Bloody Soul by Kallysten

ReviewsRating: NC-17

Summary: Story goes AU at the end of Becoming 2. Rewrite of season 3. Buffy/Angel for part of the story, spuffy undertones throughout.

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Chapters 17-20

Chapter 17: Differences

Upset with Angel's attitude, Buffy banged the mansion's door shut behind her and started walking down the alley. An apocalypse was at their door, the Hellmouth would open before sunrise, and all Angel seemed to have to say was that he was willing to die fighting. Well, so was she, but that didn't mean she wanted to die or spend the night talking about it. Moreover, she certainly didn't want to hear anything about Angel's willingness to die. She didn't want him to talk about that. She needed him to want to live, truly live, as much as a vampire could, and that meant enjoy life and every little thing in it. Including her.

The problem, as far as she could tell, was that Angel didn't think he deserved to enjoy life. She hadn't seen him laugh since he had returned. She could count on her fingers the number of times he had smiled, really smiled at her. She had tried, time and again, to convince him that not letting himself enjoy anything wasn't going to make his guilt any less; but nothing had changed. He acted as if he might lose his soul at the smallest laugh, and it was driving her crazy.

Before she knew it, she was walking toward the cemetery she had dubbed as Spike's. She had last been there a few days earlier, after he had missed several nights of patrol. She had come to his crypt and, feeling slightly guilty at intruding into his home without permission, had searched for any clue of what could have happened to him. There had been shattered remnants of bottles in one corner, but it had looked more as if someone had thrown a tantrum than as the result of a fight. No blood in the fridge, only a mostly empty bottle of whisky. Calling his name, she had climbed down the ladder to the lower level, and found only an unmade bed and a few empty storage crates. Her exploration hadn't helped her decide if he was dust or still undead, and in the latter case, where. He still hadn't told her much more than having needed to take a breath of fresh air out of town. Vampire humor.

Halfway to the cemetery, she wasn't surprised when she came across him.

"'Been looking for you all over town," he said grumpily as a greeting. "'Could warn a bloke when you decide to crisscross."

"There's an apocalypse tonight," she interrupted him abruptly, more annoyed still by Angel than by Spike's crabbiness.

He blinked, frowned, and shook his head.

"Could have sworn you said."

"Apocalypse. Tonight. Yes, that's what I said."

She went to explain how the Hellmouth was about to be open and that they would need to battle the escaping demons while Willow and Giles worked to close it.

"Sounds like my kind of fun," he commented with a smirk. "What time does the party start?"

For a second, she didn't know how to answer. After Angel's grand declaration, this simple acceptance of the coming fight was almost baffling. But also, strangely, comforting.

If Giles had had a few spare seconds to think during the fight , he certainly would have commented on the glee with which Spike was attacking the Hellmouth demon. As it was, he only reflected on his observation after the Hellmouth had been sealed again.

It seemed that Spike had discovered the purpose they had talked about a few times, and that he found more satisfaction in fighting the good fight than he had ever before. Whereas during the previous summer he had acted as if it didn't matter if he won, lost, or died, he was now displaying what seemed like enthusiasm - and also, even more blatantly, recklessness.

The fight now over, the vampire still seemed to be full of energy, wandering about the room, straightening a chair, exchanging a couple of words with Faith, and now coming toward him.

"Nasty scratches you've got there, Watcher," Spike commented, gesturing at his face. "Got any scotch?"

"This is a school library," Giles replied mildly. "No, I don't have alcohol here. And I am sure disinfectant would be more effective than alcohol."

"'T wasn't for your face," the vampire replied, clearly amused. "Thought we should properly celebrate our victory."

Giles glanced around the room, observing the battlefield. Books on the floor, furniture broken, Angel still out cold and Buffy worried sick at his side, Willow dozing off where she sat on the steps, Faith cleaning a battle axe. Odd scene, but yes, Spike was right, they had won. They had survived yet another apocalypse. Indeed that was certainly reason enough to celebrate.

"Maybe just a glass," he agreed with a slight inclination of his head, and Spike returned the nod with a small smile before sauntering off to where Angel and Buffy were.

Very peculiar vampire. But undoubtedly an asset to their little team, if not more. Giles had more than enough reasons not to want to trust a demon enough to call him a friend; yet, he was letting the blond mellow him. More than two years of being around teens nearly constantly had left Giles appreciative of the opportunity to share a drink and a few words with someone old enough to drink more than sodas.

Sighing, Giles settled on making his library presentable, or as much as it was possible. They were all waiting for Angel to regain consciousness and then it would be time to get some rest. It was the first time the original souled vampire had been around, and Giles couldn't help tensing every time his gaze fell on him. He doubted he would ever be able to see Angel as innocuous again. He certainly never should have let his guard down in the first place.

He had a slight pause when he realized that he was undeniably letting his guard down all over again, with Spike this time, and considered for a second retracting his invitation. Maybe they ought to investigate if they could make Spike's soul permanent too. He didn't like to encourage Willow too much about experimenting with magic, but he'd talk to her about it.

Angel opened his eyes, and immediately closed them again. He was in hell, no doubt about it. Only in hell would Spike be standing over him grinning like that.


The soft call of his name made him revise his judgment. Maybe not hell then, if Buffy was there. He opened his eyes again at the gentle touch on his cheek, and took in his surroundings. The library. The Scoobies - and Spike. Finally, the memory of the fight resurfaced. God, his head was throbbing.

"Back amongst the undead, peaches?"

As he sat up with Buffy's help, he threw a nasty glare at his grand-childe. The blond had never seemed as irritating and obnoxious as he had been since getting a soul. The barest hint of concealed but real concern in his voice made it even more confusing.

"I was so worried," Buffy said with a soft smile. "You've been unconscious for so long. The longest minutes of my life."

She pulled him into a hug, and he allowed that simple contact for an instant, relishing her warmth and love. It wasn't very often that he accepted such gestures. He couldn't let himself accept them, couldn't trust himself with Buffy's safety.

He noticed despite himself that Spike had turned his back on them and walked to Giles at the first sign of affection, and filed that tidbit along with the others. He would have to confront the other vampire, and he would have to do it soon. Things couldn't go on like that any longer.

Quickly, the group said their good-byes and separated; apparently, they had only been waiting for Angel to wake up before leaving for their respective homes. Buffy insisted on accompanying him back to the mansion, and he could do nothing but agree. The walk there was sweet despite his still painful head. Her hand was so small, in his, so warm. He didn't think he'd ever get used to it.

It was as difficult to be with her as it was to be away from her; and things weren't getting any better. He had had time to think about it, compare how different everything was now from what it had been before he had lost his soul, and he had come to a rather grim realization. By altering the cursing spell, they had tried to make it impossible for him to lose his soul again - and he was still more than wary about that. But the alteration had had at least one other repercussion, one he didn't dare let Buffy, or anyone else, know about. Never before had he felt the presence of his demon so strongly, never had the struggle between it and the soul been so difficult. He had come so close to succumbing to the First's suggestions on Christmas. And he was still so scared of succumbing now.

That was why when they arrived at the mansion he gave Buffy a chaste kiss and sent her home, rather than ask her to spend the night with him, as he so wanted her to.

Unlike the previous summer, Spike wasn't coming by to see her every night anymore, and Joyce knew that if he wasn't there by a certain time it meant he wouldn't be coming that night. It was alright. She still enjoyed their chats; but with Buffy back, she didn't need to talk as often as she used to. She only hoped it was the same for him; that he was getting used to his soul.

He hadn't come by for a few nights, now, ever since that dreadful evening when she had almost caused Buffy, him and these other two innocents of burning at the stakes. She was a little worried that she had scared him away indefinitely, but didn't dare ask Buffy if he had mentioned anything. Not that she thought Buffy would react negatively -in fact, it was the exact opposite. While at first, her daughter had been opposed to her mother chatting with the vampire, now she was patrolling with him just about every night, if Joyce understood correctly.

Joyce wasn't too sure what that meant. She thought her daughter had feelings for Angel - and she certainly was far from happy about that - but to see her become closer to another vampire was disquieting. She was quite sure that Buffy didn't have those kinds of feelings for Spike, or vice-versa, but still. Maybe it was better if he wasn't around so much anymore.

Despite her beginning of worry, she was pleased to hear the vampire finally knock on her back door one evening. Glad, because he talked about what happened on patrol more than Buffy did, and Joyce craved to know more about what was going on in her daughter's life. If it meant she had to hear it from someone else, she could accept that.

He seemed strangely quiet, that night, as if he didn't dare talk too much. She managed to coax out of him that they had fought a battle the previous night, but he repeatedly insisted that she had nothing to worry about. He was a little too insistent, and Joyce realized that he certainly wasn't telling her everything. Maybe it was better that way.

It's always weird to see these things described without Dawn in them. Always makes me want to stop everything and point out that no, that's not how it happened; there's a Bit-sized hole in the story. Then I remember. No, she wasn't there. It's all bloody confusing, that's what it is. Could make a bloke insane - but I've had enough of that for a lifetime, I think.

Gotta admit I expected one of them would realize I had changed and wasn't as gloomy and loony as I had been. Was somewhere between annoyed and relieved that no one picked up on it. Annoyed that they wouldn't pay enough attention to me to notice what I felt was an enormous change; relieved because I still was sure they'd stake me as soon as they learned about my soulless status.

Once I got around to thinking about it, I saw that I couldn't really fault them. When souled, I had kept my gloomiest moments private; and after I lost it, I did everything I could so that they wouldn't notice.

The hardest thing was to decide what to do about feeding. After my LA escapade and tasting human blood again, getting back to animal's pints was the last thing I wanted to do. Still, there wasn't another choice. I had come back because I believed I might have an opening with the Slayer once she realized she wasn't going anywhere with Angel, and feeding off humans, even without killing, would undoubtedly have ruined any chance I might have had.

I wasn't happy about it, but I returned to pig's blood. Improved my living conditions a bit with the cash I had stolen in LA by buying a microwave oven to warm my meals - and make them a little more palatable. Almost fried myself when I messed up with the cables to borrow electricity from the town, but it was worth it.

I can't say it was easy. I can't say I've never in these days looked at the curve of a neck, fantasized about sinking my fangs in it and revel in the blood I could see beating behind a pulse point. Still, I didn't. Not because wanting human blood, wanting to feed and kill was wrong in itself. I am a demon and even if I have learnt to see humans as more than cattle, it doesn't change the fact that killing is what I was reborn to do. It wasn't wrong in itself, it was wrong in the eyes of these same people who had adopted me. Who had allowed me to belong to something, accepted me as I was. And yes, I am aware of the irony that they accepted me as I wasn't anymore. As long as I kept acting as if I had a soul, it didn't really matter, did it?

Maybe, they were my soul. Ain't that bloody poetic.

Chapter 18: Old Ghosts

Wide-eyed in surprise, Spike could only stare at the human Faith had just staked by mistake. They had been on their way to take a shot at the Eliminati cult and its leader, Balthazar, when a vamp had distracted them; then this man had come out of nowhere. What had this fool been doing out here at night?

Blood seeped past Buffy's hand where she was trying to stop the flow. The man convulsed, a few more times, then he was dead. Not as quick as staking a vamp, but just as effective. The scent of blood was overwhelming and Spike had to push back his emerging demon visage. He craved human blood so much that to see it spilled like this and not be able to take advantage of it was maddening.

"We gotta go!" Faith said, on the edge of panic.

Spike could only agree with her and closed his hand around Buffy's forearm to make her stand. She turned and looked at him, and he winced at her stunned and horrified expression. The Slayer wasn't used to seeing humans die, that much was clear.

"There's nothing you can do for him," he told her. "Let's go."

She nodded absently, threw a last glance at the body and ran alongside Faith. Spike remained there an instant longer. He felt nothing for the dead man, having seen enough cadavers in his years, and killed a fair share of them, not to mind them so much; yet at the same time, he was all too aware that, not that long ago, he would have been as horrified by this death as the humans had been. And so, he had sympathy for both Slayers. If he knew Buffy half as well as he thought, she would feel guilty for this, for not having been able to save this one human even if she saved dozens each night. As for Faith. Hard to tell how she would react, but Spike doubted anything good would come out of this. She had been increasingly daring lately, testing the limits to what a Slayer could do. Her little stunt the night before about stealing weapons and escaping the police had amused him, but this. this was the kind of things that would either make her or break her.

He finally ran after them; and when their scents separated, he didn't need to think to follow Buffy's. He caught up with her as she stopped running.

"'T wasn't your fault."

She looked up at him, her distress blatant.

"You couldn't have done anything to save him," he insisted.

"Then why does it hurt so much?"

He sighed as he raised his eyes to the sky. He was still a little wary of her finding out by simply looking at him that he was now soul free; it was utterly ridiculous, he was sure of it, and yet he couldn't help it.

"You're asking the wrong bloke, luv. 'M not used to being on the innocent side of the..."

His voice trailed off as he turned his head to face the approaching vampire. Angel looked grim, and his expression only darkened when he saw Buffy and Spike standing together.

"What's going on?" he demanded, gaze going from one blond to the other. "Are you hurt, Buffy?"

She hid her bloodied hand and made some kind of excuse. Clearly, she didn't want to tell Angel, and if her warning glance was any indication, she didn't want Spike to tell him either. Angel was many things, but completely stupid wasn't one of them. He saw she was hiding something, and Spike suspected he would be on the receiving end of a few questions eventually. It wouldn't be until later though, because as the brunette quickly explained, Giles and the new Watcher had been captured and needed rescuing.

Giles' hand was shaking, and he couldn't manage to insert the key in the lock to open his door. Without looking at him, he gave the keys to the vampire, silently requesting help that was given without comment.

"Up for a drink?" Spike suggested as he pushed the door open and followed Giles in.

"Yes, but not the kind you're thinking," the Watcher replied. "Tea seems a lot more appropriate than anything stronger, tonight."

That earned him an appraising glance from cool blue eyes. Refusing to meet that gaze, he walked to his kitchen and busied himself there, filling out the teakettle, putting it to boil, taking out a cup. His hands were still trembling, however hard he tried to make the shaking stop. He was infinitely grateful that the vampire was in the living room, helping himself with Giles' best scotch, rather than close enough to see, again, how much the events of the evening had affected him.

Giles had kept his calm, when confronted to Balthazar and the promise of torture, ready to hold his tongue even as his replacement spilled all he knew at the first mention of physical pain. But now that the danger was behind him and he was home and safe, painful memories were resurfacing and he couldn't help flexing his hand repeatedly, as if to assure himself that his fingers were fine, not broken. The irony that the rescue party had included the two vampires who had once been his captors wasn't lost on him.

He was startled out of his thoughts by the heavy sound of glass on the kitchen counter and raised his head to see Spike filling the tumbler before pouring a finger of scotch into his own cup.

"I told you I didn't want any," he snapped.

"You also said you didn't need anyone to get you home," the vampire replied with a shrug. "Think you'd have had that door open yet if I hadn't tagged along?"

The words could have stung as much as a slap, but the calm tone of the vampire took the edge off. At the same time, however, it made them worse. It felt too much like Spike knew exactly where Giles was, emotions wise, and the human didn't like that idea so much; it made him feel too vulnerable for comfort.

"I appreciate the help, but I think it's time for you to go."

Even as he took his cup from the counter and turned to his whistling kettle, Giles could feel Spike's eyes on his back, and it was a struggle not to let the shaking start again.

"Right," the vampire said after a few seconds. "'Had stuff to tell you, but I suppose that can wait until tomorrow. Or maybe the Slayer will tell you. No rush anyway."

The words had a hint of bitterness in them, the disappointment of someone whose help was refused. Before Giles could try to explain to the vampire that neither him nor any other vampire was exactly the person he felt safest with at that moment, the front door closed and he was alone.

Giles' tea grew cold on the countertop as he gathered a few ingredients and did the spell he had memorized. He trusted Spike - as much as he'd ever be able to trust a demon - but he had a deeply set feeling that he wouldn't be able to sleep before his home was safe again.

Annoyed, Angel watched Spike and Giles leave together, the Watcher protesting that he was fine and could get home by his own means, the vampire refusing to hear him. Angel couldn't help feeling twinges of resentment mixed with regret that Giles would barely speak more than two words at a time to him while he apparently had given Spike his friendship. Added to the jealous feelings of knowing Spike and Buffy patrolled together practically every night, and to that strange complicity they had shared earlier, it was becoming too much to bear. He and Spike had a long overdue explanation in front of them.

He walked Buffy home, unsuccessfully trying to determine whose blood had been on her hand. Not hers, he knew that much, and not Spike's. What had happened? And why wouldn't she tell him?

"I'll tell you," she promised as they reached Revello Drive. "Just, not tonight, OK? I'm exhausted. And I can't talk about it now."

He bit back the comment that Spike knew what was going on while her own boyfriend didn't. The last thing that would help would be to sound whiny.

They had stopped in front of her house. Angel knew he wasn't welcome there; Joyce had made it clear on the brief occasion when he had seen her.

"Do you think." Buffy started hesitantly.

He cupped her chin, turning her face up toward him and stroking her cheek.

"Think what?" he murmured, hoping she was going to tell him at last what had happened.

A smile pulled at his lips when she flushed slightly, stuttering as she said: "I'd really. I mean. it would be nice. Could you spend the night? Or at least a few hours? I just need."

Too late, he realized he had dropped the smile and removed his hand.

"I just wished you could have held me," she finished dejectedly, clearly knowing already what his answer would be.

His words cut, yet he had to give them. "Buffy, we can't."

Her gaze hardened. "There's no 'can't' about it. You don't want to spend the night with me, just say so."

With that, she ran into her house, and all he could do was watch her go. It broke his heart; yet at the same time, he knew there was no other way. He wouldn't take a chance with his soul - and even less with her life.

His mood darker than ever, he directed his steps toward the graveyard that hosted Spike's crypt. He expected he'd have to wait for Spike, but coincidentally they reached the mausoleum at the same time. Spike scowled when he saw him, but didn't prevent him from entering his home.

"What do you want?" he asked abruptly as he threw his duster on the back of the one and only armchair.

Angel watched him go to his fridge, retrieve blood from it, warm it in a microwave. There had been improvements since his last visit, proof, if he had needed one, that Spike wasn't planning to go anywhere anytime soon.

"Whose blood was it?" he asked abruptly, certain that Spike would know what he was talking about.

"'M pretty sure the Slayer doesn't want you to know," Spike replied with a smug grin. "Or else, she'd have told you herself, don't you think?"

His fists closing despite himself, Angel walked deeper into the crypt.

"If you don't tell me."

"You'll what?" Spike interrupted. "Beat me up? What would the Slayer think?"

"That's the other thing. You're getting too close to her. I want you to stop."

Spike snorted as he retrieved his blood from the oven. "And I want blood that taste better than this crap," he said as he made a face. "Too bad we don't always get what we want, huh?"


The blond ignored the warning, and stared at him defiantly. "If there wasn't room for me, I wouldn't be getting too close. Nothing prevents you from going on patrol with her. Or from helping with research, or whatever else her gang does. You're not there. Your loss."

What had only been a suspicion before was now a complete certitude for Angel.

"You love her."

Even before Spike started denying, his eyes had answered with perfect clarity. Angel felt like hitting him. Felt like turning his back and going away, back to Buffy, maybe. Would she still welcome him, if he did? He couldn't, but that didn't mean he didn't want to. It didn't mean either that he was blind enough not to see that Spike was right. If Angel had given her the attention and affection she craved, there would have been no room for his grand-childe.

"You love her," he repeated blankly, more to himself than to Spike, who was still trying to deny. The protests finally ceased.

"What if I do?" the blond said after a pause.

Angel shrugged. "You can't touch her any more than I can. How long until it drives you insane?"

To Angel's surprise, Spike laughed. A dry, bitter laugh, but still a laugh. "You still like playing the martyr, don't you? A hundred years older, and you haven't changed a bit."

"And you still enjoy a good beating it seems," Angel retorted, his anger rising.

"Come on, Peaches, admit it. You love playing the drama queen. Woe is me and all that rot. Won't try to be with Buffy now, even when you've been told it's safe. What is it? Your soul likes to hurt? It won't let you find some comfort and quiet in the one place where you could."

The brunet lashed out without thinking, a simple slap but hard enough that Spike took a step back at the impact.

"Truth hurts, doesn't it?" the younger vampire spat as he returned the blow.

Angel tried to control his temper and not start a brawl. It wouldn't solve anything, no matter how good it would feel. "You have no clue what you're talking about."

Spike's eyes were slowly filling with amber. "That's always what you say, but I'm thinking I must have hit pretty close for you to react like that. And it's not even because I know what it's like to have one now. No, it's just experience. You were too fucking scared to give us a chance back then; you're too scared to give her one now."

"I tried," Angel growled, coming very close to shifting to his vampire features. "I tried and was sent away like a dog."

"Darla sent you away."

That was all he said, but the unspoken words were loud and clear, the claim that another vampire might not have refused him help. There was a challenge in Spike's eyes, now blue again. He was waiting for Angel to contradict him, say he didn't believe him. But Angel couldn't, because he did believe. He'd never have thought it before, but hearing it said plainly and calmly left no room for doubt. And if that was true, maybe the rest was too. Maybe he was scared. Maybe happiness was only a breath away and safe for all concerned, but he was too scared to reach for it. What was certain was that he had a lot to make up for before he earned the right to be happy.

"Stay away from her, Spike," he ordered as he walked away, but even to his own ears the command held no conviction, and he knew Spike wouldn't obey.

I would have expected Angel to dust me for simply admitting that I felt something for the Slayer. For his girl. After all, only a few days before he had gone all caveman-like on me because he didn't like the idea that I patrolled with her. And there, he accused me, threatened me, but it all sounded. I don't know. Forced maybe. He played the jealous part because that's what he was supposed to do, no other reason. What he didn't say was more eloquent than what he did say. Just like what he didn't do with Buffy was more eloquent than any gesture. He had given up, already. He hadn't admitted it to himself, and he wasn't anywhere near ready to admitting it to anyone else, but he had given up on being with her. When Joyce came after us a few weeks later, she just gave him the excuse he needed.

The Watcher. I can't say it didn't hurt when I came by the next night and found myself locked out. I had thought I had found a friend, thought that bit of watching while he was being tortured was behind us. Since the spell was clearly directed at me, it put an end to my illusions, especially after the dreadful night I'd had. I understood, abstractly, why he had done it, it was all too clear that being between the hands of vamps and on the point of being tortured again had brought him back to less than pleasant memories. I suppose it helped seal my decision. If things kept on as they were, I'd never be truly and completely a part of the group, and all the patrols and camaraderie in the world would change nothing.

Maybe it wouldn't have lasted long anyway and I would have shaken things up eventually. No, not maybe. Probably. I was keeping a tight rein on myself, on my thirst for blood, and it was getting increasingly difficult. Patience was never my strong point. I had decided to wear a white hat because I thought it'd help me win the Slayer; but it wasn't enough. It was time for things to change.

Chapter 19: Games

"It's not going to work."

Spike had said as much before, and Buffy was getting tired of hearing it. He disapproved of the plan the gang had come up with to shake some sense back into Faith, but so far he had not offered any alternative.

With a sharp look and a tilt of her head, she indicated that she wanted to go outside. They had been standing so far on the edge of the mansion's main room, where they could see Faith shackled by the fireplace and hear Angel as he tried to talk to her. The brunette Slayer couldn't see them from where she was, it would be better if she couldn't hear them either.

"It's our only option," she told the vampire when they had walked out. "We can't just pretend nothing happened."

She really wished it had been possible to simply forget, like Faith had suggested it, but she realized it wasn't possible. Moreover, she knew Spike realized it too, knew he had tried to tell Giles the previous night before finally leaving the task to her. He ought to see there was really nothing else to do. Yet, he didn't, and he kept objecting.

"And you can't convince anyone of anything when you have them chained to a wall. It's not going to work."

His stubbornness, added to Buffy's own doubts, was finally too much, and she snapped at him.

"You keep repeating that, but I didn't hear you suggest anything else."

Watching her with too cool eyes that seemed to pierce her to the core, he lit a cigarette and took a long drag before replying.

"I don't have the answer, and neither do you. You know it, you just won't admit it."

"Admit what?"

Too caught up in her argument with Spike, Buffy had not heard Angel join them. She quelled the instinct to reach out and take his hand, not sure she'd be able to stomach it if he refused the contact.

"Spike thinks we won't get anywhere with Faith."

Angel's features closed as he stared at the other vampire. His voice was ice.

"Good thing we don't give a damn what Spike thinks then."

As expected, he looked at her when he said this, the barest touch of a question showing on his face. She returned the look blankly. She was more than tired of his hints that she gave too much of her time and attention to the blond vampire, and this seemed like another attempt at making her feel bad about it. Were both souled vampires determined to antagonize her to death? It certainly seemed like it. She didn't reply to his comment, wordlessly daring him to say more. The silence was broken by a venomous growl from the blond.

"Fuck you both."

Startled, Buffy shifted her gaze toward Spike, catching the end of his two fingers salute before he strode away, clearly upset. She called his name, annoyed by his flare of temper, but Angel's touch on her shoulder brought her attention back to him.

"Let him go," he said softly, almost pleadingly. "We don't need him."

"And we don't need to lose another ally," she retorted. "Won't you ever accept that he's on our side?"

For an instant, she thought she saw hints of amber glittering in Angel's eyes, but it was gone before she could be sure. She told herself she had probably imagined it; it was too dark anyway. The alternative, where Angel could become jealous to the point of anger when he was the one refusing to be closer to her, wasn't something she wanted to consider.

"A soul doesn't making him perfect, Buffy. You shouldn't trust him so much."

Her eyes widened in incredulity that he, of all people, could say such a thing.

"This is ridiculous. You're telling me that I shouldn't trust Spike, even souled? Next you'll tell me I shouldn't trust you!"

Incredulity transformed in incomprehension as Angel nodded. "I'd say that, but I don't trust myself for the both of us, so you don't."

Raising her hands in front of her in a sign of surrender, Buffy took a step back. "I've had enough for now, I think. Thanks for helping with Faith. I'll see you later."

Blocking out the sound of Angel calling her name, she walked away, unable to deal with a new round of his self-recriminations. She didn't know how, but she would have to find a way to prove him he wouldn't lose his soul, wouldn't hurt her or her friends again. They couldn't keep playing this game.

Spike was livid as he left the mansion. Weeks of thinking the Slayer valued his help were wiped away in an instant. Of course, she wouldn't contradict Angel. She was still caught up in her dream of happily ever after, too blinded to realize it was already over. Nevertheless, until she did realize, Spike was nothing to her, and it was time he accepted that.

If she didn't want to listen, at least her Watcher would. They were making an even bigger mess with Faith than things already were, and it was time to bring some sanity back into it. Spike couldn't believe Giles had agreed to the way they were trying to 'help' the brunette Slayer.

He arrived to Giles' flat soon enough, and the door promptly opened when he knocked. The human had his jacket on, as if he had been on the point of going out, but Spike needed to talk to him right away. He took a step forward as he answered his greeting, ready to enter the house, help himself to some liquor and argue his point until the Watcher could do nothing but agree. He was stunned when mid-stride a barrier of thin air stopped him.

The human gave him an embarrassed look as he walked out, locking the door behind him.

"I was on my way back to the library. Was there something you needed?"

The vampire blinked, swallowing his hurt pride. He wasn't going to let the Watcher see how much he cared about having been disinvited. In fact, he didn't care about it, not at all. It wasn't as if he had any reason, or desire, to spend time with a boring guy, who could barely drink more than a glass before losing any coherence. It wasn't as if he wanted any human friends. He was a soulless vampire. Humans were food, even if he had taken them off his diet.

"Yeah, wanted to say you're all playing a bloody stupid game. You're going to drive the bint around the bend, if she's not already there. How's that going to help when you have a fully psychotic Slayer to deal with?"

Giles sighed, and Spike felt like doing the same when the human took off his glasses to clean them with a handkerchief. That habit of his was downright maddening.

"It's a delicate matter," he offered after a couple of seconds.

"And your council of wankers have been dealing with Slayers for how long? Don't tell me they haven't anything planned for this kind of mess."

Giles' features hardened.

"As a matter of fact, they do," he said shortly. "But I doubt sending Faith to England by force and locking her up after a small approximation of legal procedure would be of much help to her."

"But you trust Angel will be able to do better."

The human snorted as he walked away. Spike followed him through the complex' courtyard.

"Angel and trust are not words I readily associate together," Giles commented. "But he believes he can help her, and I see no harm in letting him try. Unless you had a better idea?"

The ex-Watcher only nodded when Spike did not reply and asked him if he was coming along to the library. Spike declined the invitation, saying he'd join the group later. Thoughtful, he lit a cigarette and watched Giles drive away in his battered excuse of a car. He could not understand why he was being so patient with the man, with all of them in fact, when his efforts at being good where leading him exactly nowhere. He wasn't even sure what he was trying to achieve anymore.

He had lost his soul, but he still hadn't resumed killing and continued to fight along side the Slayer. He had managed to fall in love with the girl who was supposed to be his mortal enemy; and even though she had said she valued his help she still ran back to Angel when things got complicated. What was the whole point of this? He had to prove to her, prove to her little group, that he wouldn't follow blindly without them ever listening to him. The problem was to find the best way to show them he wasn't a simple pawn in their game. He thought about it as he made his way to the library, and was still thinking when he crossed path with Buffy as she hunted for the escaped Slayer. She didn't ask for his help and he didn't offer it; but he followed her, at a distance, just to be sure she'd be safe, cursing himself all the while. He almost jumped into the fight when she found Faith and vampires attacked them both, but the two girls didn't need him to sort things out.

When Buffy left, he stayed behind, wondering if he could talk to the brunette, maybe succeed where the others had failed. Still pondering how to approach her, he shadowed her, more than a little surprised to see her walk with determination to the town hall. He had heard what the two Slayers had discovered about the Mayor's implication with vampires, but couldn't believe that Faith would be foolish enough to confront him without back up.

It didn't take him long to find which window was the Mayor's office, and he soon knew exactly what Faith was doing. He thought of immediately warning Giles or Buffy, before remembering he wasn't welcome in the first's flat anymore, while the second didn't care about what he had to say. Still bitter about both facts, he pondered his options.

When Faith walked out of the building, he had made his decision. If a Slayer was joining forces with the current Big Bad, why couldn't a Master Vampire do the same?

Mayor Wilkins was still contemplating the day's latest developments and whether it had been a good idea to add the Slayer to his payroll, when for the second time his office's door revealed a much unexpected person. He wasn't particularly alarmed at the vampire's presence here, after all nothing could harm him until his ascension. Not alarmed, but curious. Ever since Trick's unfortunate attempt at getting rid of the vampire, the Mayor had kept a discreet surveillance on him. He knew where his lair was, knew that he patrolled each night with the Slayer, knew that he had spent a few nights in Los Angeles and hunted there while he didn't hunt in Sunnydale. His guess was that the blond had a plan of some sorts that involved having the Slayer's trust. The only reason he wasn't dust yet was that the Mayor believed he could distract Buffy Summers and keep her attention away from other possible threats.

"Mr. Spike," he acknowledged as the vampire slouched on the chair across from him. "To what do I owe the honor?"

"'S just Spike," the vampire drawled. "And you owe the honor to the fact that I'm bored."

"Bored?" the Mayor repeated, slightly amused. "With two Slayers in town, I'd think that any Master Vampire would have enough to occupy himself."

A nasty grin curled Spike's lips. "The thing is, I could kill them. Easily. They trust me, and would never see it coming. But that'd be too fast. There are a few things on Summers' tab, and it'll take a lot of pain to pay it up."

More interest than amusement, now that his words confirmed the Mayor doubts.

"Pay what exactly?"

The vampire shrugged. "Cursing me with a soul. Treating me like a lapdog. A few things of the same kind."

"A soul?" the Mayor repeated, curious. It was certainly unusual, but it also explained a lot.

"Got rid of it," Spike added with a dismissive gesture.

That explained the sudden trip to LA and the kills that had followed.

"So, seeing how you're now employing a Slayer, I thought you'd want someone to keep an eye on her for you."

Inspecting his nails as he thought, the Mayor considered Spike's words. The vampire knew about Faith, which made both of them liabilities. The question was whether their worth was greater.

"Why would I want to keep an eye on her?" he asked idly. "Fine little lady."

"Yeah, fine little killer, too. She told you she offed your man?"

The vampire's casual tone contrasted with the intense look in his eyes. The Mayor absorbed the information, his perspective on his newest employee changing slightly. Maybe he ought to keep an eye on her. Moreover, she could keep an eye on Spike in return. It would work quite well.

"What kind of payment would you require for your services?"

Spike's smile widened a little more.

"Oh, I'm sure you'll find me very reasonable."


And the waters muddied a little more.

Usually, the equation is easy. Evil vampires eat clueless humans. Good little girl kills the evil vampires, and every now and then, they have one good day and kill her. Boring Watchers record who eats whom and when. Not much interaction between vamps and Slayer beyond kill or be killed.

Sunnydale. well that was a whole other story. First, there was not one but two Slayers. According to Rupert, it was the first time something like that happened. It could have meant easily killing more vampires, and for a time it did, but eventually it turned out not to be such a good thing. So yeah, Faith might not have been the finest candidate ever to become a Slayer. Girl had issues, and getting freakish powers one day out of the blue certainly wasn't the best thing that could have happened to her. Still, I have this feeling she could have done better if she hadn't had to compete with Buffy. To be told that you're the one and only and then discover that you're not really unique. Ask Peaches, he still has the mental scars.

So. Two Slayers, one Hellmouth. You'd think they would have sent her to the Cleveland one or elsewhere. But no, the wankers didn't. Instead, they sent one inexperienced Watcher for both girls, one who made up for his young years with an extra dose of stuffiness. And they tried to get rid of the one they both trusted. Only tried, thankfully. God only knows what would have happened if they had completely gotten rid of old Rupert.

Bad enough as it was, two Slayers fighting on opposite sides, it wasn't all. In addition to the Hellmouth's common lot of vamps, demons, and wannabe ascending Mayor, there were also two vampires fighting the fight. The good one. The one where you save people, and don't kill them. The exact opposite of what vamps are supposed to do. One of them doing it out of the guilt filling his soul. The other playing the game because he'd do anything for love. Talk about messing up the cards.

I had crossed the line once when I had decided to help them. I saw an ex-Watcher cross it too, then a Slayer, the other way around. I crossed it again. It's all a big game, and we all wear more masks than we can afford. It's just a matter of keeping straight who you are, and what side you are ultimately on. Not always easy.



Chapter 20: Ladies

Spike stared at the redhead in leather across the room, and before Xander and Buffy could reach her, he knew. She was a vamp. Willow had been turned.


It wasn't possible. It couldn't be Willow. As he had been walking with the two humans to the Bronze, he had been amused by the Slayer's ramblings about her best friend and how they had had a small argument earlier that day. If Willow had been human at midday, there was no way she could have become a vampire now. Simple math. There hadn't been enough time. At the same time however, it was she, there was no doubt about it when she walked by, striding toward the exit, and he caught a whiff of her scent. Different, but underneath it was still Willow.

The Slayer and Xander came toward him, both of them stunned and crushed.

"That wasn't Willow," he said bluntly. "Well, yes, it was, but not the Willow we know. There wasn't enough time for her to be turned and then rise."

A hint of relief appeared in Buffy's eyes, and Spike wanted to smile. Not smile to mock her - although she should have known better than believe that enough time had passed for her friend to be turned - but simply smile because his words - his - had comforted her.

"So. you're saying our Willow is somewhere out there and fine?" she asked, hesitant but hopeful.

He nodded. "Can't be sure, but probably. Find her. Take her to the library. Get Giles too. I'll go and try to get the newly fanged one there too; then we can sort it out."

Spike felt an instant of wonder when she agreed with his plan, and Xander didn't object. Couldn't they had paid attention to what he was saying earlier? Before he committed himself with the Mayor? It would certainly have made things a bit simpler.

Shaking his surprise and regret, he rushed out, following the vampiress' vanishing scent, catching up to her as she was fighting a couple of vamps. The first one was dust in a second, the second she played with a little longer, until he admitted to working for the Mayor. A quiet curse escaped Spike's lips at that, which drew Willow's attention to him. She staked the vamp she had been playing with, then stood and looked at Spike.

"You work for the Mayor too?"

He snorted. "I work for no one but myself."

"Then why are you following me?"

The words were deceptively calm, but the threat behind them was made clear by the way she played with the stake in her hands.

"Just curious," he replied with a shrug. "I know a human named Willow, looks an awful lot like you. She was fine and breathing just a few hours ago, from what I've heard. Then, here you are, leather and fangs."

"Another me?" she murmured, her brow furrowing in confusion. Soon enough, understanding crept on her features. "Another me, like there is another Xander."

"Care to satisfy a bloke's curiosity and tell me where you're from?"

A petulant pout settled on her too red lips. "A place much more fun than this. This is a dumb world. In my world there are people in chains, and we can ride them like ponies."

Spike couldn't help laughing at that. More fun than the Hellmouth? Was it even possible? Where else could a vampire appear out of nowhere and cast a new light on their human self?

"I think I know someone who might help," he said, stifling his chuckle. "Little witch, friend of mine. I'm sure she'd be delighted to get to know you."

The redhead looked wary, and Spike couldn't fault her. Wherever she was from, it had to be a shock to pop into a different world, knowing nothing or no one, and then have a perfect stranger offer to help. He lit a fag as she took her time to consider him and his offer, but never took his eyes off her. He had no doubt she was dangerous.

"Who are you?" she finally asked, and from the way she held herself, relaxing ever so slightly, Spike was practically certain that she would accept his help.

"The name's Spike."

A flicker of recognition lit her gaze, and the blond wondered if he had made a mistake giving her his name.

"The Master mentioned you, a couple of times. Said you were a pain. Also said you were family."

Spike tilted his head, thinking hard and trying to read between the lines. The only Masters who might consider him family were either Angelus or old batty himself. Better not try to guess which one; it might antagonize Willow if he got it wrong.

"Family," he agreed with a tight smile. "So, you coming to see that witch of mine?"

The library's doors swung open, and Buffy's gaze flickered between the Willow in fuzzy clothes leaning against the counter, and the one clad in leather now frozen in surprise two steps inside the room. There was a short scuffle between the new Willow and Spike, who had walked in with her, as well as a few heated words including colorful curses and accusations of betrayal.

When the shock had worn off and Buffy could do more than stare, it was too late for her to intervene, as Spike had the vampire Willow in a tight hold, both hands secured behind her, and was marching her toward the book cage.

"Rupert?" he called out as he struggled to push the other vampire in. "Keys might be helpful right about now."

A few seconds later, they were all standing by the cage observing the strange creature inside, but none of them was more captivated than Willow. Both Willows actually. They weighed each other with mixed feelings of incredulity, their identical faces showing awe and revulsion, until the undead Willow haughtily looked away. Buffy noticed the hard glance she threw Spike, but the blond barely paid it any mind.

"I think. I think I might know what happened," Willow stuttered, blushing brightly. "I helped a girl with a spell. It has to be what caused..."

She gestured toward the cage, and in response the vampire inside hissed a few well-chosen words. The human Willow was startled, and Buffy wrapped an arm around her shoulders and led her back to the table. Giles and Xander came along; only Spike remained standing by the cage.

"What kind of spell was it?" Giles asked, a twinge of disapproval in his voice. Buffy had the strong feeling that her Watcher would be in a lecturing mood about the dangers of magic once they had cleared up the whole mess.

Willow explained what the spell had been, what she had seen while it happened, visions of her vamped self and a bleak world; but soon, Buffy's attention drifted off to Spike and the other Willow. They were talking in hushed voices, but she could still hear them and was too curious to resist.

"I can't believe I trusted you," the vampiress spat.

"Why not?" Spike replied, and he sounded amused. "I said I'd take you to a witch and help you. It's exactly what I did."

"You took me to the Slayer! What kind of vampire plays nice with the Slayer?"

A pause, the female vampire came closer to the cage, standing just behind the door as she considered Spike.

"Unless you're like my puppy," she said thoughtfully. "Do you have a soul?"

Spike chuckled. "Puppy? Is that what you call Angel? I'll have to try and call him that. And no, I am not like him. Not at all."

"Buffy? What do you think?"

Startled, the Slayer returned her attention to the conversation going on at the research table. The others were looking at her, apparently expecting her reply, but she had no clue what the question had been.

"Think about what?" she asked, apologetic.

Giles gave her a slight shake of head. "What shall we do with this vampire? Stake her and be done with it, or try to send her back where she belongs? As much as it pains me to even think of it, she's not the Willow we know, and..."

"But it's not her fault," Willow interrupted in a meek voice. "She didn't ask to be a vampire, and she's just doing what she must. Maybe we could. I don't know. give her a soul, maybe, and."

"No," Spike cut in.

They all turned their eyes toward him as he approached the table.

"If you think giving her a soul is being kind to her, you're wrong," he said blankly. "You might as well stake her, it'd be less painful."

There was a short silence, and then Xander cleared his throat before saying in a wavering voice: "It'd be majorly wigging to stake her. I mean, it's not our Willow, but it's still Willow, and. well, I'm not volunteering for it."

Judging by the uncomfortable faces all around, no one was up for the task, and neither was Buffy. The last thing she needed was the memory of staking her best friend, even if it was only a demon wearing her face.

"So, no staking," she said decisively. "We'll send her back wherever she came from, and let the people there deal with her."

She couldn't help grimacing at that last part. She wasn't happy at all with the idea of turning a vampire loose; but after all, she had enough vampires to take care of in this world without taking on those from other dimensions also. As they made plans to look for this Anya who had started everything and to gather the needed spell ingredients, Buffy noticed that, once more, Spike had drifted back to the cage and was talking to the vampire there.

An odd thought struck her, and she wondered if Spike was feeling lonely, if he missed the company of other vampires. She dismissed the idea immediately. If that had been the case, he would have been more friendly with Angel and sought out his company instead of patrolling so often with her.

Angel was at the Bronze, hoping that Buffy would come by, yet dreading that she would show up with Spike trailing behind her like an enamored puppy. He hadn't told her about Spike's feelings for her, instinctively knowing she wouldn't believe him and would attribute his words to jealousy. In truth, he was jealous. Terribly so. How could he not be, when his grand-childe was spending so much time with Buffy while Angel couldn't dare to?

She eventually arrived, and Angel was glad to see she was with Willow, Xander, and surprisingly Giles, but Spike was nowhere in sight. He joined the four of them and listened as she briefly explained who they were looking for and why. By coincidence, the girl was there, and they soon escorted her out after a few murmured, but convincing, threats.

Angel's good mood disappeared when, in the back alley, they joined Spike and a vampire wearing Willow's features. He could hear them talking, as the group approached, could hear the redhead suggest that he forget their plan of sending her home and work instead on making this town more vampire friendly. The invitation was clear, and it covered much more than killing together. Spike simply shook his head, his answer freezing Angel.

"Very tempting," the blond said, "but I've got to decline. A special lady of mine would be too disappointed if I did."

There was no doubt in Angel's mind who that 'special lady' was. And it was suddenly blindingly clear that Angel had been wrong. Spike wasn't going to be content with admiring Buffy in silence and helping her however he could. He was going to fight for her, try to win her over, loophole or not, boyfriend or not. It was time for Angel to put an end to it.

Have to admit, I knew he was behind me when I said that. So yeah, I took a cheap shot at Angel. Sue me. The look on his face when I turned to them was absolutely priceless. He was wide-eyed for an instant, then he blinked, and his eyes narrowed as they slowly turned amber. If his eyes had been stakes.

There was nothing behind my words. Or at least, I didn't believe that there was anything. I was pretty sure that if she had gotten any hint that I was "evil" again, the Slayer would have staked me without more than a second's hesitation. But then I looked at her, standing right there, oblivious that my words had irritated her brooding lover, and I saw. something. Curiosity, certainly, but that wasn't all. A bit of hurt, too. Almost as if she was feeling betrayed. By me? By what I had said? I had no clue at the time, and it'd be too easy to give the Buffy of my memories feelings and thoughts according to the Buffy I know now. Maybe I'll ask her, some day.

Whatever it was, it resurfaced a couple of weeks later. Our Slayer picked up an extra power on the way, and thought she'd try.


I don't care that we're not there yet, it makes more sense to tell them about this bit now rather than later on, what are you.

No, it's not your story; it's mine. Get a fucking clue, would you? And don't you.

Oh fine, no need to get your knickers in a twist. You don't want me to say Buffy tried to read my mind to find out what lady I had been talking about, so I won't talk about it. Happy?

Right. So, Buffy's wasn't the only one who reacted to my little half-lie. So did the big brooder. I think he might have realized at that point that maybe I wasn't going to keep looking at his girl without making a move on her. Took him long enough. I'm still surprised he didn't stake me. So many occasions, so many reasons, and he never tried. I wish I knew why. Doesn't mean I'll ever ask him though.

His way of reacting was to start patrolling with her every night, hoping I'd stop coming along like I had before. You know me. The best way to make me do something is to expect the opposite. For a few nights, the three of us patrolled together. It could almost have been hilarious, if I hadn't been all too aware that Buffy was wishing she were alone with Angel. She never told me to get lost though, or anything more pleasant. I think she was upset with Angel's not so subtle comments about my presence there. And she got much more upset later when Angel played at being soulless and got a bit too close to Faith. It was fun to see, for the most part, but I also ached for her.

Anyway. To come back to that night.the girls had to do the spell in the place where our fangy friend had appeared. On our way there, Anya kept claiming that she had been a powerful vengeance demon, and she'd curse us all when she got her powers back, and so forth. It didn't strike me immediately, but later on I remembered talking to her, and that's how I eventually made the link between her and Dru. But I think I already told you about that. The spell was done, our new friend was sent back home, and that was the end of it.


I went by the town hall later that night, just to know what that thing had been about the vamps working for the Mayor trying to off Willow. He wasn't happy that his plan had failed, and even less so when I declined to do the job, pointing out that if I had wanted her dead, I wouldn't have waited to do it, and reminding him that I wanted them all to suffer before they died. He got over it, eventually, and came up with a new plan. Rather than striking at the Slayer's best friend, he decided to play with her boyfriend. I could have told him from the start that it wouldn't work, but he never bothered to ask.


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