Summary: A sequel to Even Demons Need Friends. If you haven’t read that short s4 fic, all you really need to know is that this is a non-canon Season 5 in which Glory is there searching for her Key, Joyce is sick, Spike is unchipped and living in another city. At the end of the previous story, he’d asked Buffy to call him if she needed help.

They don’t have a relationship yet; they weren’t even much more than canon Season Four semi-enemies, with an unrecognized and unacknowledged sexual attraction, when Ethan’s spell to turn Giles into a Fyral demon wrought some important changes in a very short period of time. But not changes sufficient to make it likely that a slayer, with a human boyfriend and a firm belief in what’s right and acceptable, and an old vampire, who has just regained his ability to hunt and feed, are likely to see any kind of a future for them. In spite of some surprising revelations about how they may feel about each other.

Definitely an AU Season Five. Some things will be familiar, some things obviously will not, so don’t go looking for an identical timeline or identical events.

 

 

A FRIEND IN NEED

 

 

~~~~~~~ PROLOGUE~~~~~~~~~

 

 

As Buffy picked herself up and shook her head to clear it, she wondered what had just happened. Surely that skanky woman in the too tight red dress hadn’t just thrown her through a wall?  A brick wall?

 

“Owie.”

 

Apparently she had. As Buffy limped away, she was muttering to herself about being caught off guard and kicking skanky butt the next time.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The next time came along much too soon to suit Buffy, especially considering that she now knew Dawn was the mysterious “Key” that Glory kept screeching about.  An unfamiliar feeling of helplessness began to worm its way into Buffy’s psyche.

 

This bitch is stronger than me. Not all that bright, and she’s got lousy fashion sense, but still.... 

 

There was a period of respite from the strange demon after she got flattened by a semi, and after several Glory-less weeks, Buffy was seriously hoping that was the end of the problem, so she could concentrate on her mother’s health and quit worrying. She tried to ignore the nagging little voice in her head that insisted it was never that easy, but of course, it turned out the little voice was right....

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Seeking a safe place to stash Dawn and her mother temporarily, if and when it became necessaryJust until I find a way to get rid of that bitch, Buffy ventured into Restfield, searching for the crypt that Spike had moved into sometime before he left Sunnydale. When she entered the open doors, she startled an unfamiliar demon, who had been sitting on the couch eating Doritos.  Said demon gave an unmanly shriek when he saw her, leaping to his feet and spilling chips all over the floor.

 

“Slayer!”

 

Buffy put her hand on her stake, wishing she’d thought to bring a sword with her before realizing she was looking at one of many harmless demons that lived in and around Sunnydale. She remembered Giles and Spike assuring her that demons that looked like this incredibly wrinkled one were harmless to humans, and often actually friendly and helpful.  She shook her head at that idea, but relaxed and spoke to him anyway.

 

“What are you doing here?” She did her best to intimidate him with her presence, hoping he would leave the crypt and not return. Her fierce look seemed to be working as he edged his way toward the door.

 

“I’m just keeping an eye on it for Spi—a friend. He has some stuff stashed here and—“

 

“Spike?  You know where he is?” Buffy stopped her advance into the crypt and got between him and the door to safety.

 

The demon squirmed uncomfortably, but didn’t answer. His expression was one of abject fear mixed with stubborn determination.

 

“Oh stop acting so antsy,” she snapped. “I know what kind of demon you are. I’m not going to slay you... unless you don’t tell me where Spike is....”

 

“He’s my friend,” the demon said. “You’re the Slayer.” He stared at her as if he’d just explained everything. Which, she had to admit, it probably did if you were a demon....

 

Buffy sighed and allowed herself to visibly relax.  “He’s my friend too,” she said quietly. “At least I think he is—was—wants to be....” She shook herself and gave him one of her best smiles. “Let’s start all over.  Hi! I’m Buffy, the vampire slayer. I’m a...a friend of Spike’s. I was hoping to borrow his crypt for awhile.”

 

“I’m Clement – Clem for short,” the demon said, returning her smile. “And if you’re Buffy, then I’m sure Spike wouldn’t mind—” He goggled at her. “Buffy is the Slayer? You’re Buffy? Spike’s Buffy?”

 

Buffy blushed and cleared her throat. “Well, I’m Buffy. And I’m the Slayer. I don’t think I’m— I mean, Spike is just—“ She paused and frowned. “Why do you know my name if you didn’t know I’m the Slayer?”

 

“Well... I guess, now that I think about, I should have figured it out. It’s just— whenever he talked about you, he always just said ‘Buffy.’ You know, like ‘Buffy is really pretty’, or ‘I like the way she kiss—‘ Uh, nevermind. He just didn’t talk about Buffy and the Slayer at the same time, and I never figured you.... Dumb, I guess, now that I think about it. Of course you’re you. That explains a whole lot, actually.”

 

“Spike talked about me?” She did her best to sound casual, telling herself it was only natural that he talked about the Slayer to his friends.

 

“He did. Well, sometimes he was talking about you... you know–Buffy... but when he talked abut the Slayer—”

 

Changing the subject before he could share what Spike had to say about her when he was talking about the Slayer, she said, “So, Clem. You’re saying you know where he is?”

 

“I can get hold of him if I need to,” he answered, refusing to meet her eyes.

 

“Not what I asked,” she growled, watching him flinch. “I can get hold of him if I need to.... I think,” she added. “I want to know where he is.”

 

“I don’t know, Slayer. Honest. I don’t.  I just know he’s still somewhere here on the west coast. Maybe in Portland or Seattle or some place like that? Where it’s rainy all the time?”

 

There was silence while Buffy absorbed that news and began to walk around the crypt. She’d only been in it a few times before Spike left, but she thought she remembered it being pretty big and solidly built.  She went back to the entrance and examined the double doors there.

 

“I think this will work,” she mused.

 

“Slayer?” Clem seemed to be frowning, but it was really hard to tell, what with all the wrinkles already there.

 

Buffy smiled at him. “I need a place to... hide—put... my family sometimes.  I was kind of hoping Spike would be around to help me protect them, but I guess just keeping them here will work.  It’s not like the bitch is going to be looking for them in a cemetery,” she muttered.

 

“Bitch? You mean that crazy woman who keeps asking for her key? That bitch?”

 Clem’s immediate guess as to who the bitch might be was as startling as the fact that he’d overheard what she’d thought was a private grumble to herself. She whirled on him.

 

“What do you know about her?” she demanded.

 

He held up his hands in supplication. “Probably less than you do, Sla—Buffy. She’s looking for some kind of key to something or other, and she’s getting right testy about not being able to find it.  Got some scabby little creatures out helping her, but she’s the dangerous one.  I saw her deck a Fyral demon with a flick of her wrist.  She’s really strong.”

 

“Ya think?” Buffy snorted, and turned back to the room. 

 

“Do... do you want me to call Spike?  I’m sure he’d come back to help you out with her if you wanted.”

 

Buffy narrowed her eyes at him.  “You’re sure? How can you be sure about that? I’m not even sure, and I’m the one who—I’m not even sure. He’s probably forgotten all about telling me to call him if I need him.”

 

“I don’t think so....” Clem shrugged. “But hey, I’m sure you know him better than I do.”

 

“Me?”

 

“Well, yeah. With the being engaged and all. I mean, I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you kids, but I’m sure—”

 

“That was a spell! A stupid spell that said I should marry Spike. That’s all it was! And it only lasted one night!”

 

“Must’ve been one hell of a night,” Clem mumbled as he turned away.

 

“What? What did you say? What did he tell you?” Buffy struggled to keep her voice down below the range of dogs-only-hearing.

 

“Nothing, Slayer. Nothing. He didn’t tell me anything. Just that you were engaged for a while and that he couldn’t remember the last time he was that happy.” He met her eyes briefly. “That’s saying a lot when you’re as old as he is.”

 

“Oh.” Buffy flushed and bit her lip. “Well, we were pretty happy, I guess. I mean, we thought we were in love, and that made us happy, and.... And this has nothing to do with nothing. The point is, it was just a spell, it was a long time ago, and he’s been gone for almost a year. I don’t have any reason to think he’d help me with anything – never mind some kind of over-dressed ho-bag with more superpowers than I have.”

 

“It’s up to you, Slayer. I’m just saying, I think he’d come back if you asked him.” Clem walked to the door and glanced back over his shoulder. “He always asks me if I know how you’re doing when I talk to him. Of course, I don’t usually have much to tell him, because we don’t hang out, and I didn’t know the Slayer was the same person as....”

 

“Let it go, Clem. I’ll handle it myself.  But do me a favor, huh?”

 

“Sure, what is it?”

 

“Just... my mom and sister might be here a lot and they... it might be better if they didn’t see you.”

 

Clem’s face fell, but he nodded. “Sure, Slayer. I get it. I’m not the prettiest demon on the hellmouth.”

 

“Oh, I didn’t mean... it’s just that they aren’t used to seeing any demons, and they might be scared of you.  If it turns out they’re here a lot, I’ll introduce you as a friend of Spike’s. Okay? They both like Spike. And then it would be okay for you to show up once in a while.”

 

“Okay, well, I’ve got to get going.  Nice meeting you, Buffy.”

 

“Yeah, you too, Clem. See ya.”

 

 

Using the light coming in the open door, and the candles Clem had left burning, Buffy put down her unused flashlight and finished exploring the crypt.  She cringed at the filthy couch and chair have to bring in some old sheets or something to cover those disgusting things, but nodded at the sturdy table toward the back of the crypt.  She frowned over the jumble of wires leading to an old fridge and from there to a beat-up TV, then decided that stone probably wouldn’t burn anyway if the wires did catch fire.

 

“At least Mom and Dawn will have something to do all day.”  She stared around some more and began making a mental list of things she’d have to provide for them. “Candles, flashlights, maybe some lanterns and batteries... an old sheet to cover that couch...” She stopped and sighed, realizing that neither Joyce nor Dawn was going to be happy about being stashed in a damp crypt while she was out searching for Glory.

 

“If we have to use it, they’ll just have to suck it up,” she said aloud as she closed both the interior and exterior doors.  “I can’t go looking for her or fight her if I’m worried about them. If we’re lucky, she’ll go away and look for her key somewhere else, and I’ll never have to bring them here....”

 

 

CHAPTER TWO (some weeks later)

 

“Look, Mom, it’s just until your appointment this afternoon. Okay? Dawn will be okay at school, but since that creepy bitch knows where we live... I just can’t leave you there alone.”

 

“You say this place is a crypt? You want me to spend the day in a grave?”

 

“It’s not that bad. Spike was fixing it up before he... left. The furniture’s still there, there’s a TV that Clem says works okay—”

 

“Spike? Clem?”

 

“Clem is a friend of Spike’s. He’s a demon, but a nice one. I’ll introduce you if I get a chance. The point is, he’s been keeping the place clean and unoccupied while Spike’s gone, so it’s a nice safe place to spend the day while I go looking for Glory. And I already took a bunch of stuff there so you guys will have lights and... stuff.”

 

“I still don’t understand what she wants with Dawn.”

 

“I’m not sure I get it either; all I know is those monks sent Dawn to us so I could protect her from Glory, so that’s what I’m gonna do.  Giles is talking to the Council, asking them what they might know about Glory.  If we can figure out what kind of demon she is, I’ll know how to kill her.”

 

“You do know how disturbing it is to hear my daughter talking so casually about killing someone who seems perfectly human... if a destructive one.”

 

“Trust me, Mom. Whatever Glory is, human isn’t it.  And if I wasn’t who and what I am, she’d have probably killed me several times over already.  If she ever finds out Dawn is....”

 

“All right, Buffy. I’m trusting you on this. How does Spike feel about us using his crypt?”

 

Buffy coughed and mumbled, “I’m sure he’ll be fine with it...”

 

“You haven’t asked him.” Joyce’s voice was disappointed and tired. “I raised you better than that, Buffy.”

 

“Spike likes you, Mom. I know he’d be okay with this.  I... I can’t ask him.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, as though a good answer might be hiding there.  “Because I haven’t talked to him since he left. And if I tell him I need to hide you and Dawn from some skank that can beat me up, he’ll just think....”

 

“That the only reason you called him was because you need him for something.” The disappointment in Joyce’s voice was still there, but her eyes were more understanding.  She sighed and stood up, shaking her head when Buffy immediately grabbed her overnight bag, but not commenting.

 

“I know you’re all grown up now, and your business is your business, but if you ever want to tell me what happened last year that sent Spike off to Seat—” She caught herself, but not soon enough.

 

“Seattle?  He’s in Seattle? All this time, you’ve known where he is and you never told me?”

 

It was Joyce’s turn to sigh. “He made me promise. He said you were better off not knowing where he was. That you knew how to get hold of him—“

 

She raised an eyebrow at Buffy, who mumbled, “He sent me a cell number.”  Remembering that she was the injured party here, Buffy went on the attack.

“But how could you know where he is?”

 

As they got into the car, Joyce held out her hand for the keys, saying firmly, “I’m not crippled, Buffy.”

 

Buffy handed them over, relief evident on her face. While she had managed to get her license, thanks to many hours of Riley’s patient instruction and practice, driving was still not her favorite thing to do.  She went back to her question. “How come you know where he is?”

 

Joyce concentrated on backing out of the driveway, then answered Buffy’s question. “He came by the gallery to say good-bye before he left. He told me he was worried about you and the Initiative—not a bad guess, as it turned out,” she added with a sideways glance. “Anyway, he called me when he was settled, gave me a number and told me where he was....” She hesitated for a second, then decided Buffy deserved the truth. “I’ve spoken to him a couple of time since then. He always asks me how you are and if everything’s okay here.”

 

Buffy was too busy trying to process the information that her mother had more of a relationship with Spike than she did and that he apparently still felt something for her, to notice Joyce’s flinch as a random pain shot through her head.  By the time Buffy looked up, the car was once again going in a straight line and her mother was looking ahead, her face relaxed and calm.

 

They left the car in the small parking lot near the entrance to Restfield, smiling kindly at a family laying flowers on a new grave as they worked their way toward the back where the older graves and mausoleums were located. It was only a few minutes walk to Spike’s crypt, although Buffy watched Joyce carefully for any signs of fatigue.  

 

“Here we are.  Home sweet home,” she trilled as she opened the two heavy doors.  She left them open long enough to light some candles and turn on one of the battery-powered lanterns she’d stashed there earlier.  As soon as she was sure Joyce would be all right by herself, watching her settle on the couch and turn on Passions, Buffy turned to leave.  “I’m going to go look for Glory again, Mom.  I’ll be back in time to go with you to the doctor this afternoon, but if I’m not...”

 

“If you’re not, I’m perfectly capable of walking back to my car and driving myself to hospital.  They’re just doing some more tests today. It’s no biggie.”

 

I’ll be back,” Buffy said, closing only the relatively easy to open and close metal gate behind her.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“A tumor?”

 

“It’s going to be all right, Buffy. He says he can get me in right away for surgery.”

 

“Surgery?”

 

“First thing in the morning.”

 

“Surgery?” Buffy repeated, unable to form a more coherent thought. “Brain surgery?”

 

“It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“I need you.”  Buffy held her breath. She hadn’t even identified herself when Spike answered his phone on the second ring.  Common sense was telling her that she was crazy to be calling a former enemy/brief ally/and even briefer spell-induced lover, but her fingers had dialed anyway.  She waited for him to ask who was calling, or give an evil laugh as he reminded her that she’d told him he couldn’t stay in Sunnydale without the chip.  She was already preparing her arguments: “You like my mom, and she’s sick, and you like the way Dawn hero-worships you, and—” when Spike interrupted her mental practice speech.

 

“I’ll be there sometime tomorrow night, luv. Or, by morning, anyway.  Is that soon enough?”

 

Left with unused arguments, Buffy filled the silence with them anyway. “I know I’ve got no right... but you said I could... and Mom is really sick and Dawn is a pain and Glory is stronger than—”

 

“I said I was on my way, Buffy.” She could hear the smile in his voice as he gently interrupted her.

 

“I know,” she sighed. “It’s just... I had all these arguments ready to use when you laughed at me, and.... I don’t know. I guess I just thought I should use them.”

 

He did laugh then, but with genuine humor and a trace of fondness rather than the derision she’d been expecting.

 

“Well, I’ll listen if you want me to, but think my time might be better spent packing up and getting ready to hit the road as soon as it’s near enough to dark.  It’ll take me the better part of tonight and tomorrow night to get there. If it’s close to morning, I’ll probably head straight for my crypt. Do you remember where it is?”

 

“Uh... yes... I, uh, actually, I might have... borrowed... it a couple of times. Just to stash Mom and Dawn somewhere safe.  I didn’t mean to... but Clem said you wouldn’t mind, and—”

 

“You know you’re perfectly welcome there anytime, Slayer. And your mum and sis too.”

 

“Thank you,” she almost whispered. 

 

“You’re welcome, luv. I’ll see you another day or two, alright?”

 

“All right.  If... if you don’t see me around, I might be at the hospital, with Mom and Dawn.  But I’ll check your crypt before I go home and before I go back to the hospital...”

 

“Hospital?”

 

“Mom’s having surgery tomorrow morning. She has a brain tumor. But it’s going to be okay. She told me it would.”

 

There was silence for some time before Spike said, “I’m sure she will, love. You go spend time with your mum. I’ll find you.  Don’t worry about it.  Give her my best, yeah? Tell her I’ll... well, just give her my best.”

 

“’K. See you soon, then?”

 

“Soon as I can make it. I promise.”

 

“... well.... bye then.”

 

“Later, Buffy.”

 

She stared at the now-silent phone and wondered what she’d just done. 

 

“Riley’s going to go apeshit over this,” she muttered to herself as she put the receiver down. 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

The small waiting room was crowded with Buffy, Dawn, Riley, Giles, Willow, Tara, Xander and Anya occupying all the available seats.  When the surgeon came in, followed closely by the young doctor who had been observing and assisting him, Buffy jumped to her feet, giving Riley an apologetic shrug as she almost knocked him off the bench.

 

“Miss Summers?” The surgeon looked around the room until the younger doctor touched his arm and pointed to Buffy.  “Ah, yes, there you are.  Well, things went very well. The tumor was easily isolated and removed, and we see no signs of it having spread. Of course, we will test the tissues for malignant cells, but I suspect it was more benign than we originally feared. Baring any complications, your mother should be fine and back to normal within a few weeks.”

 

“Oh, Doctor. Thank you! Thank you!” Buffy’s first instinct to hug the man until his ribs cracked was fortunately interrupted by Giles’s warning hand on her arm.

 

“That’s wonderful news, Doctor. Thank you so much.”

 

The man peered suspiciously at Giles and the eager Scoobies gathering around Buffy, but didn’t bother to question who all these non-family people might be. He just gestured at his intern and nodded.  “Ben here can give you all the details as to how long she’ll be in recovery, when she’ll be able to leave the hospital, and her home care.  She’s a very fortunate woman.”

 

The surgeon made his escape, leaving Ben to answer all the questions being thrown at him.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy refused to leave the hospital until she had spoken with Joyce, sending Dawn home with Willow and Tara.

 

“Do you want me to stay with you?” Riley asked quietly, as the others were leaving. “I’m free tonight.” Buffy winced at the resigned tone of his voice. Riley had been at loose ends since getting his heart fixed. He still patrolled with her, not realizing that his presence was often more of a danger than help. Now that he was just a normal man – if a big, strapping, extremely fit one – he just didn’t have the speed and strength that he’d had before. 

 

“No, that’s okay, Riley. I’m just going to sit by Mom’s bed until I’m sure she’s going to be all right. Then, I think I’ll go home and catch some sleep.  It might be really, really late. Maybe morning.  I’ll call you tomorrow when I know what’s going on. Okay?”

 

“Sure. That’s fine. If you don’t need me—” He shrugged. “But you don’t usually need me anymore, do you?  All that talk about how losing my enhancements wasn’t going to make a difference was just that, wasn’t it? Just talk.”

 

Buffy made no attempt to hide her sigh. “Riley, I’ve got a mother who just had brain surgery, a sister who—” She paused, having not shared with Riley that Dawn was the mysterious “key” that Glory was searching for so vigorously. “A hormone bomb of a sister, a fashion-challenged demon of some sort, who’s stronger than I am and who keeps trying to kill me because she thinks I have her precious key.... I just don’t really have the time or energy to worry about your ego right now.” 

 

She shook her head and gave him an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. That was—I didn’t really mean that.”

 

“I think you did,” he said stiffly. “Is that what you think this is about? My ego?”

 

“Well, no. I mean... I know you want to help me, but right now all I need is for you to... to be there for me when I need you.”

 

“That’s the point, Buffy. You don’t seem to need me. For anything.”

 

“I need you! I’m very needy!  I’m totally needy girl... I just... I just don’t need you the way you—for the things you think I should need you for.”

 

“Then what do you need me for?”

 

“I just need to know that... I need you to be my... my boyfriend.  It’s just, when you’re the slayer, that’s kinda a... different... position.  Not like what you’re used to probably.”  Buffy raised her eyes to his. “But I don’t know how to do it any other way. The world has to come first.  That’s what—who I am, Riley. I have to save the world sometimes... usually on a Tuesday—okay, that’s irrelevant—but at least once a year. I don’t know if Glory is going to be this year’s Big Bad, but she might be. It’s a little early, but she’s—”

 

“She’s just some sort of human-looking demon that’s trying to kill you. Why don’t you let the Army handle it? They still have a presence in Sunnydale. Let her catch a couple of grenades in the chest and—“

 

Buffy shook her head.  “Riley, she probably could catch the grenades and throw them back before you could duck. Or maybe just squeeze them into powder, I don’t know.  But I’m pretty sure your Army buddies aren’t going to want to go after a woman – no matter how stupid she dresses – until she’s killed several of them just to prove she can....”

 

“But you think you can take her on... alone.”

 

Buffy bit her lip and visibly debated with herself for a moment before she mumbled, “I’m not planning to do it alone. And that’s all I’m saying about that right now.”

 

“Fine,” he said stiffly. “Keep your secrets. Apparently letting me in on your strategy isn’t one of your ‘needs’.”

 

“I can’t do this right now.”  Buffy sighed and shook her head again.  “I’ll call you later.” She went up on her toes to give him a kiss, but he just glared at her, then spun around and left without saying good-bye. She gave another sigh and headed in the direction Ben had shown her was where she could find her mother.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Joyce smiled at Buffy and Dawn as she pushed her dinner tray away. “Why don’t you girls go home and get some sleep?”

 

“I said I wasn’t leaving until I was sure you were all right,” Buffy insisted. Dawn nodded.

 

“I don’t need to go to school tomorrow. I already told my teachers that I might miss more than one day while you were in the hospital.” She beamed at Joyce and Buffy.

 

“Well, as much as I appreciate all this concern...” Joyce gave Dawn an “I’m your mother and I see right through you” look.  “... I’d really like nothing more than to get some sleep. And there’s no reason for you to sit there watching me sleep.  You’ve been here all day. And, Buffy, you’ve been here for almost twenty-four hours. You can come back tomorrow, after they’ve done all their tests in the morning, and we can talk about when I’ll be coming home. Go on. Get a good night’s sleep. You both look tired.”

 

“All right,” Buffy agreed with a sigh.  “We’ll see you tomorrow. Do everything the doctors tell you,” she added, giving her mother a stern look. 

 

Joyce laughed softly, wincing when it jostled her newly-patched up head. “This, from the girl who kept me running to the principal’s office every other week?”

 

“That’s not fair! I was busy with slayer stuff... usually....”

 

“I’m just kidding you, honey.  I’ll be good. I promise.  I want to live to watch my two beautiful girls grow up and get—” She paused as she remembered how dangerous Buffy’s night job was, and that they really didn’t know what Dawn’s being a “Key” might mean.  “Anyway, I’ll be good,” she finished with another smile.

 

“And we promise to grow up, get married and give you fat grandchildren,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. “Do you really think we don’t know what you wanted to say?”

 

Wishing their mother a goodnight, Buffy and Dawn kissed her and left the room. As the walked down the hall, Dawn said, “She’s going to be all right, isn’t she?”

 

“That’s what the doctors said. We just have to trust—oh, speaking of... Hi!” Buffy smiled up at the tall, good-looking intern who had made it his business to see that they were informed.

 

“Hi,” he said back, shuffling his feet as if embarrassed.  “I’m glad to see your mother doing so well.  I guess she talked you into going home tonight, huh?”

 

“Yeah. She’s pretty much back to being ‘I’m the mom and I say so’ mode.” Buffy smiled at him again. “I guess it’ll be up to you to keep an eye on her.”

 

“Happy to,” he said just as his face fell and he began to shake. “Oh no! Not now!” He stared at them. “Run!”

 

Without another word, he whirled and ran into a nearby linen closet, slamming the door shut behind him.

 

“What did he mean, ‘Run’?” Dawn frowned at Buffy, only to see that she was equally confused. Torn between a slayer’s instincts to run toward the danger, and a sister’s instincts to protect Dawn, Buffy wavered until they heard a woman’s angry voice shrieking from the closet. Something in the voice was only too familiar, and Buffy grabbed Dawn’s hand.

 

“He meant RUN!” she said, pulling Dawn at almost Slayer speed down the hall and to the nearest staircase.  They half-ran, half tumbled down the two floors to the ground level, bursting out the emergency door and running to the parking lot. By the time they reached the car, Dawn was gasping and wheezing, only Buffy’s firm grip on her hand keeping her going.

 

Once in the car and safely away, they paused to regain their breath enough to talk.

 

“What the hell was that?”

 

“I don’t know – and watch your language – but that was Glory’s voice coming from that closet and somehow Ben knew she was around.  The question is, how did he know we shouldn’t be there when she appeared? And why did he go into the closet?

 

“Maybe he’s afraid of her and was trying to hide? Or maybe he was being a hero and trying to distract her?”

 

“And we’re right back to how did he know she would be after us?”

 

“Well, since she doesn’t know who/what I am, technically, she would have been after you,” Dawn pointed out.

 

“Beside the point. Somehow, Ben, who barely knows us, knew that Glory was not somebody I would want to be around.  And that she was going to be there any second – or that she was hiding in the closet, but that’s....” Buffy sighed. “That’s something we can figure out later, I guess. Meanwhile we need to find someplace safe for you to spend the night.”

 

“Are we doing back to Spike’s crypt?” Dawn sounded almost pleased at the thought of spending the night in a vampire’s damp crypt.

 

“I suppose so. We need to run by the house first and get some things. Maybe an air mattress and some clean clothes? Stuff like that. It’s going to be different, staying in the crypt all night. Not like just hanging out there for a couple of hours in the daytime.”

 

“I’m not going to be there by myself, am I?”  Dawn suddenly sounded much less enthusiastic about spending the night in a large grave.

 

“No. I’m going to stay there too. I’ll do a quick patrol while you get settled in, but then I’ll spend the night there too.”  She paused. “Just so you know... I mean, I’ll be back long before... but – Spike’s coming back tonight,” she finished in a rush. “So he’ll be there too.”

 

“Cool!” Dawn was completely undismayed that they might be sharing the crypt with its undead owner. “I haven’t seen Spike in forever!” 

 

As she pulled into the driveway, Buffy bit her lip, her knowledge of what Dawn was and when she’d appeared in their lives conflicting with memories of catching her peering down from the stairs when Spike had first come in to talk to her about taking down Angelus. And the hero-worship/crush Dawn had developed the previous year when she thought a harmless Spike was going to become her brother-in-law.

 

“No,” she settled for saying quietly. “None of us have seen him in a while. But Mom and Clem have talked to him on the phone.”

 

“Is that why you know he’s coming back? Did one of them tell you?”

 

“I called him,” Buffy said in a tone that requested no more questions.  A tone that Dawn blithely ignored.

 

“You did? That’s awesome! Are you guys going to get back together?”

 

“No! What’s wrong with you? You know that was one of Willow’s spells that went wonky. We never were together.  I have a boy friend, remember?”

 

“He’s boring. Spike is totally cool and sexy.”

 

“Dawn!”

 

“Oh, like you haven’t noticed.  Puleeeze!”

 

“This conversation is over. Finished. Kaput. Done. Dead and buried – like Spike... except not so much with the buried, I guess...” Buffy stomped onto the porch and opened the door, pointing inside.  “Go pack your stuff. I want to get out of here.”

 

`````````

 

While Dawn went to pack an overnight bag, Buffy threw a few things into a duffle bag and changed her clothes. Telling herself she was not putting on tight black jeans and a red sweater because she knew Spike liked the colors, she brushed her hair and teeth (no water in the crypt she assumed) and grabbed a jacket from her closet. She stared into the closet for a second, then reached in and took down Spike’s leather duster, which had been hanging there since sometime the previous year.

 

If Giles had wondered why she wanted it, he hadn’t asked, he’d just handed it over with a somewhat aggrieved, “Who knows if we’ll ever see him again?” 

 

Buffy hadn’t bothered to share with anyone the reason for Spike’s departure, and she’d been surprised at the reactions when she told them he’d left town. She would have sworn Giles was disappointed, and even Xander seemed to miss his irritating presence from time to time.  But they’d become used to his absence, just as they’d become used to his presence, and his name was rarely mentioned by the time Glory began to show up.

 

 

By the time Buffy had parked the car, wrestled the heavy, if compact, air mattress and all the other things she’d decided they needed from there into the crypt, it was well past full dark and she wondered how safe it really was to leave Dawn on her own.  Finally, settling Dawn at the table with her homework and a water pistol full of holy water, she collected her stakes and went out to do a quick patrol of Restfield.

 

She muttered to herself as she went, dusting a newly-risen vamp every now and then, complaining about how her slaying duties were being affected by Glory and the scuzzy minions that were now running around Sunnydale searching for the “Key”.  Which they now knew to be what Glory – a hellgod, according to the less-than-useless Council – needed in order to return to her own dimension. Which would have been fine with Buffy, except for the little problem with the Key being her sister.... And that opening the way to the hell dimension would allow all sorts of nasty things through, as it was unlikely to close itself behind Glory when she left....

 

 An unpleasant situation all around, and time was apparently getting short and Glory was getting more impatient.  Giles seemed to think that if she hadn’t found the key and opened the portal by sometime later in the spring, the opportunity would be gone for another thousand years.  Not that Buffy was looking forward to having Glory around for that much longer, but if they could just hold her off until the date passed, she’d stop looking for the Key and Buffy could concentrate on slaying her when she could.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

When she’d been through most of the newer parts of the cemetery and checked out all the new graves, Buffy decided to call it a night.  She hurried back to the crypt, relieved when she pushed open the doors and found Dawn face down on her books, snoring peacefully.

 

“Hey, this is the kind of studying I do. You’re supposed to be the scholar in the family.”  She poked Dawn, who sat up with a small “eek!”.

 

“If I was a vampire, you’d be a midnight snack by now. Go ahead, blow up the air mattress and get some sleep. You still have to go to school tomorrow.”

 

Grumbling about damp graves, peeing in the bushes, and lack of running water, Dawn quickly got ready for bed and curled up on the mattress.

 

“What about you?”

 

“I’m not sleepy yet. I’ll just sit on the couch and read one of Spike’s books or something.”

 

In spite of trying to read through one of the books she found on a stone shelf, Buffy’s lack of sleep caught up with her and she slumped over to fall asleep on the couch, using Spike’s coat as a blanket.  After spending so much time in her closet, any trace of Spike’s tobacco and booze scent had faded, leaving it smelling like leather and the sachet Buffy kept in her closet.

 

 

~~~~~~~~

 

A shriek from Dawn brought her scrambling to her feet, eyes darting around the now dark room for the source of the danger.  The snick of a lighter illuminated Dawn’s indignant face as Spike lit a candle and grinned at her.

 

“Is that anyway to greet the man who lives here?”

 

“You scared me!” she yelled at him. “I thought you were a vampire!”

 

“I am a vampire, Niblet. Thought you knew that.” He turned his gaze on Buffy who was relaxing out of her fighting stance and taking deep breaths to try to clear her head. “Haven’t you told her about me, pet?”

 

“She knows what you are,” Buffy grumbled, rubbing her eyes. “What did you do – step on her or something?”

 

He shook his head and walked over to her.  “Almost did,” he said. “Wasn’t expecting to find anybody here and I was on her before I noticed the lump on the floor.”  He reached down and picked his coat up.  “You kept it?” The disbelief and joy on his face made her stare down at the stone floor while she responded.

 

“Well, yeah. You said to keep it for you. I brought it with me tonight because....”

 

“Because you thought you’d need to stay warm? Or did you just want to make sure I went crazy wearing a coat that smells like you?” He lifted the coat to his face and inhaled deeply.

 

“I brought it because I thought you’d want it when you got backstop that!” She tugged it away from his face, blushing as he laughed at her.  They faced each other, both very conscious of Dawn’s presence and her sharp ears.  Spike raised his hand as if to caress her face, then dropped it to his side and turned away.

 

“Go back to sleep, Bit. You can get a couple more hours in before you have to get up for school.  Need to talk to your sis for a bit, but we’ll go somewhere quiet.”

 

“You’ll go ‘somewhere quiet’? To ‘talk to her’? How lame is that?” Dawn flopped back down on the bed and put the pillow over her head. “Go ahead, ‘talk’ all you want. I’m not listening.”

 

“Brat,” Buffy muttered, sitting back down on the couch.

 

“Wasn’t kidding, Slayer,” Spike said. “Don’t think you know about this – should’ve told you, I guess.” He walked some distance away and picked up a ratty rug, revealing a trap door.  Opening the door, he said, “Let me go first and put some lights on, then you can come down.”

 

Buffy walked over and watched as he went down a ladder-like set of stairs and lit some candles which cast a golden glow into the air above the hole.  She peered down to see Spike gazing up at her.

 

“Come on, luv. It’s stronger than it looks, I promise.”

 

Rolling her eyes at him dubiously, she began to back down the stairs, using her hands to steady herself. She reached the last step and turned around to find Spike standing right in front of her.

 

“Did you think I was going to fall?”

 

“If I said yes, would you believe me?” He grinned at her, and wriggled his eyebrows.  “Or would you know I was just watching your pretty little arse?” He still hadn’t moved, and Buffy couldn’t step onto the floor without putting herself within bodies-touching distance.

 

She stared at him, wordlessly, wondering if he was going to move or just stand there until she pushed him away. He gazed back at her, running his eyes over her face and letting his lascivious expression fade into one of admiration and wonder.  When he raised his hand this time, he followed through, running his fingers down her cheek and stopping with them under her chin.

 

“Buffy...” His silent request was obvious. 

 

Buffy closed her eyes and stepped down, allowed him to tip her chin up for the kiss she tried not to admit she’d been waiting for since the phone call to bring him back.  His lips were cool and tentative at first, but when she responded with an open-mouthed sigh, he deepened the kiss, sending his tongue out to caress hers.  The kiss went on until Buffy’s weakened knees and the way she had melted into his body made it impossible for her to ignore Spike’s own inevitable physical reaction. With a small whimper, she pulled away, smothering disloyal thoughts of how much better she fit into his arms that she did Riley’s. It’s like his body was made for mine....

 

“Sorry, love,” he said, adjusting himself without any hint of embarrassment. “It’s what you do to me.”

 

“I didn’t mean to,” she mumbled, blushing as she remembered her own enthusiastic participation in the kiss. She raised her eyes to his and opened her mouth to make an apology. “I’m—”

 

“I’ll live,” he interrupted her. “Don’t you dare say you’re sorry. I’m not.”

 

“But...” She shook her head and took a deep breath.  “Okay, but we do need to talk. I need to tell you about Glory—”

 

“Glorificus. Hellgod. Wants to go home, needs a Key to open the portal, thinks you have it.  Does that about cover it?”

 

Buffy gaped at him. “How....”

 

“Clem filled me in. Seems she’s been tearing up the demon world too, thinking somebody, somewhere must know something.  So, the first question is, do you have her Key, or is she just misinformed?  It doesn’t matter to me – if she’s trying to harm you and yours, I’m going to enjoy biting her – but I’d just like to know if you’re really protecting a Key or if she just thinks you are. Do you have it?”

 

“In a way....” Before she could think about it any more, she began to share with Spike information she hadn’t even given Riley.  She met his eyes firmly. “Are you sure you want to know?”  A raised eyebrow was her only response.  “It’s Dawn,” she said, watching his face for any sign that he might have been playing her to get information he could then sell to Glory. “She’s the Key.”  The snarl that ripped from his throat told her all she needed to know.

 

“Over my dusty body,” he growled.  “Even if I didn’t care what losing her or your mum would do to you, I wouldn’t let anything have the Niblet.” He paced the room furiously for several seconds, then stopped and faced her. “How is that even possible? She’s just a bratty girl, not a portal-opener!”

 

“Okay, see, here’s where it gets complicated.  You might want to sit down....”

 

When Buffy had finished explaining about the monks, the glowing orb, and Dawn’s sudden appearance, he was left shaking his head. 

 

“But I remember her! When she was just bite-size, peeking at the monster in her living room!  Spying on us last year when we were engaged and trying to get some more snogs in.”

 

“We all remember her – but the memories aren’t real.  There was a... I did a spell... and all of a sudden she disappeared from all the pictures in the house, her room went back to being some place mom stored stuff for the store.... It was weird, but I knew right away it was true. I never had a sister. Not until a few months ago.  Dawn is the Key, and the monks made her somehow and sent her here so I could protect her from Glory. They knew I’d never let her have my little sister.”

 

“’Course you wouldn’t,” he said, barely paying any attention to her as he absorbed what she was saying. “Goes without sayin’.” 

 

“I don’t know exactly how Glory would use her, but it can’t be good.”

 

“Blood,” he said, still not looking at her. “It’s always about the blood.”

 

“Ewwww – that’s just disgusting and.... and probably right,” she finished with a sigh. “I’ve seen enough spells to know how often blood is involved. Willow tries to pretend she doesn’t use spells like that, but I’ve seen little cuts on her hand. More than once.”

 

He nodded. “Makes sense, doesn’t it? Cut Dawn, and let the blood flow into where she wants the portal to open. Then the only way to close it would be more blood. Niblet’s blood.”

 

“Or mine,” Buffy reminded him. “She was made from me.”

 

He gave her a fierce glare. “You’d best not be thinkin’ what I think you’re thinkin’!”

 

“If I thought it would work... But, I’m not the Key. Dawn is. She’s the only one who can open the portal.”

 

“So, we need to find this Glory bint and destroy her before she finds the Niblet. When do we start?”

 

“Yesterday,” Buffy said, giving him a wry smile. “Last week would have been good.” She yawned and covered her mouth quickly. “Oh God, I’m sorry. I just didn’t get any sleep before Mom’s surgery, and I tried to patrol tonight—”

 

“No apology needed, love. You didn’t wake up or notice there was a vamp in the room until Dawn screamed. That tells me all I need to know about how tired you are.”  He gestured toward the bed Buffy had been trying to avoid looking at. “Why don’t you crash down here for what’s left of the night?  I’ll take the couch and keep an eye on the bit.  Once it’s daylight and you two have gone back about your business, I’ll catch up on my own sleep and be ready to help you out tonight.”

 

Buffy eyed the soft-looking duvet on the bed and almost whimpered with the desire to just bury her face in it for a few more hours.  Her indecision plain, she said, “But....”

 

“But nothing, Slayer. Not asking you to share my bed. Not while I’m in it, anyway. Not saying I won’t make that request sooner or later mind you.” He leered at her, then sobered. “But not now. That’s not what you brought me back for. Go ahead. Might be a bit musty from not being used in so long, but shouldn’t be too bad. Clem brings his sister here every once in while to dust and do other housekeeping-like things, so it should be clean enough.”

 

“Can’t be any worse than that horrible couch,” she muttered, sitting on the edge of the bed and removing her shoes.

 

“Hey! That sofa was a find, I’ll have you know! Just sitting there by the curb, all unwanted and needing a home.”

 

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was unwanted....” Buffy yawned again and wrapped herself in the duvet. She was asleep before her eyes fell completely shut.

 

~~~~~~~

 

 

Footsteps and murmured voices from upstairs brought her awake long before she really wanted to be.  With a groan, she threw off the cover and stretched until she felt she was ready to move.  She sat up to put on her shoes, and saw Spike put his head into the entrance.

 

“Sorry, luv, did we wake you? Just trying to get the Bit off to school on time.”

 

“It’s okay. I need to get up and get going anyway. I want to check on Mom and talk to one of the doctors at the hospital.”

 

She started up the stairs, blushing when he remained where he was, crouching on the floor. His face was level with hers when she neared the top of the ladder, and she halted, not sure what he was doing. A cough from Dawn put an end to the staring contest, and Spike stood up with a sigh.  He backed away far enough that Buffy could finish climbing out of the lower level.

 

“Did you get a good rest, pet?”

 

Buffy nodded. “Yes, thank you. It was much nicer than curling up on that couch with just your coat for a blanket. I appreciate it.”

 

“You’re welcome there anytime, Slayer,” he said, giving her a salacious curl of his tongue while his back was to Dawn.  He laughed when she glared and shoved him away.  “No sense of humor. Maybe you do need more sleep....”

 

“I’m fine,” she huffed.  “You just go rest up so you’re ready for the Scooby meeting tonight. Giles is going to tell us the rest of what he learned from the Council. And we’re going to try to come up with a plan.”

 

“Scooby meeting, huh? Just like old times...”

 

Buffy took a deep breath and started to speak, then decided she’d tell Spike about Riley before they got to the Magic Box.  When she was planning to tell Riley about Spike, she pushed to the back of her mind to worry about later.

 

“Slayer?” Spike had noticed her hesitation, but she shook her head at him and turned to leave.

 

“I’ll tell you later,” she promised. “Do you want to meet me there or do you want me to come by here and get you when it’s time?”

 

“Just tell me when to be there, pet. I’m going to have a few errands to run after the sun goes down. Been gone a while and need to stock the fridge and—”

 

“Oh! I almost forgot! I... I got some blood for you yesterday. It’s already in there. It’s only pig,” she said, daring him to complain.  Rather than the disgusted face she’d expected to see, he was staring at her with same look of surprise and delight as when he’d seen his coat.

 

“You bought me blood?  I may have to change my entire opinion of you, Slayer. From the bane of my existence to—”

 

“Just not the bane of your existence works for me,” she interrupted before he could say something she didn’t want Dawn to hear.

 

He laughed and nodded, following them to the door and standing back far enough not to be caught by a stray ray of sunlight. “All right, luv.  I’ll see you tonight. Got my phone with me in case you have a change of plans, but if not, I’ll just meet you there around... 8?”

 

Buffy nodded and followed Dawn out the door. “See you then,” she said, giving a little wave as the door closed behind her.

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

After dropping Dawn off at school and running home to change her clothes, Buffy drove to the hospital and went directly to Joyce’s room.  On the way there, she watched with curiosity as several strangely dressed and clearly confused men were led off toward the psychiatric ward.  The woman on duty at the nurses’ station shook her head and sighed.

 

“That makes three more today,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on in this town. All these people losing their minds all of a sudden.”

 

Huh,” was Buffy’s reply, putting in the back of her mind that there might be a brain-stealing demon out there, but more concerned about Joyce at the moment. She walked into her mother’s room to find the young doctor she’d had on her list of people to see standing by the bed. He looked up, startled, when Buffy entered.

 

“Oh. Miss Summers – Buffy. I wasn’t expecting to see you so early in the day. I was just... uh... just checking your mother’s vitals. Morning rounds and all that.” He gave Buffy a very unconvincing smile and she narrowed her eyes at him.

 

“Don’t the nurses generally do that sort of thing?” she asked, blocking the door in rather obvious fashion.

 

“Well, yes. Usually, but I... we... “ He trailed off, correctly reading the expression on her face.  “Can we talk?”

 

“No problem. A talk with you is right there on my list for this morning. I just wanted to see my mother first.  Don’t leave,” she added as he sidled toward the door.

 

He stopped, frowning uncertainly. “I probably shouldn’t be here,” he said finally. “I really shouldn’t.”

 

Buffy nodded. “I’m starting to agree with you, but we do need to talk.”

 

“I’ll just wait in the hall?”

 

“Fine.” Buffy moved away from the door and over to a puzzled Joyce.  “But don’t go away.” She glared at him until he was out of sight and then turned to her mother. “How do you feel?”

 

“I feel good. Still sleepy a lot of the time, but that’s to be expected they tell me.  The older doctor said I can probably go home tomorrow morning if everything continues to be good.”

 

Buffy nodded, still glaring at the doorway. “If you get a chance, ask him if you can leave tonight, okay?”

 

“Buffy? Is something wrong? Is Dawn okay?”

 

“She’s fine. We spent the night at Spike’s and—”

 

“Why?” Joyce’s look sharpened suddenly as concern for her daughters overcame her desire to doze.

 

“I’ll tell you later. Just... do me a favor, huh? If that guy, Ben, comes back in? Press your button for help. Okay?”

 

“Ben? But why? He’s been nothing but helpful and kind and—”

 

“And he knows about Glory somehow.  Until I find out how and why he knows where she is and that I wouldn’t want her to find me, I don’t want him anywhere near you.  It’s only a question of time before it occurs to her that kidnapping you or Dawn would be the fastest way to get her Key from me. Or... it would be if the Key wasn’t... what it is.” 

 

“All right, Buffy. You go do whatever you need to do. I’ll see if the surgeon will release me tonight.”

 

“’K. I’ll check back with you late this afternoon.” Buffy started to leave, then paused. “Are you okay with it if I send Spike to pick you up?”

 

Joyce raised her eyebrows, but just nodded her head and smiled.  “So, how does he feel about having guests?”

 

“He’s fine with it,” Buffy mumbled. “I told you he would be.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

She found Ben waiting at the end of the hallway, and breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t been close enough to hear her conversation. She walked up to him and said, “I want you to stay away from my mother. Do you hear me? Don’t go near her.”

 

He nodded, hanging his head. “It’s probably for the best... but I... I’m not always... I can’t promise that I—she—”

 

“How are you involved with Glory? What do you know about her?”

 

“I can’t tell you that.” At Buffy’s narrowed eyes and clenched fists, he hastened on. “I mean I really can’t as in – am not able to. It’s just not... not something I have any control over. I’ll do my best to keep you and your family safe, but I’m not always... in charge.”

 

Buffy glared at him with her fiercest “I could break you half” glare, but he continued to appear frightened and helpless to do anything to appease her.  “Fine,” she finally said. “Just stay away from my mother – and tell Glory to stay away from her too!”

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy went directly to the Magic Box to tell Giles what she’d found out from Spike and Ben, only to find him holding a shaft of papers from the Council.

 

“Ah, Buffy. There you are. We have some new information. It would appear that it will be Dawn’s blood that is required to open the portal. And once opened, more of her blood, perhaps all of it, would be required to close it.  In addition, we’ve found that Glory is only able to remain viable in this dimension by sucking the energy from humans. Leaving them barely functional, but herself energized.  When she isn’t strong enough to maintain her hellgod persona, she most likely inhabits the body of a normal human. One who may or may not know that she is harboring a hellgod.  Of course, this is largely guesswork on the part of the council’s experts on such creatures. But they think she—”

 

“He,” Buffy said, sinking into a chair. “She’s a he when she’s human.  We’ve met him, and he works in the hospital where my mom is now.”

 

“You already know this?” Giles seemed disappointed.

 

“Not all of it, no.  But Spike guessed about the blood thing. And Ben... he’s kinda given it away as much as he can without actually saying who he really is. And I’ve seen some of her brain-sucked people. The psych ward is filling up with them.”

 

“Spike?”

 

“What? Oh, yeah, Spike. He’s come back to help me. He got in really early this morning.”

 

“And you know this because...?”

 

“Dawn and I spent the night in his crypt. I’ve been using it to stash Mom and Dawn when I couldn’t be with them. After Ben went into a closet and Glory’s voice started coming out of it yesterday, I figured I needed a safe place to hide Dawn.  I didn’t think Glory would go looking for her Key in a crypt. And so far, she doesn’t know that Dawn is the Key. All she knows is that I know where it is.”

 

Giles rubbed his forehead. “You can’t keep her hidden forever, Buffy. Glory is going to escalate her search now that the deadline is coming closer. The Council was able to narrow it down to a night two weeks from now.”

 

“I’ve got a plan.... Look, she doesn’t know anything about you guys, other than I hang out here sometimes, right? I mean, I guess Ben knows you’re my friends.... Damn, I thought I had it there for a second. I was just going to take Mom and Dawn and go somewhere until the portal-opening thingie was past. But you guys might be in danger too. I can’t leave you here.”

 

Giles frowned, deep in thought.  “It’s not a bad plan, Buffy. It just needs some tweaking.  I’ll work on it and we’ll discuss it tonight.”  He peered at her. “Where is Spike now?”

 

“Sleeping, I guess. He said he’d be here tonight, but I think I’d better go bring him up to speed.  I hope he’s not a cranky waker-upper...”

 

“Would you please share with him that I should like to speak with him before tonight, if that’s possible?”

 

“You want to talk to Spike? Why?” 

 

“Well, for one thing, I’d like to hear why he has decided to come back to Sunnydale, just when we could use the extra help...” He looked at Buffy expectantly.  She took a deep breath, exhaling her words so rapidly, he wasn’t sure he’d caught them.

 

“Iaskedhimto.”  She stared at Giles defiantly, daring him to question her decision.  He sighed and nodded.

 

“I see.  Which brings up several other questions, all of which can probably wait until a less stressful time.”

 

“Is that your stuffy British way of saying you aren’t going to be nosey?”

 

Heaving another deep sigh, Giles nodded. “Indeed. As curious... and concerned... as I may be about Spike’s motives, what’s important is that you have someone to back you up who is capable of actually...”

 

“... actually backing me up?”

 

Buffy cocked her head at him, waiting until he acknowledged her grin before waving her hand and leaving the store. She went to the house on Revello drive first, doing her best to pack bags for Joyce, Dawn and herself.  Throwing them in the back of the SUV, she headed for Restfield and the vampire she still wasn’t sure how she felt about.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Some of her confusion vanished when she peered down the stairs to see Spike sprawled across the bed on his stomach – naked. His pale skin gleamed in the faint light from the flickering candle, and she couldn’t take her eyes off his muscular back and legs.  Her gasp brought him awake and he whirled, providing her with a glimpse of an equally mouth-watering torso before she covered her eyes with a small “Eek! Spike! Cover up!”

 

“Why?” He remained where he was, relaxed now that he’d seen there was no danger, and laughing at Buffy’s red face. He could see her peeking through her fingers and deliberately ran one hand down his chest and stomach, drawing her eyes to his growing cock.

 

“You’re... you’re naked! With no clothes on! At least pull up a sheet.”

 

“I sleep naked, love,” he said, while obediently pulling the duvet up to his middle and sitting up on the bed. “Best to remember that in the future if you don’t want to damage your innocent little eyes.”

 

“I’ll remember it,” she muttered. “Trust me.”  She worked her way down the stairs, just as the fading candle guttered out, leaving them in complete darkness. She stood on the bottom step, straining to see. She heard Spike get up off the bed and move around the room.  As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, only slightly alleviated by the small amount of light coming down the stairs, she added, “I hope you’re putting some clothes on.”

 

The room came into view again as Spike lit a new candle. He was just putting his lighter back into the pocket of his unfastened jeans as he turned toward her. Buffy’s involuntary “guh” as she stared at him, his lean, muscular chest and abdomen accentuated by the way his jeans were just barely hanging on to his hips, made Spike smile. As did the way the muscles of his flat abdomen seemed to be drawing her eyes to the trail of light brown hair that disappeared into the partially-open zipper.

 

“See anything you like, Slayer?” he purred, running his hand down his body again. She flashed back to the night they’d fought for the first time and the way he’d used that hand to draw her innocent young eyes to his body then. She gave herself a mental shake and made a face at him.

 

“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” she said, with what she hoped was a casual shrug. “I’m not that innocent little virgin you met the first time you came here, you know.”

 

“Oh, I know,” he growled, the grin disappearing. “Had too bloody much time in that wheelchair, regretting how happy you made old Angelus, not to remember when you lost your cherry. Not to mention spending a good bit of last year smelling the soldier boy all over you.”  He sniffed the air.  “Still can smell him, now that I think of it, but it’s not very strong this time around.  Trouble in Paradise, pet?”

 

“I... you... it’s complicated,” she mumbled, “and you’re disgusting. That is so not what we need to talk about!”

 

“Alright then, Slayer.” He fastened his pants and pulled a tee shirt over his head. “What’s so important that you needed to interrupt the only sleep I’ve had in two days?”  He picked up his boots and sat on the bed.  “Do I need to put my boots on, or is it enough that I covered up my goodies?”

 

“Asshole,” she said, looking around for a chair. He raised his eyebrows and patted the bed beside him, but Buffy just rolled her eyes and settled for leaning against the ladder.  “Okay, here’s the thing – and I’m sorry for waking you up, by the way,” she said with sincerity, as she remembered where he’d been. “I forgot that you’ve been on the road since I called you.”

 

“’S alright, pet. I was just pulling your chain. Got to admit, though, it feels pretty good to get an ‘I’m sorry’ out of a slayer. Not something I’m used to from you bints.”

 

“Way to remind me of who and what you are, Spike,” she said, her face suddenly much sadder than before.

 

“Didn’t know you’d forgotten it,” he said, his own expression as non-committal as he could make it. “Thought we’d established it was pretty important to you – you being all that’s good and me bein’ all that’s... not good.”

 

“I haven’t forgotten it,” she said. “I never forget it. Hence the me being over here and you over there.”

 

“So, if I wasn’t all evil and whatnot, there’d be a chance?”

 

The look he gave her made her heart beat faster and her breathing increase.  She could see that he’d noticed, and watched as his eyes darkened. She held up her hand to forestall any movement on his part.

 

“I know you can tell how I...  but that’s all just physical stuff. I don’t know why I... we... seem to... but it’s all hormones and... and something else I can’t think of right now. It doesn’t mean anything except that we probably shouldn’t spend too much time alone... together... where....” Her voice trailed off as he ignored her still-upright hand and flowed off the bed to face her.

 

“Alone, together? You mean like now? In my bedroom? Where nobody can see us?”

 

“You... you’re pushing me...” she almost whimpered, leaning toward him in spite of herself. “You said you’d wait....”

 

“Want you too bad,” he whispered back, his lips just brushing hers. “Want to kiss you all over, want to hold you, feel you around me, bury myself in you forever....” He ran his lips down her neck and sucked on the soft skin there. When he felt her flinch, he recovered himself and stepped back, leaving her relieved and disappointed at the same time.

 

He turned away from her and took a deep breath before speaking. “Let me explain something Buffy. About me.  On the one hand, there’s the part of me that’s still William, a gently raised Victorian man who would be content.... Well, almost content,” he muttered, giving an embarrassed shrug. “William actually spent most of his adult life trying to hide the effect women were having on him.” 

 

He blew out an exasperated sigh.  “Never mind that. The point is, there’s a part of me that could and would worship you from afar, writing bad poetry and being grateful for the touch of your hand or a kind word. And that part of me is what keeps me from tryin’ to nudge you into something you aren’t ready to give me. That part wants to love you. But he wants to be loved in return, and I know that pushing you to do something you may regret isn’t the best way to make that happen.”

 

He turned and faced her, letting his true face out. “But the other part of me, the part that’s been all me for most of the past 126 years, is pure demon. And the demon wants you, Slayer. Wants you every way he can possibly have you, and a few ways I haven’t even tried yet. And when he—I—can sense your body responding to mine....” He shook his head, going back to his normal human face.

 

“You see the problem,” he said. “William wants to believe he has to earn your... affection. The demon can tell when your body wants me.”  He met her eyes with as much honesty as he could put into his gaze. “It’s hard, love. I’ll do my best, but sometimes I’m going to slip.”

 

Buffy stared at him, her mind whirling not only with what she’d just learned about Spike and his background, but with the implications of what he was saying. His ability to control his demon, as well as his belief that he was still the man he’d been when alive, flew in the face of everything she thought she knew about vampires.

 

“So... so what are you saying?  That I... that you shouldn’t be here?”

 

He shook his head and stepped back in front of her, resting his hands on her shoulders. “Not saying that at all. Told you I’d help if you needed me – and I meant it. William and the demon are agreed on that much. Won’t let anything hurt you or yours if I have to dust to keep it from happening.” His gaze never left hers as he willed her to believe him. 

 

“But I am a demon, love. Got no soul to keep me from overstepping my boundaries.”  He dropped his hands and turned away. “I guess what I’m saying is... Bloody hell!” He threw his hands in the air. “I don’t know what I’m sayin’. Maybe I’m just trying to apologize in advance for anything I do that brasses you off. In case I do it while we’re in the middle of some kind of crisis and I don’t have time to explain or grovel.” 

 

“I’m having a hard time imagining you groveling,” Buffy said with a small smile. “Although now that I think about it, it could be....” She slapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh God, I shouldn’t talk to you like that, should I? I take it back!”

 

He shook his head with a laugh. “You probably shouldn’t. Letting me know you’re having naughty thoughts isn’t going to be the best way of getting me to back off.  But I don’t want you to feel like you have to walk on eggshells around me. I’m a big boy. I can handle a little harmless flirtin’ without letting it go to my head... not this head, anyway,” he said, tapping his forehead and grinning at her.

 

“And there he is, piggy Spike!” 

 

“Sauce for the goose, love.” He sat back down and rested against the back of the bed. “Now, back to what you’re doing here when I wasn’t going to see you till later.”

 

Buffy shook her head, blushing all the way down her to her chest.  “I’m not sure I remember...” She threw a clod of dirt at him when he laughed and curled his tongue up in his mouth. “Oh yeah. So, it looks like Glory is brainsucking people to keep her energy up – so we have to watch out for that. And she’s... she’s a human sometimes. A for real human. And he’s one of the doctors at the hospital. He kinda tried to warn me, but some things he can talk about and some he can’t, so I don’t really know....”

 

Spike had sat up at the mention of a human. “She spends part of her time as a normal human?”

 

“Yeah, Giles can tell you about it, I don’t understand it, but I believe it because I almost saw Ben change—“

 

“You know what this means, Slayer?”

 

“That Ben can’t be near my mother or Dawn? Yeah, figured that out already. That’s why Dawn was here last night, and why I’m going to bring Mom and Dawn here tonight—Why are you looking at me like that?”

 

“Then all we have to do is take out this Ben character, and problem solved! Right?”

 

“Wrong!!!! Wrong, Spike! We don’t kill innocent humans just because some hellgod has decided to live inside them when she’s not out hellgodding.”

 

He gave her a hard stare, his eyes flaring yellow.  “Right. Silly me.” 

 

Unsure of what he meant, and anxious to get back to see if she could take Joyce out of the hospital, Buffy turned to go up the ladder.  She paused half-way up and turned to see him leaning back, eyes shut and a defeated expression on his face.

 

“By the way, Giles wants to talk with you before the meeting tonight. He wouldn’t tell me why.”

 

Spike just nodded silently without opening his eyes, and after waiting a few seconds, Buffy continued up the ladder and out of the crypt.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

By the time Buffy had made some stops to buy easily-stored food and bottled water to take to the crypt and spent some time with Willow looking up any information the computer could give them on Ben, it was getting later in the afternoon and she was becoming anxious to get Joyce out of the hospital.  She’d already had Dawn’s school give her a message to go straight to the Magic Box. What they’d learned of Ben’s life sounded pretty ordinary until a few months ago, when he’d suddenly requested a transfer in order to do his internship and residency at Sunnydale’s hospital. 

 

“Just about the time I had my first fight with Glory,” Buffy said.

 

“Coincidence?”

 

“On the Hellmouth? Are you serious?”  Buffy stared at Willow until she shrugged with embarrassment.

 

“There’s a first time for everything,” she said, then sighed. “But, yeah. Evil much more likely than coincidence.”

 

“The question is, is Ben evil, or is he just at Glory’s mercy? How does she make him do stuff for her? And why does he do it?”

 

Willow frowned. “Well, if she’s been hiding in him all along, then he must be tired of it. If she goes back to her own dimension, maybe that makes him free to be just Ben?”

 

Buffy sighed. “Makes sense. Which means, he probably can’t be trusted even when he’s not Glory. It’s in his best interest to help her find the key so she can leave.”  She stood up straight and stretched. “All the more reason to keep Mom and Dawn away from him. They trust him.”

 

Willow nodded. “So, what’s the plan for tonight?”

 

“Scooby meeting, 8:00. Will you call Xander? I guess Anya will tell him, but just in case...”

 

“Sure. We’ll be there.”

 

“Thanks Will.  See you later.”

 

~~~~~~~

 

 

When Buffy got to the hospital, Joyce was sitting in a wheelchair, dressed and ready to leave her room. She smiled at Buffy’s obvious relief.

 

“The surgeon said it was fine for me to go home. They changed the dressing, checked my staples, and said it looks great.  I have to take it easy, of course, so you and Dawn will have to wait on me for a while. I’m only allowed to get up to go to the bathroom and walk around enough to keep my insides working.”

 

“Uh, right. Bathroom.”  Suddenly Spike’s crypt was beginning to seem like a really bad idea.

 

“Is something wrong, Buffy?”

 

“Uh, no, Mom. Of course not. Nothing’s wrong. What could be wrong?”  Buffy looked around the room nervously. “We should get going.  Have you seen Ben today?”

 

“Ben? Oh, you mean that handsome young doctor.” Joyce smiled, seeming to have forgotten what Buffy had told her about Ben. “Does Riley have competition for your affections?”

 

“Yeah, sorta, but—” Buffy cut herself off before she said something she really didn’t want to even be thinking about.  “No. I just meant... he’s usually here and I just wanted to make sure he was doing what I asked him to.”

 

“What was that?” Joyce frowned, her mother’s intuition seeing right through Buffy’s attempts to be casual.

 

“To stay away from you,” Buffy said, getting behind the chair and beginning to push. “Do I need to sign you out or something?”

 

“I don’t think so. I signed all the release papers, and I have my meds and my instructions in my purse.  I’m all set.” Joyce patted her purse and the overnight bag sitting on her lap. “I’m sure I could walk out of here. This is so silly.”

 

“It’s a rule, Mom. Even I know that. Nobody leaves a hospital under their own power.”  She pushed down the hall as quickly as she could without appearing to be running away with a patient. She fretted impatiently in front of the elevators, sighing in relief when it finally opened – only to reveal Ben getting ready to step out.

 

“Buffy! I was just coming to see your mother. Where are you taking her?”

 

“She’s been released. I’m taking her... out.”

 

“Will you be taking her home?”

 

“Eventually,” Buffy said, pushing the chair past him and reaching for button to close the doors.  Ben put his hand on the door to stop it.

 

“I’ll just ride down with you,” he said, sweat beginning to break out on his forehead. 

 

“I don’t think so!” Buffy pulled his hand off the door with ease, shoving it and him away. “Don’t follow us, Ben,” she warned as she watched him begin to quake again.  He didn’t respond, just ran toward a closet as he had before.

 

“She’s coming!” he gasped as he disappeared.

 

The doors slid shut and the elevator dropped. It felt like forever before it hit the lobby floor and Buffy could wheel Joyce out into the gathering dusk. She was just trying to decide if it would be safe to leave Joyce while she went to get the car, when Spike stepped out from the shadows behind the entrance columns.

 

One look at Buffy’s frightened face and he held out his hand.  “Keys.”

 

She tossed him the keys and watched as he moved almost faster than human eyes could follow. He was back with the car in only moments, leaving the engine running as he jumped out to help Buffy get Joyce into the back seat.  They had just closed the door on her when Glory burst out of the hospital’s main entrance.

 

“There you are, Slayer.  I’m getting tired of playing with you. Where is my damn Key?”

 

Spike stepped between Buffy and the hellgod, saying, “Get Joyce out of here. I’ll catch up later.”

 

Buffy didn’t argue, just ran around and got into the driver’s seat. As she put the car in gear, she saw Spike throw the wheelchair at Glory, who caught it in midair and threw it back.  Buffy whimpered a little as she drove off, hoping Spike would figure out how strong Glory was before she dusted him.

 

“What was that all about?” Joyce said, turning to look out the rear window. “Is Spike going to be all right?  Wasn’t that Glory?”

 

“I hope so, and yes.” 

 

“We’re not going home, are we?” Joyce asked, her tone suddenly weary.

 

“No, Mom, we’re not. Glory already knows where we live. I’m sure that’s why Ben asked if I was taking you home. We’ll go to the Magic Box right now, and then... I don’t know. I was going to take you and Dawn to Spike’s crypt again, but....” Buffy rested her head on the steering wheel as she waited for the light to change, visions of Glory waving off vampire dust and dragging Dawn off by her hair chasing themselves through her brain.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Once Joyce was resting comfortably on a pile of mats in the training room, Dawn sitting on the floor beside her and doing her homework, Buffy went back into the main room and sat at the table.

 

“Are we doing to have to close early and maybe lose customers?” Anya asked, her expression unhappy.

 

“No, Anya. You may remain at the cash register until the normal closing time.” Giles sighed as he sat down beside Buffy.  “I presume you’re having brought your mother and sister with you means there have been more problems?”

 

“You might say that.  I left Spike playing wheelchair catch with Glory in the hospital’s receiving area.  I hope he got away from her okay.”

 

“Wheelchair catch?”

 

“As in they were throwing them at each other – not sitting in them.”

 

“Spike is quite... inventive, I believe. I’m sure he will make an escape as soon as he knows you are out of danger.”  Giles frowned. “Although, if Glory reverts to her human form, he could be incapacitated by the chip before he can get away.”

 

Buffy bit her lip, but decided there were some things Giles didn’t need to know just yet.

 

“He’ll deal with it,” she said shortly. “If he’s not dust already.”  She stood up and walked to the front door, staring up and down the street. When she’d spent fifteen minutes pacing around the small interior of the shop, and Anya had begun glaring daggers at her, she yanked open the door.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“I don’t know. Out. To look for Spike, maybe? He’s supposed to be here by now. I told him to come early to talk to—Oh my God!” 

 

Buffy disappeared from their sight, only to stagger back in a few minutes later, a barely-conscious Spike draped over her shoulder.  Giles ran to support the vampire on the other side as they guided him to the training room and laid him out on a mat.

 

Joyce let out a gasp as she caught a glance at Spike’s battered face and torn clothing.  Dawn whimpered and approached his seemingly unconscious body.

 

“Buffy?  What happened to him? Is he going to be okay?”

 

“He isn’t dust, so he’ll be fine,” Buffy said, sounding very much like she was trying to convince herself.  “I just need to get some blood into him.”

 

“We don’t keep blood here in the Magic Box,” Anya said primly. “We don’t want vampires for customers.”

 

Giles rolled his eyes at her, while Buffy and Dawn glared.  “I believe the shop down the street is probably still open.  I’ll go get some blood.”  Ignoring Anya’s complaints, he took some cash from the register and hurried out the door to the nearby butcher shop.

 

“Did this happen because of me?” Joyce’s voice was shaky and full of concern.

 

“Only partly, Mom. It happened because I asked him to come back and help me. If he hadn’t been there, I would have been the target.  I never meant for him to take her on by himself, though. I thought we’d fight her together.”

 

“Like a slayer-vampire tag team,” Dawn contributed, still watching the inert vampire with concern.

 

“Something like that,” Buffy murmured, her hand hovering over Spike’s chest as if trying to decide where it might be safe to touch him.  No matter where she looked, he was bruised or cut, and from the way his shirt was torn, it looked like Glory might have tried to dig his heart out rather than put a stake through it.

 

“Holy, trashed vampire, Batman!”  Xander’s exclamation as he came into the training room was the first indication that he and Willow and Tara had arrived.  Buffy looked up, her eyes going, not to Willow, but to Tara. 

 

“I don’t know what to do for him. Except give him blood. Giles went to get it.”

 

“Well, why don’t we get him cleaned up a bit?” Tara said, turning to go into the kitchen. She returned quickly with a pan of warm water and some soft cloths.  She started to wipe the blood off Spike’s face, then noticed Buffy’s frown and handed her the washcloth. “Here, why don’t you do it?”

 

Buffy nodded and began to gently rinse the blood away from the cuts and bruises, making it possible to see how badly Spike was injured. He had a big gash on the back of his head, one eye swollen shut, his nose was crooked, his lip were split, and he had a bruise on his chin.  Taking a pair of scissors that Anya handed her, Buffy cut away the remains of his tee shirt and began cleaning the gaping wound in his chest. One arm was awkwardly bent, and there was blood caking one leg of his jeans. Tara silently picked up the scissors and began to slice the jeans open to expose the laceration on his left calf. She reached for one of the cloths and dipped it into the now-pink water.

 

“Do I want to know what did this to him?” Xander asked, looking like he might be sick any minute.

 

“Glory,” Buffy said, concentrating on trying to clean the blood away from the chest wound without making it worse. “Where is Giles with that blood?” she muttered, worried that the wounds had stopped bleeding, but didn’t seem to be closing.

 

“It’s right here.” Giles’s voice preceded him into the room. “I got several quarts of it, just in case.”

 

“I think I’d like to go to the bathroom now,” Joyce said. “Dawn, will you help me please?”

 

“Why don’t we all go into the shop and allow Buffy to feed Spike.” Giles began to herd everyone from the training room, watching over his shoulder as Buffy tried to find a way to get the blood into the unconscious vampire without pouring it all over him. 

 

When everyone had gone, she dipped her finger into the blood and rubbed it on his lips. “Come on, Spike, it’s not the good stuff, but it’s better than nothing.” She dipped her finger again and slipped it inside his mouth, making a little pouch in his cheek.  With her other hand, she tipped the container so that a small amount of blood ran into his slack mouth and pooled in his cheek.

 

She snatched her finger out just in time as his fangs came down and he snarled, swallowing the blood without opening his eyes.

 

“Whoa there, William. Don’t bite the hand that’s trying to feed you.”  Buffy quickly brought the container of blood to his lips, watching in sick fascination as he tried to sink his fangs into the plastic. She kept it tilted up so the blood ran into his mouth, and he began to swallow it in great gulps.  When the container was empty, she took it away and watched him for other signs of life.

 

He gave a soft sigh, fading back to his human face, but giving no other indication of awareness as he remained corpse-like on the mat.  Buffy sank back on her heels, staring at his face and biting her lip.  She was trying to decide if she was imaging the wounds were beginning to close, when she heard Xander’s voice.

 

“So, what’s the what with fangface? Are you his go-to-girl whenever he’s in trouble? Last time he showed up on our doorstep, he was starving.”

 

“He’s here because I asked him to help me,” Buffy said, shooting Xander an irritated glance. “Glory did this to him while I was getting away from her with Mom.”

 

“Oh. So he’s on our side? Guess that explains the dirty look he’s giving me, then.”

 

Buffy’s head whipped around to find that Spike was, in fact, glaring at Xander. His gaze shifted to Buffy and he managed to croak, “Are you and Mum all right?”

 

“We’re fine. A whole lot better than you are.  Why didn’t you run?”

 

“Soddin’ bitch had scabby little minions, came out of nowhere and kept trying to trip me.  Was too outnumbered to do much else than bite as many as I could reach, and then she got her hands on me....”

 

“Should I be jealous?” Buffy whispered to him as she opened another container of pig blood.  His answering smirk was all the proof she needed that he was recovering, and she let herself relax.  “Can you hold this, or do I need to hold it for you?” she asked in a louder tone of voice.  To her surprise, Xander came around behind Spike and lifted his shoulders off the mat so that he was almost sitting up.  Spike gave him a startled look, but opened his mouth so that Buffy could begin pouring blood into it again.

 

As Spike gulped down his meal, Xander watched in fascination. “Man, you could ace a chugging contest.  I think I see a lot of free beer in our future.”

 

Our future?” Spike shook his head when Buffy offered to open another container, keeping his eyes on Xander who had lowered him to the mat once he’d stopped swallowing. “In your dreams.”

 

“Well, yeah. You’re going to need a... an assistant. Somebody to lure the marks in.”  He grinned as Spike scoffed.  “Welcome back, by the way. Not that anybody missed you, but....”

 

“Quit while you’re ahead, Xander,” Buffy said, relieved that the two seemed to have fallen right back into the mutual bantering that they’d indulged in the previous year.  Those exchanges of verbal insults had never resulted in anything but more insults, and they seemed to be picking up right where they’d left off. She’d always suspected they’d bonded over a mutual dislike for Angel and were just too stubborn to admit they didn’t hate each other.

 

Spike shifted uncomfortably, his knitting bones and the still-visible wound on his torso providing their own level of pain even as his body tried to heal itself.

 

“What’s wrong? Do you need more blood?”  Buffy’s obvious concern made him smile, forgetting for the moment that Xander was in the room.

 

“No, love. All I need right now is some rest. Body needs some time to pull itself together.  Pig blood is all well and good, but it’s not going to work as fast as the good stuff.” He peered at her hopefully, sighing when she stood up with her hands on her hips.

 

“I am not feeding you human blood! Deal with it.”

 

He nodded and closed his eyes. “Right you are, Slayer. Give us a little time to ‘deal’, yeah?” He immediately became still. Only the rare rise and fall of his chest gave any indication that he wasn’t an unanimated body.

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

Buffy jerked her head toward the door, and she and Xander walked out into the main part of the store. Anya had put the closed sign on the door, and everyone was gathered around the table.  Buffy looked around for her mother.

 

“Mom?”

 

“She’s resting on the sofa in my office,” Giles said. “But this is not an ideal situation for her. If you are afraid to take her home, we need to come up with a better plan than this.”

 

“I know,” Buffy sighed, slumping into a chair. “I know. I’d just take her away somewhere, but she has to go back to the doctor next week, and.... I don’t know what to do. If Ben-Glory knows where we live, it just isn’t safe to take her home. Dawn either.”

 

“Why is she interested in Dawn and your mother?” Tara’s question was innocent, but sent Buffy’s eyes skittering to Giles’s.

 

“I think it would only be fair to tell them, Buffy,” he suggested gently. “They are at some risk as well.”

 

Buffy sighed and looked around the table at her friends.  She glanced toward the back of the store where Dawn was keeping her mother company, and nodded.

 

“Here’s the thing, guys. I know we all think we remember Dawn from when she was just a little kid, but we don’t.  The monks that... made her... made her out of me somehow – don’t ask, I don’t even want to know – and put her here for me to protect.  She’s the Key Glory is looking for. Her blood is what Glory needs to open the portal between our world and the hell dimension she’s from.” 

 

She looked around the table at their astounded faces.  “I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. So, not only is Dawn in danger because she could be used as a hostage to get me turn over the Key, but she is the Key. If Glory gets her hands on her.....”

 

“Does Fangface know this?” Xander frowned, casting a glance toward the training room. “About Dawn?”

 

Buffy nodded, putting up a hand to stop him before he could go on. “He wouldn’t tell. Spike likes Dawn. He won’t put her in danger. He’s here to help me protect her.”

 

“Buffy...” Xander shook his head. “How do you know that?  He’s been gone for a year! Left without saying why or telling anybody good-bye, and now he’s back, just when there’s a hellgod looking for your sister? Doesn’t that make you wonder?”

 

A sound from the doorway brought all their heads around to see Spike leaning against the jamb, holding himself up with one hand, his damaged arm hanging at his side.  He looked directly at Buffy, as if asking permission to speak. She nodded, jumping to her feet and helping him to a chair.  Spike took a deep breath and looked right at Xander, who managed to look ashamed and defiant at the same time.

 

“It’s a fair question,” he said, meeting Spike’s gaze.

 

“It is,” Spike surprised everyone by agreeing. “Problem is, most of the answers are nobody’s business but mine and the Slayer’s.  She knew why I left, and why I had to go right then. Said our good-byes, we did.”  He glanced from Xander to Willow and Tara. “Truth be told, it never crossed my mind that anybody else would give a flying fuck if I was gone. So draggin’ it out with a lot of good-byes didn’t seem like a good idea. Said my farewells to the only people I thought cared enough to hear them...” He jerked his head toward the back of the store, wincing when it jarred his head wound.

 

“If I was wrong, I apologize. But I had good reason for leaving, and when the Slayer called me, I had good reason to come back. I’m here to help her keep the Niblet safe. That’s it.”

 

“And then you’ll leave again?” Anya’s sudden intrusion into the conversation brought the attention to her, and no one noticed Buffy’s wide-eyed expression except Spike. He held Buffy’s gaze while he responded.

 

“Reckon that’s up to Buffy,” he said. There were varying amounts of shock and understanding on faces as they all stared from Spike to Buffy and back. The emotion in their locked gazes was hard to miss. A groan from Xander snapped everyone out of their shocked realizations and they all began talking at once.

 

“Well, that was subtle,” Buffy muttered, sitting down in the chair next to Spike’s.

 

“Sorry, pet. Didn’t mean to do that. Guess that whack on my head didn’t do it any good.” He cocked his head at her. “Is it going to be a problem? It’s not like I announced we were engaged again or anything like that.”

 

“No. You didn’t really say anything. I think it was our faces that gave it away.”

 

“That’s assuming there is something to give away....” he said, giving her a hopeful smile.

 

“Don’t....” she began, not sure what she didn’t want him to do. “I—”

 

She never finished as the door was opened and Riley came into the store. Giles turned to Anya. “Didn’t you lock that door?” he whispered.

 

“I thought so,” she whispered back. “Are we keeping Riley out?”

 

“Apparently not,” Giles said, putting on what he hoped was a welcoming expression.  “Hello, Riley.”

 

“Giles.” Riley nodded, his gaze going around the room, halting when he came to the battered vampire sitting next to Buffy.  “Hostile Seventeen. Haven’t seen you around for a while.  Come back to see what else you can steal?”

 

“Steal?” Buffy looked back and forth between Spike and her boyfriend. “What did he steal from you?” She carefully avoided meeting Spike’s eyes, knowing she would see there exactly what he hoped to be stealing from Riley.

 

“That chip in his head. It belongs to the Initiative. We were about to reclaim it when you let him escape with Giles. I never expected to see him back in Sunnydale again.”

 

Buffy gave a guilty start as she remembered how she’d danced around telling Riley that Spike had left Sunnydale with her blessing – and a promise to call him. Being Spike, of course, he couldn’t let it go.

 

“Was needed,” he said, leaning back in his chair as insolently as his wounds would allow him to.

 

Needed?” Buffy winced at Spike’s unfortunate choice of words as Riley had the expected reaction to them. “Who or what would need a neutered vampire?”

 

“Somebody fighting a hellgod all by herself,” Spike snarled back. If he noticed Buffy’s nudge to his foot, he ignored it.

 

“Stop it,” she hissed. He shrugged and settled down to give Riley one of his iciest glares.

 

“Yeah,” Riley laughed, “I can see how well that’s working out for you.  What’s wrong? Did you run into a pack of angry Boy Scouts?”

 

Buffy looked back and forth helplessly as Spike and Riley traded words and glares.

 

“Ran into a hellgod and her scabby minions whilst helping the Slayer get her Mum safely away,” Spike said, again ignoring Buffy’s much stronger nudge.

 

Riley’s expression darkened and he turned on Buffy. “If you needed help to get Joyce home, why didn’t you just call me?”

 

Buffy waved her hands around aimlessly, while giving Spike a look that promised imminent dustiness. “It was all kind of spur-of-the-moment, Riley. We got some new information that meant I needed to get Mom to a safe place. Which probably isn’t our house just now. I didn’t have time to think about calling anybody else. Spike just happened to be there.”

 

“You ‘just happened’ to be at the hospital?” Riley transferred his suspicious glare to Spike. “Why?”

 

“Just takin’ care of one of the women I care about,” Spike said.  “Didn’t know Joyce was goin’ to be released and thought I’d drop in and make sure she was all right.  Already knew the Niblet was okay for the time being, but hadn’t seen Joyce yet.”

 

“Buffy’s family is my responsibility,” Riley said in dangerously calm tones. “They don’t need any help from you.”

 

“They’re my friends,” Spike said stubbornly. He was careful not to look at Buffy as he said it, but Riley was already reading between the lines.

 

“Stay away from Buffy and her family,” he warned, not noticing Buffy’s narrowed eyes.

 

“Not your decision to make, mate.”

 

Before the argument could escalate, Buffy stood up and began to cough violently.

 

“Buffy!”

 

“Slayer? What’s wrong?” 

 

Both men spoke simultaneously. Once she had their attention, Buffy stopped coughing and glared at them both.

 

“What’s wrong,” she ground out, “is that the testosterone in the room is choking me. That’s what’s wrong.”  Xander could be heard snickering from his place near Anya and her cash register, and even Giles had to turn away to hide a smile.  Willow and Tara nodded at each other, while Anya whispered to Xander, causing him to snicker again.

 

“I have a hellgod to kill or avoid for another week or so – that’s the topic of discussion, by the way, in case you guys forgot – a Key to protect from her, a post surgical mother to keep out of Glory’s way, and a little sister who would make a great hostage. And you two, both claiming to want to help, are busy having a pissing contest when we’re supposed to be having a meeting.”

 

She stood rigidly, hands on hips, glaring from Spike to Riley and back.  Neither of them would meet her angry gaze, and the others began to gather around the table again as the storm seemed to have passed.  Finally, Spike pushed himself to his feet, waving Buffy off when she went to help him. 

 

“Want more blood,” he muttered, limping his way toward the training room. “If you need me, I’ll be in my room.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

An awkward silence reigned for a few moments, broken when Dawn came out of the back to ask, “Is the yelling all over? Mom wants to lie down again, and it’s time for her meds. Which are in the training room,” she added when they all blinked at her.

 

“We’ll get her,” Willow volunteered. “We—Tara has some healing spells she thinks will help your mom and Spike.”  The two witches went down the hall and were soon back, walking slowly with Joyce between them.  She halted when she saw Riley, her eyes going wide, even as she tried to hide her surprise with a pleasant “Hello, Riley. I didn’t know you were here.”

 

“Apparently I’m not supposed to be,” was his ungracious response as he folded his arms and leaned against a bookcase. “But obviously I should be, so here I am.”

 

The three women continued their slow progress into the training room, where Dawn had already joined Spike and was sitting beside him as he downed another pint of blood. When Joyce tottered into the room, he jumped to his feet, wiping his mouth with his hand.

 

“Joyce!  How do you feel? Can I get you anything? What do you need?”

 

She looked at the still-battered-looking vampire and smiled. “I think you and I constitute the sick and injured ward today.  But thank you. I just need to lie down for a bit and sleep off some more anesthesia. Please, finish your meal.”  Joyce let Tara lead her to the make-shift bed Buffy had thrown together for her and lowered herself with a relieved sigh.  “If no one minds, I think I’d just like to get some more sleep....” She closed her eyes and became still.

 

“Mom?” Dawn’s voice was a soft whimper, and Spike put his hand on her arm.

 

“She’s alright, Bit. Can hear her heartbeat and all. It’s nice and steady and her breathing is regular.  Blood whooshing along like it’s supposed to, and not whooshing anywhere it shouldn’t.”

 

Spike returned to his mat and picked up the almost empty blood container.  “Could use a bit more kip myself, actually,” he said, tipping it up and swallowing. He set the container down and looked at Willow and Tara.

 

“Shouldn’t the two of you be part of the big confab in there?”

 

“They won’t start without us,” Willow said confidently. “Tara wants to... she can do healing spells. If that’s okay with you, she’s going to work a spell to ease the pain and help you heal faster.”

 

“Not gonna cause any spontaneous engagements, is she?” He narrowed his eyes at Willow, but his lips were curling up in a small smile.

 

“Very funny,” she sniffed. “That was just a... an accident.”

 

“Just joshing you, Red. Anything that gets me back on my feet faster, and makes this hole in my chest close up is fine with me.  Go for it.  I’m going to catch a short nap. If they need me out there for anything, somebody can come and get me.” Suiting actions to words, he relaxed back onto the mat and shut his eyes.

 

Holding Willow’s hand for extra power, Tara began to chant softly, waving her free hand over first Spike, then Joyce.  It took only a few moments for her to finish chanting over both of them and give a satisfied smile.

 

“I’ve done what I can. It should help. At a minimum, Joyce will need fewer meds for pain, and when Spike’s vampire healing kicks in, he should be almost good as new.”

 

They turned to go join the others, leaving Dawn torn between staying with Joyce or joining the meeting that was, after all, about her.  Spike raised a hand and beckoned her over.

 

“Go on out there. I’ll keep tabs on your mum. Want to know what’s going on, but I’m too much of a distraction right now. Your sis needs to concentrate on making a plan, not be worrying that the toy soldier and I are going to go at it in the middle of her meeting.”

 

“Could you?” Dawn asked, giving him a shrewd raise of her eyebrow. “Go at it, I mean. Could you?”

 

Without directly saying that his chip was out, he just said, “Not quite the pushover he thinks I am.”

 

She nodded and turned to go. “Is that why you left?” she asked, keeping her back to him. “Did Buffy tell you to go?”

 

“You think too much,” he growled. “Jus’ go listen in and let me get my beauty sleep.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Giles filled everyone in on what they knew so far about both Glory and her plans for her Key. 

 

“So, as you can see it is vitally important that we keep the Key away from Glory – not only to avoid the apocalypse opening the portal would initiate, but for... it’s... own safety.” 

 

Without any conversation to that effect, everyone in the group had understood that sharing Dawn’s Key status with Riley might not be a good idea. It wasn’t that anyone doubted his inherent decency or desire to take care of Buffy and her family, but his lack of experience with the supernatural and his need to believe that everything had a scientific explanation – however bizarre it might be – meant that explaining that Dawn was the Key Glory needed so badly would have taken valuable time from planning their strategy.

 

“So, what are we thinking?  She knows where Buffy’s family lives, she knows who most of us are, and now she knows about Spike. How do we stop her from catching somebody Buffy cares about and either torturing the information out of them, or using them to make Buffy tell?”

 

“Just a thought – why the hell doesn’t Buffy just give her the Key and let her go wherever she wants to go?”  Riley looked around the table as if he’d just solved all their problems.

 

“There are a couple of problems with that,” Buffy said. “The only one you need to know about is that where Glory wants to go is back to the hell dimension she calls home.”

 

“So, let her go. Good riddance, isn’t it?”

 

“Would be, if it wasn’t going to require damaging the Key, and if Glory was planning to pull the portal closed behind her.  But even if she did – and she has no reason to – it would destroy whatever might be left of the Key.”

 

Giles cleared his throat. “Perhaps you were not present at the meeting where we discussed what would likely happen when the portal is opened. There would be an open connection between this world and the rather unpleasant place Glory wishes to go.  All the creatures in that dimension would be able to use that portal to pour into our world.  Buffy is a wonderful slayer, but I’m afraid keeping up with the uncounted numbers of demonic beings that would enter our unsuspecting world would be beyond even her amazing capabilities. It would, in all likelihood, presage the end of the world as we know it.”

 

“Then we just need to have control of the Key. Let her use it to open the portal, shove her through, and then use the Key to close it. What difference does it make it if it’s used up?”

 

Dawn jumped to her feet and ran from the room. She went into the training room and threw herself down behind Spike, trying to smother her sobs.

 

“Bit?” His sleepy voice sharpened instantly as he smelled her tears. “Dawn? What’s wrong?” He sat up, his fangs dropping as he looked around for the source of danger. 

 

“R... Riley... he said... “ She gulped and tried to get her breathing under control. “He said... and then I realized... it’s because of me! Glory is doing all this stuff because of me. She’s killing people, and brain-sucking, and beating people up... and trying to kill my sister, and you, and.... And it’s all because of me!  It’s my fault!”

 

“Not your fault, Bit,” he said, putting one arm around her and trying to hold her without pressing her up against the still-open hole in his chest. “It’s not your fault at all.  It is what it is, and your sis’ll do what she always does and make it come out all right.” 

 

“Wh... what if she can’t?  What if Glory kills both of you?  What if she catches me and I open that portal for her? Everybody’s going to die and it will be all my fault!”

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Throwing a withering glare at Riley, Buffy got up and followed Dawn into the training room. Giles and the Scoobies all stared at Riley. 

 

“What? That makes perfect sense, and you know it.”

 

“Riley, the Key is not an object. It is a person. A human being. Buffy’s calling and her training would not allow her to sacrifice anyone, let alone—” He stopped, realizing that Riley hadn’t been in the room when they told the others about Dawn. His expression softened as he added, “There are some extenuating circumstances that make it out of the question for Buffy to even consider that option.”

 

“But you’d consider it, wouldn’t you?” Riley gave Giles a hard look.  “You know that sacrificing one person for the sake of many is sometimes necessary, don’t you?”

 

Spike’s snarl brought all the heads swiveling to the door to the training room. Already, between Tara’s spells and the several pints of blood he’d had, he was noticeably stronger, if still ragged looking.  He walked with no visible limp and a straight back, completely ignoring the torn jeans flapping around one leg and the tattered tee-shirt hanging off his shoulders like a vest.

 

“The Key isn’t the human that needs to be sacrificed,” Spike said. “And it won’t be.”  He stared at Giles.  “You and I need to talk, Rupert.”

 

Giles nodded, pointing to the office in the back. “Very well.”

 

The others watched as the ex-watcher and the vampire famed for killing slayers walked out of range of human ears.

 

Riley looked at the puzzled Scoobies. “Why is Spike here? And why is Giles listening to anything he has to say?  He can’t help out if the Key is human – the chip won’t let him.  And he clearly can’t fight Glory – she already kicked his ass.  He’s useless.”

 

“Well... Spike and Buffy together....” Xander’s voice trailed off as Riley glared at him.  “I’m just saying, big guy. I saw them one time last year when a bunch of giant... things with unpronounceable names jumped us.  When they’re fighting together... uh... it was pretty awesome.  The funny thing is, I would swear they were having fun – they kept laughing and trading.... Uh, never mind. I guess you had to be there....” Xander went behind the counter to stand near Anya who began whispering to him angrily.

 

Riley’s expression had darkened even more, but he didn’t say anything else. After a few tense moments, he walked to the training room and peered in to see Buffy with her arms around Dawn and Joyce.  He was struck by how easy it was to see that she was protecting them, even though Joyce was a much larger woman, and Dawn was rapidly growing taller than Buffy.  In spite of the size differences and there being two of them, there was no question about who was doing the comforting and reassuring.  His shoulders slumped and he went back out to sit at the table, determined not to leave until Giles and Spike came out and he knew what the plans were going to be.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

“What is it, Spike?”  Giles’s words were more abrupt than he’d intended and he muttered a “sorry” at Spike’s surprised expression.

 

“What it is, is that the enormous Boy Scout there actually is on the right track.  Not about sacrificing the Niblet, obviously, but....You know about this doctor that Glorificus in using as her link to this world, yeah?”

 

“I do. And if you’re going where I think you are with this, I am completely with you. However, Buffy will never accept it.”

 

“Know that. Already had that conversation with her,” Spike growled. “Stubborn bint.”

 

“Then why are we discussing it?”

 

“Slayer won’t consider it because she’s all good and so forth.  You probably wouldn’t do it unless....” He looked at Giles’s face for a moment, remembering what he’d been like as a Fyral demon, and grinned. “Well, maybe you would, at that. But Buffy would never speak to you again. You’re the white hats and can’t be bending the rules like that.”

 

“Your point?”

 

“My hat’s not white, Watcher. Hasn’t been for a good long time. I won’t stand by and watch the Slayer risk her life fighting this bitch, when killin’ the host would take care of her.”

 

Giles studied Spike’s face, which had fallen into an expressionless mask. He thought back to the previous year and Ethan’s comment to Spike about being “bloody ungrateful”.  And about how, after they all gave up trying to find the escaping mage and went into the apartment, Spike and Buffy had remained outside for a short time.  When Buffy came in, she’d been alone and had refused to answer any questions about Spike’s whereabouts. Although she had taken his coat – the same coat Spike had left on the floor of the training room.

 

“She’ll never speak to you again, either,” Giles said quietly.

 

“Never’s a long time.”  Spike’s expression was one of calm, if sad, acceptance. “I’ll have to take my chances.”

 

“You are a very different vampire,” Giles said, shaking his head.

 

“Always have been.” Spike shrugged. “So, we’re on the same page here? If I get a chance....”

 

“You’re asking me to give you permission to kill someone.”

 

“Not askin’ your permission for anything, Watcher. Just telling you what I’m going to do, so you’ll know to watch for any stakes coming my way.”

 

“She’s not going to stake you,” Giles said, surprising himself with how sure he was. “But she may not forgive you for it.”

 

“Not planning to rip the bugger’s throat out right in front of her,” Spike growled. “But I’m not planning to stand by and watch him turn into a hellbeast without trying to stop it either.”

 

“Well, since Riley appears to have somewhat the same idea, perhaps he will do it for you and Buffy will never forgive him.”

 

Spike snorted and led the way back out to the main part of the shop.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy had emerged from the training room and was discussing possible hiding places for her mother and Dawn.

 

“I’d let Mom go back to the hospital, but with Ben walking around there....” She sighed. “I was planning to stash them at Spike’s again, but with no bathroom there, that’s not going to work. She needs a more comfortable place than a stone crypt – one with running water.”

 

“How about a hotel?  Maybe in another city? One that’s far away?”

 

“Hmmmm. That’s a thought.” Buffy shook her head. “Nah, it has to be someplace we can all go. I can’t run off and leave you guys here. She knows who you are. Even you,” she added, looking at Riley. “None of you are safe if she finds you.”

 

“How about a hotel in Clarksburg?  It’s only ten miles from here, across the desert, and there’s a pretty decent hotel there.” Xander glanced around the table at the surprised expressions. “You learn stuff when you take a road trip – even if you don’t go very far.”

 

“That’s not a bad idea. And that close, Spike and I could come back and look for Glory at night. And I could get Mom to her doctor’s visit next week—”

 

“Why would you take Spike with you?” Riley’s question interrupted Buffy’s musing.

 

“Because now Glory knows he’s helping me. She almost dusted him!  He can’t stay here either.”

 

Spike’s voice preceded him into the room.

 

“Actually, Slayer, I can and will. That hellbeast doesn’t know where I live. I can stay here and keep an eye on things while you’re gone.”

 

“In the daytime?”

 

He shrugged.  “Can get around if and when I need to. You know that. And I’ve got friends that aren’t as challenged by sunlight.  You can come back when you need to if I find out anything important.”

 

“I am not running away and leaving you to do this by yourself.  That isn’t what I asked you to come back for!”

 

“You asked me to help you. That’s what I’m planning to do.”

 

By this time, Buffy and Spike were glaring at each other from only a few inches away, having completely forgotten they had an audience that included the man who thought he was her boyfriend.

 

“I’m not watching any more of this!” Riley burst into their standoff, walking up and getting between them.  “If you need help, that’s what I’m here for. I’ve got the firepower and the experience. Whatever Glory is, she’s just another demon. Stronger than most, obviously, but still killable.  You take your mother away and I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come back.”

 

He turned to Spike, whose eyes were flashing back and forth between blue and yellow. “And you, Hostile Seventeen, I’m taking in. The Initiative may be shut down, but we’ve still got doctors that can get our hardware out of you.”

 

“You want to take his chip out?”  Xander asked, incredulously. “This is Spike. William the Bloody.  All those in favor of not unchipping Spike, hold up their hands!”  He held his own high, dropping it with an embarrassed shrug when no one else paid any attention.  “I’m just saying....” he mumbled.

 

“No one will be in any danger from him,” Riley said with assurance. “When he’s chipless, Buffy will have to stake him – as she should have years ago. And if she doesn’t want to for some reason, I’ll do it while he’s on the table.”

 

Paying no attention to the shocked faces staring at him, he took Spike by the arm and yanked him toward the door. Spike’s wince at the way the action pulled at his chest wound snapped Buffy out of her outraged speechlessness. She grabbed Riley’s wrist and began to squeeze it until his grip failed and Spike was free.  She sent him a pleading look as she pulled Riley toward the door.

 

“Outside,” she ordered, not giving the much larger man any choice. “We need to have a conversation.”

 

Whatever retaliation Spike may have been planning was diverted by Buffy’s silent plea to leave it to her, as well as the way Tara and Willow immediately tried to get a look at the wound.  He shook them off with a tight smile.

 

“I’m fine. Just need to finish off the rest of the blood and give my body some time to heal itself.”  He kept staring at the closed door through which Buffy had shoved Riley, straining his ears to hear the conversation.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  If the way she’d manhandled him out the door hadn’t made clear that he was dealing with an angry slayer, the look in her eyes and the power radiating off her body would have cleared it up for him. There was no sign of the unsure coed he’d met last year, only a warrior who was dealing with insurrection in the ranks.

 

“Making the decisions you aren’t,” he snapped back, remaining a safe distance from her clenched fists.  “You need to bring the Army in on this if you can’t handle this Glory creature. A neutered vampire and you just aren’t going to get the job done. And the vampire doesn’t need to be here. I don’t know what he thinks you meant by ‘helping you’, but he obviously can’t help you take out Glory, and I want that chip back.”

 

“The Initiative’s gone, Riley. Professor Walsh is dead – at the hand of her own monster – there’s nobody left to care whether Spike still has that chip she put in him. Who are you going to give it back to?”

 

“I don’t know – the Army, maybe. Someone is going to want that technology, and it doesn’t belong to him.”

 

“I think, given that it was stuck in his head without his permission, he has every right to think of it as his. And also, given what you plan to do to him once it’s out, I can’t see any reason why he would want to cooperate. And I damn sure don’t plan to let you have him.  He’s here because I asked him to come. I want him here. End of discussion. You can help us, or you can not help us, but don’t get in the way of me or anybody who’s fighting with me.”

 

“So, this is what it comes down then? In spite of all your assurances that it doesn’t matter to you that I don’t have my enhancements any more?   Do you think I’ve forgotten ‘If I wanted someone with superpowers, I’d be dating Spike’?” he said, imitating her higher pitched voice. He glared at her, daring her to argue with him.  “Tell me, Buffy, is it the superpowers that get you going, or do you just have a thing for vampires?”

 

Buffy’s first instinct was to slap him. Only guilt at the few stolen kisses she’d had with Spike and her body’s immediate reaction to them, stayed her hand. Her shoulders slumped and she turned to go back into the shop.

 

“Go home, Riley. Let the Army guys know what’s going on, just in case they run into her, or... or if we don’t... if we can’t stop her.  At least they’ll be ready for whatever comes through the portal.”  Without looking at him again, she opened the door and entered the store, pulling it closed behind her.

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

“So,” she said brightly as all eyes turned to her. “Back to where to go and how to get there.”

 

“A nearby town seems a good choice,” Giles said. “But we cannot leave the store unattended for two weeks. I believe I should remain here. Unless Glory has identified my shop as your home base, there is no reason to think she will be seeking me out.”

 

“Don’t forget, Watcher. The bitch has been shaking the demon world too. And there are plenty there who would be happy to give her information about the Slayer. I’d be surprised if she didn’t know about this place and everyone in it.”

 

“Plus, Ben saw all of you at the hospital when Mom had her surgery.  Spike’s right. Nobody’s safe here. If I go, we all go.  You too, mister,” she added, pointing at Spike. “Glory might not know where your crypt is, but Riley does.” Buffy moved to where Spike was growling near the door to the training room and was obviously having a whispered argument with him.

 

“You couldn’t convince him to leave Spike alone?” Dawn voiced what everyone was thinking. “Why not?”

 

 “He’s jealous.” Anya spoke casually, without looking up from where she was taking the money from the register and putting it into a lockbox hidden under the counter. When there was silence, she glanced up. “What? It’s obvious. You don’t have to be a vengeance demon to see that. He’s afraid Buffy likes Spike more than she likes him.”

 

“Well, that’s just....” Xander’s voice trailed off as he watched them carry on their quiet, but vigorous, argument about how much danger Spike might be in from Riley and his former squad members. An argument that ended with Buffy putting her hand on Spike’s face as she pleaded with him. When Spike covered her hand with his and turned his head to kiss her palm before shaking his head, Xander groaned.  “That’s just possibly true.”

 

“Probably true,” Anya corrected. “Look at them.”

 

Becoming aware of their audience, Buffy flushed and stepped away from Spike. “Go on, finish up your blood, and get some more rest. I’ll let you know when we’re ready to leave.”

 

“We’re not through here, Slayer.”

 

“Yes we are. I’ve got a plan. Just go get better so you can be part of it.” She nudged him toward the training room, standing with her hands on her hips until he’d followed her instructions. Then she turned back to the rest of the Scoobies. “Okay, here’s the new plan. You guys can use Mom’s SUV to get to Clarksville. We should get some cheap cell phones so we can stay in touch—”

 

“You aren’t going to go with us?”

 

“No. Spike’s right. Glory probably doesn’t know about his crypt. Except for Clem, not very many vamps or demons know he’s back, so even if she’s been asking around, they probably haven’t told her anything.  If I stay there with him, I can take care of any problems with Riley, and if the two of us find Glory one night—”

 

“You can both get pummeled into bloody messes,” Willow said.  “This isn’t something you guys should be taking on alone.”

 

“I’m not saying we’re going to go looking for her.  As long as I know all of you are safely away from here where she can’t find you, I can keep a low profile. It’s only for a couple of weeks.  But if I get a chance to—She can’t be completely unkillable, can she?”  Buffy looked at Giles for support, but he shook his head.

 

“The Council researchers don’t know. They know only that she’s got godlike powers and seems to be immortal—although she has not been seen in centuries until recently. The assumption is she remains inside a human host until she has reason to emerge.”

 

“A reason like being ready to go home.”

 

“Exactly. If she misses this chance to open the portal, it could be another thousand years before the time is right again.”

 

“No wonder she’s so desperate.” Anya appeared momentarily sympathetic, growing quiet when everyone turned to stare at her. 

 

“So she’ll still be living in Ben then?” Buffy frowned, missing the exchange of glances between Giles and Spike, who had returned to the main shop with his blood in hand. “If she misses her portal?”

 

“One must assume so. At least until she finds a new host.”

 

Buffy looked momentarily taken back, but shrugged it off as something to worry about later.

 

“Okay, so that’s the plan. You guys will head out first thing tomorrow. We’ll get a couple of cheap cell phones so you can stay in touch and let me know if you need anything.  If and when we get rid of Glory, or she leaves in frustration, you can come back.”

 

“What about my—Giles’s—store?” Anya put her hands on her hips. “Are you going to watch it while we aren’t here?”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes. “We’ll check on it every day. I promise. Just put up a sign saying you’re on vacation. But don’t put when you’ll be back. I don’t want Glory to connect the store being shut with her deadline for opening the portal.”

 

“So, what are we doing to do until the morning? Are you saying we can’t go home tonight?”

 

Buffy chewed her lip. “You guys probably can.” She pointed at Xander and Anya, and Willow and Tara.  “Just keep an eye out, and be ready to leave first thing in the morning.”  She turned to Giles. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t think Ben knows anybody’s name except mine and mom’s, so you can probably go home and pack up stuff.  I just don’t know what to do with Mom and Dawn tonight.... I guess we’ll just stay here.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

When everyone had gone to their respective homes to collect what they expected to need for a week or two, Buffy called out for pizza to be delivered to the Magic Box. She tried not to feel guilty when Spike reached under the counter and pulled out the money Ayna thought she’d hidden so carefully. It took him only a second to break the lock and take out a few bills.  He handed a twenty to Buffy and put the rest in his own pocket.

 

“What?” he asked, when she cleared her throat and tapped her foot. “We don’t know what we might need money for. No sense having to break in every time we need to buy something.  Or would you rather I just started stealing for you?” he asked, his expression perking up.

 

“You are stealing! Just from Giles.”

 

“Well, yeah... but not really. It’s not like I’m planning to buy fags or booze with it, is it? It’s just to buy junk food for you and the Nibblet, and your mum,” he added for good measure.

 

“You aren’t going to use any of it for cigarettes or beer?”

 

“Of course not!”  He seemed offended. “I’ll nick them, just like I always do.”

 

Buffy’s was speechless, staring at him with an expression that went from shocked to concerned to sad in the length of time it took him to move closer to her.

 

“Hey, don’t look at me like that... Slayer? Buffy?” He touched her face and forced her to meet his earnest gaze.  “Was just kiddin’ you, love. Even the demon’s not stupid enough to think you’d be okay with me taking things without payin’ for them.”

 

Buffy stared at him, her confusion and indecision obvious.  He sighed and dropped his hand.

 

“Right then. It’s all right if I’m off in some other city, doing who knows what-all to the innocent citizens there, but here I can’t even joke about shoplifting.”  He turned away from her and stomped to the back of the store, his cut open jeans still flopping around his leg.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Spike remained in the back of the shop until the pizza arrived, coming out only to keep a sharp eye on the exchange of food and money.  When Buffy locked the front door and carried the boxes of warm pizza into the training room, he trailed behind her, still uncharacteristically silent.

 

Joyce woke up long enough to eat a piece of pizza, take her meds, and drink a cup of herbal tea that Tara had left for her.  When she’d finished, she curled back into her blankets and gave a sleepy “good-night”.

 

Leaving Dawn to keep her mother company and to make her own bed on the mat they’d used for Spike, Buffy turned off the lights in the training room and followed Spike out into the main part of the shop. They kept the lights off, the glow from the office area in the back being enough for Buffy to see.

 

The silence dragged on, broken only by the rustle of paper as they finished up the last pieces of pizza. 

 

“Probably should have saved some of that for breakfast,” Spike commented finally.

 

“Probably,” Buffy agreed. “But... yuck.” She made a disgusted face and pushed the box away.

 

“Hey, you’re a college girl. Don’t tell me you haven’t had cold pizza for breakfast.” He slid his eyes to the side to see if she was going to take that in the spirit in which he’d meant it.

 

“That’s a guy thing to do,” she sniffed, her lips twitching just enough for him to see that she was trying not to laugh.

 

He shrugged and gave her one of his best sweet little boy smiles, breaking into a grin when her expression softened and she smiled back. “I forgot. You’re a guy,” she said.

 

“Need a reminder, do you?” He wriggled his eyebrows and leered at her, only half-seriously.

 

She rolled her eyes and shook her head before putting it down on the table. She couldn’t smother a yawn as she rested her forehead on her arms, and she felt his hand come to rest lightly on her head.

 

“Tired, love?”  Her head moved under his hand as she nodded.  “Why don’t you go to sleep too? I’ll stay up and keep watch. Lights are off, or will be soon’s I hit that one in the back, no reason for the hellbeast or any of her minions to be looking in here for anyone at night.  Get some sleep, Buffy.”

 

She turned her head, brushing her cheek against his hand before sitting up with a groan.  “I could do with a nap,” she admitted. 

 

He stood up and held out his hand. “Come on, then. You can catch some kip on the lumpy sofa back in Watcher’s office.”

 

She let him pull her to her feet and followed him toward the back of the shop where Giles had set up an office with an old battered desk and a couple of chairs. Along one wall was a small sofa, really more of a love seat in size. Buffy lowered herself to it and stretched out as best she could. Darkness fell as Spike hit the light switch, turning off the last light in the building. She felt his coat settle over her as she closed her eyes, and his lips brushed hers.

 

“Sleep well, pet. I won’t be far away.”

 

She reached a hand out to stop him from standing up.  “That wasn’t much of a goodnight kiss,” she said, opening her eyes and peering in the general vicinity of his bright hair.

 

“Didn’t seem like a good time to indulge in anything more,” he said, leaning down anyway and putting his mouth on hers. “But far be it from me to disappoint a lady...”

 

The kiss went the way all their kisses seemed to, ending with him kneeling on floor, half-lying on her as she ran her fingers through the soft hair on the nape of his neck and whimpered into the kiss. Eventually, the awkwardness of his position and Buffy’s need for a full breath of air, allowed them to tear their mouths apart and gasp together.

 

Spike straightened up and groaned. “No fair, Slayer. Got your mum and sister in the next room, me with a hole in my chest, and naught but this torture device to stretch out on.”

 

“Sorry,” she sighed, sounding like she wasn’t sorry at all. “It’s just... every once in a while I have to kiss you to remind my—”

 

“To remind yourself why you’re letting another demon into your life?” he said with just a trace of bitterness.

 

“No! Yes? Maybe?”  She sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t know what happens to us when we kiss. Maybe you’re just a really, really good kisser and that’s all this is....”

 

“I am a really good kisser, Buffy. Had too many years of experience not to be. But that’s not all this is. Not sayin’ I know exactly what it is, but there’s something between us. Something that’s always been there... was there even when we hated each other.”

 

Buffy nodded and snuggled under his coat, her voice a soft mumble. “If this turns out to be some kind of stupid prophecy thing, I’m calling it off. I don’t care how good a kisser you are....”

 

She was asleep before she’d finished speaking, and Spike listened to her breathe for a while before going back into the main part of the shop to watch until morning.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

 

Buffy woke up to see Dawn watching anxiously as her mother walked down the small hall to the store’s bathroom. She stretched and rose, going to the door to ask, “Do you need any help, Mom?”

 

“Good morning, Buffy. I’m sorry we woke you. And, no, I’m doing fine. Tara’s healing spells seem to be working very nicely. “

 

“Yeah, well, don’t get carried away. You’re not going to do anything more strenuous than walk to the bathroom until the doctor says so. And you won’t see him until sometime next week.”

 

Joyce just smiled and closed the door behind her.

 

“She seems pretty good, don’t you think?” Dawn’s need for reassurance had Buffy putting on her most confident air.

 

“Of course she does. Mom is strong. She’s going to be fine.  We just need to make sure she doesn’t try to do too much.  I’m going to check in at the gallery later and make sure they know not to bother her unless they have a real emergency. Thank God for Lisa.  If Mom didn’t have so much confidence in her manager, we’d never get her out of the city.”

 

“So, that’s the plan? We’re all going to leave and you and Spike will stay here? What if she finds us and you guys aren’t there to protect us?”

 

“I’m going to be checking in all the time. And, here, this is Spike’s cell number. I’ll make sure he keeps it charged and somewhere handy.” She handed Dawn the slip of paper on which Spike had written the number for her.

 

The store phone rang and Buffy went back into the office to pick up the desk extension. 

 

“Magic Box, hello?  Oh, hi. Yep, we’re all fine. It was very quiet all night. Uh huh.... okay.... yeah, that would be great. Okay. Thanks, Giles.”

 

“Everybody’s on their way here. Xander’s bringing doughnuts.”

 

“More junk food.” Joyce’s voice as she looked in the office door was as disapproving as she could make under the circumstances.  “I guess, all things considered, junk food should be fairly low on my list of things to worry about, huh?” She gave Buffy an affectionate, if somewhat strained, smile.

 

“For a while, Mom.  Don’t worry. Once you guys are in another city, you can eat real food again.”

 

“While you stay here and live off doughnuts and pizza....”

 

“And beer,” Spike said, joining her in the hallway. “Never underestimate the importance of beer as an emergency provision.”  At Joyce’s narrowed eyes, he added quickly, “I meant for me. Beer and blood – vampire food. Not for the Slayer. I’ll find real food for her, Joyce. You’ve got my promise.”

 

While all three women rolled their eyes at his sudden change in demeanor, and Dawn snickered at him, Buffy tried to reassure Joyce.

 

“I’ll be fine, Mom.  As long as I’m not worrying about you and Dawn, it won’t matter what I eat.  I might make Spike take me out for a nice steak dinner once in a while.”  She ignored Spike’s expression and pushed past him into the hall. “Come on, I need to unlock the front door before our breakfast gets here.”

 

Joyce was laughing at Spike’s shock. “Did you think you could date my daughter and not have to treat her right?” she said, still chuckling.

 

“Yeah, Spike. Buffy’s kinda high-maintenance...” Dawn joined her mother in embarrassing her sister and what was obviously becoming the latest vampire in her life.

 

“I heard that!” Buffy’s voice carried back to them from the end of the short hallway.  “And we’re not dating! We’re just working together!”

 

Not sure which Summers woman to respond to first, or what he would say if he did, Spike retreated to the office and picked up his coat. He made a big production out of taking off the tattered remains of his tee-shirt and throwing it away, giving Joyce and Dawn time to take their giggles out to the main room. He shrugged on his coat and, squaring his shoulders, went down the hall to join them.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

By the time Giles and the Scoobies arrived, Joyce and Dawn were insisting that they needed at least a few minutes at their home to do their own packing and Buffy had agreed to go with them to stand guard. Spike said he was going to use the tunnels to go back to his crypt and get some blood and some less abused-looking clothes for himself.

 

“I’ll be downstairs,” he said, when Buffy protested. “Nobody will know where I am if I put the board and rug back. That’s assumin’ your boytoy really does plan to come looking for me. Wanker’s only been there the one time... and it was last year. Chances are, he won’t even be able to find it.”

 

“Okay,” Buffy said, waving at Willow and Tara as they came in. “I’ll meet you there after I see everybody off.  Be careful.”

 

“I’m not the one’s going to be walking around in the daylight by herself,” he grumbled.  “If you’re not there in an hour, I’ll be coming out to look for you.”

 

“And you’ll be a little heap of ashes before you get to the gate.  Just stay there and be patient. I’ll be there when I get there.”

 

They exchanged stubborn glares that softened into smiles.

 

“We’re a pair, aren’t we, Slayer.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Buffy said, biting her lip to keep from laughing.  “I’m decisive and all with the cautiony stuff. You’re just stubborn and reckless.”

 

Casting a glance toward the others, none of whom seemed to be watching them, he brushed his lips over hers and whispered, “One hour, Pot.” As he ducked into the stairwell, she glared after him.

 

“I’ll be there when I get there, Kettle.”

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Xander and Anya arrived before Dawn and Buffy had devoured all the doughnuts, holding large paper cups of coffee and hot chocolate.  Sitting down to join in the sugary breakfast, Xander looked around the room.

 

“Where’s fangface? I thought he was staying here to help you?”

 

“He did,” Buffy responded shortly. “He stood guard while I slept. He’s gone back to his crypt to get some clean clothes and probably catch a nap. I don’t know how much sleep vampires need, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than Spike’s had lately.”

 

Anya looked disappointed. “That’s too bad,” she said, smiling at the other women. “I’m sure we were all enjoying looking at Spike’s body. I was looking forward to seeing it this morning after the ugly hole was healed.”  When there was no response from anyone except a glare from Xander, she continued, “What? I’m not saying I want Spike to give me orgasms – although I’m sure he’s quite skilled at it and with that vampire staminia—“ She choked off as Xander put his hand over her mouth.

 

“Ayn, haven’t we talked about what it is and isn’t okay to talk about in front of Dawn? And Mrs. Summers?”  He gave Buffy’s mother an apologetic shrug.

 

In an effort to change the subject from Spike’s admittedly oglable torso, Buffy said quickly, “So, are we all ready to go? Except for Mom and Dawn. They have to go by the house and get their stuff. We’ll just have to hope that Ben is working today and Glory stays away until we can get you guys out of town.”

 

Eager to help with the subject change, Giles said, “I picked up a prepaid mobile phone on the way here. I can leave it with you and we can use the hotel’s landline phones to check in.”

 

“No, you keep it, Giles. Spike has a phone and I already gave Dawn the number. Put it in that phone so you’ll have it too.”

 

“But what if you are not with Spike?”

 

Buffy blushed. “The plan is to stay together as much as we can. We’ve got a better chance of fighting Glory if there are two of us for her to worry about.”

 

“Vampire – Slayer tag team!” Dawn repeated her comments from the previous day.

 

“Something like that,” Buffy said. “I’m hoping between the two of us, we have enough muscle to beat her.”

 

“Maybe you should have taken Riley up on his offer of help from the Army?”

 

“And get a bunch of guys who have no idea what they’re facing get killed or brain-sucked? They’ll have enough time to see how their guns work against her if we.... if we can’t stop her,” she finished quickly, avoiding her mother’s frightened gaze.

 

“And on that optimistic note....” Giles stood up. “I suggest we get ourselves up and out of here. The sooner we are out of Glory’s reach, the better for all of us.”

 

“I brought my car,” Xander said.  “Anya and I can go ahead and check us all checked in before you get there.  Do you know where it is? The Ramada Inn in Clarksburg?”

 

“I’m fairly certain I can find it,” Giles said as he helped Joyce to her feet. Buffy and Dawn had collected their mother’s meds and belongings from the training room and were holding them when the door burst open and Glory stood in the opening.

 

“Aha! There you are, Slayer. You’ve been trying to hide from me.” She looked around the room. “And all the little Slayerettes too. How perfect. For me.” Before anyone could react, she had grabbed Tara and put her hands on either side of her head. While Willow screamed, and Buffy charged toward them, the hellgod threw her head back in triumph.  “So that’s where it is!”  She let Tara’s limp body fall to the floor, where Willow quickly pulled her girlfriend away from Glory and began begging Tara to speak to her.

 

Buffy’s attack had its usual less than optimal effect on Glory who bounced back from Buffy first punch to send her flying into a shelf.  She advanced on Dawn, saying, “Well, well, well. So my Key is a little girl.  You’re a bad girl to be hiding from me all this time. But it’s all right now. I’ve got you.”

 

Shaking her head to clear it, Buffy grabbed the nearest thing she could use for a weapon, which turned out to be Olaf’s troll hammer.  To her surprise, as well as Glory’s, a blow with the magical hammer had much more of an effect on the hellgod than had any of Buffy’s kicks or punches.  She fell to the floor, releasing Dawn who scampered behind Xander and Anya.  Another blow from the hammer had Glory scrambling toward the open door, shrieking her anger.

 

“Don’t think you can keep her from me, Slayer,” she screamed, as she retreated to the street, followed by Buffy and blows from the hammer.  “I’ll be back!” She clapped her hands and disappeared, leaving everyone relieved and shaken.

 

“Forget the clothes”, Buffy said. “Get in the car and get the hell out of here.  And keep going!  As fast and as far as you can.”

 

Scrambling to obey, Joyce and Dawn were soon huddled in Joyce’s SUV, with Willow and an awake, but barely functional Tara huddled together in the back seat.

 

“What’s wrong with Tara?” Dawn whimpered, staring at the vacant expression on Tara’s face.

 

“I think she got brain-sucked,” Willow said, still crying as she petted Tara and tried to sooth her.  Her eyes briefly darkened as she said, “I’m going to....” A whimper from Tara distracted her and her eyes faded back to normal as she hugged her girlfriend.

 

“She knows it’s me,” Dawn said. “She knows.”

 

“Buffy will handle her,’ Giles said with slightly more confidence than he felt. “It appears that the hammer can damage her, so Buffy now has a weapon that evens the odds a bit.”

 

“And she’s got Spike,” Dawn said.

 

“And she’s got Spike,” he replied, thinking about how useful it was for Buffy to have a vampire with no objections to killing humans on her side.

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Clutching the hammer, Buffy ran to Restfield as quickly as she could, slamming her way into the crypt and shutting the doors behind her.  Spike’s head was already poking up from his bedroom when she turned around, breathing hard.

 

“You’re supposed to be hiding,” she said, still holding on to her hammer.

 

Spike came up the stairs, frowning at her appearance and obvious distress. Ignoring her comment about hiding, he asked, “What happened?”

 

Buffy pointed to the ladder. “Let’s talk down there.”  She walked over and went down the steps, somewhat awkwardly due to her refusal to let go of the hammer. When she reached the bottom, she realized that there were no candles lit and she moved to the side, waiting for Spike to come down. Peering up at the dim light from above, she saw that he was pulling the plywood back into place, pausing to reach up and tug the rug to the edge of the sheet of wood. When it was in place to suit him, he pulled it shut, plunging the room into total darkness.

 

Buffy heard him come down the steps, and felt his nearness as he paused in front of her.

 

“Is that going to work?”

 

She felt him shrug. “Dunno. If it’s lying flat, it should do. Depends on who or what’s lookin’ for us, and how smart it is.” He ran a hand down her arm to the hand holding the hammer.  “Got some home improvement projects in mind, love?”

 

“It hurt her,” she said. “It can hurt her. It’s not leaving my hand until she’s a little blob of hellgod in a red dress.”

 

He touched the hammer and tried to take it from her, cursing in surprise when he almost dropped it. 

 

“What the hell is it?” he growled, using two hands to raise it to chest level. “And how does a little chit like you carry it around in one hand?”

 

Buffy giggled and took it back from him. “Guess I’m just stronger than you are,” she said, giving him a nudge.  “And it’s a magical hammer. It belong to Anya’s ex.”

 

“Demon girl has an “ex”?”

 

“Yeah, he was her boyfriend, or husband or something – anyway, he cheated on her and she cursed him and made him a troll. This was his hammer. “

 

“She kept his hammer?”

 

“No, he.... it’s a long story. Anyway, he’s gone and we’ve got his hammer and it turns out it can hurt Glory. So yay!”

 

“Yay, indeed,” he said. She could hear the smile in his voice.  He raised a hand and stroked her hair.  “So, did everyone get on their way today?”

 

Buffy shuddered and leaned into him. “Eventually.  But she knows. She knows Dawn is her Key, and I guess she knows where they were going to go, so they aren’t going there.”

 

“How did that happen?” He was growling as if ready to go find the person responsible and make him pay.

 

“She brain-sucked Tara,” Buffy said quietly. “Right there, in front of me. I couldn’t stop her.”

 

“Not your fault, love.” His attitude changed immediately and he put his hands on her shoulders, squeezing them.  “It’s not your fault.” His hands slid down to encircle her body, holding her while she took calming breaths.  “Not your fault,” he repeated, his hands rubbing soothing circle on her back. “We’ll get her, love. You and me. We’ll get her.”

 

“What if we can’t?  What if I can’t stop her, Spike?”

 

“Got all the faith in the world in you, Buffy. You’ll stop her. You will.”  He pulled her tighter, holding on until she stopped trembling in what he soon realized was anger, not fear.  “Bitch is a good as dead.”

 

Buffy pushed gently on his chest until he let her go, stepping back and asking, “So, what does a girl have to do to get some light down here?”

 

“Just ask, and you shall receive.” There was a snick from his lighter, followed immediately by the flare. He walked to a table and lit the candle there, then snapped his lighter closed. “See?”

 

“Sort of,” she said, smiling to take the sting out. “It’s better than stumbling around in the dark, I guess.” She looked around as best she could in the flickering light of the lone candle and saw that Spike had brought a cooler down stairs. “Blood?” She pointed to it.

 

“And some water for you. Not sure what we’ll do about food just yet....”

 

“I don’t plan to hide down here all week,” she said, looking around for someplace to sit that wasn’t Spike’s slept-in looking bed.  “Just today. Till you can come out with me.”

 

“So, Slayer,” he said, sitting on the bed and leaning against the headboard. “Have a seat and tell me all about this hammer and how it can hurt the hellbeast. Is she missing teeth now?”

 

“Oh God, I hope so!” Buffy went around to the other side of the bed and sat down as far away from him as she could get and not be on the floor. He raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything, so she continued. “I didn’t really look at her all that close.  I just kept hitting her, and she kept backing up and then she did something and disappeared.”  She sighed. “The easiest thing to do might be to find Ben and just shadow him until he changes....”

 

Spike squeezed his eyes shut to avoid having her see what he thought they should do with Ben, but Buffy had no trouble understanding his silence.

 

“Spike, we’ve been over this. Ben is human. He has no control over Glory or what she does. I can’t blame him or kill him just because she decided he’d been a nice place to live for a while.”

 

“Right.” He still didn’t look at her, just sighed and kept his eyes shut. There was silence for so long that Buffy thought he might have fallen asleep, but just as she was going to close her own eyes he turned his head and looked at her. He reached one hand over and cupped her chin, staring into her eyes as if searching them for something important to him. After several seconds, during which she just gazed back, puzzled, but not trying to pull away, he leaned in to kiss her.

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

While Buffy was mentally gearing up to resist Spike’s kisses and not permit them to lead to anything related to the rumpled bed they were on, he surprised her by keeping the kiss soft and affectionate... and ending it well before she was ready. He pulled back and smiled at her bewildered expression.

 

“It’s not going to be easy, is it, love?”

 

“What? What’s not going to be easy? If you’re talking about kissing me, seems to me that’s all it’s been is easy. Every time I think I’m going to push you away, I end up kissing back and then there’s more kissing, and tongues, and...”

 

“I meant,” he said, chuckling and nuzzling her cheek, “you and me. It’s not going to be easy for us.”

 

Buffy flashed back to Riley’s disappointment with the way she treated him and her response about what it meant being the Slayer’s boyfriend.

 

“You don’t think you can do it? Cause, just so you know, that would make at least two of you who think it’s too hard to be my boyfriend. And that’s not counting An—anybody else,” she finished, hoping he would ignore her slip.

 

He pulled back in astonishment. “The enormous Boy Scout thinks it’s hard to be your boyfriend? What’s wrong with that git? He doesn’t know how good he has it – what with being all human and soul-having and all... Bloody stupid wanker...” He paused and his eyes lit up.  “Does that mean he’s out of the picture?”

 

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think he’s pretty mad at me right now. And I don’t think I can be... what he wants me to be.  I’m the Slayer. I can’t stop being that just because....”

 

Spike’s lips cut off her agitated speech, this time holding the kiss until she stopped trying to speak and sighed into his mouth. As soon as she was kissing him back, he pulled her closer and held her while they lost themselves in the way their lips and tongues seemed to know just what to do to make the other person moan and whimper.  They gradually slid from their sitting positions down until they were lying on the bed, bodies pressed tightly together.

 

During a brief pause for heavy breathing, Spike whispered, “Don’t think I didn’t catch that bit about the poof leaving because it was too hard. I’m made of tougher stuff, Slayer. And I don’t have any soul to lose.”

 

“So you don’t think being the Slayer’s boyfriend is going to be too much like work?”

 

“Oh, I don’t doubt for a second it’s going to be a lot of work... for both of us.” He seized her lips again and reminded her of why she was on a bed kissing William the Bloody.  “But it’s going to be worth every terrifying minute... every knock down, drag out fight, every punch in the face....”

 

“Just so you know....” Buffy gasped out between kisses. “...you really aren’t making it sound very fun....”  She squirmed as he slid a hand under her sweater, leaving her shivering as he stroked the soft skin he found there.

 

“Oh, I plan to make it fun, love. Count on it.” His mouth worked its way down her neck, nibbling and licking at the skin there until he found the spot he wanted and sucked it into his mouth. Buffy felt the pull all the way down to her toes. Her slayer senses vigorously insisted she push the vampire away from her throat, but the hormones racing through her body made her arch her neck to give him more access.

 

“Ummmm, ummmm....” Buffy’s incoherent murmurs were almost loud enough to muffle the sound of footsteps overhead. Almost.

 

Spike tore his mouth away and rolled to his feet on one side of the bed while Buffy duplicated his motions on the other side, grabbing her hammer as she got to her feet.  They listened intently as heavy footsteps crossed the rug-covered plywood hiding them.

 

“Soldiers,” Spike whispered.  Buffy nodded and pointed to the flickering candle. Spike spit on his fingers and pinched it out, dropping the room into complete darkness. There was a quick flurry of movement as Spike grabbed his boots, then she felt him approach. Taking her hand, he whispered, “Come with me into the tunnels. We don’t want to be caught down here.”

 

She stumbled after Spike, hanging on to his hand and wondering how even a vampire could see in what seemed to her to be complete darkness.  He stopped sooner than she expected, turning them to face back the way they’d come. While they waited, he quickly stepped into his boots, cocking his head to listen to the sounds from the area they’d just left.

 

“No sense running off if they don’t find the—Fuck!”

 

Even Buffy could hear the sound of the cover being pulled away. The beam of a flashlight made her blink and shrink into Spike’s side. She could feel the growl rumbling in his chest, but he remained silent as voices carried to them.

 

“Nobody down here, Rile. But somebody lives here – there’s a bed – looks slept in.”

 

“I thought vamps sleep in coffins,” someone said with a laugh. “This one likes four-posters and fluffy quilts.”

 

There was some laughter and comments about Spike’s sexual orientation that ended when Riley snapped, “Hostile Seventeen is an old vampire, and I’m pretty sure he’s not gay. Now one of you get down there and see if you can figure out where he went.”

 

After some good-natured bargaining and arguing, the beam of the flashlight was followed by a uniformed man who Buffy didn’t recognize.  He glanced at the bed, then wandered around the room, pulling open a couple of drawers on the dresser and flashing his light around the room. When instead of bouncing off a mud wall, it disappeared into the inky space that was the tunnel entrance, he shouted in surprise.

 

Buffy and Spike shrank back against the wall where the thin beam of light couldn’t find them. It was obvious that the soldier wasn’t interested in going into the tunnels by himself, but he was soon joined by Riley and another armed soldier.

 

“Time to go, love.” Spike, moving very silently for someone wearing heavy boots, tugged Buffy after him as he made his way farther into the gloom. Buffy followed as silently as she could, straining to see what was in front of her, as well as to hear what was going on behind.  They could hear more arguing as Riley demanded a weapon and one of the others pointed out that he wasn’t technically in the Army anymore.

 

“The hell with regs!” he finally shouted, loud enough to be heard easily even by Buffy.  Spike increased his pace as something flew into the tunnel and rolled in their direction.  He pulled Buffy into a crevice just as the grenade that Riley had thrown went off with earsplitting noise and a bright flash.

 

They huddled against the wall, protected from the worst of the blast by the rocky outcrop behind which Spike had pulled her. Dirt and rocks continued to fall with a light pattering sound as the echoes of the blast continued to reverberate around them.  As their ears became at least partially functional again and the tunnel seemed to stabilize itself, they could hear the uproar coming from behind them.

 

“What the hell, Finn?  That could have pulled this whole thing down around our ears! What’s wrong with you? Let’s get out of here before we find ourselves buried in this grave.”

 

“You’re losing it, man,” another voice chimed in as the lights began to disappear up the ladder.  “It’s just a vamp. I don’t know why you’ve got such a—”

 

There was no reply from Riley as the voices faded away.  Buffy and Spike remained where they were, huddled against the wall, his arms still over her head, protecting her from the shower of debris that had fallen even in their protected crevice.  When they’d been waiting for what seemed like forever, Buffy pushed him away and raised her hand to brush off his dirt-covered head.

 

“What do think? Can we go back?”

 

“Can’t hear anybody. ‘Course right now, my ears are still ringing, but I think I’d know if there was anything human left up there.”

 

Moving cautiously, they made their way back into Spike’s bedroom, the vampire using his better eyesight to guide Buffy over and around the debris now covering the floor of the tunnel. “Easy, pet,” he said, holding her up until she got her balance back when she stepped on a rock that rolled under her foot.

 

“I’m going to kill him,” she growled. “I told him to leave you alone, dammit!”

 

“You can’t kill him, you’re a white hat. Let me do it.” While Buffy’s comment had been an obvious overstatement brought on by anger at their recent experience, Spike’s voice was calm and flat as he responded.

 

Buffy’s sigh was her only reply as they stopped and Spike released her hand to relight the candle. They looked around in the flickering light to see that the room itself hadn’t actually been damaged. Riley had thrown or rolled the grenade into the tunnel and the majority of the blast damage was confined to that area.

 

Without speaking, they both went to the ladder leading to the main part of the crypt.

 

“After you, Slayer,” Spike said, standing back. “Never let it be said I don’t know how to be a gentleman.”

 

“You just want to watch me go up the stairs,” she said, going before him anyway.

 

“Well, yeah. There’s that. Puts that delectable arse right within biting distance,” he agreed, laughing and nipping at her denim-covered rear.

 

“Eep! Stop that!” Buffy’s protest was not believable, even to herself, and Spike continued to nip at her ass until they reached the top. “You’re awful,” she said, sitting on the floor and turning to face him, giggling in spite of herself.  He came up far enough to stand between her legs and go back to sucking on her neck. She whimpered and pulled him closer, ending up lying on the stone floor with Spike on top her. 

 

“What is wrong with us?” she gasped. “Shouldn’t we be barricading the door or something?”

 

“Near-death experience, love. Makes the juices flow – even for a dead man.” In spite of his words, he rolled off her body and sat up. “But we’ve got a nice comfy bed down there, so no reason to be getting bruises on this hard floor.” He stood up and held out his hand to her.

 

When they were both on their feet and staring around in the dim light coming in the dirty windows, they could see that the soldiers hadn’t touched much, although the refrigerator was open and the blood in there had been thrown all over the floor.

 

“Yuck. Good thing you brought some downstairs, isn’t it?”

 

“Bloody wankers,” he growled. “Do they think takin’ my stored blood is going to make me less likely to want theirs?  Doesn’t work that way.”

 

“Spike....” Buffy paused, not sure how she wanted to approach the subject of retaliation against the soldiers.

 

“Buffy, he could have killed you!  Don’t ask me to forget or forgive that.” He whirled on her. “The big git never thought to check to see if anyone was down there with me. Could have been Dawn, your mum, anybody... He almost killed you!”  Spike’s eyes were flashing yellow, and his fangs were becoming more visible the longer he went on. 

 

“But I’m all right,” she said, stroking his forehead until it smoothed out. “He wouldn’t have done that if he’d known I was there... “ She frowned. “At least I don’t think he would have.”

 

“Doesn’t matter if he knew it or not. He didn’t know you weren’t there with me. Didn’t even try to find out. He’s a wanker.”

 

“I won’t let him stake you – no matter how jealous he gets.” She looked up at him. “But I’m not going to let you bite him, either. I’m dumping him for you, that’s got to be good enough.”

 

He froze, then turned to stare at her. “Did you just say what I think you said?”

 

“Um...” Buffy’s eyes widened as she realized what she’d said.  “Maybe?  What do you think I sa—mmph!” Spike was holding her off the floor, his mouth firmly fastened on hers, his hands on her butt, holding her against him.  He continued kissing her until she was whimpering in need and trying to wrap her legs around his hips.  With gasp, he tore his mouth away and put her down. He rested his forehead against hers, breathing in time with her gasping breaths.

 

“Don’t go anywhere.”

 

He ran to the still-open doors, muttering about “stupid farm boys... raised in a barn... no respect for private property....” and closed them both, dragging a large stone urn in front of the interior door and leaving it there.

 

“At least we’ll hear them if they come back,” he said, returning to Buffy’s side. “Now where were we.....”

 

Buffy ducked away from his embrace, laughing when he growled.  “Just cool it, vampire. We need to do some work downstairs too.” She looked at him from under her lashes.   “....Before we try to figure out what we’re going to do with the rest of the day...” She disappeared down the ladder, leaving Spike staring after her and shaking his head.

 

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

 

“Woman’s going to drive me mad,” he muttered as he followed her down to the bedroom.

 

“What was that?” Buffy had picked up the candle and was peering into the tunnel.

 

“I said, you’re going to drive me crazy, Slayer,” he said, adjusting himself before joining her. “What are you doing?”

 

“I was just trying to see if we could use some of the stuff they knocked down to build... like a wall or something. So nothing could get in this way without us hearing it.”

 

“Let me show you something, pet.”  He gestured for her to put the candle back and ran up the ladder without really touching the rungs. He was back almost immediately with one of the battery-powered lanterns from upstairs.  Flicking it on, he began to walk into the tunnel, kicking rocks and clods of mud out of his way.  They walked past the crevice they’d hidden in and continued another fifty yards before he stopped and pointed at an old-looking iron gate that was almost invisible back against the wall. He pointed across the tunnel where Buffy could just make out a corresponding much smaller iron construction anchored to the wall.

 

“See that? We can close this and lock it. Won’t hold back a hellgod, but might give us a little time. And the soldiers would have to blow it to get through.”

 

“You picked an interesting crypt,” Buffy said. “An upstairs, downstairs, and a back door.”

 

He laughed. “I looked around a bit before I picked it. But I didn’t find out about this until I was coming back from the Magic Box. Almost walked right past it without seein’ it.”

 

“You can get to the Magic Box from here? Really? Where do these tunnels go?”

 

“Go just about anywhere you want to. As long as you don’t mind walking on the edge of a sewer a lot of the time.  Some of these tunnels have p’robly been here longer than the town has.”

 

Buffy shivered. “They probably lead to the hellmouth, or to that church basement old – what do you call him, Batface? – was trapped.”

 

“I’m sure they do. Was just starting to really learn my way around them when I... had to leave.”

 

Buffy bit her lip at the reference to his forced absence. 

 

“Would you have come back if I hadn’t called you?”

 

“Dunno, love.” When she flinched, he set the lantern down and put his arms around her. “If I’d heard you were in trouble... I probably would have come back just to see what was going on and if you were alright. But, would I have come back this soon...? I don’t know.  Really didn’t have any reason to think you felt like I did. Knew you didn’t want to slay me, and after that kiss, I knew our bodies would be happy if I stayed... but you were so very, very good... and so very, very sure you knew how bad I was....” He pulled her in more tightly. “Wanted to come back. Wanted it every day and night. But was afraid to just show up without an invitation. Something to tell me you wanted me here – even if it was just to be backup muscle.”

 

“I missed you,” she whispered into his chest, unwilling to meet his eyes as she confessed something she’d not even admitted to herself.  “I didn’t want to believe it, and I never told anybody, but I did. Every time I felt a vampire nearby, I had to fight the urge to call your name.”  When she did look up at his face, she smiled at the happiness she could see there. “Almost got myself chomped on once, ‘cause the stupid vamp had bleached hair and I— But he wasn’t you, and I was so mad at him for having hair that color, and so mad at myself for letting it throw me, that I beat him to a pulp before I staked him.”

 

“Ah, love. We’re a pair, aren’t we?” He nuzzled her hair and stroked her back. “I’m here now. Feel free to start showin’ me how much you missed me anytime now.” The way he was holding her ensured she couldn’t miss what he meant.

 

“First, let’s close this gate. I’ve got some idea what kinds of things roam around in the Sunnydale sewers, and stupid soldiers and big rats are the least of what I don’t want walking in on us.”

 

Her words were inspiring enough that it took them only a few minutes of exerting super strength to move the old gate from where it had rested for so many years. When it was across the narrowed tunnel and had been properly latched, Buffy stepped back and looked at it with satisfaction.

 

“There. Now if you just had a bathroom, we could make this place downright cozy.”

 

“Cozy?”

 

“Well, for a grave.” Buffy picked up the lantern and started walking back toward the dim light from Spike’s bedroom.  “A few rugs, some curtains or pictures to hide the muddy walls....”

 

“Do I get any say in all this decorating?” He hurried after her, visions of posters of boybands on his walls running through his imagination.

 

“Oh, stop worrying. I’m just kidding. It’s not like I’m planning to move in here, you know.” She turned and faced him, hands on hips. “But if I was, you’d be hanging curtains and putting down rugs. And building me a real bathroom!”

 

He relaxed and smiled. “Could do that, sweetheart. Wouldn’t be hard, with the sewers running by so close.  Need to bring some pipes in, but might be able to tie into some of those too.”

 

“Would you do that for me?” Buffy stared at him with wide eyes.

 

“Would do whatever it takes to keep you comin’ back here after you don’t need to hide.” He stepped closer to her, running one hand up her arm. “Got a few more hours to kill before I can go out... Where were we when your ex—he is your ex, right?” He waited for Buffy to nod. “—when your ex boyfriend and his friends tried to blow us up?”

 

“Um... let me think... Maybe right about... here!” She shoved him backwards so hard he hit the edge of the bed with his legs and fell onto his back. He lay there, grinning at her, arms spread wide.

 

“Not going to leave me here all by myself, are you, Slayer?”

 

“Not for long,” she said, kicking off her shoes before jumping onto the bed, landing in his welcoming embrace. He gave a soft grunt as she landed on him, but wrapped his arms around her instantly, holding her in place.

 

“You know I’m not letting you up, right? Dreamed about havin’ you in this position most of the last year.”  Powerful arms banded around her body and held her in place while she wriggled in a half-hearted escape attempt that had no effect except to make him groan and slide one hand down to her ass. There was no pretending she couldn’t feel the still-growing bulge pressing against her hip, but rather than flinching away, she opened her legs and squirmed until she could feel it pressing against her rapidly dampening crotch.

 

“God, Buffy. You’re going to kill me. Got to touch you, love, got to feel you...”

 

His hands slid under her shirt, sliding it up and over her head without letting her hips lift off his. He had her bra unhooked and one hand between them on her breast so quickly she gasped.

 

“You’ve done this before,” she accused, even as she rolled them over so that he was on top and had better access to her body.

 

“Not like this,” he murmured, running his lips down to nip at her nipple. “Never like this...” He sucked the nipple into his mouth, smiling around it when she squealed and pushed her chest at him.  He continued to pull on one breast while his hand caressed and squeezed the other one. Buffy’s legs went around his hips, pulling their lower bodies even closer together. When she was actually grinding against him and beginning to whimper with frustration, he tore himself away from her breasts and pushed himself up to stare down at her.

 

“We’ve got too many clothes on.”

 

“Not my fault,” Buffy muttered, still trying to get more pressure where she wanted it.  “You stopped when you got my top off.”

 

He laughed and pushed harder until she dropped her legs so he could roll off.

 

“Be right back, love,” he said, kissing her deeply while he kicked off his boots and worked down the zipper on her jeans.  Buffy’s hands were busy pulling on his tee shirt, trying to get it off without breaking the kiss. With a sigh, she let him pull his mouth away and tear the shirt over his head.

 

She started to push her jeans off, but he stopped her with a hand on her stomach. “No, love, let me undress you. Please?” His voice was husky with desire, his eyes almost swallowed by the dilated pupils.  Buffy nodded, but he was already at the foot of her bed, tugging her jeans and underwear down her legs and dropping them on the floor. He paused to gaze at the sight in front of him, Buffy, lips kiss-swollen, nipples sitting up and still pink from his attentions, and neatly-trimmed and glistening curls only a short distance from his mouth.

 

“Beautiful....” he murmured as he eased forward, unzipping his own jeans with one hand, while the other arm supported his weight. He left them unzipped, but still on, as he began to kiss and nibble his way up one of the tanned thighs in front of him. Buffy’s breath was coming in appreciative gasps and her hips were moving in involuntary jerks as he mouth got closer to his goal. When he began to lick up the moisture he found there, her gasps turned to whimpers and yelps of pleasure.

 

Without pulling away from the mouth now doing magical things to her, Buffy managed to hook one foot in the waistband of Spike’s pants and begin shoving them down his legs.  When they were almost to his ankles, he was able to shake them off one leg at a time without interrupting his attentions to Buffy, now breathing in short, whimpering, gasps that turned to higher pitched sounds just as she clamped her thighs around his head and arched off the bed. 

 

When she’d quit trembling and had gone limp, he raised his head and grinned at her. “I’m taking your attempt to decapitate me as a sign that you liked that – not that you were tryin’ to kill me.”

 

“Sorry,” she murmured, not sounding remotely serious. “I’ll be more careful next time.”

 

“’S alright, pet. I like your enthusiasm.  Almost as much as I like this...” He sucked her flesh into his mouth, his chuckle as she whimpered adding more vibration to the sensations already overwhelming her pleasure centers.  Using one hand to hold her still and curling the fingers of the other hand inside her as best he could from that position, he soon had her quivering again and crying his name.

 

While she was recovering this time, barely conscious of what he was doing, he crawled up her body until he was lying on her, his cooler flesh pressing against hers everywhere.  As Buffy came back to her senses, she stretched her arms over her head and wrapped her legs around his. Spike began leaving light kisses all over her neck and shoulders, licking in between kisses.

 

“Remember what I said about calling this off if it turned out there was a prophecy?”

 

He stopped licking her neck long enough to say with just a trace of apprehension, “yeah...”

 

“I think I changed my mind. Don’t care if it is a prophecy. Gonna keep you.”

 

He gave a happy laugh and rolled them over, leaving Buffy staring down at him in delighted surprise. She pushed herself up until she was straddling him, wriggling against his cock, now pinned beneath her. His hands on her hips, he lifted her up just enough to position her over it and allow her to put a hand down to hold it steady. Their eyes met and held as she slowly sank down on him, biting her lip as she did so.

 

“Am I hurting you, love?” He started to lift her off, but she stopped him with a shake of her head.

 

“No, not hurting me. Just....” She gasped as he rolled his hips.  “Not hurting!”

 

Maintaining the intense eye contact, in spite of knowing she was probably turning as red as Spike’s bedding, she began to move on him. Her embarrassment turned to a satisfied smile as she squeezed him and watched his eyes roll back in his head.  She rode him until it became obvious that they were engaged in a contest to see who could last the longest. She stopped her enthusiastic bouncing up and down and sat still, using only her interior muscles to keep his attention.

 

“Oh, bloody hell, Buffy. Like that. Just... don’t stop... want to .... argh!”

 

He flipped them over so quickly her head spun. In spite of years of fighting vampires, they could still surprise her occasionally with their speed. And Spike was clearly capable of moving faster than any vamp she’d ever fought. 

 

“Wha— how— Ooooooooo....  I thought you were enjoying that,” she said with trace of a pout as he pinned her arms over her head and began to move against her. In spite of her words, she clasped her legs around his hips and began to move with him.

 

“Was. Next time you want to drive, I promise to lie there and take it.  Jus’ wanted the first time I come in you to be mutual and that wasn’t gonna happen in that position without some creativity on my part.” He smiled down at her. “And you were pretty much driving all the creativity right out of my brain. All I could think about was how good you feel and how I was probably goin’ to spontaneously combust any second.”

 

“Combusting... not good...” Buffy managed to get out as their motions got faster and stronger.  When she was making the small whimpering sounds that he already recognized as signs she was close to coming, he released her wrists and allowed himself to collapse upon her, his hips churning.  Buffy immediately had his upper body in a full embrace, holding him to her with her powerful arms and legs as their lower torsos ground together.

 

As she cried out again, shuddering under him and sinking her teeth into his shoulder, he shouted her name and found his own release, his hips continuing to move long after he’d spent. 

 

Their deep, restoring breaths were in complete sync as they recovered from what they would later assure each other was the best sex ever. 

 

“I know why I can’t stop breathing hard,” Buffy finally mumbled into his neck, “but why are you? You don’t need the air.”

 

“Habit, love. Never really gave it up.” He sighed and admitted, “The great poof used to tell me it was because I never stopped talking and always needed more air.” When she stiffened under him, he froze as well, waiting to see if he’d just ruined one of the best moments of his life. He relaxed when he felt her sigh and give a small giggle.

 

“Okay, lost points for bad timing, but that was pretty funny. And probably true.”

 

“Sorry, love. Haven’t been around you in so long, I’d kind of forgotten that mentioning my grandsire might be a real mood spoiler.” He raised his head to look at her. “I guess I was hoping you’d moved on by now.”

 

“It’s complicated,” was her response. Seeing how his face shut down, quickly followed by, “I have moved on. It’s just that... he was my first love. I... I don’t know if you ever get completely over that.” She nuzzled his chest, before raising her eyes back to his. “It doesn’t mean I can’t fall in love with somebody else, or that I would go running back to him if he got that soul anchored, it just means... I don’t know what it means.”

 

“Means I should learn to keep my mouth shut and not mention him unless you bring it up.”

 

“Maybe it does.” She sighed. “Guess it was a mood spoiler, huh?”

 

“Takes more than that to ruin my mood,” he said as she felt him swelling within her. “Least it does when my dick thinks it’s died and gone to Heaven.”

 

“Mmmmm – is this some of that famous vampire stamina that Anya talks about when Xander isn’t around?”

 

“This is Spike, being where he’s wanted to be for longer than he cares to remember, and wantin’ to make the most of it.”

 

“Hmmm,” she said, matching his slow movements with her own and marveling at how quickly they seemed to be learning each other’s ways. “So, does that mean when you get all used to me and bored, you won’t be able to do it more than once?”  She giggled at his indignant growl.

 

“Means nothing of the sort!” he said, speeding up his movements as if to emphasize it.  “Not that I can imagine myself ever being bored with you. If I was still the poetry-spouting ponce I was as a man, I’d probably be saying something about not being able to imagine anything better than having had enough time with you to get bored. Not that I would,” he added hastily. “Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

 

“Poetry-spouting?”

 

“Jus’ pretend you never heard that, alright?” he said, hiding his embarrassed face in her neck. “You know I’m nothing but an evil, bloodsucking, vampire.” He pulled the skin on her throat into his mouth and began to pull on it, having the same effect on her that it had before.

 

“Oh! I’m sure that shouldn’t feel as good as it does.” 

 

“Someday....”

 

“Someday, what?” she asked, not really paying attention to anything except the sensations filling her body.

 

“Nothing, love. Nothing you need to hear just now.” He put his mouth back on her throat, bringing her to orgasm while he continued to suck, and following her into release almost immediately.

 

This time, he rolled off, pulling her and the quilt with him, wrapping them up in a fluffy cocoon of warmth.  They dozed in sated comfort until real life intruded again.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

With his enhanced hearing, Spike was the first to wake up when his cell phone began to ring; although it took him a few seconds to find it. By the time Buffy sat up, blinking herself awake, he had retrieved it from the muddy alcove where he’d tossed it when changing his clothes. 

 

“What?” was his short answer. He rolled his eyes and handed the phone to Buffy. “Here, Slayer. It’s for you. The Watcher.”

 

“Giles?” She frowned, and began looking for her clothes as she talked. “Yes, Giles. No, we haven’t left the crypt yet... Are you sure?  Okay, we’re on our way. Bye.”

 

She threw the phone on the bed, smiling to see that Spike had started dressing as soon as she had.  In only minutes, they were completely dressed and ready to go. Buffy hefted her hammer and looked at the waiting vampire.  “You don’t have to do this,” she said.  “This isn’t Glory – it’s some kind of freaky old-timey army looking for the Key, and they’ve hooked up with some of Riley’s buddies somehow.”

 

“If the Bit’s in danger, then I do have to do this.  An’ if you think I’m sending you off into any kind of a fight without backup.... I think you’ve confused me with some other, poncier vampire.” 

 

His anger was obvious and she sighed. “Trust me. I’m not confusing you with Angel or anybody else. But if the army guys really are Riley’s buddies....”

 

“I’ll be careful, love.” The belligerent look left his face as he realized she had been worried about his safety, not assuming he wouldn’t come with her. “Where are we going? Do we need the car?”

 

She nodded. “Yeah, I guess we do. Giles said they ran into the funny-looking guys when they stopped for gas and one of them went off about the Key when he saw Dawn. He doesn’t know when or how the Army guys joined them, but apparently they were able to track them somehow, and now they’re trapped in an abandoned gas station in the middle of nowhere.”

 

“They’re trapped how?” Spike was already racing up the ladder, keys in hand.

 

“Willow has put up some kind of spell or barricade. So they’re safe for right now, but they won’t be if they don’t send out the Key pretty soon. Apparently there’ve been threats of fire or bombs.”

 

Buffy was right behind him as he shoved the urn away from the doors and threw them open. Running with supernatural speed, they were soon pushing through the shrubbery that hid Spike’s DeSoto. The old car roared out of its hiding place and through the cemetery gates while Buffy clutched the seat and tried to remember what else Giles had said.

 

“What do the funny-looking buggers want with the Key?”

 

“I don’t know. But it can’t be good.  They sound kinda like more of those brain-sucked guys I saw at the hospital. Except maybe not so brain-sucked.”

 

It took a full half-hour, even with Spike ignoring every speed limit sign they saw, for them to get close to where Giles had told them to look for the old building they were hiding in. Spike ran the car right up in front of the visible space between the strangely-garbed men and Willow’s barrier. He made no attempt not to hit the men who threw themselves out of the way when it became obvious the car was not going to stop for them.

 

Buffy was out of the car, hammer in hand, before he’d even cut the engine. Swinging the hammer in a wide arc, she quickly cleared more space as the men flinched back from her.  She could hear murmurs of “Slayer” and “Chosen One” as she faced them down.

 

“What do you want with the Key?” she demanded, searching the group until she located someone who appeared to be charge. “Are you working for Glory?”

 

There was outraged shouting and much milling around until the leader could get them calmed down.

 

“We do not work for Glorificus. We are the Knights of Byzantium. Our mission is to prevent her from using the Key to bring hell on earth. You must give it to us.”

 

 “To do what with?” Buffy’s eyes never left the General’s, although she could feel Spike’s growl as he took his place behind her, facing the growing crowd.

 

“To destroy it, of course! It must be destroyed before Glorficus can find it.”

 

“I’m handling it.  You guys can go home. I’m making sure Glory can’t get her hands on it.”

 

The Knights mulled over Buffy’s words, muttering among themselves about how she could be handling it, when she had clearly not been anywhere near the Key when they found it.  Before they could reach a decision, or ask more questions, there was a disturbance on the outskirts of the crowd, and they parted to let the new arrivals through. Ahead of a small squad of US Army soldiers, Riley walked toward Buffy with a smiling Ben by his side. Spike’s low growl had grown into a full-fledged snarl.

 

“What the hell, Riley?”  Buffy’s voice was so high-pitched as to sound almost hysterical.  “What have you done?”

 

“I’m just trying help, Buffy.  I ran into Ben here near the hospital and we got to talking... I brought him along to make sure your mom is all right. He’s on his own time, so it was really good of him to come along to check up on her.  And I’ve brought some fire-power just in case Glory shows up.  These knight guys have the right idea about destroying the Key, but their weapons are as archaic as most of the things you use.  That hammer, for instance.” 

 

“You idiot!—” was as far as Buffy got before Ben began to quake and shiver.  Before their eyes, he began to get shorter, a wide grin appearing on his face.  A black flash flew past Buffy as Spike launched himself at the man and fastened his fangs in his throat. He hung on, snarling the whole time, until, with a scream of rage, Glory emerged and threw him across the hood of the car.  One hand on her bleeding neck, she shrieked at them all, waving her hand and flattening all the Knights even as they began to realize what was happening.

 

When the soldiers backing up a confused Riley raised their weapons, she waved her hand at them, leaving them all semi-conscious on the ground.  With another wave, Glory destroyed the barrier Willow had created and blew out the front of the old store, giving her a clear view of what was inside.  Spike had pulled himself up from where he’d been lying, stunned, for a few seconds and immediately placed himself in the opening. He was in full game face and snarling as he made it clear he was protecting the people in the building. Dawn was hiding behind Giles and Xander, while Willow, Tara and Joyce huddled together around her.

 

“Buffy!” Riley’s voice came from somewhere to her left, but she never took her eyes off Glory. 

 

“Shut up, Riley. You’ve done enough damage. Get your friends out of here while you can.”

 

“You can’t fight her with a hammer!” he yelled, bending over to pick up an assault rifle.  A flick of Glory’s wrist sent him back to the ground to join his unconscious buddies.

 

“Watch me,” Buffy growled out as Glory approached her, not quite with her usual cocky attitude, but sure enough of herself.

 

“Did you really think that vampire was going to save you?” she purred. “When I’m through with you and have my key, I’m going to rip out the rest of his organs.  No half-breed demon is going to bite me and get away with it.”

 

“You want Dawn... or Spike... you’re going to have to go through me,” Buffy said, waiting more calmly than she actually felt for Glory to get closer.

 

“I was kinda hoping you’d say that,” Glory smirked, suddenly disappearing and reappearing behind Buffy to plant one spike-heeled shoe in her back. Buffy flew forward, flipping herself in midair and landing in a crouch.  Ignoring the pain in her back, she sprinted toward the dismissive hellgod who had turned around and was moving toward Spike with swaying hips and a cruel smile. Without taking her gaze off the vampire, she reached back with one arm, striking Buffy and sending her to her knees. From the ground, Buffy swung the hammer at Glory’s legs, bring the hellgod down to her level. While the outraged god shrieked at her again, Buffy slammed the hammer into her head, wincing in spite of herself at the sound of Glory’s skull cracking. Before she could lose focus and feel sorry for the human-seeming woman in front of her, Buffy leapt to her feet and brought the hammer down again and again until Glory stopped moving and faded back into Ben’s badly damaged face and body. 

 

Stopping herself in mid-swing, Buffy shuddered and stepped away from him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to the bloody man gasping for air.

 

Spike came up behind her, and paying no attention to the strangled complaints coming from Riley, he put his arms around her to speak into her ear. 

 

“He’s not quite dead, love,” he said.  Buffy shook her head.

 

“I can’t,” she whispered, letting hammer hang at her side. “I can’t, Spike.”

 

He sighed and raised his head to meet Giles’s eyes over her head.  They exchanged stares, then Spike nodded and leaned down again. “You beat her. love. Kicked her arse good, you did. Go celebrate your victory with your family.”

 

Buffy glanced down once more at the still gasping, but incredibly injured man. “But... if he....”

 

“He’s dying, Slayer. She won’t be able to come back.”

 

He waited until she’d walked into the building, watching until Giles had subtly focused her attention so that her back was to the outside. Bending over, he snapped Ben’s neck with a quick wrench, nodding in satisfaction when the gasping stopped and he could no longer hear a heartbeat.  Just as he was stepping away, he fell to the ground, clutching his head. A shout from Dawn brought everyone’s attention around and Buffy gasped. Spike was lying on the ground, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it. Riley stood over him, still clutching the rifle that he’d used to hit Spike.

 

“I’ve got this, Buffy,” he said, pulling a stake from his waistband.  “I don’t know how he managed to do it, but he just killed the doctor I brought here. I’ll stake him for you.”

 

He brought the stake down in a powerful arc, only to find the vampire he’d thought helpless, holding his wrist in a grip that became increasingly painful. Spike sat up slowly, still maintaining his crushing grip on Riley’s arm until the stake fell harmlessly to the ground. Bearing his teeth in a smile that contained no mirth, Spike flowed to his feet.

 

“That was a cheap shot, mate,” he said, without relinquishing his grip. “Were you that afraid to stake me to my face?”

 

Riley’s face was turning gray, as much from the realization setting in as from the pain in his wrist. “The... the chip....” he gasped.

 

“Oh that? Been gone for almost a year now. Guess you weren’t on the need-to-know list.”

 

“Buffy....” Riley’s plea only made Spike grin wider.

 

“You brought that hell bitch right to her Key.  Do you really think the Slayer is going to save you?”

 

“I... what... no... I....”  Riley looked from the body on the ground to Buffy, now approaching them, the bloody hammer still in her hand. Vague memories of waking up to see Buffy battling someone in a red dress began to emerge from his still-concussed brain.  “But... he... doctor... said he was Joyce’s doctor... “

 

“He was,” Buffy said shortly. “He was also Glory’s human host. You know, the one you said I should kill if I wasn’t willing to kill the Key?”

 

“But Spike... he bit... and then he....” Riley cradled the arm that Spike had released as soon as Buffy approached.  He pulled himself up straighter. “His chip is gone, Buffy.  You need to do your duty.”

 

“The chip’s been gone for a long time, Riley.” Buffy’s voice was more gentle, now that the danger was past and she could see that Riley was beginning to realize what he’d done.  “I’ve know about it since it happened.”

 

“So that’s why he left? So you wouldn’t stake him? Did he get away before you could do it?”

 

Spike and Buffy exchanged looks, the vampire shrugging as he waited for her to answer the question.

 

“I didn’t stake him because I didn’t want to,” she said finally. “He didn’t leave so I wouldn’t stake him, he left so that I wouldn’t have any reason to feel like I should. He came back because I needed his help.”

 

“Is he leaving again?”

 

She sighed. “I’m sorry, Riley.  That’s not really your business anymore.  Your demon-hunting unit is long gone; these guys are the only ones left here, and you told me yourself they’re being reassigned and want you to come with them.” She smiled at him sadly. “I think you should go with them. You’re a good soldier, Riley, but you’re not cut out for Sunnydale and the kinds of things that can happen here.”

 

“Spare me,” he said. His face twisted as he spit out the bitter words. “I guess I’m just too warm-blooded for you.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Buffy repeated. “I never meant to hurt you, but....” She shook her head. “I’m not the girl for you, Riley. You deserve someone who can appreciate and... love... you for who you are.  It’s not me. I’m sorry,” she repeated before turning away to go back to her mother and sister.

 

Spike stood where he was, his stare hard and cold as he waited for Riley to acknowledge his friends and their insistence that he leave with them. Their eyes remained locked until Riley finally looked away.

 

“I’ll be back someday,” he said, bending down to pick up the stake he’d dropped.

 

“An’ I’ll be here,” Spike replied.

 

He remained where he was, watching as the soldiers walked away to return the their SUV.  The few Knights that remained alive after Glory’s initial strike against their ranks straggled off into the desert. Spike frowned after them, but they seemed to know where they were going, so he shrugged and walked back to join Buffy.

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

While the women hugged and cried and told each other how wonderful it was that Dawn was now safe, Giles, Xander, and Spike stood off to the side and watched them.  Tara’s mind had cleared almost as soon as Spike snapped Ben’s neck, and she and Willow were clinging together as though Tara had been missing for months rather than less than twenty-four hours.

 

“Nice to see Red’s bird is going to be alright,” Spike said.  “She seems like good people. Nice girl... for a witch.”

 

“Willow’s magic kept us safe until you got here,” Xander said. “She’s a good witch too.”

 

“Didn’t say she wasn’t. It’s just... she’s gives off some vibes that I don’t get from the other one.  Might want to keep an eye on her, Watcher.”

 

“She is becoming quite powerful. However, she has not indulged in any more of the careless magic that caused all of us so much trouble last year – including your surprisingly sudden engagement to Buffy.”  He gave Xander and Spike a moment to remember that night and snort their agreement. “I believe Tara has been a good influence on Willow. She helps to keep her grounded. But your advice is worth considering. I shall try to guide her away from the darker arts as much as I can.”

 

“You two are talking about Willow like she’s... evil... or something. What’s wrong with you?” Xander glared back and forth between the two men who’d had more experience with the downside of magic, then walked away to join Anya in the happy group around Buffy and Dawn.

 

Giles and Spike watched with satisfied camaraderie for a few minutes before walking over to join the small celebration.

 

“I suggest we take this victory party back to Sunnydale. Now that the danger to Dawn is over, we can take Joyce back to her own home where her daughters can care for her properly.”  With general agreement, they split up to return to their vehicles and begin the trip back to town. 

 

Spike stopped beside his DeSoto and cocked his head at Buffy. “Going home with your mum, then?”

 

She frowned at him. “Well... yeah. Why? Aren’t you coming too?” She watched his expression, her brow still wrinkled. “I can ride with everybody else if you don’t want to—”

 

“Don’t be daft,” he said, holding the passenger side door open. “Just wasn’t sure you’d want me around there – in the bosom of your family, so to speak.”

 

Shaking her head and waving to Giles to indicate she would be riding with Spike, Buffy slide into the car and waited for him to get in and start the engine.  “Let’s stay behind them... just in case,” she said. “Those knight guys weren’t after Glory, they were after Dawn. Maybe they gave up, maybe they didn’t.”

 

“Good thought, love. They wanted to destroy the Key. Didn’t really put a deadline on it, did they?”

 

“If all they were worried about was Glory using the Key, then they should just go back to whatever Renaissance Fair they came from.  But if they wanted to destroy it so nobody could ever use it....”

 

“Got it, pet. We’ll keep our eyes open for the next few days. Make sure they’ve crawled back into their fantasy lives.”

 

They were quiet for a while; Spike driving much more sedately then he had on the way out of town, and Buffy trying to keep her eyes on their surroundings as best she could with no light but the headlights of the two vehicles. She finally gave it up as useless and decided to assume the knights wouldn’t be able to find them without using lights themselves, which they would notice.  She rested her head on the seat and closed her eyes.

 

“What was all that about?” she asked without opening her eyes or turning her head.

 

“All what?”

 

“That ‘bosom of my family’ stuff. Do you think I don’t know that you and my mother were.... friends?  She slipped up and told me she knew where you were.  How can you think you wouldn’t be welcome in her house?”

 

“She didn’t know I was going to be shagging her daughter back then, did she?”

 

“Well, I’m pretty sure that’s not something you need to bring up.” Buffy reached across the seat and punched him hard on the thigh.

 

“Ow! You are going to kiss that better later.”

 

“I’ll think about,” she said, wincing as she moved back toward the window.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“It’s no biggie. That bitch planted one of her skanky shoes in my back.  I think there might be a little hole there; it kinda hurts to move.”

 

Spike immediately swung the car off to the side of the road and parked.

 

“Let me see,” he demanded, turning on the overhead light. Buffy obediently turned her back to him, shivering when he put his cool hands on her skin and lifted her shirt. She gave a pained whimper when he pulled the shirt away from where it had been stuck to the bloody hole left by Glory’s heel. “Sorry, love, but I can’t fix it with that in the way.”

 

“How are you going to fix it? We can’t do anything with it till we get to Mom’s.”

 

“Do you trust me?”

 

She turned her head. “Of course I do. What’s that got to do with it?”

 

“I want to suck the dirty blood out. Make sure there’s nothing nasty from the bottom of her shoe in there.  And then I can make it stop bleeding.”  He waited, holding her gaze until she bit her lip and nodded.  “Okay,” she muttered, “but if this is some trick so you can drink Slayer blood, you’re going down...”.

 

“Any time you ask me to, love,” he said, laughing at her indignant “pig”, then turning serious. “Hold still, Slayer.”

 

He bent his head down and put his mouth on her back, fighting back a moan at the taste of her blood.  Buffy gasped, less with pain than in surprise, when he fastened his mouth around the bleeding wound and began to suck gently. When he felt he’d gotten all the dirt and grit out of it, he stopped sucking and licked it until the bleeding stopped. With a final soft kiss, he sat up and pulled her shirt back down.

 

“That should do it till we can get a bandage on it.  Wish you’d told me about it earlier.”

 

“You didn’t smell the blood?”

 

“Did, but thought it was coming from a scratch somewhere. Had no idea you had something like that on you.”

 

“What did you do to it?” She squirmed around, testing her wound and wincing again.

 

“Just what I said I would. Sucked out the dirt and licked it closed,” he said. “With your slayer healing, it’ll probably be almost gone by tomorrow.”

 

“Um... maybe.” She sounded dubious. “How deep is it?”

 

“Deep enough. Good thing she didn’t hit your spine. It’s in the muscle. Probably be stiff and sore for awhile, but at least it’s clean and not bleedin’ anymore.”

 

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I can feel it getting stiffer now that I’m not moving around as much.”  She flinched as she tried to stretch. “I hope you weren’t expecting tomorrow to be as... exciting... as today was. I don’t think I’m going to feel like... exercising very much. On my back or anywhere else,” she added to be sure he understood her.

 

“Not holding any expectations about tomorrow, love.  Know better than to think one good shag means all our problems have gone away.  Even if it was the best I ever had,” he said, sliding his gaze sideways at her.

 

“It was pretty good, wasn’t it?” Buffy shifted her eyes to the side to see if he was watching her. He grinned when their gazes met.

 

“You know it was. I don’t know why we light each other up like we do – and don’t much care why, long’s we can keep doin’ it until we’re both too old to move without help.”

 

“You’re a vampire, Spike. You’ll never get that old.”  She frowned. “Will you? Do vampires get old?”

 

“Not like humans do, no. But we do age a bit. Some more noticeably than others. Old Batface, for instance. I doubt he was that ugly as a human, but being a vampire didn’t help him get any prettier.  The whore was pushing 300, though, and she could still clean up real good.”

 

“Whore?”

 

“Darla, love.  That’s what she was when the Master found her and gave her eternal life and beauty. Beat the syphilis that was killin’ her.  She stayed what she was when she got turned, while he got uglier and uglier.” He paused to think while Buffy wrinkled her nose in disgust. “ ‘Course, we didn’t necessarily know how old he really was. He could have picked up that name of his hundreds of years ago and just abandoned whatever his mum called him. Might have been Og, or Alley Oop or Fred Flintstone for all we knew.”

 

Buffy waved her hand around. “As fascinating as that is... to anyone who isn’t Giles... the point is, I’m going to get old and feeble someday, and you’ll still be... you.”

 

He touched her chin, turning her face toward his so he could look her in the eye. “If you let me stay in your life that long, there is no way I’m letting you go out of it without me. You go, I go. Simple as that.”

 

Buffy blushed at the intensity of his gaze and the finality of his words. “I’ll be old and ugly,” she said in an attempt to lighten the mood. “You’ll be glad to get rid of me.  I’ll probably have to stake you for cheating on me with some other Slayer.”

 

He smiled and settled back in his seat, turning the engine on and pulling back onto the road.

 

“We can talk about it again in another forty or fifty years.”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

When they reached the Summers home, Joyce had already excused herself and gone upstairs to “take a nice hot shower in my own bathroom, and sleep for a week in my own bed”.  In spite of the relatively early hour, the others were beginning to flag as well. The combination of terror and relief making everyone want to do just what Joyce had said she was going to.

 

Buffy and Spike walked in just in time to say good-bye to Xander and Anya, who were on the way back to their apartment.  Willow and Tara stood up to leave soon after. Buffy’s thanks to Willow for giving her time to get there before things came to a head were heartfelt, if a little tardy, and the two friends hugged tightly until Spike cleared his throat.

 

“Red, should I be worried about this? Given your team switching?”

 

Instead of being embarrassed, Willow smiled and turned to wrap her arms around him in an equally fierce hug.  While Spike looked at Buffy with panicky eyes, Willow whispered, “Thank you for bringing my Tara back. It didn’t happen until you stopped Ben.”

 

He gave her an awkward pat on the back, mumbling, “Any time, pet,” as he waited for her to let him go.  Tara added her thanks to Willow’s, as well as trying to apologize to Buffy for having given Dawn away.

 

“Not your fault, luv,” Spike said, putting his arm around Buffy as soon as Willow freed him in order to comfort Tara.  “The Slayer knows that.”

 

“The Slayer can speak for herself,” Buffy said, elbowing him in the ribs before smiling at Tara. “And of course it’s not your fault. If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s mine for not getting to her in time to stop her.”

 

“I believe the only fault in this situation belongs to the evil creature who caused the problems. And as she has been adequately disposed of, I call it a good night’s work all the way around.”  Giles had walked up behind them as they talked and offered to drive them back to the dorm.  He exchanged a look with Spike that didn’t go unnoticed by anyone in the room, least of all Buffy....

 

“Don’t think you guys got away with anything tonight,” she said, stepping away from Spike and putting her hands on her hips. “I know what he did, and I know you probably gave him the okay—”

 

“Didn’t need anybody’s permission, Slayer. Yours or his.  Did what I had to do, and I’d do again in a bloody heartbeat.”

 

Buffy stamped her foot, startling both Giles and Spike.  “There you go again! It’s like you want me to get mad at you! It’s just like when you left the last time – I try to cut you some slack, and you have to remind me what you are!”  She stood, glaring at Spike who flinched back from her. Giles stared back and forth between them.

 

Spike’s expression was carefully neutral, but his body was already angling toward the door.

 

“Didn’t realize you’d forgotten it, love.” He waited, but she didn’t say anything else, just looked at Giles as if for help.  “So, we’re back to do I stay or do I go?” Spike asked, his shoulders already slumping.

 

Dawn’s “What? Are you crazy?” went unnoticed as Buffy and Spike stared at each other with equally anguished, but stubborn, expressions.

 

“I don’t think that’s what Buffy was saying,” Giles surprised them all by interrupting. “I believe, if I understand her correctly—” he gave her a quick glance “—she is merely asking you not to bring your less... sterling... qualities to her attention.” He waited for Buffy to agree or not, but she just gaped at him. Finally she shrugged.

 

“I think he got that right. Kinda hard to tell when he gets all proper and Englishy on me.”

 

“I speak the Queen’s English too, Slayer,” Spike pointed out. “I understood him. Was he right then? You’re not sending me away again, just tellin’ me to keep my mouth shut?”

 

“Pretty much, I guess,” she sighed. “You do know you’re your own worst enemy, right?”

 

“One of my, as the Watcher might say, ‘less sterling’ qualities.  I’ll work on it.”

 

“See that you do.” Her mouth twitched in an effort not to smile at him.

 

“As long as that’s settled.... “ Giles moved toward the door. “Come along, girls. I’ll drop you off at your dormitory.”

 

With final waves and good-byes, everyone went to their respective homes, leaving Buffy, Spike and Dawn standing in the foyer.

 

“So, you’re not leaving again?” Dawn demanded. She whirled on Buffy. “And you’re not going to send him away?”

 

“Not leavin’ unless she tells me to, Bit. Didn’t want to go the last time.”

 

Buffy shrugged. “I didn’t exactly tell him to leave last year. He just wouldn’t prom—”

 

“That’s enough!  Don’t start fighting about it.” Dawn stamped her own foot. “Just tell me he’s not going to leave, so I can go crash face first on my bed.”

 

Buffy and Spike looked at each other and moved closer together. Mindful of her back, he put his arms around her loosely, waiting for her reaction. When she leaned into him and rested her head on his chest, Dawn sighed in relief. 

 

“Okay then, hugging is good. Night, Spike. Good night Buffy.”

 

Buffy nodded her head as Spike, without looking up, said, “Night, Bit.”

 

Buffy’s wince when she tried to put her own arms around him had him dropping his arms immediately. 

 

“Sorry, love. Thought I was being careful.”

 

“You were. But moving my arms around a lot isn’t much fun. I guess a hot shower and some rest is more in my future than hugs.”

 

“The hugs will be here whenever you’re ready for them, sweetheart. These arms aren’t going any farther away than my crypt.”

 

“I was kinda hoping they weren’t going any farther away than my bed, but I guess that’s out of the question with Mom home again.” 

 

His soft chuckle and the way he nuzzled her neck before moving his lips to kiss the pout off her mouth, made her smile. 

 

“There’s always tomorrow.”

 

“And I know where you live.”

 

“That you do, love. And that’s where I’ll be. Waiting for you.”

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

The hot shower, several hours of sleep, and Buffy’s slayer healing all combined to produce a much more rested and comfortable slayer by late the following morning. She woke to the sound of Joyce just leaving her room, and rushed to the hallway.

 

“No you don’t!” Buffy said. “You get right back in bed and stay there. Dawn and I will bring you whatever you want.”  She frowned. “What do you want?”

 

Joyce smiled.  “I was just going to put some coffee on and maybe get some toast.”

 

“I can do that. Just give me a couple of minutes to get dressed and I’ll be right back with your breakfast in bed.”

 

Buffy ran back to her room, threw on some jeans and a tee shirt, and, after peering in to be sure Joyce had actually gone back to bed, made her way to the kitchen where she found Dawn trying to figure out how to use the coffee maker.

 

“Where does the water go?”

 

“I don’t know. But how hard can it be? It makes the coffee, all we have to do is put the stuff in the right places.  Here, let me look at it. You make the toast.”

 

Somewhat longer than the “right back” she promised, Buffy carried a tray containing what she hoped was drinkable coffee and buttered toast with a side of strawberry jam into Joyce’s bedroom and triumphantly placed it on her mother’s lap.

 

“Ta da!”

 

“Thank you, honey.  And you too,” she said, smiling at Dawn. “But really, if I could survive yesterday and last night, I’m pretty sure I could have handled a walk to my own kitchen.”

 

“Doesn’t matter. We’re here to take care of you, and that’s what we’re going to do. Right, Dawn?”

 

“Right! I’ll just call the school and tell them—”

 

I’ll tell them that the family emergency is over and that you will be back in classes by tomorrow morning.”  Joyce fixed a steely gaze on her youngest daughter, who tried to appear shocked and happy about the news.

 

Buffy’s snicker was short-lived as Joyce turned to her to ask, “When are you going back to college?”

 

Buffy sighed and shook her head. “Not till the fall, I guess. I just missed too much this semester, so they let me withdraw without flunking anything. I’ll try to get a summer job of some kind to keep us going for the next few months.”

 

“I have a suggestion.”

 

“You do?”

 

Joyce nodded. “Until I’m free to go back to work, the gallery will be short of help. We cannot ask Lisa to give up her social life to be there from opening to closing every day and on the weekends.  You could be helpful, especially with moving the larger pieces around and loading them for customers.”

 

“Yeah, sure. But I don’t know anything about art... or collecting stuff.”

 

“No, but you do know someone who does.”

 

“I do? You mean Giles? I think he went to some fancy school, but he just studied Watcher stuff.”

 

“I mean the other British gentleman in your life. He has a very good eye for quality, as well as a surprisingly comprehensive knowledge of modern art.”

 

“Other Bri—you mean Spike? Bleached blond, nail-polish-wearing, steals cigarettes from 7-11, Spike?”

 

“Spike has depths that may surprise you, Buffy.  Did you think he and I bonded over my whacking him with an axe?”

 

“I thought it was over your hot chocolate...” Buffy muttered, struggling with the idea that Spike was capable of having an opinion about anything more artistic than which punk band was the crudest and loudest.  She remembered his remark the day before about “poetry-spouting ponce” and resolved to question him about his life before and after being turned.  “Okay, so I’m going to help out at the gallery and Spike’s going to help me?”

 

“Well, he probably shouldn’t be waiting on customers... and he used to make Lisa very nervous and giggly, so—”

 

“Giggly?”

 

“Yes, I think, in spite of being somewhat afraid of him, she may have had just the teeniest bit of a crush on him.  You know how flirty he can be. She wasn’t used to that kind of overtly sexual charm. Patrons of small art galleries tend to be less.... masculine... than Spike is.”

 

“If he’s been flirting with Lisa, he’s about to be a lot less masculine,” Buffy muttered, blushing with embarrassment when she realized Joyce had heard her. With her mother’s laughter ringing in her ears, Buffy retreated to her room to get her shoes and a jacket.  She waited patiently while Joyce finished the calls she was making, listening as she assured Lisa that she was very pleased with how she’d been handling things while Joyce had been ill, and that she sending Buffy only to help her out, not to check up on her. 

 

“You’ll be able to leave a little earlier in the evening, and Buffy will be there to help you with heavier things.” Joyce paused. “And Spike, do you remember Spike?” She rolled her eyes. “Yes. Him.  He may be in and out from time to time. Most likely long after you’ve gone home, but just so you aren’t too surprised.”

 

She gave a few more instructions, reassured Lisa once again that she was doing a wonderful job, and hung up with a sigh.

 

“I take it she isn’t thrilled to hear that she’s got a new assistant?” Buffy said with a rueful smile. “I can’t blame her for being worried. I’m not sure I know anything about actually, you know, working.”

 

“Buffy, I have never doubted that what you do is working. And I couldn’t be prouder of you for what you do to keep the people of Sunnydale, and the world, safe. You’ll be fine. You won’t have to go in until noon, so you won’t be losing sleep if you have a long night, and you’ll be closing up by 9:00, so you’ll have plenty of time for patrolling and... whatever.”

 

“That would be Spike,” Dawn said brightly. “He’s the ‘whatever’.”

 

Buffy glared at her grinning sister. 

 

“I suppose he will be,” Joyce agreed with another sigh. “As much as I like Spike, I certainly had never anticipated....” She shook her head. “Ah well. I’m not as naēve about your life as I was when you were... dating... Angel.  If Spike loves you, and he can help keep you safe, then whatever relationship you end up having will have my acceptance, if not my blessing.”

 

Buffy gaped at Joyce. “Who are you, and what have you done with my mother?”

 

Joyce laughed softly as she handed her tray to Dawn and slid down in the bed. “I like to think I am a practical person, and one who can accept reality.  I’m going to nap now. Why don’t you go tell Spike that he’s just become a silent partner in an art gallery?”

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Still marveling at her mother’s seemingly calm acceptance of her being in a relationship with another vampire, Buffy wandered through the warm sunshine on her way to Spike’s crypt. Although she’d waited for a while before leaving, and had gone by the gallery to tell Lisa what time she’d be in that afternoon, it was still fairly early in the day, and Buffy was sure Spike was probably sound asleep.

 

It’s not like he’s actually had a whole night or day’s sleep since he left Seattle. I hope he just went straight home last night and tried to get some rest.

 

She pushed the doors open and stopped just inside to let her eyes get used to the dimmer light. When she felt she’d be able to see, she closed the interior door behind her and tiptoed toward the open entrance to the lower level. She peered down, unable to tell if he was there or not.  She used a pencil flashlight to give her enough light to get down the ladder without illuminating the whole room.

 

When she reached the floor, she debated about using her flashlight, which provided only a very limited area of light, or lighting one of the candles she knew would be sitting around somewhere.  Determining that the soft, warm candlelight would be less intrusive than the single, very bright beam coming from her hand, she shone her light around the floor, looking for Spike’s pants.  When she located them on the floor at the side of the bed, she tried to tiptoe over to them so she could grab his lighter from a pocket. Her attempt to be silent went down to defeat when she tripped over one of Spike’s boots and fell face down on the bed.

 

“I’m not sure if this is an attempt to wake me with a little somethin’ special, or just a bloody clumsy attempt to be sneaky.”  Spike’s soft drawl was filled with amusement as he waited for Buffy to realize where she’d fallen.

 

Only when the body part her cheek was resting against twitched and began to swell, did she realize where her face was. Her sudden “Eeep!” and attempt to push herself up by placing her hands on his legs turned his amusement to outright laughter.

 

“I’m gonna go with clumsy attempt, then?” he said, laughing again at the heat he could feel from her flaming face.  He put his hands over hers and yanked her forward until she was lying on him.  “That’s better,” he purred. “ ‘though you’ve got way too many clothes on.”

 

“I... I just came by to talk to you... about later tonight. But I didn’t want to wake you up if you were sleeping.  I know you must be tired.”

 

“Do I feel tired to you?” He pulled her tightly against him as he growled into her neck. His now fully awake cock seemed to be seeking her all on its own as he burrowed it between her legs.

 

“Well, no... now that you mention it... I guess you don’t.  But I don’t want to interrupt your sleep—”

 

“My sleep was interrupted when you came creeping down the ladder with that blindingly bright torch. And if it hadn’t been then, waking up find your face on my dangly bits would have done it for sure.”

 

“That was an accident!”

 

“If you say so, love.”  He began to suck on the skin of her throat, causing her to moan and squirm on top of him. 

 

“Mmmmmmm.... you need to stop that.....”

 

“Why should I?” He paused only long enough to argue, then went right back to sucking.

 

“I’m pretty sure it’s evil.  Nothing that feels that good could be not evil.” 

 

I’m evil, remember? This is what I do. Evil things.”  He stopped and lifted her off and over to the side.  “But I’d rather be doing them while you’re naked...”

 

Not at all bothered by what seemed to Buffy to be almost total darkness – although somewhere on the floor her flashlight was trying its best to illuminate the area under the bed – he begin to undress her.  When it seemed like she might be going to object, he dropped his head to kiss her, taking her mind completely off what he was doing to her clothes.

 

It wasn’t long before she was as naked as Spike, and when he fitted their bodies together again, skin to skin from head to toe, she sighed into his neck as he settled against her. 

 

“Bloody hell, love. Been dreaming about this all day. Missed you being here. Want you in my bed all the time. Promise me you’ll never get so far away I can’t just reach out my hand and feel you.”

 

Buffy blinked at his intensity and eloquence.  Trying to lighten the mood, she said, “I’m pretty sure that’s not your hand I’m feeling....” She followed her words by reaching between them to wrap her hand around him.  “Yep. Definitely not a hand.”

 

Huffing a laugh, he rolled off, pulling her with him. “Think you should make sure of that, don’t you?  Just take your time, make sure you know what you’ve got.”

 

Grateful for the darkness that hid her face, Buffy murmured, “I think I know what I’ve got. And I think I... like it.” She stroked him, smiling at his appreciative moans and colorful verbal encouragement.  “I think it likes me too....”

 

“I think it loves you,” he said, stilling her hand with his.  “And so do I, Buffy. Not here because you make my body feel like it’s on fire... although, I’ve got to admit....” His voice trailed off as she shook off his hand and continue to stroke him.  “Where was I?  Oh, right there, like that, love.... Bloody hell! I’m trying to have a conversation here!”

 

Buffy nodded her head, mumbling, (her mouth having replaced her hand while he talked) “I’m listening,” as she nibbled on the side of his cock.

 

“I’m tryin’ to tell you I love you, and you’re just... Oh sweet Jesus... “  He threw his head back and arched up off the bed.  “You’re playing with fire, there, Slayer.”

 

“I thought I was playing with your—mmmph!”  He yanked her forward again, his mouth on hers interrupting her attempt to be funny. She found herself lying on top of him again, this time as nude as he was, allowing his cock to find its way exactly where it wanted to be.  She felt his hands run lightly over the already closed and partially healed wound on her back before he broke the kiss and rolled them over.  “You’ll tell me if it hurts, yeah?”

 

“It’s fine,” she gasped, wrapping her legs around his hips. “Slayer here, high pain threshold...”

 

“Don’t want to hurt you, love. At least, not unless I mean to... Never mind. That’s for when we know each other a bit better.” He began to move his hips as he put his lips back on her neck in the same spot he’d been sucking earlier.

 

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying to suck my blood out without actually biting me,” she gasped, turning her head to give him better access.

 

“If I could, I would,” he responded with a snort. “But I’m just doing the next best thing. Tasting you, and marking you as mine.  Don’t hear you complainin’,” he added.

 

“Feels too good.  See?”  Wrenching her head away, she fastened her own mouth on his neck and began to suck as best she could.  The growl that accompanied her action took her by surprise and she hesitated. “Don’t you like that?”

 

“If I liked it any more, I’d....” His guttural voice told her he was in game face, and she reached a hand up to stroke his forehead. 

 

“Then why the wrinkles and fangs? I’m not trying to hurt you.” The uncertainly and pain he could feel in her voice banished his demon instantly.

 

“Know that, love. And so does the demon. Trust me.”  He kissed her face and mouth until she relaxed under him.  “But I am what I am, and when you push the right buttons, you get the real me.  Wasn’t because I objected to what you were doing – couldn’t be happier about it when you put your mouth... or teeth... on me, it’s because I liked it so much I couldn’t control myself.”  He kissed her again. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I should have warned you that could happen.”

 

“One of those things I need to learn about you, I guess,” she said, holding him tighter as she felt him trying to move back.  “Something else to get used to.”

 

“Got all the time in the world to get used to each other,” he said, reassured by the way she was clutching him and beginning to move his hips again.

 

“Well, actually... Guh!... today, we’ve only got a couple of hours before we—or I— have to go to the gallery and start to work there. So, if there’s getting used to that needs to happen, you’d better get to it.”

 

She felt his chest shake as he laughed and began to move more vigorously. “Ask and you shall receive, Slayer.  How’s that?”

 

“Guh!” she said again, moving against him.  “I think I’m going to like getting used to that.... oh yeah. Definitely...”

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

 

By the time they showed up at the gallery so that Lisa could show them the ropes before she went home, they’d both agreed that they could happily spend the rest of their lives getting used to each other. Neither one addressed the issue of Buffy’s likely much shorter lifespan, or Spike’s barely-formed thoughts on how to extend it.

 

The End

 

 

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