Speaker-to-Customers (speakr2customrs) wrote,

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Hope it's worth it after all this time

The long-delayed Chapter 15 of "It's Got To Be Perfect" is here at last.

Previous parts are here

Chapter Fifteen: Under the Bridge.

“Any ideas yet?” Spike asked.

“Some sort of hallucinatory drug, I would guess, but I wasn’t aware of any that could have such an effect on a vampire.” Giles shook his head. “I’m baffled, frankly.”

“Drugs do work on us – I mean on vampires,” Spike informed him. “I mean, when I was at Woodstock, I fed on a Flower Child and I just watched my hand move for the next six hours. Probably giggling like a nutter the whole time.”

“That was orally. What about by injection?” Giles had noticed that Harmony kept rubbing her shoulder and he examined the area. There was a reddened circle on the skin, a raised welt.

“Dunno. Circulation’s different. Not that we – they – don’t have it, but it doesn’t work quite the same. Would think it would be a bit slower to take effect, but I suppose it’d work eventually. Shooting up never really had any appeal for me, you know, and I haven’t got much experience with tranquiliser darts or whatever either.”

“Angel,” Harmony muttered. Her eyes were vacantly staring into the distance and she hadn’t reacted when Giles had passed his hand in front of them, or even when he had shone a torch directly into her dilated pupils. “Mom? Dad?”

“Hi guys! I got here as soon as I could.” Buffy hurried into the crypt. “Hey, what’s wrong with Harmony?”

“She appears to have been drugged in some way,” Giles informed her. “She was, it seems, attacked by Warren’s gang. We have been rather remiss in not dealing with them earlier.”

“Maybe, but what could I have done?” Buffy wondered. “Maybe if Spike hadn’t dumped Katrina’s body the cops might have had something to work on.” She glared at him accusingly.

“If you remember, Slayer, at the time you thought you’d killed her by mistake,” Spike pointed out. “Okay, I did a stupid thing, but I was desperate. I think I’ve already been punished for that particular piece of stupidity.”

Buffy flushed. “Just how many times do you want me to apologise?” she demanded.

“Well, once would be nice,” Spike retorted.

“I have!” Buffy protested. “In the car on the way to meet Harmony.”

“Was that it?” Spike shook his head. “I thought that ‘sorry’ was for the argument we were having. You really think that a two word apology in the middle of another conversation, while I was occupied with driving at a hundred and fifty, would put everything right?”

Buffy took a deep intake of breath ready to start shouting. Giles saw her and spoke up to pre-empt the row before it could get out of hand.

“Stop it, both of you,” he commanded. “We have more urgent considerations at the moment. Harmony appears to be in a bad way, and it behoves me to endeavour to cure her.”

“‘Behoves me to endeavour’?” Buffy repeated his words uncomprehendingly, her brow deeply furrowed.

“Trying to help her is the right thing to do,” Spike translated. He looked suspiciously at Giles; ‘behoves’ seemed an excessively esoteric usage even for the Watcher, and he wondered if Giles was deliberately setting out to flummox the Slayer to derail her train of thought. His expression gave no clue. “You’re right, Rupert. Of course it might wear off by itself, vamps recover from most things.”

“It would still be advisable to learn as much as possible. Anything that could have so severe an effect upon a vampire could be devastating if used on a human, even a Slayer,” Giles pointed out.

“Angel,” Harmony moaned again. “I don’t understand.”

“Why’s she calling for Angel?” Buffy asked.

“I have no idea.” Giles looked up from his examination of the vampire girl. “This doesn’t look to me as if it is the mark of a dart or a syringe, but more like some kind of sting. You said she mentioned a demon?”

“She did,” Spike confirmed. “She said the nerds brought one. We know they’ve summoned demons before.”

“Maybe we should give Angel a call, see if he could come help,” Buffy suggested.

Spike’s first impulse was to oppose the suggestion, but it occurred to him that Angel might distract Buffy and give him some breathing space. His new conscience also nagged at him, reminding him that there were issues between himself and the souled vampire that remained unresolved. “Yeah, why not? He’ll have to make a decision about Harmony soon anyway; it’s probably a good idea to give him a reminder. I’ll give him a call.”

“He does have an extensive knowledge of demons,” Giles agreed. ‘And personal experience of being poisoned,’ he added silently, that event not being something he wished to bring up in Buffy’s presence.

“He’ll have to have somewhere to stay,” Spike pointed out. “If he has to go back and forwards between LA and here that wouldn’t exactly give him much time to do anything constructive. Okay with you if I offer him a room at my place, Rupert?” The idea didn’t fill him with enthusiasm, but it was the practical solution.

Giles was uncomfortable with the idea too, but good manners overrode his lingering resentment towards the vampire whose soulless incarnation had brought about so much grief and pain. It would also give him the opportunity to learn more about the vampire’s child. He might not be currently employed by the Watcher’s Council but the desire to research an unprecedented mystical event was too deeply embedded in his consciousness to be set aside. “Certainly, William,” he agreed.

“I’ll look after Harmony if you two want to hit the books and call Angel,” Buffy volunteered, seeing a chance to avoid a potentially awkward conversation, or at least to postpone it.

“That would be most helpful,” Giles accepted her offer. “I know of a reference work that may be helpful. There is a copy at the Magic Box, if I remember correctly. Hmm.”

Buffy recognised the abstracted expression that was creeping over Giles. “Okay, you go do that research thing,” she advised him. “You gonna call Angel, Sp – William?”

Spike’s mouth twisted. “Yeah, I’ll do that,” he said reluctantly. “Take good care of Harm, okay?”

* * * * * *

“Hey, not so much with the talking about me as if I’m not here,” Harmony protested. “Look, I just don’t get this. Why are you pretending you don’t know me, Angel?”

The tall detective frowned at her. “I’ve never met you before in my life, Miss Kendall. My name’s Gabriel Devlin. I guess you must have heard some of your associates talking about me in some garbled fashion. You seem remarkably lucid otherwise. Now, you’re over twenty-one so we need your consent to have you admitted to the detox unit.”

“Detox unit? What are you talking about, Angel? I’m a vampire. So are you. Not understanding how we’re out in the daylight here. Just what is going on? How come we’re not on fire?”

He shook his head. “Maybe I’m wrong about you being lucid. Just what were you on apart from heroin? If you’re that delusional we can get a court order committing you. Or maybe hospitalisation might be more in order.”

“Hospitalisation?” Harmony repeated, alarmed. “I can’t go to a hospital. I don’t understand what’s going on. Mom, Dad, you know what happened to me.”

Her mother turned away from her, distraught, and buried her face in her husband’s shoulder. “We don’t know, Harmony,” he told his daughter gently. “You disappeared right after Graduation. We’ve been searching for you for nearly three years. We have no idea how you ended up living under a bridge in LA.”

“Under a bridge?” Harmony looked back at the place where she had met her parents and the man who claimed not to be Angel. “What was I doing there?”

Her father didn’t reply. Pain etched an answer across his face and he hid in his wife’s hair. Angel, or Gabriel Devlin as he called himself, took Harmony’s arm and led her a little way from them.

“Drugs,” he told her. “Prostitution. Probably theft. You seem to have come through it in fairly good physical shape. I think we can get you through it. But you’ll have to work with us. Sign up for detox and then do what the staff tell you. And no more of this ‘vampire’ talk, it’s upsetting your parents even more, and they’ve been through enough already.”

“Prostitution? No way! I’d never …” Harmony raised her hand to wag her finger in his face and then froze in shock. Her upper arm was covered in scabs, tracks following the vein lines, vivid weals. “Oh God. Oh God.” She looked frantically at her other arm; it was the same. She turned her back on the detective, raised the hem of her shabby and stained skirt, and examined her thighs. “No!” she screamed. “Oh God, no!” She looked back at him with a tear-stained face. “Help me,” she sobbed. “I’ll sign up for detox. I’ll do anything. Make this stop.”

* * * * * *

It didn’t take long for Buffy to grow bored. She glanced through the ‘Cosmopolitan’, but it was getting very dark and she couldn’t be bothered to light lots of candles. The old standard lamp Spike had salvaged from the dump didn’t really shed enough light for reading. Harmony was alternating between vacantly staring at nothing and babbling incoherently; there didn’t really seem to be anything Buffy could do to help her.

The lower level was much more comfortable, but she couldn’t see how to get Harmony down there. Pushing her down, or letting her fall, seemed cruel, and carrying her down the ladder would be so awkward as to be unworkable. Buffy fidgeted. The cell phone lying on the floor caught her eye, and she picked it up. She fumbled through the menu. Spike’s number came into view immediately. The next number on the display was Angel’s; she debated with herself for a minute and then decided not to call. After that came numbers for shops, a bank, one titled ‘work’, and numbers for people she didn’t know. Another reminder that Harmony had a life despite being dead.

She was too busy examining the cell phone to notice immediately when Harmony started to move. She looked up just in time to see the blonde walk straight into the wall of the crypt. “Oh, shit!” Buffy exclaimed, and jumped up. She was too lake to stop Harmony bouncing off the wall; the vampire staggered but remained upright and began walking forward again in a slightly different direction.

Buffy caught Harmony by the shoulders and restrained her with ease. She was still attempting to walk, however, and Buffy was at a loss as to how to deal with her. Perhaps she should tie Harmony up? There were handcuffs in the lower level; but going down to get them leaving Harmony loose upstairs didn’t seem like a good idea, nor did trying to get Harmony down the ladder. Buffy held Harmony with one hand and used the other to call Spike on the cell phone.

“I thought maybe I could bring her over to your place,” she suggested, after explaining what was happening. “She’d probably be safer there, and if Angel’s coming it’d be more convenient. Is he coming?”

“Yeah, right away. Wesley’s out of hospital, Cordelia’s back as well, and they’re coming too. They’ll be here in a couple of hours or so. Dunno about bringing her over here, though. I didn’t invite her into the apartment when she stashed her car in my garage, so she hasn’t been inside, and an invite now might not work. Can’t invite an unconscious vamp in, y’know, found that out a while back, and I don’t know if a one who’s totally zonked out and playing with the fairies counts as conscious. She’ll have to stay there, unless you take her to the Magic Box.”

“I’ll take her home,” Buffy decided. “She came back with me after the bachelorette party, she’s got an invite. Plus, I can get Willow and Tara to give me a hand with her, maybe Dawn too.”

“Good idea. Want me to bring the car over?”

Buffy thought about trying to steer Harmony all the way back to Revello Drive and shuddered. “Yeah. Thanks. Meet you at the cemetery gates in ten?”

It was more like twenty minutes before she reached the gates. Harmony had tried to walk straight through trees and gravestones, had struggled in her grip to try to walk around invisible obstacles, and then had climbed into an invisible vehicle and sat down on a non-existent seat. Buffy had ended up slinging Harmony over her shoulder and carrying her, and the Slayer strength didn’t completely compensate for the fact that Harmony was bigger and heavier than Buffy and kept moving in unpredictable ways.

“You could have come help,” Buffy snapped at Spike as soon as she saw him standing waiting beside the car. She expected him to bristle defensively, snap at her, come up with some lame excuse like being worried in case they’d missed each other; instead he just apologised and opened the car door. Buffy fumed as she manoeuvred Harmony into the back seat and joined her there; she felt she’d been cheated out of an argument. Spike being calmly reasonable just wasn’t fair; and it wasn’t any fun.

* * * * * *

“Okay, we have two guys, fairly big, kinda loomy, and one leggy blonde chick. Pretty stacked, and man, she’s got legs that sure go right up to the top. You recognise any of them?” Warren looked questioningly at the other two.

“Yeah, one’s a right and the other’s a left,” Jonathan responded. Andrew sniggered; Warren raised his eyes heavenwards. Jonathan grinned, feeling he’d scored a point over Warren, and pointed to one of the figures on the monitor. “That’s Angel. The other guy looks sorta familiar. Oh, yeah, he’s a friend of Giles. Came to see him in the library a few times, was in the big fight against the Mayor’s gang. English, I think. Pretty much of a wimp.”

“Doesn’t look like a wimp,” Warren frowned. “Who’s the chick?”

Jonathan thought hard for a minute and then smacked himself on the forehead. “Cordelia Chase! She ruled Sunnydale High, until she started dating Xander Harris and lost all her cred with the popular crowd. I didn’t recognise her at first with her hair like that. Doesn’t suit her.”

“Still wouldn’t kick her out of bed,” Warren drooled.

“Angel,” Andrew breathed reverently. “The vampyre with the soul. The mysterious figure in the shadows, whose doomed and tragic romance with the Slayer of the vampyres cast a mysterious shadow over Sunnydale High.”

“The mysterious figure in the shadows who cast a mysterious shadow?” Jonathan scoffed. “Where’d you get that line, an Ed Wood film?”

“Can it, you guys,” Warren ordered. He peered into the monitor, screwing up his eyes. “Is that a baby?”

* * * * * *

Buffy looked at Angel and sighed. The souled vampire was glaring at the man who used to be a vampire, and the reason was nothing to do with their shared history of bloodshed and conflict. It was because Spike was flirting outrageously with Cordelia. No, it’s worse than that, Jim. Spike wasn’t just flirting; he was making a play for Cordelia, humorously but with serious intent, and Cordelia wasn’t exactly giving him the big brush-off.

Buffy knew exactly how Angel was feeling, because she was feeling it herself. Jealousy about Spike and Cordelia. The Angel thing, the whole big soul-mates gig that once everything had revolved around? So over. Last time she’d seen him she’d ripped him a new one about the whole miracle baby thing and his trying to kill Spike. The time before that, when they’d met at the diner in Thousand Oaks, everything had been awkward and, what was the word, stilted. Yeah. Like they’d been teetering on stilts, having to be so careful with everything they said in case they fell over. ‘Hey, I’m not dead any more’. Hey, I still am’. ‘I’m over you.’ ‘Hey, I’m over you too.’ Things left unsaid, when it was all there’d really been to say. So they’d sat uncomfortably, and made meaningless small talk, and then left and gone their separate ways. And now?

Now it was kinda nice to see Angel, that was all. He was familiar; someone she felt she could pretty much rely on to help out if she needed a hand; someone who was obviously interested in someone else and it didn’t bother her at all. A friend.

‘You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends’. Guess Spike had been wrong about that; and, of course, he’d also been wrong about something else. ‘I know you’ll never love me.’ Unfortunately she’d been equally convinced of that until it was too late.

Spike broke off from his pursuit of Cordelia and looked up. Buffy turned her head and saw Wesley and Giles entering the room from the direction of the basement.

“Can I see her now?” Cordelia asked.

Wesley exchanged troubled glances with Giles before replying. “Certainly it would be best if someone was with her, but you may find it somewhat distressing. Especially if she has another lucid moment.”

“I’ll deal,” Cordelia assured Wesley, and stood up.

“Distressing?” Angel queried.

“Lucid moment?” Buffy asked simultaneously. “So she’s going to be okay, right?”

The two Watchers split to deal with the two enquiries. Automatically Giles turned to Buffy and Wesley turned to Angel; Spike came to Buffy’s side and Cordelia joined her employer. Buffy felt a brief triumphant glow, but it faded as she realised that Spike’s attention was entirely on Giles. The bond was between the two Englishmen, who had lived together in the past and were now doing so again, not between her and her former lover. She drifted off into thoughts of the love she had lost and missed it when her Watcher began his explanation of Harmony’s condition.

“Buffy,” Giles spoke chidingly, “You’re not paying attention.”

“I am so paying attention,” she claimed, turning to face him, but then wilted before his gently disbelieving gaze. “Only, maybe not so much. What’ve you got there?”

Giles was holding up a book to display an illustration. Rather to her surprise it was a colour photo rather than an ancient woodcut. “This is what we need to capture. A Glark Guhl Kashma’nik demon.”

“Capture not kill?”

“We need to extract its venom in order to prepare an antidote,” Giles explained. “Unfortunately the references don’t say anything about what happens to the demon after death, and we can’t risk it dusting, or vanishing into an alternate dimension, or melting into a puddle of slime.”

“Like the ones that jumped me at the construction site did,” Buffy remembered. “Guess the nerds set those on me, too, so I see where you’re coming from. Yeah, good plan, Giles.”

“That the thing that messed up Harm? What’s it done to her?”

The glasses came off. Not a good sign. Giles passed the book to Spike and began to clean his lenses. “Its venom is hallucinogenic in quite a remarkable way. Harmony believes herself to be human. She babbled rather, but as far as I can gather she thinks that she ran away to Los Angeles with a guitar player after Graduation, got into the drugs scene, and now is a heroin addict living under a bridge and supporting her drug habit with prostitution and theft. There are no such things as vampires; they’re a delusion brought on by drugs. Angel is a private detective, human, and has just tracked her down for her parents. They’re taking her to a rehab clinic.”

“So where am I in this delusion?” Spike asked.

“Ego much?” Buffy muttered.

“You were the guitar player, and you introduced her to heroin,” Giles told Spike soberly, bringing an anguished expression to the younger man’s face.

“Hey, if she told you this, she must have come out of it, right? You said ‘lucid interval’,” Buffy remembered. “So she’s coming out of it, yeah?”

Giles replaced his glasses, retrieved the book from Spike, and read aloud from it. “The victim often returns to sanity for intervals, which may be of extended duration, but these become shorter and less frequent until eventually the victim sinks permanently into the delusional state.”

“Oh. Not of the good.”

“A succinct way of putting it, but yes, not, as it were, of the good.” Giles noticed Wesley extending his hand for the book, and passed it over. “She is quite likely to walk out into the sunlight if we don’t keep her restrained.”

“It might be best just to put her out of her misery if we can’t find this demon,” Angel suggested to Wesley.

Spike heard the remark and turned on the vampire angrily. “No way, mate. She saved your sprog. We save her. Not negotiable.”

“She saved my life, Angel,” Wesley said reproachfully. “I’m with Spike on this.”

Angel looked at his feet. “I didn’t mean we don’t try. Just, if we can’t find the demon, if it’s gone back to whatever dimension those kids summoned it from, it might be the kindest thing to do. She’s a vampire. We can’t put her in an institution. She might need to be looked after for decades. Centuries.”

“Guys!” Cordelia took charge before the discussion could go any further. “Out and look for this demon. Now. I’ll go and sit with Harmony, Willow and – Tara, is it? – can look after Connor, okay?”

Tara smiled happily and nodded, but Willow’s lips tightened.

Giles saw the reaction and spoke up quickly. “It might be a good idea for us to search in pairs. Willow, of course, should be a member of one of those pairs.”

Cordelia looked sceptically at the witch but had the good sense to keep her mouth shut.

Willow glanced quickly at Tara to be sure that her lover was comfortable with this, received an approving smile and nod in confirmation, and beamed. “Yay! Go me! So, what pairs? Angel and Wesley, of course. Me and Spike, Giles and Buffy?”

“I think that would be a very good combination of our talents,” Giles agreed.

Buffy pouted. She wanted to be with Spike, her perfect fighting partner, who always had her back. She had to admit, however, that putting two of the super-powered fighters together would leave one of the other teams weak in that area, and so she said nothing. The hot flare of jealousy that blazed through her when she watched Spike and Willow head off together, smiling and comfortable with each other, caught her completely by surprise.

* * * * * *

“Nothing,” Spike said disgustedly. “I’m a pillock. I should have said something earlier.”

“We should have kept you more in the loop,” Willow said. “When did you find out that it was Warren and his friends who were messing with Buffy?” She pulled open a drawer, eased it from its runners, and checked the space behind it.

“I heard a couple of things during Buffy’s party, but I didn’t find out for sure until the day after I turned human. After I’d had that dream and I worked out that Warren was the Doctor, y’know?” He lifted the corner of a desk and looked underneath it, saw something, and scooped it up. “One of those funny Dungeons and Dragons dice. Not a lot of help.”

“Might give me something to work with for a locator spell,” Willow pointed out. “I’ve got something!” An excited note entered her voice briefly, only to go flat as she examined her find. “A guarantee card for a webcam. Oh, well, confirmation, I suppose.”

“Wonder how long they’ve been gone?”

“The dust marks where the keyboards were are still perfectly clear,” Willow observed. “I think they’ve only just moved out. They must have been all ready to move, nothing left behind. It wasn’t a panicky running thing.”

“And I knew about this place for months,” Spike moaned. “I definitely need my arse kicking.”

“Well, getting Warren to check out your chip, really not of the clear thinking there,” Willow agreed. “Suppose he’d done something to it? Do what he says or it goes off? There was a whole world of badness there.”

“You don’t have to remind me. Done a lot of stupid things, but that’s right up there with the stupidest. Lucky it worked out okay. Thanks to Buffy’s wish, I suppose. Haven’t really thanked her for that. I should.”

“Yeah, you should.” Willow gave up on her search of the Trio’s abandoned lair, sat down on the dusty desk, and stared at Spike. “Sp- William, what Buffy did was totally unfair on you, yeah, but it wasn’t all bad. She loves you. Give her another chance, why don’t you?”

“I don’t mind you calling me Spike, Red,” Spike grinned at her. “Come on, this place is a bust, let’s get searching the cemeteries.”

Willow didn’t move. “Dodging the issue much? Not gonna work on me, Spike. You want me to put on Resolve Face?”

“I resisted Dawn’s patented Puppy Dog Eyes,” Spike reminded her. “Me. Buffy. Over. What part don’t you understand?”

“The part where there’s this hot blonde who you’ve loved for years, and she loves you, and you go totally off her. Doesn’t make any sense. Not seeing as how you obviously want a girlfriend. There was Tarantula, and then you were all over Cordy – and hey, did you see the glares you were getting off Angel? – but you won’t even dance with Buffy. I don’t believe it, not from Mr ‘I stuck with Drusilla for a hundred years’. You’re just punishing Buffy for messing you up with that dumb wish, and I see where you’re coming from, but it’s time you stopped.”

“So she didn’t tell you? She wished it.” Spike saw Willow’s eyebrows climbing and smiled ruefully. “Said something to Cecily, that is Halfrek, like ‘I wish he’d just get over me’, and then Halfrek made the pitch about the wish. Buffy fell for it and made a whole big list, but that first bit got included too. Serves her right.”

Willow sat silently for a moment digesting this information. “The ‘serves her right’ is harsh. Cruel, even. Although, see your point, but still. But, hey, no reason why you can’t fall for her again. Take her out on a date. See what develops.”

“Can’t see it.” Spike frowned and shook his head. “Never did understand why I fell for her in the first place. It was always you I fancied, remember?” Willow blushed slightly and lowered her eyes. “Right up until you did that spell where me and her got engaged,” Spike continued. “Kept thinking about that afterwards, on and off, and then one day I woke up and I realised I was in love with the silly bint. So it’s probably all your fault. Give up on the matchmaking. Let’s just find that demon so we can fix Harm.”

Willow stood up. “Okay,” she agreed. “Not that I’m giving up, but first things first.” She saw the space where she’d been sitting, a Willow-shaped clean patch standing out in the dust, and winced. She felt for something with which to brush the dust from her skirt, realised that she was still holding the webcam warranty card, and glanced at it. Her eyes widened. “Spike,” she said urgently. “This is dated last Thursday. Long after we found the camera in your crypt. They’re still watching us.”

* * * * * *

Buffy kicked the demon hard and it stumbled backwards close to where Giles was loading a second dart into his tranquilizer gun. The demon lashed out, stinger extended, and Giles felt a sudden burning pain in his chest.

“Oh, crap!” he exclaimed.

“I beg your pardon, Group Captain?” The voice was female and English.

Giles looked around. He was sitting at a desk in a modern office beneath fluorescent lighting. The chair on which he sat was leather, a swivel chair that was comfortable and obviously expensive. He was wearing a grey-blue uniform with bands of light blue on black at the cuffs. “Amazing,” he muttered. “The level of detail is quite astounding.”

Across the room a woman was rising to her feet and turning to face him. She wore a uniform of the same colour, but with sergeant’s stripes at the shoulders. “Is there a problem?” She sounded concerned.

“Oh, no, Sergeant,” Giles assured her. “I was wool-gathering, I’m afraid. Excuse me.” He looked down to where a file of documents was open in front of him. ‘RAF Strike Command,’ he read. ‘For attention of Group Captain Rupert Giles, Senior Supply Officer. From the office of Air Chief Marshall Sir John Day’. “Everything is in order, carry on.” He was astounded by the realism of the illusion. It was no wonder that Harmony, who had had no idea what to expect, had been thrown into total confusion. A thought struck him and it was with difficulty that he restrained himself from laughing out loud. ‘In this reality I’m a fighter pilot and a grocer!’

* * * * * *

“Bummer!” Buffy muttered. The demon lay unconscious on the ground, so mission accomplished; the snag was that Giles was sitting nearby, gazing into nothingness, and he had just addressed her as ‘Sergeant’. He’d been stung and was now in some cloud-cuckoo land. It didn’t seem as bad as the nightmare in which Harmony was stuck, but there was no way he’d be able to help her transport the demon, or even find his own way home. She pulled Harmony’s cell phone from her pocket. ‘Must get myself one of these’, she thought, and dialled.

* * * * * *

“We found it. In an alcove in the lower level.” Willow looked around nervously. “Where’s Harmony?”

“Asleep in the basement,” Buffy assured her. “She’s been through a lot, and she’ll be off to LA with Angel when the sun sets.”

“You sure she’s asleep? ‘Cause, vampire hearing, you know?”

“Something tells me you really want to make sure she doesn’t hear this. Maybe we’d better go up to the bedrooms,” Buffy suggested. Willow nodded and they made their way upstairs. Willow didn’t speak again until they were sitting on Buffy’s bed.

“It was aimed at the bed,” Willow explained. “They were watching her.”

“Eww,” Buffy exclaimed. “Sick little perverts. Yeah, Harmony would be upset.” Her mouth twitched upwards slightly. Yeah, it was gross, but not too bad. Maybe just a little funny.

“Upset? You could say that.” Willow was surprised that Buffy was putting it so mildly, and then she realised that the Slayer wasn’t aware of the full implications. “Buff, you got pretty drunk at the wedding, and you left fairly early. You don’t know the full story. Giles and Harmony left together, and they were getting real close. I’m pretty sure they went back to the crypt, and, you know.”

The tiny trace of smile was wiped from Buffy’s face instantly. “They boinked? And the nerd trio watched them? Oh my God. She’ll kill them.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure. They tried to snatch her as their sex slave or something, made her think she was a crack whore, it’s gonna be hard to hold her back anyway, but if she finds out about this the only way you’re going to stop her is by staking her.”

“I’m not going to stake Harmony to protect them,” Buffy decided, “but I can’t let her kill humans either. Yeah, she mustn’t find out about this. God, what was Giles thinking?”

“Probably what you were thinking after Anya’s bachelorette party,” Willow reminded her, an impish grin stealing across her face.

“That is so …” Buffy began, and then grinned back, “… true. Yeah, Harmony has her attractions. I …” she froze suddenly and her face paled. “Oh my God.” She leaped to her feet and stared around the room. “Willow. What if they’ve got cameras in here? What if they saw us? Oh my God, what if they’ve been peeping on Dawn?”

“Or me and Tara.” Willow came to her feet as well. “We search. Every inch of the house. Now.”

* * * * * *

They didn’t find any hidden cameras in the house, much to Buffy’s relief. She had more or less calmed down by sunset, when Harmony emerged from the basement and Angel’s party arrived to say their goodbyes before heading off back to Los Angeles.

There was a horrible finality about her farewell to Angel. Oh, they’d see each other again, she had no doubt about that; more frequently than they had done in the past three years, probably; but never as lovers. There were two massive barriers between them now, concrete symbols that Buffy&Angel4eva was forever lost; Connor and Human Spike. Angel had had a child by another woman, vampire even; and Buffy had made a wish that had given Spike everything that Angel had dreamed of having one day. That Spike regarded it as a decidedly mixed blessing made Angel feel even worse. He was now openly possessive about Cordelia. Buffy wasn’t sure whether it was to warn off Spike or to drive home to her the point that he had moved on; either way, it didn’t bother her much.

Spike and Angel appeared to have buried whatever hatchets lay in their past and to be getting on reasonably well. Whether they’d ever be real friends or not was hard to say, but they definitely weren’t enemies. The relationship between them was at least warmer than the rather chilly one between Angel and Giles.

Spike had definitely made friends with Wesley. Buffy shook her one-time Watcher’s hand and said a polite ‘goodbye’, whereas Spike almost had to be forcibly separated from him when it was time for Wesley to depart. Another thing that Buffy found herself resenting without really knowing why.

At least saying goodbye to Cordelia was enjoyable. There was an opportunity to make snide remarks about Cordelia’s unfortunate hairstyle, which was definitely of the good. Fashion superiority over Queen C, yay! A rare thing, and to be cherished when the opportunity presented itself.

It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye to Harmony. They’d never been friends when she’d been human, and the early encounters between Slayer and vampire had been antagonistic in the extreme, but now Buffy had to admit that she’d miss the other girl a lot. “You’re sure you want to go now?” she found herself saying. “’Cause, you could stay the two weeks we’d planned. You’re driving your own car, not like Angel would really have wasted a journey.”

“No, think I’d better go,” Harmony replied. “You wanting me to stay is super cool, wish I could, but not really a good idea right now. See, if I bumped into Jonathan, or that Warren guy, or Tucker’s brother, don’t know if I could stop myself ripping their throats out. I know you’d have to stop me, although, hey, not really seeing why, after what they did to me. Still, vampire here, I know I don’t get the morality thing, that’s your job. Anyway, I’ll miss you, I’ll come back to visit once those nerds are out of the way, ‘kay?”

“You do that, Harmony.” Buffy smiled. “Don’t be a stranger.” She stepped forward and hugged the vampire, feeling a genuine rush of affection.

“If you ever get things sorted out with Spikey, you be sure to invite me to the wedding.” A wicked little smile lit up Harmony’s face. “And definitely to your bachelorette party.”

* * * * * *

What's next? Well, I usually take a break for a day or two after posting before starting the next work, but I've kept everyone hanging on so long I might just crack straight on with the next chapter, "Mirror in the Bathroom". Same title as the "Roxyverse" fic that I posted as a teaser a while back, but no connection other than the fact that it is not fluffy. Very, very, not fluffy.

And, thanks for the birthday wishes, everyone.
Tags: fic
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