Much to everyone’s surprise, Xander volunteered to drive to the area where the caves were located. “The company truck’s a four wheel drive and there’s a covered top on the bed. We can stash the vamp there and look like we’re just out for a little picnic and hanky panky in the wilds of Sunnydale Caverns State Park.”
“Surprisingly good idea!” Buffy was astonished.
“What? I can have good ideas. Besides, a couple of years of looking for out of the way places that Queen C found acceptable has made me the professional.”
“I don’t think I want to hear about your relationship with that woman,” Anya pouted. “The only good thing I have to say about her is that she’s the reason I have you now.”
“Love you too.” Xander kissed his girlfriend and got behind the wheel.
The truck was one with a full back seat, so Buffy and Giles climbed in the back while Oz took shotgun. Giles had a tranquilizer gun in case Oz lost his battle with the wolf, but the young man would be needed to lead them to the correct cave.
Oz ducked down as they passed one of the Initiative’s black vehicles out on an obvious search and retrieve mission. Since they were headed towards the Initiative location they didn’t come under suspicion. Getting back, however, might be another issue.
“Do you think we have enough blood in the cooler?” Willy had been easily persuaded to part with several bags of his finest after Buffy threatened to make the Alibi Room just so much rubble.
“It should be plenty until we get Spike relocated,” Giles reassured the worried Slayer.
“I think he may need quite a bit. I don’t think he’s fed since they recaptured him and he’s had a few surgeries,” Oz offered. “He might lose some of the blood he drinks at first when he starts bleeding again.”
Buffy was ready to do some serious damage. Oz had scared them all when he’d burst into Giles’ apartment looking as if the hounds of hell were after him.
The group was already in an uproar after Willow had rushed in and babbled about the Initiative having Oz in their clutches. They were already working on some plan to rescue their old friend when he turned up at their door. Tara understood fully when Willow wrapped her arms around the exhausted young man wearing nothing more than a stolen, ill-fitting pair of camouflage pants grabbed on the run.
He told about the escape and how Spike wasn’t able to make it any further than the caves. Buffy had never known Spike to be that drained of energy or blood. Even in the wheelchair, he had managed to get where he needed to be without too much trouble. Spike was nothing less than resourceful.
“Mom is getting the basement ready. She was really pissed when I told her what happened.” Buffy shook her head in amazement. “I guess I’m getting used to the idea that Spike and Mom are friends. She wouldn’t have just anybody as a houseguest! She already headed to the butcher to pick up more blood.”
“You sure they won’t look for him at your mom’s house?” Oz was concerned for Spike’s welfare. He knew the vampire would stay in Sunnydale. The few conversations they had while planning the escape had made it clear that Spike wanted to be wherever Buffy was,, no matter the danger.
“Riley doesn’t know my mom or where she lives. I’m glad I never told him that much about my home life. For all he knows, my mom doesn’t even live in Sunnydale.”
“The name Summers isn’t all that common, however. Care must be taken, as your mother is listed in the telephone directory,” Giles cautioned.
“We’re bringing them down before they can figure that out.” Buffy had a steel edge of determination in her voice. “They are so going down.”
“Honey, please calm down. Buffy won’t let anything happen to Oz.” Tara watched Willow pace nervously. It was one thing to be over the romance with Daniel Osbourne and another thing entirely to no longer care.
“I know, I know. What if he wolfs out though?” Willow fretted.
“Then Mr. Giles will tranquilize him and he’ll still be fine. Sweetie, why don’t you try to break into the Initiative’s computers while we’re waiting. You might feel like you’re striking back at them and it will take your mind off the worry.” Tara was getting dizzy watching Willow pace.
“Excellent idea,” Anya chimed in. “I’m not worried that my handsome hunk of manhood is even now risking his life and my future happiness all to help a vampire he hates. You shouldn’t worry either.”
“I don’t think Xander really hates Spike,” Tara suggested. “I think it’s more a habit for him to say nasty things to him because he’s a vampire. I get the feeling that if he forgot what Spike was for a moment they might even become friends.”
“I love that you’re such an optimist,” Willow smiled at her love.
Anya thought about what Tara had said and nodded. “You may have a point. If I remember the stories Hallie told, William was a little like Xander before he met Dru.”
The other girls looked at Anya in amazement. “You know what Spike was like as a human?”
“Well, only through Hallie. I was in the Far East in the late 1800s. Hallie knew him before either of them were demons.” Anya laughed. “She nearly died laughing when she found out her William the Bloody was the vampire William the Bloody. I mean he got the nickname for his awful poetry, most of it written for her. ‘William the bloody awful poet’, they called him. She was mortified!”
“Poet?” Willow forgot her worry at the concept of Spike writing poetry.
“Yes, a nice, quiet, unassuming man, far too romantic for his own good. Not enough money or prospects for Hallie, but he was persistent.
“You haven’t told Xander any of this, have you?” Willow could just imagine the hazing the vampire would be in for if Xander had any clue.
“Of course not! The last thing I need is to add fuel to THAT fire, especially with the Slayer getting all hot and bothered over Spike. Nope, not going to stir that pot of soup.”
“Hot and bothered?” Willow was further distracted. “Are you saying there’s sparkage there, ‘cause Buffy’s already tried the undead boyfriend route and it was majorly of the not good.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed there’s a real attraction between them too. Honey, you have to know Spike isn’t like that other vampire. You should see the colors in both their auras when they are together! It’s really quite beautiful.” Tara smiled indulgently. She had seen a similar display between herself and Willow. It boded well for the unusual pair.
“Okay, really have to work on hacking into that computer now. My mind can’t handle more Springer moments.” Willow opened the notebook and began to type. She was close to breaking the code, she just knew it. All she needed was a clear head and some time.
By the time they got to the right cave, Spike had slipped into unconsciousness. Giles suggested it might be for the best since Spike would not be troubled by being jostled as they moved him to the bed of the pickup. Buffy and Oz opted to join him there withBuffy to keep a watchful eye on the injured vampire and Oz to stay out of sight of any passing soldier types.
Buffy’s already simmering anger had blazed up at the sight of Spike’s condition. She could see where the doctors had cut and sliced, never bothering to put in a single stitch to close the wounds. ‘And they call Spike subhuman!’ She was outraged on his behalf.
So far the vampire had yet to make a sound, not even a groan when he was moved from his hiding place to the back of the Ford. He looked terrible. Even Xander was sympathetic. It had helped to have Oz tell of Spike’s helping him to freedom. Xander was beginning to think he just might need to re-evaluate the vampire in light of recent events. Spike clearly was no Angel and he had never, even at his worst, been as evil as Angelus.
Buffy cradled Spike to her as the truck bounced over the uneven terrain. “So are you going to stick around and help kick these guy’s butts?” she asked Oz.
“I think I’d better leave again. There’s nothing for me here now and I need to be able to keep the wolf under control. Can’t do that here…not now.” Oz sounded lost.
“Where will you go?”
“Nepal or maybe this commune in Sri Lanka I heard of,” Oz had gotten plenty of experience in world travel of late. “Might try some music over in Europe in time.”
“That’d be nice. I always loved Dingoes. Hey, you could be a rock star one day!” Buffy tried to sound supportive, but she hated the idea of losing another piece of her life forever. Friends were too important to just blow off.
“Got a feeling I’ll be back one day, just not now. I’ll stay in touch either way,” Oz promised.
“See that you do.” Even a werewolf should know not to break his word to the Slayer.
“EUREKA! Really, that’s the word, ‘eureka’. What a ‘duh’ moment. You’d think I was a blonde, not a redhead.” Willow was stoked. The computer flashed with page after page of de-encrypted data. “Now to find the right file, download it to disk and it’s bye-bye, rogue soldiers.”
“Do you think this Council will be able to close them down?” Tara didn’t know much about the British Watchers other than the fact that Buffy and Giles no longer worked for them.
“Oh yeah, they’re really powerful…too powerful.” Willow thought about the previous year. “They have their hands in so many things it’s scary--governments, businesses, all kinds of things. Buffy doesn’t work for them anymore, but the only other Slayer they have is in a coma. So as long as Buffy’s still keepin’ the Hellmouth safe and stopping the annual apocalypse, they’ll help. Besides, I think Giles has some dirt on them to make them at least try.”
“I doubt they would want anyone tampering with the whole ‘chosen’ thing anyway. If the Initiative starts taking Buffy apart, who knows what they’ll find? I mean, legend has it that Slayers got their start from a demon essence and that isn’t something they’d want put out for public knowledge,” Anya nodded sagely.
“Buffy’s a demon?” Tara was confused. Buffy looked completely human all the way down to her aura.
“Oh no, not a demon…a demon essence. I doubt these scientists would even know how to find that out. Buffy’s human in every way a person could tell, except for the obvious strength and healing and unexplainable knowledge of fancy martial arts.” Anya had always wondered about that last part.
Willow had been scanning files as they talked, looking for any reference to Buffy or the Slayer. “Bingo!” She read the proposal with cold anger at the callous way these people had been discussing ‘studying’ her best friend. She began to transfer the entire file to disk, shaking her head in disgust as the damning files copied over. “Think I’ll make more than one copy just to be safe. Might as well copy all their stuff while I’m at it. Never know what we might find.”
Xander took a long and circuitous route to the Summers home.
Buffy had managed to get only two bags of blood into Spike as he remained unconscious. He had bled it right back out again, so she decided it was best to wait until he was safely in her mother’s basement and properly bandaged up.
“Will I see you again to say good-bye?” Her eyes were tearing up as she looked at Oz. The werewolf had helped move Spike to the cot in the darkest corner of the basement.
“Doubt it. Need to be on the move. Don’t want to wind up like Spike,” Oz nodded to the vampire currently being fussed over by Mrs. Summers. “I’ll stop and say good-bye to Willow. I owe her that much this time.”
“Be safe, Oz. I’m holding you to your promise to stay in touch too.”
“Sure you have everything you need, Buffster?” Xander looked at the girl he had finally consigned permanently to sister/friend status, leaving behind any lingering hopes of being more to her one day. He had noted her concern over Spike and could see the handwriting on the wall. He was only surprised that it didn’t hurt as he had always thought it might.
“We’re good.” Buffy hugged him and smiled at Giles. “Thanks, guys. I know you have reservations where Spike is concerned, but I think he’ll surprise you.”
Giles snorted. “He’s always done THAT, Buffy. I will call you later to make sure you are not in any need. Perhaps it would be best for you to stay here as well until we have the Initiative sorted.”
“Spike kinda needs me anyway, so, yeah, I’ll be here.”
“Thank you, Giles,” Joyce added. “I’m glad you are finally being the man I remembered you to be. Xander, I’m proud of you as well.”
Buffy was applying butterfly sutures to the worst of Spike’s wounds and bandaging all the areas where he might lose the precious blood once they got him fed. “We’ll probably need more blood by tomorrow. He’s leaking like a sieve.”
“On it,” Xander promised. “I’ll bring it by in the morning. I’d better get back before Anya gets Willow mad enough to turn her into something icky. I really wish they’d get along!”
“Stranger things have happened,” Buffy said and smiled down on Spike.
Willow looked sadly at Oz. Once more he was leaving for parts unknown. This time, however, he was not walking over her heart in the process. “I missed you, Oz. I wrote you so many letters but didn’t have any place to send them. Eventually I just stopped writing.”
“I’d like to hear from you, if you want to write those letters again. I just can’t be here.”
“I get that.” She smiled and took his hand and couldn’t stop a few tears from falling. It was closing a chapter in her life, a very important chapter. “You’ll always be in my heart, you know. I don’t want this to be good-bye. Maybe it’s selfish, but I just think one day I’ll be this old lady and I’ll turn around and there you’ll be and it’ll be like nothing’s changed.”
“I know.” Oz fully understood how she felt. “We had our time and we may have another time in the future. Now is not that time, I guess. I’ve got your e-mail address. I’ll let you know where I am. I won’t just disappear this time.” Oz looked over Willow’s shoulder at Tara and couldn’t help but think the girl looked right with his sweetheart. “Be happy.” They hugged and Oz moved quickly from the door to his van and the grand journey that was to be his life.
Tara moved behind Willow and wrapped her arms around her. “You going to be okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m home.” Willow leaned into her lover’s arms and let out a contented sigh.
Giles was eagerly reading the files Willow had downloaded. “This is perfect, Willow! Travers will be wanting to come himself to bring these barbarians down. There is valuable data here on some rare demons as well.” He turned a wide smile on the young woman he had always valued but rarely more so than now. “Well done, Willow, well done!”
Spike moaned softly and wondered at the feeling of warmth that surrounded him. Without opening his eyes he knew he was no longer in the crevice, but he wasn’t sure where he was. The smells were familiar, but he wasn’t in enough control of his senses to place them. All he knew for certain was that he was no longer in the hell called the Initiative. He was on too soft a bed for one thing; for another, his wounds had been tended to.
“Hey, sleepyhead! Plan to stay asleep much longer? ‘Cause I’m a bit wigged at you being quiet this long.” The voice was without a doubt Buffy. She had come for him. Part of him had worried that no one would bother.
“Buffy.” Had angel’s names ever sounded as lovely as that one? He spoke it like a prayer or a poem, and she loved the sound of it for the first time in her life.
“Not a nice thing scaring the Slayer that way,” Buffy gently smoothed his hair from his forehead. “I didn’t know what happened to you. I was afraid one of those Neanderthal football morons came after you again.” She looked at his damaged body and let the tears fall. “Might have been better for you. Don’t think even a chip would put you completely at their mercy, not again.”
Spike opened his eyes just in time to see the startling sight of the Slayer’s tears. He reached a finger up and caught one as it fell. “These can’t be for me, love, can they?”
Buffy laughed. “Well, I AM blonde. Not known for making great choices. Yes, you dope, they’re for you, although to keep your ego from exploding I should have lied and said it was allergies from this dusty basement.”
“That where I am?” He looked around, trying to figure out where he had landed. He was clearly not of sound mind at the moment, imagining a caring, weeping Slayer.
“Yup. Mom just went to bed. She was dead on her feet. I said I’d stay and make sure you eat as soon as you can sit up.” She started to help him into a position to do just that. “We’ve been really worried.”
“Just don’t wake me, ‘kay, pet? ‘Cause this is the best dream I’ve ever had.” Spike sighed in contentment.
“Who knows, maybe waking up could be even better,” Buffy teased. “You’ll have to drink up and heal to find out, won’t you?”
Spike tilted his head and looked at her in wonder. “I will at that, love.”