Part XII...

Travers left us with his man...And Buffy made her "statement"...

A full and detailed account of our little conspiracy against the Brooding One...

The little clerk took it all down quietly, printed a copy which Buffy signed and left...

Odd...I thought I recognized him for a moment as he got to leave...

Where the hell?...Oh, well...

My attention was elsewhere...On Buffy...

Who eyed me coldly...

"You should have believed in me, William..." she said quietly...

Saying nothing afterwards, just staring into space as she sat by me...

My dutiful step-grandma, at the sickbed of her injured grandkid...

A knock at the door...Travers...Smiling broadly...

And Giles...
***

Well...Giles paused, looking at me keenly...

"One never knows how these things may turn out, does one?..."

I stared at him...

"Giles...You can't let him do this to Buffy..."

Travers grinned...

"And what, my young friend...Have I "done to Buffy"?"...

I glared at him...

You miserable...

Giles stared coolly at Buffy...Who stared at her hands in her lap...
"Rupert...?" Travers looked at him...

Might I have a moment alone with my clients?...

He nodded...Heading for the door...But paused just as he reached it and turned to Travers...

"Congratulations, Quentin..." he paused...

I sincerely hope it's for the best...But...he sighed...

"There are always consequences..."
***

"So..." I stared coldly at Travers...

When do we fry?...

He smiled...And shook his head...

"Well...?" I looked at him...

Buffy continuing to stare at her hands...

"You're free...Both of you..." he nodded to Buffy who looked up at him in shock...

Free...? she stared at him...

"What...?" I looked at him...

"As of thirty minutes ago the Council dropped the charges on Giles'
recommendation...Following my reopening of the case..."

He smiled...And explained...

He'd let Giles have enough rope to run with the earlier admission of guilt...While all the time
working behind the scenes with the very insurance companies who'd made Giles' case for him...

Pointing out to them that if they accepted the LAPD report and verdict and settled, they'd lose a
couple of million in life and accident insurance...But if they pressed on with the murder verdict,
focusing on Buffy, he'd hit them with a series of suits for her...And for me, the innocent victim...

And without a clear confession of guilt from one of us, the case simply would not hold up...

As for Buffy's "confession"...

All he'd had to do was keep her from confessing to Giles...So he had her vent to a dummy, his
own man...Not a Council member at all, as we assumed...

My man took her statement and gave it to me...Travers smiled...

And I appear to have lost it...

"Smiles, people...You're free...And quite wealthy, I understand..."

Of course, he smiled...In cases like this I usually take half...

Buffy looked at him...

But...

Travers smiled coldly... "I don't want the money..."

"I just want our dear Slayer back..." he leered at Buffy who shuddered a bit...

I glared...

He blinked...

"I mean...To kill for the Council, of course..." Travers looked at her and me, rather startled...

What...You thought?...he was a tad indignant...

"You people have been wallowing in murder and evil for much, much too long..." he noted...

Try taking a vacation...

"Besides..." he smiled again...Pulling a check from his pocket...

"This is all the reward I personally require...$100 from one Rupert Giles..."

We had a little bet as to whether or not I could pull this one off...

A bet...Buffy looked at him...And me...

Giles bet my life with you...she stared at him...For $100...

"If it's any consolation, Buffy..." Travers smiled a bit more kindly...

"He was sure the Council would spare you...And would have fought for you if they hadn't..."

She nodded...Looking at me...

Travers happily took his leave...

Buffy stared at me quietly, then looked away...Sitting with hands folded...Until Tara and Dawn
came to take charge of the invalid...

"Any problem with old Travers?..." Tara asked me a tad anxiously...

None...I replied...

Council's anxious to have us back at it asap that's all...

She frowned...

"Least they could do is offer you two some vacation time..."

Actually...Buffy paused, speaking from where she now stood...

He suggested we each take one...

"Maybe when we're better...You and Dawny and Will and I can do that..." she smiled faintly at
Tara...

***
The inquest and various hearings settled...We had one more obstacle...

A funeral...

For our beloved Angel...

They'd held it up for us until our joint recoveries allowed it...

No need to worry about getting the body into its grave in a rush, after all...

***
I could see that somehow word of the Council hearing had leaked...Some of the AI staffers
present...Human and demon...Were ready for revenge...Sure something had been pulled...

By Buffy as well as me...

The "family" thank God...The old gang, I mean...Had not heard...Or, at least chosen not to hear
these "rumors"...They escorted Buffy and me to the front row...

The rest were clearly not as forbearing...And the murmuring was taking a ominous tone...
But all banged up as I was...Not to mention the chip...And she, in her condition, barely on her
feet herself...We weren't in any position to demand they cut the sharp cracks and looks...I was
nervous...If they chose to come after us now...

I mean, I knew Harris and the others would die for us of course...

Just...Too quickly...

But Wesley now came in, whispered to the others...About the verdict...

And I could see it was gonna be ok...They calmed and the sharp cracks stopped...

A couple came over and patted Buffy...Even I got the red carpet treatment, brought up front and
introduced by Wesley as Angel's good friend and vampiral descendant...

The new head of Angel Investigations...

Tara beamed at me as did Dawn and Willow...

Anya seemed a tad sour...Perhaps a little healthy suspicion there...

Buffy looked at me with a noncommital expression...

The tears, sincere ones...Were running down my face as I sat down and we continued the
ceremony...

After all, Angel had been the best friend I'd ever had...My grandsire...

It shouldn't surprise that I'd cry for a guy I loved as much as him...

And for our little girl...

Buffy was set as stone throughout...She'd done her crying earlier, Dawn told me aside, after the
funeral...

But she was worried...It was like when her Mom died...Buffy trying to focus on the details,
keeping her emotions bottled...

Could I?...Try to speak to her, bring her out a little...Help her...

She smiled at me...She knew I was the one person who could help Buffy right now...

I'd do what I could, I assured her...

Odd that Dawn should know...And not know...About me and Buffy...Something instinctive, I
guess, her being made from Buffy and all...

But it was a first faint suggestion of hope for me...A confirmation that Buffy hadn't been simply
using me...

I was desperate to grab at anything to convince me of that...That this hadn't been all for nothing...

As for Buffy, she did the proper young widow well, and greeted me with muted warmth as
Angel's best friend...And her close one...

With appropriate concern for my recovery...
***

Part XIII...


For the next few days we avoided each other as much as possible...Maintained our mutual pose
of dear friends mourning an insuperable loss when we had to be together with others...Our only
real time alone being the parts of Patrol we felt it absolutely necessary to share, which
considering our joint recent injuries we limited to a remarkable degree...

And during those times we kept it strictly business...

Observing us, one might have thought we hated each other and kept it polite only for the
business' and form's sake...

Not too far from the truth, actually, given all that had happened...

Each of us blaming the other...And ourselves...

We'd "won"...And lost everything that mattered...
***
My principle consolations were the work, which was nearly overwhelming now that I was the
one for whom the buck stopped...And dear Tara, my chief assistant now...

I turned to her as Buffy no doubt turned to Dawn...As someone who viewed me as I had been...A
worthy friend and a decent, even courageous person...

Harder for her I suppose...Buffy had been a heroine for so long...I was new to the game...

But I liked it...And in my leisure regretted that I'd so easily thrown away what I had won over the
past couple of years and with my dear friends and grandsire's help...

Now I was condemned...My human soul this time...

No way to plead this time that I was the innocent victim of bad timing and a psychotic
vampiress...

But to Tara...I was still a noble figure...William Soames Walthrop, the man who'd somehow kept
a bit of his soul alive and fighting until the chip, love, and a little magics help could come to his
aid...

And now carrying on the good fight in his best friend's name...

I suppose of all things I dreaded, her...And to a lesser extent, Dawn's...Learning the truth was
what I feared above all else...
***

However...It hadn't occurred to me that she might be seeking comfort from me...

Until one day...After Willow had been working with her and they fought a bit...I found her in her
office, sobbing...

Willow having left in a rage...

"I told her...I still wasn't ready..." Tara looked at me after I'd done my duty as a Victorian
gentleman...The sympathetic word, the pat on the shoulder, a politely proffered hanky...

"It's been quite a while..." I looked at her...

Willow has been a good girl...It's only natural she'd want some sign from you...I noted...

Tara sighed...

It wasn't simply over the magics...she paused...Willow wanted to stop me from having any
doubts about her...

She knew that I knew...Tara looked at me...

Willow's still in love with Xander...

But...I stared at her...

"She's never really been out of love with him, you know..." Tara noted sadly...

I don't mean that she was deceiving me...Consciously...

She does love me...In a way...

But...
I smiled, in spite of myself...The eternal but...

She returned the smile wanly...

"Willow needed someone...I fit the bill...Needing someone myself so desperately..."

It's you and Buffy all over again, she noted...

I mean...Back then...The year she was resurrected...she hastily added...

You loved her, she needed you...At least someone to hold...

Willow needs me...But she doesn't really love me...Not the way I need...

And deserve...she noted quietly...

"And she wants to make me believe she does...First by magics, now by emotional blackmail..."

I'm sorry...I told her...

But...Are you sure?... It seems to me that Willow loves you more than anything or anyone in this
world...I said, staring at her...

She craves affection...Almost as much as magics...Tara told me quietly and firmly...

"I'll do in a pinch..."

Until another Xander comes along...Or the old one becomes available...

She stopped and grinned wryly at me...

"Neither of us has had much luck with true love, eh Will?..."

I shrugged silently...

"Tell me..." Tara looked at me...

Why didn't Buffy try to help you...Before?...

I never could understand it...Her letting you leave like that...

Trapped and with the chip making it even hard for you to survive...

Even if she didn't love you...She cared for you, that was obvious...You were her lover...

How could she abandon you to...That...?

"But..." she paused... "I guess I could have tried to help you myself..."

I wish I had, Will...she stared at me...

I cried for you when you left...You were so lost...

Like me, I thought...she said...

I stared back...

Will...?...she looked at me...

"I never took the "gay, now" pledge, you know..." she smiled...

"We could comfort each other..." Tara said simply...Hesitating...

Now is the time a proper gentleman asks the young lady to dinner...she grinned at me...

I grinned back and asked her...Properly...

And was accepted...With the one provision that I come to her place and let her cook...

She'd never had anyone else over for dinner but Willow...And Dawny once or twice...

She'd like the chance to test out her skills...
***

It wasn't like my usual times with Buffy, no wild passion...Just this sweet and gentle
peacefulness...

A peacefulness I'd only achieved with my Slayer a few times...Once, one time before I first left...

When she'd treated me like a human being...Like someone she truly cared for, for the first time...

The night she came to me, after I returned...

And the night she told me about our baby...

***

Buffy was waiting for me...To start Patrol...When I came back to the office after my evening with
Tara...

Looking at me oddly...

But then I was at something approaching peace for the first time in weeks...

She requested that we stay together tonight...She was rather off her stride...

"Are you sure you want to do this tonight. Buffy?..." I looked at her...

I can handle it alone now...I'm nearly back up to snuff...I told her...

I'll live...she told me curtly...

"Lets go..."

***

Midway in our circuit, we had a leetle trouble...A couple of Umata demons...Ravenous, fangled
things...

Hadn't been seen on Earth in quite a while I noted to her...Difficult to get them through the
Hellmouth portal...

Hell must be getting desperate...They've been on a losing streak for so long...

She said nothing but set to work...Refusing my suggestion that I call for back up from some of
our operatives...

We ought to be able to deal, she insisted...
***
I managed to get myself well-involved with one...He or she...Rather a job to tell with this
lot...Spraying a shot of paralyzing venom on me...

Fortunately, Rileyware to the rescue...An all-purpose antidote...Administered easily from a tear-
off pouch...Effective in ten minutes...

Ten minutes during which I was somewhat occupied with my fanged friend...Trying to hold him
or her off with limbs as stiff as a dead man's should be...

A broken tree branch shoved into its maw bought me just enough time...

I came out of it and managed to find the vulnerable spot...A thin membrane overlying part of the
brain...

And finished him or her just in time to see that Buffy was in trouble...

And not seeming all that concerned about her dire situation...

***

Her Umata had got her down and having paralyzed her was about to set down to a leisurely
meal...

But she...Buffy...Could have managed to reach the antidote pouch...I was sure of that...

I raced off and threw the demon off her...Screaming at her to take a swig of the antidote...Now!...

As new head of AI, I wasn't about to allow my most important employee to commit suicide...

I reached her, grabbed the pouch of antidote and forced some down her throat...Just as the Umata
charged us...

I decided to put more of the Rileyware to good use and zapped it with a stun gun-like
weapon...One we usually disdained to use, but...Hey...When one is in a hurry one uses all tools at
hand...

The thing fell and I carried out the same lobotomy procedure as I had on its mate...

Buffy rose, wobbly...Looking at the dead demons...

I called for a disposal crew...Umata do not obligingly disappear from sight on death...

"You should have let me die..." Buffy told me quietly, staring at me...

"It's my nature to keep trying to save you..." I stared back...

Can't help it...Besides, I can't let the company's image be tarnished...

She smiled sourly at me...And I helped her over to a bench...

"Things haven't worked out for us, have they?..." she stared off into the night as we sat, waiting
for the disposal crew...

We let each other down...she said, still not looking at me...

"It's still no reason to kill yourself, Buffy..." I told her...

I know, she smiled bitterly...I'm too valuable an asset to lose...

And Dawny needs me so much...

"I need you too much..." I told her...

She looked at me for a moment...Then turned away...

"What happened to us, Spike?..."

We killed someone we both loved...I said simply...

And we hate ourselves...And each other...For it...

"Take me home with you, William..." she told me...

If you want me to get through this night alive, take me home with you...

***
Part XIV...


And so...Back we were...To where we'd started...After her resurrection...

Fleeting, desperate encounters...Whenever we could manage it...

Almost no words between us...

But this time...I had a secret of my own to protect...

***
I saw Tara two, sometimes three times, a week...Dinner, often at her place, then a movie or
TV...Sometimes...More...

I knew it wouldn't last...We weren't in love...At least not the kind of love I still felt for
Buffy...And she, I knew also, in her heart still felt for Willow...

But the sweet peace it brought me...Her too, I'm grateful to say...

Nice to know I finally helped someone I cared about...

It was odd, I teased her once...Mocking myself really...

The great William the Bloody...And his four, count them, four girls...

Dru, Harmony, Buffy, Tara...

Lord, if word had ever gotten out in my old days...

But then, it's my nature...I'm a conventional sort at heart, really...

A dutiful Victorian one woman man...
***

Buffy knew, of course, about my occasional dinners with Tara...

But did not suspect they led to anything more serious...Heck, I had dinner with her and Dawn,
with Xander and Anya, even, rarely, alone with Willow, at various times...Though she could see
my attachment to her and she did at times indicate a slight jealously...

That I could share things with Tara that she was not privy to...

And fear...

That I might, in frustration, desperation, tell my friend things best kept buried...

Even if Tara could be counted on to keep mum...And even if the truth could no longer hurt her
physically...The Council having ruled, the decision could not be revoked, just as in a court of
law...

Just the knowledge that some one else she cared about besides Giles knew...

And that Tara might encourage me to break it off with my Slayer, leave...Assume that Buffy was
simply ashamed again of being with me...Not realizing the real reasons why Buffy would choose
to keep our renewed relationship secret...

Reasons which were?...I asked her in one of our very rare and brief talks afterwards...She glaring
at me that they should either be...Obvious...Or her own...

Though I knew at least one of...Her own...

The insurance settlement...
***
But nothing stays the same, as the song goes...

The settlement went through, leaving Buffy and Dawn financially secure, although I'd seen to it
that they were part-owners in AI in any case...As my friend and grandsire would have wanted...

And gradually, Buffy showed signs of climbing out of whatever depths she'd sunk to...And we
began tentatively feeling each other out...

While Tara and I mutually and lovingly began to wind down our little romance...She could no
more keep from her Willow than I my Buffy in the end...

Then at dinner one night at the old Summers home and later on Patrol, I could see that Buffy was
anxious to talk...Even, for the first time in weeks, a bit light-hearted...

But, when we reached my place, someone was waiting for us...

"Hi ya, Spike...Buffy..." Willie smiled...

Long time no roughed up by...
***
He asked to come in...Had...A favor to ask...

I suspected I knew what the favor was...

"This is bad, Will..." Buffy hissed to me when we managed a moment alone in the kitchen...

"I know...." I agreed...

But lets take it slow...See what he's up to...

***

Willie came to the point in reasonable time...

He'd heard that between AI and Buffy's insurance settlement...We'd each come into a
considerable piece of change...

Wondered if we might consider helping out an old pal...Things had soured a little for him...

Business down a bit, times a little harder, you know how it is...he sighed...

"Well..." I smiled... "Always happy to help an old source...And one Angel thought well of..."

Maybe a grand or two to help you out...

He smiled...

He was thinking...Maybe we could make it a leetle more...

Say....Half-a-mill...

Buffy sat bolt upright...Glaring at the little snitch...

I grinned, trying to laugh it off...

"Half a million...Getting big eyes, Willie..."
You'll pay...he smiled coolly...Producing a document from his pocket...

Buffy's "lost" confession...

She stared at him...

"This isn't the original, in case you two got any ideas..." Willie smiled...

If I don't walk outta here...The original goes to the Council...And the cops...

Buffy looked at me...I shook my head slightly and smiled back at ole Willie...

"Nobody'd believe that nonsense...But...We might be willing to offer you a little extra help...Say
$10,000?..."

You're right...Willie smiled...It's nonsense, sure...But Buffy's signature is on it and I
dunno...Somebody might believe it...

He eyed Buffy...Who was getting a rather dark look on her face...

"Say...Maybe that sis of yours?...Or your friends?...Or..." Willie grinned pleasantly...

"Some of Angel's old friends..."

I sighed at Buffy...

"Well...Looks like you got us, Willie...But we've got nothing like a half-million available..."

You got the business...The insurance gave her two mill...She's got the house...I say a half-mill is
generous...Willie noted pleasantly...

Hmmn...I nodded a bit...Grabbed him by his scruffy neck, the chip firing...Damn...

Oughta get that thing out sometime now that I don't need it...

"I'll take him..." Buffy said quietly...

Willie stared at her...And she went to work on him...

***

After about an hour I signaled to her to stop...

Ok...he sighed...Ok, I'll give you the stuff...

"Willie..." I smiled at him...

I want to know about how you got this...And about your friends...

"No..." Willie whined as he looked up at me through blood-filled eyes...

"I ain't got no friends, I tell ya Spike...I swear..."

Buffy?...I turned to her...

She went back to work...

After two more hours, I tried again...

"No...It's just me, I tell ya...Lemme get the stuff for ya...I ain't got no friends..."

I ain't got no friends...he pleaded...

"I believe him..." Buffy said coldly...

Try...Acquaintances...

Oh...Willie looked at her woozily...

Acquaintances?...Yeah...I got those...

But...

We kept at him for hours in tandem...She for an hour or two, then a grilling with me...

Fear keeping him from talking of course...But finally he decided we were more to be feared than
his "acquaintances..."

With good reason...We were reaching the limits of what could be done without permanent
damage...

He agreed to make a call...

"Andrew?..." he paused as we stood by him...

"Willie...No, it's ok...Look, Spike says he'll deal...But he don't want Buffy to know how much
he's signing over to us..." Willie paused, I looked at him and nodded...

Good boy...

"Look...You and the guys come over...We'll settle here...Tonight..."

Some protest from the other end, I assumed...

Willie looked at us for advice and support...

Buffy smiled sweetly at him...He shuddered...

"Look...Don't argue with me or I go it alone...Spike's coming through and we gotta do our end
right or it's no deal...Just you and the guys come over with the stuff..."

Andrew...Of course...The guy with Travers...Who'd taken down Buffy's confession...Now I could
place him...

Willie finished his conversation with the reluctant but finally accepting Andrew...

"I'd wondered where the nerds got off to..." I smiled at Buffy...

They work odd jobs for the Council now...Willie put in, anxious to be of help...

Outside the regular channels, ya know?...But Travers fired em a coupla months ago and they
came to me...

Buffy brought him a cloth with ice...

Thank you...he nodded, smiling his broken teeth wanly as he took it...

I was...Trying to protect ya...Ummn...Sure, make a leetle for me on the side...he grinned
nervously...But trying to protect my old pals...he nodded...

"Nice work, Slayer..." I grinned at Buffy...

Who smiled back sheepishly...

"I had practice..." she looked at me with a grin...

And helped Willie treat his swollen eye...Fetching him some iodine and bandages...

Thank you, he told her gratefully...
***


Part XV...

About an hour later, a car pulled up outside my building...
Three figures got out..
.
Buffy grinned at me...

"The Three Stooges are back..."

A little the worse for wear, I see...she noted...

It was a little hard to recognize Andrew, neither of us had known him
well...And nearly two years in hiding had had its effect...Though not to
improve his appearance...

But Warren and Jonathan, whatever marks hard times had left on them, were
indelibly imprinted on our minds...

They entered my building cautiously after pressing my buzzer...Warren putting
on a ridiculous fake voice in answer to my question...

Buffy smiled...Somehow this didn't seem like quite the problem it had been a
few moments ago...

Willie assuring our vicious little friend via my intercom that all was
well...Eyeing Buffy...Who continued to smile benevolently at him during his
performance...

He trembled but gave the part his all..

I waved Willie to the bathroom and locked him in...He rather pleased to be
removed from the final scene of our playlet at that...

Our old friends knocked at my door and I let them in quietly...Buffy waiting in
the kitchen, out of sight...

They entered....Warren displaying his usual brand of nervous bravado...

"Hey, Spike...Long time no provide animated sex toy..." he smirked...

Warren...I nodded...

Jonathan looked around nervously...

"Where's Willie?..."

I jerked a thumb back...Little boys' room...

"Willie?..." I called...

You ok in there?...

Yeah...he returned...Rather pleasantly...

See...I smiled...

"Ok..." Warren looked at me in what I took as a ludicrous attempt to
intimidate...

Lets do this and get out of here...

"Now, Warren..." I smiled... "Surely you and the boys don't intend to just walk
out without a cuppa..."

Cuppa what?...Jonathan looked at me...

Tea...I explained pleasantly...

Or coffee, if you'd like...

Warren frowned...This wasn't a social call, you know...They were quite serious
in their threats...

"I'd like some tea..." Jonathan noted...Frowning at his leader...

"No need to do our business impersonally, Warren..." I noted...

After all, you boys are doing me...And Ms. Summers, if she knew...A great
favor...

Keeping that nonsensical bit of paper out of the public eye...Where some fool
might try and take it seriously....

Isn't it the real thing?...Andrew looked at Warren...

Mears rolled his eyes...

"Of course it's the real thing, you idiot!...You were there when Ms. Summers
dictated it..."

Spike is just trying to be clever...Warren glared at me...

"Have you got the money or no?...." Warren looked at me...
Do you have the original?...I replied...

Right here...Andrew patted the computer laptop under his arm...

These idiots actually brought their hard disk? I wondered...Lord, it couldn't
be this easy...

I smiled at Warren...

"We'll do it electronically...I don't carry $500,000 dollars around in cash if
I can help it, I'm sure you understand..."

Warren naturally demanded we do it via Andrew's computer...With immediate
verification of the transfer....

"Phone's in the kitchen...With the numbers of the special account I've created
next to it..." I smiled...

No DSL?...Warren groaned...All three eyed me with a rather contemptuous look...

Former Victorians prefer the slow band width hookups...The modern world moves
too fast as it is...I noted...

Why don't we all go in...Teapot'll be at boil by now...I noted to them...
***
Buffy greeted them in the kitchen...Grabbing Mears as he came in and holding a
stake to his throat...

"Balance of power's shifted, lads..." I smiled at them...

Andrew mumbled, staring...

Jonathan greeted Buffy nervously...Nice to see her again...Sorry to hear her
marriage hadn't worked out...

I relieved Andrew of his computer...

Yep...It's there...I noted to Buffy, after firing it up...

My signed original, please...she politely asked Warren as she held him
firmly...

He pulled a sheet out of his pocket...

God, they brought the signed original as well?...What a lot...I thought...
Buffy thinking the same I could see as she grinned back at me...

"Do you want the copies, too?..." Andrew asked helpfully...

Warren sighed...
***
Buffy agreed that I should accompany Andrew back to the boys' latest lair to
confirm their pleas that no additional copies existed...While she entertained
our two remaining guests in the bathroom with good ole Willie...

Who'd been quite content and happy all during this time...Soaking his face in
some healing herbal mix Buffy had passed to him...

And now even had some company to prevent boredom from setting in...

It's that sunny disposition of his that endears him to us all, I noted to Buffy
as Andrew and I headed out...

***
After checking their new van, the miserable apartment they were staying in,
complete I noted with wanted posters...The boys having tried their magics mind
control on some bank president's daughter with disastrous results shortly after
fleeing Sunnydale were now wanted for attempted kidnaping, Andrew
explained...I confirmed as best as possible that our friends had brought
everything with them and we returned...

Warren and Jonathan were grousing at each other...In my bedroom now... Willie
urging quiet...Buffy banged on the door to quiet the boys...And looked at me
rather coolly...

"All set?..." she asked...

Odd, I looked at the coffee table...A couple of plates and glasses...

Had she been feeding them?...

Willow was here for a few minutes...she replied...

"I moved our guests to the bedroom and they were wise enough to behave
themselves..."

Ah...

"Well?..." she looked at me...

You're all set...Andrew cut in, happily...

By now he'd given up all hope of financial remuneration and was just anxious to
get home for dinner...

"How can we be sure about this?..." Buffy stared at both of us...Then...

Very intensely at Andrew...

Ummn...Andrew got the point...

Heh...You don't have to worry about us, Slayer...he nervously noted...

No...Buffy smiled coldly at him...

I won't have to worry about you...

She looked at me...But there was something for me in that cold stare...

Buffy?...I stared back...What...?

Andrew, now getting rather desperate, called to his pals...

"Guys!?...We gave Spike and Buffy everything, right?..."

Buffy focused on the issue at hand, leaving me wondering...

"What do we do with them?..."

I shook my head...Nothing to worry about...

"They're wanted for trying to mind control some banker's little girl..." I
explained...

"Hey!..." Warren called from the bedroom...

"She was over 21...We aren't perverts, you know..."

Just murderous rapists and kidnappers...Buffy called back pleasantly...

"Well..." Warren fumed, calling back... "If we're going to start
name-calling..."

Willie and Jonathan nervously pleading with him to can it, man...

She ran to the bedroom, opened the door...There was an eloquent silence...

I assume she hit a whole new glare intensity...Whatever it was, it turned Mears
to the equivalent of petrified wood...

"That's better..." she noted, returning to me...

So...If they bother us again we simply call in the FBI...I concluded...

She nodded...But again gave me a cold stare...

***
Part XVI...

We ended our pleasant evening of catching up with our old friends...

Warren and his followers took their leave...With our suggestion that they leave Sunnydale asap...

Firmly voiced suggestion...

***
Willie got up to go, having preferred to leave after his former partners...

Mears having an unfortunate vindictive streak...Very unprofessional fellow, that...

Wait...Buffy told him...Coming over...

She handed him a check...$10,000...

"What we offered before...A little gift for helping us with your friends..." Buffy eyed him...

Willie blinked at her...

He'd made out probably better than he'd ever really expected in trying this...

After all, a savage beating was nothing new for Willie the Snitch...

I nodded at him pleasantly...

Buffy was right after all...Always best to keep a potentially useful fellow like Willie handy and
favorably disposed to you...

He paused at the door...Looking back at us...

Well...Ummn...
"I hope it works out for you guys..." he looked at us seriously...

But...Sighing...

For us?...

There always are consequences, ya know?...he smiled wanly...

And...Sympathetically...
***

After our dear Willie left Buffy was quiet...

I knew something was up...More than just nervousness over our nerds' little blackmail plot...

"You had something to tell me...Before our little tea party..." I looked at her...

She just stared at me...

Well...? I stared back...

Willow...she paused...Eyeing me...

"Willow had an interesting story to tell me..."

***

I stared at her...

It seems...You and Tara have been getting closer than anyone thought...she smiled at me...

You bastard...she told me coldly, glaring at me...

"Were you going to leave me?...For her?!..." her voice took on a deep and dark quality...Not the
shriek I expected...

"How could I "leave you" ?" I retorted...

What was there to leave?...You weren't even speaking to me...And when you finally did come to
see me...Right back to the good old days...Slipping in for a hour without so much as a word...

"Do you love her?..." she looked at me...And I saw her tremble...

Well...I smiled back coldly...Lets see...

She's warm and kind to me...Gentle...Treats me like a human being...Cares for me and always
did, I know now...

How could I possibly prefer that to my ice princess Slayer?...

Buffy looked at the floor and then up at me...Darkly...With the look that must have been the one
that nearly gave ole Mearsy a coronary...

But I am...Or was...William the Bloody...And have a look or two of my own in stock...

"I loved you Spike...I was just starting to think...There might be a chance for us, again..." she
paused...

Then you go and do this...

"What did Willow tell you?..."

She wanted to know what I knew...Buffy looked at me...

"Tara told her some...She'd guessed the rest..."

Well...It was for nothing anyway, you know...she smiled at me...

The same pleasant smile she'd been beaming at our Willie...

Tara loves Willow...When Willow confronted her, she caved...

"We'd already decided to call it quits..." I noted...

Big of you...she smiled coldly...But I caught a tear in her eye...

I tried to move to her, but she brushed me...and the tear...off...

Arms folded...She stared at me...
***

She smiled again sourly...Then chillingly...

"We may have settled one thing tonight..." she noted coolly...

But...You've got a whole new problem, William...

"See...If I go to the Council now...Unburden my soul of guilt...They won't kill me...Not the
Slayer..."

They need me...And protocol and tradition won't allow for retrying me in any case...

But you...They can still stake you...she tapped my chest...

"You may have chased off the demon with that spell but you're still a vamp...

Guilty of a human murder...

And they can still...stake...you...." she tapped me with her forefinger...

We sat, staring at each other...And then...At her suggestion...Went to bed...

She looking coldly at me as I held her...

"What are you thinking, Will?..." she grinned at me...

Trying to figure a way to kill me?...she cooed...

I stared at her...

And went into the bathroom...Which Willie had left in apple-pie order, perfect houseguest that he
was...

I covered my face with my hands as I stared at the mirror...Thank God the wives' tales about
vamps and reflections are just that...

Trembling as I sobbed quietly...

It was true...As I held her I was trying to think of a way to kill the woman I loved...The woman
I'd killed for...Human Will, I mean...

Not that I believed there was any chance for me with Tara...I believed Buffy when she told me
Tara had returned to Willow...

But now there was only one person in the world who could safely point a finger at me...

The person who'd used me without mercy since the day I told her I loved her...

I won't say I hated her...I still loved her...Whatever part of her I'd reached out to when poor Will
cried out from within me...

But...I wanted the pain to stop...And for it to stop, either she had to love me...Or one of us had to
die...And a kind of resentful anger was inclining me against suicide, if only to deny her the
satisfaction of winning whatever little game she'd been playing with me...

And I hadn't been seeing much in the way of love emanating from her these days...

***

A new and tense stage in our relationship commenced...

During the day...I fretted in the house, afraid she might be talking even as I sat there, a sitting
duck...

At night, she'd come, Patrol with me...And watch me...Afraid I'd blow town...

But afraid of losing me?...Or that once away, I'd be free to blackmail her from a distance...

She was still afraid of course that the others might find out...I had that much leverage...Although
the Council would have kept it quiet, I still might get word out to Dawn and the others before
facing justice...

Watching each other...

And each night we'd wind up together in bed...

A pair of inseparable lovebirds, that was us...
***

Much to my shock, one otherwise dull day Buffy chose to announce to the others that she had
fallen in love with me at last...

My faithful devotion had won its rightful reward...With wedding bells to follow...Someday...
Once we were all used to the idea...And time had confirmed my redemption beyond any lingering
doubt...

Tara was happy for me...

To Dawn's chagrin, Buffy basically moved in with me...Though ostensibly still at home and still
keeping a pretty careful eye on little sis...

Clearly she had no intention of letting me out of her sight...

And now we were tied together...If anything happened to her, there'd be little doubt in the minds
of Giles and the Council regarding the responsible party...

Unless I managed it very carefully...Or luck came my way...

Ain't love grand?....
***
Part XVII...

It was Patrol of course that offered me my best chance of ending this...One way, by Buffy’s demise...Or the other, by mine...

And it was on Patrol that my chance came...

***
She’d come over early after spending some not-so-quality time with Dawn, who was more frustrated with her than ever...I suspect Buffy was deliberately pushing for an explosion in that area, as anxious to settle things with her little artificial sis as I was with her...

Though perhaps not so finally...More along the lines of clearing the air...

Not that Dawn suspected anything...Just, being part of Buffy she had an uncanny ability to sense and mirror her moods...

Much to my surprise Buffy was so upset by their latest spat that she actually discussed the situation with me...Looking to me for support...Or at least an ear willing to listen...

We were to go over to the office in the early evening...But Buffy was delaying...Noting the sun was still up, things like that...

I could see she was anxious to delay our leaving, that she sincerely wanted to talk...
And it was soon clear to me she was simply using her little Dawn spat as a wedge...

But after a few minutes of advising her as to the Nibs’ care and maintenance, I’d had enough...

Cutting things off...Suggesting we get a move on...

She looked...Genuinely hurt...Disappointed...

Almost like my old Buffy again...In those odd moments when she’d drop her Slayer mask and show me the by turns loving, frightened, sympathetic young woman underneath...Before resurrection, hardship, and desperation had done things to her...

But the moment passed...And she, turning cold again, had a little surprise...

“My father finally called yesterday...”

I stared at her...

“Old dependable has reared his head at last?...” I smiled...

My messages about Mom never caught up to him until a few weeks ago...Or so he says....Buffy paused....

“He was...Busy...”

Busy...she eyed me..

But...Now...He’s coming...With his new wife...

Charming...I nodded...

Can she count to ten?...

Buffy smiled faintly back...

“I told him my news...That his daughter was a widow and had been about to be a bride again...”

He’s willing to take Dawny in...

That caught my attention for the first time...

“You’d let that...Fellow...Have Dawn?...”

I can’t take it anymore, Will...she sighed...

“I’m leaving...”

A taxi is coming for me in fifteen minutes...Then...I’m gone...

“And you were going to tell me this...When?...” I stared at her...

I wasn’t...she frowned at me...

I was just going to leave...

“There’s a letter for you..And one for Dawn...At the office...” she said...

She wasn’t jerking me around this time, I knew...She was serious...

I can’t stand it anymore...she told me...

It’s better for both of us if...

“Better for you, maybe...” I frowned...

Besides...You can’t leave Dawn...Physically...You said so yourself...You can’t break the hold unless...

I paused...She looked at me calmly...

I caught on...And rage filled me...

“You...You were going to leave...Knowing that...” I glared at her...Wanting to kill her or hold her close...Both at once...

So...she stared at me...You do believe me...

“After last time...I figured you’d assume I was...”

Who’s is it?...I smiled...

Did you try good old Xander this time?...

She hauled off and slapped me...I caught her second try but she tore away from me...

Staring at me in the center of the room, breathing hard...

A honk outside...Her cab, a bit early...

“You’re not going anywhere!...” I cried, grabbing her...

She looked at me...Studying my face as if it were a book as I held her...

“You’ve forgotten...My chip doesn’t protect you anymore, Buffy...” I told her...

Have I?...she smiled...

She didn’t struggle, just looked at me...

I hesitated...Then dragged her to a chair and set her down...The horn outside now blaring multiple times...

“If you think...” I paused... “That I’m letting you run to Giles and the Council...”

She stood up...Throwing me off her...

Trembling with rage herself now...

“You think I was going to the Council?!...”

That I’d turn in the father of my child?!...
I grinned maliciously at that...For a moment she blanched...

I didn’t have to remind her what she’d done to the father of her last child...

The cabbie, nervous already in this part of town, headed off...

I eyed her and she tried to move over to the phone...

I ripped it out of the wall...

“All right...” I struggled with my rage for a moment...

She glaring at me as I stood in front of her...

“If you weren’t going to the Council...Giles...Then?...”

I have to get away William...she told me...Her rage fading now...

“I can’t bear what I’m turning into...And what’s happened to us...”

Let me go...You don’t love me anymore...Just let me go...

I won’t cause you any problems...

We stood looking at each other...

Suddenly, someone banged at the door...

Xander...Calling to us...

Trouble...Big trouble...

Involving Dawn, of course...
***
Xander and Anya were on the AI payroll as part-timers...Earning a bit in a relatively safe sector to put away for any future kiddies’ college fund...

Still able to do some bit for Buf yet not risking the new formed Harris family in quite the old way...

Dawn, desperately lonely...And for once, knowing that worthless Hank was at last on his way, genuinely fearful that Buffy had reached her limit...Had insisted on joining them...

Xander...And his dear mate, now happily, if with much less fanfare than originally planned, married...Could see she was upset...And likely to get into trouble with Buffy “away” with me...Her new “fiancee”...So they agreed to let her join them...

A safe sector, they thought...Better with them than her trying something foolish...

But the forces of the Hellmouth’s underworld had been restive for sometime...

First the Slayer, now AI, Inc winning a stunning and unbroken series of victories over them...

They’d decided to escalate...In faint hopes of turning the situation around...Even if they were likewise placing themselves at risk...

The Angelis approach...One, even in my worst moments I’d always found ridiculous...

Mutually Assured Destruction...Surrender folks or we all go to kingdom come...The sort of thing usually reserved for semi-deranged humans...

There had been a few rumors kicking around...A few captured demons boasting of the usual plot to rule or destroy the world...But nothing substantial...And Buffy and I had been too preoccupied with personal matters to pay much heed...

But, as luck would have it...The latest demon leader, one Fryn...In the belief that he had found a safe place to begin his tests...A small factory in an area of town never troubled by the underworld in the past and still run as a normal, ordinary human business...Quite a successful little one, actually...His followers masquerading quite effectively within the plant as human workers going about their normal human business...Had chosen his test site along the quiet Patrol route the Harrises frequented...

And which they were conscientiously checking...A bit earlier than usual for Dawny’s sake...

Thus evading the usual precautions Fryn’s “people” had taken to conceal their activities...

Anya’d caught sight of several demons in human guise outside the plant...And with Xander’s reluctant approval, gone in...Ostensibly to apply as a worker, the majority of the clueless staff within being human...While he and Dawny waited to learn what was up...

They’d figured it would be something mild...Some demon pride earning a few bucks and scarfing down a few quick meals...

Until Anya spotted the energy vortex chamber in the center of the plant...Tapping the same kind of energy that had once powered her own pendant, if in rather more uncontrolled fashion...A little demon doomsday device...With, no doubt, an appropriate ultimatum to be delivered to us following a few successful tests...

Fryn’s “scientists” had in turn spotted her...And pursued her outside to where Xander and Dawn waited...
In the pursuit and ensuing fight, Anya’d won them enough time to give Xander a chance to slip away at her insistence...But she and Dawn had been captured...

He’d called the office and gotten an alert out...The staff there had told him where he was most likely to find us if we hadn’t already set out...
***

We arrived to find that the factory had suffered a mysterious gas leak...All the employees sent home...The humans at least...

A guard force of at least ten large, fanged, and horned types on patrol around the gate...

Not a major problem except for our desire to keep them quiet until we’d penetrated the building...

Buffy watching the anxious and naturally trigger-happy Xander as he fretted...

And watching me...

***
Word came from our AI staff people...Anya had managed to trigger her cell phone...Although she couldn’t speak directly to them, they’d gotten enough to know she and Dawn were apparently still alive...And in the heart of the factory...

We arranged for our incoming support staff to create a diversion...Drawing most of the guards...

Only ten I noted...Rather a pitiable force for “world conquest”...

Hard times for our underworlders these days...Buffy faintly smiling at that...

We took out the three who stayed behind...Just the right number for us...

Xander utilizing stun-gun and spear, dispatched his man as quickly and quietly as Buf and I by our own favorite methods...

Having forced the door we pushed on inside...The usual ambushes waiting for us at various dark corners...

Keeping together we had no real trouble but Fryn and his inner circle were alerted...

He had Dawn and Anya brought out from the chamber where his little “Dr. Strangelove” device lay...

And made the usual boasting threats...We’re doomed...Personally and as a species...The world must soon kneel at his feet in the name of all things demonic...
Rather too cute a little fellow for the thing to come off well actually...About five foot height, lumpy...Trying to strut like a demon Napoleon...

Buffy and I eyed each other...As long as Dawn and Anya were ok, it was a little hard to keep from chuckling...

First time in a while we’d genuinely shared a smile...

But Buffy was annoyed with the Nibs...And said so...To which Miss Nibs gave her usual “no one pays attention to me” retort...Laced with some real sorrow, this time...

Not able to believe that Buffy could really be considering handing her over to the care of good ole Hank and his bimbette...

Fryn was naturally let down that the Slayer seemed completely preoccupied with her little sis and utterly ignored his menacing presence and threat to world security...

I shrugged at him sympathetically...Indicated that I at least was paying him some attention...

“Slayer’s seen a lot of this, mate...” I kindly noted...

Exasperated, he decided to show he was in earnest, and began to activate his device...

No ridiculous “count-down” thing, I’ll give him that...Just set the controls and push the red button...

But even he kept most of his attention on the arguing Buffy and Dawn...

Giving Anya, the focus of Xander’s attention at least, her chance...She pulled away from her guard, her devoted hubby ran to her and pulled her back, stunning her guard...While I charged for the chamber door and startled Dawn’s guards into dividing their attention...

Buffy now charged but they were readier for her...Throwing her back...

I already had ripped open the door and reached the hapless Fryn...Who I must say was in the end a bit hesitant about his world destruction plan...

He’d been thinking more in terms of world blackmail he’d told me later...

Dawn screamed as Buffy went down...A bit off her stride, probably for reasons only I as yet was privileged to know...Three demons jumping her as Xander tried to get through to her...

I heard and turned, Fryn now unconscious...

All I had to do was what I’d done in LA with Angel...Shave a few seconds off my stride...
For a moment, the cluster of demons parted...I saw Buffy stare at me...Not accusingly, just a stare...

Then a gentle smile...And her lips parted...

I understand...Her look said...

Goodbye...With a kiss...

I raced out and to her, throwing Fryn’s staff in every direction...

She was a little the worse for wear and I hugged her desperately, she looking at me...Smiling with joy...

“You love me...you love me...” she whispered as she passed out...

I was a bit incoherent but Xander understood me to say that she was pregnant...We had to get her to the hospital at once...

Dawn came over, a bit in shock at the sudden news, and knelt by me as I laid Buffy out on the ground...Trying to think of what to do...Chaffing her wrists...

Anya came over and took charge, had me get Buffy set to rights, a blanket found, making Dawn comfortable...

Xander dialed an ambulance and we waited, Fryn and several other unconscious demons
in attendance...


Part XVIII...Conclusion...

We got Buffy over to the hospital...I arranged for the AI staff to clean up World Conqueror Fryn’s little operation and deal with his people...Fryn to be left alive, if mucho humiliated, following proper punishment...

One must, after all, have someone to negotiate with...And Fryn clearly was more interested in cash than conquest in the end...A little relatively generous treatment, supplemented with bribes, and he and his would be on our leash by week’s end...

I held Buffy’s hands in mine as we rode in the ambulance...Odd, for the first time it struck me...I had the right...I was the “fiancee”...Hell, I was the father...

I bowed my head in silent gratitude...How could I have let this nearly slip away from me?...

“William...” Buffy faintly mumbled...Reaching out...For me...
I’m here...I told her...

“I’m glad...” she smiled at me...

I’m so happy...

“Buffy....” Dawn stroked her, leaning over...

“Dawn...?” Buffy looked at her vaguely...

Thought you’d left...

Dawn stared at her...

Buffy grinned...And we knew it was gonna be all right...

“Just teasing...Sorry...”

If Will’s ok with it...I’d like you to stay with us...

“Sure, sure...” I agreed...Squeezing her hand...

We can always use a live-in babysitter...

Dawn laughed through her tears...Buffy smiled...But then...

“Our...baby?...”

The attendant thinks it will be fine...But they’ll check everything at the hospital...I told her...

Rest now...Mrs. Walthrop...I smiled and kissed her...

Dawn watching me, nodded...

Buffy went to sleep...

“So...” Dawn eyed me...

My new brother-in-law...

“I would have...Said something...Congrats...That kinda thing...Earlier...” she paused...

But...

I understand...I nodded back...
“It’s been a busy past few months...”

I miss Angel...Dawn noted...

“I know...He and Buffy had problems at times...And he was a pain in the butt to her a lot...But...”

I loved ole granddad, too, Miss Nibs...I smiled gently as I could back...

And I know it will take some doing to fill his bro-in-law boots...

Buffy woke with a start, startling us...Breathing heavily...

“Spike?...The baby?...”

It’s ok, it’s ok...We’re almost there now...Sleep, honey...I stroked her hair gently...

The attendant now at her head assured her she’d be fine...She relaxed...

“Joyce?...” she looked at me...Then Dawn...

I nodded, smiling...Joyce it would be...

“Your mother...?”

Amelia...I told her...

Dawn stared...

“Joyce Amelia...” Buffy smiled...
Unless...

“What...What was your father’s name?...” she whispered...

Well...See, Buf...My mum was a servant and...Well...

“I had a brother...Philip...” I finished hurriedly, remembering Dawn...

She should rest...the attendant cut in...

“William Philip...” Buffy nodded...And began to nod off...But...

“Dawn...?...I’m sorry...” she whispered...Looking a bit embarrassed...

Nibs...? I looked at her...

“It’s ok...” Dawn smiled at her...

Just as long as he does the right thing...Right away...Dawn grinned at me...

We reached the hospital and they brought her in...The rest of the gang gradually filing in as Dawn and I sat in the ER...

Anya was also brought in, just for a few stitches...Xander pacing nervously for his wife and his “sister”...

Tara and Willow took up the job of seeing to the rest of us...

An hour later, the doctor came out to tell us all was well...

I don’t remember what happened after that...Just vaguely that they led me in to see her for a mo and she gave the gentle and loving smile she had given me when she gave me the chance to be rid of her...

And I knew it really was all right...Whatever happened in the end...We...Were all right...

I suppose I instinctively assumed the Powers That Be had decided to square accounts, given my earlier unjust damnation, and Buffy’s world-saving and martyrdom...

But...They don’t work that way...

***

While I waited for my fiancee’s recovery, I decided to start taking the job a bit seriously...

I’d let things slide in the past few months, the Fryn incident made clear...And I intended to do right by Angel and my new family...

It was a bad time to be a demon in Sunnydale, I’m proud to say...At least the human-feeding variety...

***
As for ole Hank...He finally showed two days later, bimbette in tow...

Dawn was apologetic but really preferred to stay with her Walthrop relatives, thanks...

Hank bore up well under the blow, such as it was...Clearly grateful to avoid the responsibility
for someone almost as needy and dependent as himself...

He was equally relieved to learn that his recovering daughter...Car accident...And her fiancee.
planned a simple, quiet wedding...Justice of the peace quickie...With a little family party insisted on by the gang...

Hank Summers’ kind of wedding...

For his daughters, at least...

As for us we didn’t wish to offend Angel’s memory any more than we’d already had...

Nice as it might have been to see ole Hank blanche as we presented him with a bill for an extravaganza...

***

Buffy was released a week after her entry...The docs would have let her out sooner but were puzzled by some of her test results...

A little too good in some cases, considering her injuries...

Slayer physiology...

I arranged to pick her up and we went home to my place alone...Dawn getting in a little “quality time” with ole Hank before he vamoosed for another 10 or 20 years...

Quietly joyful...For the first time in so long...

Free...Of the fear and hate, the shame...And together at last...

“Will...” she told me as she held me...

“We’re alive again...Both of us...”

Yes...I agreed unhesitatingly...

She cried as she hugged me close...

We have a life to give back now...Our baby...

Maybe the soul of that other will come back to us...In this one...she looked at me...

I nodded...

“Tomorrow...Lets not wait...” she looked at me...

Lets get married tomorrow...

Just us...
***
As so we were...We slipped out without telling anyone late that next afternoon...

And just after sunset found a justice of the peace in a small town towards the state border...

The judge and his wife were sympathetic...They’d seen many a young couple in our predicament...Eyeing Buffy who was now starting to show...

At least we seemed happy...Many others...The judge’s wife sighed...

We signed our names and headed for home...

Mr. and Mrs. Walthrop...

Though Buffy was inclined towards using “Summers-Walthrop”...

If it didn’t threaten my Victorian manhood...

She could call herself “the Great Pumpkin” for all I cared, I told her...

Just as long as she got, “wife of William Soames Walthrop” in her cv somewhere...

We found a small motel and stayed there...Buf calling Dawn to let her know...The gang would be upset, but...It was what we needed...

We left a couple of hours before dawn...Plenty of time...And Buffy was feeling guilty about Dawn...Even ole Hank...Though I sincerely doubted...To myself...He would be crushed by his daughter’s elopement...

Well...We’d get back...Let the others give us a scolding and a little party...Then a honeymoon consisting of a week by the Pacific in a small, quiet, and well-shuttered cabin she’d located...

She’d lived near it so long...And wanted to see more of it...Under happier circumstances than the last time...

***
I got my first taste of dutiful husbandhood when a tire went flat...

She got out, grinning as I fussed with the tools...Though watching the sky carefully...

“I could hold the car up for you, if you’d like...” she suggested, grinning...But half serious...

I glared at her...A little sense, madame...Not to mention faith in my instinctive ability with tools...

Well...Maybe best to let you handle it...My wonderful husband...she batted her eyes at me...

I got the tire on and we drove on...Only forty minutes to Sunnydale...

As we drove, she buried her face in a bouquet of flowers I’d bought her...

I was now feeling a tad guilty...Hadn’t she wanted something a bit...More?...

This was just right...she smiled at me, squeezing my hand...

The gang is gonna kill us...I noted...

“We’ve been dead...No big deal...” she grinned...

My Buffy...Back from the dead...For real, now...At last...

She put a hand to her head....I stared at her...

“Buffy?...”

“I...I don’t feel well, Will...”

She gasped...

Oh...No...No!...she groaned and looked at me in terror...

I floored it...
***

We found ourselves trapped behind a large truck...No passing lane...No turn-off...

But little traffic on this road...

I was nervous about trying to pass and we remained behind the truck for a very slow fifteen minutes ...

Buffy trying to cover her groans...But more and more frightened...

A passing lane was coming up...For just a mile or so if I remembered correctly...

“Honk...And the road is yours...” a bumper sticker on the truck’s rear...

Unusually courtesy for a 2002 driver, I noted...

I honked...And honked...The truck stayed in place...I still hesitated to try a pass...
“Spike...” she groaned...

The sun...We’ve...Got to...Pull over...Get you...Shelter...

Trying to reach over and cover me better...

“We’re not losing this baby...” I told her...

She looked over at me and nodding, smiled...Touched her hand to mine...

Smiling back at her, I spun the wheel and floored it...Never saw the Jersey knees...On Buffy’s side...

The last thing I remember...The terrified look on her face, staring at me...

Unsure...?...

***
I heard a hideous sound on the windshield as I came to, moments later...

No need to look to know what it was...

Like a faint rain drizzling on the car...Buffy’s blood splattering and running...

I didn’t need to look to know she was dead...

I covered my face and prayed for the sun to take me...Passing out a moment or two later...

Somehow I was covered well enough after surviving the crash that I made it...

The little extra burning I took easily ignored what with the car fire and my other injuries...
***

Travers did his best for me...

Took all the money this time...Trying desperately to save his pet vampiral hero and sole usable Slayer...

The old gang claiming at least to believe in me, testified for me...

But it was no good...The Council was already up in arms over the first incident...And Giles, though sympathetic to me personally, was implacable...

Then someone found the note Buffy had written me...The one she wrote when she was going to leave...
A beautiful note, full of love for me in spite of her fear at that time that we had lost our chance ...Knowing the outcome, I rejoiced to hear it...But...

She’d put in enough about Angel and why she feared things were over for us to settle things as far as the Council was concerned...

Giles pointed out to the Council at my hearing that Buffy had clearly been expecting me to try something...

That her plans to leave might well have been out fear of me and that she might have stayed only for the baby’s sake...Which I insisted, sincerely, was not true...

But I couldn’t deny the rest...
***

Giles kindly kept much of the proceedings from the old gang...But it was only natural that they would find it impossible to face me...

Only Tara coming to see me by the end...

Telling me the news...The agency well run by Wesley...Poor Dru still the same...The Harrises quietly happy with the news of their first child on the way...

The Council finished its work and my defender brought me the decision...

There was only one last faint hope for me, Travers informed me when he brought the news...Verdict...Guilty...Sentence...Death...

If I made a full confession...The whole truth...Perhaps I’d be granted a reprieve for my services past and future...

After he left, Tara quietly urged me to do it...For my sake...

I stared at her...She knew?...Had she known about Angel all this time?...And still...Or...Did she think?...No, God, no...Don’t let her think that...

“No...No...You can’t think that...I loved her...I swear!...” I cried...

“I know that...” Tara said gently...

And I guessed about Angel from the beginning...

I stared at her...She sighed...

“I’m to blame for this too, Will...We had no right to do this to Buffy...And you...Put so much on you two and forget that in the end, you were both just human beings, like the rest of us...”

We wanted you to be our perfect and noble heroes and never gave you room to be anything but that...

“I know that whatever you and she did to Angel...Neither of you wanted to hurt him...And none of us gave you any help in finding another way...”

At her promise that Dawn would never see or hear it, I gave her my confession...

Hoping for a kind of absolution, I suppose...

But not if it would keep my soul from Buffy’s...

Tara took it all down, keeping a copy in case we needed it and turned the original over to the Council’s appeal board...

And continued to stay near and to see me...Never showing by word or action any shame or disgust...Just compassion...And sorrow...

***

The appeals board reviewed my confession and let the sentence stand...

I hadn’t expected them to revoke my penalty, really...But there was just one point I did hope to win on...That they might reword the charges...And punish me for the right crime, not the wrong one...

“I can’t die...For killing her...Not for Buffy...Please...Don’t say it’s for Buffy...” I pleaded...To Travers and Giles, who brought me the word...And to Tara....

“No, no, honey...She knows you didn’t...” Tara gently patted my hand...

“This is not for Buffy...”

For killing Angel...she looked quietly at Giles who nodded...

Bless her...My second Joyce...

“Then...It’s alright then...It’s...It’s just squaring things out...You know?...” I told her...

She nodded...

“It’s like...” I thought a moment... “Like your email, you know...You may miss a note the first time you check...But it always lets you know...Gives you a second chance to get it right...”
Hmmn...Tara thought...Gotta ask him what he uses before he fries...Mine doesn’t do that...

***

I’m leaving the copy, this note, the true story of what happened...And why...With Tara...

She’ll see the others get it...When...If...They’re ever able to understand...A little...

They’re coming for me now...

If anyone reads this...And can find it in their heart...Send up a prayer for my Buffy and me...

And make it...That we’re together...

Wherever that is...

***

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