The Truth Is Out There by JackOfSpikes
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The Truth is Out There

“What the hell are you doing here, Spike,” Riley snarled as the vampire entered the Magic Box. His anger at Buffy for not allowing him to look after her needed an outlet and the vampire fit the bill perfectly.

Rolling his eyes in contempt while sneering in derision, the blond moved further into the shop, ignoring the soldier’s question and focusing his attention on the individual he was actually there to see. “Came across a group of Cerillian Sluggoth Demons last night, Watcher. They seemed to be right protective over this book,” he stated calmly, handing the book to the intrigued Brit.

“What is it?” Willow asked in interest from her seat at the table.

Spike shook his head and shrugged slightly before contributing the little he did know. “Only looked at the title on the front page. ’The Immortal Slayer: She That Is Chosen After Death.’ Figured you lot would want it.”

Riley snorted in derision as he looked over Giles’ shoulder. “That could say anything. It’s not even in English. Why should we believe anything you say?” His voice dripped with condescension.

“What’s the matter, Cardboard? Can’t you read ancient Sumerian? Bloody lucky for the Slayer that the Watcher can, then. Innit?” Spike smirked. Stupid bloody pillock made it so easy to mock him.

“Thank you, Spike. This looks fascinating.” Giles automatically, if somewhat distractedly, expressed his gratitude. Inherent good manners forming his words as his mind focused on the book in his hands.

Spike was not the only one that looked at the Watcher in shock. It was a rare thing for any of them to actually thank the vampire for anything he did; rare as in ‘never’. Not that he deserved their thanks, or that he’d ever done anything to warrant it was the primary thought of the majority of the group. It’s not like they did anything wrong in their treatment of him…was it?

Concerned with the thoughtful expressions of the group, Riley was quick to speak up. “You can leave now, Spike. We’ll take it from here.”

Ignoring the blustering commando, Spike stared at the training room door and cocked his head to the side. He kept his gaze firmly focused on the door as he spoke. “Slayer? What’s going on in the back?”

“Huh?” Buffy asked inelegantly before following his gaze to the entrance of the room in question.

A white glow seemed to illuminate the edges of the door; seeping through the cracks.

Buffy let her senses out. She felt no threat emanating from the room. Instead, she felt a benign presence that called to her inner slayer. Her cautious step forward was stalled as the front door to the Magic Box opened and a voice called for her to wait.

Looking over her shoulder she saw Cordelia Chase standing by the open door, signalling someone outside the shop to enter. Angel darted in, quickly followed by Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and Joyce and Dawn Summers.

Buffy looked from one face to the next in total confusion. What in the hell was going on here?

“Apparently some stupid demons brought in a Book of Power that’s not meant to be in this dimension yet, and they’ve screwed with the time line, or some such crap. Some Goddess of Warriors has to fix the problem. But she can’t come here directly, something about her actual presence allowing the First Evil access. So, long story short, she needs a pure conduit to actually talk to us.” Cordelia explained in a bored voice. She couldn’t believe she’d been dragged back to this crappy little town. Could her life suck more?

Giles removed his glasses, cleaning them as he asked his question. “What exactly is it that Buffy is meant to do?”

Cordelia snickered in amusement. “Did you miss the pure bit? Happiness Girl is so not the conduit.”

“We are NOT using Dawn,” Buffy snarled; her anger at the ex-cheerleader only slightly more intense than her embarrassment at the brunette’s words. Angel and Riley in the same room was bad enough. Any mention of happiness-giving was in all likelihood enough to cause the ex-commando to implode. The only bright spot she was relieved to note was Spike’s apparent lack of snark. She was really glad that, for once, she didn’t have to deal with him, too.

“It’s not her either. It’s some pure white Wiccan. Tasha? Tamara?” Cordelia shrugged an elegant shoulder. “Whatever. Starts with T, ends with A.”

All Sunnydale eyes turned towards the shy dishwater blonde.

“I believe the name you are looking for, Cordelia, is Tara,” Giles remarked gently; speculatively eyeing the silent witch.

Unwilling to stay in Sunnydale any longer than necessary, Cordelia broke the silence that had overtaken the group. “Okay! So, what’s-her-name has to go into the back room and sorta commune with the Goddess, then we can go in, find out what all the panic is about, fix it, then return to our regularly scheduled lives.” With a dismissive snort at Xander, she couldn’t help but add, “Well, those of us that have one, anyway.” It was amazing how Sunnydale managed to bring out the worst in her.

“Ah yes, you get to work for dead boy, be still my jealous heart,” Xander mocked sarcastically.

He almost lost his poise completely when Spike spluttered with surprised but genuine laughter at the boy’s comment. His pride kicked into overdrive at the monumental first. He, Xander Harris, had told a joke that made the bleached one laugh in actual amusement…and no actual blood had been shed in the process. Whoda thunk it?

Angel’s snarled response for Spike to shut up instantly raised Xander’s hackles. He may hate the blonde menace, but it was with nowhere near the intensity that he felt for the brunette. “At least he’s got a sense of humour, brood boy, what have you got other than one facial expression and an over-excessive reliance on gel?”

This time there was no mistaking the gales of laughter that came from the weeping vampire who was almost rolling on the floor in mirth, nor the fact that Dawn and Giles joined him. Joyce was a little more circumspect in her tittering.

Spike wiped the tears from his face and spoke to Xander with surprising sincerity. “Whelp, my admiration for you just keeps bloody growing!”

“Yeah, yeah! Enough already, people, can we just get on with it. The quicker I’m out of this hell hole, the happier I’ll be,” Cordelia snapped tiredly. She hated the fact that five minutes back in the company of the Scoobies and she was channelling her younger, bitchier self.

Tara smiled shyly at Willow, rose from her seat at the table, and moved serenely towards the door to the training room. She could hear the Goddess beckoning her.

The rest of the room watched her go. Something about her keeping them all quiet. Something regal…pure…powerful.

The minutes ticked by. They waited.

When the silent call came, it was clear to all of them. As one they faced the door and headed in that direction.

The training room had been transformed. Sterile walls of white surrounded them. The walls met seamlessly with the floor and ceiling giving the illusion that the rectangular room was now circular. Seats dotted around the room, no two adjacent.

Tara stood in the centre, garbed in a flowing white robe that matched the room exactly, making it seem as if her head and hands were not connected to anything - a bizarre version of Alice’s Cheshire Cat. A power radiated from her, one that demanded respect and reverence.

With silent gestures, the white Wiccan directed them to their places around the room.

Pointing to the book that Giles still held, Tara started to speak. “This is the reason I call you here.” Her voice echoed musically through the room; a symphonic harmony of sounds with melodic vibrations that sang to them all.

“It is good that you have it already. It saves much time.” She nodded her head at Spike, clearly indicating that he was the one to thank.

“Each one of you is here to help my beloved Chosen One. Some of what I need to say will be heard first only by her, but each one of you has a part to play. The entire balance of the universe relies on this meeting. On all of you.

Not surprisingly both Angel and Riley had the same thought – ‘Then what the hell is Spike doing here?’

Tara looked first at Angel and then at Riley. “There is a reason.”

Turning to face Buffy, Tara directed her next comments to her. “You fear to love truly, dear one. You fear the pain of rejection, of loss. You hide the truth away from yourself and your loved ones. You deny your feelings, your nature, and your fears from all. You love your friends and family but do not trust them with your innermost desires. You fear that they will judge you and find you wanting. You fear their disappointment, disapproval, rejection. You settle for that which you do not desire, because you believe it pleases them. There is a flaw in your thinking, childe. If they truly loved you; they would accept all of you.”

Buffy cringed. Her eyes looked everywhere but into the eyes of her companions. She couldn’t bear to see the disappointment in their eyes and she didn’t doubt for a moment that it would be there.

“You still doubt your worth? Think hard, Childe. Do you know who you are? Do you know who they are? Do you know the depths of their thoughts? Or understand exactly who it is that you are allowing the right to dictate the life you are leading? Let us see what the others think, shall we?” With a wave of her hand Tara whispered a truth into the Slayer’s mind, ‘they will only hear their own response, will only speak the absolute truth, and will not remember that they have spoken once they are done.’

Buffy wasn’t at all convinced that she was ready for the absolute truth from every other person in the room. It kinda put a damper on the whole living in Egypt thing she had goin’ on.

“Who is Buffy Summers and what does she deserve?” The Conduit to the Higher Power spoke loudly, her voice echoing forcefully. Pointing to Dawn, she urged the girl to speak.

“She’s the sister of my mind and the mother of my body. She is my family; my guardian; my protector; my friend; my hero. She’s the one who drives me nuts and who I annoy with pleasure. I admire her and I’m jealous of her. I want to be her, or as much like her as possible. She’s Buffy, and I love her. She deserves a love that loves her with the depth that she loves.” Dawn lapsed into silence, not knowing that she had spoken at all.

“What did she mean by ‘sister of her mind and the mother of her body’?” Buffy asked huskily, blinking back tears from her sister’s unexpected and moving commentary.

“The monks made her from you, technically that makes you her mother.” The Wiccan answered with a grin.

Buffy snorted before sarcastically asking who the father was.

Tara smiled secretively. “He is here. He knows you better than anyone.” Refusing to say more, the Conduit pointed to Joyce.

“Buffy is my daughter; my greatest achievement. She is temperamental, stubborn, and not always truthful. She avoids or denies anything that she doesn’t want to know or is afraid to know. She is kind, loving, and fiercely protective. She is beautiful and antagonistic. She has my pride and my heart. I love her with a ferocity that sometimes scares me, and she deserves to be loved for every idiosyncrasy, completely and entirely, good and bad. She has earned every blessing that this world can give her.”

Tara waited for Buffy to compose herself before turning her finger to Giles.

“Buffy is not only my slayer, she is the daughter of my heart. Her dedication to duty holds my pride and my fear. Each night that she patrols, I fear for her safety. Never knowing if this will be the night I will lose her. My heart aches with the thought. I fear for her heart. Her desperate need to remain in a black and white world will surely break her heart one day. Or her mind. Her conviction that Angel and Angelus are two separate individuals is cemented because she dare not believe anything else. Anything else would open the door on the possibility that Angel is not the perfect love that she thinks him to be. She could not face knowing that her hero was not all that she believes. Not a hero at all. She deserves so much better than she has now.”

Buffy studiously ignored the content of her watcher’s speech as she blandly commented, “Sheesh, even his speeches sound like a journal entry.”

Tara lifted a delicate eyebrow but refrained from commenting, instead she calmly moved her finger to Willow.

“Buffy is so beautiful and peppy and confident that I just feel good being with her. She’s my best friend and I want to help her. Buffy deserves the life she wants. If I could just work out how to do it, I could take over for her. Working with Giles. And then Buffy could have that normal life with the white picket fence and normal husband and 2.2 kids. I could make things so much better, and Buffy wouldn’t ever have to worry about it again.”

Buffy stared at the girl in shock. She could hear the red head’s desire to fix everything; her obvious lust for power. Flashbacks of Willow’s ‘Thy Will Be Done’ spell played through her mind. The blond was suddenly terrified that one day Willow might be successful. “Okay, there’s a disaster just waiting to happen! I’m definitely gonna have to talk to Giles about that one.”

Tara nodded sagely in agreement before turning her attention to Xander and pointing her finger.

“Buffster is like the perfect woman. She’s everything I want and one day she’s gonna realise that I’m as Joe Normal as a Joe Normal gets. Then we’ll be able to get away from this freaky life and live in normal bliss enjoying all the things I’ve fantasised about. She deserves it.”

Buffy opened and closed her mouth several times, doing an artful impression of a landed fish. She so wanted to not hear what she had just heard. She turned pleading eyes to the white witch, silently begging her to refute what had been said.

Tara tilted her head and smiled sadly at the girl whose every illusion was slowly being shattered, with a subtle shift Anya was directed to speak.

“Buffy is the Slayer. She makes it safe for me to make money and have sex. She should keep doing that.”

Buffy chuckled in amusement, for once thankful for the ex-vengeance demon’s forthright honesty. At least she had never been in doubt of her standing with Anya.

Wesley was the next to speak.

“Buffy Summers is the girl that taught me what a slayer should be. She challenges authority, never blindly following unexplained rules. She questions declarations, demanding proof and reason. She’s taught me what bravery actually means. She is an inspiration and a mentor, a teacher and a guide. She expects the best and helps to bring it out in all that join her. She is also my deepest regret. I never told her what her example has meant to me, or how it has helped me to change. Buffy Summers opened my eyes…and my mind. She deserves to be surrounded by individuals as brave and as loyal as she is.”

Buffy blushed, for some reason the praise of the watcher she’d dismissed gave her more pleasure than she could fathom.

Tara turned her finger to Cordelia.

“Buffy Summers is the only person in this world that I think of as any real competition. It’s the reason we don’t get on. Oh! That and the fact that she got Angel and I didn’t. If I got him now, it would always be in the back of my mind that she could take him away from me. It’s not that I think she doesn’t deserve to be happy; it’s that I’m afraid that her happiness will be at my expense. Not pretty, but there it is!”

Buffy bit her lip to stop from laughing out loud. Cordelia Chase jealous of her! How ‘bout them apples!

“You are so much more than they see; than you see.” Tara pointed to the book in Giles’ hands. “The existence of that book in this plane caused your gift to come to you early. You are the Immortal Slayer. You cannot die. The book will tell you all that you are now. We can not change the events that have happened. But we can ease the burden you carry. We can elevate your true soulmate to your level of being. But first, my dear, you need to recognise him.”

Turning to the three individuals that had not yet spoken Tara pointed first to Angel, asking him a question; “Either Buffy or Dawn are to die. Who would you save and why?”

“Buffy. She’s the Slayer. The world needs her.”

Tara pointed to Riley, repeating the question.

“Buffy. I love her.”

Finally lifting a hand to Spike, Tara asked him for his answer.

“Dawn. Buffy would be devastated if anything happened to little sis. I couldn’t live seein’ her in that much pain.”

Returning her gaze to Buffy, Tara continued. “One of these three is your true soulmate. Which one knows you best? Which one knows you well enough to actually do what you think is best for you rather than what they think is best for you.” Not waiting for Buffy’s response Tara pointed to Riley, allowing him opportunity to answer the question almost everyone else had already faced.

“Buffy is a good girl. The type of girl I’d be proud to have my mom meet. I have the whole thing planned out. She’ll make the perfect wife. Beautiful, so I’d be proud to show her off. But she’s so innocent. She’s blindly following all the claptrap her watcher has fed her, so that she thinks she’s invaluable. It will take time to undo all the damage that her circle of so-called friends has done. I’ll make her see that the army can do a better job and that she can retire with a clear conscience. She deserves to be taken away from all this mystical trash to a place where she can be cherished and looked after- a stay at home mom living the perfect, normal life that only I can give her.”

As Buffy balked in horror at Riley’s words, Tara pointed to Angel.

“Buffy is my reward. When I finally Shanshu and become human, Buffy will be my gift from the Power’s That Be. She’s perfect; so innocent, so beautiful. My little Buffy. She needs guidance, and luckily she knows to listen to me. I’ll be able to mould her, shape her into the woman I know she can be. I’ll teach her everything. I’ll show her books and introduce her to music. Things that will uplift her. I’ll dress her in clothes more becoming for her station as the wife of The Champion of the Powers. She deserves all the things she’s ever wanted. She deserves me.”

Buffy’s eyebrows almost disappeared into her hairline. This had to be some sort of joke; a cruel, mean, vicious joke, but a joke none the less. She shook her head in disbelief. Could this get any worse? ‘Oh wonderful!’ she mused, rolling her eyes. Tara was pointing to Spike.

“Buffy Summers is the most aggravatingly beautiful, argumentative, loyal, hormonal, and loving bitch to walk the face of the earth. She is stubborn and faithful and irritating and amusing. She drives me bug shaggin’ crazy, and the world would be a poorer place without her in it. She’s a glorious, golden goddess with more passion and fire than anyone I’ve ever met. She’s the sunshine in the darkest night. I would willingly dust myself if it meant she’d be safe for even one instant longer than she is destined to be. She’s got bloody appalling taste in men and couldn’t see the truth about them even if you hit her over the head with it. Repeatedly. The Girl is gentle and so vulnerable to the damage that a broken heart can do. Her ability to love is all encompassing and she deserves to be loved with the same intensity. The Slayer is a fierce warrior, whose skill and prowess are unmatched. Her deadly dance is poetry in motion. She is unlike any before her. I love her with every atom of my being. She’s the One. She makes this monster wish he was a man.”

“Would you regain your soul for her?”

“I’d willingly fight for it.”

Buffy stared at the blonde vampire in open-mouthed shock. Turning tear-filled eyes to the blond witch, Buffy gave her opinion. “The really sad thing is that the two guys that love me actually pale in comparison to the one that just thinks he does.”

“Thinks he does?” Tara asked in amusement.

“Well, yeah. Soulless vampire. It’s not possible for him to love,” Buffy announced with absolute certainty.

Tara lifted an eyebrow before turning to Angel. “Can Spike love?” she asked.

“Of course he can. Stupid, disrespecting little bastard. I tried to beat it out of him, but he wouldn’t learn.”

“Why did you never tell Buffy this?” Tara pushed.

“What does it matter? It’s just Spike. Why would Buffy care?” Angel snorted derisively at the very idea that Spike’s ability to love might be considered significant. “It would have just confused her anyway and it might have made her question why my demon couldn’t love her.”

“Why couldn’t your demon love her?” the Wiccan persisted.

“As far as the demon is concerned, Buffy is just a poor substitute for Darla.”

“So basically, the only part of Angel that loved Buffy was the soul?”

“Well…yeah,” Angel replied, not really seeing the problem.

Buffy felt her anger rising, and it wasn’t just the slayer side that was pissed. “Can I ask some questions?”

“Of course. This is your future we are dealing with.” Tara smiled in compliance.

“Angel, what would you think if I told you that you weren’t my eternal soulmate, but Spike was?” Buffy asked with an evil little grin. She crossed her arms and waited for his reply.

“Wouldn’t happen. If it did, I’d torture Spike till he told me how to break the spell.”

Turning a questioning glance to the Wiccan, Buffy was relieved to hear her response.

“As the Immortal Slayer, you are impervious to magic.”

“Let’s share that with the group before anything else, ‘kay?” Buffy smiled innocently.

Tara chortled with amusement.

Whirling to the ex-commando, Buffy directed her next question at him. “What would you do if I told you I was choosing Spike over you, Riley?”

“I’d wait till you weren’t around to protect him, then I’d stake him with a plastic stake, watch him writhe in agony, and then dust him for good.”

Tara faced panic stricken eyes as she answered the unasked question. “If you chose him as your mate, Spike would become as immortal as you. His chip would no longer work, and Riley’s stakes would have about as much effect as yours did while Spike wore the Gem of Amara.”

Buffy gave a relieved sigh before facing the blond vampire they had been discussing. “How ‘bout you, Spike? How would you react to me telling you that I was choosing you as my eternal mate?”

“I’d think it was a bloody good joke to play on Peaches, but I doubt I’d believe it,” he answered flatly.

“Is there anything I could say that would convince you immediately?” Buffy asked, frustrated at the thought of wasting any more time than she had to.

“Outside o’ claimin’ me on the spot or snoggin’ me senseless, I can’t think of a thing.”

“Snogging’s kissing, right? Not something like totally gross?” Buffy clarified suspiciously.

Buffy fully expected to hear him chuckle in amusement before confirming her translation. The robot-like responses from the group were made all the more clear by Spike’s example. The usually animated vampire’s personality was greatly missed.

Buffy and Tara spoke of all the options before the Wicca released the others for the final discourse. Buffy had the feeling that things were about to get very loud.

As soon as the group was free, the Conduit addressed them. “All has been decided.”

A plethora of voices asked or demanded explanation and Buffy stepped forward to answer them.

“I had to make a decision, which I’ll get back to,” the Slayer stated, her clipped tone demanding that they listen to her without interruption. “Each and every one of you gave me truthful opinions and I need to address those first. Tara is gonna give you back your memory of what you each said, but only your individual comment. You don’t get to hear everyone else’s.”

Stepping first to her sister, Buffy waited for the young girl’s memory to return to her. “I love you too, Dawnie. We’ll discuss the rest privately, okay?”

Dawn cautiously nodded her agreement, her confused mind agog with questions.

“I have a feeling that you’re gonna be happy with my final decision,” Buffy said to her mother. Reaching to hug her, Buffy whispered a hint in her ear. “You always were such a good judge of character.”

To Giles, Buffy grinned. “That whole black and white thing? So not an issue!” She loved it when she could startle her watcher into silence.

Moving to Anya, Buffy chose the next person she would address. “Thank you, Anya; for just being you. Oh! And that suggestion you made…I will!”

Anya smiled happily, even if she was enormously puzzled. It was rare that she was praised.

“Wes, I can’t even begin to tell you how much your words meant to me, but, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”

Wesley blushed in pleasure.

“Cordy, gotta say…me too! Oh! About that little concern you had? I think I can safely say that after today; you’ll never have to worry about that again.”

Cordelia stared at the perky blond, embarrassed by her own honesty and more than a little curious about the cryptic commentary.

Knowing that Riley would only remember his words about her, Buffy turned next to the ex-commando. “I’m sorry, Riley. I can’t live the life you want for me. I can’t be the girl you want me to be. I don’t want to be ‘that girl’.”

She knew that he wouldn’t understand, that she was breaking his heart, but she couldn’t feel too much compassion for him – not after what he’d said he would do to Spike. She really should have expected Xander’s response though.

“Buffy! What are you doing? Are you crazy? Riley’s the best thing that ever happened to you!” Xander was furious, he knew that Buffy didn’t love the ex-soldier, but at least while she was with him the carpenter didn’t have to worry about her falling in love with anyone else!

Buffy glared at the blustering Scooby. She watched with narrowed eyes as his own words came back to him. She saw the horror in his expression as the realisation of what exactly he had said washed over him. “Are we clear on how much I will NOT be listening to you in the future, Xander?” she snarled furiously.

Riley alternated his gaze between Buffy and her clearly mortified best friend. “What the hell is going on here? I don’t understand. Why are you breaking up with me, Buffy? I heard Tara. You’re the one that won’t love. I can help you. Let me help you,” he pleaded desperately.

She returned her sad gaze to her ex-boyfriend. “That’s the problem, Riley. You don’t understand. I’m sorry.”

Her tone brooked no argument and the defeated ex-soldier left the room in silence and without a backward glance.

Buffy just watched him go.

With the tinkle of the front door, Buffy returned her attention to the matters at hand. “Okay, before any of you get on my case about the fact that I should have done that privately, I know. I didn’t have a choice though, stuff is about to get complicated and I couldn’t risk adding Riley into the mix. That would be so NOT with the productive!”

“Why are you so angry with Xander, Buffy?” Anya asked innocently.

“You get to ask him that, Anya. But, later…okay?” Something about way the Slayer was asking her had the capitalist ex-demon agreeing without further questions.

“To get to the point of this meeting, the introduction of the book to this dimension turned me Immortal. There is nothing we can do about it. We can’t change the past. And it does come with benefits, no longer having an expiration date being a big one. The Powers weren’t expecting it to happen yet and they don’t want me to think of this as some sort of punishment so they have offered to help make it possible for my soulmate to be elevated to my level now rather than later.”

“Buffy, you don’t have to accept this. There are…ways to get around it,” Angel stated firmly. He didn’t believe for a minute that she was ready to leave her family and friends and he had responsibilities in L.A. that he just couldn’t walk away from. The time wasn’t right for them. It didn’t cross his mind for even an instant that he wasn’t the soulmate in question.

“Not in this case,” the Conduit replied with equal intensity. “You have already used the option of time reversal once, Angelus. You sited this Chosen one as your reason and then turned your back on her, supporting the rogue Slayer in her place. You chose your path with your decision. What you may not realise is that the easier the path, the longer the journey.”

“HEY! That’s not fair. I love Buffy. Everything I’ve done has been for her. Faith had nothing to do with Buffy. I was helping Faith and Buffy wasn’t needed,” Angel blustered indignantly.

Tilting her head to the side in curiosity, the Conduit offered a rhetorical question and remark. “Is this how you justify your actions? Interesting. It is no wonder that your future is so uncertain.”

“Um, can we back up a bit to the part where Angel already had time turned back?” Buffy requested archly, crossing her arms and tapping her foot as she waited with ill-concealed impatience.

“It’s not important, Buffy,” the brunette vampire quickly assured her.

“You will find the way to lift the veil within the book, Chosen.”

Angel whirled on the interfering Conduit. “NO! I forbid it. It will only hurt her.”

Power pulsated from the blond Wiccan as she drew herself up, her eyes flashed with fire. “You dare make demands of me! You treat the Immortal Slayer, Chosen of the Gods, like a child without sense or intellect. You hold yourself higher than She, the mighty warrior that is head of the Army of Light. Your years of experience mean nothing if you have not learned a thing; you are so much less than you believe yourself to be, and it pleases us beyond measure that this has not escaped the notice of our Childe.”

Turning To Buffy, the Conduit made her demand. “Tell them your choice, your Champion, your equal, your mate.”

Buffy stood tall and proud as she gave them her decision. “Spike. I choose Spike.”

Wide-eyed stares of disbelief shifted between the Slayer and her chosen champion who in turn stared at the slayer in absolute shock before bursting into gales of hysterical laughter.

“Oi! Good one, Slayer!”

Relieved tittering encompassed the group. Buffy rolled her eyes before stomping over to the loudly laughing blonde, muttering the whole way. “Stupid Vampire! This was so much easier when I could just beat him into submission.”

Making her stance, Buffy glared at the still laughing blond. Crossing her arms and tapping her foot she decided to wait him out.

Spike’s laughter tapered off as he realised that she wasn’t laughing with him; her continuing silence telling him that maybe his initial interpretation may not have been completely accurate. His mind raced to reach another conclusion.

“Did you do another bloody spell, Red?”

Willow ‘eeped’ at the accusation. She had been desperately trying to remain in the background. It hadn’t escaped her notice that Buffy hadn’t attempted to speak to her directly and she was very much afraid of what ‘truthful opinion’ she had given her friend. “Nope! Not me! No wonky spells for this girl.”

“The Slayer can no longer be affected by magic,” the Conduit happily informed the group.

Spike’s look of complete confusion when he asked, ‘Then what’s wrong with her?’ was the only thing that saved his nose.

Buffy waited for the Conduit to return his memory of his speech, then threatened, “You believe me now, or do I make that public knowledge, bleach boy.”

Spike’s mouth snapped shut. He didn’t believe her, but he wasn’t taking any chances of the rest of the group finding out what a poncy bugger he’d been; it was bad enough that she knew it.

“Buffy, the joke’s over. Nobody is buying this. Can we please get back to business?” Angel said in exasperation.

“I don’t think it’s a joke,” Joyce pleasantly informed the elder vampire. As far as she was concerned; if Buffy was destined to have an eternal mate, then far better it be the vampire that she actually liked.

“I’m with mom,” Dawn happily chirped. Spike in the family was a great idea.

Tara faced the three visitors from Los Angeles. “Your tasks here are complete, we thank you.”

“What!? NO! I’m not leaving till this mess is straightened out…even if I have to dust Spike to do it,” Angel snarled in fury.

“Don’t make me put you down, Angel!” the Slayer said coldly, her body poised to fight.

“Listen to yourself, Buffy,” he pleaded. “You’re threatening me. You’re not yourself. You know you wouldn’t threaten me unless you were under some undue influence. There is no way that you would choose Spike over me.”

“Um, Angel? I can pretty much guarantee that most of the people in this room would choose Spike over you,” Willow felt it important to let the fish killer in on a little home truth.

Angel was stunned to see the majority of head’s nodding in agreement. But not more so than the silent blond that was the present subject of the discussion.

“But it’s Spike,” he whined in disbelief, as if that alone should be answer enough. Clearly, by the look of expectation on the faces that surrounded him…it wasn’t.

“Enough!” the Slayer snarled. Grabbing the hair of the vampire beside her, she wrenched his neck to the side and struck. Easily breaking skin, she swallowed his borrowed blood and growled her possession. “MINE!”

With his whispered acceptance, Spike felt the instantaneous changes take place. He felt his heart beat as the borrowed blood flowed freely though his veins. He felt William’s soul return and bond with his demon. He felt his strength grow as power infused his body. He felt his connection to his vampiric family snap and be replaced by an unbreakable bond to the slayer he loved. He felt her belief in him and her conviction that he was the one. A look of awe graced his features as a feeling of peace suffused his heart.

Angel’s roar of disbelief and fury snapped Spike back to the room. With languid fluidity he turned to face the insignificant beast that would never have power over him again. “There a problem, Peaches?”

“You, William,” the brunette spat with distain. “You’re pathetic. Always trying to take what’s mine and once again, just like Dru, she’ll never love you. You’ll always be second choice.”

Dawn snorted indelicately. “The only one that actually chose you was Drusilla, doofus. Does the fact that she’s insane not register with you at all?”

“Do we need to point out that Buffy actually claimed Spike…not the other way around? Technically, it would be Buffy that was doing the, er, taking.” Giles smirked in amusement. He may not be quite sure exactly what was happening but whatever it was, it was worth it to see Angel being severely mocked. He really hated that sanctimonious bastard.

The Conduit spoke to the question Giles had not asked. “All your questions have answers within the pages of the book, Watcher.”

“Angel, perhaps it would be best if we left,” Wesley urged his furious friend. He was terribly afraid that the vampire would do something foolish.

“You should listen to your friend, Cursed One,” the Conduit concurred.

Angel rolled his eyes in disbelief. “Oh, right! I’m gonna listen to you. You’re probably responsible for this whole mess in the first place!”

“Do you not realise that I could vanquish you with a mere thought?” she asked with amused curiosity.

“Well, then, you best be prepared to do just that, because I’m not going anywhere while Buffy is bonded to that bastard,” Angel smugly replied, positive that he was calling her bluff. He was The Champion for the Powers That Be. She wouldn’t dare!

Buffy smiled into blue eyes filled with love as a plume of dust settled onto the training room floor. She didn’t love him yet, but, if the butterflies were any indication, she didn’t think it would take very long at all.
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