[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part two of three

Episode One: Foundation

by cousinjean

***
Buffy tried to distract herself from the shivering junkie at the other end of the bunk by thinking about how all of Spike's "prison bitch" jokes were going to come back to bite him in the ass once Xander found out about this. And Xander would so find out about this. Maybe not the details of how they'd gotten there, but he'd have enough information to torment Spike for years. Buffy would see to that personally.
After all, they might've gotten away with nothing more than a ticket if Spike had kept his mouth shut and hadn't tried to work his charm on the nice police lady. After Buffy had climbed out of the pool, fully clothed, dripping wet, and thoroughly humiliated and horrified by the possible ramifications, the officer had ordered Spike out of the pool.
"Give us a minute," he told her. "'Less o' course you want me to scandalize the tykes up there even more tonight." He gestured with his eyebrows, and Buffy looked up to see a couple of kids looking down at them from an upstairs window of the house, pointing and giggling.
"Oh, God," Buffy repeated.
"Be a love and hand me my pants?" The officer tossed his jeans at him, and ordered him again to get out of the pool. He'd had the audacity to wink at her as he climbed up the ladder, holding his fly closed with one hand.
As if that weren't bad enough, he then proceeded to explain.
"See, Pet, what happened was, we were mugged. We chased after the bloke, an' he led us in here. Buffy here, she tackled him -- she's had a lot of that self defense training. She's a real tough girl. Stronger'n she looks. So anyway, she roughs 'im up, gets the better of him, but then the bloody git shoves her into the pool."
"And how did you end up in the pool, sir?"
"I, um ... well, I slipped."
"You slipped?"
"That's right."
"And your clothes somehow managed to avoid the fall?"
"..."
"Sir, I'm going to have to take you both in."
"Um ... heh. All right. See, I saw her in there, and the water just looked so inviting ... Our anniversary's this Saturday. We got a little carried away. Didn't mean any harm. You know how it is, kitten ..."
"Sir, please turn around and place both hands behind your back."
At that point, Spike had started shouting about abuse of authority and threatening to have her badge if she didn't stop harassing the citizenry and going after the real criminals instead. And what about the mugger? They were the victims here. Buffy'd managed to calm him down, and then convinced the officer not to add "resisting arrest" to the charges, on account of his being a foreigner and all. Buffy supposed she should cut him a little slack, considering this was probably the first time he'd had to go along with getting arrested instead of just eating the cop and being done with it.
In retrospect, she was pretty sure "kitten" had been the clincher.
The junkie looked at Buffy, then heaved all over the mattress. Buffy jumped up just in time to avoid it. "You know," Buffy said, "all you had to do was call dibs." She moved to the front of the cell and rested her head against the bars, and tried not to think about how much this was going to hurt her case against her dad. She also tried not to think about how cold she was, or how gross her damp underwear felt, or how her cell had managed to smell even worse now that her cellmate's last meal had been added to the aromatic mix of urine and mold.
She heard a door slide open at the end of the corridor, followed by the clicking of footsteps and the jangling of keys. A guard came to stand in front of her cell, and looked at Buffy.
"Summers?" she asked.
Buffy nodded.
"Consider yourself sprung," she said, opening the cell. "Come with me."
Buffy sighed with relief and made a silent vow to give Wesley Wyndam-Pryce a big smooch when she saw him. Well, maybe not a smooch. More like a vigorous handshake and a heartfelt apology for all the grief she gave him when he was her Watcher. Thank God he'd been home when she called. Her only other options were her dad, Cordelia, or Angel. She didn't even want to think about which would be worse: the yelling, the gossip, or ... Angel.
The guard led Buffy out of the jail and into the station proper, and left her at a dutch door where she could sign for her belongings. An officer read off a list of everything she'd come in with, which amounted to Spike's coat, which she'd been wearing when they were brought in, and the contents of his pockets: a Zippo, two packs of cigarettes, his wallet, and his car keys. Thankfully he hadn't had any weapons stashed in there. Buffy signed them out, and put the coat back on.
"Buffy."
That wasn't Wesley.
Buffy closed her eyes and groaned. She so didn't want to deal with this tonight. Composing herself, she wiped at the mascara smudges under her eyes and tried to smooth out her still-damp hair. Then she turned around and smiled.
"Angel?"
"I, uh, I know you told him not to tell me, but he had to go take care of a thing with a client, and Cordelia has the night off ..."
"Oh. That's ... It's okay. I just ..."
"Buffy, you know you could've just called me. You can always call me when you're in trouble."
Buffy nodded. Wow, this was weird. "I know that." She smiled. "Thanks, Angel. It's ... it's good to see you."
He returned her smile. "You too." He stepped up to her and pulled her into a hug. Buffy didn't fight it, but she was a little discomfited by how out of place she felt in his arms. She pulled away and looked up at him, pulling the coat more tightly around herself. "I'll pay you back," she said. "The bail money, I mean."
"Don't worry about it," he said. "Let's just get you out of here." He put his hand on her back and started to guide her to the exit, but then he stopped. He looked at what she was wearing. "Is that coat ..."
"Wait, I have to get Spike," she said, and headed to the front desk to arrange his bail.
Angel followed her. "Spike? Why is he ..." As his voice trailed off, a look of faint horror dawned on his face. "Buffy, they said you were brought in for trespassing and public indecency. I thought that last part had to be a mistake."
Buffy looked sheepish as she took Spike's credit card back from the bail clerk and returned it to his wallet. "I wish it was. Me and Spike and a swimming pool ... I guess we got a little too wrapped up in the moment."
"You and Spike ..."
Buffy nodded, and shoved her hands in her pockets, absently thumbing Spike's lighter as she watched for him. She saw him being led into the station, and waved him over. He smiled when he saw her, but then his eyes fell on Angel, and his smile gave way to shock. He looked back at Buffy, his eyes taking in his coat draped over her tiny form. A smirk formed on his lips as he approached them.
"Angel," he said. "Wasn't expecting to see you here." He looked at Buffy.
"I called Wesley," she told him, "but he sent Angel to get us out."
"Fair enough," Spike said. "I'm just glad to be out. Cell had a window with eastern exposure."
Angel watched them, still puzzling it all out. "You ... and Spike?"
"Yeah," Buffy said absently. "We're here for ..." Then it hit her. "Wait, you didn't know? I thought you knew!" She turned to Spike and said, "I thought he knew!"
"About us?" Spike shrugged. "How would he? Unless you told him."
"You're an 'us'?" Angel asked.
"But ... you came to L.A.! He helped you with all your fake ID stuff! You didn't think to mention to him that we were a couple?"
"Now you're a couple?" Angel shook his head.
"I didn't think it was my place, Love."
"Hn," Buffy whimpered, then turned back to Angel. "Um ..."
"How long?" he asked.
Spike wrapped an arm around Buffy. "A year this Saturday," he beamed.
Angel gaped at them. Then he shut his eyes and tried to compose himself. "A year. That's ... wow."
Buffy stepped forward and put a hand on his arm. "Angel, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to find out like this."
"No, it's ... " He looked down at the floor. "I mean, it's not like you had to tell me. I can certainly understand why you'd be hesitant." He raised his eyes to glower at Spike.
Buffy sighed. "Look, I hate to ask you this, especially now, but --"
Angel lifted his head and looked at her. "You can ask me anything, Buffy. This doesn't change that."
"Good," Buffy said. "I need a lawyer."
***
First they swung by to pick up the DeSoto. When they got there, Buffy chose to ride with him.
Then they all went back to the Hyperion. The staff had all called it a night and gone home, so it was up to Angel to look through the client database for clean lawyers who owed Angel Investigations a favor. Then Buffy took the list and shut herself up in Wesley's office to make the phone calls.
Spike leaned against the front counter, examining the AI staff's business cards. He didn't appear to notice Angel as he came out of the office. Angel stood for a moment, his hand threatening to break the doorknob, and contemplated all of the missed opportunities he'd had over the years to be rid of Spike once and for all: the last two times they'd met, when they'd both let their guard down and tried to function as family; when he'd been stuck in that wheelchair, helpless and defenseless; that night in Yorkshire, when he'd brought a mob down on them with his recklessness. Hell, he should've staked him right out of the grave.
Angel's other hand went to the stake hidden in his jacket. Here was another opportunity. He could slip up behind Spike, drive the stake home, and be done with it. Or maybe he didn't need the stake. If he was fast enough, quiet enough, he could snap Spike's head right off his neck before the other vampire even knew what was happening. He could get rid of the problem, and have the satisfaction of killing him with his bare hands. Two birds. Buffy would grieve -- she'd most certainly beat Angel beyond recognition -- but she'd heal. They both would. And she could stop throwing her life away.
Spike straightened up and caught sight of Angel. "Thanks for your help with this, mate." He fished a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and started to light one. "She'll feel a hell of a lot better once she's got a lawyer on the team."
Angel relaxed both of his hands, shoving them in his pockets as he strode over to the counter. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Spike paused, lighter poised in front of the unlit cigarette. Then he shrugged, and took it out of his mouth. "Sorry, wasn't thinking. I'll take it outside."
"Not that," Angel said. "I mean with Buffy."
"Ah." Spike pursed his lips in a rueful smile as he returned his cigarette to its pack. "Let's see if I can put this in terms that'll sink through that Neanderthal skull of yours." He looked up at Angel. "Buffy love me. Me love Buffy. Hence, me go with Buffy."
Angel wanted to rip that smug smirk right off his face, but he maintained his calm. "You shouldn't be with her."
Spike half laughed and looked at the floor. "Here it comes," he muttered. He fixed Angel with a look of patience mingled with mild amusement. "Now why's that?"
"You don't deserve her."
Spike clutched his heart and made an exaggerated stagger backwards into the counter.
Angel ignored him and pressed on. "She deserves better than you," Angel said. "Much better."
Spike straightened up and shrugged. "Can't really argue with that."
Angel stepped forward and leaned over Spike. "Then leave her."
Spike looked up at him, undaunted, refusing to budge an inch. "Can't."
"Why not?"
"Promised I wouldn't. 'Sides ... girl's been abandoned enough times in her life, don't you think?"
Angel managed not to flinch under Spike's accusing gaze, but he backed off. He walked around the counter and started to pace the lobby. "If you had a soul you'd understand why I left her," he muttered.
"Oh, don't kid yourself, mate," Spike said, hopping up on the counter and swinging his legs around to dangle off the front. "I understand perfectly well why you left her. And I believe we already danced this dance."
Angel stopped pacing and glared at him.
Spike shook his head and laughed. "So, just so we're clear ... all that 'good for you for trying to change, Spike, let me help you with that,' that was only good so long as you believed I didn't have a shot with her?"
Angel said nothing.
Spike nodded. "Right. Gotta say, I'm surprised. I knew you could be a wanker, but I didn't know you had it in you to be such a right petty bastard."
"I'm not being petty," Angel said.
"Pft."
"I believed you, Spike. I really believed that you loved her." Angel walked back over to the counter. "But if you really loved her you wouldn't be with her."
Again Spike laughed. "Sorry ducks, I don't follow your insane logic."
"If you really loved her, you'd let her go. You'd let her live her life in the sun."
Spike groaned, and scratched his eyebrow. "What is it with you and the bleeding sunshine? We go out in the sun all the time. Hell, we drove here in broad daylight. Just have to take a few extra precautions, is all."
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I do. You gave her up so she could find herself a nice, safe little human who could give her the picket fence and the two point five kids and who could mow the ruddy lawn on Saturdays and take her on picnic outings in the park. Least, that's what you tell yourself."
"You don't think she deserves that?"
"What she deserves is to be happy. I can't give her all that other stuff you seem to think she should be saddled with, but I can damn well give her that."
"For how long? She's human, Spike. Mortal. She's gonna grow old, or maybe she'll get killed doing her job, but sooner or later, she's gonna die."
Spike jumped down from the counter and got up in Angel's face. "You think I don't know that? You think it doesn't choke me whenever I let myself think about it?"
"What I think ... is that you're a selfish little demon who doesn't know the first thing about what it really means to love somebody." Something flashed in Spike's eyes, and Angel knew he'd hit a sore spot. Time to go in for the kill. "Come on, Spike. We both know you don't have it in you. What is this? I mean, really? Why her? Why now? Is this payback for Drusilla? Or maybe something else. What was it I told you once? To kill this girl, you have to love her."
Spike's features twisted into an angry grimace as his hands shot up and grabbed Angel's throat. As Spike shoved him backwards against the wall, Angel's hand flew to his stake.
"Hey!"
Both men froze. Spike slowly let go of Angel and backed up a couple of steps. Buffy stormed around the counter. "Are you two done?"
"Buffy," Angel said, "how long were you standing there?"
She glared up at him. "Long enough."
"We done here?" Spike asked.
Buffy looked at him, and her face softened. "Yeah."
"We need to have a talk," Angel told her.
"I don't think we have anything to talk about," Buffy said as she went to get her bag.
"Buffy, are you sure you know what you're doing?" Angel asked. He knew he was out of line, but he didn't care. She was playing a life or death game here, and there was no way she could win. "You don't know Spike like I do." Angel looked at his progeny. Spike stood tensed, poised on the balls of his feet -- a cobra ready to strike. "I know he says he loves you," Angel pressed on as Buffy returned to Spike's side. "I'm sure he even believes he does. But what do you think's going to happen if Drusilla ever decides to take him back?"
Rage and hurt flared in Spike's eyes, but Buffy's hand shot out and grabbed his. At her touch, the tension visibly ebbed out of his body. Then, surprisingly, he cracked a smile and chuckled, shaking his head as if he'd just heard the most ridiculous thing ever. With a sigh, he looked at Buffy, who for her part looked about as pissed off as Angel had ever seen her, though she tried to conceal it under a veneer of calm. "Ready to go, love?" Spike asked.
Buffy squeezed his hand, but shook her head. "On second thought, I think I do want to have a talk with Angel."
Spike nodded, and leaned in for a quick kiss. "I think I'll give the floor show a pass and go wait outside." He looked at Angel, his expression full of disdain. "I've had about as much family reunion tonight as I can take." He let go of Buffy's hand and headed out the door.
Angel watched him go. When the door swung shut behind him, Angel turned back to Buffy, and was met with a fist.
He flew across the lobby and skidded across the floor until he hit a pillar. Buffy stood over him, seething. "How dare you."
Angel rubbed the back of his head where it smacked the pillar and stared up at her in shock. "Buffy --"
"Drusilla won't be coming back," she said. "Spike killed her."
He'd thought the punch hurt, but this hit him like a kick in the ribs. Drusilla, dead? Angel leaned back on his elbows and let this sink in. He'd never been able to bring himself to kill her. He thought she'd go on forever. "When?"
"Around Christmas," Buffy said. "Before the big battle."
"So, what?" Angel said, getting to his feet. "He dusted his sire to prove his love to you? Doesn't that strike you as a little fickle?"
Buffy looked shocked, then her gaze went cold and her hands balled into fists. Angel tensed, preparing to defend himself. Instead, Buffy just shook her head. "God! Have you always been this big a jerk?"
"I'm just saying --"
"He killed her to save my sister's life!" Buffy looked towards the front entrance, where Spike could be seen through the windows, pacing out on the front patio. "He never talks about it, but I can tell he's still pretty broken up about it. It's not easy," she said, looking back at Angel, "being forced to kill somebody you love. It's a hell I wouldn't wish on anybody."
Angel said nothing. He thought about bringing up that time he staked Darla, but they both knew he hadn't really loved her. Not like Spike had loved Dru.
"I guess that's probably why you never killed her when you had the chance," she continued. "Darla, too."
Angel looked at her, taken aback.
"Oh, sure, you could do it when she was trying to do in you and your new girl. But I guess a room full of lawyers doesn't rate that kind of sacrifice with you."
"Spike told you?"
"He didn't need to. Willow still keeps in touch with Cordelia."
Angel closed his eyes and sighed. "Buffy, I ... I was going through something then. I know I screwed up --"
"Yeah. You did. You let two ruthless killers get away so they could come to Sunnydale and start a war. Hey, no problem. Spike and I and the others cleaned up your mess. It only cost us a handful of our friends."
Buffy turned and started to walk away, but Angel grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back. "That is not fair."
Buffy looked down at her arm. Angel half expected her to break his fingers; but she only sighed. "You're right. It's not. But you're not being fair either." She shook off his hand. "Look, I know you two have a history. I'm sure I'm just the latest entry in your big book of reasons to hate each other; but Spike is willing to let bygones be bygones. He's trying to be a man about this."
"Trying is the operative word in that sentence," Angel said. "Spike is not a man."
"And yet he's the only one here who's behaving like one." She shook her head. "You think you know Spike? You don't know anything about him. You have no idea what he's been through in the last few years. What we've been through together. He's one of the good guys, Angel."
"That's not possible," Angel said. "And you know better."
"Right." The bitterness in Buffy's voice stabbed at Angel's heart. "Because you didn't have it in you. To keep from killing, to keep fighting the good fight ... or to keep loving me."
"No, I didn't, Buffy. Not without a soul."
Buffy thought about this for a moment. Then she shrugged. "Soul, schmoul."
Angel wasn't quite sure he'd heard her right. "Huh?"
She looked wistful as she went to sit on the circular sofa. "Spike had this friend. A priest, believe it or not. He believed that Spike is good. That every decision he makes is rooted in love. Not just for me. Father Sanchez saw it. Spike cares about people." She looked up at Angel. "And he does it without a soul. It's just who he is. Who he's become."
Angel sat down beside her. "What happened to this priest?"
Buffy looked down at her folded hands. "He died. In battle."
"I'm sorry. But ..."
She looked at him, challenge in her eyes, as if she dared him to continue that thought. He took the dare. "Do you believe what this priest said?"
"Do you really think I'd be with Spike if I didn't?"
Angel closed his eyes, and sighed. "I don't know what to think, Buffy. This thing you have with Spike --"
Buffy stood up. "This thing? God, Angel, what do you think this is? Some kind of meaningless fling?"
He looked at her, trying to read her. He used to be able to do that so easily. "You going to tell me it's not?"
She just stared at him in disbelief. "You really can't stand to see me happy, can you?"
It was Angel's turn to stare. "You know that's not true."
"Isn't it? Isn't that why you were telling my lover that he should leave me?"
"No. It's just ... Spike can't give you a normal life. The kind of life you deserve a shot at."
Buffy burst out laughing. "Oh, yeah. Normal. I don't even know what that word means anymore, Angel."
"Maybe you should find out."
"I tried normal," she said. "It didn't fit. Spike fits. He fits better than I ever knew was possible."
Angel stood to face her. "Buffy, you're only twenty-one years old. It's too soon for you to give up on the kind of life you always wanted --"
"Used to want," she corrected him. "I didn't give up. I changed my mind. Spike is ..." She seemed to struggle for the right words to make him understand. A smile lit her face as they came to her. "He's everything I never knew I always wanted. He's my partner, Angel. In every sense of the word. I'm crazy in love with him. And you can't stand that."
"You're right," Angel said. "I can't." He brushed past her into the office.
Buffy turned, her demeanor softened. "Angel." She walked over to lean against the counter as he turned to look at her. "I loved you so much," she said. "You were my first love, and that's always going to be true. After you left, I thought I'd never be able to love anybody again the way I loved you. I tried to with Riley, I really did, but I just couldn't get there." She traced an unseen pattern along the countertop with her index finger as she spoke. "I thought I was broken, and I didn't know how to fix myself. I thought nobody could fix me."
Angel came over to the counter and stood across from her. "I'm sorry."
Buffy looked up at him and offered a weak smile. "It's okay. I know why you left, and I know you had to. I know we were both better off. It just took me a while before I could really believe that, you know?"
He nodded. "I know."
"But with Spike, I didn't have to try. Loving him is effortless. I tried to fight it as long as I could. I put so much work into trying not to love him that I didn't even realize that ... that somewhere along the way, I got put back together again."
Angel just looked at her for a moment, really studied her. Then he looked down and fiddled with the business cards. "Does he really make you happy?"
"Yeah," she said. "I mean, it's not all sunshine and puppies. Sometimes we fight. Sometimes we hurt each other. But when we do, we know it's not the end of the world. It's not the end of us. We've got all of the passion, and almost none of the misery."
"That must be nice."
"It is. And I'm sorry you and I could never figure out how to get there, Angel. But what Spike and I have ... I think this is how it's supposed to be. We both finally got it right. And we're not going to give that up. So you're just going to have to get used to the idea of us together, because we're going to stay together."
Angel hung his head, not quite knowing what to say. On the one hand, he wanted to be happy for Buffy. She seemed truly happy, and she was obviously in love, which was nice to see -- even if it still stung a little that it wasn't with him. On the other hand, his brain screamed, she was in love with Spike. A demon, through and through. He wanted to argue that Spike couldn't love her without a soul, not really, but deep down he knew that wasn't true. Spike had always been more human than any other vampire he'd ever known. As Angelus, he'd criticized it as a weakness; but now, Angel had to admit that he envied it. Spike was able to do through sheer strength of will what Angel still struggled to do, even with his human soul. He wanted to hate him for it. But then Angel saw the way Buffy lit up when she talked about Spike, and he found it impossible. How could he hate anybody who could make her glow like that?
"I should go," Buffy said. "He's waiting for me."
Angel nodded. "I'm sorry," he said. "What I said earlier ... I was out of line."
"You went so far over the line that you came back around and crossed it again a couple times," Buffy agreed, "but I can see why you'd be wigged. Especially considering how you found out."
"Yeah, well." He came around the counter. "I'm glad you're happy, Buffy."
"Me too." She smiled up at him. "I'm glad we had this talk."
Angel returned her smile. "Me too." He started forward, but hesitated. Buffy closed the gap and gave him a hug. "Might've been nice to get it out of the way a year ago, though." She squeezed harder. "Ow."
Buffy let go. "Take care of yourself, Angel."
"You too."
She considered this, then smiled. "I don't have to anymore."
With that, she walked out the door.
***
Spike stood on the stoop, and smoked, and listened.
He'd started out pacing and smoking, puffing furiously on cigarette after cigarette as he imagined all sorts of hideous and bloody ends for his grandsire. The butts littering the steps were a testament to his nervous energy, if not to his anger. Then her voice filtered through the hotel's front entrance, and it had a calming effect that all of the nicotine in the world couldn't achieve. The more she spoke, the more his anger abated, and the more joy took its place.
Just then he wanted to do the Snoopy Dance on the roof of his car. He wanted to sit on the steps and write down the verses of poetry that filled his head. He wanted to peek inside and see the look on Angel's face. Mostly he wanted to rush inside and sweep her into his arms and kiss her senseless and never let her go. Instead he smoked, and wondered if it were possible for his heart to literally burst.
Funny how a supposedly dead organ could be made to feel so alive; how one moment it ached so much he wanted to rend it from his chest, and the next it was so full of love and joy and ... peace. It didn't beat, didn't send life's blood coursing through his veins, and yet it ruled him just the same. Just as it was ruled by her. And what a loyal subject it was. He'd long ago given up that struggle, and had given his heart over to her completely, to do with as she saw fit. At that moment it threatened to burst with pride, to be held in such high esteem by its Queen.
"Damn," he muttered. "I really should be writing this down."
Just as he made up his mind to go fetch a pen from the car, he heard her coming. He dropped his cigarette and ground it out under his boot, making sure to replace his ear-to-ear grin with a look of nonchalance. He shoved his hands in his pockets, turned his back to the door, and tried to play it cool.
"Hey," she said as she came outside.
He turned to look at her, and feigned surprise. "Hey. So, you and the Poofmaster General finish up your chat? Not too many tears shed, I hope."
"None, actually."
"Good. It's never pretty when he cries."
Buffy let out a tired laugh. "So," she asked, "how much of that did you hear?"
"Hear?" Spike acted shocked at the very notion. "What, you don't think I was out here eavesdropping?"
Buffy just gave him her patented "I know you so much better than that" look.
Spike allowed himself a small smile. "I heard enough."
"Good," she said, reaching for his hand. "I'm too tired to have to repeat myself."
He took her hand, and pulled her to him. She put up no resistance. She leaned on him, instinctively molding herself to him as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"Long night," he said.
"Mm hm."
"Get everything squared away? Do we have a lawyer?"
"Yeah. Jerry Prather. Angel rescued his wife from some demon prostitution ring or something. He's supposed to be really good. I'm meeting him tomorrow afternoon."
"Sometimes Angel does have his uses," Spike said. Then, "Pet? What you said in there. About me? About us?"
She raised her head to look at him. "What about it?"
His eyes met hers, and for a moment all he could do was look at her with undisguised awe. It never ceased to amaze him that she could love him, that for whatever reason she found him worthy. Sometimes he thought he'd never get used to having her. He brushed her hair back from her face as he struggled to find his voice, and to speak without having it break. "It's mutual."
Buffy didn't even try to speak. Instead she stroked the side of his face and leaned up to kiss him. He somehow managed to pull her even closer to him, and for a moment just held her, savoring the taste of her mouth, the texture of her tongue, the feel of her body pressed against his, her warmth radiating through him, the scent of her threatening to overwhelm him. He'd be damned if he'd ever give this up.
Eventually Buffy had to come up for air. When she did, she failed to suppress a yawn. "Sorry," she said.
Spike smiled, and kissed her forehead. "Let's go. We need to get you rested up for your meeting with the lawyer." Buffy nodded, and hand in hand, they walked to the car. After they both got in, Spike glanced at her. "By the way, I'm sorry for getting you arrested. I certainly didn't mean to make things harder."
"I know that," she said. "It's not like you were splashing around naked in that pool all by yourself. Besides, I don't see how they could say what happened tonight makes me a bad parent. I mean, my mom and Giles did it on the hood of a police car, and that had no bearing on their parenting skills."
Spike stared at her, his expression a mix of horror and bemusement. "Well, there's an image that's going to stay with me for a while."
"Hey, I've been carrying it around for three years now. The least you can do is share my pain."
"If it'll ease your burden," he said, then he smiled an appreciative smile. "Still, bully for Rupert. I didn't know he had it in him."
Buffy grimaced. "Now I'm really sorry I mentioned it."
"Don't be. That's going in my blackmail file, right behind what he keeps hidden under his sofa cushions."
"What? What's he keep there?"
"Sorry Love, if I told you it'd lose all its power."
"Fine," she said. "I'm too sleepy to press. I probably don't want to know anyway." She scooted across the seat and leaned on his shoulder. "Wake me when we get to the hotel," she said, closing her eyes.
"Will do, baby." He tore his eyes away from the road long enough to plant a gentle kiss on top of her head.
***
Buffy got back to the hotel shortly before sundown, so she was surprised when Spike wasn't in their room. Dawn had probably dragged him out to explore the hotel. She'd been dying to stay in a big hotel ever since she'd read Eloise, and Buffy suspected she was taking full advantage of having an accomplice to help her re-enact the elevator game. It was just as well. Buffy needed to decompress before having to answer questions about the meeting.
She hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door, then drew herself a bath. As she waited for the tub to fill, she checked out the hotel's free goodies. The bubble bath and shower gel smelled like vanilla. Buffy wrinkled her nose, and decided to see if Dawn wanted those. She dug through her toiletry bag for the Givenchy bath oil she'd picked up in Paris, and poured a generous amount into the tub. After pinning her hair on top of her head, she slipped out of her clothes and into the water. She filled the tub to the brim, then leaned back, closed her eyes, and tried to think happy thoughts.
Tried, and failed. Her mind kept wandering back to the meeting; more precisely, to the argument with her dad after he'd kicked all the lawyers out of the room. "I want to have a word with my daughter," he'd told them after they kept insisting on bringing up the Public Indecency charge. Buffy didn't know how they'd found out about it so soon, but they were thrilled with the news. Her dad, however, had been less than thrilled.
"I can't protect you from this, Buffy."
"Unlike all of the other things you've tried so hard to protect me from," Buffy muttered.
Hank leaned back in his chair, his mouth set in a thin line as he regarded her from across the table. "Do you have any idea how bad this looks for you?"
"Yes," Buffy said. "And I'm sure you're very disappointed in me, even if my getting arrested does vastly help your case."
"I am disappointed," Hank said. "And I can't even begin to describe the things I'd like to do to your boyfriend."
"It wasn't Spike's fault," Buffy said. "Not entirely. I'm a grown woman. He didn't get me to do anything that I didn't want to do."
Hank leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table and rubbing his temples. "I really don't want to hear this ..."
"Oh, what's the matter," Buffy said, crossing her arms, "did I besmirch your pristine image of me? Please, Dad. It's not like this is the first time you've been disappointed in me."
"No, it's not." Hank got up, and went to look out one of the big windows lining the conference room. "But you've done me proud, too. On more than one occasion. You know that."
Stunned, Buffy uncrossed her arms. "Really?"
Hank turned to look at her. "Of course! The way you've stepped up and taken responsibility for your sister is just the most recent example." He shook his head, and looked back out the window. "Maybe you are the better parent here," he admitted. "But I want to rectify that. I'm her father, and I want to be a father to her. To both of you. And sending you monthly checks and visiting whenever I can work it into my schedule just isn't cutting it."
"Huh," Buffy said. "I didn't think you realized that."
He walked back over to the table. "Of course I do. I know I'll never be up for any Father of the Year awards. But I want to make it up to you girls. Maybe ... maybe it's too late to make it up to you. But it's not too late for Dawn."
Buffy's eyes welled up, and she looked down at her hands. Hank came around the table and took a chair next to her. "Sweetheart, do you understand where I'm coming from?"
Buffy shook her head. "No. I ..." Her lip began to tremble. "I don't understand. Why ..." She stopped to wipe at the tears that escaped down her cheeks as she tried to compose herself. She didn't look at him as she continued. "Why do you want her so badly ... why are you fighting so hard for her when you never wanted me?"
"Oh, Buffy, that's not --"
The dam burst, and the tears she'd managed to keep in check since reading the letter came spilling forth. Hank pulled her into his arms and rocked her back and forth, stroking her hair and murmuring reassurances to her. Telling her how much he loved her. She couldn't remember the last time ... except when her mom died. It hit her just how much she'd missed her dad, which made her sob even harder.
"I love you," he said when she'd cried herself out. "Honey, I love you so much. You're my greatest accomplishment, you and Dawn ... for what little credit I can take for you both." He took her face in his hands and forced her to look at him. "I know I did you wrong, and I am so, so sorry. Please help me keep from making the same mistakes with Dawn."
Buffy pulled back, and helped herself to the box of tissues sitting on the conference table. "I want to," she said, "but Dawn belongs with me. With us. I can't explain it, Dad ... but I can't give her up."
"Neither can I," Hank had said.
The slam of the hotel door brought Buffy back to the present. She heard Spike's and Dawn's muffled voices chattering through the door, and she smiled. The sounds of home. This was her family now, and she wasn't about to let that be taken away.
She finished her bath, then slipped on her robe and emerged from the bathroom. Spike and Dawn were camped out on the bed -- him with a book, her with the TV remote. "Here, Love," Spike said, pointing to a box on the table, "we brought you back some fettuccini."
"Ooh, chicken?"
"Sea food," Dawn said.
"Even better," she said, but she bypassed the food and went straight to the bed, where she flopped on her back between them.
"Don't get too comfortable," Dawn said. "I'm supposed to be back at Dad's soon."
"Right," Buffy said. "Unless we all just go home tonight, and make him bring the fight to us."
"Uh-oh," Spike said, setting his book aside. "I take it the meeting didn't go so well?"
"If you mean Dad refused to budge, we couldn't reach a compromise, and now the whole thing's going to trial, then no, the meeting didn't go well."
"Balls," Spike muttered.
Dawn turned off the television, and just sat there. Buffy reached out and squeezed her hand. "Dawn, it'll be okay. Dad's got a weak case, and Jerry's a good lawyer. We'll win this."
"Maybe," Dawn said, "but I've been thinking." She stood up and paced in front of the bed, wringing her hands. "Maybe I should just go live with Dad."
Buffy propped herself up on her elbows. "Do you ... is that what you really want?"
Dawn shrugged. "It might be easier. I mean, it's not like they're trying to take me away and put me in a foster home. It's Dad."
Spike adjusted his glasses. "That's all well and good, Nibblet, but that would mean you moving to Los Angeles permanently. Is that what you want?"
"Yeah, I guess. Maybe." She shook her head and flung the remote on the bed in frustration. "I don't know! I mean, I don't want to leave Sunnydale, and I don't want to leave you guys. But if I have to ... L.A.'s kinda cool, and ... and I feel like I hardly know Dad. It might be kinda nice, living with him, letting him take care of me. And you guys could finally stop having to worry about me."
Buffy was completely nonplussed. She sat up and scooted back against the headboard. "Dawn, c'mere." Dawn stopped pacing and sat facing Buffy, who reached out and took her hand. "Don't for a minute think that having to fight for you is some kind of ... inconvenience for us. The monks that made you, they gave you to me. Not mom or dad, me. Because they knew how much I'd love you, how much I'd need to take care of you. If I didn't have you to look out for, I ... I really don't know what I'd do."
"I know that," Dawn said, but she looked down at their clasped hands and swallowed.
"I don't want to guilt you into staying with us, if living with Dad is really what you want." Buffy tilted Dawn's face up to look at her. "I want you to really think about this. If you live with Dad, everything that you can do, everything that you are ... it'll have to be kept secret. And let me tell you, it's no fun having to be Secret Identity Gal. Especially with Dad."
"I guess that means I couldn't just use Key Power to pop in and see you guys whenever I want, huh?"
"Yeah," Buffy said, "it means that. Especially since you're still not so good at controlling it by yourself. And everything you know about vampires and magic and the supernatural, that'll have to be kept secret, too. Your whole life would change, and not necessarily for the better."
Dawn nodded. "But what if Dad wins? What if I don't get a choice?" She squeezed her eyes shut. "Isn't there some way we can make him understand?"
"Yeh, there is," Spike said. Buffy just looked at him, and he raised an eyebrow. "Plan Z?"
Buffy shook her head. "I don't think --"
"What's plan Z?" Dawn asked.
"Spike means we should tell Dad the truth about everything."
Dawn looked stunned by the suggestion, but then her brows knit as she considered it. "That might work."
"No," Buffy said. "It would mean telling him everything. About me being the Slayer, and you being the Key."
"So?" Dawn said. "Mom knew. I mean, what's the big deal, really?"
"Dawn," Buffy said gently, "he'd have to know ... where you really came from."
Dawn's shoulders slumped, and she looked down at the bedspread. "Oh. That."
"Yeah, that."
"But ... Mom took the news okay. Don't you think Dad would be able to handle it too?"
Buffy sighed. "Maybe." Her father did seem to be full of surprises.
"I think he needs to know," Dawn said. "I mean, maybe once he knows I'm not really his, he won't want me anymore. Problem solved." She sounded way too bitter for someone so young.
"Dawnie," Buffy reached out and stroked her cheek. "He's not going to stop wanting you."
"Maybe not," she said. "I hope not. But he should still know. It might be our only chance."
"Okay," Buffy said. "Suppose we do tell him. Do you think he'd believe us? How're we gonna prove it to him? Take him out on patrol so he can watch me slay something?"
"Bet I can convince him," Spike said. Buffy looked over at him. Despite the heavy mood, she had to cover her mouth to suppress a laugh. His yellow eyes narrowed and his brow ridges drew together in confusion. "What?"
Buffy reached out and removed his little round reading glasses. "There. Now you're scary."
"Yeh, well." He slipped back into human face as he snatched his glasses away from her. "We going to do this or not?"
Buffy looked at Dawn.
"Yeah," Dawn said. "Let's do it."
***
Hank Summers couldn't believe what he was hearing. Not so much the story he was being fed -- that was so ridiculous it was laughable; but that it was coming from his girls, and that they were telling it with such earnestness ... that he really couldn't believe. Jesus. If they were this desperate maybe he really should just drop the whole custody thing.
Then his gaze fell on Spike. Hank had pretty much made up his mind about him the first time he'd seen him. That hair, that coat ... and who the hell wears a coat like that in the middle of June? He looked like the type of guy Buffy went for the year she started getting in trouble. When he'd heard that Buffy was dating a soldier, Hank'd had high hopes that she'd finally outgrown the whole bad boy thing. Those hopes had been dashed the moment this man had walked through his door.
Just how bad was this bad boy, was what Hank wanted to know. He reeked of cigarettes, and Hank supposed that was probably the least of his bad habits. At least he had a job -- or so Buffy claimed -- though it sounded like a minimum wage position. Hank had spent enough time in England to recognize Spike's accent as working class. He probably wasn't very educated, so his prospects for the future were doubtless no better. He had a criminal air about him that set Hank's teeth on edge. No way did he want this guy to have a hand in raising Dawn.
"So, let me get this straight," Hank said. "You're some kind of Chosen One ... the one girl in all the world with the power to kill vampires?"
Buffy nodded. "Actually, there are two of us ... but that's not really a story you need to hear right now."
"And you got yourself expelled from Hemery by burning down the gym because a bunch of these vampires crashed the school dance?"
"Well, most of them were originally seniors, so I wouldn't really call it crashing ..."
"And for the last six years you've been guarding some kind of hellhole --"
"Hellmouth."
"-- and trying to keep all these different bad guys from using it to take over the world. Do I have that right?"
Buffy considered. "Basically."
"She also goes out every night and slays vampires and demons and stuff," Dawn said. "Or she used to, before the war ..."
Hank looked confused. "What war?"
"The riots," Buffy said.
"That was about vampires too?" Buffy nodded. Hank laughed and leaned back in his chair. He looked at Spike. "I'm guessing this cockamamie story was your idea?"
Spike's eyebrows shot up. "I s'pose it was my idea to tell you," he said, "but she's telling the truth." As he spoke he stretched his arm across the back of the sofa, reaching behind Dawn to finger a lock of Buffy's hair. The gesture was proprietary and wholly unconscious, and it pissed Hank off more than anything else the punk had done.
Hank stood up from the easy chair and walked behind it. He put his hands on the back and leaned on it like a podium as he fixed Buffy with the most authoritative glare he could muster. "It's not bad enough you go out and get arrested," he said, shooting what he hoped was an intimidating look at Spike. "Now you come here and sit in my home with a straight face and you start up with this vampire business again? And you've got your little sister doing it, too?"
The next thing Hank knew, he was up against the wall, dangling by his shirt collar, his toes barely brushing the carpet.
"Take a good look, mate," Spike said.
At least, it sounded like Spike, but it couldn't be. Hank probably outweighed him by at least thirty pounds. No way could the kid be strong enough to hold him up like this, so effortlessly, with one hand. And his face ...
"Still think they're lyin' to you?"
"Spike, put my dad down!" Buffy shouted.
"Th-those teeth ..."
Spike grinned, a mouthful of razor blades.
"Those aren't real," Hank said.
"They're not?" Spike leaned in closer. "How 'bout we test 'em out on your jugular, see what you think then?"
"Spike," Buffy said, her voice cold, hard authority, "drop him right now before I drop you."
Spike's features melted back to human, and he smirked up at Hank. "She could, y'know. She's that strong." He released his grip, and Hank slid to the floor. Buffy and Dawn both ran over to help him up.
He stared in horror at Spike as they pulled him to his feet. "He's a v-- he's a vamp--"
"He's a vampire," Buffy said.
"But he won't hurt you," Dawn said. "Not really. He's a good vampire."
"For the most part," Buffy added, shooting Spike what Hank thought was definitely an intimidating look. "Though he's not much of a well-behaved vampire sometimes."
"Sorry, Slayer," Spike said, "thought it was time to cut to the chase. He wasn't gonna believe unless we drove the point home."
Buffy put her hands on her hips. "You couldn'ta just vamped out and said 'Boo'?"
Spike pointed at Hank. "Not with him throwin' around false accusations about the two o' you. This is serious business, and the tosser --"
"Spike!"
He rolled his eyes, and sighed. "Your father has got to take you seriously. And now he will."
"What if you made him have a heart attack?" Dawn asked.
Spike looked heavenward and shook his head, but then he shoved his hands in his pockets and tried to look penitent. "Guess maybe I got a li'l carried away," he said, then tilted his chin towards Hank. "Hey, sorry 'bout that, Summers. No harm no foul, eh?"
Hank just glared at him as he staggered over to the sofa. "Buffy," he said calmly, "if you think for a minute that I want either of you girls anywhere near that maniac --"
"Spike's not a maniac!" Dawn said.
Buffy sat next to Hank on the couch. "Dawn, go get Dad some water?" She took his trembling hand in hers and tried to steady him. "We are sorry. Spike was just trying to get your attention."
"Well, he got it." Hank ran his free hand through his hair, and shook his head. "I remember when you first told us about vampires. Your mom and I thought --"
"I know," Buffy said. "It's okay."
"Honey, I'm so sorry." He looked at her, and his eyes fell on her neck. "That scar ..." he reached out and stroked it. "Dawn has one like it." He looked at Spike. "You did this to them?" Hank jumped up from the couch, and Spike took a step back. "You son of a bitch!"
Buffy grabbed his arm and held him back. "Dad, no! It wasn't Spike!"
Dawn came back from the kitchen and pressed a glass of water into Hank's hand. "Spike would never hurt us," she told him. "It was another vampire. Spike saved me from her."
Hank looked from Dawn to Buffy. "What about you?"
Buffy's hand went to her scar. "It was ... it's a little more complicated. Just call it a job hazard."
Hank shook his head, and downed his water. "I don't know what you thought you were going to accomplish by telling me all of this. What makes you think that it'll make me less likely to want Dawn here with me?"
"Because," Dawn said, "Buffy and Spike aren't the only ones here with secrets."
"Wait, don't tell me," Hank said. "You're the Tooth Fairy."
"Dad, this is serious!"
"You should probably sit back down," Buffy said.
"Fine," he said, sinking back onto the couch. "Your boyfriend's not going to try to eat me again, is he?"
Buffy and Dawn both looked at Spike, who held placating hands in the air. "I said I was sorry."
"He won't touch you," Buffy said. She took his glass from him and set it on the table, then took hold of his hands.
"Okay, now you're really scaring me," Hank said.
Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
"Buffy ..."
"I'm the Key," Dawn said.
Hank looked at her. "The what?"
"The Key ..." She faltered.
Spike moved to stand next to her, and put a hand on her shoulder. She looked at him. "Go on, Bit," he told her.
Dawn swallowed, and looked back at Hank. "I can open stuff. Like, portals and stuff. To other places. Maybe other dimensions ..." She shrugged. "I'm still not very good at it."
"And how come you can do this?" Hank asked.
"That's the hard part," Buffy said. "The Key ... it used to be pure energy. I don't know how long it existed, but I'm guessing it's pretty ancient. It was guarded by this group of monks. They, um ... There was this woman. A goddess, actually. She was trapped here, and she needed the Key to get back to her dimension. But if she did it would have started another Apocalypse."
"And I thought I had problems," Hank muttered.
"Anyway," Buffy said, "they -- the monks, that is -- they sent the Key to me for protection. But first they changed it into something I'd be sure to care about, that I'd be willing to guard with my life. They gave us all memories, made it like she's always been here."
Hank slowly turned his head to look at Dawn. She offered him a nervous smile and a little wave.
"No." Hank's throat tightened. "So you're saying she's ... she's not real? She's not my daughter?"
"Yes I am!" Dawn said. "Everything you remember, I remember it too. It's real, Daddy. I'm real. And, hey. Key power." She smiled, a vain attempt to lighten the mood. "Comes in handy when I'm late for school."
Hank leaned back on the couch, and ran a hand over his face. "Oh, man, you girls had me going. Do you have any idea how incredible this sounds?" he asked. "So, what?" He stood up, and looked at Dawn. "You're not my daughter, you're this mystical Key thing. So why would I want custody of you?"
Dawn looked like he'd slapped her, and he instantly regretted the words. "I mean, that's what I'm supposed to think, right? That's why you're telling me all of this now? Because you're not doing me any favors here. Let me tell you, ignorance truly is bliss."
"Shut up!" Dawn shrieked. "Just stop! You didn't even ask me if I want to come live with you. We just told you the truth so you'd understand why I can't."
Hank stood up and started towards her. "Dawn ..."
She back up. "Don't! You can't just come in and change everything. You're not even my dad!"
That hit Hank like a punch to the gut.
Dawn reached up and tugged at her own hair. "I have to get out of here," she muttered. "I just want to go home." She looked at Hank, her tear-streaked face hardening in resolve. "You don't believe us? Fine. I'll show you." She reached into Spike's coat pocket and produced his keys.
"Oi! What --" the vampire started, but before he could say or do anything else, a hole opened up in the middle of the living room. No, not a hole; more like a window, paned in blinding white light. The street in front of the building was clearly visible on the other side.
"Dawn!" Buffy and Spike called out as the girl dove through the window. Spike lunged after her, but as soon as she was through it, the thing snapped shut with an ear-splitting pop and Spike tumbled to the floor.
"Bugger!" he muttered as he rolled to his feet.
"Where'd she go?" Buffy asked.
"My car," he said, already on his way out the door. Buffy was right behind him, and Hank followed.
"What the hell was that?" he asked as he chased them down the hall.
Buffy paused at the stairwell and looked at him. "That was the Key," she said, then raced down the stairs after Spike.
Hank tried his best to keep up as he made his way down the stairs. He had to admit, their speed was impressive. Too impressive to be attributed to youthful stamina. Before long they were a whole flight ahead of him. He reached the lobby just as they were going out the front doors. When he caught up to them out front, they both had their eyes on a big, black car as it pulled away from the curb and into traffic, both of them calling Dawn's name. Drivers slammed on their brakes as she cut across the lanes. She started to make a U-turn, heedless of the bus in the next lane.
Terror clutched at Hank and held him frozen as he witnessed the most horrific thing he'd ever seen. Vampires and weird mystical portals meant nothing when you were watching a bus plow into the driver's side of the car that held your little girl. It seemed like slow motion as the bus slammed into the car, pushing it sideways until it hit a light pole, then somehow winding up on top of the car, caving in the roof beneath it. The sounds of screeching tires, steel buckling against steel, breaking glass, and terrified shouts of his daughter's name from Buffy and Spike penetrated Hank's fog. He found himself able to move again.
"My baby," he whispered.
He leapt into action, and into traffic, almost getting hit himself as he tried to make his way across the street. They were already there. He hadn't even seen them move. Together, Spike and Buffy tore the driver's side back door off its hinges and crawled inside.
The doors of the bus swished open, and the driver climbed out, pressing his palm to a gash in his forehead. "It came out of nowhere," he said, shaking his head. "There was nowhere to swerve, and I couldn't stop. Is -- is everybody all right?"
Spike backed out of the car. His features shifted as he lunged at the man, but Buffy was faster. She got between them and held the vampire back.
"No, everybody's not bloody all right!" he screamed.
The driver stumbled backwards into the side of the bus, and stared in consternation at the car.
"Spike," Buffy warned.
"She's just a li'l girl!" he went on. "How could you ..."
"Spike!" Buffy took his face in her hands and made him look at her. As he did, his features returned to human, which was even more terrible to see -- full of shock, anguish, and panic. "It's not his fault," Buffy said, stroking his cheek in an attempt to calm him.
Spike pointed at the car. He looked so lost. "But look at her," he said, his voice cracking. "She's so ... broken."
Hank reached the car as Spike said this, and the words cut through him. He swallowed, and bent to look inside. "Oh, God."
His heart broke at the sight of her. She lay sprawled across the front seat, slumped against the passenger door. Her brown hair covered her face, matted to her forehead with blood. Pieces of glass sparkled in her hair, and Hank realized that the passenger window was shattered. Her jeans were ripped and bloodied below the knee, and something white protruded from the tear. A wave of nausea hit him -- it was bone. Her other leg was trapped between the steering wheel and the roof of the car.
Hank reached a trembling hand over the front seat. "Dawnie?"
Blood streamed from her forehead, running down her face and neck and soaking her t-shirt. Hank jerked his hand back. "Oh, God," he repeated as he slumped in the back seat. "My baby ..."
He felt a hand on his shoulder as Buffy crawled into the car next to him. "I called 911," she said. "An ambulance is coming."
Hank stared at her. "Is she ..."
Buffy reached over the seat and picked up Dawn's wrist, feeling for a pulse. "She's alive," she said. "Stay with her. Talk to her. I'm gonna check on the people on the bus."
Hank nodded as she backed out of the car. He leaned back over the front seat and picked up Dawn's hand, and started to sing a lullaby that Joyce used to sing to her.

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