*Great. Just bloody great.* He crossed his arms behind his head as he lay back on the pillows that still held her scent. The faint glow of daylight peeked from the edges of his curtains...and fatigue was tugging at his senses. But he didn't dare give in to the sleep. Too much was at stake. Seducing Slayers...sleeping with a woman and fathering a child who worked for an agency that could very well obliterate his kind...oh, yes. He was batting 1000.
Spike swallowed hard. 'Cool. . .sophisticated,' he'd told the Slayer. But not in bed...there, his Maddy'd been a fighter...a wildcat. Blood...bruises... passion. He was a sucker for women who could kick his ass, who could make him feel pain, and who could make him love. All this time...it was him who'd been whipped. Humanized. Not his friggin' sire, Angelus. Dru had held the monopoly for so long...and then Madaleine's womb had confirmed it. Now it was Buffy's turn to capture him, and he was powerless.
He stared up at the ceiling, fascinated by the drips and whorls created by some two-bit painter who probably fancied himself an artist. It was over. The Slayer knew most of it . . and it would only be a matter of time before she guessed what was left. And then Section would no doubt know as well. Both Buffy and Madaleine were intelligent...frighteningly so. They would make the connections. And the two sides of his life would collide.
He closed his eyes...and Prague was there. Vivid. Bloody. Smoky. He'd known immediately. Something inside him had screamed recognition even though he'd never laid eyes on the lad before. The face...the focus. The miracle child of his loins. A not-so immaculate conception. A son whose life he'd never been part of...who was more than likely trained to kill him. Who undoubtedly now worked with both his mother and Buffy.
He laughed hoarsely. "Damn you Madaleine," he whispered. If it hadn't been for Section One...Buffy would never have come here. Would never have shown up at that gala. Would never have wound up in his bed as they necked like bloody teenagers. Would never have known that one of her superiors was his old flame or that he'd contributed to the world's population.
Spike found himself shaking...and as he gave in and let the sleep of the dead drag him under, the last thing he remembered was the brush of her hands and lips. And he knew he was lying. He was glad the Slayer was here.
The picture was faded but the infant's eyes were still bright...hair still wispy and fine. She traced the thin glass that protected it as phantom cries seemed to fill the gleaming office. Everything was still fresh. His little fists waving as he stared up at her from the blanket the nurses had swaddled him in. So angry at having been expelled into an alien world. His anger multiplying with her grief tenfold when they took him away...out of the prison hospital. His wails had echoed down the corridor...the last thing she'd heard before her sedatives kicked in. She hadn't known then that she would bring back into a different kind of prison just a few years later. That they would have a reunion, but as strangers instead of mother and child.
The past was always with her. A constant hum in the back of her mind. Leaving Maman behind with Tante Marie...Washington...a ruthless blond with dark eyes...her head snapping back when Papa hit her and told her never to see that scum again because no man compared to Jean-Louis Dupres. She remembered even more clearly watching blood bloom from her father's chest as the gun in her hand shook...going into labor in the prison library...and then, months later, waking up in a white room and finding the place she truly belonged.
Suddenly the intercom buzzed and she hurriedly dropped the photo into the depths of the drawer from whence it had come. Her hands didn't tremble at all as she crossed them on her desktop. "Yes?" she wondered calmly.
"You wanted to see me?" Birkhoff wondered from the other side of the door.
She punched in the entry code and the portal whooshed open. "Come in," she offered, watching the young man shift nervously from foot to foot as he obeyed. "I've gone over the comm transmissions from the Korsikov mission and there's something that concerns me."
"What?" The boy's voice almost came out a squeak. He had so much knowledge...so much to give to Section...and yet he was afraid. His eyes flitted back and forth behind his glasses. "Was there an error?" he asked, sounding defensive. His work was the only place he was secure. And she watched him straighten as authority ran up his backbone.
"No, no error," she assured, smiling just a little. "There's a voice I would like extracted and analyzed. From Buffy's unit. A possible breach."
Birkhoff nodded. "Anything else?" He shoved his hands into his pockets. "Do you need Nikita? Or Michael?" Any worry he might have for his new friend's security wasn't visible on his face.
*Michael*. Michael with his unspoken questions and accusations. She barely concealed a flinch. "Michael's on stand-by, is he not? And Nikita is helping Buffy settle into her apartment," she murmured aloud. "You may go."
As the young computer genius fled, she felt her shoulders slump. And the act she'd put on faded back into her polished repertoire. *You sure got a way 'bout you, petite,* Tante Marie used to say. *You gon' make de Lord himself cry when de time come.*
There was no mistaking it. Even after all these years. The voice on that transmission was obvious. She reached back into the drawer. The infant looked at her with the eyes of a grown son. . .hauntingly similar to the eyes of a someone she'd hoped to never see again. Someone the past hadn't buried because he obviously knew Section's newest and most powerful young operative. The Slayer. And who else would know the Slayer but a vampire?
Spike. Spike had returned.
"Its nice," she said hollowly, knowing some sort of cursory comment was necessary. But as she looked around the apartment, all she could feel was numb. Nikita had brought her to a complex a few miles from Section--it seemed like every other apartment building she'd ever seen. And they'd taken the elevator up to Apt #426. After punching in a security code instead of using a key. they'd walked into this...
"Don't you like this?" Nikita wondered, leaning against the closed door, her head tilted and face inquisitive.
Buffy shivered, eyes scanning the hardwood floors with carefully careless throw rugs...and the funky art deco furniture...and the posters of Dave Matthews Band and Ben Affleck and David Boreanaz splashed on the walls. "Section One knew I would," she whispered, lowering herself to a black leather sofa that had been accessorized with printed pillows. Her gaze moved to the bay windows. Tall, clear glass that went from ceiling to floor. Early evening light streamed in...but someone had thought to put thick, draggable, black velvet curtains on either side. Another sign of what Section knew?
"Creepy, huh?" Her trainer had the grace to look just the tiniest bit guilty. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I didn't think--didn't realize."
"Its okay." And she found a smile from somewhere deep inside. "At least it proves Section can not only destroy...they can decorate." And as the blasphemous joke left her lips, she automatically looked up again, scanned the walls. "I wonder where they hid the cameras?" she murmured, no longer joking. There were no clunky paintings or vents...or strategically placed potted plants.
"Buffy!" But Nikita glanced around, too, evidently more shocked by her boldness than the concept of surveillance. "I don't know," she admitted, blowing a wisp of blond hair out of her eyes. "They're very thorough. I don't even know where the ones in my place are."
"How do you stand it?" she wondered , playing with a knickknack on the edge of the coffee table. A Madonna & Child carved out of some exotic wood. And she knew she didn't mean simply camera placement.
Nikita shoved her hands into her pockets, shrugging mechanically. And she scuffed at the floor with the toe of her boot as she came slowly away from the door. Her eyes stared off behind Buffy, towards the clouded skies. "It hasn't been easy," she assured quietly, things flitting through her guileless eyes. "But you learn to live with it." She laughed, half-bitter and half-amused. "Operations told me a while ago that I was one of *them* now. And I'm so much like *them* that they don't know what to do. Except make me responsible for someone else in hopes that I get in line."
Buffy couldn't help but notice an inflection on 'them'. After all, who would really want to be a part of a place like Section? Who would really see it as a compliment? Besides Ops...or Madaleine. . .or-- "What about Michael?" She set down the Madonna, fumbling with her hands.
Her friend's expression grew even more remote. "What about him?" Nikita asked carefully.
She knew that tone. Reserved for caution and secrets and lies you didn't want to tell that had to be told. How many times had she used that kind of evasion on Mom? And Giles? And, lately, on people at Section. Vampires were *wonderful* influences on her honesty. She sighed, thinking of souls and spells and 5% clubs. "Has Michael truly lost his soul?" She thought of the man she sparred with, looked to for guidance, respected, and still *feared*. "Is he really this uber-operative? You know...'just the facts, *Madame*'?"
"Yes...and no." Almost a smile on Nikita's face. "He does what they want...*and* what he wants." She leaned against the kitchen counter. "He's...split. Between being the perfect killing machine and--" Her eyes whipped around the room, almost daring silent alarms to sound, "--and being the man I fell in love with." More of an admission about their relationship than Buffy had ever heard her give.
She winced. The men in their lives evidently had more than Section in common. "So, he leads a double life. Hops that line between being evil and being good," she concluded.
"We all do," Nikita pointed out, shrugging. "And Section watches... records...files it away to use against you if you cross them like I did. Although you've turned out to be more of a reward than a punishment," she assured with a grin.
Buffy wondered what *exactly* Nikita had done. There were whispers... rumors about a woman named Adrian...and blackmailing Operations. But she knew nothing solid. Because the information network was even more secure than the operation of Section itself. She stood up, rubbing her cold palms on her corduroys. Her skin crawled but she forced it away. Slayer. Killer. She was both. And she could handle this. She would have to.
"Do you want some tea or something?"
She snapped out of her thoughts to see her friend at one of the stocked cabinets, holding a box that read Celestial Teas, Orange Blossom. Good Lord. *Herbal*. Giles would pitch a fit. Picturing one of his lectures on "you Americans and your savage idea of tea drinking" didn't make her sad. Instead, it made her laugh to herself. She'd gone from one kind of Watcher to another. From Giles, to Big Brother. But she had hope.
There was Spike. And untapped phones. And Hellmouths. Sooner or later, Giles would know just how much she missed him. And home. She moved towards the counter, shaking off the last of her mental cobwebs. "I'm not down with that herbal stuff, Nikita. Tell me there's some Earl Grey."
It was six o' bloody clock in California. Where was her Watcher? Spike stared at the receiver in his hand as he dialed again the number he'd gotten from 411. Four times he'd let the blasted thing ring on...no answer. The fool hadn't gone and died of a broken heart, had he? The irritation in his gut immediately coupled with pain as he thought of Buffy's big dark eyes filling with tears as he told her the stuffy librarian was pushing up tiger lilies. Not good. Not good at all.
And suddenly, the ringing tone stopped, replaced by a harsh, breathless, "Yes?"
He almost dropped the phone in shock, but quickly caught it and brought it up. "Watcher?" he quizzed.
"W-who is this?" Indignant sputtering. Yes, it was definitely Rupert Giles. A trifle winded, but certainly alive.
"*I've been working on the railroad...all the livelong niiiiiiight. . .*" he sang softly as he sat down on the edge of his bed. "Does that answer your question?" It wasn't nice to toy with a frazzled, grieving, man...but it was fun.
"What do you want, Spike?" And this time, layers seemed stripped from the man's clipped tones, leaving an odd combination of steel and weariness.
"The same thing you want." He closed his eyes, exhaled borrowed air. "The Slayer back where she belongs."
There was silence on the other end of the line. And then pure ice. "We have a Slayer here. Faith's her name. What game are you playing? Never mind. I don't want to know--"
"Buffy's alive." he interrupted the tirade before Giles could hang up. "You know she is. This Faith person must just be a temp because you can't find her, but we both know Buffy Summers still lives and breathes."
More silence. Then something that sounded like clinking and sploshing. He didn't blame the chap for taking a little nip. "You 'know'?" the Watcher repeated, obviously fortified by whatever he was drinking. "And what exactly do you know?" he demanded.
Spike felt a tremor, and a throb...felt like an old case of the ague was upon him and he didn't have enough warm clothes to stop the chills. "I know Buffy's more or less safe...and that she misses home, and her mates and her mum." *And I know she's sad, and beautiful, and that her skin feels like warm rose petals and she tastes like honey and scones and heather.* All the comforts of a home he'd left behind over a century ago. He choked down risen blood. "She's all right," he added aloud.
"Why? How--? When--?" Questions half-formed. He could imagine the man trying to scrabble for explanations.
"I can't tell you," he said shortly. Perhaps a tad *too* shortly. It was unfair, after all. He had the advantage of knowledge...and of seeing her soon and her Watcher did not. "Just know this...I don't have her. In fact, its not vampires at all. Creatures a helluva lot worse," he imparted bitterly.
"Who, Spike?" Strength back in Giles's voice. "Dammit, tell me."
*Who? My ex-girlfriend. My son. Bloody goddamn Section One.* Things he couldn't say. "A government agency," he spat instead. And he slammed the phone down in its cradle like it was responsible for the bad taste in his mouth.
There, he'd done it. Talked to Giles. And what he'd said was better than nothing and worse than truth. He hadn't said which government--not that he even knew who Section owned up to-- or which agency. But he hoped he'd assured the man that there were things that could threaten a young Slayer more than beasties and bloodsuckers. That, often enough, humans were the monsters.
He hoped the Watcher believed him.
"Do you think she suspects?" Madaleine stared across the desk at him, arching a single dark brow and expecting him to flinch.
He didn't. He was immune to the patented Deep Freeze--since he'd learned from her how to do it himself. "Suspects what?" he whispered back silkily, crossing his feet at the ankles and staring down at his reflection in his black Bruno Maglis. "That Section knows her secret?" He couldn't help the hint of mockery. "That she's being used precisely because of what she is?"
"Michael." A small shake of the head, acknowledging his points in evasive verbal tennis. "You know a Slayer is a valuable asset to our ranks. Oversight has been looking for any opportunity to find fault with Section's handling of...certain domestic issues," she phrased delicately, "And Buffy Summers will remedy that. Has she been settled?"
He wanted to get up and leave the room. Wanted to get as far from this place of lies and manipulation as possible. But he was trapped. Always trapped. "Yes," he answered, staring behind Madaleine's head, at the wall. "Nikita helped her move in a few hours ago." 'Kita had called his private line... to check in. And he would be meeting her later, to drown in her purity, to wash away the filth that clogged his pores.
"Is the vampire concentration in the area sufficient?" An unerringly serious tone for what would have otherwise been a ridiculous question. "Enough to test her mettle?"
He didn't blink an eye. "Yes," he assured. The price for who he was and what they allowed was to be party to horrors that most operatives wouldn't believe. The price was his honor and his sanity. "Moderate," he said with a Gallic shrug. "Not what she had to face every day in Sunnydale, but according to our sources, several have international connections." Meaning *terrorist* connections.
Section One was truly committed to its cause. And it didn't matter if the target was alive or one of the many types of mythical undead. Which was why they'd stolen a seventeen year old girl away from her life ..away from the Watchers Council who had no idea where she was...away from the people she loved. Michael choked down bile, staring into eyes full of knowledge and questions and a sickening amusement that chilled him. She knew. Madaleine knew that, once again, he was lying for them. That he was manipulating people he cared about because he was their marionette...jumping when they jerked his strings. What would he lose this time? He'd all ready lost Simone... little Jean-Rene...and his soul.
"*Merde*," he gasped, breaking the sudden silence.
"Don't worry, Michael." Madaleine's smile grew, making him want to bury his face in Nikita's hair and breathe in her innocence. "I'm sure Summers will perform flawlessly. And she will be ready for long range use. She may even surprise us."
He was struck, then, by the image of the blond man...there on the darkened street, assuring Buffy that he would be there for her. The sheer clarity of the bond between them. Had they met here? Or back in California? Were they lovers? *No, Cherie*, he thought, closing his eyes. *Si'il vous plait, don't surprise us. Not if you want him to live.*
"Do you think she suspects?"
"She'd be stupid not to." Spike gave her a look as he lit up his latest in a succession of cigs and sprawled astride the window ledge. "Maddy always did have a mind like a steel trap."
She wrinkled her nose at the smoke, unzipping the jacket she'd remembered to bring this time...she'd been thinking of nothing else except leaving that apartment and coming here. Planning even as she and Nikita talked over tea. "Enough with the Madaleine praise. Buffy has low self esteem," she reminded, leaning against the fluffed up pillows on his bed.
"But I only said one thing!" he protested. She sniffed dramatically, pretending to pout. Then he was tossing away his Camel and coming to her, cupping her face, staring at her so earnestly she started to blush. His eyes seemed to go on forever. "Besides," he said, softer, huskier. "You shouldn't. You're beautiful." His thumb stroked her lower lip. "And funny...and smart... and I know for a fact your staking skill are far superior to hers..." They both laughed even as coils of fire began to sprang up between them. "You've got great fashion sense," he continued, lips hovering over hers. "And you play the triangle."
"Drums," she corrected hazily, remembering a conversation in another life...trying to convince Mom they were in a band together instead of enemies holding a temporary truce. "I'm Hell on the old skins, you know." Her hands has somehow found their way to his hair. She was more in his lap than on the bed.
Now his thumbs were stroking up and down her cheekbones. And his voice was barely above a whisper. "Make me sing, Buffy?" he pleaded just before his mouth came down on hers.
And it was like before--although she didn't know why she'd expected anything different. Total, sweeping possession. His lips...her tongue...his demon...her soul. Senses raging out of control. Blood pounding in her ears. Thighs tightening with longing. The bed, with its satiny sheets, had been a poor choice of seats...because now she wanted nothing more than to sink down and finish what they'd begun last night. Forget Madaleine...Section...cameras... vampires...everything besides quenching this irresistible urge for--
"S-spike." Helpless...utterly helpless. In eight months her entire world had spun on its axis...and in two days, her heart. Or maybe just her body... either way she couldn't fight it. Didn't want to. Not this time. She tugged his shirt out of his jeans...sliding her hands up his cool chest just briefly before moving back down to work at his zipper. No interruptions...no reservations. Life was too short.
He groaned into her mouth, pushing her jacket off. "Slayer...oh, Slayer, are you sure?" he hissed even as he fumbled with the buttons on her blouse and lifted his hips so she could tug his jeans over them.
"Yes...yes, Spike, I'm sure. P-please...m-make love to me...*now*."
There would be time for discovery and tenderness and foreplay later... all she wanted now was to be with him. To have him inside, driving away everything but the taste of oblivion and the here and now. Before something could get in the way. Nakedness...sweat and smoothness...his kisses intensifying as they hurriedly touched and explored...as he lowered her to satin and moved above her. She opened for him...body and spirit. Nails digging into his back.
"Yes...oh, God...yes, Spike...don't stop...don't ever stop." Closer. Hotter. "Spike..."
She stared up into his dark gray eyes, finally recognizing and naming the color as their hands entwined and they rose and fell together. As the sweet pain and pleasure began to take over. He buried his lips in her neck...no teeth. Just the erotic parallel of the bite as his body shuddered.
After the last aftershocks faded away, he rolled onto his back, pulling her across him as he gently kissed her forehead and traced lazy circles on her shoulder. Completion. Utter rightness. She had only felt it once before...
"Let's just stay like this...forever," Buffy murmured, sleepily kissing his throat. "You and me...always."
"I have no plans to leave you," Spike assured fiercely, clasping her legs with his and imprisoning her between him and the sheets. "And nothing's going to take you away from me now. Nothing and no one. I swear."
Somewhere from the rug...from the pocket of her crumpled jeans...her brand new black cell phone began to ring.
The cell phone rang again...insistent from the floor.
"Don't answer it," he pleaded, voice muffled against her hair.
"I have to." She tenderly reached over and stroked his face, a long sweep from his temple to his jaw. So classically sharp. And then she pulled out of his arms, scrambling over the side of the bed and grabbing her jeans by one leg.
"Slayer...please," he whispered as she pulled the phone out of a pocket. "Hang up on 'em." The sheets rustled and he was unceremoniously yanking her back to his chest. "Give us a few more hours."
She swallowed. Her lower body hummed from his magic...throbbed for more. "I can't." And she rested her head in the hollow of his throat, curved herself between his legs and she silenced the electronic wails. "Hello?"
"Anne?" Birkhoff's voice. Her codename--a ridiculous concept she still didn't get. Who else would answer her phone?
"Yeah?" she replied, as the chills seeped into her system. Section. Always there. Always watching. She couldn't even have *one* night. *One night* with Spike. Just like...just like...
"We need you in at 0700 hours." Birky's clinical on-the-job voice, but with a hint of affection.
She didn't know whether to be relieved or worried. "All right. I'll be there," she murmured as lips soothed along her hairline. As nails lightly scored her skin.
A pause. Then, a sighed, "Don't have too much fun." And a click. And a dialtone. Did he know something? Suspect? Did she care right now? The phone was warm in her palm. 0700. 7 a.m.
"Was that the killjoy?" No breath tickling her earlobe. Just the deep sexy whisper.
"No." She let the small black death knell slip from her hand as she took comfort from his thighs...from the caresses up and down her spine. "We've got time." Birkhoff wasn't Miss Calendar...and Section wasn't her Gypsy Curse. Not tonight at least. A small stay of execution.
"Good," Spike told her matter-of-factly. "'Cause that means we've got time to do this nice and slow."
"Do what?" She arched into the tongue on her pulse...his licks were cool, wet, tingly. And his body was warm and hard...both courtesy of contact with hers. "Wh-what do you want to do?" A breathless giggle escaped her lips.
"Devour you. Crawl inside you." He clasped her around the waist as the slow, sensual growl worked up through his pipes. "Make love to you forever?"
Her senses swam...quickly and easily. Because she hadn't heard things so tender in a long time...hadn't felt so alive..."Spike--" she chided, not sure if she could place faith in the pretty phrases.
"Fuck you silly?" His alternative was wicked and soft as he kissed her throat...the place where her collarbone met the base of her neck...the line along her shoulder.
More laughter. Buffy knew that this was ludicrously perfect...and momentary. Section owned her--until she could escape. But not right now. Not this minute. Right now, she had everything. "Yes," she murmured, covering his fingers with hers, dancing on the backs of his hands. "Yes." She had something like love.
And suddenly she was flat on her back...the victim of a swift Judo throw gone erotic, and he was stretched out beside her. "Oh, Slayer...Buffy. . . a 'yes' a year ago and we could've avoided so much..." Barely said. Almost silent.
"A year ago?" A year ago. A lifetime ago. She met his eyes, furrowing her brows. "I didn't know you wanted me then. That you *could* want me."
His knuckles caressed her cheek. "Neither did I. Stupid me."
He kissed her again. Again. Again. Buffy threaded her hands into his hair, brought him over her, and she couldn't remember a time before Spike... knew there could never be a time after. This was it. Born in fire. She could give thanks to Section for one thing...for the Korsikov mission. For that first kiss in the corridor as the security guards ran by with their weapons drawn.
Hours went by...and every inch of each other's skin was loved...and memorized. He drove into her, she rose to meet him with everything she had. Repeated but singular ecstasy.
And towards the break of dawn, she let herself speak it aloud. The feelings that had risen so quickly. Had saved her soul.
"I love you."