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 21-24

Chapter 21: Soft Lies, Hard Truths

By midday, Faith had dropped by Spike's crypt, and the vampire had been extremely surprised to see her there. For one thing, he had never told her where he lived or, even less, had invited her to visit. For another, he had thought, until then, that she ignored everything about his association with the Mayor. Seeing her stride in as if she owned the place, flirt with him, and then finally deliver her message that their boss expected him at the town hall by nightfall had quickly corrected his assumption that the Mayor had trusted him without reservations. The secretive smiles and weird looks the brunette had given him the handful of times he had seen her since they had both crossed to the other side now seemed clearer.

The message, as well as the messenger, irritated the vampire. If he went to meet the Mayor at sunset, it meant not showing up for patrol with the Slayer and his idiotic grand-sire. Angel might believe he had won that battle and that was hard to accept. However, he was aware refusing the invitation might not be in his best interest; it would be an incredible loss of time not to follow through with his plan with the Mayor now beginning to make his move. So, irritated or not, he went to the rendezvous.

Unlike his previous visits, it wasn't very late, so there were still people around. No one questioned his presence however, and he reached the Mayor's office without even being asked his name. He couldn't help but wonder if anyone else had such easy access to the Mayor, or if someone had given his description to the security personnel. Whatever the case, it was interesting to notice.

When he entered, Faith was already there, idly playing with a stake under the patient and fatherly gaze of the Mayor. Spike quelled the bad feeling her playing with the weapon stirred in him, and instead focused on the fact that the Mayor had absolutely no reason to want him dust. At least, none yet.

"Spike!" the Mayor said, jovial. "A pleasure to see you. Perfectly on time, too. Punctuality is such an important things, and more often than not."

Affecting a nonchalance he was far from feeling, Spike sprawled in the chair in front of the desk and interrupted the Mayor as abruptly as he dared.

"Time's an important thing, too, and the night isn't getting any younger. Let's get on with it."

The Mayor had a small chuckle. "Yes. Of course. Faith dear?"

An inclination of the old man's head, and Spike was ready to stand and fight for his life. The Slayer however merely went to open a door, and stood back to reveal a tall. something. Not human, definitely, because a human didn't have serpentine eyes like this, but it was hard to tell much more than that as the creature's body was wrapped in long Bedouin's robes.

The show only lasted a second, too fast for Spike to do anything more than stand and take a step back from the chanting creature. He didn't like magic in general, and he liked it even less directed toward him.

"He is free of any soul," the creature announced as it stopped its spell, or whatever it was it had been doing.

The Mayor nodded, seeming pleased. "Good. Now you two can run to Angel and."

"What the bloody hell was that about?!"

Giving Spike an indulgent look at his outburst, the Mayor waved at Faith and the robed creature. The first walked out of the office, while the other disappeared into thin air, and the vampire was soon alone with his boss.

"There's no reason to get upset," the Mayor said patiently. "I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't learned to make sure my allies are who they claim to be. You told me you had lost your soul, and there was no disrespect intended by my checking that information. Now that I did, I will be able to give you missions that are more sensitive. Do we understand each other?"

There was no doubt in Spike's mind that the only possible answer was affirmative. If he had nothing to hide, then he should have no objections to his story being double-checked. He sat down again, nervous fingers drumming on his thigh, and tried his best not to scowl as he waited for his orders.

The previous evening had been long and painful for Buffy. She had hoped that a good night of sleep would mend things, or expose it all as nothing more than a nightmare, but sadly last night's revelation had not disappeared in the sunlight.

She couldn't really say that Faith's betrayal was a surprise. Since what had happened after the other Slayer had accidentally killed a human, Buffy had hoped, sincerely hoped, things would get better with the brunette; but she always had doubts that Faith would ever fit into their group again. The real surprise had been to hear in her voice and see on her face the depth of Faith's malaise. Buffy had never realized until hearing it to what degree the brunette resented her simply for being alive and having friends around her.

Then, there was Angel. His act as Angelus had been perfect. So perfect that, even though she knew it was only an act and had insisted that he do it when Giles had suggested it, Buffy had been scared for a minute or two that it had been more than playing a role. Almost. She knew him enough to see through the masks, didn't she? She hoped she did.

Still, it had hurt to see him cozy with Faith. It had hurt even more than remembering what a bastard Angelus was; and there was the problem. She couldn't get the image of the two of them, side by side, out of her head. Things had been difficult for Buffy and him, since his return; but a few days ago, he had finally started patrolling with her and she had regained her trust that things would get better between them. And now. an evening's worth of acting, and her fears were back at full strength. Fear that he didn't love her as much as she thought he once did. Fear that it wasn't enough for a vampire and a Slayer to be in love to guarantee a happily ever after. Fear that Angel's slow withdrawal was only his way of making the break less painful.

She went to the mansion after school, with the goal of reassuring herself that she was worrying for nothing. She didn't get much relief. Flat comfort words, still too much distance between her and Angel, and then, just as she was about to leave, murmured words that caught her attention.

"Now you know."

Frowning, she looked back at Angel, wondering what was his point. They knew about Faith's new allegiance, that had been the goal of all of this, but why would he point it out again now?

"You know how I feel when you spend so much time patrolling with Spike," he finished after a slight hesitation, his voice completely blank.

Her eyes widened in surprise and shock. She left the mansion with a glare and her hurt pride and heart. Without a second thought, she directed her steps toward Spike's cemetery. He hadn't showed up the night before, and she had intended to stop by his crypt later. She wanted to see if he had left them again, and if not inform him that Faith had switched sides. She wasn't going to change her plans in reaction to Angel's words. If her boyfriend was jealous of her friendship with another man, it was his problem. Not hers.

It was the middle of the afternoon when Spike jerked awake from a deep and dreamless sleep, his rest disturbed by. what was it? A presence. Tingles down his spine. He took a deep breath, allowed his eyes to adjust to the faint lightning of the lower level of his crypt, and had no trouble finding the Slayer standing by the ladder. Unfortunately, it wasn't the Slayer he wanted to see.

"Slept well?" the brunette asked as she started walking around the room, inspecting his possessions before finally coming to sit at the foot of his bed.

"Well enough," he grunted, annoyed at having been awoken. "What's the message?"

"Message?" She repeated with a smile, turning her face toward him. "No message. I just thought I'd drop by. Say hi. See how you're doing. If you. need anything."

He merely raised an eyebrow at that, wondering how far she was going to push things. It wasn't the first time she had hit on him; and while he could easily admit that, judging from the way she moved on a dance floor, she had to know pretty well how to use her body, he was not interested. Once upon a time, he might have been. Dru had never cared much whom he fucked as long as he came back to her in the end. Things were different, now. He would have given a lot - just about anything - to taste a Slayer's fire and love, to feel her around him, above him, beneath him, have her in his bed and his life, but it wasn't this Slayer he wanted.

"So, do you?" she asked when after a few seconds he still hadn't answered, turning around to kneel on the bed. "Need anything? Want anything? Anyone?"

Her eyes pointedly slid over his form, covered to the waist by a flimsy sheet, and he was suddenly very aware of his usual nakedness. She didn't stop at simply looking, and placed her hands on his legs, running them lightly back and forth, getting higher and higher by the second. His body responded to her words and touch, but his mind refused to listen. It had been a long time since he had found comfort in another body, but he wasn't that desperate yet.

"Not needing anything," he replied coolly as he pulled away and stepped out of the bed. He picked up a pair of pants, doing his best to ignore her eyes on him. "And I think you'd better go home. Daddy dearest might get upset if he knew what his little girl is up to."

"'M not the only one up to something," she replied with a naughty grin. "And he's my boss, not my father."

"Yeah, well, he's my boss too, and something tells me he wouldn't appreciate."

"Who cares!" she cut in as she came to him, hips swaying a tad too much to be natural. "He'll never know."

He caught her hand just before it made contact with his bare chest, and fixed a cool gaze on her.

"Not interested, ducks. So do both of us a favor and don't insist, alright?"

Her eyes hardened as she pulled her hand out of his grip. She took a few steps back, never breaking eye contact.

"How did you lose it?" she demanded coldly.

"Lose what?"

"Your soul. Who did you fuck to lose it?"

He caught himself just as he was about to claim he hadn't fucked anyone. What or who he did was none of her business, and he bluntly told her so. She observed him silently for long seconds and finally nodded.

"'Should have known," she commented with a shrug. "She did it once, makes sense that she'd do it again. Is that why you changed sides? Because she used you and now she's back to her dear Angel? Must have stung, huh? Or did you."

"You'd better leave, Faith," he interrupted with a snort. "Until now, you've been amusing, but there's only so much of your ramblings I can take before I get bored. 'D hate to have to explain to daddy that his girl tried to double-cross him."

"He'd never believe you."

Standing straight and tall, she suddenly looked like the Slayer she should have been. Proud and outraged at a vampire's antics. Ready to kill.

"He would," Spike replied calmly, with the barest touch of amusement. "After all, that's why he asked me to keep an eye on you. Same as he asked you to keep an eye on me. Didn't you know?"

Outrage turned into confusion, then denial. A muttered curse, a resounding 'your loss', and she was striding away. Shaking his head, Spike found his fags and lit one, sitting on the edge on his bed and wondering if it was worth trying to get some more sleep, Faith already out of his mind.

He hadn't smoked half the cigarette that Buffy's voice called his name from the upper level, and a smile found its way to his lips.


There was no answer, and Buffy walked farther into the crypt. She looked around, noticing a television in front of an armchair that looked older than she was. She called the vampire's name again, a little louder, supposing that he might be in the lower level. She was right, because his voice came up through the ladder hole.

"Yeah, heard you, stop hollering and give me a sec."

The second turned into a minute, and as she settled on the armchair he finally appeared, hair tousled by sleep, cigarette hanging from his lips, red shirt unbuttoned, and barefoot. Under other circumstances, she might have appreciated the sight. She would have, certainly, if she hadn't had a boyfriend already and hadn't seen Faith come out of the crypt moments before. Spike's appearance, obviously fresh out of bed, was worrisome, on more than one level.

"So, what's going on?" he asked as she still was observing him silently. "You don't come by so often. Must be important."

"I was wondering why you didn't show up last night. If you had left town again or what."

A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips. "Just got tied up with a friend, and when we were done I figured you'd be finished with patrol. Dropped by to say hi to your mum. She didn't tell you?"

Buffy frowned, before remembering that she had barely seen her mother in the morning, as they were both late. She itched to ask more about this 'friend', but came back instead to the important news, made even more important by Spike's most recent visitor.

"Faith is working for the Mayor," she declared abruptly, and wasn't sure whether she needed to worry when Spike's only reaction was the widening of his eyes.

"Is she, now," he murmured, pulling deep on his cigarette. "That's good to know."

Buffy tried to convince herself that she was only asking the next question for purely Slayer-related reasons, but in the end she had to admit that her interest was more than professional.

"Would you tell me what she was doing here five minutes ago?"

Knowing everything that I now know, I figure I should have told her the truth then. Told her I had joined the Mayor too, but only so that I could spy on him for her and the gang. Told her I had lost my soul, but was trying to play by her rules, again for her, so that she could be proud of me, and who knows, maybe.

Well, I didn't. Caught by surprise, I made some excuse about Faith having always been hot for me, and how she wanted to jump my sexy bones, or something along those lines. I might have slipped in there some mention of Angel and his problem with intimacy. Earned myself a punch to the nose for my trouble. That was bloody stupid, I know. She told me often enough.

Might have made our lives so much simpler if I had told her the truth right there and then. Yet, at the same time, we'd have missed a few interesting things.

Yeah, I learned my lesson; I'm not going to spoil anyone about what's going to happen next. Happy?

Chapter 22: Thoughts

All the way to the cemetery, Buffy repeated to herself that she was only doing what was right and fulfilling her Slayer duties, nothing more. She had to assure herself that Spike was still souled, and that he hadn't been frolicking with Faith and gotten to the 'perfect happiness' point, and.

Whom was she kidding? She wanted to know if Faith and Spike had slept together, period. Whether souls and happiness had been involved was secondary. She would have had some trouble explaining why she wanted to know, though. Maybe because she was afraid Faith was using Spike? Right. Like the ex Big Bad needed her protection.

At least, he would never suspect a thing. She was going to direct the conversation about Faith and see exactly what he thought about the brunette, whether he had less than pure thoughts where she was concerned, if he really had rejected her offer, as he had said, or had fallen in bed with her. Somehow, the thought that he might have been with Faith felt almost as much of a betrayal to her as Angel's acting had. Both feelings were completely unreasonable, Buffy knew it, but she couldn't help it. She had asked Angel to play the game, and still she hurt from it every time she remembered it. And now, ever since seeing Faith walk out of Spike's crypt, she was uncomfortable with the idea that they might have done more than talk. She didn't have any claim on Spike, and she certainly did not see him as more than a friend; so where did that feeling of treason came from? Maybe Angel's unfair jealousy was contagious.

The discovery of her brand new power had been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. When Giles had told her she would acquire an aspect of the demon she had slain the previous night, she seriously had worried that she wouldn't be able to leave her house before Halloween because of her brand new horns, tails or scales. But this. Being able to read people's thoughts? A bit strange at first, disconcerting even, but she was beginning to see the possibilities it opened up to her. She could get an answer from Spike, whether he wanted to give it to her or not. Then she'd get back to school, finish her day there, and then swing by the mansion to peek into Angel's mind. Or maybe not. She wasn't sure she was ready to face her boyfriend's thoughts yet. She would have too, eventually, but not so fast, not when she still needed to learn to control her ability. And that was another reason to go see Spike, she told herself. Practice made perfect. She was getting better at it, picking up more and more; but she still needed control.

Another question she wanted an answer to was where had Spike been the previous evening. He never had promised to patrol with her every night, but she couldn't help wondering where he disappeared on the rare times when he didn't show up; and since he wasn't volunteering an explanation, she'd have to find one herself.

As before, the question of whether to knock at his door or not nagged her for an instant. Useless, because in all probability he would be downstairs and sleeping at this hour, but it still felt rude to enter unannounced. She finally compromised with herself and knocked before entering without waiting for an answer.

Spike wasn't sure whether to be pleased or annoyed. On one hand, he had been awoken - again - way too early. On the other, it was always a pleasure to see his Slayer, and even more so when the big brooder wasn't around to spoil his fun with dark looks and silent threats.

He had managed to acquire a second armchair, and offered it to Buffy as he settled on the other one. With a slightly doubtful grimace that amused Spike, she sat down on the dusty seat, looking a little uncomfortable, although he couldn't have said why she was.

"Shouldn't you be in school?" he asked when she was done commenting on how nicely he had fixed up the crypt for visitors.

"I was," she confirmed with a small nod. "And I'll get back there soon. I just thought I'd drop by and say hi. See how you were doing."

Suppressing a frown, Spike pulled his cigarettes and lighter from his shirt's front pocket. Buffy was many things, but certainly not a good liar. Why was she really there? And why was she looking at him with such attention?

"I'm fine," he assured her. "How 'bout you? You seem. preoccupied."

Her protest that she was fine was a bit too quick, a bit too vehement, and only furthered Spike's suspicions that something was going on.

"Since you didn't show up for patrol last night, I was wondering what happened to you. Did you go out with friends? You must be lonely, here by yourself all day long."

Her voice trailed off, as if she expected him to pick up the sentence. He took a deep drag on his cigarette, then obliged.

"Not so lonely. Had some company show up. Unexpected, but still nice."

His lips curled around his fag while she looked confused for an instant before finally understanding that he was talking about her.

"Oh. Well, aren't you getting tired of old little me? I mean, it'd be normal if you went and made new friends."

Once more, she seemed to be expecting something from him, and Spike was at a loss as to what exactly. But if she was offering him an opening, he would have to be a fool not to use it to plant some seeds.

"Don't think I could get tired of you," he admitted, hoping his voice didn't sound as pathetically unsure as he felt. "So I've no need for new friends."

The barest frown was her only reaction to his words, and Spike wondered worriedly if he had said too much and ruined everything before he had even had his chance.

"You almost sound like Faith," she said with a forced laugh. "With the no need for friends bit. Although like you said, she was apparently looking for some new excitement."

And again, a question that wasn't really one. Spike couldn't understand what she wanted from him, what game she was playing. These random sentences made little sense, and the way she was looking at him, as if in deep concentration, was certainly odd.

"Is something wrong, Slayer?" he asked cautiously, wondering if she had any clue about the loss of his soul and was trying to make him admit everything.

She shook her head, seemingly disappointed.

"No, everything's fine. I've got to get back to school."

Spike felt like protesting that she had only arrived, thought about offering refreshments - though he didn't have much to offer her. In the end, he did neither and simply walked her to the door, watching her disappear into the sunlight and mentally counting how many hours would need to pass before he could see her again.

A hard look distorting her features, Faith watched, immobile, as Buffy walked out of the unsouled vampire's crypt. She had watched her walk in not even twenty minutes before. Why would the blonde Slayer skip school to visit a vampire in the middle of the morning? Why this vampire, when she had her own waiting for her in a much more pleasant house?

She was convinced that Spike had lost his soul by sleeping with Buffy; and Faith had no doubt about what had just taken place in that crypt. Her fellow Slayer might play at being a good girl, but deep down, Miss Perfect had a weakness for the sexy undead blond, no doubt about it.

That visit didn't simply cast a new light on the Slayer; it also did on the vampire. His little act about spying on the Scoobies for the Mayor had been well played, but it was clearly nothing more than that - an act. Faith couldn't wait to tell her protector that his pet vampire was still on the other team's rolls. And to think he had threatened to denunciate her as a spy!

Rehearsing her announcement in her head, she made her way to the town hall, and strode into the Mayor's office unannounced. He seemed slightly irritated when she interrupted a meeting with some boy scouts group or something, but she didn't pay it much mind. He had after all requested that she warn him of anything suspicious on Spike's part in the best delays.

She was disappointed when he didn't immediately ask her to go stake the vamp. But as she listened to him, she had to admit that he was right. They could still use him, and it would be much more fun to have him staked by his own side.

I thought about it all day long, but still couldn't understand what Buffy's visit had been about until I went to join her for patrol that night. She was nowhere to be found, and I eventually drifted to Revello. Joyce was in the kitchen with Dawn when I arrived there. Both of them crying. The little bit threw herself in my arms, and for a moment I froze, unsure about what to do, the nastiest thought worming itself in my heart. I held Dawn tight, probably too tight, the same words running over and over in my mind.

Buffy was hurt.

That had to be why both Summers ladies were so upset, and the idea was killing me. What had happened since I had seen her in the afternoon? Why hadn't I been there to help her? How much was she hurt. Throat tight, I could do nothing but question Joyce with a look as I kept running my fingers over Dawn's hair, trying to soothe both her and myself.

"Buffy was. hurt," Joyce confirmed my fears after taking a deep calming breath.

She explained what she knew, then, about a demon contaminating Buffy the previous night - and I cursed myself for not having been there, for the charade I was playing with the Mayor with practically no interesting result so far. She told me about the Slayer's newly acquired power - and I cursed myself for not understanding what she had been doing that afternoon. Then, swallowing back her tears and fears, she murmured that it was driving her daughter insane - and I cursed myself some more for good measure.

Trying to sound as convincing as I could, I brushed my bit's tears away and told her that her big sister would be fine and kicking in no time. I didn't promise. I was trying to convince myself as much as her. When they had both calmed down a little, I used my knowledge of the kitchen to prepare some hot chocolate. I could tell Joyce was amused, despite being scared, that I'd go back to cocoa at a time like this, but she was grateful too. I made an extra mug, and softly asked Joyce if I could bring it to her eldest. She refused at first, and explained that Buffy felt worse when people were close to her. I told her my thoughts were safe from the Slayer; she eventually relented.

I entered Buffy's room a little hesitantly. It was the first time I was setting foot in there, and for an instant I looked around, taking in the décor, the butterflies on the walls, the plush toys, the posters, the pictures of her friends. Nothing at all hinted this girl was anything but normal. And then I forgot everything and simply concentrated on her.

Buffy looked terrible - or so I discovered once I managed to convince her to let go of the pillow she was holding over her head. She looked terrible, but she was still my beautiful Buffy, and I hurt to see her like this. The mug of hot cocoa forgotten on a side table, I brushed the air off her face while she blinked to adjust her vision and look at me. Her skin was feverish.

"Spike," she acknowledged my presence, and I smiled at her.

"Hey kitten. I hear you've picked up a brand new super power?"

I realized I was still stroking her forehead and started to pull away, but she grabbed my hand and pulled it back.

"Cool," she murmured. "Feels nice."

A slow blink and she tilted her head slightly to the side, looking at me intently.

"I still can't hear you. Why can't I hear you?"

"Vampire, luv. One of the perks that come with the fangs, or so I've been told."

She muttered incoherently under her breath, and I lost my smile. She wasn't completely there with me, and I tried to draw her back.

"Anything you're interested in, Slayer? You can just ask, you know. I can't promise I'll answer but."

"Did you sleep with Faith?"

Even after her hints from the afternoon, it still took me by surprise; and for a second, I stared at her, mouth and eyes wide. Then I did the only sensible thing. I laughed. She frowned for a moment; until I clarified my laugher by saying that it was the most ridiculous idea I had ever heard. I guess I could have found a nicer way to say it, but she didn't seem to mind too much. Especially since, she was already drifting on to other voices besides mine.

She was tired, I could tell that much, and I wasn't distracting her anymore from whatever she was hearing. I told her to try to get some sleep, and she nodded, barely, before closing her eyes. I might have brushed my lips to her burning forehead. Or taken her hand and held it for a while. Might. One thing is sure, it wasn't long before I went and found Giles.

I spent the rest of my night tracking down another one of the demons with Angel. He wasn't happy about the help; but once I made it clear I didn't give a damn about what he thought, he stopped being an ass. We found our demon pretty quickly, but it took us a bit longer to take it down. When it was time to bring Buffy her morning tonic, Angel once again became a jealous prick. I didn't argue - much - and let him go there alone. I knew I'd see Buffy again soon enough, and I had no particular wish to watch Angel get to play the boyfriend while I stood there and felt useless.

In any case, I now knew that she cared enough about me to wonder who I was sleeping with, so I was pretty confident about the future. Confident that she would only care more once I showed her how helpful I could be with the whole Mayor business. It didn't occur to me that she might have wanted to know about Faith because she worried for my soul. I also refused to even think of the possibility that she might believe I had betrayed her by joining the other side.

Made it even harder when the other shoe dropped.

Chapter 23: Proofs

The Scoobies had finished locking down the whole cafeteria except for the front doors; undoubtedly, the Mayor would be arriving very soon. Spike was restless, unable to stop the wheels turning furiously in his head.

Earlier that night, he had helped the gang steal the mystery box that apparently was so important to the Mayor. Spike hadn't known about it until offering to help the gang, and he was wondering if that meant the Mayor hadn't needed his help with it, or hadn't wanted him to know. His assistance to the Scoobies hadn't amounted to much; Buffy had assigned him to protect the two Watchers, who hadn't needed his protection in the slightest. He was all too aware that she had suggested that role for him in order to keep Angel and him away from each other. Also aware that if he had persisted in accompanying the Slayer, the brooding wonder, and the witch, he might have prevented the latter from being captured. And, if Willow hadn't been captured, they would be destroying the Mayor's pretty box instead of waiting for him now.

The whole hostage thing wasn't what was upsetting him, though. He was confident that the exchange would go fine - each group had something precious the other one wanted; there was no reason to shed blood. The trouble was that for the first time, he would be in the same room with both the Scoobies and the Mayor, each side believing he would fight for them. He wasn't sure what the Mayor's reaction would be to the fact that Spike hadn't warned him about the Scoobies' planned attack. He was even less certain as to which attitude to adopt. Not being there at all would have been easier, but Buffy had insisted, saying she needed all the back up she could get.

The lights went out. Spike could still see fine, but he had to fight back his instinct to shift to game face. He didn't want to show any sign of being on edge, especially in front of Angel. The doors opened, two vamps entered, followed by the Mayor and Faith, the latter holding Willow. Buffy stepped closer to the Mayor, and Spike tensed, ready to jump in at the first hint of a threat toward his Slayer. For an instant, his eyes met Faith's, and he frowned at the cruel smile that bloomed on her lips. Something was up, but what?

Willow was safe.

Just for that, Buffy could have smiled, but she didn't dare, not so soon, not until the Mayor and his clique were gone. It was her plan that had put her friend in danger, and she'd do anything she had to in order to get her back in perfect health. If that meant returning the Mayor's box, she had no problem with that, Wesley be damned.

It could have gone perfectly fine; but of course, it didn't. The Mayor first took a few easy shots at her relationship with Angel, pointing out with barely hidden glee that Angel would never be a day older while Buffy would age in front of his very eyes. Buffy had made her peace with that, and it didn't bother her. At least, not too much. But she knew Angel, knew how he thought, and could already hear him mournfully say that she deserved better than him, more than he could offer. She didn't want better or more, simply wanted him to give her all he could, just like she was ready to give him all she was. And it was time he understood that, before things between them got irremediably broken.

By itself, the reminder that one of them would live to see the die wouldn't have been so bad. The fact that they wouldn't grow old together was nothing new. But what the bastard said next.

Faith had just let go of Willow to take the box Angel was offering her when the Mayor spoke again. His words sent the room into speechless shock.

"I've got to admit, I was a tad disappointed by your behavior, Miss Summers. I thought you stood for all that is good and pure, and there you are, lover to two vampires, both of whom lost their soul at some point because of you; yet, you still keep them close. I could almost understand about Angel, if he really does have a permanent soul now, but to keep a soulless killer in your little group? Do you even know he offered his services to me? I don't understand how."

He was abruptly interrupted by the intrusion of Snyder and two police officers. Then the box opened, and Buffy needed to concentrate on fighting. Until it was over, though, questions ran through her mind. Was it true? Had Spike really lost his soul? The Mayor had lied when saying she had slept with him, so he could have lied about the rest. He had to have lied. She couldn't believe it was true. She didn't want to believe it, didn't want to be told that, all these months, her trust in Spike had been misplaced. She had been betrayed too often already, and couldn't go through that again. Not when she had been relying so much on Spike. Not when she hadn't questioned his help in months. Not when his presence on patrol had become as much of a comfort - if not sometimes more - as Angel's.

The cafeteria doors swung close, leaving a few humans and a couple of vamps alone once again. Angel's first reaction was to turn toward Spike and stride to him, throwing him to the floor before the younger vampire could react.

"What the fucking hell is wrong with you?" Spike spat, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Are you still souled?"

A mere second of silence followed the growled question, but it wasn't Spike who answered.

"You can't truly believe what the Mayor said."

Momentarily leaving Spike, Angel's gaze found Buffy. Her face expressed the same incredulity her voice had.

"You can't truly believe," she repeated coldly, "that I'd sleep with anyone who isn't you."

Again, the room was quiet. Angel wanted to believe her more than anything, but a nagging doubt wouldn't leave him. Spike had changed. Angel wasn't sure when it had happened, but the blond wasn't as depressed as he had once been, he was fighting better; he simply was more like he had been before the curse. It could be that he had simply adapted to the soul, as Angel had believed until now. Or it could be that he had lost it. And if that was it, then how?

Spike was now up again, scowling.

"Can't you see what's happening?" he said spitefully, gesturing to the door through which the Mayor had disappeared. "That guy just tried to have all of us turn against each other. Standard tactic to weaken your opponents; have them fight amongst themselves."

"Without putting in doubt Buffy's faithfulness," Wesley said primly as he slowly approached, the stake in his hands all too obvious, "I'm sure we'd all sleep better if we did a simple truth spell to assure ourselves that."

"Sod that. I've proved myself enough, I'm done jumping through fucking hoops."

Spike cast a defiant look across the room, making eye contact with everyone, finishing with Angel and Buffy. Whatever he saw in each of them, he apparently didn't like, because he strode off, head held high and almost visible waves of fury coming off him.

"I think." Buffy started, voice shaking ever so slightly before she could control it. "I think he may have really lost it."

Angel said nothing, but inside, his soul was screaming that she was right. Yet, at the same time, he had a hard time believing it. Spike had changed in the past months, yes, but at no point had Angel smelled human blood on him. If he had been killing again, Angel would have known, he was sure of it. So, what was going on? And how had the younger vampire reached perfect happiness?

Morning was well on its way when Giles finally returned home. He had spent the last few hours examining the few sheets Willow had stolen from the Ascension books. The news so far was rather grim. It was even grimmer when combined with the Spike situation.

Even as he had been taking notes about the Ascension, Giles had been pondering Spike's soul status. It was hard to believe the vampire could be soulless and still help them, patrol with them, without the barest hint so far that he wanted to hurt them, or anyone else for that matter. However, now that he had given it some thought, Giles could easily see the changes Spike had gone through, could even remember remarking to himself how well the vampire had adjusted to his soul. Well, maybe he hadn't adjusted at all. Maybe.

He smelled the cigarette smoke as soon as he entered the courtyard, and immediately found the shadow leaning against the wall, his face faintly lit by the red glow of the cigarette. Instinctively, Giles retrieved the stake from his jacket's right pocket, and the bottle of holy water from the left. Maybe he should have accepted Buffy's offer to accompany him home, but his pride had gotten in the way.

"Watcher," Spike greeted him coolly, still immobile against the wall save fort he movement of his fingers bringing the cigarette to his lips and away.

Never taking his eyes from the vampire, Giles continued to his door. Unlocking it required some juggling with his weapons and keys, but only when he finally pushed the door open and stepped in, out of Spike's reach, did the vampire move. Flicking the remaining of his cigarette away, he approached the door, and Giles had the urge to close it before he reached the threshold. Ridiculous, of course. Spike didn't have an invite to his house anymore, and he wouldn't have waited for Giles to walk in if he had wanted to kill him.

"'Have to talk to you," the vampire said grimly.

"Yes, it seems so. About what?"

It felt a little weird to stand inside and talk to someone outside, but the alternative was unthinkable. He would not play with fire and invite him in.

"About what? What do you think?"

Giles took a deep breath. Time to test his conjectures.

"I think you lost your soul sometime on Buffy's birthday. Which is either a coincidence, or some echo of Angel's curse being broken last year."

A raised eyebrow was Spike's only visible reaction until he spoke. "Interesting theory, but not accurate. Lost it a few days before. How did you know?"

It had been one thing to think the vampire had lost his soul, but it was still very different to hear it confirmed. Giles fought to keep his voice even.

"You changed," he said calmly. "Started to meet my eyes when you never would before. Other little things you said or did. I didn't know what it meant until tonight, though. Why did you play that act for so long?"

Spike's brow furrowed even as his features darkened. Not anger, because the demon's eyes would have accompanied anger. Nevertheless, if not anger, what did he feel?

"It wasn't an act. You said I could choose to do good and I chose. I chose when I had the soul, and I chose again after losing it."

That, Giles had trouble believing, and it certainly showed on his expression because Spike shook his head and said:

"Right. Never thought you'd believe me. That's why I'm here. Have an offer for you."

"What kind of offer?"

Had he been less tired, Giles might not have had this conversation at all. He might have tried to stake the vampire, or at the very least would have closed his door on him. However, he did listen, even though he was doubtful, and let Spike say what he wanted to say.

"I know you lot. I'd bet you're thinking about resouling me, and you'd already have done it if you hadn't all been too tired."

He paused then, as if waiting for confirmation. Giles didn't say a word; but yes, they had talked about it.

"I don't want to go through that again," Spike continued when it was clear Giles wouldn't reply. "If that's what you plan on doing, save yourself the trouble and just stake me. 'Cause I swear I'll take a walk in the sun if you curse me."

Giles still didn't let himself respond.

"And with the Ascension coming soon," the blond finished, obviously disappointed by his unresponsive audience, "you could use all the help you could find. Including mine. So here's my offer. Don't do a souling spell on me. Do a truth one, like the other ponce said. 'M sure you can find one in your musty books. Bewitch me so I'll tell nothing but the truth, and ask me what my plans are. Ask me if I plan to hurt any of you. Then you'll know you can trust me."

Stunned, Giles watched him and wondered why the vamp was willing to go that far for them to accept his help. Everything the Watcher knew, everything he had experienced, told him that it was incredibly dangerous and stupid to believe that a vampire, any vampire at all, was harmless. And yet.

Yet, he had taken Spike in after he had been cursed. Had let him go. Had talked to him about redeeming himself. Had offered him money in exchange for his help on patrol. Had invited him into his house, shared drinks with him, talked with him, in one word, trusted him. And some of it, he had done while Spike was soulless.

The question was could he still do it now that he knew Spike was soulless. The vampire was offering him a way to find an answer.

"Tomorrow afternoon," he said tiredly. "We'll come to your crypt."

Spike merely nodded before leaving, and Giles was left to wonder about what would happen if they didn't like the truth the vamp would tell.

When the wanker suggested it in the cafeteria, I wouldn't have agreed for anything in the world. But once I thought about it, it wasn't such a bad idea. I knew what kind of risk I was taking with that truth spell, but I was ready for it. Better that than being cursed again - and I have no doubt that's where they would have headed without my refusal. Better, also, than leaving town and being away from them, from her, when I knew I'd have missed her so much. No, there was no way around it. I needed their trust, needed to be a part of the group again, and that was the only answer I could come up with at that time. Seeing how much I hate having magic done on me, you can see how desperate I was.

As the Watcher had promised, they came the next afternoon. Him, the Slayer, the little witch, her wolf, and Harris. All armed. It reminded me of that night when they had come to the mansion to curse Angelus. Like then, they were there to gain an ally through magic, but they were ready to fight if it didn't work. Out of them all, the Slayer was the hardest to read. I wished I had had that little mind reading trick of hers then, it certainly would have been helpful.

Except for the Slayer and her Watcher, they safely remained standing in the sunlight pouring through the open door. Harris made some remark about not agreeing with playing my game, and Willow answered by pointing out that the Ascension was coming in very few days and they needed all the help they could find. Giles eventually put an end to their ramblings, and Buffy never said a word about it.

Before I agreed to the Watcher's request that I sit down in the armchair placed in the center of the crypt, I laid out my rules. I was doing this for them to be able to trust me, but there were limits to what I was ready to reveal. First, I had them assure me of how long the spell would last; then I announced my one restriction.

"I will not tell you how I lost my soul," I said, my eyes going from him to the Slayer and back, "so don't ask."

She looked ready to argue, but Giles agreed, his eyes frank but cool. "We're here to know how far we can trust you. How far you want to trust us is up to you."

I sat down, paid attention to the spell only until I was sure it wasn't the soul curse, and then closed my eyes and tried to remain calm. I had practiced my answers to what I was certain they would ask, and I could think of a thousand ways this could go wrong. But the simple fact that they were ready to test me was reassuring, as it showed how much they needed all the help they could gather, including that of a soulless vampire.

Once the chanting and smelly herb part was done, Giles produced a sheet of paper from his pocket. Trust him to have a list. The first question was easy enough, simply requesting my name. I was left wide-eyed and startled when the simple 'Spike' I had intended to voice became the full name I had worn as a human and had never spoken aloud since. The spell was working, alright, no doubt about that. I wasn't too happy to see Giles scribbling on his paper, and had already guessed that he would research the name I had just given him, but it was too late to take it back.

One by one, he read the names of the Scoobies, Joyce, Dawn, even Angel, and asked if I planned to hurt any of them. All names received a negative answer. I've got to admit that I was somewhat surprised myself about not wanting to hurt Angel.

Then came the fun part.

"Have you at any point worked for or still work for the Mayor?"

That one, I had practiced, and the words that came out were exactly the ones I had intended to say.

"No. I did not work for the Mayor. I pretended to, but it was always an act. I thought I could be the gang's spy, like the Mayor was using Faith to spy on you. I never found out anything that was worth breaking cover. I guess he didn't trust me as much as I had hoped he would. All for nothing."

There were murmurs from the Scoobies at that, but I paid them no mind, and kept my attention on Buffy and Giles, knowing that the final judgment would come from them, and no one else. They shared a look, Giles' eyebrow asking a silent question, Buffy answering with a short nod. Next question.

"Did you kill any human since you were given back your soul?"

Now that question, there, that was the breaking point. I had an answer, practiced and embellished - within the limits of truth, of course - but I knew that it would be the one that decided of everything. Either yes or no would have been a lie. I could only go for the third option.

"I don't know."

I watched the Slayer blink, ever so slowly as if she was replaying my words in her mind, and when she looked about to speak, I continued.

"I went to LA, after I lost my soul. Hunted a handful of wankers. Drug dealers, rapists, murderers. I hunted human predators, just like you hunt demon ones, Slayer. I drank from them. But when I left them, every single one of them, they were alive, and as far as I know they still are. I haven't hunted or killed any human since."

I saw her frown, when I compared what I had done to her own calling, and I knew she'd never agree aloud that it was the same thing. It didn't matter so much though, or at least I hoped it didn't. I just wanted her - wanted them - to admit that sometimes you need more than white and black to paint the world.

"Why not?"

I was surprised to hear Oz speak, for he had been silent so far, but not so surprised by what he was asking. He knew about grays, he was in that fringe himself, although on the opposite end as I was, and it made sense that he questioned my motives.

"I've made a choice," I answered, speaking directly to him. "Every month, you choose to cage yourself not to hurt anyone. I cage myself every day. Every minute."

"It's hard to believe a vampire would choose not to kill without a soul."

My gaze drifted to the Slayer. It wasn't a question, and for that I was grateful. I would have hated to be compelled to tell her why I had made that choice in front of the others.

A few more questions, all of them asking in different ways if I intended to kill again, received the same answer. No, I wasn't going to kill. When I think of it, it makes me wonder. For me to be able to say the words, I had to deeply believe them. Which meant that the demon part of me had to agree with them. Had I truly renounced fresh blood? Was I that convinced that I'd get the girl and be rewarded for giving up on fresh meals? Apparently, I was. For better or for worse, I was.

The jury finally gave its decision. I was deemed worthy of being their ally, under the provision that I wouldn't hunt humans at all, even wrongdoers. I could tell that they were still wary of me, but they accepted that I had been telling the truth. I suppose it helped that each of them could recall at least one instance of me helping to save their lives.

I was somewhat surprised, when they left, that the Slayer stayed a little longer. I wasn't being interrogated anymore, so I stood, walked around, grabbed my fags, all the while watching her watch me from the corner of my eye. I could tell she had more to say, more to ask, maybe, but she was hesitating.

"Why don't you want to tell us how you lost it?" she finally asked, carefully wording the question.

I pondered my answer. Telling her how it had happened might have allowed her to see how special and important she was to me. But I wasn't ready to reveal so much about my feelings for her, for her family. I still felt like it had been a terribly pathetic way to reach perfect happiness. So.

"I might tell you. Some day. But not now."

She nodded, as if she understood, and I could only wonder if she really did.

"Did you and Faith."

"You already asked," I interrupted her, "I already answered. It's still no."

Her cheeks seemed to heat at that, in anger or in embarrassment, I couldn't have told. She seemed ready to leave, or almost. There was so much I wished I could have told her, so much I knew it was too early to say.

"Your invite to my house was revoked," she announced with the tiniest bit of uneasiness. "I'd like you not to visit mom and Dawn anymore. At least for the time being."

If not for the last part, I would have protested and refused to agree. But the fact that she was setting a limit to her own request left me hopeful, so I simply nodded.

"I'm not sure I'd be comfortable enough to patrol with you anymore, so it might be better if you patrol on your own. Maybe you could drop by the library every couple of days and we'd see how you might want to help."

I didn't answer to that, drowning my objections into a deep pull on my cigarette. I already knew that, come nightfall, I'd be out to find her and patrol with her. Whether she liked it or not.

She looked like she had more to say, but after a few seconds of silence she directed her steps to the still open door and the light spilling through it. She seemed to glow as she stepped in the sunlight, and I think it might have been at that point that I decided to find a way to walk in the sun with her. I needed to see her in her element, and that need felt almost as pressing as blood.

She turned to me once more before walking out, and I could see that she was hesitating again. I smiled at her, asked her what was bothering her so much.

"When vampire Willow was here," she said slowly, her eyes searching mine, "you said you wouldn't help her because you didn't want to disappoint someone. Is that why you decided not to kill humans anymore? For someone?"

The words burned my lips, and I had to fight myself not to say too much, all at once excited at the prospect of letting her know I was doing it for her, and afraid her reaction wouldn't be as I hoped it would. I managed to barely say "Yes, for someone", hoping that she'd care enough to ask the next logical question, to which I'd truthfully answer that this someone was her.

She didn't ask, and simply left.

I thought at the time that it meant she didn't care so much about who I was fighting for, as long as it made me fight for the good side. I learned soon enough that she didn't ask because she already knew.

Chapter 24: Smiles

If Angel counted the time, in the last dozen decades or so, that he had spent in close contact with Spike, it added up to just about Buffy's age. A simple coincidence that meant one simple thing. He knew the other vampire as well as if he had been his own Childe; and in a sense, he was. Angelus had taught him, trained him, and tried to curb him to the elder's way of hunting, killing, feeding. In the end, Spike had taken only what he wanted from these teachings, and followed his own mind for the rest. And during all of it, twin passions had molded the younger vamp's actions. The first was Drusilla, for whom Spike would have done anything - anything at all, even allying with the Slayer. The second was excitement. Impatient, quickly bored, the blond had always needed challenges, fights, and fun, and Angelus had quickly given up trying to teach him subtlety.

Dru was gone now, replaced in his heart by, of all people, a Slayer. Apparently, so far, it had been sufficient to restrain his second passion, the need to kill, to fight, to use fists and fangs; and what was left was directed toward demons, not humans. Angel hadn't been present for the truth spell a few days before, but he had heard about it since, more than he would have wished. He could admit that, for now, the other vampire was still fighting on the good side. Yet, he couldn't believe that Spike's infatuation for Buffy would control the desire for fresh blood and real fun for long. It wouldn't last. It couldn't last. Sadly, Buffy refused to understand. Just as she refused to understand why Angel couldn't give her what she wanted.

In the last few days, she had been hinting less and less subtly about prom, about going home with Angel afterwards. It was clear what she wanted. Angel didn't know how to tell her no without hurting her. It wasn't simply the fear of losing his soul that was stopping him from taking her in his arms and never letting go. It was also the Mayor's words, as well as Joyce's. She had come to the mansion the previous day and told him the same thing the Mayor had, in different words. Angel had been blind until then, believing that, despite the obstacles, he and Buffy could have a future together. He wasn't sure anymore it was true. Even if it was, he did not deserve it. Did not deserve her.

From where he stood on the roof of a mausoleum, he watched the two blonds patrolling through the graveyard. There wasn't much to do, these nights. It was as if the demon population knew that something big was about to happen and had decided to keep a low profile until then. It was certainly better that way; if there was no distraction, Buffy at least could keep a sharper eye on Spike, since she had declined to tell him to stay away from her.Angel had renounced fighting that battle, it was all too clear she wouldn't change her mind about that, or at least not because of anything Angel could say.

Lost in his thoughts, Angel missed the first seconds of the fight. When he realized what he had predicted was happening and Spike was attacking Buffy, he jumped to the ground and ran toward them. He tackled Spike from behind, sending him to the ground, a stake already out and plunging toward the blond's chest.

A tiny but powerful hand closed on his wrist and jerked Angel back, pulling him off the other vampire and sending the stake flying. Baffled, he sought Buffy's gaze, tried to understand why she would protect her attacker, why she looked so surprised. So annoyed.

"What the bloody hell is wrong with you?" Spike sputtered indignantly as he jumped to his feet, brushing dirt and grass off him. "Can't even take me face to face?"

Angel slowly stood and ignored the blond, focusing instead on Buffy.

"I told you not to trust him. Told you he would turn against you and."

"And spar with me because we didn't find anything to kill and we both had energy to burn?"

It took a few seconds for the words to sink in, enough time for Spike to light a cigarette and chuckle.

"Oh, this is going to be a good one," the blond vampire said, almost gleeful. "I want an apology. A sincere one, mind you."

Angel turned his eyes, which he knew were more amber than brown, toward his grandchilde; but it didn't seem to impress Spike, who was taking deep pulls on his cigarette and smirking lightly.

"Spike, you're not helping," Buffy said tiredly. "I think patrol is over for tonight."

"Already? But it's so early, luv! How about another round?"

Judging by Spike's widening grin, he was trying to get a rise out of Angel. The older vampire refused to give him satisfaction and remained quiet, wishing Buffy would get rid of Spike a bit faster.

"Don't be such a pain," she told the blond, her slight smile belying the roughness of the words.

"Oh, no need to cry, I'll go. But I'm dropping by to see your mum."

Inwardly, Angel screamed his warning for Buffy to refuse, to keep Spike and his lack of soul away from her mother. For a second, she hesitated, her bottom lip caught between her teeth, and he thought she would follow his silent urging. Disappointment came fast.

"Alright, you can go," she agreed with some reluctance. "But you stay out."

Spike seemed shocked, as if he hadn't expected her answer, but he didn't discuss the limits she was imposing on him and was soon sauntering away, with a last smirking glance at Angel.

"Trusting him with your own life is one thing," Angel commented as calmly as he could. "But your mother doesn't stand a chance if."

"And that's why she won't invite him in," Buffy cut in. "But she wanted to talk to him, and made me promise to send him her way."

Angel had the sudden feeling Joyce would give Spike the same speech she had given him the day before, but Buffy didn't give him much time to think about it.

"Were you following us?" Buffy asked abruptly.

There was no point denying it. "I just needed to make sure you'd be fine. You know I don't trust Spike."

She tilted her head to the side, watching him intently; Angel wondered what was going through her mind.

"Is it Spike you don't trust, or is it me?"

The calmness of her voice surprised him as much as the words.

"Of course I trust you!"

"Because from where I stand," she continued as if she hadn't heard him, "it's not so clear. You don't trust me where your soul is concerned, you don't trust my judgment with Spike, you'd rather follow me than patrol."

Her voice trailed off as Angel shook his head.

"It's not you or your judgment, I don't trust. It's me. It's Spike. We're vampires, Buffy. When all is said and done, we're still demons. Souled or not. And you deserve a lot more than having demons in your life, as allies or friends or anything else."

She snorted, but looked far for amused.

"Yeah, well, go tell that to whoever made me the Slayer, because at this point demons are pretty much all there is to my life."

"And you deserve more," Angel repeated slowly. "You should have a normal life, or as normal as possible. A boyfriend who can take you in the sun, and give you children, and I won't stand in the way of your happiness."

Hazel eyes widened in shock stared at him, and Angel remained quiet, giving her time to understand his words. It would be hard, for both of them, but he knew he was making the right choice. Some day, he hoped she would understand he only had her best interests at heart. Then maybe she'd forgive him.

With a smile, Joyce went to the back door upon hearing a knock on it, but it was a tense smile. Part of her was glad to see Spike; glad to know he was still one of the white hats even though he had lost his soul. She liked to believe that she had played a small role into making him a better man. Yet, another part of her was wary of the way he looked at Buffy, of his increased attentiveness whenever Joyce mentioned her, of the feelings she suspected he might have for her daughter.

She had talked to Angel the day before, pointing out that Buffy should have a real life and that the vampire could not give her that life. She hoped he would take her hint; even if it would hurt Buffy in the short term, it was a necessity for her to stop seeing Angel. It wouldn't work, however, to get one vampire out of the picture only to have him replaced by another. Joyce liked Spike, yes, she enjoyed their talks and considered him a little like family. But hearing that he had lost his soul had reminded her that, like Angel, he wasn't the perfect candidate to be Buffy's companion. Had Spike and Angel both been humans, she would have meddled and tried to push Buffy toward Spike; something about Angel irked her, and she really couldn't stand him. But in the present case, and whatever she thought of him, Spike simply wasn't an option for her daughter.

Him outside, her inside, like they had done since the beginning, they shared some hot cocoa until Joyce was ready to broach the subject. Calmly, she told him what she suspected of his feelings for Buffy; and when he didn't deny, she knew she had been right. She repeated the words she had told Angel, expecting the same quiet acquiescence. What she got instead was a snort.

"There's something I don't think you get," the vampire said as he stood, leaving the mug on the step. His eyes were sad as he looked at her. Not unfriendly, but disappointed. "Your little girl is not normal. She'll never have a normal life. She'll be lucky to survive her graduation day. She'll beat the odds if she's still alive a year from today. If she has a child, the kid will be orphan before he's old enough to remember much of her."

The words were abrupt, and chilled Joyce to the bones, making her shiver. Spike didn't stop, however.

"So tell me, Joyce. What do you want for her? A human love that could give her the illusion of normalcy for a few months without ever understanding her? Or do you want her to live as long as she can? 'Cause me, I'm working on the second one. And with all due respect, I'm not gonna stop because you suddenly remembered I have fangs."

Joyce was about to answer - answer how she had no clue, but she had to make him see she was doing this for Buffy - when the noise of the front door banging shut drew her attention behind her. She barely caught a glimpse of her daughter rushing toward the steps, heart-wrenching sobs filling the room. When she turned to Spike again, his expression was unreadable.

"Sounds like you convinced one vamp, Joyce," he said softly. "But you won't convince the other one. She's strong enough to make her own choices."

Stricken by his words and more than a little confused, Joyce watched him disappear into the night before she joined her daughter to try to comfort her.

When I think of her smiling, it's often the smile from her prom night I remember, when she walked onto the stage and received that stupid umbrella. She was resplendent.

Angel had broken up with her. She had spent her evening chasing hellhounds. She knew the Ascension of the Mayor was only days away. But at that very moment, she was happy. If you ask me, there's a simple reason. It was one of the first times where her Slayer life and normal life meshed; and for a few minutes, she could be both the Slayer and the girl. I've tried to give her as many moments like these as I can, but given what I am, it hasn't always been easy.

So, yeah, I went to her prom. William the Bloody went to a prom. I know. Terrifying. Hadn't I sworn, long before, that this kind of social events was only good if I got to create a blood bath? There was none though that night. A small fight before, as I helped her with the hellhound things - although she was so worked up, she could have taken them single-handedly - but no carnage. I suppose she expected me to leave after our hunt, seeing how she said goodnight and all before darting off to change, but I couldn't leave it at that. I wanted to see her in her pretty dress. Would have been even prettier in black, or even better, red, but she doesn't exactly listen to me about her choice in clothing. I slipped through a back door, all the while thinking that if I had been in a snacking mood, I could have made an easy kill. Found the Watchers, scared the wanker one away, and told Giles about the hunt. That's when they gave her the prezzie. That's when I saw her beautiful smile for the first time.

She came straight to her Watcher afterwards, looking a bit surprised to see me there, and then commented that I could have put on a tuxedo. She's funny, my Slayer.

Then out of the blue, she made me speechless. Asked me if I wanted to dance with her.

Yeah, I know. Never saw that one coming either. Out of the blue, I tell you. Not that I was going to complain, of course, but as soon as she gave her umbrella to Giles, we walked to the dance floor. Bonus - it was a slow song playing.

She rested her hands on my shoulders, a bit hesitantly, and I settled mine on her hips. The satin of her dress was nice to the touch, but I would have given a lot to know the feel of her skin. For a few instants, everything was perfect, and I might have lost my soul if I still had had one to lose. We were probably a strange sight, her in light pink evening wear, me in old jeans and duster, but I couldn't have cared less. The music, the soft rhythm of our swaying together, her heat so close to my body, her lovely face close enough to kiss, these were the only things I was aware of.

Then. then I noticed that her gaze was darting every so often past my shoulder, and every time it did, her eyes seemed to shine with unshed tears. I shifted our steps so that I could see what or who she was looking at. It didn't take me long to notice the brooding wonder on the other side of the room, dressed in a tuxedo and looking as if he was about to crumble to ashes.


She finally looked at me, blinking the tears away. The words burned my throat even as I said them, but I couldn't let it go on like this. I couldn't let it all happen again.

"I won't be a substitute for Angel," I said and bit my tongue before adding too much.

She seemed a little surprised, and to her credit, she blushed, a little embarrassed I supposed that I had caught her game.

"I know you're not like him," she murmured, looking anywhere but at me. "It's one of the reasons you're not dust yet."

One of several reasons? I wanted to ask what were the others, but I also needed to know something.

"So, what are we doing here? 'Cause as much as I hate to say it, seems to me you could be having a last dance or something."

She shrugged, still avoiding my gaze.

"We're making him jealous. He's been jealous of you for months, at least now he has a reason to be."

I managed to stifle a laugh, but not without pain. All trace of laughter disappeared however when I caught her first quiet sob. Without thinking, I pulled her closer to me, and she took the opportunity I was offering her, hiding her face - and her tears - against my shirt. I leaned my cheek to the top of her head, trying to shush her with senseless murmurs even as I glared at Angel. He finally left. She remained where she was until the slow songs were over, and then gave me a sad but thankful little smile.


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