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Part three of three

Episode Six: Statute of Limitations

by cousinjean

***

Sunlight flooded the trunk. Spike rolled to the back and braced himself, then opened his eyes and ventured a peek when he noticed he wasn't on fire.

"Get out," Acosta said. He aimed a gun at Spike's head.

Spike obediently climbed out of the trunk and took in his surroundings. They stood in the middle of a football field, the stadium lights shining down on them. "Y'know, if you wanted to toss around the ol' pigskin all you had to do was ask."

"Shut up."

Spike smirked, and held up the open handcuffs. "Figure you'll be wanting these back."

Acosta snatched the cuffs and put them in his pocket. "To the goal post. Move."

Spike looked at the gun and raised an incredulous eyebrow. "You know that wouldn't stop me if I wanted to hurt you."

Acosta returned his smirk, pointed the gun at his bare chest, and squeezed the trigger. Water streamed out, hitting him just below the breastbone and running down his front.

"Gah!" The pain doubled Spike over. "Holy ... Fuck!"

"No, just holy water." Acosta waved the gun towards the goal post. "Now move."

Panting, Spike wrapped his arms protectively around himself and glared at Acosta.

The cop sighed and reached into the duffel bag hanging from his shoulder. "We can do this the easy way, or ..." He pulled out the taser and waved it at Spike. "The fun way."

Spike bit back about a dozen retorts and did as he was told. "Don't s'pose we can talk about this? Lot's happened since we last met, maybe we can--"

Acosta pressed the taser to Spike's temple. "Turn around, back up to the post, and get on your knees."

Unmoving, Spike stared at the goal post. If he let himself get tied up again he was done for. Before he could consider his options the tip of the taser dug into the side of his head. If he got shocked again he was even more done for. He turned and did as told, gritting his teeth as Acosta yanked his arms back and stretched them behind the post. Acosta cuffed his wrists, then came around and stood in front of him.

The two men looked at each other for a long moment. Then Acosta reared back and punched him in the mouth. Spike swallowed the blood that pooled there, then ran his tongue over his busted lip. He looked up at the sky. Hard to tell with the glare of the lights, but it was beginning to lighten. "So, it's leave me to burst into flames, is it?"

"I'm not leaving," Acosta said, backing up to lean against his car. "I'm gonna stay and watch." He smiled, cold and mirthless. "Creative enough for you?"

Spike squinted at him. "That supposed to mean something?"

Acosta barked out a laugh. "You don't even remember."

"I remember," Spike said, "but the details are a bit fuzzy. I've killed and fucked-over enough people in my lifetime to fill this stadium. You can't bloody well expect me to give you a play-by-play."

"I can't believe the Slayer takes you to her bed."

"You leave her out of this."

"Oh. Like you left Nikki out of it?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Newsflash, Montalban. She was the Slayer. She was trying to kill me. It's not like I ..." He trailed off as fury warred with grief for dominance on Acosta's face. He'd seen that expression before, on a much younger face. The details came into sharp focus. Drusilla, dancing with the young cop, making him think she was the Slayer. Tears and heartfelt declarations of love. Spike closed his eyes. "You loved her." He shook his head. "Think I'd remember that. It's right poetic, it is."

Acosta's expression turned to stone as he checked his watch. "Twenty minutes till sunrise." He approached Spike, but stopped just outside of kicking distance, should Spike manage to straighten his legs. He dropped his duffel on the ground and crouched beside it. "Time enough to have a little more fun."

***

"Oz," Buffy hazarded a glance in his direction before returning her focus to her side of the street, "not to make you our designated bloodhound or anything, but can't you, like, smell him or something?"

"I've been trying," he said, "but I got nothing. Sorry."

Xander turned off his cell phone and leaned forward between the front seats. "That was Giles. Ben put out an APB on Acosta, so the police are looking too."

Buffy nodded. "What about Willow? She was gonna try a locator spell."

Xander shook his head. "She tried, but it didn't work. Lydia went over there with all of the stuff for her spell. She didn't say what it's supposed to do. Just that it should buy us some time."

"What if we're out of time?" She swallowed down the sob that had been threatening to escape for the last few hours. "What if he's already ..."

"He's not." Xander reached around the seat and took her hand in his. "This guy wants payback, right? He'll want to make Spike suffer. He'll draw it out as long as he can."

Buffy looked at Xander, horrified.

He squeezed her hand. "Whatever he does, Spike can take it. The important thing is that he's still alive. If he wasn't ... I think you'd know."

The battle against the tears was lost. Buffy nodded and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

Xander rooted around in the pocket on the back of the driver's seat and came up with some napkins. "Here." Buffy took them and blew her nose. Xander let out a tiny laugh.

Buffy glanced back at him. "What?"

"Nothing, sorry. It's just that ... I was thinking about that time Spike nabbed Angel. I don't remember you coming this unglued."

She blew her nose again and shrugged. "It was Spike. I had a clue what he wanted." She smiled in spite of herself. "He was so predictable."

"Predictable? Spike?"

"Yeah, I mean if ... I guess I knew him too well. Even then." She choked back another sob. "Oh God, I can't ... I can't lose him."

"You won't, okay? Don't even think like that."

"Hey, what's that?" Oz pointed at some bright lights shining over the UC Sunnydale campus.

"The football stadium," Buffy told him.

"Yeah, but why are all the lights on?"

She shrugged. "Early morning practice?"

"But it's not football season," Xander said. "And they don't start training for a couple more weeks."

Buffy looked back and forth between the two men. Then, "Oz --"

The tires squealed as he forced the SUV around a sharp corner.

"How long?"

"Ten, fifteen minutes?"

Xander checked his watch. "Sunrise in eight."

Buffy shook her head. "Get me there. Now."

***

"Everything is in place?"

Willow glanced up from lighting her candle and nodded at Lydia.

"Good. There's not much time left."

"Yeah, but we don't know how long it'll last once it's done, so we don't want to do it too soon. The timing has to be perfect." She looked around one last time to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. Four candles marked a large square in the middle of the living room, representing the four corners of the Earth. A small mound of dirt had been formed in the middle -- with plastic underneath, of course. Willow was ninety-nine percent sure that the spell wouldn't be corrupted by tidiness. A bowl of water sat on top of the mound, in which she placed the final candle. She nodded. "Okay, ready. Faith?"

Faith left her vigil at the front door and came into the living room. She eyeballed the setup nervously. "You sure you need me for this? The last time I screwed around with magic --"

"Was a completely different set of circumstances," Willow said. "The spell calls for three."

"Fine," she said, kneeling in front of the bowl, completing the circle. "I just don't want to screw it up, is all."

Willow shook her head. "You and Lydia don't have to do anything. I need to draw on your energy."

"You're certain you can do this?" Lydia asked as the three of them joined hands.

"Yeah. Yes. Well, I mean, mostly. I practiced on elemental spells a lot with Miss McCollough when I was in London." She grinned. "She showed me the one they use to prevent fires? Any flame gets above a certain temperature, and it starts raining inside the headquarters. Way cheaper than installing a sprinkler system."

"That's cool, Willow," Faith said, "but clock's a-ticking."

"Oh. Right. Okay, here we go." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Hina, Earth Mother, hear our plea. Call back your son Ao in surrender to your daughter Po. Cast your covering, make morning as night, hide from us the sun." She released Faith's hand, picked up the candle, and dipped the lit end into the water. The flame extinguished and smoke filled the bowl, turning the water black. "As we command it, so shall it be."

She let go of both their hands. Faith and Lydia opened their eyes and looked at her. "That it?" Faith asked.

"Yup."

"Did it work?" asked Lydia.

Willow got up and went to the window to peer out at the brightening sky. "Well ..."

"It didn't work," Faith said.

"Maybe it just takes a few minutes to manifest," Willow said.

"I hope so," said Lydia. "A few minutes may be all Spike has left."

***

"'M sorry."

Acosta glanced up from wiping off the tip of his stake. "What was that?"

Spike opened his good eye and looked at the cop. His other eye had been seared shut when Acosta had held a cross to his face. He licked his sore lips and repeated. "I said I'm sorry." His voice was raw from all the screaming. Acosta could give that Marcus tosser a few lessons in the art of torturing vamps.

Acosta stood up, walked over to Spike, and kicked him in the ribs. Spike grunted, but he didn't cry out. "You think I want an apology from you? You're sorry? You're only sorry I caught up with you."

"'S not what I mean." He sniffed as his nose threatened to bleed again. "I know what it means to love a Slayer. I wish ... I don't believe in regrets, y'know? I could sit here all day -- or I could if the sun wasn't coming up -- and apologize for everyone I ever hurt or killed since I got turned. Wouldn't change anything. Wouldn't bring 'em back." He shook his head. "'Sides, everything I did, every decision I made ... every person I killed ... all led me to Buffy. Can't be sorry about that."

Acosta shrugged. "You got a point?"

Spike laughed, then groaned as pain shot through his ribs and over the burns on his chest. "Point is I won't apologize for what I am to save my life. But it's too bad that you had to get caught up in it. I'm sorry you had to live out my worst nightmare."

"I'll keep that in mind as I'm scattering your ashes on Nikki's grave." He started repacking his duffel.

"I was hoping I could convince you to give 'em to Buffy." Spike looked toward the stadium's east entrance, directly across the field. Sunlight peeked through it, lighting up the uppermost bleachers and the tips of the goal posts. He figured he had about a minute before it reached him. "Don't I get a last request?"

Acosta stood up. "Depends."

"Tell her about this. Be man enough to face the Slayer and tell her what you did. She ... she's been abandoned enough times in her life. I can't have her thinking I left her."

Acosta nodded. "Don't worry. She'll know."

Spike closed his eye and rested his head against the post, but only for a moment. He looked up at the sun, bracing himself as the beam crept its way down to him. If he couldn't go down fighting, at least he could meet his end with both eyes open. So to speak.

He heard a clap of thunder, and suddenly the beam disappeared. Spike looked up to see heavy, black clouds billowing across the sky. Thick drops of rain spattered against his face as he stared up at the storm and laughed. "Game called on account o' rain," he snarked, but his newfound mirth faded as he looked at Acosta.

The old cop wouldn't be defeated that easily. His face remained calm as he loaded a bolt into a crossbow. "Remember my neat toy?" He pointed it at Spike. "Guess I'll just have to do this the old-fashioned way."

Spike lifted his chin and braced for the shot. Acosta took aim, but misfired as something tackled him. Something small and blonde. As the bolt whizzed over Spike's head and into the bleachers behind, he let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.

"Ho-lee ..." Xander knelt beside him. "You all right there, buddy?"

Spike craned his head around so he could glare with his good eye. "Peachy. Now get me the fuck out of here."

"Right." Xander looked at the cuffs. "We need the key."

"Got it covered." Oz pulled out his keys. A tiny handcuff key hung from the chain. Xander's eyes widened as they went from the key to Oz. Oz shrugged. "Werewolf thing."

"Of course it is." Xander freed Spike and helped him to his feet. "Got a little roughed up there, huh?"

"Thanks for the recap, Obvious Lad." Spike squinted through the rain at Buffy. "Oh, Christ." She had Acosta backed up against his car. She'd already beaten the hell out of him and had moved on to the stuffing. Acosta blocked as best he could, even got in a few punches, but nothing fazed her.

"Oh, God, Buffy!" Xander ran over to pull her off of Acosta.

Spike tried to follow, but he stumbled. Oz caught him. "Get me to her," Spike said.

Xander stood between Buffy and Acosta. "Buffy, stop!"

"Get out of my way, Xander."

"The guy's human. You're gonna kill him!" Behind Xander, Acosta slumped to the ground.

"Buffy."

She spun around to face Spike. As she looked him over her face went from shock to sorrow to fury in nothing flat. She rounded on Acosta again. "Move, Xander!"

Xander grabbed her and held her back. Spike staggered close enough to reach out and grab her arm.

"Hush, Love. C'mere."

She stopped struggling and turned to look at him. "Oh, God." Her voice cracked. She raised tentative fingers to the burn on his face. "Look what he did to you." New rage filled her eyes and she tried to turn back on Acosta.

"Buffy ..." He reached for her, fell into her embrace and let her take his weight. Her vengeful gaze was still fixed on Acosta. "Buffy, look at me!" Spike grabbed her face in both his hands and forced her to face him.

She stared at him a moment, then closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around him, careful of his burns. "I almost lost you. He almost ..."

"But he didn't. I'm right here." He pulled back to look her in the eye. The way she looked at him, her eyes shining with new tears but so full of trust and confidence that he was the wronged party in this scenario ... he almost couldn't go on. But she needed to hear this. He closed his eyes for a moment, focused on the rain as it washed over him, soothing his burns but making his cuts sting. "What he did ..." He hung his head and shook it. "Pet, I had it coming. If it was me ..." He forced himself to look at her. "I'd've done the same thing in his place."

Buffy held her gaze steady as she let this sink in. Her lip trembled a little as she looked from Spike to Acosta. Something passed over her face, a look of recollection and then resignation that pierced Spike's heart. She turned back to him, but didn't meet his eyes as she shook her head. "Let's just go home."

Spike nodded, and leaned into her as she supported him under his right arm. Xander caught him on the left. They started out of the stadium.

"You just assaulted a police officer, you know."

They all stopped. Buffy stood still a moment, then she seemed to come to a decision. She let go of Spike and turned to face Acosta.

He spat a mouthful of blood onto the wet grass and glared at Buffy. She walked up to him and stood toe to toe. "Then arrest me."

He held her gaze for a few seconds, then looked away.

"Do whatever you want to me," Buffy told him. "But you do not come near my family again. Because I will do whatever it takes to protect them." She backed up and started walking back to Spike.

"You're the Slayer," Acosta called. "Doesn't it matter to you what he is? What he's done?"

Buffy stopped. She looked into Spike's eyes as she spoke. "What he is ... is the man I love. What he's done is turn his back on everything that he is. For me." She looked back at Acosta. "That matters to me. Everything else..." Buffy deflated a little and shook her head. "It's ancient history."

She went back to Spike and slipped her arm under his, cradling her head against his shoulder as she and Xander led him out of the stadium.

***

Lou slumped against his car and slid back down to the ground. "I fucked it up again, Nikki," he muttered as he watched the current Slayer lead the vampire away to safety. Hot tears mingled with the blood and cold water running down his face. He looked up into the rain and let it wash over him. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed one of the Slayer's friends hanging back. The red-haired kid. He looked at him.

"What do you want?"

The kid walked over to him. "Should I, like, call an ambulance or something?"

Lou waved him away. "I'll be fine."

The kid nodded. "If you say so." He turned to go.

"Wait." Red turned back around. Lou glanced over at the exit just as Spike disappeared through the opening. "You know what he is?"

Red followed his gaze and nodded.

Lou scoffed. "But do you really?"

The kid came back over to Lou and crouched beside him. "He kidnapped my girlfriend once." He frowned. "Well, ex-girlfriend. He terrorized her. Wasn't pretty. But ... they're friends now."

Lou just stared at him. "How is that possible?"

He shrugged. "Spike was evil, man. We all know that. But he got over it. So did we."

"So I'm supposed to just 'get over it'?"

The kid stood up. "Up to you."

"How?"

"You do what we did."

Lou looked up at him and waited.

"Forgive him." The kid hesitated a moment, then turned and followed after his friends.

Lou watched him go, then put his face in his hands and cried.

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