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Nominated for Best Long Story and Best Characterization at the Love’s Last Glimpse Awards. 7/3/05
In reply to a call from Giles, Buffy came bouncing into the Magic Box and hopped up to sit on the round conference table. “What’s the whiles, Giles?” she chirped.
Giles gave one of his tolerant smiles at her rhyming and left the cash register to come stand beside her. “An important and powerful amulet has been stolen from Professor Grimwood.”
“Sounds like one of Xander’s gaming characters,” Buffy smiled.
“He’s a colleague of mine who dabbles in white magicks. He’s tracked the demon to the woods east of town. But he is unable to recover it because this demon’s layer is filled with a toxic atmosphere which is poisonous to humans.”
“So I, what, hold my breath?”
“No, I’m afraid we have to enlist some… freelance help.”
“Oh, please don’t let it be Spike.”
“I’m afraid we have no other choice, Buffy. If this demon has the amulet long enough to decipher the wards on it, things will not go well for anyone.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and hopped off the table. “Fine. Tell me what the trinket looks like and how to kill the baddie. Give me the Spike bribe fund and I’ll be off.”
Giles gave her the information she needed, but laid a restraining hand on her arm as she took the money. “Buffy, be careful. This creature is intelligent and has some magical ability.”
“I will. Thanks, Giles.” She reached the door and held up the wad of cash. “If I can get Spike to do it for less than this, can I shop away the rest?”
Giles just sighed and shook his head, having had this argument with Buffy before.
In the last of the sun’s light she made her way to Spike’s crypt and happily kicked open the door. “Hey, Spike, wanna make yourself useful?”
“I’d rather make you into dinner,” Spike answered, not moving from his one ratty green armchair where he sat with one leg thrown over an arm, elbow on his knee, and head on fist.
Buffy came over to deliberately stand between Spike and his flickering black and white television. “Come on. There’s something to kill and shiny things to steal. Or, resteal. Recover. It’ll be fun.”
Spike sighed and gave up on trying to look around her. “What’s in it for me, other than missing my movie?”
Spike sneered and swung his leg around to push her out of his view. “Push off, Slayer. Let me watch my classic.”
Buffy let him move her aside despite the fact she wanted to snap his leg off, and squinted at the television. “Blues Brothers? Blech.”
Spike glanced up at her. “Am I killing or stealing?”
“One particular thing?”
Buffy was feeling confident he’d go for half her bribe fund. “And you can keep any other shiny pretties you find.”
“Why can’t you get it?” Spike knew better than to jump at apparently easy money.
“The air in cave of the thing that took it is toxic to people.”
“Hey. I’m people.”
“You’re not a person, Spike. It’s only your lack of breathing that brings me here.”
“Like ‘em cold and still, don’t you?” Spike leered and ran a hand down to his crotch.
Buffy rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “A hundred and fifty. I kill or distract his thing and you go in it’s cave and find an amulet.”
“An amulet? So… this thing is dangerous and can use magic, huh? Give me all two hundred and I get to keep what ever is left behind.”
“What makes you think I have that much?”
Spike smirked again. “Rupert is nothing if not predictable.”
Buffy sighed. “Fine.”
Spike sprang to his feet and darted a hand past Buffy to turn off the television just to make her jump. “Let’s go, pet. Lead the way and fill me in on the way there.”
Later that night, Buffy came staggering into the Magic Box and collapsed at the table. “I don’t know what that thing said to me as it died, but it sure was pissed.”
Xander left off enjoying Anya nuzzling his neck to look over at his friend. “Aren’t most things you kill pissed at you, Buffy?”
Buffy flopped down at the table and laid her head on it. “This beastie was adamant about it.”
Concerned, Giles joined her. “Grimwood identified the correct demon?”
“Yep. Pointy ears, claws and all.”
“Seeing as it had some magical abilities, did it gesture at you in any way?”
“It was apparently pointing and calling me all kinds of nasty names. If nothing else it gave me a headache.” She rolled her head on the cool wood. “I like vamps. They just poof.”
“I’m not a poof,” declared Spike as he strode in from the training room entrance. Unlike Buffy. the vampire was apparently wired from the action. “Sorry, Xander. I know you pine after my undead body.”
Xander sputtered. “I so do not!”
“I wouldn’t blame you,” Anya put in absently. “If I were a gay male I would go for Spike, too.”
“I do not go for Spike!” protested Xander, pouting.
“Here’s your trinket. Pay me.” Spike dropped an amulet on the table and sprawled on the balcony steps behind the Slayer. “Once Buffy here distracted it, I had no problems slipping in its hole and grabbing the bobble.”
“You sure sound like a poof to me,” sniped Xander.
“At least I’ve got more money than you do. Hey, Slayer, pay me.” Spike reached out with a booted foot and prodded Buffy.
In an instant, Buffy was on her feet and standing with balled fists, glaring at Spike. “If you put your nasty feet anywhere near me again, I will personally rip off your legs and strangle you with them!”
Spike scrabbled backwards up the stairs at this unexpected onslaught from their habitual sniping. “Whoa! Slayer!”
Giles was at her side in an instant. “Buffy. What’s wrong? You and Spike…”
“Me and Spike? What? I don’t even want to work with the creep, so I shouldn’t have to put up with him hanging out around me.”
Even Xander winced at this nasty remark and felt compelled to defend the vampire. “Buffy. Chill. It’s just your headache…”
She rounded on her friend. “What? Defending your fantasy object? I’ve seen the way you look at him.”
“What? No! Ick! Why?” Xander sputtered.
Anya punched Xander on the arm. “I knew it!”
“Ow! Anya! Knew what? There is nothing to know.”
“And you!” Buffy sneered, rounding on Anya. “I bet you’d rather be a demon again. And you know what, I wish you were. Then I could get your tactless self out of my face.”
“Hey! What crawled up your butt?” Anya rose to her feet.
Giles stepped between the two girls before it could come to blows. “Now, now. Buffy,” he said in a soothing tone. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you something for your headache?”
“Why didn’t you go with me? Why didn’t you come along so this thing I had to kill wouldn’t throw any nasty magic at me?” Giles could only sputter under the verbal assault. “I guess you don’t care if I get hexed or blasted.”
Giles pulled himself together and faced down the angry Slayer. There was Ripper-like steel in his voice. “Buffy. I suggest you pay Spike, apologize to everyone, and go home and sleep off that headache.”
Buffy glared up at her Watcher for several tense minutes before reaching in a pocket and pulling out the bundle of fifties. She peeled off one and then threw it to the vampire where he warily watched her from high on the steps. “I did all the work. He just went in and took things. His pockets are full of stuff.”
The deadly glare pinning him to the steps kept Spike from responding in any way.
“Buffy…” Giles ventured, only to have the look turned on him. Despite the force of Buffy’s glare, the man did not back down. “Go home.”
Buffy scoffed. “Screw that. I’m going shopping.” She stuffed the remaining money in her pocket and stormed out the door.
“What twisted her knickers?” Spike wondered.
“I don’t know.” Giles looked worriedly after her. “I think I had better do some more reading on this.”
Spike pulled himself back together and leapt off the stairs. “Want me to go after her and rip her head off for you?”
“No, Spike. I do not.”
“Then pay me the rest of the two hundred and I’ll be on my way.” Seeing no way out of it, Giles pulled the money from the till despite Anya’s protests, and paid the vampire. “Good luck with crazy Buffy!” he called as he strode out the door.
Giles sunk down at the table, set aside his glasses, and scrubbed his hands over his face.
“What on earth was that?” Xander asked.
“Buffy has gone crazy. I’ve seen it happen before. First they speak truths, then they cut down those closest to them,” Anya started.
Xander looked puzzled at his girlfriend. “Truths? Except for the statements about what it’s like to be around Spike, she didn’t say anything true.”
“I’ve seen you look at Spike.”
“Enough!” Giles cut in. “This could be serious. That creature she killed may have cursed her.”
“So she spoke true enough about how you should have gone with her.” Anya said.
Giles waved a hand. “She may very well have. We have to figure out just what it did to her.”
“Doughnut run?” asked Xander.
“Yes. I’ll call Willow.”
Half way to the mall, Buffy suddenly changed direction, heading for her boyfriend’s fraternity house. Once there, she made straight for his room and went in without knocking.
Her sudden entrance made Riley jump to his feet and greet her in a fighting stance, which he dropped once he saw who it was. “Buffy. You should know better then to barge in on me. My training…”
“Afraid I’ll catch you with someone else?”
Puzzled, Riley blinked at his girlfriend. “Of course not. You know better than that.”
Buffy reached behind her and locked the door. “Good. Than I can get what I came for.”
“I… we can’t I’ve got a class to be at in ten minutes.”
Buffy advanced on him, ran her hands down his chest to his groin, and looked up into his eyes. “Then call in sick.”
Riley paused, then studied her closer. “Faith?”
With a snarl, Buffy shoved him back onto his bed. “I told you to never mention that name again. I know you want her back.” Buffy climbed up on the bad, straddling the stunned man. “So why don’t you do all those nasty things you did for her for me?”
“Because we didn’t do anything nasty and… you don’t want that,” he answered, puzzled. “You’ve told me you like it simple.”
“I’ve changed my mind. I want you to do every nasty thing to me that you have ever imagined a man doing to a woman.” She ground her hips into his growing erection.
“Buffy. I’ve got a class,” he answered, his voice hoarse. “I have to go”
“It’s now or never, mister.”
“Buffy. I have an obligation…”
In a heartbeat, Buffy was off of him. “Then fine. You never get to touch me again.” She ripped open the door without unlocking it and stormed away.
Riley pulled himself together and resolved to find out what was wrong with his girlfriend after class.
Buffy stormed across campus only to be hear her name being called. She stopped and waited as Willow and Tara caught up to her.
“Hey, Buffy,” Willow smiled, wrapping her arm around her girlfriend. “What ‘cha up to? Some Riley time?” the redhead asked in a teasing, nudge-nudge tone.
“None of your business,” Buffy snapped, startling her friends. “Why don’t you two just go off and have some witch time? Go work some spells together,” Buffy sneered in the same tone.
“Buffy. What? What’s wrong?” asked a hurt Willow, holding Tara tighter.
Buffy looked Tara over. “Apparently you settling for whoever comes along rather than looking for someone nice.”
“Whatever!” Buffy dismissed her friends’ tears and continued on her way.
Willow comforted a sobbing Tara as she stared after her friend with tears in her eyes. “Something’s wrong. That isn’t Buffy.”
Tara pulled herself together. “It was Buffy. But… maybe her aura was off. I… I didn’t look.”
“It’s okay, Baby. Let’s go see what Giles thinks.”
A short time later the two girls arrived at the Magic Box, followed by Riley. Soon, they had all compared notes and were deep in research. After a doughnut run and several hours of pouring over books of curses and their symptoms, Giles looked up from his book. “My God. It’s a soul curse.”
“A soul curse?” breathed Willow. “Like directly on her soul?”
Xander let out a low whistle. “No wonder she’s been acting so… bad.”
“Mean and spiteful, you mean,” corrected Anya.
“Um, yeah. I’d actually go right for evil,” agreed Tara.
“The creature caused a soul-eating entity to attach itself to her soul. It’s feeding off her,” Giles read. “We have to get it out of her within two days or the damage becomes irreversible. If we act soon, there should be no lingering damage.”
“So what’s to be done about it?” asked Willow.
“I know of a spell, actually several spells, but it’s very complicated. We have to contain her, remove her soul, cleanse her, then replace the soul. It will take all of us, and then some,” Giles explained, reaching for another book.
“You mean Spike?” asked Tara.
Giles read the page he had found again. “We must keep the plan from the entity inhabiting her or it will kill her.”
Willow took a deep breath. “Tell us what we need to do.”
The gang dispersed for the remainder of the night with plans in place. Working hard over the next day at the Magic Box, Giles and the witches made several “bottled” spells, which was an old trick when time is pressing and timing is critical in spell casting. Buffy’s mother was away on a buying trip so Giles used his emergency key to let himself into the Summers’ home. They laid out their containment circle on the floor of Buffy’s bedroom.
Riley was sent to tail Buffy and bring her in at the right time. Xander was left with the task of recruiting Spike.
He cautiously poked his head into the dim interior of Spike’s crypt. “Hello? Spike?” The television flickered quietly, drawing Xander’s attention. “Hey! Buckaroo Banzai. I love this one.”
The bleach blond vampire leapt out of the darkest corner of the crypt in full game face, snarling at Xander. With a girlish shriek, Xander stumbled away, tripping over the armchair as he fumbled for the stake in his back pocket. “Christ, Spike!”
Spike chuckled, shook of his demon face, and lit a cigarette. “So. What brings the boy here? Finally admit to your girlfriend how much you want me?”
“God, no, Spike. We need your help.”
Spike flopped down in the chair and spoke without looking at Xander. “So now it comes out. Can’t go two days without needing me. Let’s skip the bickering and go right to two hundred fifty.”
“I don’t have that!”
“Spike, we need your help with Buffy.”
“The Slayer? Ever figure what bug crawled up her butt? She was sniffing around here earlier. I didn’t let her in.”
“We all know she regularly kicks your door open. She’s got a soul curse, Spike. It’s going to eat her soul if we don’t cure her in the next two days.”
Spike flicked off the television and turned his attention to Xander. “Soul eaters are nasty.” Spike stared at the glowing tip of his cigarette as if considering the matter. “What do you need me to do?”
“She’s stronger than any of us. We may need you to restrain her.”
“Restrain the Slayer and get paid two hundred dollars? What’s the plan?”
Xander blinked at the self-inflicted pay drop on the vamp's part and filled him in on the plan.
That night, the Scooby gang hid in Joyce’s bedroom, with Anya hiding in Buffy’s room to cast the containment spell, and listened as Riley and Buffy climbed the stairs.
“Come on, Buffy. I know there are… things you have been wanting to do and we won’t be interrupted here. Your mother’s out of town, remember?” Riley hated playing the kink card, but reminded himself it was to save Buffy’s life.
Buffy paused outside her bedroom door. “I never told you that.” Buffy’s voice was sharp and cutting.
“Maybe Giles mentioned it. It doesn’t matter. We’re alone.” He reached past her and opened the door to the darkened room. Anya started to chant and scatter a handful of dust to trap the cursed Slayer, but Buffy shoved her backward. The ex-demon went flying right into a tray of components, scattering them. Three of the critical spell bottles shattered, and a bit of mystic wind knocked over several of the containment candles.
Riley reacted with soldier training and grabbed Buffy before she could run. Buffy, her eyes glowing purple, flipped him over her shoulder. He landed hard on his back, his head knocking against the dresser.
She plowed through the Scoobies and ran. Spike, who was posted outside on the porch, was immediately hot on her heels. “Let’s play chase the Slayer,” he grinned to himself.
“Anya?” Giles asked as he looked over the spells.
“Go. I’m fine and I’ll see to Riley. Go!”
“I’ve got the emergency spell kit. Let’s hope Spike can catch her.” They piled in Giles’ car. “I hope I’m right in thinking the entity will want to return to where the spell was cast.” They caught up with Spike and Buffy engaged in an all-out fight on the edge of the woods.
Buffy’s eyes gave off a black light-like glow. She turned on the crowd with a snarl, kicked Spike, knocking him down, whipped around, and ran off into the woods.
Sparing no energy for shouting, Spike hopped up and took off after her, the rest of the group running after them.
The following Scoobies heard a great cracking ahead and came into a clearing to find Buffy facing off with Spike with a long and very pointy broken branch in her hands.
Willow, Tara, Xander, and Giles made a circle around the two, each carrying their particular component. Giles called out to the entity. Buffy’s attention whipped to the figures circling her, her eyes darting about the closing group until they landed on the heavy blue glass bottle Xander was holding. “No!” she shouted. With Slayer speed, she scooped up a rock and hurled it at the bottle. Before he could react, the bottle shattered in Xander’s hands. He cried out as shards went into his hands and fingers.
Spike took advantage of the momentary shift in attention to tackle Buffy and pin her to the ground. “Giles! Now!”
Giles reached in and smeared a spiral marking on her forehead in dark syrup as he recited his prepared spell. Buffy suddenly stopped fighting. “That should hold her for a short while.” Spike cautiously climbed off Buffy, leaving her panting and straining against invisible bonds, her eyes closed. “Willow?”
“She’s broken the bottle. We have to have a vessel, now!” Willow cried.
Xander’s hands were shaking as he pulled out a couple of large pieces of glass in the moonlight. “Good thing I brought a flashlight for once.” Using the three if his fingers that miraculously didn’t have cuts or glass in them, he carefully pulled a small light out of his back pocket and joined Spike in the search for a vessel.
Shortly, Xander pounced on a shine of green in the grass. He held it up, shining the light on it. “What about this?”
“A Mountain Dew bottle,” Willow assessed. “No. That’s plastic. It has to have… some integrity.”
Spike shouted from where he was searching the bushes. “What about a weapon? I’ve got a good knife with me.”
“It has to be a container of some kind. Hurry! She’s slipping.”
“The one night I don’t have my flask,” he muttered.
Spike suddenly stilled and looked back over to where the other three knelt around Buffy. She was fighting the bonds, her back arching.
“Hurry! There has to be something!”
“We’re in the middle of the woods, Wil.” Xander called from where he was playing the flashlight beam further and further away. “There isn’t much by way of honest containers out here. I never thought I’d be sad to not see litter,”
Spike ran back over to them, his face grim. “Use me.”
“Put. Her. In. Me. What else is a body but a vessel for a soul? I don’t have one, so, vacancy here.”
Willow looked to Giles. If possible his brow furrowed even more. “It makes sense.”
“Spike, I…” Willow said with a serious worried face.
The vampire dropped to his knees beside her. “Do it! She’s dying!”
“Xander, get over here!” Willow called.
He came running up. “Who found what?”
“We’re going to use Spike. Do you remember your lines?”
“What? Evil dead a soul vessel?”
“Just hold him, Xander. Say your lines.”
Reluctantly, Xander put away his flashlight, wincing from the glass in his hands, stood behind Spike, and put a hand on either arm. Willow began incanting Latin verses and motioning over Buffy. A mystical wind started to blow around her. She nodded at Xander.
“I hold the vessel. To hold the soul. To keep it safe. Until it be returned again.” Xander chanted carefully.
Willow placed her right hand on Buffy’s chest and her left on Spike’s. Spike’s head snapped back, his body going rigid. Xander flinched away to keep from being head butted in a very painful place, but kept a hold of Spike so as to not break the spell. Golden light mixed with ugly purple like an oil slick streamed from Buffy’s eyes and mouth and flowed into Spike’s. It looked like Spike’s body was acting as a filter, turning back the purple, which coalesced in a cloud in the air around him. When the last of the light was gone from Buffy, Giles incanted a spell he had held ready, encasing Buffy’s body in a cool blue glow. At the same time, Tara cast handfuls of different dusts into the cloud and shouted a phrase in a Latin as it turned and tried to get back into Buffy.
The purple cloud dispersed and Spike collapsed. Xander, not wanting to let go too soon, followed him down, dropping to his knees. “Is that it? Did we do it?” he asked.
Giles peered down at Buffy and laid a hand on her forehead. “Yes. That part is done. Now, we must get her back to the house, soon.”
Spike turned and leaned against Xander’s chest. “Are you okay, Spike?” he asked, unsure about how the vampire was acting.
“Yeah,” came the muffled reply. “Give a bloke a second. Our girl’s got… a heavy soul.”
Xander, not knowing what else to do, and not wanting to believe he felt tears wetting his shirt, put his arms around Spike. He shot a look at the three who were watching. “The man’s tired. Move along.”
“Right,” Giles said, turning back to Buffy. She was pale, still, and breathing shallowly. “Willow, how soon can we return the soul?”
“Some of the prepared components were lost. It might take as much as ten hours.”
“Do we have that?” asked Tara.
“If we can get her back to the house and get her into the prepared containment field right away,” Giles explained.
Spike abruptly stood up, running a hand over his face before turning around. “Tell me what to do.”
“Spike. Are you sure? You’ve been fighting and running…”
“We all have. I’m a vampire. I can run all night if I need to. Buffy doesn’t weigh anything. Just tell me what to do to get her stable. I don’t want to get stuck with this thing.”
Giles went over the proper placement of Buffy and the correct words to say. Spike repeated them back without flaw.
Giles helped him pick up the Slayer. Spike took off his long leather coat and wrapped it around the still body. “Hurry, Spike. We’ll follow as quickly as we are able.”
Spike nodded and set off as fast as he could.
His vision blurred as tears streamed from his eyes. He could feel a dull burn inside him. Buffy’s soul. He could not believe he was holding Buffy’s soul as well as her coveted body.
He reached the Summer’s home and dashed up the stairs. Anya let out a shriek as Spike burst in. “Spike! What happened?”
He ignored her as he laid Buffy on the floor within the repaired circle. He tossed aside his coat, completed the circle and sealed the spell as Giles had directed him to. Only when a soap bubble-like energy field sprang up around Buffy did he sit back against the foot of the bed.
Anya kneeled beside him. “Spike?” she said quietly. “What happened? Where’s the soul bottle? Shouldn’t it be kept with her?”
Spike looked up at her. She was taken aback to see tears standing in his eyes. “She broke the bottle. So I’ve got her.”
“You’re the vessel?” She searched his eyes and saw the truth of it.
“Yeah. It… stings a bit. Her soul. I think that’s because it’s so big.” His eyes were drawn back to Buffy.
“Is everyone else all right?”
“They’re fine. Xander got a cut or two from the bottle breaking, but it’s minor. I didn’t smell much blood. I think… I think maybe you should go back to the Magic Box and get replacement components. The faster she’s put back together, the better for everyone.”
“I can do that. Oh, and Riley’s at the hospital, by the way. Buffy gave him a concussion. I called 911 and they came and got him. They called to say he’d be fine.”
“Good. Call him when you can, would you. Don’t want him to worry.”
Anya looked him straight in the eyes in her bold way. “This soul is making you nice. I like you better this way. I just thought you should be aware of that.”
Spike ran a hand over his hair. “Yeah. I got that. Go get what’s needed so this embarrassing niceness can end.”
Once she was gone, Spike collapsed in on himself. Great, wracking sobs shook his body. “Not fair,” cried part of his mind. “This isn’t my soul. It shouldn’t make me feel so bad.” Some fifteen minutes later, he heard Giles’ car pull up outside. With a force of will he tamped down the pain, the hollowness, the guilt Buffy’s soul had stirred within him. He stood and put on his coat. Giles, Tara and Willow burst in and found him leaning casually in the doorway, watching over Buffy.
Giles inspected the magicks and praised Spike. “You had better stay close, Spike. As soon as everything is ready, we’ll need you.” He looked at Spike for the first time. The vampire was drawn, looked tired and his face was bruised from the fight with Buffy. “How are you holding up?’
Spike made a dismissive gesture. “If the Slayer can walk around with this great heavy soul, I can manage a couple of hours.” He told them about Riley’s situation and Anya’s mission and left the room.
On his way to the back porch for a much-needed smoke he discovered Xander in the kitchen, trying to pick bits of blue glass out of his hands. “Let me do that.”
Xander didn’t hear Spike come in, so he jumped and jabbed himself with the tweezers. “Ow! Why? So you can lap up the spillage?”
“No,” Spike said tiredly, taking the tool from him. “Because I have a steady hand and can see the little bits. Now sit down.” Spike sat on a stool beside Xander and started to methodically pick out the tiny fragments. Xander wondered at the vampire’s skilled and gentle touch and soon relaxed.
“She loves you very much, you know,” Spike said, not pausing in his work.
Xander was startled by this non sequitur. “Anya? I know.”
“No. Buffy.” The vampire did not look up from his work. “It’s her friends that have kept her alive this long. Did you know the main school of thought in the Watcher’s council of Slayer keeping is to isolate her?”
“Yeah. Kendra told us about that.”
“The one Dru killed. Sorry about that.” Xander was puzzled at the uncharacteristic kindness, so he just watched Spike work on his hands. “They’re fools. They don’t realize that anyone in isolation grows weak. She’ll have no stimulation and no reason to grow. So after a while, she’ll give up and some vamp can waltz in and… and kill her.”
Spike sniffed and added another tiny shard to the pile. “Yeah. It’s how it is. And she… Buffy may not always say it, but you’re her strength. You, Willow, Giles… everyone.” He looked over Xander’s left hand one final time and picked up his right. “You’re lucky to be part of that.”
“You are, too.”
Spike looked up sharply. “No. I’m not. I don’t deserve to be. You’re the one who remembers what I am, what I’ve done. It’s your job. You keep right on reminding them when they slip.” Spike went back to work. “Keep her safe. Even from me.”
“Spike, what you are doing now…” Xander started gently. Spike deliberately pressed on a glass shard, wincing as his chip tingled and Xander jerked his hand away. “Ow!”
“Stop it.” Spike hissed. “Don’t go soft. I’m just a vessel. I have a borrowed soul. It won’t rub off and nothing good will be left when it is gone. So don’t stop hating me. Don’t stop protecting her.”
Xander studied the bleached head as Spike reclaimed his hand and bent over his work. Soon he stood up, tossing down the tweezers and not looking at Xander. “Douse them good in hydrogen peroxide. I think I got all of it. Tell me if you find any more glass.” With a swirl of coat, Spike was out the back door. Xander heard the click of a lighter before the door was even closed.
Willow and Tara took a turn at sleeping in Joyce’s bedroom for a couple of hours as Giles set to work re-making the spells with Anya assisting. Xander tried to keep them company, his hands having too many little bandages to help, but he fell asleep and snored so much that Giles had Anya take him home.
Spike appeared after they left and held a cup of tea out to the Watcher. “Need a hand?”
Startled, Giles looked up from where he was mixing herbs on the floor and got to his feet with a groan. “Your help would be most welcome.”
Giles took the tea and sat tiredly on the end of the bed. Spike joined him after a moment’s hesitation. “How is she?” Spike asked, looking down at Buffy.
Giles removed his glasses and passed a hand over his face. “She’s fine. I suspect she’s going to be tired and very hungry when all is said and done.” Giles replaced his glasses and peered at Spike. “And how are you?”
“Me? I’m not important. How much longer?”
“A couple of hours. Once all this is mixed and Willow and Tara have rested, we can perform the resouling. And yes, you are important.” He took a grateful sip of the tea.
Spike looked up to meet the man’s eyes. “No. I’m not. Compared to her, none of us are.”
“Will you accept brave, then? It took courage to volunteer to hold her soul. It must be costing you…”
Spike abruptly stood and crossed to the other side of the room. “It’s costing me nothing. Nothing but having you all look at me like… like I should matter. I don’t. I shouldn’t.”
As much as Spike was trying to dampen it, Giles heard the pain in his voice. “Spike. You’re playing a part to help save Buffy’s life. You do matter. To all of us. And to her.”
“You of all people have read the Watcher’s journals. You know all the bloody things I’ve done. These few hours with this soul weighing me down. Whispering to me. It’s nothing. A few hours is nothing. I understand Angel’s curse now. I never did before. I also know that when it’s gone I‘ll be like I was.”
“No. Listen. I understand why she’d have nothing of me now. I don’t deserve her. When this is all over, I’ll leave Sunnydale.”
Giles looked down into his tea. “Talk to her first.”
“Talk to Buffy first. I know her. Even if she buys you a bus ticket or kicks your ass on the way out, she will want to thank you. She hates people leaving without tying up loose ends.”
“Angel,” Spike said softly, understanding.
“And her father. And, actually, her mother.”
“Fine. I’ll give her one last chance to stake me. Now let’s get these things mixed.”
They worked quietly and well together for two hours. “This is the last potion. You are a good assistant,” Giles yawned.
“I played Drusilla’s assistant many a night.” Spike recorked a jar of powder. “And Giles… There’s a reason I’ve never been able to kill Buffy. You. You… you are the best Watcher a Slayer could have.”
Giles could only blink at Spike’s praise. “Um. Well. I do what I feel is best for her.”
“That is why you’re the best and she’s lived so long. You feel for her. I know the Watcher’s council treats you like shit. It’s because you’ve done everything right. You’ve kept your Slayer alive. They all want their turn to show off their skills and they can’t do that as long as she’s alive. Why do you think they have that lovely little ‘test’ at the Slayer’s eighteenth birthday? If a Slayer lasts that long the rest start to get twitchy. So they made her weak and try to kill her off.”
“Dear lord. I never thought about it that way before.”
Spike grumbled and picked up the next spell list. “Let’s finish this. This soul’s making me bond with everyone.”
The two men finished the last potion. Giles checked Buffy’s condition once again. “She’s fine. I’ll wake up Tara and Willow.”
“Have they had enough rest? Enough to do the spell right?”
Giles glanced at a clock. I figure they’ve been asleep some five hours.”
“They’ve been in bed five hours maybe, but they’ve been asleep about four. Poor ladies took awhile to unwind. I could hear them talking.”
“Oh, then… I thought you would be wanting rid of…”
“Rid of? No. As long as Buffy’s in no danger. I am not tired of this burden. A couple of hours more will not harm me. I‘ll be fine here. Let the birds sleep and you can rest or eat or whatever you need. You’ve been awake all night and went into it short of sleep. Tell me what to watch for and I’ll keep vigil.”
“Four more hours at most, by that candle.” Giles pointed to a once-tall pillar candle at Buffy’s feet. “If the field flickers, call Willow or myself at once.”
Spike settled himself cross-legged at the end of the bed. Giles paused and put his hand on Spike’s shoulder. “I don’t care what you say. You’re a complicated man, Spike, and I appreciate you.” Giles left before Spike could argue.
He sighed and looked down at his love. “Well, Pet, I have you alone in your bedroom at last and all I want is for you to wake up and kick me out.”
The window was brightening when Xander poked his head in the door. “Hey. I brought you breakfast.” Xander held out one of the big mugs from downstairs filled with warm blood. “I hope it’s hot enough. I know there’s a trick to getting it hot enough with out it congealing but I can hardly make popcorn without scorching it. I figured cool was better than clotted.”
Spike took the mug and gave Xander a tired smile. “Thanks.”
“There’s more in the fridge. Giles is asleep downstairs. Anya went to check on Riley and then open the shop.”
Spike drank deeply of the blood, sighed, and studied the candle. “It’s time to wake the birds.”
“Huh? Oh, Willow and Tara. I’ll do it.”
“Tell them they have an hour. They can eat or do what ever they need to… to make sure they do this right.”
“I will. Thanks, Spike.”
He listened to Xander’s soft knock and the murmuring in the room across the hall. He felt a flutter within him. “Shh,” Spike said to the soul within. “You’ll soon be home. Don’t waste any warm fuzzies on me.”
He listened as Xander went downstairs and the girls dressed and softly talked. Shortly, Willow came in the room. “Hey. How’s our Buffy?”
“Physically and spiritually fine, Red. The optimum time would be within forty five minutes, according to Giles.”
“Good. I can focus better with a bagel in my belly. Can I take your empty?”
He handed her the empty mug. “Red? You did good work in the woods. You keep coming through when needed. Buffy is damn lucky to have you on her side.”
“Aw. I just did what needed doin’.”
“But, you know, you have a hell of a lot of power, Willow. You need to start watching it.”
“You keep going ‘aw shucks’ every time you pull off something like this, but it’s dangerous, Willow. I worry about you.”
“Yes,” Spike sighed. “I do. They can’t see the power in you but I do. If not for your own sake, then for theirs, watch the power. Ask Giles to teach you grounding.”
“I… I will.”
“Now go get ready. This soul is messing up my Big Bad image.”
“You’ll always be my Big Bad, Spike. Why, I still have bad dreams about the possibility of getting a bottle through my face.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“Sheesh. I really do need to get you back to normal,” Willow said with a smile as she headed downstairs.
Willow arrived in the kitchen to find everyone around the island. Giles was yawning into a cup of tea. “Good morning, Willow.”
“Giles. I see you got the components done.” Willow pulled a bagel and cream cheese out of the fridge.
“Thanks to Spike.”
Xander spoke around a mouth full of cereal. “Can we find a spare soul for him? Cause I almost like him this way.”
“There are writings about ways a vampire can get his soul back. Other than through curses. But I doubt they are more than vampire fairy tales.”
Tara smiled. “Stories to get good little fledglings to behave?”
“Something like that. I do agree with your assessment, Xander. Spike with a soul is… bearable. However, once Buffy’s soul is restored he will be as untrustworthy as ever.”
“That’s right,” Xander said. “Vampires are evil. Spike is just as evil as any other vampire.” The two men exchanged a look that was lost on the witches.
Everyone finished their breakfasts and headed upstairs.
“You ready, Spike?” Willow asked cheerily.
“I’ve been ready,” Spike grumbled. “Get it out of me.”
Willow placed everyone where they needed to be and told them what they needed to do. “Any questions?”
“Yeah,” Xander spoke up from his place behind vessel Spike. “Wasn’t this spell a lot easier when you were putting Angel’s soul back? As I recall that was just some stinky herbs and a few bones.”
“We have to dispel the curse completely. Without the additional steps, the curse would return as soon as her soul returned to her body. Plus we have the soul right here.” She flashed a sunny Willow smile at Spike, “so there is no need to call it from the ether. Now, we ready?”
Everyone nodded. Willow, Giles and Tara said their parts and cast their potions. The mystical wind blew and the house shook. Giles pinched out the pillar candle on the containment field. Buffy gasped and writhed. If Willow hadn’t warned them, they would have been worried. Willow nodded at Xander.
He put his hands on Spike’s shoulders as he had in the woods. “I hold the vessel. Which held the soul. Now it be released. To be returned safe once more,” he intoned.
Willow placed her right hand on Spike and her left on Buffy. A golden light flowed from Spike to Buffy and they both gasped. When the light had all returned to Buffy, Willow and Spike collapsed. A silence filled the room broken only by ragged breathing from many of the parties. They all looked to Buffy with concern.
Buffy gasped and sat up. “What happened? Why are you all looking at me like that? And why is Xander holding Spike?”
Spike knocked Xander’s hands off his arms and stood up. “Get away from me,” he snarled and stalked out of the room.
“Huh?” asked Buffy.
Giles helped her to her feet and onto the bed. “That creature cursed you, Buffy,” explained Giles. “We had to temporarily remove your soul to end the curse.”
“Cursed? Remove? I have some memories of… Oh god! Riley! Where’s Riley?”
“He’s okay. Well, he’s in the hospital. You gave him a concussion. His room number is on the pad by the phone downstairs,” Xander explained.
“Oh, yikes. I… I want to call him.”
“Anya went to see him this morning, Buffy. He knows you weren’t yourself,” Xander said.
“So… so what else happened?”
“Nothing we don’t forgive you for,” smiled Tara.
“I was that bad?” Buffy said. “I’m sorry.”
“It was the curse. That entity the curse pressed on you made you act bad.”
“So you… took out my soul? How?” After explaining what happened in the woods they all faltered.
“I broke the bottle. What… what did you do with my soul?”
“WeputitinSpike,” Willow said in a rush.
“Spike? You put me in Spike?” Buffy spat his name as if it tasted bad.
“It was the only solution,” Giles supplies.
“It was that or a soda bottle. Willow thought you were better than plastic,” said Xander.
“It was his idea.”
“Oh, I bet it was.”
“Buffy,” Giles soothed. “It wasn’t easy for him.”
Buffy ran her hands through her hair. “I need a shower. Actually, my soul needs a shower. Can you clean a soul, Giles?”
Giles smiled. “I am sure it came back perfectly good, Buffy. Now that the excitement is over, with your permission, I am going home to get some sleep.”
“I’ll be fine.” She looked at her friends. “Really. I’m in need of a shower and hungry, but I’m good. Shoo!”
“I need to get to work.” Xander said, holding up his bandaged hands. ”I called in to say I had a doctor’s appointment. Welcome back, Buffy.”
Buffy gave him a half smile. “Sorry about…”
“Wasn’t you. I’ve had worse. Spike picked out all the tiny bits and bandaged me up fine. Later.”
“We’ve got to get to a class,” Tara said. “Are you coming, baby?” she said, laying a hand on Willow’s arm.
“In a minute.” Willow and Buffy were left alone. “Buffy, can I ask what it was like? Where you were. I mean, if you remember anything.”
Buffy thought about this. “I… I don’t really remember anything.”
“Well, we did pick a good solid vessel. Just so you know, sometimes these things come back. I mean, we know you weren’t anywhere like a hell dimension or anything. You were just in Spike. Oh! Unless it is hell being in Spike!”
“I don’t think so, Wil. It wasn’t anything like that.”
“Oh good! I have to go to school, Buffy. I think Spike is still in the house if you need anything. I mean, it’s daylight so he’s probably lurking in the basement.”
After everyone left, Buffy sat and listened. Apart from the normal house and neighborhood morning sounds, all was still. She reached out with her Slayer senses and searched. Spike was in the house, in the basement as Willow had guessed. Getting up with a sigh, she slipped into the shower.
As the water ran over her it all came back like a just-remembered dream. The days when she was cursed were murky, but she knew just how she felt while her soul was held by Spike. Quickly she finished her routine and dressed.
Down in the kitchen, she absently made a sandwich and dialed the number of Riley’s hospital room. Between bites she made nice with her soldier boyfriend and promised to be there when they released him that evening. As she ate the last bite of her meal she was feeling both impatient and reluctant. She found herself hoping Spike would come upstairs before she went down.
Having no more reason to put it off, Buffy carefully headed downstairs. “Spike?” No answer. The smell of cigarettes hung in the air. “Spike?” She found him sitting in the middle of the floor. Very oddly, he had one hand splayed out apparently in the path of the bright patch of sun which shone through a high window. “What are you doing?”
He did not look up. “It’s a vampire game. You put your hand down and can only adjust your position once after you watch the sun move for an hour. The trick is to see how close you can get the patch to come to your hand without flaming.” He looked from the patch of sun to her eyes. “You want me to leave? Loan me a blanket and I’ll scramble for the sewers. I don’t have any money on this game so I can end it.”
“I don’t want you to leave.” She sat down beside and a little in front of him, as if to not spoil his game.
“I will. As soon as it gets dark. I’ll pack up and leave Sunnydale.”
“Ah, hell, Buffy. I’m nothing but a pest. If I hang around I’ll only made you unhappy. I can’t promise to not… I’ll leave.”
“Spike, while I was… gone I felt something. I was safe and warm.”
“It was probably the hell fire licking at your heels.”
“No, Spike. It was you. You made me feel warm, and safe. I knew I wasn’t alone.”
Spike fixed his eyes on the approaching brightness. “Buffy, that little visit with your soul enlightened me. You’re right to reject me. I’ve had a taste of the torment I deserve. I can finally see how effective a curse it really is.”
“But Willow told me it was your idea.”
“It was. I had no idea what effect it would have. I just knew… I just knew it was the only way to save you.” He realized what he just said and fell silent. “The one night I didn’t carry my flask.”
“You would put me in a flask?”
“It’s a well-made container. Silver, nice bit of engraving on it. It would’ve worked. I mean, I couldn’t let some stupid curse take you before I had the chance to kill you myself,” he covered.
“Right. I figured it was something like that.” They both watched the sun creep even closer to Spike’s long-fingered hand. “I still don’t trust you and you will never get to base one with me, got it?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to think me a soul mate now, seeing as I have no soul for you to mate with,” muttered Spike.
“You got that right. Still, you do prove useful now and then. So you can stay in Sunnydale as long as you wish.”
He looked up at her from under dark lashes with nothing evil in his eyes. “And I’ll get this chip out and kill you first thing, Slayer.”
“On the day you seriously try I will stake you before you can blink,” Buffy threatened with a smile.
They watched as the sun patch moved close enough to Spike’s hand to cause a single curl of smoke to rise from the tip of his index and then middle fingers as it moved past and on.
“Not lost a game of sun patch in eighty years,” Spike said smugly.
“So,” Buffy perked, “wanna come upstairs and watch some soaps with me?”
Spike put the singed fingers in his mouth and shrugged. “Got nothing better to do.”
On to the sequel Empty Vessel.
Much thanks to Donovan for the Beta and the nudges I needed to flesh out the story and improve it.
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