For Her by JackOfSpikes
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Dawn Summers marched into the L.A. branch of Wolfram & Hart. She was furious at the vampire who, as far as she was concerned, had betrayed her sister more times than she wanted to count. She didn’t yet know how this whole thing was his fault, but she was sure that it was.
Stepping onto the elevator, she pondered the events that had brought her to L.A. and this thought process inevitably brought her to the subject of her sister. This time she would support Buffy whatever the consequences. She’d lost far more than she had believed possible the last time. She still felt guilty over the whole lets-kick-Buffy-out-of-the-house deal! Clearly it was up to her to put her family back together.

When the lift doors opened and she stepped into the large open reception of the executive offices, she was not overly surprised to see Harmony Kendal at the desk.

The teenager grinned in a truly predatory manner as she pulled a stake from her jacket pocket.

“Harmony, if I’m not in speaking to the King of Brood within the next five seconds – you’re dust.”

“You can’t threaten me, Dawn Summers. You’re not the Slayer.”

“Dawn? What are you doing here? Is Buffy alright?” Angel called from the door of his office. “And staking the employees is one of my perks, so put the stake away.”

With unerring accuracy Dawn let the stake fly. Well, he had told her to put it away! As Harmony turned to dust, Dawn shrugged at the shocked brunette vampire before pushing past him and into his office, offering an unconcerned ‘oops’.

“That’s just perfect! Now I have to train somebody else,” Angel whined as he followed her in.

He took a moment to surreptitiously study the girl as he moved to take his place at his desk. He was amazed at the casual confidence the beautiful teen displayed. In some ways she reminded him of Cordelia. At the thought of the comatose seer, Angel felt a genuine pang of regret.

“Why are you here, Dawn?”

She felt her hackles rising at the overbearing tone. Brood boy was in for a surprise if he thought he was going to be pulling that sort of shit with her. “Where is he?” she asked, turning flinty blue eyes on the CEO of Evil Incorporated.

“Ah…Who?” he asked shakily. There was no way that she could know about the blond vampire. Angel was sure that he’d managed to cut off all possible avenues and that Spike had not been able to contact any of the Scoobies. There was no way for any of them to know he was back.

Dawn crossed her arms in displeasure, lifting a delicate eyebrow in contempt as she answered him with the one name that she knew he didn’t want to hear, “Spike.”

~*~*~

“Will they all come?” The glorious golden female asked her male companion as they gazed into the pool of water at their luminous feet.

“They will,” he answered with finality.

~*~*~

“Let’s just get a couple of things straight, shall we? To save time.” Dawn’s voice dripped with insincere helpfulness, mocking his attempts to fool her. “I, unlike my sister, have never fallen for the whole ‘poor, tortured soul’ routine, and honestly, the puppy dog eyes have more effect on Xander than they do on me. I don’t respect you, you have never done anything to earn my respect, and just ‘cause you’re old doesn’t cut it. I think you’re a manipulative liar who suffers from delusions of grandeur. Your opinion means less than nothing to me, so loose the ‘tude and the hedging and deal. You want to know what’s going on? Fine. But knowledge comes with a price. So, pay up, buster, and get Spike in here NOW!”

~*~*~

Spike was the last to enter the office. He warily made eye contact with the clearly impatient teen that he’d been told had demanded his presence. Clenching and unclenching his hands, he tried to hide the aching desire to embrace the girl he thought of as his sister. The last time he’d seen her, she’d barely acknowledged his existence, and if she did look at him, her eyes had been filled with anger, disgust, and betrayal.

He saw none of that now.

He held his unneeded breath in anticipation and not a little hope, and waited for her to speak first.

Dawn held his gaze for a moment, internally cringing at the caution she saw there. “I’m sorry. I thought I’d have time, you know, to work things out with you. I know I don’t have any right to ask this now, but I need you to trust me. Just for a little while. I know we have issues, and I promise we’ll deal with them. But…well…privately…you know?” She widened her big blue eyes, pleading with him.

“What’s this all about, Dawn?” he asked quietly. He was willing to listen, but the gap between them seemed insurmountable to him. So much pain and hurt stood between them. He didn’t know that they could ever work things out, but for now, he’d listen.

“That’s what I’d like to know, William,” Angel growled angrily. He didn’t know how, but this was all Spike’s fault. Why else would Buffy’s kid sister hate him so much?

Dawn smiled in relief at the blond vampire then, ignoring the questions, she asked a question of her own. “Who’s got the medallion?”

“Oh! I do,” Fred piped up perkily as she reached into the deep pocket of her lab coat and withdrew the aforementioned piece of jewellery. She briefly wondered why she been asked to bring it to the meeting before realising that it looked like she was about to find out.

Dawn took the gaudy pendant and set it on the floor at Spike’s feet. Continuing to ignore Angel’s demands to know what she was doing, she pricked her finger and let a single drop of her blood fall on the gem’s centre.

She stood up and quickly moved back from the swirling vortex that emanated from the jewel that had changed all their lives. It rose up and up, whirling around the stunned blond vampire until it covered him completely. She ignored the shouts of confusion and outrage, concentrating intently on the scene she had instigated.

As quickly as they had risen, the winds of mist receded back from whence they’d come, leaving behind a fully corporeal vampire whose arms soon held a sobbing teen.

Spike almost blacked out with the overload of sensory information he was receiving. Scents abounded- new scents, old scents, both delicious and disgusting. Over and above it all there was Dawn; his Nibblet, her tears.

Overwhelmed, he didn’t notice the other smell at first. It was insidious. Hidden under everything else. Rotten, putrid…purest evil. It clawed at his insides and made his guts churn in disgust. Outraged eyes sought out his grandsire. “How could you not notice the stench of this place, Peaches?”

“Don’t change the subject, Spike,” Angel snapped in response. The last thing he needed was his irritating, pain-in-the-butt grandchilde stirring the others into asking questions he didn’t want to face. He didn’t know how strong the memory spell on his friends was, but he wasn’t about to go testing its boundaries now. “I want to know what the hell is going on!”

“What’s the matter dead boy? Not happy being left out of the loop?” Xander Harris snarked from the doorway.

The unexpected entrance of the one-eyed carpenter had Spike’s head spinning. First Dawn, then corporality, now…Harris? ‘What in the bloody hell is going on?’

Regardless of how confused he was about the situation in general, Spike responded to the brunette’s quip automatically and with practiced ease. The one thing the two had ever had in common was a general love of pissing off the poof.

“Don't worry about it, Harris. He likes to keep others out of the loop, so you’re just returnin’ the favour. Bloody pillock forgot to mention he's not the only vamp with a soul anymore.” Spike picked up the proverbial bat and ball for a rousing game of mock-the-poof and lobbed one back to his team-mate.

“NO!” Xander exclaimed with facetious surprise. “You failed to extol the virtues of Snarky, the Wonder Vamp? Colour me surprised!”

Dawn and Fred giggled, Gunn and Wesley chuckled, Spike snorted in amusement, and Lorne burst out laughing.

“Shut up, Harris,” Angel snarled. This day was just getting worse and worse. “And what are you doing here, anyway?”

“You know, it’s gonna be difficult to answer that question now that you’ve told me to shut up,” he assured the vampire in mock seriousness.

“Oh, do stop baiting him, Xander. You know he has no sense of humour,” Giles said mildly as he too entered the room.

When Angel shouted that he did so have a sense of humour, he was unprepared for the sea of disbelieving faces that surrounded him. He rolled his eyes at the fact that even his own people seemed to be joining the majority. ‘Traitors!’

“What did I miss?” Willow asked breathlessly as she entered the room. Not waiting for an answer upon spying Spike, the red head squealed in delight and launched herself into his surprised embrace.

Xander snickered at the shocked expression on the blond vampire’s face. The realisation as to why the Slayer’s Champion was surprised by Willow’s greeting, the fact that they, as a group, have never treated him in any way that could have prepared him for their new attitudes, sobered the introspective carpenter immediately, and he was filled with shame.

“Okay, play times over, let's go Spike,” Dawn announced. She was desperate to get on with the task of saving her sister.

“What do you want with him?” Angel asked incredulously. Why any one would willingly want to spend time with the bleached pest was beyond him, but this was certainly going to interfere with his plans to keep the bastard away from Buffy! It was at that point that a thought struck him, ‘where is Buffy?’

Willow stuttered a response. “We have a-a, um, job, that only Spike can do.”

Angel crossed his arms and lifted an eyebrow. “May I ask what kind of job?”

Dawn laughed at the vampire that was foolishly speaking to them as if they were a bunch of unruly children. “Since we didn’t ask for your help, I’d be going with a ‘no’. Maybe even a ‘hell no’!”

“Obviously this is something that you’re either hiding from Buffy or it’s about Buffy. Given the fact that Buffy isn’t here with you; I’m guessing she doesn’t even know you’re here. If she was, she would want my help. We have a whole company here at our disposal. We can help with whatever you need,” Angel spoke in a flourish, sure that they would see the wisdom of using his aid rather than the pitiful nothing that the blond vampire would be capable of.

Giles removed his glasses. “Tell me something, Angel,” he asked with deceptive mildness. “Do you love Buffy to the exclusion of all others? Would you willingly change your nature to become what she deserves? Would you do as she asked without question? Would you sacrifice your existence for her? Would you sacrifice your soul for her, if that was what was needed to save her?”

With each question he stepped closer to the brunette vampire. With each question the Scoobies drew nearer to Spike. With each question Spike stood taller and prouder. Not one individual in the room were in any doubt of the underlying message; Spike would.

“You wish to know what this is about?” Giles rhetorically asked. “Alright, Angel, perhaps you are right, perhaps Buffy would want you to know.”

“Giles?” Willow interrupted, stepping forward. “Let me.”

At Giles’ accepting nod, Willow took a deep breath and began.

“When we finally managed to access the hidden records of the council we found out some stuff about slayers that we didn’t know. Slayers are even more special than we thought. Once a slayer is called her body goes through, um, changes. More than just the super powers and the slayer healing and the really high metabolism, I mean. There’s a change to her ovaries too. A Slayer can only, ah, conceive a child if they have a, well, um, bonded mate. The mate has to be her equal in every way. It’s never happened before. When Buffy found out, she was really upset. The thing is, she kinda hid that from us, we had no idea how freaked she was, She did some researching on her own, which was totally of the unexpected, and she found out about the Slayer Realm.”

“The Slayer Realm?” Wesley felt the need to query.

“It’s a mystical plane that immortal slayers can go to, to kinda wait in a sort of stasis form.” Willow replied nervously.

“To wait for what?” Angel asked in confusion.

“What do you mean immortal slayer, Red?” Spike demanded in shock.

“Oh! Um…well…you see…Buffy’s kinda immortal,” Willow squirmed with guilt then raced on to quickly change the subject. “She’s waiting for her true champion to return and claim her.”

“And you think that’s SPIKE?” Angel bellowed in outrage. No way was his belligerent, would-be-soulmate-pilfering grandchilde stealing his cookie! “ARE YOU CRAZY??!!”

Giles stared at the blustering vampire with disdain, coldly making his offer. “If you feel that you would be the better choice, I am more than happy to tell you the requirements and point you in the correct direction. We, however, believe Spike to be the Champion in question and have come here to pass that information on to him.”

“Giles! You can’t…you know it can’t be him,” Willow hissed fearfully.

“Angel believes he is her soulmate, Willow. Buffy was well aware of the requirements when she made her choice. I believe that in of itself should be enough to tell us her feelings on the matter. If Angel is truly who he believes himself to be, then we have no right to stop him from trying. He knows exactly how much he loves her and I would really prefer that he understands once and for all that we do, too.” Giles’ piercing gaze relayed his underlying message, ensuring that Willow understood.

Spike studied the watcher carefully. Tilting his head, he asked the question that he had a strange feeling would bring forth an answer that would change his unlife forever.

“What are the requirements, Rupert?”

Giles smiled at the blond vampire. “It’s absolutely nothing that you can’t handle, Spike.” He was determined to prove to this vampire that he trusted him implicitly. Hopefully it might make up for some of the abysmal treatment the blond had suffered at his hand. “The Champion must be prepared to offer up his soul as collateral, then, without it, be able to make all the right choices to fight for his love.”

Angel gasped. “But…without my soul…”

“Exactly!” Giles responded coldly. “Without your soul, you are a monster that is incapable of love.”

“Buffy can’t have known,” Angel whispered, his eyes pleading them to agree with him.

“She left a note, Angel,” Willow replied softly, not wanting to hurt him further, but certain that he needed to know. Regardless of anything else, Willow knew that her friend still cared for the brunette vampire. Buffy would want him to be let down gently.

“Why don’t you read it to them, Wills? Spike deserves to hear it, too,” Xander softly suggested. He had no desire to hear the note again. His own feelings of guilt were threatening to overwhelm him, but penance did seem to be required.

Willow waited for the unspoken agreement from all of her companions before she reached into her bag and retrieved the note that had started them on this journey.

Hey Guys,

By the time you get this it will be over, and NO, Willow, you can’t ‘fix’ this with magic.

I know that you won’t understand at first, but I hope that after you read this, it will all become clear to you.

I’ve read the books, guys. I’ve seen all the lies that the council hid from us, from Giles. And the overwhelming fact that bites me in the ass is that demons CAN love.

The last memory I have of Spike is him telling me I didn’t love him. How’s that for ironic. For years I threw that supposed FACT in his face. For years I told him he couldn’t love without a soul. I didn’t believe him and, in the end, he didn’t believe me either.

The worse part of it all is that the slayer part of me knew he could love. Yeah, okay, I can see your fish expressions and hear Xander’s ‘holy hand grenade’ exclamation, but it’s true. For years I would have these flashbacks of different memories that involved Spike and Dru, or Spike and Dawnie or maybe mom, and then Spike and me; all of them showing me examples of his ability to love. Hell, think about it, guys. He went against his family and his nature to help me stop Angelus for Dru. To save Dru. We all said he was selfish and only helped for his own reasons, but his reason was love. For her. How much more noble was that than mine – duty.

Spike told me demons could love. Dru told me demons could love, but because Angel said they couldn’t, I believed him.

Buffy- stupid, self involved Buffy- couldn’t allow herself to believe. Believing changed everything. Believing meant that all of us would have to take a good hard look at ourselves and face up to the fact that where Spike was concerned, we were the bigger monsters. Believing meant Angel lied.

Now? Well, the blinders are off.

The really sad thing is that if I hadn’t believed Angel; if I’d trusted my slayer instincts, everything would have changed. I might have been able to work things out with Spike after Will’s ‘Thy Will Be Done’ spell, and then I wouldn’t have had to go through the boredom that was my relationship with Riley. I probably wouldn’t have even died. If Spike was around all the time, he would have noticed that Glory was Ben earlier, and we wouldn’t have called Ben to heal Giles, Dawnie wouldn’t have been taken, and maybe we could have hidden from Glory long enough so that the ritual couldn’t have been attempted. Willow wouldn’t have pulled me out of Heaven, because, the whole no dying thing. Which means the First wouldn’t have had access to this realm and Spike wouldn’t be dust.

Hindsight really sucks, guys.

This next part is gonna be hard guys, so I need to clarify something first. This is NOT an accusation. I hold myself to blame for everything that happened. I never said anything at the time. I never called any of you on your misconceptions. Telling you now is just my way of trying to make you understand why I’m making the choices I am, and not because I’m trying to make you feel guilty. If you choose to feel guilty, let it be for the right reasons- for your own actions. Only you know if you have something to feel guilty about.

That last year, Spike was everything I could ever want in a friend, a partner, and an equal. I trusted him with every fibre of my being. He gave me so much that I can never repay. The beauty of it was that he wouldn’t have expected anything in return.

None of you could see past what he had been so long ago. Willow never forgot the bottle in the face. She forgave Angel for his actions without a soul, but not Spike. Spike’s soul wasn’t even considered.

Xander you went on and on about the bathroom incident, but remember the hyena possession? Spike’s reaction was to go get his soul, while your’s was to deny all memory. Think about that!

Dawnie, you blamed him for a situation you didn’t understand. It’s my fault that I didn’t bother to explain it at the time. Now that you know the whole story, you really have earned the right to be pissed at me. You were right. He deserved your love.

Giles. What can I say? I still don’t understand your hatred. You were the one I would have thought would be the first to be impressed. A soulless demon chose to fight for his soul. That in itself should have been enough to bring out the journals and research happiness.

Even with the knowledge we had available, we were hypocrites.

Spike fought for his soul and Angel was cursed with his, but Angel was considered better. Why? Looking at it now, it seems to me to be a stupid perception.

Spike’s soul was permanent, Angel’s wasn’t. Again, why were we picking Angel?

Without the soul, Angel was a psychotic murderer that terrorised us without mercy. Without the soul, Spike helped me stop an apocalypse that Angelus was determined to start. He stopped Giles from being tortured. He stopped trying to kill us. He saved each and every one of us on numerous occasions. He was tortured and still kept our secrets. He babysat my sister and took over my job when I died. He had nightmares over my death. He tried everything in his power to help us during that year from hell. He made one error in judgement, something which I hold equal blame for, but his reaction? This evil soulless creature went to fight for his soul. For me. Because he never wanted to hurt me again.

What was it again that was so great about Angel?

I can’t believe that I based my whole life on a teenage fantasy! Sheesh, I’m telling you guys, reality bites!

Finally, we come to the point.

The books made it clear. A Slayer’s mate can only be a Champion. Someone more than human and possessing a soul. She must love both the demon and the man, and he must love both girl and Slayer. All of him must love all of her, ditto for her. The prophecy has my true love returning to me, and since I can’t bear to live without him till that happens, cause, you know, immortal? Might be a little bit of a wait! I’m going to do my waiting in the Slayer Realm. And yes, before you all get wiggy over Buffy jumping in to do something stupid and not thinking about the consequences; I do know all about the realm rules. You can’t get me out. Only he can.

I believe in him, guys. This time he gets to come for me, and I’m gonna wait till he does.

Please forgive me. I will love you always,

Buffy


As Fred, Wesley, Gunn and Lorne watched their boss for some sort of indication of his reaction, the Scoobies watched Spike.

Angel’s jaw clenched in fury, incensed at the thought that in any sort of measurement against Spike, he was the one found wanting. It just wasn’t feasible. Buffy had to be mentally unhinged. Clearly something had happened that had finally pushed her over the edge. Almost collapsing in relief at finally coming to a conclusion that made sense to him, he focused on her final message.

Giles was the first to break the silence. “I neither deserve nor expect your forgiveness, Spike, but I will ask for it just the same.”

“Works both ways, Watcher, and I can’t see that you did anything I didn’t deserve.” Spike shrugged self-consciously, unused to being treated with respect and still reeling from the words he had heard.

“Can I get in on a little of the forgiving? Kinda forgot my cookies, though.” Willow gave him a half smile as she opened her eyes wide, pleading and trying to remind him of a time when cookies solved everything.

Spike softly laughed at the memory. “Only if you promise to owe me one, Red.”

“I’m thinking that a game of pool and a beer will be needed for us to come to an agreement, fang. But can we call a truce until then?” Xander spoke decisively, all vestiges of the gangly bigoted teen gone.

Spike eyed him curiously, judging his sincerity. Obviously finding what he was looking for, Spike nodded his agreement to the younger man’s offer.

Angel rolled his eyes in disgust. ‘Some humans are so stupid.’ Only a fool would believe that the soul made any difference with Spike. He was what he always had been; a pathetic whiney loser. Oh, well, guess it was time to prove to everyone who exactly the true champion was.

“There is no mention anywhere in that letter about sacrificing a soul. Where is the entrance to the realm, Giles?” Angel asked coldly. Standing tall and proud, he was the very picture of a champion poised to do battle.

“You are welcome to accompany us, Angel, but you will require someone to speak for you. We will, of course, be supporting Spike in this endeavour,” Giles replied formally.

“Fine. My team will support me and your…team…will support Spike,” Angel smugly replied. “May the best team win?”

“Slayer’s not a bloody prize, you git,” Spike snarled furiously.

“So says the loser,” Angel sneered disdainfully. “Let’s head out, people. Buffy needs me.”

~*~*~

“Wes, do you have any idea why we’re heading out to the desert?” Angel asked in confusion as he followed the van that the Scoobies had hired.

He still couldn’t believe that they were sticking to their little farce that Buffy was waiting for Spike. It wasn’t like she’d said his name. Just that cryptic little message about this time he would come for her, like there was a time that she had come for him first. Angel racked his brains trying to remember what she was talking about. Finally, he settled on the time that Spike had kidnapped him for that stupid ritual to heal Dru. That had to be it. More proof that this was about him and not the lightweight pretender. The first thing he would do when he finally saved Buffy was make her tell Spike once and for all that he was just a poor second.

“I believe there is a place there that is considered sacred for slayers,” Wes replied stoically. He was worried about this situation. He wasn’t blind to the foibles of his boss. Angel tended to become irrational where the blond slayer was concerned. Wesley himself had always wondered at the vampire’s insistence that he was the girl’s soulmate. The inability of the demon to love her seemed to indicate a huge flaw in that theory as far as the ex-watcher was concerned. But, regardless, Angel was his friend, so Wesley’s support was assured. That didn’t mean the man wouldn’t keep his eyes open, however.

Gunn was lost in thought. He’d only met the little blond Slayer once, and that was after the whole sinking town deal. Nothing about their interaction at the time had suggested to him that Blondie and his boss were anything more than friends. Hell, he couldn’t remember a time when the blond had even been mentioned after she died and was then brought back. Angel hadn’t even seemed that interested in going to see her when he found out she was back. He’d seemed more broken up over Cordy’s relationship with Groo than had been relieved when he’d found out that little miss vamp slayer wasn’t as dead as reported. And although the ex-street fighter couldn’t remember ever meeting Angel without his soul- still being unaware that his memories had been stolen from him, for some reason, the very thought of it made his guts clench up. That bastard needs to be dead of the dusty kind. Some deep-seated fear had him praying that the boss was right and a visit from Angelus was not on the cards.

Fred didn’t know what she was feeling; she wasn’t sure how to react. She had honestly believed that Cordelia was Angel’s soulmate, that they were perfect for each other. She didn’t really remember everything that happened after they’d returned from Pylea. It was all kinda hazy to her. But she didn’t think that Angel had acted like he’d lost the love of his unlife. More like a good friend. Sure, someone he loved, but not someone who meant everything to him. Not like he’d been when Cordy was missing. She was under no doubts about Spike, though. They’d spent too many evenings talking for her not to know how he felt. In Spike’s world; the sun rose and set in Buffy Summers. She had a very bad feeling about this.

Lorne watched the scenery as it flashed past the window of the car. He prayed with every fibre of his being that his boss wouldn’t remember his empathic talents. He really didn’t want to be put in the position of telling what he honestly feared would be the reading he would receive.

~*~*~

“How did you know I was back, and a ghostie at that?” Spike asked curiously. He was still stunned that he was with them. That they’d taken the precaution of hiring a special needs mini van with UV protected glass especially for him. That his Nibblet was hanging on to him like a life preserver. He was a well and truly gobsmacked vamp.

“Pffft,” Willow waved her hands to indicate they hadn’t done much at all. “Location spell and a seer from the coven,” she replied simply. When Spike lifted an eyebrow in question, Willow expanded on her previous statement. “When we read Buffy’s letter, we knew that she was waiting for you. We didn’t want to make the same mistake with you that we did with Buffy. You know, dragging you out of Heaven or something equally of the bad, so we decided to try and locate you first. That way we could try and contact you so we could ask you if you wanted to come back. Well, the location spell said you were trapped between dimensions. Wiggy! We contacted a seer from the coven and she told us what had happened. She also told us that to release you to this plane, we needed the Key.”

“Hence me with the blood letting,” Dawn supplied with a grin.

“We also figured that it was only fitting that we publicly chose you over his Gel-ness, given the way he’s been held over your head for years,” Xander added soberly before grinning evilly and showing that he was still a joker at heart. “The added bonus of mocking the broody one was a perk I probably didn’t deserve, but, hey, what can I say…resistance was futile.”

Spike smirked in appreciation, before a thought sobered him completely. “What’s gonna keep you lot safe if Peaches’ soul is removed?”

“Do you think he will willingly offer his soul as collateral, Spike?” Giles asked from his position behind the wheel. They were nearing their destination and they would need to be prepared for all eventualities.

Spike thought for a moment. It was a question that deserved his most considered opinion. “Probably. To save Buffy. Or to stop me saving her, yeah. He'd want some assurances he wasn't gonna be let loose, but, yeah…I reckon he'd do it.”

Giles rolled his eyes in disgust. “Bloody pillock,” he muttered furiously.

“Oh, no! He wouldn’t; not if he knew that Angelus would be the one fighting for Buffy…would he? I mean, he knows that Angelus hates her and he’s not gonna be all ‘sure I’d love to help’ guy, ‘cause, you know, evil!” Willow babbled fearfully, her memories of the evil that was Angelus still very clear.

“Depends on if he thinks the demon hates me more than Buffy. If it hates me more…then the bastard would do it to spite me.” Spike responded. He knew that there were no bloody guarantees with Angelus and that worried him more than a little. The thought of Buffy being bound to the vicious bastard scared him more than anything ever had before.

In contemplative silence, the group travelled to their destination.

~*~*~

Willow moved swiftly and with confidence, calling forth the Guardians of the Slayer realm.

“Which Champion has come seeking their mate?” a male voice boomed out around them all. Two figures shimmered into sight. Both shone with a golden light. The male was as tall and as broad as Angel. He stood with his hands on his hips, his feet parted and his head held high. Power radiated from them both. The female matched his pose and stood just a head shorter than her mate.

“I have,” Angel and Spike spoke in unison, each glaring at the other once they’d made their claim.

The male guardian looked over both contenders before fixing his gaze on Angel. “Your soul is tarnished, but in having one, you meet the requirements. As the elder, you will go first. Who speaks for you here?”

“We do,” Wesley offered as he and his team stepped forward.

With a nod in their direction, acknowledging their presence, the guardian looked to the sky. “Who speaks for him from the upper realm?”

“I guess that would be me,” a figure said as he materialized beside the guardians. “Allen Francis Doyle at your service, Guardians.” He gave a flourishing bow, before turning to Angel with a grin.

“Name your greatest achievement, Champion,” the Female Guardian demanded.

Angel thought for a moment, fervently hoping that the mere mention of a name wouldn’t affect the memory spell in place, but he had to use it - there was no way that the bleached menace could beat this. “I defeated an evil Power from the upper realms. She called herself Jasmine.”

“Conditions have been met, the challenge begins.” With a wave of his hand, the Guardian sent Angel and his supporters to the Slayer Realm. Turning to his mate he lifted an eyebrow.

“His answer is unknown; he does not understand the question yet.”

Before the cryptic commentary could be questioned, the male Guardian turned to Spike. “Who speaks for you here?”

“We do,” Giles, Willow, Xander, and Dawn responded.

With a nod in their direction to acknowledge their presence, the guardian looked to the sky a second time. “Who speaks for him from the upper realm?”

“I do,” a feminine voice spoke as her form solidified.

Spike stared in shock as he instantly recognised the woman before him.

“Nikki Wood, Guardians. Slayer.”

Giles gasped as he realised just who exactly this slayer was.

Spike just stared at his former victim, unable to form words.

Smiling, Nikki answered his unasked question. “You showed mercy to my son.”

“I bloody well killed his mother, he deserved a little payback,” Spike snorted in self-deprecation.

Nikki grinned and waggled her eyebrows. “You could have let him keep the coat!”

At the vampire’s pout of dismay, she burst into laughter. “Nah, you keep it…wouldn’t want him dressing like a girl!”

"OY!"

“Name your greatest achievement, Champion,” The Female Guardian demanded.

Spike smiled softly in memory. “Buffy Summers believed in me.”

“Conditions have been met, the challenge begins.” With a wave of his hand, the Guardian sent Spike and his supporters to join Angel in the Slayer Realm. Turning to his mate, he waited for her judgement.

“He is worthy,” she said with a smile. “As were you.”

~*~*~

As Angel looked around his surroundings, he noted the similarities between where he was now and the chambers of the trials where he had fought for Darla’s life. It could have been that same place. Before he had time to remark on it to Doyle and the rest of his team, Spike, the Scoobies, an unknown black woman, and the Guardians materialised into the chamber with them. Angel briefly wondered who the woman was before dismissing her as insignificant. Focusing on the Guardians, he prepared himself to fight.

“These challenges you face, you do not face as champions. We know that you are champions; you would not have gained entry were you not. Your choices here must be based on the choices of your heart. How well you listen to it is what we test. Let your guides lead you.”

As she finished speaking, the Guardians faded from sight. Doyle pointed to Nikki, indicating she should take the first round.

“You will each see two victims and a beast to be vanquished. You must choose who you will save and then tell us why.” With a wave of her hand, each champion witnessed a scene in front of them.

Spike didn’t hesitate. In his vision Dawn and Buffy faced an enraged Fyarl Demon. “Dawn, because Buffy would want little sis looked after. Then she’d be able to take care of the beastie without worrying.” His response was firm and without doubt.

Angel hesitated. His vision showed him something completely different. As he watched, Buffy and Cordelia were surrounded by the same sort of slugs that had almost killed Fred. His need to protect both women staggered him. His heart screamed out to him and he ignored its call. He blindly groped for another solution. “Cordelia. Buffy is the slayer; she’ll be fine. She’d want me to save the innocent.”

“Cordelia has beaten these beasts before. Buffy has not faced them. You need to listen your heart to be successful here, Angel,” Nikki spoke sadly as she moved away for Doyle to take her place.

“This one should be easier. You’ll be shown three scenes, all you need to do is tell us who is the evil and who is the innocent.” Doyle lifted his hand and prayed with everything in him.

In front of them, a scene played out. A man, splayed and tied up with tree roots and vines that kept him immobile, hung in a darkened wood. Before him stood a black haired female, her face hidden from view. As the champions watched, the female lifted her hand and the skin was ripped from the man’s body.

The scene morphed to a new setting. Spike’s old crypt came into focus and the image of Riley was easily recognised. They both watched as he staked Spike and then heard as the ex-commando bragged to the wounded vampire what the stake was made of.

The scene shifted for a third time and before them stood Drusilla. With the fading of the final scene, the guides turned to the champions.

“That first one’s not fair on Peaches; he doesn’t know the whole story.” Spike ground out. Bloody, buggerin’ soul givin’ him a bleedin’ conscience. “Red was a victim, too.”

Angel looked at the blond in shock. His mind refused to comprehend that his irritating, useless, destiny-stealing grandchilde had just acted fairly. He hadn’t taken advantage of a situation that Angel was ashamed to admit he might have, had their places been reversed. The blond’s fairness goaded him into speaking up, too. “There’s no way Spike would know the significance of the dress that Dru was wearing. That image of her was from before she was turned.”

“And the middle scene?” Doyle asked carefully.

“Evil’s definitely Cardboard, bloody wanker and his plastic stake.”

“I knew there was a reason I hated that boy.” Angel smirked in agreement.

Nikki clapped her hands in delight. “Well done, both of you. Just one more in this part of the challenge.” Lifting her hand once more, Spike and Angel again faced different images.

Spike felt like weeping. Before him stood his mother, Joyce, and Buffy.

Angel felt his heart clench as Buffy, Cordelia, and a very pregnant and human Darla stood waiting for him.

“You can save one…which will it be?”

Angel dropped to his knees, anguish tore at his insides. How could they expect him to make a choice like this?

Spike felt like he’d been sucker punched. Tears streamed down his face unheeded. His agile mind reached for answers in desperation. He studied the face of his love as if somewhere in her expression he might find the answers he sought. Memories flashed through his mind like a fire storm. Conversations came unbidden. A glimmering of an answer came to him and he mentally pushed aside everything else to allow the idea to grow.

Angel fought with everything in him to control the overwhelming feelings of despair that were threatening to overtake him. He needed desperately to clear his head, to think logically. There had to be a solution. If he thought about it he knew he could find it. Drawing a deep unneeded breath, Angel forced himself to calm. A few moments of centring himself and he was able to view the scene before him dispassionately. He studied Darla. The image before him displayed her as human and pregnant. In reality his sire had never had that chance. His Darla had faced her destiny; she’d carried Conner to term and then sacrificed herself so that he could live. Choosing this Darla would negate what his Darla had done. This Darla was a false image.

His dismissal of Darla brought him face to face with the true choice. His heart screamed to him. His demon snarled. Angel looked deep within himself and found the truth. His demon could love.

Spike stood tall and smiled at the images before him, silently saying goodbye to two of them. His mum and Joyce were in heaven; they deserved to stay where they were. “I choose Buffy.”

Angel also said his goodbyes. “I choose Cordelia”

Doyle gave Angel an appraising look. “’Bout time you realised who it was you were fightin’ for, big guy. Seriously not wantin’ to be in y’r shoes when she clips ya for that one!”

“Wait!” Wesley called out in shock. “What do you mean? Cordelia’s in a coma!”

“Ah! Not so much a coma as a mystical sleep. She was protected when the little red witch did her spell makin’ all potentials into slayers. The beautiful Cordelia Chase was a potential. Because of that, her spirit was able to come here. Her body was brought here at the same time you all were. Both girls have been watchin’ and waitin’ for the final test. Oh! And her highness is in a right snit, too. Somethin’ about stupid vampires makin’ brainless bargains or somethin’ like that. Good luck with that one, champ.” Doyle slapped Angel on the back as he passed by him. Snickering, he allowed Nikki to introduce the last test.

Angel cringed slightly at the image the half Bracken demon had provided.

Giles silently snickered. Angel and Cordelia Chase. He couldn’t have wished her on a more deserving fellow.

Xander had one resounding thought, ‘please God, let me be here for that smack down’.

“The final test is simple. Your beast needs to find his mate. The entrance to the labyrinth is though these openings. Their scent shall be your trail, the price of entry is your soul, refundable with success,” Nikki challenged the competitors as she pointed to the two openings in the wall.

“What guarantee do we have that Peaches here ain’t gonna double back and eat the audience? Or the cheerleader? Angelus is a bastard that I wouldn’t trust as far as Nibblet could throw him.”

“Normally, I’d agree with you on that, Spike, but, um, not this time. It, err, seems my demon, um, wants her too,” Angel verbally stumbled with embarrassment. He really didn’t want to tell them that his demon loved Cordy because it thought she was a bigger bitch than he was a bastard. Ignoring any further questions, Angel shifted into game face, sniffed the air, and moved to the opening on the right. As he crossed the threshold, a lamp hanging beside the opening began to glow.

Spike watched him go. After issuing a serious warning for the others to be careful, he shifted into game face and immediately darted into the left opening. The lamp on the side lit up as he passed.

Angelus stalked through the tunnels with unerring accuracy, destroying everything that stood in his path. Each beast or vine was ripped from its place and shredded by the deadly claws of the stalking predator. Her scent was strong and getting stronger with every step. This woman was worthy of him. This woman had earned his respect. This woman, he acknowledged, he would never be able to break. Half demon, slayer, immortal, she was an enigma, unparalleled in beauty. She was his.

Spike chortled with glee, fist and fangs flying ruthlessly. His monologue of taunts filling the air as he moved with deadly accuracy towards his goal; Buffy. His golden goddess. His shining, effulgent girl. The guilt that had weighed him down for so long was gone and he was buoyed by the lightness of his spirit. Nothing could withstand him. This time he would save the girl and he wouldn’t have to bloody dust to do it!

“Hey, blood breath! Wanna play hide and seek?”

Her voice came from all around him, her giggle music to his ears. Rolling his eyes in disbelief, he skidded to a halt. Bloody stupid bint was gonna be the end of him! He’d give her hide and seek!

“No, I don’t want to play hide and bloody go seek, ya silly bint! Now get your delectable arse out here, Slayer, and give ol’ Spikey a proper hello,” he playfully demanded.

“You didn’t believe me. Do you believe me now, Spike?” Her voice whispered at him, the scent of her tears assaulting him from all sides.

“Please, Buffy,” he whispered in return. “I need to see you, touch you. I have to know that you’re real.” His desperation was palpable.

The slight sound of gravel moving was his only clue. He spun in the direction of the sound.

There.

She stood before him, more vulnerable than he’d ever seen her before. Tears coursed down her face and her eyes shone with a desperation that mirrored his. “I love you,” she whispered fearfully.

Two long strides and she was finally in his arms. “God, Pet, I love you too.”

~*~*~

As Spike strode back into the cavern with Buffy over his shoulder, the lamp light faded. Her squeals of indignation didn’t.

“Put me down, you bleached moron. If you think your nose is getting away from this one in one piece…think again!”

Unceremoniously dumping the belligerent slayer on her derrière, Spike snarled back. ‘Next time you decide to call me a caveman, I’ll bloody well drag you around by your hair!”

Scrambling to her feet, Buffy planted her fists on her hips and leaned into him. Nose to nose, she glared and snapped, “Then don’t tell me what to do.”

“God, I love it when you’re brassed, kitten.”

Throwing up her hands in disgust at the smirking vampire, Buffy muttered crankily about stupid vamps and their tendency to fight dirty.

When Cordelia stepped through the other opening, she kept her eyes glued to the lamp. As soon as it faded, she spun on her companion and gave him a sharp smack across the back of the head. “You almost had to be bludgeoned into knowing you were here for me, you moron. If you think you’re getting out of this without a shopping trip, you can think again, buster! Oh and if you think I’m pissed over that, just wait till I get started on you about signing on with Evil Are Us!”

Xander Harris smiled in delight. It was a very good day!
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