy back for counseling...get her some help."

 

Faith laughed.  "Like you were going to get me some help?"  She shook her head.  "Buffy died saving the world.  That's me and you and everyone else on the friggin' council.  Seems to me we kind of owe her."  She headed for the steps.

 

"Faith, if the girl needs help, can you really afford to walk away?"

 

Without turning, she shot back, "Buffy's fine.  If you think I'll help you, you're an idiot."  She took a few more steps, then turned.  "Oh and Tristan?"

 

He looked at her, irritation written on his features.

 

"Don't call us girls."  She hurried up the stairs and into the house.

 

Buffy stood by the window.  "What did he want?"

 

"Don't trust him, B.  He's a scumbag."

 

Buffy's face tightened.  "Thanks."

 

Faith nodded and hurried over to Giles. 

 

Haversham opened the door and walked through.  He ignored the glares from both slayers and started to speak without preamble.  "Are we all here?"

 

"Dawn's on her way home," Willow replied.

 

"She should already be here."

 

"Yeah, well she's not.  So deal."  Buffy's tone was hostile.

 

"Fine, we'll wait.  I need to make some calls," he pulled out a cell phone and walked into the kitchen.

 

Xander scowled at the door Haversham had disappeared into, then turned to Giles.  "How come you're the only normal person we've met from the Council?"

 

"It's probably why they fired him," Anya offered. 

 

Spike walked into the room.  "I miss anything?"

 

"Just an irritated watcher," Willow answered.

 

Dawn rushed in from outside.  "Am I late?"

 

"Fraid so," Tara said.

 

"Damn."  Dawn grimaced at Buffy's glare.  "Darn."  She rolled her eyes as she joined Willow on the floor.

 

Haversham walked back out.  "Well, I see we're all assembled.  Finally."

 

Faith thought the watcher's attitude was getting old fast.  Looking at Buffy she could see her fellow slayer agreed.  Their eyes met in a rare moment of understanding.

 

"Very well then.  I have laid the groundwork for Miss Summers' return.  There are two prongs to the plan.  The first will be taken care of by my operatives.  We'll be switching the bodies in the gravesite.  You said, Rupert, that there was no autopsy, nor any question of the body's identity?"

 

"We called the police directly.  Identified her at the scene.  There was no autopsy at our request."

 

"We'll still check the police and coroner files.  Make sure no dental records or photos of the corpse exist."

 

Faith saw Buffy swallow and look down. 

 

"Could we not talk about Buffy's body that way?" Dawn said. 

 

"I don't see why not.  It's not your sister, as you well know."

 

"But it was my sister."

 

"Let it go, Niblet," Spike suggested.

 

Haversham looked at the vampire in surprise.  Spike stared back, his expression neutral.

 

"Won't they be able to tell that you disturbed the grave?" Tara asked.

 

"We have quite a lot of experience in this, Miss Maclay.  No one will question."

 

"Won't the person have to look an awful lot like Buffy?"  Willow glanced at her friend.  "Do you just have bodies on hand?"

 

Haversham nodded.  "Actually we do.  I can't really go into it but think of a worldwide network of morgues and funeral homes willing to provide us with whatever we need.  This body will look enough like Miss Summers to be easily mistaken for her by you.  We'll come up with a convincing story for why she was here in Sunnydale.  No one will question it.  Especially when the real Miss Summers drives back into town."

 

"Huh?" Buffy looked at him in suspicion.

 

"We need to provide you with a story for the past few months."

 

"So we're going to say that I just left town?"

 

"Yes, you were so distraught over your mother's death, at the responsibility that entailed, that you snapped, ran away."

 

"Nobody's going to believe that."

 

Haversham smiled meanly.  "Why not?  They believed you committed suicide."

 

Faith could tell that Buffy had never considered that.  But it was the easiest explanation.  The other slayer wasn't done arguing.

 

"This is ridiculous.  I'd never just leave Dawn, not when Glory—"

 

"The authorities don't know about Glory," Haversham countered.  "All they know is that there were two dead bodies under that tower and yours was an apparent suicide."

 

Buffy's voice was very quiet.  "Two bodies?"

 

'That's right.  Glory's host also died."

 

"Ben?"  Her face was horrified.  "But that's impossible.  He was alive when I left him."

 

Faith looked over at Giles.  He met her eyes firmly, then almost imperceptibly shook his head.  She felt confusion wash over her.  Wasn't he going to say something?

 

Haversham continued.  "Massive injuries.  Beaten to death by a heavy object.  Police were mystified at the connection.  I doubt any of you were any help."

 

The Scoobies sat silent in affirmation.

 

"So I killed Ben."

 

Haversham corrected her.  "No, you killed Glory, his death was unfortunate but not unexpected.  You're really getting upset over nothing."

 

"A life is not nothing."  Buffy turned away from him, looked at the others.  "Ben helped us, he saved your life, Giles.  Shouldn't we care that I killed him?"

 

Spike's voice was bitter.  "Bugger took that bitch Glory with him when he died.  Think that justifies whatever happened.  She'd have come back for us eventually."

 

Anya spoke.  "It was really Glory that killed him.  She wouldn't give up, wouldn't stop fighting you even when you were really hurting her.  Maybe if she had, he wouldn't have died."

 

"I beat him to death."  There was raw pain in Buffy's voice.

 

"So what?"  Dawn stood up, went to her sister.  "He wasn't good.  I don't care if he helped us or not.  He really wasn't good.  He could have let me get away, but he didn't.  He took me back to her so that he could live."

 

Willow agreed.  "And even before that he knew Glory was after the key.  He could have told you the truth before she found out it was Dawn.  But he didn't."

 

"You can't blame yourself, Buffy," Spike said.  "Glory took him down with her.  And he'd chosen to fight on her side.  He wasn't an innocent bystander."

 

"I was so mad at her, though.  I kept hitting her.  She was down and I didn't stop.  I couldn't stop.  Maybe if I hadn't been so out of control?"  She looked at Giles in appeal.

 

He finally spoke.  "Maybe what?  He'd still be alive?  Then so would Glory.  And Spike's right.  She'd be after us even now.  Making us all pay.  It's a terrible thing, but ultimately for the best."

 

Faith sat silently, watching Buffy process her watcher's words.  Faith's eyes again met Giles.  His look was wary.  She nodded slightly.  She would not betray him.  He seemed to relax.

 

"Can we move off this point now?"  Haversham looked at his watch.  He turned to Buffy.  "You and I need to get to the airport.  I have a plane waiting to fly you to New Mexico.  Then you'll be driving back here."

 

"New Mexico?"

 

"Lots of remote places there that a person could stay for several months and never be seen.  Easy to set up a backstory.  And we have a good network there to help us."

 

Buffy stood.  "Should I pack?"

 

"No.  You left suddenly, remember.  We'll have clothes for you there."

 

Faith stood up.  "How do we know you'll bring her back?"

 

Dawn and Spike stared hard at the watcher. 

 

Haversham laughed.  "She'll be back.  I give you my word.  Rupert can attest that it is worth something."

 

Giles nodded.

 

Haversham turned to Willow.  "A glamour would be nice.  I'd like to get her to the plane without anyone recognizing her.  And I'll need the counterspell."

 

The witch stood up.  She touched Buffy's shoulder, whispered some words.  Suddenly Buffy looked like a little old woman.

 

"Well done."  Haversham looked at Willow speculatively.  "Such power in one so young.  Quite an accomplishment.  You would be an excellent addition to the Council."

 

Willow's look was sour.  "Thanks, I'll pass."  She told him the words for the counterspell.

 

"As you wish."  Haversham turned to Buffy.  "Are you ready?"

 

The old woman nodded and turned to the others.  "See you."

 

Dawn rushed to her, hugged her tightly.  "Come home soon."

 

"I will."  She followed Haversham out.

 

As soon as the door closed, the others began to talk at once.  Xander's voice was the loudest.  "So what do we do?"

 

All eyes turned to Giles.  He sighed.  "We go on as if nothing has changed and we still believe Buffy is dead.  Her return must appear a surprise to us all."  He nodded to Faith.  "We may as well go home.  There's nothing more to do here now."  He didn't even stop to see if she was following, just walked out the door.

 

Faith looked at Dawn.  "I'll meet you here later for patrol?"

 

The other slayer nodded.  "I miss Buffy already."

 

Faith gave her a quick hug.  "She'll be ok.  And so will we.  And soon this will all be over and everything will be back to normal, or what passes for that in this town."  She hurried out to catch up with Giles.

 

He already had the car started.  The silence on the way back held none of the ease of the ride over.  She followed him into the apartment, watched as he poured himself a scotch. 

 

She sat on a stool, said nothing as he paced.  When he appeared to be winding down, she asked, "Why?"

 

"Because I'm a coward."

 

She frowned.  "You're anything but that."

 

He looked at her.  "You don't think what I did was wrong?"

 

She shrugged.  "Not my call."

 

"When you tried to frame Buffy for Finch's death, that was wrong."

 

She nodded.  "Circumstances are different.  Ben might have died anyway.  Buffy stopped a god, Giles.  What do you think that did to the host's body?"

 

"Ben withstood other things that we did to Glory."

 

Faith raised an eyebrow.  "Do you want me to side with you or not?"

 

He glared at her.  "I don't want you to do anything."

 

"And back there, at the house, I didn't do anything.  I didn't betray you.  But you told me the truth, Giles.  And that makes me part of this."

 

"Well forget the truth then."  He sat down heavily on the couch.

 

"How can I, now that it's going to haunt you forever...or until you tell her."

 

He turned to look at her.  "Tell her?"

 

She walked over to the couch, stood in front of him.  "Tell Buffy.  When she gets back.  Tell her the truth.  Let her decide if you tell the others or the Council.  It's the only way you're going to find peace." 

 

Giles stared at her, then pulled her to him.  "When did you get to be so wise?" he murmured as he laid his head against her body.

 

She stroked his hair.  "I just tried to think of what you would tell me." 

 

He looked up at her and smiled.  "I love you."

 

She eased herself onto his lap.  "And I love you."

 

He played with the Kali statue that dangled from her neck.  "My goddess.  My defender."

 

As she leaned in to kiss him, she whispered, "Your protector.  Forever and always.  No matter what."

 

-------------------------------------

 

Buffy stared out the window, ignoring Haversham.  For his part he seemed to have little interest in talking to her.  She sighed.  Focus, she ordered, this is the last step to getting your life back. 

 

They pulled into the airport.  Haversham followed a side road to a remote parking area.  One plane sat on the tarmac.  The door opened as they drove up.  Haversham stopped the car. 

 

Buffy got out then realized that Haversham hadn't moved.  "Isn't this it?"

 

"Indeed it is.  But I'm needed here in Sunnydale."

 

She looked at the plane uncertainly. 

 

"Don't worry.  An associate of yours is waiting for you.  He'll be with you the whole time.  There's just one thing to do before I go."  Haversham spoke the counterspell that Willow had given him. 

 

Buffy didn't feel any different but she could tell by the look of satisfaction on his face that the glamour had come off.  "An associate of mine?"  She knew she was frowning. 

 

Footsteps sounded behind her.  She turned slowly.  Felt her heart start to beat faster.  "Riley?"

 

"Yep."  Riley nodded to Haversham.  "We're all ready on this end."

 

"Good.  I'll see you in a few days."

 

Riley nodded and Haversham drove away.  He turned to Buffy.  "Aren't you going to say something?"

 

"I thought you were in Belize or something?"

 

He motioned her to go to the plane, walked next to her.  "I was.  But then I got this call.  They said it was important.  For you.  How could I say no?"

 

Buffy tried to make sense of the things she was feeling.  She was glad to see him, but she was also very angry.  She followed him up the stairs and let him point her to a seat. 

 

"Better strap in, we need to get in the air."

 

She did as he said.  He walked to the cockpit and spoke to the pilot then closed the outside door.  The plane began to taxi.  He took the seat opposite hers and put on his seatbelt.  She just stared at him. 

 

"I was sorry to hear about your mom." 

 

She nodded. 

 

"And then you.  I didn't know.  I mean, for what it's worth."

 

"Yeah."

 

He looked uncomfortable.  "So here's the scenario.  I came into town.  I'd just been discharged.  It was after the funeral, but before you took off to get away from Glory.  You were at the end of your rope.  It was all too much for you.  You needed to get away.  And I could take you far from Sunnydale.  So I drove us to New Mexico.  We've been living in an old ranch house north of Santa Fe.  You didn't go out much, too stressful.  I was with you most of the time.  So nobody really got to know us.  Luckily for us the watchers found a house that a couple had been living in, so the townspeople have seen people there.  And they were artists, didn't get out much.  We'll be able to pass for them easily."  He frowned when she didn't ask any questions.  "You ever going to say anything?"

 

"You just left."

 

Now he was silent.

 

"I came after you, you know.  I tried to stop you."

 

He looked down.  "I didn't know."

 

"No.  You were too busy being Riley Finn, ultimatum guy." 

 

"That's not fair."

 

She laughed bitterly.  "Not fair.  All the crap I was going through and you issue a love me better or else ultimatum and I'm not fair?  Give me a break."

 

"I couldn't stay the way things were."

 

"So instead of addressing the problem you just ran away."

 

He sighed.  "I don't want to fight."

 

"No.  You never want to fight."  She looked out the window.  "You just want me to be different."

 

"Is that so wrong?  I wanted to matter to you."

 

"You did matter.  But my mom was sick, and Dawn was the..." she trailed off, unsure if he knew about the key.  She found herself unwilling to tell him if he didn't.  "Well there were huge things going on with Dawn, and I was suddenly totally responsible for her.  I'm sorry I couldn't make you the center of my life, Riley.  I sort of had other things to deal with."

 

"You could have let me help."

 

"When?  In between your visits to donate blood to the local neighborhood undead skank?"

 

He looked away angrily.  "Seems to me that should be old news by now."

 

"No, it's just one more thing we never got to talk about.  Everything that is wrong with me is open for discussion.  But god forbid I bring up something that you did."  She undid her seat belt.

 

"Buffy, it's not really safe yet."

 

She just glared at him as she got up and walked to the bathroom.  She closed the door and stared at herself in the mirror.  Her eyes were haunted.  This was the last thing she had needed.  She had a feeling Haversham had known that.  "Bastard," she whispered. 

 

She splashed water on her face and took several deep breaths.  To get her life back, to be Buffy Summers again, she would have to deal with this.  And she could.  She'd been through worse than a few days with her ex.  She sighed before opening the door. 

 

Riley was reading a magazine.  She took her seat and fastened her seat belt.  Leaning back, she closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.  She tried to take her mind back, to remember happier times.  But each memory seemed to hurt.  She tried to think of something recent, something free of her mom and Angel and death.  She remembered sparring with Spike in the basement.  She could almost feel his lips on hers.  With a start she pushed the memory aside and forced herself to think of all the schoolwork she would have to catch up on when she enrolled again in school.  She fell asleep trying to choose a major.

 

Some time later, she woke as the plane touched down in Albuquerque.  Riley led her down the stairs.  A pick-up was parked nearby.  They got in and he drove off.   In the dark, it was hard to make out the scenery but after a few hours they turned off the main road and Buffy could tell that the area was becoming more and more desolate. 

 

"Pretty lonely out here in the winter," Riley observed. 

 

"I guess."

 

"We only have to spend enough time here to be seen around town, so they know we are packing up."

 

"Right."

 

He sighed and quit talking. 

 

They finally pulled into a dirt road, then Riley stopped the truck in front of a small one level house.  Buffy followed him in.  He made them some sandwiches and explained Haversham's plan for them in detail.   When they had finished eating, he gave her a quick tour of the house.  She was relieved to see that there were two bedrooms.  The closet in her room held some clothes for her, mostly jeans and t-shirts. 

 

"Not much reason to be a fashion plate here."

 

"Are you making fun of me?"

 

"No.  But I know you like clothes and these aren't your normal style.  It's only for a few days, then you can look cool again."  He walked to the door.  "If you need anything, you know where I am."

 

She nodded.  She undressed and lay down on the bed.  Sleep was long in coming but when it did it brought nightmares.  She was back in the house the night that Dawn had called her mother's body back from the dead.  This time her sister didn't stop the spell.  The door opened and Joyce walked in.  Only it wasn't Joyce.  The corpse wore Buffy's face.  Dawn was screaming behind her.

 

"Buffy!"  She jerked away to find Riley beside her, holding her.  "It's ok.  It's just a dream." 

 

She tried to pull away. 

 

"Let me help," he whispered.  "Please, Buffy."  His hand stroked her hair.

 

She knew it was wrong.  But his arms were strong, and his body was big enough to shield her.  She let him hold her.  And when he kissed her, she didn't stop him. 

 

"Buffy, I love you.  I've never stopped loving you."  His voice was so familiar and his touch so warm. 

 

She gave herself up to it.  Began to return his kisses with a passion that surprised her.  Falling back into the rhythm they had known, they were soon making love.  She closed her eyes and tried to lose herself in the sensations.  His voice called her back. She opened her eyes, saw his face contorted in pleasure above her, and suddenly was consumed with emptiness.  He slumped against her contentedly.  She lay as if stone.  Why had she done this?

 

"Buffy?"  His voice was full of tender concern.  "Why are you crying?"

 

She wiped at tears she hadn't realized were falling.  "This is wrong."

 

He pulled her close.  "How can it be wrong?  We love each other.  We've found each other again.  Now things can be different."

 

She pushed him off her.  "You mean I can be different, don't you?"

 

"What is wrong with you?"

 

"See, that's exactly what I mean.  Why is it always that something is wrong with me?"

 

"God, Buffy, could you be any more self-centered?"  He pushed himself up into a sitting position.  "It's not always about you."  He got up.  "Maybe if you were less quick to judge, things might have worked between us."

 

"Judge?  Like you aren't judging me?  Why don't you just tell me what else you think is wrong with me.  Then maybe I can change all at once so that the great Riley Finn is finally happy."

 

"Well happy's a good place to start.  When was the last time you were happy, Buffy?"

 

"You've got to be kidding me.  After all I've been through and you want to know when I was last happy?  I've tried to tell you, being a slayer isn't big on the joy front."

 

"Well maybe if you were a little less focused on being the slayer, and a little more interested in being Buffy, it might be different."

 

"I don't have the choice, Riley.  Don't you think I'd like to be a normal girl?  Go out with friends and do silly things?"

 

He shook his head.  "No, I don't think you would.  I think you like wallowing in every little misery you can make out of your life."

 

She pulled the sheet up around her.  "Get out."

 

He laughed bitterly.  "With pleasure."  The door slammed behind him.

 

Hot, angry tears filled her eyes.  She rolled over and stared at the wall, all hope of sleep gone.  Morning took a long time to arrive.

 

The next day was mercifully busy, she was too busy to dwell on what had happened.  They packed up their things and loaded them into the truck.  Riley made several passes through town, stopping at the small market and the hardware store to tell his story.  Buffy followed him in and pretended to be his girlfriend.  She was glad when they finally pulled out of town. 

 

Riley didn't talk till they hit the interstate.  "I figure we can get to somewhere in Arizona before we have to stop."

 

"Why not drive straight through?"

 

"That's real funny, Buffy, since you can't drive." 

 

"I learned.  Once mom got sick I had to.  Giles taught me.  I have a license."

 

Riley glanced over at her.  "You drive?"

 

"Yeah.  So we can just take turns.  I want to get home."

 

"Fine by me."  He said tightly.

 

The trip was long and boring.  Buffy found herself looking forward to the times she could drive just to break up the monotony.  The radio in the truck was broken so there wasn't even the relief of music.  Finally, early in the evening, they reached Sunnydale.  Riley parked in a lot on the outskirts of town and pulled out a cell phone.  "It's us, we're in town.  Ok.  Yeah I know where that is.  No problem."  He pulled back out into traffic.  "Haversham says that a cop that knows you just headed out for dinner."

 

"Detective Stein," she guessed.  Then she saw a sedan ahead of them.  It was an unmarked police car.  She recognized the man behind the wheel.  "That's him," she told Riley.

 

As the cop pulled into a fast food place, Riley eased the truck in behind him. 

 

"I've had two run-ins with him.  Both times involved a murder.  He'll remember me.  This is perfect."  She was already out of the car. 

 

"Hold up there, killer," Riley said.

 

She had a moment of déjà vu.  Why did that sound so familiar?  The feeling was replaced with thoughts of Ben lying dead where she had left him.  "Don't call me that," she said sharply. 

 

"Sorry.  I was just teasing." 

 

"Well don't."  She walked away.

 

He reached out, touched her arm.  "Buffy, I'm sorry.  I just can't seem to say the right thing with you."

 

She sighed.  "Forget it."

 

"I don't want to forget it.  I don't want to forget anything.  Look, can't we try again?  The other night, I said some things I shouldn't have."

 

She shook her head although her expression softened.  "No, you just said what was in your heart.  I wish I could be what you want, but I never will be.  I'm what you see, and I don't think that you really like that very much."

 

"Of course I do.  I fell in love with you, didn't I?"

 

She gave him a bittersweet smile.  "The Buffy you loved, that loved you, she's gone, Riley.  She died.  Not on that tower.  She died when Mom got sick.  And I buried her when Mom died.  She's never coming back.  This is me, this is all I have to offer."

 

"I know it's hard to lose someone.  But maybe it just takes time?"

 

She shook her head.  "You don't know what it's like.  You couldn't possibly know what it's like.  I'll never go back to the way I was.  That girl...she doesn't exist anymore."

 

He looked down.  "Then I'm sorry.  Because I loved that girl."  He walked into the restaurant. 

 

She followed him in.  Detective Stein was just taking his order to a table and she managed to get right in his way.  They almost collided.  "Oh, I'm sorry."

 

He stopped in his tracks.  "You're Buffy Summers."

 

She copped an attitude.  "Last I checked, yeah."

 

"That's impossible."

 

Riley looked back from his place in line, in perfect character he walked back to her.  "Something wrong, Buffy?"

 

Stein looked him over.  "And you'd be?"

 

"Riley Finn.  I'm a friend of Buffy's."

 

"This is impossible."

 

"Is there some problem, Mister..."

 

"Detective.  Detective Stein.  And yeah there's a problem.  The problem is that we buried this woman several months ago."

 

Buffy frowned.  "That's not very funny.  Just because my mother died."  She turned away.

 

Riley leaned in to the Detective.  "We still don't talk much about it.  She's really having a hard time coping.  That's why I took her away with me.  So maybe you could hold off on those kind of jokes?"

 

"This isn't a joke." 

 

Buffy turned back around, her expression was rife with confusion  "But I'm not dead.  I mean I know I shouldn't have just bailed on Dawn and my friends this way, but I can't believe they'd say I was dead."

 

Detective Stein picked up his cell phone.  "If you're not buried in that grave, then I need to find out who is."

 

"I have a grave.  Oh my god that's creepy."  She shuddered.  The gesture was only half faked.  She turned to Riley; let desperation sneak into her voice.  "We've got to get home.  They think I'm dead."

 

They turned to go. The detective called after them.  "You'll be somewhere I can reach you?"

 

Buffy fought a smile.  "Don't worry, Detective.  I'm not going anywhere."

 

As they left the restaurant, Buffy heard Stein order the body in her grave exhumed.  She sighed in relief as they drove away.  A few more days and she would be free.

 

------------------------------

 

Spike sat in the living room, listening to Dawn's laughter.  She had friends over, a change he was happy to see.  She had been alone far too much up to now.  She needed to be around people her own age. 

 

The teenagers ran down the stairs and into the kitchen.  The girl Lisa said hello.  He thought she had a bit of crush on him.  The boy seemed to only have eyes for Dawn.  Spike felt a surge of suspicion.  Kevin better treat her right.  He smiled.  The whole scenario was ludicrous; Spike the bad-ass playing overprotective dad. 

 

He thought of Buffy, wondered how she was doing.  Everything was ready for her return.  The watcher and his pals had changed the bodies in the grave.  They had covered their tracks well, even changing a few official reports.  It was all set to unravel seamlessly. 

 

Haversham hadn't been around the house since.  Spike suspected he was still in town, just lying low so as not to muddy the waters when the cops started poking around.  Spike thought he should do the same.  Officially he didn't exist and his presence would just raise questions.  Luckily he could hide out in the basement.  Maybe Buffy would come down and visit him.  He smiled wickedly at the thought.  Except for that first visit, when she had tried to stake him, he'd been enjoying her little forays into his territory. 

 

He heard a car pull up outside.  It was Buffy.  Every cell in his body knew it.  She walked through the door and a big grin crossed his face only to die when Riley followed her in. 

 

Buffy saw him first.  "Spike." 

 

Dawn came charging out of the kitchen.  Without missing a beat, she dropped her coke and stared at her sister.   "Buffy!  But you're dead..."

 

Lisa and Kevin stopped behind her, staring at Buffy with shock. 

 

Seeing the others, Buffy moved toward her slowly.  "It's all right, Dawnie.  It's really me.  I'm home."

 

Spike stood up.  "How?  We thought..."

 

She shook her head.  "I didn't know.  I was with Riley.  In New Mexico.  If I'd known you all thought I was dead, I would have come back."

 

"You really weren't in any shape to come back."  Riley's voice was full of loving concern.

 

Spike felt all his hopes plummet.  Riley was back and from the look of it had wormed his way back into Buffy's life.  And heart.  Spike turned to Kevin and Lisa.  "I think we need to give Dawn and Buffy some time together."

 

They grabbed their backpacks and hurried out.  Once the door closed.  Dawn pulled away from Buffy and glared at Riley.  "Why is he here?"

 

"Nice to see you again too, Dawn.  You're all grown up now."

 

"I'm a slayer.  We grow up fast."  She walked into the kitchen, came back with a handful of paper towels.  She began to mop up the spilled soda.

 

"What are you doing here?"  Riley was glaring at the vampire.

 

Spike was surprised Buffy hadn't told him the story.  "I'm Dawn's watcher.  I live here."

 

"Now I've heard everything."  He looked at Buffy.  "And you're ok with this?"

 

She nodded.  "Things are different here now.  Faith is back too."

 

"Faith?  You haven't caught her yet?"

 

"No, I mean she's a slayer again.  She lives with Giles."

 

"Giles and Faith?  What?  Is he going through midlife crisis?  Or just insane?"

 

"You don't know anything about it.  So shut up."  Dawn's voice was vicious.

 

"I'm not really sure what I did to you to make you so mad at me, Dawn, but maybe you should ease up a bit."

 

"Why?"  She turned to her sister.  "Is he going to be staying here?"

 

Buffy nodded.  "For a while anyway.  It's part of the story."

 

Spike decided he'd had enough.  "Come on, Dawn.  Time to train.  I'm sure Riley needs to settle in."  He glared at the other man.

 

Dawn followed him downstairs.  "I can't believe she brought him back."  She threw herself on Spike's bed.  "He's such a jerk."

 

"You used to like him, didn't you?"

 

"I was a kid then," she turned over, began to pull at the threads in the blanket.  "He's just so annoying."

 

He lit a cigarette.  "Gotta agree with you there.  Didn't make my day either to see him standing there."

 

"Do you think that they're really together?"

 

He sat down next to her.  "I don't know."

 

"Why can't she like you?"  Dawn's voice sounded very young.

 

"Some things just aren't meant to be, Niblet."  He looked up, wondered what Buffy and Riley were doing, decided he didn't want to know.  "Get up, we can at least do something productive.

 

An hour later, Dawn stopped her exercises and looked up.  "It's dark."

 

He had felt the sun disappear but it surprised him that she could sense it as well.  "How do you know?"

 

She shrugged.  "I just know."

 

He ruffled her hair.  "You're a special one.  What say we get the hell out of here and patrol?"

 

She nodded.  "We should warn Faith and Giles."

 

He stood up.  "Good idea."  He grabbed his equipment and followed her upstairs.  She grabbed her bag from the hall closet.

 

"Hope you're not leaving on my account?"  Riley stood in the dining room watching them.

 

"Patrol."  Dawn turned away.

 

"Can't believe Buffy lets you hang around with him."

 

"Dawn makes her own decisions.  As for Buffy, well she didn't have much say in this, her being dead and all." 

 

"Let's go, Spike."  Dawn opened the door and walked out.

 

"Better go," Riley gave him a cold smile. 

 

Spike turned to follow his slayer out. 

 

"I'll be watching you, Spike."

 

He turned around, stared at Riley.  Not for the first time, Spike wished he didn't have a chip in his head.  This boy was begging for a thrashing.  "Watch this."  He flipped Riley off. 

 

He was still muttering when he joined Dawn on the sidewalk.  "Posturing ape."

 

Dawn didn't try to cheer him up.  When they got to Giles' house, Faith took one look at their faces and asked, "What the hell's happened?"

 

"Buffy's back."  Spike nodded at Giles. 

 

The other watcher looked up.  "So soon?  Well at least it's started now."

 

"She came back with Riley."

 

"What?"  Giles looked at Faith.

 

"Buffy and Riley?  As in together?"  The older slayer grabbed her stuff.  "I'll never figure B out."  She walked over and kissed Giles goodbye.

 

Out in the courtyard she shook her head.  "Why would she want him back?  That guy is trouble."

 

"You know him rather well, don't you?" Spike remembered how she had played them all when she had switched bodies with Buffy.  "What has he got some hidden kink we don't know about?"  He smiled at the thought.

 

She shook her head.  "It's not that.  I just don't trust that whole all-American boy gig.  Nobody can be that squeaky clean."

 

"His being here changes everything," Dawn complained as they moved off for the cemetery. 

 

Spike had to agree with her.  Riley's presence was unexpected.  And unwelcome.  And would undoubtedly mean that Buffy wouldn't be paying him any further visits.  He felt his anger rise.  He looked at the two slayers.  They looked upset as well.  He hoped it was a good night for slaying.  They all looked like they could use a few good kills.

 

----------------------------------

 

Giles was on the phone in the Summers' kitchen listening as Haversham filled him in.  Buffy sat at the counter watching him. 

 

"It went surprisingly smooth.  In this case it was fortunate that Buffy was so well known by the police.  They accepted that it was she that returned, which was half the battle.  They discovered the new body and will no doubt investigate that for a while."  The watcher was quiet for a moment.  "They won't find anything of course."

 

"This corpse didn't come from one of our contacts, did it?" 

 

Haversham took a deep breath.  "No.  She was a slayer in training.  A vampire snapped her neck."

 

Giles didn't follow up what he suspected.  To be mistaken for Buffy, this would-be slayer would have to look Buffy's age.  Which meant that she had probably died in the Cruciamentum.  He shuddered when he remembered Buffy's experience with that abomination.  From what Wesley had told him she was one of the only girls to ever make it through the ritual.  He suspected that if Joyce hadn't been involved Buffy wouldn't have found the inner strength to beat Kralik.  And if Giles hadn't defied orders and been there, another vampire would have killed both women.   The Cruciamentum was something he and Buffy never talked about but he had done a great deal of research on it.  He believed that the ritual wasn't actually meant to eliminate the active slayer since so few of them ever reached 18, rather it was designed to get rid of the slayers-in-training that would never be called and had reached an awkward age.  It was an easy way to make sure that they never spoke of the training they received or the Council they served.  Giles had long ago come to the conclusion that the Council of Watchers was at least as monstrous as the creatures it existed to bring down.  

 

"So Buffy is free to live her life again." 

 

"Yes.  I don't think the police will be back again.  But if they are, I'm sure she can handle it."

 

Giles knew she could.  She'd already had several interviews with Detective Stein.  He didn't seem suspicious of her story, especially with Riley backing it up.  The young man reeked of credibility.  "She'll be glad to hear it.  I know that she is eager to return to patrolling."

 

"Yes, I'm sure she is.  As I'm eager to return to England."  There was a pause.  "Don't think we won't be watching her, Rupert.  Or you."

 

Giles wondered when his friend had become such a cold bastard.  "Of course, Tristan." 

 

As he hung up, Buffy wandered out to the living room.  He stood in the doorway and watched her.  For someone that just had her life handed back to her, she didn't appear very happy.

 

Riley was sitting on the couch.  He had the paper in his hand.  He looked up and asked her, "What's a six letter word for murderer?

 

"Slayer," she answered numbly. 

 

He laughed.  "Good one."

 

"Yeah.  She headed for the stairs, heard him say, "Killer."

 

"I told you not to call me that."  She spun angrily.

 

"I wasn't.  It's a six letter word for murderer."  He looked at her.  "What's wrong with you?  Did something go wrong?"

 

"No.  It's all good."

 

"Then shouldn't you be happy?"

 

She didn't answer him, just continued upstairs.

 

Giles knew what was haunting Buffy.  It was the same thing haunting him.  He followed her up the stairs to the bedroom.  "Buffy, can I talk to you?"

 

She was standing in front of her closet.  She didn't turn around.  "I really should be happy.  I'm alive again.  I can go out.  Riley's here if I want him.  But I keep thinking about..."

 

"Ben," he finished for her.

 

"Yeah." 

 

He stepped closer to her.  "So do I."

 

"I've never killed a human before, Giles."  Her voice was a whisper.

 

"No.  And I hope you never do."

 

She turned around slowly.

 

"I killed Ben.  After you left him to go up for Dawn.  I suffocated him."

 

She stared at him. 

 

He walked to the window.  Looked out on the daylight.  Such a beautiful world, even when it was all crashing down around him.

 

Her voice was harsh.  "You stood there and let me take the blame.  You didn't say a word."

 

"I know."

 

"You think Faith is rubbing off on you, Giles?" 

 

He turned to face her, shook his head.  "Actually, I believe that she was rather disappointed that I didn't say anything."

 

"So she knows.  And she didn't say anything either?"

 

"She is loyal to me."

 

"That scares me."  Buffy's glare was furious.  "How many other people know?"

 

"You two are the only ones."

 

She went and sat on the bed.  He came and sat down next to her.  "I can't even begin to tell you why I did it."

 

"Because if the Council thought I killed him, you knew I wouldn't get in trouble.  But if they found out you did it, there'd be an inquiry."

 

"That is probably quite a lot of it."

 

She looked down.  "You killed him to protect us, to protect me, didn't you?"

 

"Yes."

 

"That doesn't make it right," she said fiercely.

 

"It doesn't make it wrong either."

 

She didn't argue.  They both sat in silence for several moments.  Finally, in a small voice, she said, "I'm not sure I know what's right and what's wrong anymore.  Everything's different since I got back.  I wasn't gone that long.  How could it all have changed this way?  How could you all have changed so much?"

 

"Your death left a huge vacuum.  It had to be filled and it fell to us to do so.  We had to change, perhaps in ways you wish that we hadn't, to make it all whole again."

 

"And now you have to make room for me again."

 

"Yes."

 

She turned to him.  "And you did it by setting me up."

 

He looked at her.  "I'll do whatever you want, Buffy.  If you want me to tell the Council that I killed Ben, I will.  If you want me to tell the others, I'll do that too."

 

She stared at him, then finally shook his head.  "I need you here.  If they take you away, everything will fall apart.  Let the Council believe I did it."

 

"What about the others?"

 

"I'll have to think about that." 

 

"Buffy, I'm so sorry I let you think you'd killed him."

 

"I know you are.  But if you could do it over, would you do it differently?"

 

He knew what his answer was but he didn't want to say it, so he said nothing.  She looked away from him.  He longed to touch her, to hold her.  But he wasn't sure which of them he thought that would comfort.  He rose.  "I'll let myself out." 

 

--------------------

 

Buffy sat on her bed.  Her mind was reeling from what Giles had told her.  She wanted to run after him, to say, "Lie to me, tell me you didn't do it or that if you could take it back you would."  But she didn't move.  She heard the door close downstairs, heard his car start.  She had known for a long time that Giles was not always what he appeared to be.  There was a dark side to him that twisted around the fierce love she knew he had for her and the others.  She recognized his darkness because it called to something similar inside of her.  It was what had brought them together, what kept them together.  She loved him like a father, knew he loved her in equal measure as a daughter.  They would both do anything to protect each other.  But that didn't make what he had done hurt any less.

 

"I saw Giles leave.  I think I should go too.  Since everything worked out for you." Riley stood at her bedroom door. 

 

"Everything."  Buffy tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice.  She stood and walked over to him.  "Things haven't been that good between us.  But I know that I owe you a big thank-you."

 

He shrugged.  "How could I not help?"

 

She nodded.  "You know I'd do the same for you."

 

His gaze was intense.  "Then do it.  Help me get my life back.  The part that had you in it."

 

"We've been over this, Riley.  It just won't work."

 

"It could.  If you wanted it to."

 

"Then I guess I don't want that.  I'm sorry."

 

"It's ok.  I had to try."  He grinned but the smile didn't reach his eyes. 

 

"I know."  She didn't even try to smile.  "So what now?"

 

He shrugged.  "I guess I go back to my unit.  You don't need me in Sunnydale.  Three slayers and a vampire watcher pretty much have the place sewn up tight."

 

She heard the sarcasm when he referred to Spike.  "I know you don't believe it, but Spike is making a difference."

 

"It's the chip, Buffy.  Just the chip.  Take it out and he'd be like all the rest."

 

"Maybe.  But the chip's there to stay.  So he's not like all the rest.  He's a good watcher for Dawn."

 

Riley's voice was bitter.  "Is she the only slayer he'll be watching?"

 

She sighed.  "I'm not going to get into this with you.  And it's a stupid question.  I don't love Spike."

 

"He thinks he loves you.  Goddamned animal in love with his killer.  Funny in an ironic, disgusting way."

 

"I don't want to argue now, Riley.  Let's just put that all behind us, ok?"

 

He stared at her with a strange intensity, then finally smiled.  "Sure.  Come here."  He held her tightly.  "I wish..."

 

"I know."  She kissed his cheek then walked him downstairs and to the door.  "Good bye, Riley."

 

"Good bye, Buffy."

 

She shut the door slowly and closed her eyes.  She couldn't cry for herself, but for the younger Buffy—the Buffy that hadn't lost her mother—she could weep.  "I wish I could be that girl for you, Riley," she whispered. 

 

The tears didn't last long.  She wandered around the house.  It was so quiet.  Everyone was at school.  Riley was gone.  She was alone in the house. 

 

Well, not quite alone.

 

Without consciously planning to go down the stairs, Buffy stood at the door to the basement.  Spike lay sprawled on his bed, smoking and staring up at the ceiling.  She just watched him for a few minutes, then she asked quietly, "You busy?"

 

Spike looked up, seemed surprised to see her.  "No.  Come on in."  He sat up, stubbed out his cigarette.  "What?  No ex-commando shadowing your every move?"

 

"No."  She walked over to the bed; thought about sitting down then decided she was too restless.  She began to pace.

 

"This call business or social, Summers?"

 

She didn't answer. 

 

"Buffy?"  He sounded concerned.

 

She didn't know why she had come down to the basement.  She wasn't sure what she wanted from him.  All she knew was that everything had changed and nothing made sense anymore.

 

"It's not Dawn, is it?"  He sounded slightly panicked.

 

She took pity on him.  "No.  She's fine.  Everyone's fine."

 

"Except for you from the look of it."

 

She stopped, turned to meet his eyes.  "What would you change about me?" she asked abruptly.

 

"Sorry?"

 

"You know, about my personality, my character, what would you change?"

 

He smiled.  "I'm pretty partial to you the way you are, Summers."

 

She began to pace again.  "Oh come on, Spike.  You wouldn't change anything?  Not one little thing."

 

"Ok.  Yeah.  I can think of one thing."

 

She stopped in front of him.  "What is it?  What would you change?"

 

He swallowed hard.  She could barely hear him when he replied, "I'd make you want me the way I do you."

 

She just stared at him. 

 

He looked down. 

 

"That's it?  That's all?"

 

He lit another cigarette.  "It's a pretty big thing from where I'm sitting."

 

She sat down next to him.  "You wouldn't want me to be less self-centered?  Or more carefree?  Maybe I should be less judgmental?  Or less focused?"

 

"You are the way you are."  He shook his head.  "I suppose they'd be nice changes, but then it wouldn't be you."  He chuckled.

 

"What?"

 

He smiled.  "The Buffy robot.  I always knew she wasn't you.  No matter how much fun she was."

 

"Do I want to hear this?" she scowled at him.

 

"Not what you're thinking.  I mean I knew she wasn't the real thing because she smiled too much.  For no reason, she'd be beaming and chirpy."

 

She shrugged.  "April was the same way.  I guess Warren liked his girls perky."

 

"Perky.  Insipid.  It's a fine line."

 

"So you don't like it when I smile?"

 

"No, I do."  He met her gaze fearlessly.  "One of my fantasies is that I make you smile.  That little half-smile you get when you don't want to but you can't help it."

 

She could feel one of those smiles coming on, had to bite her lip to stop it.  "You don't think I'm too serious?"

 

"Let's see, you're not even twenty-one and you've already died twice, lost your mum, and been forced to take on a sister that isn't really related.  You have to kill or be killed on a nightly basis.  Your last boyfriend abandoned you.  And oh yeah, the man you really love, you can never have.  Too serious?  I'd say you had cause."

 

She felt her mouth turning up in a half-smile. 

 

"Well, I just got my fantasy."  He grinned at her, then looked down. 

 

She sat down next to him.  Neither of them said a word.  In the silence she could feel herself relaxing for the first time in days. 

 

He put out his cigarette.  "I know you'll never love me." 

 

She didn't answer for a few moments.  Then she said, "Amy could.  Dawn told me that she seems to like you."

 

He shrugged.  "Probably a nice girl and all.  But she's not you."

 

"So...what?  You just wait until I change my mind?"

 

"That'd be a long wait, wouldn't it?" He swung his legs past her and stretched back out on the bed.  Closing his eyes, he said bitterly, "Go back to Riley, Buffy.  As long as you pretend to love him, he'll be happy."

 

She watched him.  He lay very still.  "But I don't love him."

 

"Well everyone knows that.  Hell, he even knows that.  But as long as you play nice, he'll suck it up."

 

"He doesn't like who I am."

 

He sighed.  "Then he's a fool."

 

She reached out; her hand hovered over his cheek.  She could tell he knew it was there.  His body seemed to become even more still.  "Maybe I'm the fool?" she said softly.

 

"How's that?"

 

She let her fingers drop slowly, felt his cool skin under her touch.  He flinched in surprise.  "For wanting this.  Maybe I'm the fool for wanting you."

 

He seemed to tremble.  "Don't mock, Buffy.  It's cruel."

 

She turned, knelt on the bed next to him.   She didn't know why, but she needed to touch him.

 

He looked up.  "I mean it, Summers.  Don't."

 

She kept her expression neutral.  "What are you going to do, Spike?"  She bent down, let her hair run over his face.  She heard him gasp.  "How will you stop me?"  She ran her fingers through his hair.  It was soft.  She leaned in, then felt him flip her over. 

 

His eyes were hard as he held her down.  "Damn you.  You think this is funny?  Maybe you want to tell me I'm beneath you again?" 

 

She recognized the pain in his voice, felt it burn a path inside her.  She smiled gently, her regret clear.  "I'd say I'm the one who's beneath you at the moment." 

 

His expression lightened.  He started to climb off her, frowned when she stopped him.  "Buffy, don't.  It's not funny anymore.  It's not a game."

 

She pulled him down.  "No.  It's not a game," she agreed as she lifted her lips to meet his. 

 

He fought her for a second, every muscle straining to get away. 

 

It was suddenly very important that he didn't escape.  She whispered, "Spike, don't fight this."

 

His resistance ended.  "Damn you," he cursed. 

 

"Damn us both," she said solemnly.  "Feel me."  She placed his hand on her forehead.  "I'm burning up.  Burn with me."  And she kissed him.

 

"Oh god," he moaned.  He gave up any semblance of control.  His lips were relentless, his hands everywhere as he pulled off her clothing, helped her remove his.  He demanded that she prove herself, that she show him this wasn't a game and he wasn't just sport.

 

So she did.

 

It was several hours later that they thought to lock the door.

 

---------------------------------------

 

Tara looked up to see Buffy and Spike come into the kitchen.  "Hey."

 

"Oh hey," Buffy looked guilty.  And very flushed. 

 

"Tara," Spike was better at acting normal.  "Willow."

 

The other witch looked up from the paper.  "I didn't know you were here, Buffy?"

 

"Yeah.  I'm here."

 

"I didn't see Riley."  Willow looked puzzled.

 

"I don't think Riley will be hanging around here anymore," Buffy explained.

 

Tara didn't think the slayer looked too upset about it.  And Spike was grinning.  Tara was getting definite impressions that their relationship had changed.  Drastically.  She tried to hide a smile.

 

The phone rang and Willow got up.  "Hello?"  The color drained out of her face.

 

Tara rushed to her.  "What's wrong?"

 

Willow was listening to the person on the phone.  "No, she hasn't called here.  Ok.  Yeah.  We can be there, if you want.  Well, it might help.  All right.  Call us back when you hear from Angel." 

 

She hung up the phone.  Looked at the others with a panicked expression.  "That was Cordelia.  Anne just called from the shelter.  Amy's disappeared."

 

FIN

 

Continue on to Part 8 - Payback