full 3/4 1/2   skin light dark       
 
Sunshine and Shadows
 
Chapters One and Two of thirty-five
 
#8 by Angelic Amy

 
 
 
Sunshine and Shadows  (title thanks to Wonder and Ashes)
 
“He’s going to kill her.” As Spike hustled Dru out to the garage, he caught a glimpse of Angelus wresting Buffy’s sword away.  Telling himself he’d only promised a distraction, he threw Dru into the car, jumped after her and barreled out through the doors.
 
“Bloody shame that is,” he muttered. “Best slayer I’ve ever met.  No way should she go down to Angelus… Fuck!”  He made a screeching u-turn and drove back through the broken doors in time to watch Buffy stop Angelus’s sword with both hands.  He froze, admiration for the Slayer in his eyes and voice.  “That stupid wanker gloated and played with her when he had the chance to kill her. Not this girl. He should have known better. I am deeply ashamed of my family.”
 
Leaving a still unconscious Dru in the car, he entered the house again to see Angelus and Buffy once again fighting as Acathla began to open. Just as Buffy ran her sword through Angelus’s chest and tried to shove him into the growing vortex behind him, her foot slipped on the tile floor, throwing her off balance. Angelus teetered and seemed to be about to fall forward away from the statue and its expanding portal.  Without conscious thought, Spike dove for his grandsire, pushing him the rest of the way into the statue.  Angelus gave a cry as he was sucked toward the opening, holding a hand out to Buffy, now back on her feet and poised to continue.  With tears streaming down her face, she shook her head at him as he began to disappear. Frantically reaching out, he grabbed Spike’s arm and begin to pull him in also. Buffy snatched at Spike’s coat, praying that it wouldn’t rip or come off. She held on to it and pulled until Spike came loose from the vortex. The force of her pull and his sudden release sent them crashing to the floor together.
 
Buffy lay there, the wind knocked out of her and her tears for Angel/Angelus still making their way down her face. Spike sprawled on top of her, his face whiter than usual as he realized how close he’d come to being dragged to hell with Angelus.  Breathing heavily, they stared into each other’s eyes until their intimate position sent color flooding Buffy’s face and guilt replacing the relief on Spike’s.
 
He rolled off and blew out a deep breath.  “Thank you, luv,” he said. “Looks like you saved my life.”
 
“You’re already dead Spike. And you saved mine first.”
 
He turned his head and met her damp gaze. “So, we’re even then?”
 
“Guess so.” Buffy sat up, wiping her eyes and silently daring him to comment upon her tears.  Which, being Spike, he did of course.
 
“He’s not worth it, Slayer. Not worth a single one of those tears. Know your little teen-age heart thinks it’s the end of the world now, but trust me. You can and will do much better than my grandsire.”
 
Buffy glanced at Acathla, once again a rather crudely-carved stone.  Her lips twitched in spite of the tears. “Looks like it’s not the end of the world.  So yay for us.”
 
He snorted. “Hip, hip, hoorah,” he said, also sitting up. “Bloody heroes we are.”
 
Buffy nudged him. “We are, you know. Even if nobody but us ever knows about it—”
 
“I hope nobody else ever knows about it!” He looked horrified. “I’ll never live that down—helping out the bloody Slayer.”
 
Buffy got to her feet and wiped her face again. “Well, I won’t tell if you don’t.” She looked around. “Where’s Dru?”
 
Just as she spoke, a groggy Drusilla stumbled in from the garage. She looked around the room and at the silent, inert statue and the very much alive Slayer.  It was easy to tell just when she realized what had happened.
 
“Where’s my daddy?” she shrieked, heading for Buffy. “What have you—” She slowed and turned her attention on Spike.  “Oh my sweet William, what have you done?” Her voice fell to a whisper, then rose again.  “What have you done, Spike? Where is Angelus? Why can’t I feel him anymore?”
 
“Because the miserable bastard is in hell where he belongs,” Spike snarled as he stood up.
 
“You allowed the Slayer to kill Angelus? You helped her?” Dru began backing away from Spike, shaking her head. “My dark prince is lost.  He’s lost.” She whirled and ran out into the night.
 
“Dru!” Spike yelled after her. “Come back here. It’s going to be dawn soon!” There was no reply, and he went to the garage but saw no sign of her. “She’ll be back,” he said. “She has to come back.”
 
Buffy joined him in the garage. “Should we go look for her?”
 
Spike stare at her with wide eyes that then narrowed to angry slits. “Why? So you can stake her? That wasn’t our deal, Slayer.”
 
Buffy flinched. “I… no. I meant, did you want me to help you find her before she turns to toast?”
 
His face softened. “I’m sorry, pet. Should have known you wouldn’t go back on your word.” He smiled at her, his nervousness just barely noticeable. “She’ll come back when she’s over being brassed off at me. I’m sure of it. And she’ll be all right. She is a bit barmy, but she hasn’t lived this long by being stupid—well, except for that thing in Prague. The less said about that, the better.”
 
He paused and shook himself. “She’s afraid of the sun. She’ll either come back here or hole up someplace safe until tomorrow night. It’ll be all right. By this time tomorrow we’ll be long gone and out of your hair.”
 
“Oh, okay. I’ve got school later this morning, so I guess I should go home. Assuming I still have a home….” she muttered to herself, forgetting about his keen hearing.
 
“What’s that?”
 
Buffy looked up. “Mom was pretty mad when I left to come here. She told me if I walked out of the house, not to come back.”
 
“I’m sure she didn’t mean it, Slayer. Got to be a shock, yeah? Finding out your daughter is out killing things every night. She’ll get over it and be all proud of you for savin’ the world.”
 
“I hope you’re right….” She gave him a sad smile. “If you aren’t, you might have a house guest for a while.”
 
“Plenty of room here, luv. But like I said, Dru’ll be back and we’ll be out of here by this time tomorrow.”
 
Buffy nodded. “Take care of yourself, Spike. And thanks for the help.”
 
“You’re welcome, luv. Next time we meet we’ll be….” He stopped. “What will we be? Truce is over, isn’t it? Or will be as soon as I get Dru safely out of here.”
 
Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know what we’ll be. Probably you just shouldn’t come back. If we never meet again, we won’t have to wonder what we are.”
 
“Good point. I just have this feeling…. You’re right. I’m gonna take Dru and leave, probably head for South America, and you’ll stay here and that’ll be it. No one will ever know we were allies one time.”
 
“Exactly.” Buffy walked out the broken doors, not looking back at the vampire watching her go.
 
XXXXX
 
In spite of Spike’s insistence that Joyce hadn’t meant what she said, Buffy took her time returning to Revello drive to find her mother in the kitchen. She entered quietly, resting her sword near the door. She stood, dirty, bloody, and calm as Joyce stared at her.
 
“You didn’t listen to me.”
 
“I listened, Mom. It’s just that saving the world is kinda my reason for existence and I had to go do it.”
 
“And did you?” Joyce’s voice was cold and she showed no interest in Buffy’s obviously the-worse-for-wear appearance.
 
“I did. Well, Spike helped me, but we got it done. Angelus is… gone…” If Joyce noticed Buffy’s eyes suddenly squeezed shut in pain, she didn’t comment. “And Acathla is just a big lump of stone again.” As Buffy spoke, she realized Joyce had no idea what she was talking about and didn’t seem to care.  “If you need to know what it was all about, call Giles—he’s my watcher, not just the school librarian—you know, like Merrick was? Anyway, he can fill you in, I’m tired and I need a hot shower before I go to school and try to stay awake all day.”
 
“Buffy….” Joyce took a deep breath before speaking. “I can’t keep living like this. A teen-aged daughter who is always in trouble for skipping school, who defies me all the time, who stays out all night and consorts with older men and thugs—” Buffy started to speak, but her mother kept going. “Your behavior is beyond the pale. I can’t argue that there are no such things as vampires, only because I have no other explanation for that creature you stabbed with a piece of wood and the way he disappeared. But I did insist that you give up this ‘slaying’ thing and you have defied me again.”
 
As Buffy stared at her with eyes that were glistening with unshed tears, Joyce continued. “I told you not to come back, and I meant it. Perhaps your father would be willing to let you live with him, though I doubt it. He’s the one who thought you needed to see a psychiatrist when you tried to tell us about this… hobby? Career?  Life style? Whatever it is that you’ve chosen to pursue—”
 
“Mom! I didn’t choose it. It chose me. Or something chose me. I am the Chosen One. And I will be until another one gets chosen.  Why can’t you understand that?”
 
Joyce chose to ignore that question in favor of following up on the comment before it.
“Well, when will another one be chosen? Do you know when this ends?”
 
Buffy looked at her mother and said softly, “When I'm dead, Mom.  It ends when I’ve been killed and someone else gets Chosen.”  She gave that a few seconds to sink in, then sighed. “Maybe the next Slayer will have been raised by her Watcher like Kendra was, andher parents will be proud of her.”
 
Her shoulders slumping, Buffy turned away. “I’m just gonna take a shower and collect some stuff to take with me, Okay?”
 
There was no response from the devastated woman sitting at the counter, which Buffy took as permission to prepare herself to leave home.
 
 
 
CHAPTER TWO
 
When Buffy had showered and collected some clothing and toiletries into her largest suitcase, she stopped and stared around her bedroom. She sighed and grabbed Mr. Gordo, tucking him under her arm as she walked out of the room.
 
When she got downstairs, she saw that Joyce had left for work, so she paused long enough to eat some cereal. She toyed with the idea of going directly to Giles, but knew that in modern California middle-aged men who were unrelated to a teenage girl could not provide one with a home. Particularly teen-aged girls whose mother had pretty much accused them of running around with older men. 
 
Shaking her head, she picked up the handle of her bag and began to walk, not consciously heading for the mansion on Crawford street, but even so, finding herself only a block away. With a shrug, she picked up her pace until she was standing in front of the closed door and staring at it. Biting her lip and blinking back tears, she pushed on it until it gave and opened in front of her.  She entered and stared around the room, noting the few pieces of furniture and other things she’d not had time to notice before.
 
She wandered around, leaving her suitcase in the middle of the floor, until she came to the room next to the atrium. Where the statue once had stood she could see nothing but a very large pile of dust and gravel…  and a sledge hammer.  She extended her slayer senses but only picked up the faintest trace of vampires.  Since the sun was still up and shining, Buffy decided the only vampire likely to be around was Spike, who she assumed was sleeping.
 
She went back to the main room to find him leaning against a wall away from the windows and staring at her suitcase and the stuffed pig sitting on top. He looked up as she entered the room.
 
“Mum wasn’t glad to see you then?”  
 
She narrowed her eyes at him, but the sympathy in his voice seemed real, and she shrugged in response.  She walked to her suitcase and picked up Mr. Gordo, unconsciously clutching him to her chest. Spike’s expression changed from sympathy to something she couldn’t read.
 
“What?” Buffy realized what she was doing, and dropped her hand to her side putting Mr. Gordo partially behind her back.
 
He shook his head. “Nothing, luv. Just…. Sometimes I forget how very young you dangerous little girls are.”
 
“I’m seventeen!” she said, drawing herself up to her full height.
 
“Yes, you are,” he said. “And several hours ago I would have told you that was as old as you were likely to get… but you fooled me. Thought I was coming back to rescue you from certain death – only to find you kickin’ my grandsire’s arse up one side and down the other.”
 
“Well, you did rescue me… sort of. I mean, when my foot slipped, I couldn’t keep pushing him back and Acathla was getting bigger and—”
 
“And then you pulled me out when Angelus tried to drag me to hell with him.”
 
They stared at each other.  After a long silence, Buffy said, “You came back to rescue me?”
 
 He shuffled his feet and ran his eyes around the room.  “Well… yeah. I mean it’s not like I wanted that bloody statue to open and suck us all into hell. It just looked for a couple a seconds like maybe… and you’re too good a slayer to go down like that… and… and I want to fight you again myself.  So I couldn’t very well let the great poof be the one to kill you, could I? I mean that would have just been embarrassing and—”
 
“Quit while you’re ahead, Spike,” Buffy said with a sigh, bending down to pick up her suitcase handle.  “Is there someplace here I can hide out for a few days while I figure out what to do?”
 
He turned and gestured down the hall. “Bedrooms and all are this way. Don’t all have furniture, but some do.”
 
She followed him down the hall, flinching when he pointed out Angelus’s room. “Reckon neither one of us wants to be spending time in that one,” he snarled as they went by. “Smells too much like the poof and Dru and shaggin’…”
 
Buffy shut her eyes and tried to be disgusted at his comment, rather than heartbroken about what it referred to.  Almost as if he read her mind, he shocked her by adding, “’M sorry, Slayer. Forgot for a second you might not be as aware of what they spent their time doin’ as the cripple in the next room was.” He met her gaze, then shifted his to look at Mr. Gordo again. “And I forgot for a second how young you still are. Didn’t mean to be that crude.”
 
Buffy snorted. “Who are you and what have you done with Spike?  Blond guy, about your size, enjoys making me blush when he says something gross?”
 
He huffed a laugh along with her. “He’s not far away, luv. You can count on it. Makin’ you blush is half the fun of fighting you.” He sobered. “But wouldn’t do it to throw you off your game or to remind you of something you lost.  Head games were your ex’s thing, not mine. I just enjoy watching you try to pretend you don’t know what I mean, when the whole time the blush in your cheeks is tellin’ me you do.”
 
“Note to self, pay no attention to Spike when he says… things. He’s just trying to make you blush.”
 
“It’s all academic now, innit? Dru will be back as soon as it’s dark and we’ll be on our way out of here. No more fighting for us.”
 
“Right. No more fighting… no more truce.”  Buffy peered into a rather dusty room with a double bed and windows that allowed in the late morning sun. “How about this one?”
 
“It’s all yours, pet. I’ve got no rights to the house. No idea who really owns it.  Whoever did took all their clothes and whatnot with them, but left the furniture and some pots and pans. Make yourself at home for as long as you like.”  He walked across the hall and pointed into the room there. “I’ll just be catchin’ some kip here while I wait for the sun to go down.”
 
“Okay.  Th… thanks, Spike. I think I’ll catch some sleep too.”
 
Without responding, he entered his room and closed the door behind him.  Buffy went into the room she’d chosen and opened a window to let in some fresh air. She pulled the top coverlet off the bed and shook the dust out the window, then took her shoes off and, after shutting the door and placing a dresser in front of it, she got into the relatively clean if musty-smelling bed and shut her eyes.
 
 
XXXXX
 
 
Which might have worked better if she could have shut off her brain, which insisted on replaying her mother’s words, the way Angelus stretched out his hand to her as he was sucked away, her mother’s words again that morning, and the way she was currently skipping school… again. Tears began to trickle down her cheeks, and she was soon muffling sobs into the dusty pillow on the bed, her shoulders, and finally her whole body shaking as she cried her reaction to the events of the last few days.
 
At first she didn’t notice the knocking on the door, but she heard the screech as it opened far enough for Spike to say, “Slayer?”  He pushed a little more until he could get his head in to look at her. She gazed back, eyes swollen and red, face tear-stained.
 
“What?” she snapped, horrified that her mortal enemy had caught her in such a moment of weakness.
 
“Just askin’ if you were alright, Slayer. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.” He looked down at the heavy dresser blocking the door.  “Didn’t you trust me?”
 
Buffy sat up and rubbed her face.
 
“You, yes, for now. Dusilla? That would be a no.”
 
To her surprise, he nodded. “Good point. Not plannin’ to let her near you, but it was smart of you to take precautions. Probably ought to shut that window before dark,” he added gesturing with his chin past her to the wide open window.
 
She sighed and nodded. “I’ll get it now. That way, if I do manage to fall asleep, it won’t matter if I don’t wake up early enough.”
 
She got up and closed the window, glancing back at Spike as she did so to see him still staring at her and frowning. “I’m fine, Spike. I was just having a little pity-party. I’m over it now. Time to move on and be a slayer.”
 
He nodded. “That’s not something you need to worry about, luv. You’re a slayer to your core.” He wasn’t trying to hide the admiration in his gaze, and Buffy flushed under his approving smile. “Get some sleep luv.  Sorry I bothered you.” He pulled his head out and closed the door.
 
Buffy stared at it for a moment, then decided the dresser would still prevent anyone from entering, so she got back on the bed and tried to relax.  In spite of her whirling thoughts, her body took over and she was soon asleep.
 
 
XXXXXX
 
She awoke slowly, confused about where she was and the odd smell of the sheets. Mom must be trying out a new fabric softener… it smells like…dust and mildew? She sat up abruptly and stared around, then fell backward when she remembered where she was… and why.
 
She let her eyes wander around the room, barely noticing that it was getting hard to see until a sound outside her door made her sit up.  One look at the window told her it was getting dark outside and she scrambled from the bed, trying to shake herself awake.
 
There was a soft knock on the door and then Spike’s voice. “Slayer? Know you’re awake, I can hear you moving around.”
 
Buffy grabbed a corner of the big dresser and dragged it away from the door so she could open it.  The expression on Spike’s face made her run a hand through her hair.
 
“Do I look like I cried like a baby and then slept like the… the dead?”
 
She watched him hesitate, then take a deep breath before answering her.
 
“I’ve see you look better,” he admitted. He stepped back so she could come out of the room and pointed down the hall. “The electricity here is a little iffy sometimes, but the plumbing works. Why don’t you wash your face?”
 
“That bad, huh,” she muttered as she edged past him toward the bathroom.
 
“Don't go fishin’ for compliments, Slayer. You’re still a beautiful girl, just one that looks a little rough around the edges just now.  As well you should. Had a tough week, haven’t you?”
 
She stopped and cocked her head at him. “Are you trying to make me feel better?”
 
“What? Me? No! Don’t be daft.” He looked away from her and refused to meet her eyes.
 
“Okay. Just checking. Should know better, I guess.”
 
“You certainly should!” He sounded so indignant she found herself smiling as she entered the bathroom and closed the door.
 
XXXXX
 
When she emerged some time later, she hesitated in the hallway and tried to feel for vampire signatures, but all she felt was a faint trace of Spike as he walked toward her. Seeing her suspicious expression and wary posture, he said, “Relax, Slayer. Dru’s not back yet. I’m just getting myself something to eat so we can leave as soon as she gets here and make good progress while it’s dark.”
 
“Where are you going to go?” Buffy asked, more to be polite than because she cared.
 
“LA first. Pick up some more dosh and maybe some new clothes. Then I think we’ll go down to South America. See if we can blend in with the touristas.”
 
“I bet I’ll be fired for letting you two go off to eat people in a foreign country.”
 
He snorted. “Don’t you wish it was that easy,” he said. “Would solve your problems, wouldn’t it? No more slaying, Mum welcomes you back with open arms…”
 
“I wonder…. Do you think they ever fire slayers?”
 
He stared at her. “In a way, they do.” He didn’t explain what he meant, just followed her across the hall to her room.  “So, what’s the plan, Slayer?”
 
Buffy shook her head. “I guess I’ll go see Giles and tell him Acathla’s gone and not coming back. And maybe he’ll feed me… I’m starving.” She put on a jacket and made sure she had stakes with her. “So, what about you?”
 
“I reckon I’ll be gone by the time you come back. Watcher should find a place for you— he should be taking care of you anyway. That’s his job.”
 
“My mom already thinks I spend too much time with older men. If I move in with Giles, she’ll probably have him arrested.”
 
“Well, you’re welcome to this place. Bit big for one little chit by herself, but if you get the witch to do a vampire disinvite, you should be safe enough here. I’ll be out of your hair as soon as Dru shows up.”
 
“Okay. Well…. Thanks… for….” She was at a loss for words, but wanted him to know she appreciated how nice he was being.
 
“You’re welcome, luv. Just never tell anyone, yeah? Got my rep to protect.”
 
Buffy giggled and headed for the front door. “Your secret’s safe with me.  Enjoy South America.”  She waved as she left the building.
 
“I plan to, Slayer. I plan to. As soon as Dru comes back.”
 
 
 
Chapters Three and Four
 
CHAPTER THREE
 
“So, that’s the sitch, Giles. Mom threw me out. She says if I won’t stop being the slayer, then I can’t live with her.”  Buffy tried very hard to sum up her night and morning with a casual air, but the tremble in her lip betrayed her.
 
“Oh Buffy, I am so sorry.  Shall I speak with her? Would that help?”
 
“I don’t know. I think she thinks I’m having some kind of an affair with you—” She giggled in spite of herself at his expression. “And Angel-us told her he had sex with me, so that went over big, and then she met Spike, and you know what he looks like, and—”
 
“She met Spike? You mean he’s alive… er… still undead?”
 
“Oh yeah. Guess I haven’t seen you for a couple of days, huh? Yeah, turns out I just broke his back, and he’s been in a wheelchair all this time. He’s kinda skinny right now ‘cause Dru and Angelus didn’t do much to keep him fed, but he got better anyway and he didn’t tell them he was, and he found me after Kendra was killed and he stopped the cop from shooting me, and then he said he wanted to help me stop Acathla, and we went to my house so I could get my weapons, and….”  She stopped, partly to catch her breath and partly to allow Giles to catch his.
 
“Dear Lord,” he managed to gasp. “You have had an eventful few days. I was so worried when the police were looking for you, and then when you didn’t show up for school today….”
 
“I had my suitcase with me, which I figured wouldn’t go over big with Snyder, and I was so tired from being up all night two nights in a row…”
 
Giles looked around. “Where is your suitcase now?”
 
“It’s back at the… at Angelus’s house. He’s gone, sucked into hell or whatever. Spike pounded Acathla into little bitty pieces, and he’s leaving as soon as Dru gets back, so I’m just going to hang out there until I figure out what to do.”
 
“Drusilla? Gets back from where? And why is Spike—”
 
“Okay, here’s where it gets weird, so just listen….”
 
Buffy finished her recitation of her truce with Spike, how he did what he said and left, then came back to help her and how they saved each other.
 
“So, he figures Dru will get over being mad and come back tonight and they’ll take off for LA and I can just stay in the mansion for a while.”
 
“What about school?” Giles frowned. “And money for food?”
 
“Speaking of food,” Buffy said, just as her stomach growled. “Can I order a pizza?”
 
“Oh, you poor child. Of course you may. This is so unfair of your mother. I will have to speak to her.”
 
“Just leave it for a while, Giles. Maybe she’ll miss me after a few days and want me to come home.”
 
“And school?”
 
Buffy shrugged. “There’s only a week or so left. If I’m not still a murder suspect, I guess I can go back and try to finish it out. I probably have exams to take…”
 
“Is it safe in that old house?” He watched her as she dialed the number of their most frequently used pizza place. She answered him as she waited for the call to be picked up.
 
“Spike says I should just have Willow come and do a general vampire disinvite and then it’ll be fine.”
 
She held up her hand for quiet, ordered two extra large pizzas with extra cheese, gave the address, and turned her attention back to him. As though he hadn’t been interrupted, he continued the conversation.
 
“I’m having a hard time adjusting to the idea that William the Bloody, who has killed at least two slayers, is now assisting you with your job.”
 
“Spike said he really likes the world and he doesn’t want it to end.  And he really doesn’t—didn’t—like Angelus, so he made the truce with me and said he’d distract Angelus so I could get in, and then he’d take Dru away. It was just too good of an offer to turn down.”
 
“You trusted him?”
 
Buffy frowned. “Well… yeah. Spike never lied to me about anything important. And I already knew how important Dru was to him, so… yeah. I trusted him.”
 
“And do you still trust him?”
 
“Pretty much. I mean, we still have the truce until he finds Dru and gets her out of here. If she’s out there killing people, I’ll have to call it off I guess, but he thinks she’ll come right back when she gets over being mad at him for helping me. He takes care of her, so I think she needs him too much to stay mad.”
 
“Well, I can’t say it makes me happy that you are willing to trust another old vampire—especially after what happened to Angel’s soul, which was the only thing keeping his demon in check.” He frowned. “What do you suppose is keeping Spike’s demon under control?”
 
Buffy thought a moment, then shrugged. “I think Spike is. He’s really… different… from Angel—or Angelus. I’m not saying he isn’t a stone cold killer, but he loves Drusilla. And he’s… you know what? I don’t even know how I know he’s different, I just know he is.” 
 
The rest of the Scoobies arrived at the same time as the pizza, and while everyone was eating, Buffy filled them in on her very busy last twenty-four hours. Including that her mother had thrown her out of the house for being the slayer.
 
“Wow. That sucks. I always thought your mom was so awesome, but I guess there’s something to be said for having parents that don’t pay much attention to you.” Xander and Willow exchanged looks and nodded their heads.
 
Buffy sighed her agreement. “Sure would have made my life easier the past couple of years…”
 
“Did you say Spike and Drusilla are still here?” Willow was visibly worried. “And that you’re living where they live?”
 
“Yeah, well, not so much ‘living there’ I hope, as just crashing for a few days until Mom gets over being mad.  Which reminds me, you need to come there with me tomorrow and do a general ‘no vampires welcome’ spell, so it’s safe for me to stay.”
 
“Will Spike be there?”
 
“I don’t think so. He’s pretty sure Dru will come back to him tonight and they can leave town. So, they’ll be gone and—”
 
“And you’re letting them do that… why?” Xander was staring at Buffy as if she’d lost her mind.
 
“We have a truce, Xander. It’s still in effect. The deal was, Spike would help me with Angelus and I’d let him take Dru somewhere else.”
 
“But, you don’t need him anymore, Buffy. You stopped Angelus and saved the world. All you need to do now is stake his roomies and—”
 
“Truce, Xander. Look it up.”  Buffy glared at him, not sure if she was angry at herself for extending the truce, or at him for pointing out that she didn’t need Spike anymore.
 
“But it’s over. You saved the world from Acathla. No world-ending equals no need to make truces with bloodsuckers.” Xander stared back at her as if he was explaining something very simple.
 
“Technically, Spike stopped Acathla and saved the world,” Buffy growled back. “When my foot slipped before I could push Angelus into the portal opening, it was anybody’s game. It would have started sucking the world in as soon as it opened far enough.  Spike pushed Angelus into it, and almost got dragged in himself in the process. He saved my life… and the world. So if he wants the truce to last long enough to get his girlfriend out of here, he gets it.  Am I clear on that?”
 
She glared around the table, reading nothing from Giles but resigned acceptance and just a trace of what may have been shock that Buffy was crediting Spike with saving the day.  Willow looked bemused, but supportive. Only Xander continued to protest, until Giles said, “Do be quiet, Xander. Buffy is quite right. It appears that Spike was of great assistance to her last night, and if the price for saving the entire world is that she allows two vampires to take off for parts unknown, that seems a very reasonable cost.”
 
Xander subsided into disgruntled muttering to himself, leaving Buffy, Giles and Willow to talk about how unusual it was for a vampire to be able to control his demon the way Spike obviously could.  Buffy decided it was probably not a good idea to mention that Spike was also capable of being sympathetic and understanding. “Safe to be around if he agrees to be” seemed to be about as much as she could hope to have believed.
 
XXXXX
 
When the pizza was gone and conversation had tapered off, Buffy stood up and stretched. Xander and Willow said their goodnights, asking if they were going to see Buffy in school the next day.
 
She made a face, but said, “Yeah, I guess so. I’ll have to come up with a good excuse to put in the note I’m pretty sure my mother isn’t going to write for me. But yeah, I’ll try to be there.”
 
After closing the door behind them, Buffy stretched again and sighed.
 
“I guess I should try to get a short patrol in. I still haven’t caught up on my sleep.”
 
“Are you planning to return to the mansion, then?” Giles was frowning vigorously. “That hardly seems like a safe place to sleep until after Willow has done the spell.”
 
“It probably isn’t, but what else can I do? Even if I had the money for a motel room, they wouldn’t rent to somebody my age. If the other vamps don’t know that Angel—Angelus is gone yet, they probably won’t be poking around his house.”
 
“I strongly suggest you stay here tonight, Buffy.”
 
“I appreciate that Giles, I do. And if my mom hadn’t said such crazy things…. But she did. And I don’t want you losing your job or going to jail because my mom goes to the police when she finds out where I am.”
 
“Where did she think you were going?”
 
Buffy bit her lip. “I don’t think she really expected me to really leave.  I mean, she was mad enough to tell me I should, but she probably thinks I can just stop slaying if I really want to and I’ll come crawling back in a day or so telling her I’m sorry and I’ll never disobey her again.”  She grimaced at Giles. “We both know that probably isn’t true, don’t we?”
 
“Dear lord.”
 
“I’ll be fine, Giles. Either Spike and Dru will be gone and I can lock up the place, or she won’t be back yet and Spike will be there waiting for her. Either way, I should be safe enough.”
 
“I find it a bit daunting that your idea of ‘safe enough’ is based on the presence of a vampire who is reputed to have killed two slayers. I’m going to speak to your mother tomorrow,” Giles said. “I’ll force her to understand your position. This is an untenable situation.”
 
“Yeah, well, good luck with that.”  She paused. “I don’t suppose I could borrow some money for food later tonight or tomorrow?”
 
“Oh my dear girl. Of course you can.” He opened his wallet and handed her a twenty-dollar bill. “I’m going to fix this… in fact….” He glanced at his watch and sighed. “I suppose it is a bit late tonight, but I do wish you’d reconsider coming back to sleep here tonight. You and Willow can do the spell tomorrow and then perhaps, if you don’t mind being alone there, it will be safe to stay in that house until I can convince your mother to be reasonable.”
 
“I’ll think about it, Giles. And thanks. Don’t wait up, but maybe… no, don’t leave the door unlocked either. I’ll be fine.”
 
XXXX
 
Buffy’s slaying went fairly quickly. She hit the three cemeteries between Giles’s apartment and Crawford Street, striking and dusting every vampire she encountered with no quipping or playing, but with cold efficiency.
 
When she passed an all-night convenience store, she abruptly turned in and used some of the money Giles had given her to buy a box of cereal and some milk and bananas. Carrying her breakfast purchases, she approached the mansion cautiously, walking around to the garage to see that, although the door was open, Spike’s car was still there. She sighed and wondered if she should have taken Giles up on his offer of staying at his place for the night. She didn’t sense any strong vampire signatures except for one she already could somehow recognize as Spike’s, so she walked through the garage and pushed open the door into the house.
 
She hadn’t even gotten the door closed behind her before Spike appeared, a smile on his face. A smile that faded as he saw who had come in.
 
“Oh. It’s you, Slayer.”
 
“Sorry, Spike. I didn’t mean to startle you.” She noted the sadness on his face and said with more sympathy than she actually felt, “So, Dru’s not back yet, huh?”
 
“No,” he said tersely. “But you’ll be safe enough. I’ll be awake till dawn. Keep that window closed and locked and the dresser in front of the door just in case, but I’ll be able to feel her as soon as she gets close and we’ll just leave right off.”
 
Buffy nodded and walked past him to put the food in the kitchen. It wasn’t until she was safely in the bedroom that she realized she’d turned her back on the vampire famed for killing slayers without even thinking about it. Shaking her head at herself, she got into bed and fell into a much-needed sleep.
 
XXXXX
 
She woke in the morning in plenty of time to get cleaned up and dressed to go to school. She went to the kitchen and got the box of cereal and a reasonably useful-looking bowl that she rinsed out. The milk, in spite of having been in an old refrigerator, was a little warm, but still good, so she had a nice big bowl of cereal and fruit.  A sound in the doorway made her glance up to see Spike leaning against the jamb and watching her eat.
 
“She isn’t back yet?” Buffy guessed, based on the expression on his face. He shook his head slowly, then lit a cigarette, not speaking until he’d taken a deep drag and exhaled the smoke.  Buffy waved her hand as a hint, but he just gave her a grin that faded quickly and blew another puff of smoke in her direction.
 
“Jerk,” she muttered into her bowl, shooting him a glare from under her eyebrows.
 
He didn’t respond, but he did put the cigarette out and rest it on the counter before he slid onto a stool beside her. He sighed and shook his head again. “Nope. Watched for her all night. Not a sign of her.”
 
Buffy stood up and put her bowl in the sink, remembering at the last second that there was no mom here to wash it for her. She filled it with water to soak, telling herself she’d wash it when she got back.
 
“I’m going to try to go to school today.” She saw him look at her in surprise. “Assuming I can write a good enough note to get away with missing the past two days and Snyder doesn’t call the cops on me…. Anyway, is there… do you want me to bring you anything? Or do you want me to look for Dru somewhere?”
 
“Do you really mean that, or are you just looking for an excuse to skip school again?”
 
Buffy glared at him, then noticed the slight twinkle in his eye. “Does it matter?” she huffed.
 
“Guess not, but as long as you’ve got the opportunity, you should probably try to get what passes for an education in this country. No sense growing up ignorant if you don’t need to.”
 
Buffy stamped her foot and deepened her glare. “Stop talking to me like I’m some kind of kid!” she said. “I’m as grown up as I need to be.” She paused and sighed before muttering, “You know as well as I do I probably won’t live long enough to be a legal adult, so what difference does it make? I was really just trying to finish high school because my mom wanted me to. She thinks I’m going to go to college!” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Like that’s gonna happen.”
 
Spike’s demeanor changed and he stood up, asking permission with his eyes as he touched her cheek.
 
“You’re right, pet. Life as a slayer has meant you had to grow up fast. But you aren’t a typical Watcher-raised slayer. You’ve got friends, family—” He shook his head when Buffy snorted. “You do. Your mum loves you, she just doesn’t understand anything about what a slayer is and she’s frightened for you. I could see that when I met her. You’ve got a watcher that’s not as big a wanker as most of them are. You’ve had a more normal life than most slayers ever get. And you’ve already lived longer than most do.”
 
“Uh, technically, I died last year but Xander did CPR on me and brought me back.” She smiled at his shocked expression. “And this time, you saved my life. I think the ‘normal’ ship sailed away about the time I set fire to the gym in my old high school.”
 
“All right. You win. Not normal. But not a typical slayer, either. You’ve got other things in your life besides the mission. You may as well enjoy them for as long as you can.” He frowned. “When do you turn eighteen?”
 
Buffy blinked at him. “In January, why?”
 
“Don’t let your watcher… well, I’m not sure how they do it… but if you think you’re losing your powers, don’t… Fuck!”  He turned away. “Get to school, Slayer. When you get back, we’ll do some catching up. You can tell me how you died and then didn’t, and I’ll tell you about the Cruciamentum and what to watch out for.”
 
“What are you going to do all day?”
 
“Reckon I’ll sleep. Dru isn’t likely to show up here in the middle of a sunny day, so I’ll need to watch for her tonight.” He paused, then reached in his pocket and handed her a wad of bills. “If you have time to bring me some blood from the butcher….”
 
“Sure.” Buffy took the money. “What kind?”
 
“Pig.”
 
“’K.” she hesitated. “See you later, Spike.”
 
“Later, Slayer.”
 
 
CHAPTER FOUR
 
After a week in which Drusilla hadn’t returned, Buffy found herself suspended from school for the rest of the year, and a drunk Joyce had slammed the door in Giles’s face, they settled into a routine. Spike would watch for Dru all night while Buffy slept, and she would bring him fresh blood picked up on her way home from talking to Giles or hanging out at her house while Joyce was at work.  She rarely saw him in the mornings, but wasn’t sure she hadn’t heard him cursing and sobbing in his room. Empty booze bottles were beginning to accumulate in the kitchen. 
 
She wondered how long it would be before he admitted Drusilla wasn’t coming back any time soon.
 
In the afternoons, she would put his blood in the fridge and have a snack herself until he woke up. Then, while he drank his blood and she nibbled on whatever she’d bought herself for lunch, they would talk.  
 
Early on, Buffy had explained about how the master killed her, and that Giles and Angel had both allowed it to happen because it was a “prophecy”. During a later talk, Spike brought it up again.
 
“So he is a typical watcher-wanker,” he said, when she repeated how Giles had sent her off to die.
 
She tried to defend him.  “I think he changed his mind and wanted to rescue me, but then all the vamps came to the school and he had to help Willow and Cordy and Ms. Calendar…”
 
“Wankers. Both of them. Not surprised at Angelus, even though old Batface wasn’t his favorite relative any more than he was mine, but thought your watcher might be made of sterner stuff.”
 
Buffy had shrugged. “Well the prophecy said I would die and it would free the… what did you call him?”
 
“Batface.”
 
She giggled. “I like that.  Anyway, I did die and he—Batface— did get loose, for about ten minutes. The prophecy didn’t say I had to stay dead, so I didn’t. Angel and Xander found me face down in a puddle and Xander did CPR on me.”
 
“Good on him,” Spike said. “Not as worthless as he seems. And then you dusted the old relic?”
 
“Yep!” She made a popping noise on the “p”, causing Spike to give a chuckle before settling back into his unhappy normal expression. Buffy studied his face, then rested her hand on his briefly.
 
“I’m sorry, Spike,” she said softly, snatching her hand away when he growled. He sighed and shook his head, reaching for her hand and squeezing it gently.
 
“No, I’m sorry, pet. I know you mean well. I’m just not sure how I feel about getting sympathy from the Slayer.” He gave her a shrewd look, indicating he’d heard sobbing from her room. “I should be the one doling it out, seems to me. I just had a fight with my lover, you had to kill your… whatever he was.”
 
“I honestly don’t know what he was by then.” Buffy shrugged. “I mean, if he was Angel, then he was my boyfriend and I loved him, but he wasn’t my Angel after he lost his soul, and….”
 
“And he didn’t deserve a single one of the tears you’ve shed,” Spike nodded. “You’ve got a good heart to be worrying about an old vamp’s feelings when your own aren’t in very good shape.”
 
“It probably isn’t going to happen very often,” she admitted. “I can’t believe I’m feeling sorry for a killer because his crazy girlfriend hasn’t come back to him.” Spike started to snarl, then stopped himself.
 
“Fair enough from your point of view, I reckon.”
 
They had sat in silence for some time before Buffy asked, “So, what were you saying you were going to tell me about turning eighteen?”
 
“You mean, other than you’d be legal for me to shag by then?”  He gave her a leer that never reached his eyes and she snorted her disbelief.  “Right, then. Here’s the short version. If and when a slayer turns eighteen—which doesn’t happen often, mind you—her watcher takes her powers away somehow and she has to fight a vamp provided by the Council of Wankers. If they want to keep her, it’s a stupid git of a fledgling and she has weapons to use. If they don’t want her around anymore, the vamp is something older, stronger, and likely to kill her.”
 
Buffy gasped. “Why would they do that?”
 
“Because they’re wankers, luv. Don’t ever forget it. They don’t like it when slayers get old enough to question their orders or are too independent. It’s a way to rid themselves of troublesome bints and replace them with somebody too young to question them.” He peered at Buffy. “Given your history, I doubt they’ve got you on the list of obedient slayers.”
 
“Well, that’s just… Giles would never do that!”
 
“Did he or did he not send you off to be killed by old Batface for no better reason than some old book told him it should happen?”
 
“Shut up.”
 
“Just sayin’, luv. Don’t trust him when you get close to your birthday.”
 
He doesn’t think I should trust you,” Buffy said, giving him a sidelong glance.
 
“An’ he’s probably right to think that. Havin’ a truce between us doesn’t mean I’m not what I’ve been for past 120 some years. You haven’t pulled my fangs, Slayer.”
 
“Oh.” Buffy tried to hide her disappointment, realizing that she had almost forgotten what Spike was.
 
“Don’t give me that face,” he growled. “Keep those big eyes to yourself. You and me are not friends. We can’t be. We’re born enemies.”
 
“Right. Silly me. I forgot. You hate me, I hate you.”
 
“That’s the natural order of things,” Spike said firmly, then sighed and shook his head at her. “I don’t hate you, Buffy.” She blinked at his use of her name. “And I liked your mum when I met her. Wouldn’t harm her if I could. But none of that means I’m not what I am. As soon as Dru—” He stopped himself when he saw the expression on Buffy’s face.
 
“Don't say it,” he warned. “Don’t even think it.” His growl almost sounded more like a moan, and Buffy struggled to cover her mistake.
 
“I’m sorry, Spike.” She tried to look cheerful. “I’m sure she’s just trying to teach you a lesson, and she’ll be back any night now.”
 
“Don't patronize me, Slayer,” he sighed in what she was coming to recognize as one of his sudden mood swings. “You think she’s gone for good, don’t you?”
 
“I patrol every night,” she said in what she hoped was a neutral tone. “It seems like I would have seen her or some sign that she was around.”
 
Spike nodded, his shoulders slumping. “I expect you’re right. If she was here, even if she was still too brassed off at me to come back yet, I’m sure she would have come after you by now. She’s mad at me, yeah, but you’re the one she thinks took away her precious ‘daddy’.” He looked up, his expression determined. “I’ve been sitting in this house too long. I think I need to kill something.”
 
Buffy realized with a start that he’d been drinking pig blood every night, not leaving to hunt for fear of missing Dru’s return. She bit her lip, then offered: “I’m going to patrol in a little while. Want to come out with me?”
 
“How is that going to help me?”
 
“Well… I dunno. You can watch me kill things, I guess. Or maybe we’ll meet some vamps or demons you don’t like and you can kill one of them.” Anything to keep him from hunting again.
 
He stood up, palming his cigarette. “Not exactly what I had in mind, but I guess it doesn’t matter how I get my spot of violence as long as I can beat something up.”
 
“Is that going to make you feel better?”
 
“Well… yeah. Don’t you feel better when you’ve beat the stuffing out of some poor sod?”
 
Buffy opened her mouth to deny it, but at the knowing grin on Spike’s face, she nodded slowly. “Maybe? Sometimes? I guess I never thought about it, but it is a good way to work off some tension.”
 
“Too bloody right it is.”
 
“I think it’s disturbing. That we both like to beat up on things,” she explained when he raised his eyebrows.
 
He shrugged. “It’s who we are, innit? Our names say it all.”
 
“Spike? Buffy?”
 
He cocked his head at her and waited.
 
After a short pause she sighed. “Okay, okay. Vampire. Slayer. I get it. It’s still disturbing.”
 
“Can we go be disturbing somewhere else now? I’ve been stuck in this bloody wreck of a house for a week. I think I have cabin fever. And I’m running out of Jack.”
 
Buffy glanced at the empty bottles scattered haphazardly around the kitchen and had no trouble figuring out what he meant by “Jack”.
 
“Does it help to get drunk?” she asked as they walked out the door.
 
“It helps me. Wouldn’t do much for you but make you sick, I’d wager. But if you want to try it sometime…”
 
“My mom drinks. She doesn’t get sick.”
 
“Your mum’s an adult. She’s had years to learn how much she can drink before she throws up. Trust me, luv, it’s a hard lesson, but everybody learns it.”
 
“So you won’t teach me how to drink?”
 
“Teach you whatever you want, Slayer,” he said without taking his gaze off the cemetery entrance they were approaching.  “Why don’t we start with how to kill a Fyral demon when you don’t have anything silver on you?” 
 
“Or a sword,” she said. “Crap. I knew I should have brought it with me.”
 
The demon had changed his path to intercept theirs, roaring his challenge.
 
“You take high, I’ll take low. When you get a chance, put a stake in his eye.”
 
With no time for argument, Buffy leapt for the demon’s head while Spike barreled into its knees. It staggered, but didn’t fall. Buffy was able to stab it in one eye before it threw her off, shaking its head and throwing mucus around in a toxic circle.
 
“Watch that stuff, Slayer. It’s dangerous to humans.” Spike pulled her aside just as the demon aimed its snot at her. It hit Spike’s coat, sending him into a rage. Buffy watched with interest while Spike pummeled the much larger demon, snarling obscenities the entire time. When he had it on the ground, he grabbed the horns and began to twist until there was a loud crack and the Fyral demon went still.
 
“Is it dead?” Buffy peered at the inert body. “And wow. I’m impressed.”
 
Spike gave her a fangy grin, then his face melted back into his human one. “That was a bit of alright,” he said. “I feel much better now.” He brushed the hardened mucus off his coat sleeve.
 
“Huh. Broken heart mended by beating up a demon. Who knew?”
 
“It’s not quite that easy, Slayer,” Spike said, sounded like he was disappointed in her, then shrugged, admitting, “But it does make me feel a little better.”
 
“I guess I’ll have to try it. The next demon is mine.”
 
“Have at it, luv. I’ll just be over here having a fag.”  True to his word, Spike perched on a tombstone and pulled out a cigarette, leaving Buffy to face three newly risen and hungry vampires. They glanced at him, but when he didn’t claim ownership of what looked like a good meal, they concentrated on Buffy.
 
The first vamp to reach for her found himself sailing over her head and into the side of a crypt. His companions paused for a second, confused about how he got there. While they were trying to figure it out, Buffy ran her stake into the chest of one and took the other one’s legs out with a sweep across his knees. She staked him while he was still bent over, trying to stand. Hands on hips, she said, “These guys were no fun at all.” She walked over to the one just climbing to his feet and rubbing his head. “Are you going to be fun?” she demanded.
 
His “huh?” made her roll her eyes and put a stake through his chest. “I’m going to take that as a no,” she said, kicking the little pile of dust.  She looked at Spike, who was blowing smoke rings and grinning at her. 
 
“They weren’t any fun,” she complained. “I don’t feel any better.”
 
“Bollocks. If you could see the sparkle in your eyes and the color in your cheeks, you’d know that’s a lie.”
 
“So we both killed things and it made us feel better?  I still say that’s totally disturbing. I mean, maybe not you, ‘cause—vampire, evil…. But I’m the Chosen One. I don’t do evil, I slay it.”
 
“Do you hear yourself?”
 
“Shut up.  And come on. We’ve got two more cemeteries to hit.”
 
“Yes’m, Slayer, ma’am.”
 
“Are you mocking me?”
 
“Maybe? Wanna make something of it?”  Spike was bouncing on his toes around her, pretending to throw punches at her face.
 
She cocked her head at him. “Maybe? Fighting you is always a lot of fun.  If we didn’t actually try to kill each other….”  She began walking again. “I’ll have to think about it.”
 
“Anytime, Slayer. Anytime.”
 
XXXXX
 
After they’d hit two more cemeteries and begun a contest to see who could take on the most fledgling vampires at one time, they paused on the sidewalk.
 
“I won!”
 
“Did not.”
 
“Did too!”
 
“Not.”
 
They glared at each other, then broke into grins at the same time.
 
“Tie?” Buffy said.
 
“If you say so, luv.  So now what?”
 
Buffy looked uncomfortable. “I usually go by Giles’ to report to him. And to find out if I’m going to be allowed to take my exams so I can go back to school next year.”
 
“Still think it’s stupid they wouldn’t let you back in. After the Council of Wankers pulled strings and got the murder charge dismissed.”
 
“Yeah, well, that was just Snyder’s excuse to get rid of me. And since my mom won’t fight for me…”
 
Spike growled. “I might have to take back what I said about liking her. She should be over it by now.”
 
“Yeah, well, she isn’t. She won’t let Giles explain, and she won’t talk to me either. I can sneak in while she’s at work and do laundry and get more clothes, but she never answers the notes I leave. I even told her where I am, just in case, but she’s never shown up here.” Buffy gave Spike a quick look. “I told her never to come after dark. I hope that’s okay.”
 
“Place is as much yours as mine, luv. Told you that. Invite whoever you want. I promise not to eat anybody you care about.”
 
Buffy snorted and put her hands on her hips to glare at him. “You do know my job description is to save the world, right? I’m pretty sure that includes even people I don’t like.”
 
He laughed. “Know that, Slayer. I was just yanking your chain. Why do you think I haven’t gone looking for someone to eat yet tonight?”
 
Yet?” Her eyes were narrowed and she tensed, her hand hovering over her stake.
 
“You’re such a treat to rile up. It’s almost too easy,” he said, laughing and dancing away. “You go report to your watcher, and I’ll hit Willie’s for some O neg that won’t even be warm.”
 
“You promise?” Buffy relaxed, never questioning why she should believe him.
 
“I promise,” he said, walking away. “You just be sure to tell your watcher which one of us killed the most.” His laughter floated back as he quickly disappeared into the darkness.
 
“Smartass,” she muttered as she turned to go to Giles’s.
 
 
 
Chapters Five and Six
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER FIVE
 
Buffy was sitting at the kitchen counter, poking morosely at her cereal, when Spike stepped into the kitchen. Avoiding the daylight streaming in the windows, he scuttled along a wall until he could peer into the cupboards over the counter away from the sun. He had a black eye and seemed to be limping. He whirled on her when he saw the empty space.
 
“What happened to the rest of my Jack?”
 
“You drank it,” Buffy said. “And I couldn’t buy more for you yesterday because they wouldn’t sell it to me.”  She pushed some bills across the counter to him. “There’s your money. I only took enough to buy some dinner last night.”
 
“Well fuck.” He picked up the bills and put them in his pocket without looking at them.
“Explain again why I’m buying you dinner?”
 
Buffy ignored his rhetorical question and frowned at him. “You’re all bad moody today. What’s going on?”
 
He growled. “Had to clean out Willy’s last night when some wanker of a demon tried to say Dru had dusted.”  He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bag of blood. “And I only have one more of these.”
 
Buffy frowned in sympathy.  “Spike….”
 
“Don’t say it. It’s not true. I’d feel it if Dru…. No. It couldn’t happen. I’d know it. She’s my sire, my family. I’d feel the connection break.”
 
Deciding against asking him if he was trying to convince her or himself, she changed the subject.
 
“I’m sorry I spent your money on food, but I didn’t see Giles yesterday and I hate to keep asking him for money.”
 
“Your bloody mother should be feeding you.”
 
“He’s going to talk to her again today… or tonight, I guess. Snyder agreed to let me take my exams in the school library, but my mother has to give permission for it. And since she won’t talk to me—”
 
“Maybe I should talk to her,” he said, flashing his fangs. “Or maybe I should just eat that little rat that makes your life so miserable?”
 
“Don’t tempt me,” she said, shaking her head.
 
“Offer’s out there, luv. Just say the word.”  He took his now-warm blood out of the microwave, the acquisition of which he refused to discuss, and sat down beside her. “Are you tempted?”
 
Buffy shook her head again. “I am, but that would be evil and wrong and—”
 
“And you’re a white hat. Got it, Slayer.”  He tilted the mug up and chugged the blood in it, stopping just short of slamming it down on the counter. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I’ll be better when I restock the booze.”  He stood up. “I’ll just be in my room.”
 
“Spike—”
 
“Leave it, Slayer.”  He disappeared down the hall and she heard the door slam.
 
She sighed and got up to wash out her bowl, muttering to herself about moody vampires and how she was the one who had to kill the man she loved and lost her home for it, and it should be her turn to get some sympathy.
 
XXXXXX
 
At Giles’s suggestion, she’d agreed to meet him at her mother’s house in the evening. He seemed to think it would help for her to be there when he explained to Joyce that if she didn’t sign the appropriate form, Buffy’s entire junior year of high school would be down the tubes.
 
She was just preparing to leave when Spike emerged from his room and went directly to the refrigerator. While his blood warmed up in the microwave, he spoke to Buffy but with his back turned.
 
“You were right, you know,” he said.
 
“Huh?”
 
“This morning. When you said you deserved a little sympathy. I’m an old vampire, who was already a grown man when I was turned so many years ago, and my lover has just scarpered because she’s brassed off at me. Not the first time, and probably won’t be the last.”
 
Buffy just blinked at him.
 
He turned to face her. “You’re a child. A very strong, brave, and fierce child, but a child. And you’ve lost your first love and your mum. We need to fix that.  Not bring Angelus back, mind you, even if we could. You and the world are better off without that bogtrotting bastard.  But you need to be at home, not sharing a crumbling house with an old vampire that’s drunk or asleep most of the time.”
 
“Oh.” Buffy’s face fell, but she stood up straighter. “I’ll be fine, Spike, but if you want me to leave—”
 
“Not what I’m saying, luv. Not about what I want, it’s about what you need. And you need to be home.”
 
Buffy sighed. “It’s a nice thought, but right now I’ll settle for Mom signing the form Giles is bringing her so I can pass 11th grade.”
 
“So what’s the plan to make that happen?” He sat down and began drinking his blood while Buffy told him about Giles’s plan to talk to her mother that evening and for Buffy to be there to add to what he was going to tell her about slayers. She was still talking when
Spike interrupted her.
 
“Does your mum believe in vampires?”
 
She shook her head. “She knows what she saw when that vamp jumped us in front of her, but she’s not sure it was really what we said it was. She just can’t explain where he went after I staked him. And I don’t know if she saw you in vamp face before she hit you with that fire axe. So… I don’t think so, but I dunno. Why?”
 
“Thought maybe I’d volunteer to come with you,” he said as he put his cup in the sink. At Buffy’s glare, he sighed and ran some water in it. “It’s soaking,” he growled, daring her to insist he wash it.
 
“I don’t know, Spike. I know you want to be helpful, but she thinks you’re just some punk lowlife I was hanging out with—and she has no idea I’m living with you. That would send her into orbit again.”
 
“Well, I think I should come with you. She might try to throw the Watcher out, and she might not want to listen to you, but she’ll be hard put to pretend she can’t hear what all three of us are saying, especially if I’m wearing my fangs...”
 
“Fine. Come with if you want. It can’t get any worse than it already is.” She stopped and turned to glare at him. “But no flashing your fangs at my mom! She’s freaked out enough as it is.”
 
 
 
XXXXXX
 
Joyce was just trying to slam the door on Giles again when Buffy and Spike came up on the porch. This time, Giles had been ready for her, and he had his foot out to block it. Before they could end their standoff, Buffy and Spike were on the porch and Buffy applied her own strength, easily pushing the door open all the way.
 
“This is outrageous!” Joyce sputtered. “I’ll call the police!” She turned to go to the phone, only to find Spike standing between her and desk. She blinked, sure she hadn’t seen him go past her. She narrowed her eyes at him. “Get out of my way, or I’ll hit you with something heavy.”
 
He grinned at her. “Already know you’ll do that, don’t I?” he said. “I remember it well.”
 
“You’re that thug Buffy brought into the house! The one in the band.”
 
“We made that up, Mom,” Buffy said. “Spike’s not in a band, and neither am I.”
 
“So, it is a gang situation, then. Principal Snyder is right, as much as I hate to admit it.” She frowned at Giles who was holding a large cross out and staring at Spike. “What’s wrong with you?”
 
“Back away from the vampire, Mrs. Summers,” he said as he advanced toward Spike. “Get away from him.”
 
“It’s fine, Giles,” Buffy said, pushing his arm down. “Spike’s not going to hurt her… or you.”
 
“What is he doing here?” Giles never took his eyes off the man he’d called a vampire.
 
“He came to see if he could help us convince Mom that I’m not crazy, there are vampires and demons, and you aren’t some skeevy old man who is trying to corrupt her daughter.”
 
Joyce stared back and forth between the two strange men and Buffy. The matter-of-fact explanation, which hadn’t caused either man to blink an eye, did more to make her willing to hear more than any amount of yelling might have done. It crossed her mind that she seemed to be the only one in the room comfortable with reality, and she wondered briefly if a mental illness could be shared.
 
“Who? What?” she said.
 
“What the Slayer said,” Spike rumbled from behind her. “I figure if the Watcher can’t explain things to you, and you won’t listen to your own very brave world-savin’ daughter, then maybe having the real thing right in front of you might do the trick. Maybe I can scare you into listening.”
 
“I’m not afraid of some Billy Idol imitation,” Joyce said with a sniff. “You can go to jail just like any other punk gang member.”
 
“Mom…” Buffy shot a glare at Spike. “Can we just talk about my exams? I’d love to think you would listen to us and believe that I have no choice about what I do or am, but the main reason we’re here is so I can be a senior in high school next year.”
 
Joyce turned her attention on Giles. “I fail to see why the school librarian is taking such an interest in my teenage daughter, but if you can see that she passes her junior year, I’m willing to sign something.” She narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure that little weasel is going to let her go on?”
 
“I have his word,” Giles said, adding in a mutter, “For what that’s worth. It’s possible the Coun—my employers put some pressure on his superiors.”
 
“Isn’t he your employer?”
 
“I work in the library at his school. However, I answer to the same organization that Buffy does.”
 
Buffy snorted and Spike added his growl. “If you’re talking about the Council of Wankers, I suspect they could just wave a hand and graduate the Slayer right now.”
 
Once again Joyce was aware that she had no idea what they were talking about. With a sigh, she walked to a table and picked up her half-full glass of scotch.  She seated herself in a comfortable chair and gestured to the couch.
 
“All right. I will give you until I finish this drink to try to explain to me what is going on. Beginning with Buffy.”
 
Buffy exchanged looks with Giles and then Spike before perching on the arm of the couch.  Giles sat in a less comfortable chair while Spike sprawled in his usual disrespectful fashion at the other end of the couch from Buffy. 
 
“Okay, Mom. Here’s the thing, I’ve already told you all this stuff, but you refused to listen or believe me. Nothing has changed. I am the Slayer. We’re here in Sunnydale because it’s located over the hellmouth, which attracts demons and vampires. I was Chosen to slay them. To protect humans from evil creatures that want to kill them. Vampires have to be killed by a stake through the heart, beheading or fire. That’s why I set fire to the gym at Hemery. There was a vampire nest underneath it and it was the only way to get them all before it got dark and they came out to eat their way through the whole school.” She paused. “They killed my first watcher – I know you saw him with me, but they killed him before he could explain to you what I was and why he was there.”
 
She pointed at Giles. “Giles is my watcher now. He was sent to Sunnydale to work in the high school so he could be close to me and help me with my… job.” She sighed. “You really need to let him explain everything. He can tell you about the Council, and vampires and demons, and what it means to be a slayer. He knows all the history stuff. I just know how to kill things.”
 
Joyce shut her eyes tightly and shook her head, reaching blindly for the bottle of scotch. When Spike jumped to his feet and handed it to her, she couldn’t suppress a small yelp of surprise. She refilled her glass, having forgotten she’d only given them until her drink was gone.
 
“And how is it that you know how to kill… things?” she said through tight lips.
 
Buffy shrugged. “Well Merrick taught me some stuff, but the super strength and speed and all that… some of it just was there. When I was called.  One day, I’m just regular old me, high school freshman Buffy, and the next day, I shove some big guy for being rude and he crashes into the wall. Merrick found me and told me what was going on and started teaching me about weapons and how to control my strength around other humans. When you and Dad didn’t believe me, I just… I just had to start lying to you. The vampires weren’t going to stop eating people just because the Slayer’s parents thought she was crazy or grounded her.” Buffy stopped, torn between tears and bitterness.
 
“This is ridiculous,” Joyce said, tilting her glass up and draining it. Spike immediately leapt to his feet again and refilled it.
 
At Buffy’s “Spike!” he just grinned at her. “Helps the medicine go down, luv,” he said, sinking back onto the sofa.
 
Joyce stared at Giles, then at Spike. “Which one of you is the one corrupting my daughter? Who put these ideas into her head and encouraged her to continue this behavior? We moved here to get away from the bad influences in LA!”
 
Giles sighed heavily, shooting a glare at Spike who was snorting with laughter. “As I’m sure you have determined by now, as Buffy’s new watcher, I am responsible for her training and her education in the field of demonology. If you would just give me some time to explain about the Council of Watchers, Slayers, and vampires and demons—”
 
“I don’t believe in vampires.” Joyce took another swallow of her drink and set down firmly. She transferred her gaze to Spike. “Are you part of this delusion too? What do you have to do with slayers?”
 
“Up to now, I usually tried to kill them,” Spike said quietly. Ignoring Joyce’s gasp, he continued, “This one’s a little bit special, so we’ve come to a truce… for the time being.”
 
“You try to what?” Joyce’s couldn’t believe what she was hearing and anxiously looked around for a weapon. She eyed the half-full bottle of Scotch speculatively.
 
“Easy there, Slayer’s mum. I tried. Didn’t happen. Don’t much care to try again.”
 
“You’re too old for her,” Joyce said, her maternal instincts coming through the alcoholic fog as she recognized something in Spike’s voice.
 
“That I am,” he agreed. “Know that full well. It’s one reason I want to help her get back home where she belongs. She needs her mum.”
 
Joyce stared at the three people gazing at her, bewilderment fighting with her sense that they were all telling the truth. 
 
“I… I can’t… Let me have the damned paper to sign, and then go away and let me think. You’re asking me to believe in….” She shook her head. “I can’t think right now.”
 
Giles slid a form in front of her and pointed to the signature line, where she scribbled her name. She stood up unsteadily and rested her hand on the back of her chair. “Where… where are you living, Buffy?”
 
“I gave you the address, Mom. Haven’t you been reading my notes?”
 
Joyce shook her head. “No. I’ve been… they’re all in a drawer in the kitchen.”
 
“I’m staying in an old abandoned mansion on Crawford.”
 
“By yourself? Is that safe?” Without thinking, Joyce looked to Giles for an answer. He shrugged.
 
“So far, it seems.” He gave Spike a hard look.
 
Buffy said, “It’s fine. The house isn’t vamp-proof yet because Willow hasn’t come over to do the disinvite spell….”  Joyce frowned at that, but didn’t ask for an explanation. “But it’s okay. It’s pretty safe in the daytime, ‘cause, you know, sunshine and vampires—not so mixy. And I’m awake then anyway. And at night… I’m out patrolling and when I get ho—back to the house—I usually have a pretty fierce guard dog around while I’m sleeping.”
 
“Guard dog?”
 
Spike stood up and walked to the door. “Guard dog,” he said. “Nothing human or demon is going to harm her while she’s sleeping. She’s as safe there as she would be here.”
 
Joyce watched as the three of them gathered by the door. “I… I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Buffy. I have to work all morning, but I may be able to take some time off in the afternoon.” She transferred her gaze to Giles.  “Perhaps we can talk then?”
 
He nodded. “I’ll be in the school library. Please feel free to visit me there.”
 
 
 
CHAPTER SIX
 
 
Spike hesitated as Buffy and Giles went down the steps and continued toward the street and the watcher’s car. He turned back to meet Joyce’s troubled gaze and cocked his head at her.
 
“Do you believe vampires exist, Mrs. Summers?”
 
Joyce looked confused.  “I believe that my daughter believes they do. And apparently Mr. Giles—and you—also believe these creatures exist. But I’ve never seen any proof of—”
 
“Yes you have, luv,” Spike said, his voice soft but firm. “You saw the Slayer turn one to dust right here just a few weeks ago. You might be trying to believe he was just an exceptionally ugly bugger that somehow ran away so fast you didn’t see him go, but if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit what you saw.
 
“And you saw a lot more vampires when I—when the school was attacked. I may not have been wearing my fangs when you tried to brain me, but I know the minions were in full vamp face. Stop lying to yourself. It’s making you treat your daughter, who is one hell of a Slayer, like she’s nothing.” 
 
Spike straightened up and glared at her, his expression no longer friendly. “She’s not nothing. She’s amazing. But she’s a baby, and she needs her mum. She needs you to believe her, and to believe in her. She keeps you and everybody else in this godforsaken town safe from things that go bump in the night. Every bloody night. If you can’t be proud of her, what good are you?”
 
He watched as Joyce’s expression went from stubborn disbelief to anger with just a hint of shame.
 
“Wh—who are you to tell me how to raise my daughter?” she managed to say. “What are you to her?”
 
Spike’s face changed. Without actually moving, he managed to loom over her, grinning when she cringed in horror. He kept his fangs visible until he was sure she wouldn’t be able to deny having seen them.
 
“I’m your worst nightmare… and your daughter is mine. Climb out of that bottle you’re hiding in and let her come home.” 
 
He turned away, hearing the door slam behind him as he jumped off the porch. By the time he joined Giles and an impatient Buffy on the sidewalk, he was once again wearing his human face.
 
“What was that?”
 
“Nothing much. Just doin’ a little bonding with your mum.” He smirked. “I think she fancies me.”
 
“You think—oh, Spike! My mother? Ewwwww!”
 
“What ewwww? Your mum’s a handsome woman and sheis old enough for me.”
 
Giles shook his head as Buffy sputtered and threatened to turn Spike to dust if he so much as winked at her mother.  “Buffy, I believe Spike is simply having you on. Isn’t that so… William?” He accompanied his words with a glare at the vampire who was now openly laughing.
 
“Watcher’s right, pet. I was just having some fun with you.” He smiled, happy to have distracted her from what he’d actually said to her mother.
 
Giles asked Buffy if she needed a ride, pointedly ignoring Spike, but she shook her head.
 
“No, you go on. I’m going to patrol and then go to bed early.  If I have to take exams I haven’t even had time to study for, I’ll have to be awake for them.”
 
“Very well.  I’ll turn the form in first thing tomorrow and notify your counselor and your teachers. By the end of the day, I should be able to tell you which ones you will be taking on which days. Perhaps you can study at least a little before tackling them.”
 
“Good idea. I’ll get some notes from Willow tomorrow.”
 
“Perhaps at the same time, she can do the disinvite spell so that you aren’t quite so dependent upon the ‘guard dog’ when you are vulnerable.” He gave Spike another glare.
 
“Well, yeah. I guess so.” Buffy glanced at Spike. “But then Dru wouldn’t be able to get in if—when she comes back.”
 
Spike knew he was looking at her in a way he never should in front of her watcher, but the idea that her first thought was concern for him set up a warmth in his chest he feared wasn’t going away anytime soon. He recovered himself quickly, hoping neither of them had noticed his moment of weakness.
 
“Not to worry, Slayer. If she’s nearby, I’ll feel her.”  He shook his head and sighed heavily.  “And I think we both know she’s long gone from Sunnyhell, so keeping you safe until you can go home is a good idea. Bring the little witch home with you.”
 
“Um. I think she’s kind of afraid of you….”
 
“I’ll stay in my room. She’ll never know I’m there.”
 
“Okay then. That’s settled.” Buffy smiled at Giles. “You’ll give the permission slip to Snyder and get my exams for me, and I’ll bring Willow over so I can pick her brain and she can make the house vamp-proof.”
 
XXXXX
 
After Giles had driven off and they were walking down the street, Buffy asked, “So, what are you doing the rest of the night?”
 
“Dunno, pet. Thought maybe I’d watch you patrol.”
 
“That doesn’t sound very exciting.”
 
“Can be. Depends on what you’re takin’ on and how many of them there are.” He glanced at her. “You’ve no idea what you look like in action. Poetry in motion, you are.”
 
He could feel the heat from Buffy’s blush as she struggled for a response. Taking pity on her, and cringing at his own inability to keep his mouth shut, he added, “And who knows? Maybe you’ll bite off more than you can chew and I’ll have a reason to jump in and get a little spot of violence.”
 
“I knew there had to be a good reason,” she said, the relief in her voice palpable. “Let’s hit Restfield. Giles said there were a lot of burials there this morning.”
 
“Lead on, Slayer.”
 
XXXXX
 
As Giles had predicted, Restfield provided Buffy with plenty of newly-risen vampires to slay, but with them only emerging one or two at a time, she had no trouble slaying them without any help from Spike. He sat on the roof of a big crypt and watched as Buffy quipped and danced her way through the area. He smiled to see her showing signs of the sassy slayer he’d first met, knowing that just finding her mother willing to listen to her had done a lot to improve her outlook.
 
When he spotted a small gang of older vampires approaching while she was fighting with two fledglings, he dropped silently to the ground and drifted close enough to step in if he needed to. Buffy disposed of her two opponents in time to turn around and see the oncoming, now-angry, vampires who’d expected to collect their new minions.
 
“Hey there, guys. Looking for somebody?”
 
They paused and looked at her, hesitating just long enough for Spike to start to relax before the leader said, “We were, but you’ll do for a snack first.”
 
“Dude, that’s the Slayer,” a vamp still in his funeral suit said.  “Don’t you think—”
 
“Even better! We’ll turn the Slayer and she’ll—urk!”
 
Buffy hadn’t bothered to stake him. She grabbed him by his belt and lifted him with one hand while she punched him with the other.
 
“Spike?” she called out, not having noticed him yet.
 
“I’m on it, pet,” he replied. “You take your time with that wanker. I’ll thin out the herd for you.”
 
By the time Spike had left the lesser minions on the ground in moaning heaps or unconscious, Buffy had reduced their leader to a cloud of dust that she was waving away from her face.  Tossing an extra stake to Spike, she began dusting the vamps closest to her. He took care of two in front of him, then handed the stake back.
 
“Good night’s work, Slayer.”
 
“Yep. I think we did in our share tonight.”
 
“You did in, pet. All I did was watch your back.”
 
Buffy flushed. “Well, thank you, anyway.”
 
“Any time, luv.”  He started walking beside her. “Time to go home?”
 
“It is… but I’m hungry now. Can we swing by the Doublemeat Palace on the way?”
 
“Can go wherever you want. Just tryin’ to make sure you get your sleep before you have to take your tests.”
 
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. “I already have a mother, thank you.”
 
“Yes, you do. And I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t take you back to her bosom soon. But in the meantime….” He cocked his head at her and hoped didn’t look like a complete nancy boy.   “In the meantime, you’ve got me. And I take my guard dog duties seriously.”
 
“Guard dogs don’t nag their people about homework,” Buffy muttered as she increased her speed.
 
“This one does,” he said, easily keeping up with her indignant march toward food.
 
XXXXXX
 
Willow approached the mansion cautiously, peering around as if expecting to be jumped any second.
 
“Wills, you do know it’s daylight, right? And Spike is a vampire?”
 
“I know. I know. It’s just that he’s a very scary vampire and I—”
 
“Don’t you trust me?”
 
“I do. I trust you, I’m just not sure I trust Spike.”
 
“I trust him, so if you trust me, and I trust him….”
 
“I get it. Fine. Lead on, Macduff!”
 
“Who?”
 
Willow shook her head. “One of those people you should probably know about before you take your English Lit exam. But that’s not quite the right quote. It’s just an expression people use now.”
 
“What’s it from?”
 
“Macbeth”
 
“I haven’t read that yet.  I think I was busy trying to kill Angleus when it was assigned.”
 
Willow shrugged. “I’ll give you my notes. You’ll be okay as long as you know the general gist of the play.”
 
Buffy opened the door and let Willow precede her into the main room.  She waited while Willow gawked around the area and tried to appear unimpressed. Finally she stopped staring. “I guess Angelus liked his comforts, huh?”
 
Buffy snorted.  “It’s not all that comfy,” she said. “It was empty for a long time before Angelus decided to take over, and he wasn’t big on the home decorating. But it’s a roof overhead, the electricity works most of the time, the plumbing works, and once you do the dis-invite, it’ll be vamp-proof.”
 
As Willow set up her props for the spell, she asked, “Are going to keep living here?”
 
Buffy shrugged, staring at the floor. “I dunno. Mom actually talked to me—to all of us—yesterday, and she signed the paper Giles needed to get my tests for me, so I hope that means she’s getting over her ‘never darken my door again’ thing. But I don’t know, so just in case her talk with Giles doesn’t go well, let’s just make this place vamp-proof.”
 
“What about Spike?”
 
“I’ll be fine.” Spike’s voice came from the hallway and Willow paled when she saw him standing there holding a mug from which he was sipping. “I’ll be in my room. Slayer might have to invite me out of it later, but I think I’ll be OK there.”
 
“You think?” Buffy’s eyes got big and she signaled Willow to stop. “You don’t know? What if the spell pushes you outside?”
 
“I don’t think it will,” he said, frowning nevertheless. “It might just grandfather me in because I’m already here.”
 
“Or, it might just disinvite you out into the front yard!” Buffy pointed to the west-facing front of the house where the sun was shining brightly.
 
“How about this, then. I’ll finish my breakfast and go stand on the porch off the kitchen. That’s outside, but it’s in the shade now, so I’ll be safe there long enough for Red to work the spell and you to come invite me in.”
 
Buffy looked at Willow. “What do you think?”
 
Willow shook her head. “He’d be the expert on vamps and houses. I don’t have any idea how it would work if one was already in the house when the spell went into effect.”
 
“Well, that sounds like it would work.” Buffy walked over to Spike and peered through the dining room and kitchen to the door there. As he’d said, at this time in the afternoon, it was completely in the shade of the big house. “Okay, go out there and I’ll come get you as soon as the spell is done.”
 
With a wink at Willow, who was still staring at him uneasily, he walked away. Buffy waited until she saw the kitchen door close behind him, then came back to Willow and her spell preparations. “Ready?”
 
Willow nodded and began the short chant that would make the entire building off limits to vampires.  When she finished, she sat back on her heels and said, “Why don’t you go see if it worked?”
 
Buffy ran to the kitchen to see the door already open and Spike grinning as he leaned against what looked like thin air.  She smiled back and crooked her finger at him, but he just laughed and stood up straight.
 
“Got to do better than that, love,” he said. “Need to hear the words.”
 
“Come in, Spike,” she said, sighing in relief when he stepped in and closed the door behind him.
 
“Thank you, love. Now go get your books and things from your friend and let’s see what you need to know.”
 
“Apparently, I need to know Macbeth,” Buffy sighed, missing the way his eyes lit up. “I’m going to walk Willow part way home, and then I’ll be back.”
 
Chapter Seven
 

 
CHAPTER SEVEN
 
When Buffy returned, she found Spike in the kitchen with her books and Willow’s notes spread out on the counter.  He was frowning at the colored labels on Willow’s notebooks.
 
He glanced up as she walked in. “Really?”
 
“You have no idea,” Buffy said, laughing at him. “You should see her real notes. These are just her make-it-easy-for-Buffy ones.”
 
“I don’t even want to know,” he muttered as he pushed notebooks and papers around. “Ah, here we go!” He waved a paper at her. “So, looks like you don’t need to worry about Macbeth until the day after tomorrow, so that gives you time to read the play and—” He stopped at the pained look on Buffy’s face.  “What?” When she just continued to look pained, he blew out an explosive breath. “Fine. That gives me time to summarize it for you and tell you what’s likely to be on an exam.”
 
Her pained expression turned into a big smile. “I told Willow you probably know all about Shakespeare.”  When he raised an eyebrow at her, she said, “On account of you’re British and stuff. Not that I think you were some kind of… nanny-boy? who studied a lot, but just—”
 
“Nancy boy,” he corrected. “And if I had been, I wouldn’t admit it to you.”
 
“Why not?” She cocked her head at me, genuinely surprised.  “I mean it’s not like I’d believe you anyway, but what’s so bad about not being… bad?”
 
“I am bad, Slayer. Have you forgotten that?” He wouldn’t meet her eyes as he insisted on his own evilness. “Do you need a reminder?” he added with a snarl, that didn’t seem exactly directed at her, but sounded real anyway.
 
She was silent for a few seconds, then said, “Right. Silly me. Big bad master vampire that only isn’t killing me because he wants me to pass my exams.” She waited, staring at him until he raised his head and groaned.
 
“I am going to kill you,” he said. “But not until you pass your classes and your mum takes you in. Then our truce is over. Now pay attention. Tomorrow you have to take a maths test and one in Spanish. Do you need help with either one of those?”
 
Buffy shrugged. “Both of them, probably. But what do you know about math and Spanish?”
 
“I’m old. I know stuff. Here—” He shoved a worksheet at her. “Do this and let’s see if you know enough to pass.”
 
Buffy took the math worksheet and, biting her lip occasionally, managed to finish it before Spike had finished fixing and drinking his second mug of blood. She handed it to him silently and got up from the counter. “I’m hungry,” she said as she went to the fridge, trying to hide the fact that she was watching him go over the paper. She pulled out some cheese and sliced off a few pieces to eat with the apple she also brought out.
 
Spike frowned and growled as he went over the worksheet, occasionally grabbing the pencil and scribbling out a problem in the margin.  By the time she finished eating, he was tapping the pencil on his chin and frowning at the worksheet.
 
“Well?”
 
He sighed. “There were two problems I can’t remember how to do, but I think you did well enough on the others to pass. That’s all you need, right? To get a passing grade?”
 
“Yep. Nobody expects straight As from me. That’s Willow’s thing. And Oz’s, I guess…”
 
“Think you’ll be okay there, then,” he said. “If you have time, you can look over the ones I redid for you. How are you at Spanish?”
 
“How are you at it?” she demanded.
 
“I speak it fluently. Lived in South America off and on for years. I also speak Portuguese, French, and several demon tongues. Now answer my question.”
 
“Oh.” Buffy stared at him with newly aware eyes. “I’m… I kinda suck at it, but it’s only Spanish II, so we won’t have to do anything real complicated. And if I don’t pass it, I can just take it again next year. It’s an elective.”
 
Spike rustled around until he located the sheet that said what was going to be on the Spanish exam and the practice exam sheet with it. “Here. Give this a shot.”
 
“Isn’t it dark now? Shouldn’t I patrol or… or something?”
 
His only response was a growl as he shoved the paper closer to her.
 
“Sheesh! Who died and made you boss?” she grumbled as she stared at the fill-in-the-blanks questions.  Spike held up another page with a list of words.
 
“See how you do on your own, then you can have this to correct your mistakes.”
 
“I don’t think I like you very much,” she said as she started writing. “I might have to stake you when I’m finished with these exams.”
 
“Lookin’ forward to that attempt, Slayer. In the meantime—”
 
XXXXX
 
An hour later, Spike agreed that they should probably go out and patrol before they ended up killing each other.
 
“But when we come back, I’m going to go through the first two acts of Macbeth so we can finish it tomorrow night.”
 
“I think I hate you again,” Buffy said as she filled her pockets with stakes and debated taking a sword.
 
“Mutual” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody so determined to pretend she’s dumber than she looks. Take the sword,” he added when she hesitated. Glaring at him in defiance, she stomped out the door, leaving him to follow, muttering about how not everything she might have to face could be staked.
 
XXXXX
 
By the time they had cleared out two cemeteries including breaking up some sort of demon ritual, and Buffy had reluctantly thanked Spike for bringing the sword along, they had stopped snapping at each other. They rested atop a big crypt and looked up at the sky. Even with the light pollution from Sunnydale, the stars were very visible and bright if they looked in the direction of the desert and not toward downtown. Buffy flopped down on her back to gaze at them without making her neck ache, and Spike lowered himself to sit beside her.
 
“I’ll bet you know all about them too, don’t you?” she asked, waving her hand at the sky and without the edge in her voice she’d had earlier.
 
“A fair amount,” he admitted, smirking at her answering huff of annoyance.
 
“I knew you would, smartass.”
 
“In all fairness to you, luv, back in my day there wasn’t as much to do and know. No telly, no radio or phones, no movies…. People had to make their own entertainment. Readin’, studying the stars, things like that were easier to do without distractions.”
 
“Huh. And you weren’t a slayer, so you had lots of time to yourself to do things.”
 
“That I did, pet. That I did.” Something in his voice brought a sharp sideways glance from her, but he was staring at the horizon and didn’t notice her look.
 
“I guess we did enough tonight. Do you think we should go to Giles’ and see what he said to my mom?”
 
“It’s up to you, Slayer. I need to pick up some blood, and some cash, so I’ll be swinging by Willy’s. Be happy to walk with you to the watcher’s first, though.”
 
“You’re not coming home with me? I mean, back to the mansion, not like home home.”
 
“Knew what you meant,” he said gruffly. And it is your home now. All vamp-proofed and whatnot. You won’t need the guard dog all night anymore.  I can go amuse myself with adult activities.”
 
Adult activities? What the hell is an adult activity?”
 
“Drinkin’, gamblin’, if I’m lucky, maybe a little—never mind. Just stuff you wouldn’t enjoy watching me do.”
 
Buffy sat up and put her arms around herself. “I didn’t realize I’ve been cramping your style,” she said stiffly.  “I’ll take myself to Giles’ and you can just go do… whatever adult things you think you need to.”
 
He shook his head. “I don’t need to do any of it,” he said. “Forget about it. We’ve got two acts of Macbeth to go over yet tonight. Almost forgot. I’ll just pick up my blood and meet you back at the house.”
 
“Don’t do me any favors,” she snapped, standing up and then jumping gracefully to the ground. “I’ll just read the damn play myself.” She marched off toward the mansion rather than Giles’s apartment, leaving Spike snarling on the roof, glaring, but fighting the urge to chase after her.
 
XXXXXX[Sp1] 
 
When he got home, hours later and after having won enough money to keep himself in the human blood he would hide from Buffy, he stopped when he got to the hallway. Buffy’s door was open and she was sound asleep, her face on her literature book. He shook his head and went to put away his blood, returning to see that she hadn’t moved. Sighing quietly, he entered the room with the silence of a born predator and carefully pulled the heavy book out from under her head. Glancing down, he saw that it was open to the beginning of the second act.  He set the book on the floor and studied her for a second before he gently lifted her head and slid the pillow under it.  He pulled up the covers and stroked her hair with a light touch before standing up and moving away.
 
He was just closing the door behind him when her voice drifted out. 
 
“Spike?”
 
“It’s me, luv. Go back to sleep.”
 
“I read some of it,” she mumbled.
 
“Know that. We’ll get the rest of it later. You need to sleep now so you can ace those tests tomorrow.”
 
“’K. Night, Spike.”
 
“Goodnight, Buffy.”  He closed the door and stood outside wondering when he’d gone from wanting to kill her to wanting to keep her safe forever. “This can’t end well,” he whispered to himself as he went to his own room.
 
 
XXXX[Sp2] 
 
Spike was sound asleep when Buffy got up in the morning and had a shower and breakfast. She took a quick look at the math worksheet and the Spanish vocabulary list, then tucked them both inside Willow’s notebooks on those subjects and began the walk to Sunnydale High School.
 
When she arrived, she gave Willow’s notebooks back, smiled and nodded at her “Good luck, Buffy” and went into the library where Giles was just setting up chairs for her and the few other students who had missed one or the other of the two exams being given that day. 
 
“Hi, Giles.  Sorry I didn’t come by last night, but I had to study. How did it go with my mom yesterday?”
 
“Good morning, Buffy. I think I made some progress. At a minimum, she no longer believes us to be delusional. I’m not sure exactly what made her change her mind so abruptly, but—”
 
“Come on, Giles. You know as well as I do that Spike flashed some fang at her. I told him not to do that, but he doesn’t listen very well.”
 
“I’ve no doubt that’s true,” Giles said with a wry twist to his mouth. “But in this case, it may have been the proof your mother needed to be willing to listen.  We had quite a lengthy discussion about slayers, watchers, the Council, and so on. I believe it went as well as we could hope for at this point. I sent her home with some literature about vampires, other slayers through the years, as well as the information she would have received had you been identified as a potential at a younger age.”
 
“Well, we’ll see I guess. She’ll either let me come home or she won’t.”
 
“You seem remarkably unperturbed about it,” he commented quietly.
 
Buffy sighed. “I’ve had all this time to get used to being on my own and I’m doing okay—” She stopped herself and flashed him a smile. “Well, I’m doing okay because you and Spike are keeping me in food, but you know—”
 
Spike is feeding you?”
 
Buffy shrugged. “He gives me money to buy his blood and cigarettes, and whatever’s left is mine to use for grocery shopping. It works out okay. It was a little ooky at first. I mean, I feel weird enough asking you for money, without having some guy I hardly know buying me dinner and stuff, but I got used to it.”
 
“I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the idea of a vampire supporting you.”
 
“It’s fine, Giles. He has lots of money and he’s not… I mean, he hasn’t…. He wouldn’t—it’s all cool. Kinda like having an older brother or something.”
 
“It would be the ‘or something’ that concerns me. And that would give your mother nightmares,” he added. “Given that she is already aware that Angel, who was far older than Spike—”
 
“Spike is nothing like Angel!” Buffy surprised them both by her vehement defense of her housemate. “Nothing like him,” she continued in a quieter tone. “He’s… he’s not like that.”
 
“Buffy….” Giles looked pained, but clearly was fumbling to find the words he needed.
 
“Relax, Giles. I’m not a naïve child. I know what you mean. And I know Spike isn’t some… whatever you call those guys who can’t….  He’s a man. I get that. I remember when he acted like a pig around me most of the time. And I’m not sure the fight we had last night wasn’t because he wanted some time to go look for—”
 
She shook her head.  “But who or whatever he was before he was turned, he wasn’t the thug my mother thinks he is. And he treats me with respect.”  She flashed a grin. “Of course, that might be because he knows I could kill him if he tried anything.”
 
“No doubt that figures into his good manners,” Giles sighed. “Ah, here are your fellow exam takers.  Everyone take a seat, please.”

 [Sp1]  [Sp2]
 
Chapter Eight
 
CHAPTER EIGHT
 
Having been given strict instructions not to allow Buffy into the cafeteria with the “good students”, Giles brought her a tray of food to eat between tests. She nibbled on her slice of pizza and poked at the unidentifiable green things on the tray.
 
“Are these vegetables?”
 
He peered over his glasses. “Possibly?” He went back to his own lunch that he’d brought from home.  “How do you think you did this morning?”
 
Buffy shrugged. “I think I passed. The next one’s going to be trickier, but I don’t need it as much.”
 
“Spanish?”
 
“Yeah. Spike and I went over the information yesterday, but I didn’t remember very much about grammar and stuff. I think I’ve got most of the words memorized, but—”
 
“Is he helping you study?” Giles’s expression made his thoughts about that plain to see.
 
“Yeah. He says he’s old and he knows stuff, but I think he knows stuff because he learned it a long time ago. Anyway, he’s going to read Macbeth to me tonight so I can ace my English exam.”
 
“I believe the Watchers’ Diaries may have some rather large gaps in their information about William the Bloody.”
 
Buffy giggled.
 
“Pardon?”
 
“Spike says the Watchers’ Diaries only have what he wants them to have. He told people things just to mess with the Council. Starting a long time ago when he was a fledgling. He did it mostly to make Angel—Angelus mad, but then he decided it was fun so he kept it up.”
 
Giles made a sound very similar to a growl as he cleared away his meal and greeted the new students coming in to take the Spanish exam.
 
XXXXX
 
As soon as Buffy had finished as much of the Spanish exam as she could, she stood up, stretched, and carried it up to Giles.  She looked around the room to see that she was almost the last one to finish and shook her head as she handed it to him.
 
“Here you go. For what it’s worth.”
 
“You don’t think you did well?”
 
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Doing well will mean I didn’t get an “F”, Giles. Let’s just go with that thought, huh?”
 
He nodded. “Well, you tried.  Tomorrow is the English Literature exam, something I wish you’d had time to work on with me….”
 
“I’m pretty sure William the bloody pain-in-my-ass is going be just as much a slave-driver as you would.” Buffy smiled at Giles to show she was just kidding, but his expression didn’t indicate he was amused.  “Don’t worry, Giles. I’m actually in pretty good shape in that class. I really liked the poetry parts, and the only thing I have to worry about is this stupid play I haven’t read.”
 
“That would be Macbeth, one of William Shakespeare’s most well-known plays,” he said dryly.
 
“Well, yeah. But Spike knows it and he’s going to explain it to me so I’ll know enough not to completely crash and burn on that part of the exam.”
 
“Fine. I suppose you should go back to your—one hopes, temporary—home and begin your studies again. What do you have in the afternoon tomorrow?”
 
“Um…. Government, I think?  Guess Spike won’t be too useful there, but I have Willow’s notebooks, so I’ll be okay. I didn’t miss that class as many times as I did the morning ones.”
 
She waited until the other two students had turned in their tests and left, then said, “Did you hear from my mom again today?”
 
“No. But we didn’t really make another appointment to meet. She has a lot of reading material to work through and understand. I suspect she is still struggling with the idea that your life can have been so complicated for so long without her knowing about it.”
 
“You know, I tried to tell them—Mom and Dad—when I first got called and found out what I was. I told them about vampires and demons and slayers, and Merrick was going to talk to them for me, but then he got killed and I had to set fire to the gym, and all they wanted to know was what gang I belonged to.”  Buffy sighed. “It was just easier to lie than to be hustled off to a psychiatrist.”
 
“Well, I believe it is going to take some time. The fact that she is willing to listen to us is a step in the right direction. If she follows up with questions, that will be an even better sign. But I believe we must be patient with her. As long as you have a safe place to sleep and food to eat—Have you got food for tonight?”
 
“Um, yes. I got some frozen dinners yesterday, so I can just stick them in the microwave while I study.”
 
Giles nodded, picking up the folders in which he’d put the exams. “Well, I need to return these to the appropriate teachers, and you should go home and try to learn about Scottish kings.”
 
“’K. See you in the morning.  We’ll take a break tonight and do a short patrol.”
 
We?”
 
 “Yeah, turns out if Spike and I try to work together too long, we end up fighting and threatening to kill each other, so now we know to take a break and go kill other things. Then we can go home and study some more.”  Buffy gave Giles a smile and waved as she walked out of the library.
 
XXXX
 
“I think it’s about time to go kill something big and nasty, Slayer.”
 
“You mean bigger and nastier than you?” Buffy cut her eyes at him, realizing she’d probably pushed him too far.
 
He just growled and stood up, although she noticed he put the book down almost as carefully as Giles might have.
 
“It’s that or I rip your heart out and feed it to you,” he snarled.
 
“Oh. Well, I won’t do very good on the exam if I’m bleeding, so I guess we better go find something else for you to kill.”  Buffy tucked her stakes away and made a big show of picking up a sword.  She waited for him by the door, resisting the urge to tap her foot.
 
Muttering in a barely audible voice about disrespectful bints who didn’t appreciate a good thing when they had it, he gestured for her to precede him out the door. Buffy had long since become accustomed to Spike’s automatic manners and didn’t even blink at turning her back on the vampire who’d just threatened to eviscerate her.
 
In spite of their good intentions, the only slayable candidates they found were a few newly risen vampires still blinking the dirt out of their eyes and wondering where they were.  Buffy disposed of each one with a minimum of quipping and to slow applause from Spike.
 
“Very efficient, Slayer,” he said as they resumed walking.
 
Buffy smiled. “Well, no sense wasting time when we haven’t found anything for you to kill yet.”
 
Spike held out a hand to stop her, obviously listening hard.  “Somebody’s cryin’ over in that direction, Slayer,” he said, pointing away from the cemetery.
 
“I guess we should go see what’s going on,” Buffy said as she picked up speed.
 
“I know exactly what’s going on,” he snarled as he took off at top vampire speed, leaving Buffy shocked and staring after him.
 
She began to run, knowing her top speed wasn’t equal to his, but confident she wouldn’t be far behind.  She got to the alley he’d disappeared into in time to find a disheveled and crying girl running out.
 
“What’s wrong?” Buffy grabbed the frightened girl’s arm. “Was it a vampire?”
 
The girl stared at her with wide eyes. “N…no. Boys. Boys I don’t know. They—but then this other guy showed up and he told me to run, so I did and—” 
 
“Stay here!” 
 
Buffy ran into the alley, sure she was going to find blood everywhere, only to find Spike standing over a moaning, but very much alive, teenaged boy while facing a confused group of his friends.
 
“Who’s next?” he said, sounding almost cheerful as he bounced on the balls of his feet.
 
Buffy was surprised to see he wasn’t wearing his fangs. He looked very much like a punkish human man, and a not particularly large one at that.  She could see from the expression on the other boys’ faces that they were thinking the same thing.
 
“He got lucky,” the largest one snarled. “Let’s get him! We’ll teach him to be a hero, and then we’ll teach that bitch—”
 
Buffy stepped up beside Spike. “Is this what it looks like?”
 
“If you mean, did I interrupt an attempt to gang-rape that girl, yeah.”
 
“Really?” Buffy turned a slayer’s hard stare onto the oblivious boys. “These guys?” As she spoke, Buffy recognized at least one of the boys at the same time as he saw her.
 
“Hey, it’s that weird blonde bitch that’s always in trouble with Snyder. The one that hangs in the library with the other freaks.”
 
“He’s mine,” she said to Spike. “You can have the rest if you promise not to kill anybody.”
 
The boys hesitated for a second, confused by the conversation, as well as Buffy and Spike’s obvious lack of concern at being outnumbered.  But confident in their numbers and their size and sex, they moved forward.
 
“Just wait your turn, blondie,” the first boy said. “You’ll do in place of the one your boyfriend here let get away.”
 
Moving too quickly for them to react, Spike grabbed that one by his shirt and tossed him one-handed to Buffy.
 
“Here you go, Slayer. Don’t say I never gave you anything.”  Not waiting to see what Buffy was planning to do with her catch, he met the advancing boys with a grin. He danced around, throwing short jabs at their faces while remaining out of reach of their attempts at retaliation. He mocked the boys as he seemed to be punching them at will. Buffy could tell he was just playing with them because if he’d been using his full strength, they would have all been unconscious or dead after the first punch.
 
She held onto the arm of the boy who’d recognized her, shaking him when he struggled to get away.  “Stop that! I’m not letting you go until I can turn you over to the cops.”
 
“Who the hell do you think you are?” he snarled, seemingly unaware of the unrelenting grip Buffy had on his bicep. “I’ll give you cops—urk!” Buffy’s other hand was now around his throat and she was shaking him again as she held him over her head with his toes barely touching the ground.
 
“I think I’m the girl who’s going to see that you’re arrested for attempted rape,” she said, punctuating each word with another shake. “But I’m not too fussy about whether you’re walking or conscious when I do it.” With one hand on his neck and the other still on his arm, she tossed him against the brick wall of the alley, then leaned her back against it to watch Spike.
 
He’d tired of playing with the friends and decided to give them a bigger taste of what they were dealing with. He stopped dancing around and waited until they all rushed him before going into his vampire mien. Their momentum carried them toward him, now screaming and fighting each other to get away from the monster suddenly facing them.
 
When they tried to run past him, he moved too quickly, blocking the way no matter which one was trying to run. Whichever direction a kid tried to run, Spike was there, grinning through his fangs as they cried and begged to be allowed to live.  One boy, who hadn’t noticed what happened to the would-be rapist Spike had tossed to Buffy, rushed at her, and pushed his arm against her throat to hold her against the wall.  
 
“Let us go, or your girlfriend gets a broken neck!”
 
Spike cocked his head at Buffy and raised a wrinkled eyebrow. “That right, Slayer? I take it that one doesn’t know who you are.”  He laughed as Buffy removed the boy’s arm as easily as if it was a scarf and twisted it until he fell to his knees. “Guess he’ll find out,” he said, turning his attention back to the remaining four boys who were cowering against the other wall.
 
“Pretty stupid of you boys not to recognize the Slayer when you see her. And really stupid to hang out in alleys after dark.  Do you know what lurks in dark alleys in Sunnydale?”  When they didn’t answer, he sighed. “It’s things like me, you stupid gits. See, the problem with that is, they’ll be hungry. Fact is, I’m a bit peckish myself.” He leaned over them, licking his lips and smiling as they started to cry again. “Good thing for you, I have to answer to that little girl there. Have you met her?”
 
Buffy waved cheerfully from her spot by the wall, still holding the arm of the boy on his knees and standing with one foot on the neck of her original assailant. “Hi. I’m Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I don’t kill humans, but I’m pretty sure it’s okay for me to beat them up if they deserve it.”
 
“I’m a vampire,” Spike added, somewhat unnecessarily. “And I do kill people. Kill ‘em, eat ‘em. Sometimes I kill them for the fun of it.”  He let his human face come to the fore. “Sometimes I kill them because they are bloody cowards who would try to harm little girls.” They shrank away from him, even though he once again looked more like an average-sized man.
 
“What do you want to do with them, luv?” he asked, glancing at Buffy. “I don’t feature hanging out here all night just to keep them from getting into any more mischief.”
 
“Attempted gang rape isn’t ‘mischief’, Spike,” Buffy snapped. She focused her glare on the boys in front him and watched as they suddenly grasped that the monster was deferring to her. And that she wasn’t pleased. “Let’s just knock them out and tell the cops where to find them. We can take the girl to the station.”
 
Before it even registered that a decision had been reached, Buffy’s two captives had been knocked out and Spike was systematically punching his four into oblivion.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Nine
 
 
CHAPTER NINE
 
“So, good deed done for the night?” 
 
Buffy nodded as she walked beside Spike, leaving the girl they’d rescued with two officers in the police car they’d flagged down. Fortunately, one of them had seemed to recognize Buffy, and there were no awkward questions when she directed them to the alley and said they should find most, if not all, of the girl’s attackers there.
 
“How come the copper I rescued you from not that long ago wanted to shoot you, and this one just nods his head and trots off to do your bidding?”
 
“Sometimes, in the course of doing my job, I have to… rescue… a cop or two. And some of Sunnydale’s finest know more than others about what really goes on here after dark. The guy you clocked was just doing his job, trying to arrest a murder suspect. He didn’t know me. This guy does—or at least he knows that I exist.”
 
“Your life might be a lot easier if people did know, wouldn’t it?”
 
“Maybe. Or maybe everybody in town would be hysterical all the time and I’d be worn out answering false alarms.  Giles says it’s really important to limit how many people know about vamps and demons…. And me.”
 
“Maybe….” Spike said, obviously thinking of something from his past. “But in places where they still know about demons and vampires, slayers aren’t a secret and their parents, if they have them, are proud of them.”
 
If they have them?”
 
“I think a lot of girls who get called, or are potential slayers, are orphans. Just makes it easier to explain why they’re living with and being raised by someone other than their parents, I reckon. It’s probably a little harder to get away with that in this country where people like your mum would think the worst of a man raising a young girl he wasn’t related to.”
 
“You really know a lot about us, don’t you?”  Buffy frowned at him.
 
“Know your enemy, love,” he said. “You study us, I study you.”
 
“Humph! I’m not sure how I feel about that.” She glared at him. “Is that what you’re doing now? Studying me?”
 
“What I’m doing now, is taking you home so you can study an over-ambitious Scottish lord.”
 
“That’s changing the subject.”
 
“That it is.” He strode off, not waiting to see if she was going to keep up with him.
 
XXXX
 
“Stay with me, Slayer. This is the last act.”
 
Buffy turned glazed eyes on him. “I need to move around. I’m falling asleep.” At his disappointed expression, she hastened to add, “It’s not you! If you weren’t reading this to me and acting out the parts, I’d have been face down in the book again a long time ago. But I just can’t sit still this long.”
 
“Okay, luv. Fair enough. What say we go out in the courtyard and spar a little?”
 
“For real?”
 
“Well, I’m not thinking ‘to the death’, but yeah. Let’s see how we do now that we know each other so much better.”
 
“Okay!” Buffy jumped up and ran to the door.
 
“Shoes off, pet,” Spike said as he followed her out and toed off his own boots. “Don’t want to hurt you.”
 
Buffy paused. “Who are you and what have you done with Spike?”
 
He grinned. “Well, don’t want to hurt so bad you can’t take the bloody exam tomorrow, or mess up your pretty face.”
 
“So, my face and the fingers on my writing hand are the only things off limits?”  She grinned right back at him.  “What about you? Any body parts you want me to leave untouched?” She blinked innocently, but the grin gave her away.
 
“You can touch any body parts you want, luv. I’ll even offer suggestions if you think you missed anything.” He leered at her, laughing when she couldn’t control her blush, even though she tried to ignore it as she responded.
 
“You do that,” she said, proud that her steady voice didn’t match her flaming face. “You let me know if I miss anything important.”
 
Taking advantage of the way his eyes glazed over for a moment, Buffy swept his legs out from under him and pounced on him before he’d even hit the floor. However, she never completed her staking motion as he was already rolling before they hit the ground. She found herself beneath him, his mouth on her throat and his body weight briefly pinning her down. She had a second or two of surprise at how good his lips felt against her skin, and she almost relaxed under his muscular body. Then she felt the unmistakable bulge pressing against her stomach and reacted without thinking.
 
Spurred on by more than just the fear of a vampire’s mouth on her throat, Buffy bucked and struggled until she’d thrown him off and they were lying side-by-side in almost the same position they’d been in when they closed Acathla. She struggled to regain control of her breathing, knowing she’d completely over-reacted to what was probably, on his part, an involuntary reaction to their bantering.
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
They spoke simultaneously, then gave identical sighs.
 
“I know what I’m sorry for, Slayer, but don’t know what you’re apologizing for. A vampire had his mouth on your throat and you got out of it. Good on you, I say.”
 
Buffy didn’t speak for a moment. “I wasn’t worried you were going to bite me,” she whispered, feeling her face flush again.
 
He growled. “That wasn’t about…. Maybe I should have warned you what happens when we fight or when I watch you fight. I did have a stiffy, still have it, truth be told. But I wasn’t going to…. I would never…. It’s just something that happens to me when I fight. You didn’t need to be afraid of it. Of me.” The pain in his voice was almost palpable.
 
She rolled her head to the side to meet his gaze. “I know that. I don’t know what happened to me. It’s not like I’m some little virgin who—”
 
“You’re the next thing to it, Buffy. I don’t expect you to be a woman of the world, even if you do try to act like it. But I thought by now you might trust me enough to—”
 
“I do trust you, Spike.” She reached her hand toward his face, dropping it before actually touching him.  “That’s why I apologized. I over-reacted to something I should have been able to shrug off. You surprised me, that’s all, and I freaked out.”
 
“Well, the freaking out allowed you to throw me off like a leaf, so maybe you should add that to your little arsenal of slayer tricks.”
 
Buffy sat up and laughed softly. “I’ll think about it. Don’t think I’ll share it with Giles though.”
 
“And my unstaked heart thanks you for that,” he said, smiling at her as he sat up.  “Are we alright then?”
 
“I think so. Are we?”
 
“I am. But I think we’d best get back to Scotland and leave the sparring for another time.”
 
“I guess so.”
 
They didn’t look at each other as they picked up their shoes and padded back to the kitchen in their socks.
 
XXXXXX
 
“So what do you think, Slayer? Are you going to be able to remember enough to pass the exam?”
 
Buffy stretched and rubbed her eyes. “I think so. I’m glad I had you here to explain it to me, though. Otherwise….”
 
“Glad to be of service,” he said as he stood up. “You should probably try to get some sleep. Morning’s going to be here before you know it.”
 
She sighed. “I know.  And I’ve still got to go over Willow’s Government notes while I eat lunch so I don’t mess up that exam.” She shook her head. “I don’t know who I’m kidding. One more year of school to go, and I’ll probably miss most of that spring semester too.” She laughed. “And Mom thinks I’m going to college. What a dream that is.”
 
“There’s a university right here in Sunnydale, isn’t there?”
 
“Yeah. UC Sunnydale. It’s a branch of the University of California.”
 
“You could go there and still be the slayer.”
 
“You’re assuming I’m going to live that long, Spike. And that my mom will still be willing to support me.”
 
“Your mum’ll come around,” he said, leaving the other part of her comment alone.
 
“We’ll see. Anyway, I need to finish 11th grade first, so I’m off to bed.”
 
“Goodnight, luv. And good luck if I don’t see you in the morning.”
 
“Night, Spike. And thank you.”
 
“My pleasure.”
 
XXXXX
 
 
Two days later, Buffy burst into the house shouting Spike’s name. He ran out of his room barefoot, pants barely on, no shirt, and with his hair sticking up all over his head.
 
“What? What’s wrong?” He stared around, looking for the source of her distress, only to find her leaping into the arms he reflexively put around her.
 
“Nothing! Nothing is wrong. I just passed all my exams. And I got an A on the English Lit. She was impressed with my ‘deep understanding’ of the play!  We did it!”
 
She wrapped him in a full body hug, remembering too late that he wasn’t really dressed. Before she could let go, he returned the hug, picking her up and spinning her around.
 
“Good job, Slayer! You did it!”
 
We did it, Spike. You did it.”
 
Buffy could feel her color rising as she felt his bare skin against her arms and remembered she was being held by an almost naked man. She loosened her grip, and he immediately let go and allowed her to drop to the floor.  They each turned away, equally uncomfortable with their demonstration.
 
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said, her face once again red. “I didn’t mean to molest you like that. I was just happy and grateful.”
 
“You don’t seriously think you need to apologize for that, do you?” he said gruffly. “I’m happy to hear it went well. And I’d never turn down a chance to…. Nevermind.”
 
“Yeah, well, I was just so excited and…. There’s nothing wrong with it anyway. We’re friends. Sort of. And friends hug each other when they’re happy.” She glared at him as if daring him to contradict her.
 
“That they do, pet,” he said, as he picked up a shirt. “Never thought otherwise.” He pulled the shirt over his head, fastened the top button on his jeans, and ran his fingers through his hair.
 
“Oh. Okay. Well good.” Telling herself she was not, definitely not sorry that he’d put a shirt on, Buffy said, “I think we should celebrate, don’t you?”
 
“What did you have in mind, luv?” Spike took a bag of blood from the fridge and began to fix his breakfast.
 
“Uh, I don’t know. I guess I didn’t get that far. The gang is going to the Bronze, and I don’t know if you’d want.…”
 
“Doubt I’d be welcome in that crowd, pet.  Why don’t you just meet your friends, and we’ll tell ourselves ‘job well done’ and let it go at that.”
 
“You’re my friend too,” she said, her lower lip coming out in a pout. “You’re smushing my excitement.”
 
“Just trying to be realistic, Buffy. Your friends don’t know me, and they won’t be happy to be sharing a drink with me, or to see you with me, for that matter. You deserve a proper celebration with your classmates.”
 
“I told them you were my tutor. They know you’re why I passed all those tests. Even Giles said I should thank you.”
 
He sighed and sat down with his mug of blood. “Tell you what, luv. You go on to the Bronze and meet your friends and I’ll come by a little later. If they don’t pull out the torches and pitchforks right away, we’ll see how it goes. If it gets too uncomfortable for everybody, I’ll just take myself off to Willy’s and celebrate with my own kind.”
 
Buffy snorted. “I’m sure everybody there will be real excited to hear I’m going to be a senior next year.”
 
“They will be if they know what’s good for them,” he growled, coughing when she stared at him. “I mean, far as I know, with Angelus gone, I’m back to being the master of Sunnydale. If I’m celebratin’, everybody should be celebrating.”
 
“I never thought about that. Are you the master of Sunnydale? Like the Master was the master?”
 
He snorted. “Nothin’ like old Batface. And don’t want to be, to be honest. Don’t need the responsibility. But I’m the oldest vamp in the city and I’d already done in his wannabe replacements when I first got here, so I’m kind of Master by default.”
 
Buffy laughed. “If you tell them you’ve been helping the slayer with her schoolwork and saving human girls from gangs, you might have a revolt on your hands.”
 
He laughed with her. “Might at that,” he agreed. “But that’d give me an excuse to get a workout. It’s been a while since I was in a good fight.”
 
Buffy turned away, trying not to look like she was remembering what happened to him when they sparred.  She could feel Spike’s eyes on her, but when she didn’t look in his direction, he sighed and went back to his blood.
 
“Just go on, Slayer. I’ll meet you there after the sun’s gone down.”
 
“Okay. I’m just gonna go get ready and then I’ll leave.”
 
He didn’t respond, just took his mug and went back to his room, leaving her to stare after him.
 
 
XXXX
 
 
“Hey, Buffster, who do you keep looking around for?” Xander asked.
 
Buffy took a deep breath and looked at her two best friends and Cordelia. “Guys… I guess I should tell you before he gets here….”  She smiled nervously. “I asked Spike to come. He’s the reason I did so well on those tests, and he deserves to be part of the celebration.”
 
“Spike? Tried to kill you several times, Spike?”
 
“Xander, you know I’ve been living with him since we stopped Acatha. I mean, not living with living with, but you know, sharing a house. He’s… we’re sort of… friends.”
 
“A truce does not make you friends, Buffy. I think you need to check your dictionary.”
 
“A truce is why we had a chance to become friends,” Buffy said. She sighed, then continued, “I’m not asking you to be best buddies with him, just let him join us for a while and help me celebrate.”
 
“I think it’ll be okay,” Willow said loyally. “He was… nice… when I went over to do the disinvite.”
 
“Nice. A nice vampire. A nice vampire that kills slayers.” Xander glared at her. “Tell me, Buffy, how many people has this ‘nice’ vampire killed since you made a truce with him?”
 
“Haven’t killed anybody yet, wanker, but I’m willing to make an exception of you.” Spike’s threat was all the more deadly-sounding for the quiet tone in which he said it. He stood behind Xander’s chair and raised his eyebrows at Buffy.
 
Xander squealed and moved closer to Buffy, leaving Cordy to gaze at Spike speculatively. “You see!”
 
“I see that you’re not giving him a chance,” Buffy said. She sighed. “Please, Xan? Just try….”
 
He didn’t answer her, only picked up his drink and moved away, grabbing Cordelia’s arm as he did so. “We’re moving,” he said. “I don’t socialize with bloodsuckers.” Cordy gave Spike a glance, sniffing haughtily when he looked her up and down and licked his lips. She followed Xander to another table where they sat by themselves, glaring at Buffy and Willow.
 
Spike pulled out a chair and sat down, adding his beer to the soft drinks already on the table.  “Well, that went well,” he said. “Thanks for not leaving, Red.”
 
Willow flushed and nodded even as she tried to make excuses for Xander’s behavior. “Xander lost his best friend—other than me—to vampires last year. Jesse got turned and Xander had to stake him. He’s still pretty bummed about it, and then Angel went all evil on us, and….”
 
“’S alright, luv. I expect my grandsire left a bad taste in a lot of mouths. Don’t expect anyone to take me to their bosom and start trusting me. Don’t want it, to tell the truth. As long as the Slayer trusts me, that’s all I need.”
 
Willow nodded and raised her Coke. “So, here’s to Buffy who managed to pass all her exams even though she missed almost a month of school this year.”
 
Spike raised his beer and lightly touched Willow’s glass. “Slayer?”
 
Buffy stopped glaring at Xander long enough to raise her own glass and tap it against theirs. “Yay me,” she said. “And yay Spike, who helped me.”
 
They all took big drinks, then Buffy and Willow placed their glasses down again. Spike kept his tipped up, and Buffy and Willow watched in fascination as Spike’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed. When the glass was empty, he set it down and saw how they were staring at him.
 
“What? That’s how it’s done if it’s a proper toast.”
 
“If you say so.” Willow looked dubious.
 
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him, saying, “You just made that up.”
 
“Maybe. Maybe not.” He grinned at her, then sobered. “But we’ve celebrated, and it’s goin’ about as well as I’d expected, so I’m just going to move on to a bar where I might be welcome. And if I’m not, I can beat something up.”
 
Buffy sighed and sent another glare in Xander’s direction. “Okay. Well, thanks for coming. I guess I’ll see you when I get home. I’m going to patrol in Restfield on the way back to the house… in case you get bored at Willy’s.”
 
“Duly noted, Slayer.” He stood up and nodded to Willow. “Thanks for the welcome, Red. You’re a good friend to the Slayer.”
 
“Goodnight, Spike.”
 
Without any more conversation with Buffy, he turned and walked toward the exit, pausing at Xander’s table to growl, “Stop being a wanker and go support your friend who saves your life every other day.  You too, cheerleader,” he added, then winked at Cordelia. “You could do better than this loser. You let me know if you want to move up the food chain.”   Leaving Xander sputtering, he laughed and walked out the door.
 
 
Chapter Ten
 
CHAPTER TEN
 
 
Spike walked into Willy’s and went straight to the bar, shoving a small demon off a stool.
 
“Jack and O Neg, and keep ‘em coming.”
 
“Decided to come out for your drinking tonight?” Willy said, putting a glass in front of Spike and pouring a bottled mixture of whiskey and blood into it. “Haven’t seen you for a few days.”
 
“Decided to do my drinking where I can enjoy some company.” As he spoke, he was swiveling on his stool and surveying the room.  He nodded to a wrinkled demon he’d known since he first came to Sunnydale, and looked over the female vampires and demons scattered around the room. He dismissed the obvious vamp prostitutes and the less than human-looking demons, focusing on the few female vampires who were eyeing him back. He picked up his drink and the bottle and walked to the booth where two reasonably pretty ones were smiling at him.
 
Spike drank and flirted with the two vamps for a while, but eventually got bored. Even though the blonde one was rubbing her bare foot up his leg, he found himself with no noticeable interest in pursuing things with her. He told himself it was due to loyalty to Dru, his one true love, and steadfastly refused to acknowledge the little voice whispering how often being around Buffy made his cock stand up and pay attention.
 
Giving the girls a story about needing to be somewhere else, he left them disappointed but hopeful for the future.  As he left the bar, taking the bottle of mixed booze and blood with him, he wandered toward Restfield, taking occasional drinks from the bottle. A flash of fangs at a wino who followed him for a while, insisting he needed to share, was all it took to eliminate that problem.
 
“Probably could have given myself a good buzz just off his blood,” he grumbled to himself as he entered the cemetery, following the sounds of battle. “Don’t know why I didn’t—oh yeah. There’s why.”
 
He sat on a small monument and watched as Buffy whirled and quipped her way through a small group of vampires. As so often happened, the body part that had been so disinterested in the girls at Willy’s was soon hardening into its usual response to watching Buffy in action. He shifted uncomfortable and adjusted himself as he watched her finish them off.
 
Keeping his coat closed over his obvious condition, he stood up and managed a one-handed clap when the last one’s dust had drifted away.
 
She spun around, stake at the ready, then relaxed and smiled at him.
 
“No fun to be had at Willy’s either?” she asked.
 
“Not as much fun as watching you playin’ with poor ignorant fledglings,” he said, wincing to himself as she colored and looked away.
 
“Must have been a really slow night,” she mumbled. “If that’s more exciting than whatever, probably adult, activities you usually go there for.”
 
“I go there to drink and gamble, Slayer.” He held up his bottle. “Took some take-out with me of the one, and didn’t see any suckers to take money off for the other.”
 
“No lady vamps there, huh?” Her voice was casual, but the tenseness in her shoulders put the lie to her attempts to seem worldly and unconcerned.
 
Cursing himself for an idiot, he nevertheless said, “None that caught my eye like you do.” Trying to save the situation, he added, “Anyway, I’m a one-woman man. Always have been. I can wait till I find Dru again.”
 
“Right. Drusilla. I almost forgot why you’re still here.” Her eyes flew to his. “Did you say until you find her? Does that mean you’re not staying in Sunnydale?”
 
“Not my home, is it, Slayer? And we know she’s not coming back to me, so I’ll have to go to her.”
 
“Oh. Well, of course you will. That makes perfect sense. You should do that.” She started walking deeper into the cemetery, keeping her face turned away from him.
 
“Glad you agree,” he said as he fell into step beside her. “Care for some company for the rest of the evening?”
 
“Sure, that’ll be fun,” she said, still keeping her face where he couldn’t see it.
 
They walked along in silence until he finally said, “If you don’t want me to leave, Slayer, just say so. It’s not like I have to go running off right away. But I do have to leave eventually.”
 
Buffy sighed and stopped walking, finally turning to face him. “I know you do. But I… I’m used to having you around all the time, and I… I kinda like it. I don’t want to rattle around in that big old house all by myself.”
 
“I’ve got right used to you too, pet. But once your mum takes you back, and you and your little white hat pals are spending more time together, you won’t need an old vampire in your life. I don’t want to be alone there any more than you do.”
 
“I guess not.” She sounded dubious.
 
“You know it’s true, Slayer. This whole thing has been unnatural—sworn enemies forming a truce to save the world? Who ever heard of such a thing?”
 
“Yay us. We’re one of a kind.”
 
“I expect we are at that, luv.”
 
 
XXXXXX
 
When they’d cleaned out a nest and released all the captives with instructions not to pick cemeteries for moonlight picnics, without discussion, they began to walk toward the mansion. Buffy was uncharacteristically silent as she walked, glancing around from time to time. He assumed it was more from habit than because she thought there would be anything out this late at night stupid enough to take on both of them, but he extended his own senses just in case.
 
She took her key and unlocked the front door, mumbling her thanks as he automatically reached over her to hold it open.  He growled at the sound of several heartbeats coming from the kitchen.
 
“Wait here,” he said, moving silently in that direction.
 
She didn’t wait, of course, but made her own silent way to the entrance to their kitchen, stopping behind him.
 
“What the bloody hell are you humans doing in my kitchen?” Spike was in full vamp face as he burst into the room with a roar. “Are you stealing my booze?”
 
The two men who had been pulling bottles from the pantry froze, their faces grotesque in their fear. The bottles they were holding crashed to the floor, smashing and filling the air with the scent of Jack Daniels and increasing Spike’s snarls to incoherent sounds of rage.
 
“We… we thought there wasn’t anybody living here except her.” They pointed at Buffy, staring at them with wide eyes. 
 
Spike’s voice became, if anything, more fearsome as he stopped snarling to say, “And you think that made it okay to break in?” He stalked toward the men, now cowering against the fridge. “You think it’s okay to break into someone’s home because she’s just a little girl?” The cold menace in his voice felt good to him after so much time spent being gentle around Buffy and her friends. He inhaled deeply, grinning at the fear he could smell from the two would-be burglars.
 
“Uh, Spike… technically….” He ignored Buffy’s attempt to remind him she was more than capable of taking care of herself.
 
“Do you know how long it’s been since I tasted warm, fresh from the source, human blood?” he said as he loomed over them. “How wonderful it tastes when it’s full of fear and regret?” He reached out one hand and took hold of the closest man’s shirt, bringing his throat close to his face and the sharply pointed fangs so visible there.
 
Buffy stepped up beside him, not touching, but waiting while he struggled to control the demon demanding he take his revenge on the interlopers.  Through the rage and hunger, he could feel her beside him, not interfering, but obviously not planning to watch him kill. With a last snarl that felt more like a moan, he threw the man against fridge. Pointing to the whiskey-soaked floor and shattered glass, he growled, “Clean up this mess!”
 
He remained in game face the entire time they fumbled around the kitchen, finding the broom and dustpan, extra paper towels to soak up the whiskey, and doing their best to remove any trace of what they’d done. Buffy’s hand on his arm and her quiet “Thank you, I know that was hard” went a long way toward soothing his still-raging demon. He nodded, keeping his fangs, but ceasing the snarling.
 
When the two men had done what they could to remove the broken glass and spilled alcohol, they paused, trembling, waiting for more instructions.
 
“If I ever catch you within a mile of this house again, you’re going to die long, painful deaths. Is that clear?”  They nodded vigorously, hope beginning to glimmer in their eyes. “You might want to spread that word to the other lowlifes in Sunnyhell. This is William the Bloody’s home and he won’t tolerate intruders.”
 
Spike let his face go back to his human mien for the first time since he’d burst in on them. He put his arm around Buffy and pulled her closer. “You see this little girl?  The one you thought was the only one living here? She’s the lone reason your entrails aren’t hanging from my shower curtain right now. And not just because I don’t like to make her unhappy. It’s because she can kick my arse more often than not. Remember that the next time you think you’re safe breaking into someone’s home. You don’t know who or what’s waiting for you inside.”
 
“I think they get it, Spike,” Buffy said, sliding her arm around his waist and giving him a small squeeze. “Let it go. It’s been a long night.” To his disappointment, she let go as quickly as she’d put her arm around him.
 
“Right you are, love.” Dropping his own arm from her shoulders, he grabbed each man by the collar and marched them to the open kitchen door.  “I hope for your sake that door isn’t damaged,” he growled.  Shaking their heads and babbling, they assured him they hadn’t damaged it, just picked the rather simple lock. Without responding, he lifted and propelled them off the porch, through the air and into the yard.
 
He didn’t look back as they scrambled to their feet and took off running, but entered the house and busied himself with checking the door and closing it. He didn’t look at Buffy as he muttered about getting a better locking mechanism for it, but she finally came over and put her hand on his shoulder.
 
“It’s fine, Spike. It’s over. You scared the daylights out of them and I’m sure they’ll never be back.”
 
He stood up straight and met her eyes, taking the hand from his shoulder and bringing it to his lips briefly.
 
“You know if you hadn’t been here, they’d both be dead now, don’t you?”
 
She nodded. “But they aren’t, and the mess is almost cleaned up, and nobody got hurt, so I’m going to brush my teeth and go to bed.”
 
She hadn’t pulled her hand away, so he continued to hold it. “You should do that, pet. It’s going to be morning soon.”
 
“I’m gonna need my hand for that,” she said softly, still without pulling away, although she twitched it a little as she smiled.
 
“Right. Let go of the poor chit’s hand,” he muttered. As Buffy turned to go, he said, “Slayer, what I said about leaving….”
 
She stopped, her shoulders clearly tensing up. “Yes?”
 
“I’m not going anywhere until you’re safely back with your mum and we know it’s going to work out there.”
 
“You promise?” Her voice suddenly sounded much younger than before.
 
“I promise. Not leaving here until I know you have people who love you around.”
 
She nodded and kept walking to the bathroom.
 
“Even if they aren’t me,” he whispered, admitting to himself what he was just realizing.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Eleven
 
CHAPTER ELEVEN
 
Reuniting with her mother didn’t go quite as swiftly or as easily as Spike kept insisting it would. Although Joyce did talk to her on the phone once, and was apparently reading the notes Buffy still left for her, another full week went by without an invitation for Buffy to come home or any indication Joyce was even considering it.  So, when her mother showed up around lunchtime, knocking on the door of the mansion, Buffy didn’t know what to say to her.
 
“May I come in?” Joyce asked.
 
“Oh, of course. I’m sorry, Mom. I was just surprised.”
 
“I brought lunch.” Joyce held out a pizza box. “It might need to be warmed up, though. I hope you have an oven.”
 
“We have a microwave,” Buffy said, leading the way to the kitchen.
 
She missed the way Joyce flinched at hearing the “we”. 
 
“Here we are.” Buffy cleared some newspapers off the counter and made space for the pizza box.
 
“Who reads the paper?” Joyce frowned at it.
 
“Spike does sometimes, but that’s here because I was looking for some kind of summer job. It’s pretty boring just hanging out here all day. At least I can see Willow more now that school’s out, but she’s taking a class at UCS, so she’s still busy. And Xander has a job—”
 
“Where’s Spike?”
 
Buffy blinked at the sudden change of subject, then gestured to the hallway. “His room is down there. I’d guess he’s sleeping.”
 
“At noon?” Joyce frowned her disapproval.
 
Buffy just stared at her. “Mom. Spike is a vampire. I know you know that and I know he flashed his fangs at you last week. Vampires sleep in the daytime. It’s their thing. Prowl all night, sleep all day. Don’t you watch any horror movies?”
 
“Apparently I’ve been unwittingly living in one for many years,” Joyce said stiffly. “I don’t know enough about vampires to know what is real and what isn’t.”
 
“Sorry. I guess I’m just so used to—he’s asleep. That’s what he does in the daytime.”
 
“Oh.”
 
“Did you…do you want to talk to him? I can wake him up. He’ll be grumpy, but he
can—”
 
“No, no. That’s quite all right. I’m just trying to understand your life with him.”
 
Buffy rolled her eyes. “What do you mean, my ‘life with him’? We just share a very large house.” She frowned as she began to understand. “Do you think we’re sleeping together?”
 
“Well,” Joyce said stiffly. “I don’t know, do I? I thought you were on your own and it turns out you’re living in a house with a much older man…er…vampire.”
 
“In case you didn’t notice the weeds in the yard and the peeling paint, this house was abandoned. This is where Angelus was living with Spike and Dru when he decided to end the world. It’s where I… it’s where I killed him and sent him into the hell dimension he was trying to open. Right out there.” Buffy pointed to the just barely visible atrium.
 
“Spike and I had a truce. He would help me save the world from Acathla if I would let him take his girlfriend away.”
 
“And yet he is still here.”
 
“Yeah. Dru wasn’t real happy that Spike helped me kill her… Angelus. She ran away somewhere. He’s been afraid to leave here in case she comes back.”  Buffy bit her lip. “I think he’s getting over that, though. He wants to go look for her now.”
 
“Then why hasn’t he?” Joyce sniffed, then gave a small yelp as she received her answer from an unexpected direction.
 
“Because I’m not leaving the Slayer by herself until I know someone’s taking care of her.” Spike’s voice was cold and hard as he appeared in the entrance to the room, although his expression was reasonably friendly for a just-awakened vampire.
 
Buffy was grateful to see he’d put on a shirt and combed his hair, so he didn’t look like he’d just rolled out of bed, even though she knew he had. 
 
“I’m sorry, Spike. Were we too loud?” Buffy said.
 
“You weren’t exactly quiet, but it’s the smell of pizza that woke me up.”
 
 
 
 
 
Joyce frowned, moving so as to keep the counter between herself and the man she was finally starting to accept was a real-life monster.
 
“Do you want some? I thought vampires drank blood?”
 
“We do,” he said, tersely, then continued in a kinder tone. “I can’t live on human food, but doesn’t mean I can’t eat the things I like. And I like pizza.”
 
 
XXXXXX
 
 
While Spike and Joyce sat in uncomfortable silence, Buffy put slices of pizza on paper plates and warmed them in the microwave. Joyce got the first one, and the second went to Spike. Taking the last one for herself, she sat down at the counter and began to eat.  Joyce continued to eye Spike with some trepidation as she perched on a stool opposite Buffy. 
 
Spike took his plate and nodded to Joyce. “I’ll just take this to my room, Mrs. Summers, and leave you to get reacquainted with your daughter.”
 
“Wait,” Joyce said. “I… I’d like to talk to you, too. If you don’t mind. And please call me Joyce.”
 
He shrugged and sat down next to Buffy. “I don’t mind.”
 
In spite of her words, Joyce was silent for several minutes while they all munched away on their pizza.  Buffy put three more slices on a big piece of paper towel and set them in the oven to warm up.  Instead of asking any more questions, Joyce excused herself to use the bathroom, and Buffy led her to the hallway to point out which door it was.  Joyce hesitated as she passed the entrance to Buffy’s room, seeing Mr. Gordo on the bed, as well as other signs that someone was obviously using that room.  A frowning glance into the other open door showed her Spike’s unmade bed and his leather coat hanging on a chair.
 
She continued to the bathroom, noting it didn’t appear that either Buffy or Spike did much to keep it clean, but deciding to keep that opinion to herself. On the way back to the kitchen she took another look into the two bedrooms, admitting to herself that they seemed to be quite separate and there was no sign they were being shared.
 
“Find what you were lookin’ for?” Spike asked, raising one eyebrow.
 
Joyce felt herself flush, knowing she’d been caught snooping, but she held her head up as she snapped back. “I have a right to know if my underage daughter is being abused by an older man.”
 
Spike’s hand on Buffy’s arm prevented her from making what was obviously going to be an indignant reply.
 
“That you do, Joyce. I’d never deny you that.  Although I’m not sure that right didn’t become a bit dodgy when you told your underage daughter not to come home.” His eyes challenged her to deny the truth of his words
 
“I didn’t understand,” she said softly, sending Buffy an apologetic smile. “I still don’t, but at least now I know there is something to understand.” She glanced at Spike again. “Could you… I mean… do you have to…” While she stumbled for words, he went into game face, baring his fangs.
 
“That what you wanted?” he asked, yellow eyes fastened on hers.
 
She cringed away, in spite of herself. ‘Yes… thank you.”
 
“No problem.” Spike shook off his fangs and wrinkles and went back to his pizza.
 
“The books Mr. Giles gave me, they say vampires are demons? Demons from hell? Like the devil? Are you a… devil?”
 
“Vampires are dead people, Joyce. I’m nothing but a corpse that is animated by a demon. Release the demon by staking or beheading me, and I turn to the dust I should have been over 100 years ago.”
 
Joyce shuddered. “I don’t understand.” She turned to Buffy.  Was your… Angel… a dead man too?”
 
“Yes, Mom. The only difference between Angel and Spike is that Angel had a soul. So he wasn’t evil. Until he lost it,” she finished in a whisper.
 
“That is not the only difference between that wanker and me!” Spike’s growl was low, but his indignation was clear, causing Joyce to cringe again.
 
“You’re right,” Buffy said, putting a reassuring hand on his arm. “I’m sorry. You’re nothing like Angel…. Or Angelus.”
 
“Too bloody right, I’m not,” he muttered. To Joyce’s surprise, he calmed immediately.
 
“You don’t look or act dead,” she said, staring hard at him.
 
In response, he held out his hand and said, “Touch me”. He also stopped breathing and became preternaturally still. She touched the cool skin on his hand, recoiling, then noticed his lack of breath and movement. She shrank away from him, staring at Buffy in horror.
 
“You went… did… with a dead body?”
 
“Breathe, Spike!” Buffy said, nudging him into motion. She avoided her mother’s eyes as she said, “That’s not what it’s like when they’re moving and talking, Mom. You didn’t know what Spike was until he flashed his game face at you. And if you hadn’t felt his skin and seen him play dead, you wouldn’t have thought anything about it now. I didn’t even know what Angel was when I first met him.”
 
“But, Buffy, a… corpse? How could you not know?”
 
“An animated corpse,” Spike said, coming to Buffy’s rescue. “The demon does a good job of providing life to the body it takes over. Much more durable and powerful life than it was before.  And the body still has all the parts it had as a human including a brain, so it knows how to walk and talk, and…. do other things that humans do.”  He picked another slice of pizza off the towel. “Even eat pizza and drink beer.”
 
“So, vampires can have sex then.”
 
Spike choked on his food as Buffy wailed, “Mom!”
 
“I just want to be clear Buffy. You are living with another vampire.”
 
“Mom. Look, I slept… had sex with Angel one time. On my birthday. We didn’t plan it, it just happened when I was—well never mind. You don’t need the gory details. The point is, I did it. Okay? Just like thousands of other teenage girls do with their boyfriends every day. Except their boyfriends don’t lose their souls and go all evil and start killing people. And those other girls aren’t slayers, so if their boyfriends do go evil, they don’t have to kill them for it.”  She took a deep breath. “It was one. Freaking. Time. And it was a disaster. In what universe would I want to ever have sex again with anybody? Never mind another vampire!”
 
Buffy slammed what was left of her pizza down. “I’ll be in my room!” She stomped out of the kitchen, leaving Joyce biting her lip and Spike looking like he might be sick.
 
“This isn’t going well, is it?” Joyce said. She glanced at Spike’s face before he shut it down. “For either one of us.”
 
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. He got up and stared down the hall at Buffy’s closed door, then back at Joyce, turning his gaze on her with no warmth in his eyes. “I’m not the one that just accused her world-saving hero of a daughter of being some kind of teenaged necrophiliac bimbo. Buffy has her room. I have mine. We cross paths here in the kitchen sometimes in the morning, and we worked on her studies so she could pass those exams she missed while she was saving the fucking world. And we go out at night and fight evil together… sometimes.”
 
His eyes were still cold, but she heard the pain in his voice. “That’s all we do. That’s all we ever will do. Do you think I don’t know how wrong anything else would be?  She’s everything that’s good, and I’m… I’m everything that’s not.” He dropped his gaze and his head. “And I’m going to be out of her life just as soon as you stop being such a self-centered, selfish bitch and let her back into yours.”
 
He went to the pantry and took out a new bottle of whiskey. “I’ll be in my room.”
 
 
 
Chapter Twelve
 
CHAPTER TWELVE
 
 
Joyce sat in stunned silence, trying to tell herself she hadn’t just been given a lesson in parenting by a self-identified evil monster who was clearly in love with her daughter. She heard Spike’s door slam shut as she got to her feet and walked to the hall.
 
She paused outside Buffy’s door, then straightened her shoulders and raised her hand to knock.  Before she could do it, the door opened and Buffy was staring past her at Spike’s door.
 
“What happened? Why is Spike mad?”
 
It was obvious that she’d been crying and Joyce’s regret grew even stronger. She took a deep breath and said, “I… I think he’s a little disappointed with me. That it has taken me so long to come to you and tell you how much I’ve missed you, and… and how proud I am to be the mother of the… of a hero, a girl who saves people from dangers they don’t even know about. Can you forgive me, Buffy?  Will you come home with me?” Her speech ended with a plea and a muffled sob as she waited to see if she’d lost her daughter forever.
 
Buffy’s turned her still-damp eyes away from Spike’s door to focus on Joyce. “Of course I will, Mom. I miss you too. And I miss my room, and my closet, and my bathroom, and your cooking….” She threw her arms around her mother and they clung together, crying and laughing at the same time.  Joyce was so happy to have her daughter back, it took her a while to notice she was having trouble breathing.
 
“Um, Buffy?” she managed to gasp. “I believe you about the super strength….”
 
“What? Oh! I’m sorry, Mom! I didn’t do that on purpose, I swear. I was just so happy—”
 
“So, you’ll come home with me then?”  Joyce wiped her eyes and ventured a smile.
 
Buffy nodded eagerly. “Just give me some time to collect all my stuff. Some of it’s scattered around the house.”
 
Joyce mentally flinched at the reminder of how long Buffy had been living away from home, but outwardly she nodded.
 
“Of course, honey. What can I do to help?” 
 
“Um… maybe put my clothes that won’t fit in the suitcase into one of those boxes? That’d be easiest for you to find. Everything’s either in the closet, the dresser, or… um, on the floor?” Buffy coughed, but Joyce just forced a laugh.
 
“Just like home, huh?” she said lightly as she bent down to pick up some jeans and socks.
 
Buffy hesitated. “Mom? Maybe we should talk first?”
 
Joyce clutched the clothing in her hands and tried not to panic. “Whatever you think, Buffy. I mean we can talk at home….” At the look on Buffy’s face, she sighed and sank down on the edge of the bed.  “Or we could talk here, I guess.  Are you changing your mind?”
 
“Not really. I just don’t want to get all the way moved back in to your—”
 
Our! It’s our house!”
 
“—our house and then find out you still don’t understand what I do and why I have to do it.  If I can come in and out one of the doors instead of climbing through a window, that would be great, but if we’re going to be fighting about how late it is, or why I’m out in the middle of the night—”
 
Joyce’s shoulders slumped. “I guess I didn’t think this through. I do understand what you do—I think. But the day-to-day, or night-to-night I guess, changes it’s going to make in our lives….”
 
“Mom, I don’t want to come home unless you’re sure you can handle it.  The normal stuff—go out, patrol cemeteries, stake new vamps, come home and try to get a decent amount of sleep before I get up and go to school—that stuff shouldn’t be a big deal. And most of my meetings with Giles happen at school. But sometimes it isn’t so routine. Sometimes I have to fight demons, or something else really bad and dangerous. Sometimes I’m gone all night. Sometimes I have to skip school because there’s something I need to do in the daytime. Sometimes I get hurt—” 
 
At Joyce’s whimper, Buffy said quickly, “I heal really fast, Mom. That’s why you’ve probably never noticed. I’ve always washed the blood out of my clothes myself, and made up an excuse about getting hurt in PE class or something if I had to limp for a couple of days. But I don’t want to do that anymore if I don’t have to. I don’t want to have to lie to you all the time, but if every time I stay out all night, or come home bloody or bruised, you’re going to freak out and demand I stop slaying—”
 
“Oh God.” Joyce put a hand to her mouth. “I never thought—all this time, you might have been killed out there and I would never have known…. Oh my God.” She hugged herself.  “Doesn’t anyone help you?”
 
“Well, Giles does sometimes—usually in the ‘Here’s what you’ll be fighting against and how to kill it, now go get it’ sense of the word.  But sometimes he comes with and brings a crossbow or something. And, actually, sometimes Willow and Xander come with me. Not lately, but before, when we were hanging out together more.”
 
“Are they slayers too?”
 
Buffy laughed. “No, Mom. There’s only supposed to be one slayer at a time.  But Willow’s practicing to be a witch, so she can do little magic spells, and Xander just… he helps. He saved my life last year when the Master almost killed me and Xander gave me CPR.”
 
Joyce felt like she was going to be sick. “CPR? You needed CPR?” she said weakly.
 
“Uh, yeah? I kinda drowned when Batface threw me into a puddle face down.  Technically I guess I was dead for a minute, but Xander brought me back and I kicked the Master’s ugly butt and saved the world, so it turned out okay.”
 
Joyce wrapped her arms around her body, letting Buffy’s clothes fall back to the floor as she held herself long enough to regain her courage and make a decision. She picked the clothes back up and said firmly, “I think I would rather be part of this life of yours, and know what risks you’re taking, than chance losing you to something I know nothing about. I’m your mother. If you’re facing danger, I want to know about it. I may even be able to help, who knows?”
 
Buffy laughed. “Well, you already have, Mom. Remember last fall when you clocked Spike with the fire ax?”
 
“Was he going to kill you?” Joyce glared across the hall, wondering if it was too late to try killing Spike again.
 
“Well, that’s was his plan. I wasn’t really planning to lay there and let him hit me with that wall stud, but it would have been close. He might have gotten lucky.”
 
“Explain to me why I shouldn’t go over there right now and cut off his head?”  Joyce looked at the sword leaning against the wall by the door.
 
“Well, for starters, you probably couldn’t. Spike’s a pretty amazing fighter and I’m sure he’s listening to every word we say, so you probably wouldn’t even make it through the door.  And anyway— speaking of people who help keep me safe—we don’t hate each other anymore, so I don’t want his head cut off.”
 
“I don’t understand. Buffy, he tried to kill you! How can you live in the same house with him?”
 
“Mom, I was trying to kill him too. It’s what we do. I’m a Slayer, he’s a vampire. Spike has killed two slayers in the past 100 years or so. I don’t even know how many vampires I’ve slayed since I was called. Probably hundreds or even thousands. It’s who we were then. Enemies.”
 
“And now?”
 
“And now we aren’t enemies,” Buffy said, turning her face away.
 
Joyce shuddered, remembering the emotion she’d seen from the vampire.  “No,” she agreed. “It seems you aren’t enemies anymore.”
 
They were quiet for a few seconds, then Joyce began briskly gathering up more clothing and putting it into the boxes Buffy had kept from her many trips to and from the house.
 
“So, we’re going to be all right then?” Buffy asked. “If you don’t think you can handle—”
 
“I’m the mother of a slayer. I’m pretty sure there isn’t much I can’t handle,” Joyce said, telling herself she meant it. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
 
 
XXXXX
 
In spite of it being summer and daylight lasting longer, by the time they’d boxed up everything Buffy had accumulated in the big house, the sun was already out of sight behind the trees and dusk was not that far off.
 
Showing how much she’d learned recently, Joyce cast an anxious glance around.
 
“Will we be safe here after dark? You told me not to come if it wasn’t broad daylight.”
 
Buffy grinned at Joyce’s sudden concern about being out and about after dark.
 
“Well, by yourself in this neighborhood, you probably wouldn’t be. But you’re in the driveway of the house where William the Bloody, reluctant master of Sunnydale, lives and you’re standing beside the Slayer. So, yeah. You’re pretty safe here.” Buffy grinned at the understatement.
 
Joyce blinked a couple of times, then shrugged. “All right then. One more trip and I think we’re ready to go.” 
 
Before either of them could reenter the house, Spike appeared in the doorway with several boxes piled precariously in front of his face.
 
“Little help, Slayer?” he said, feeling for the shallow front step with his foot.
 
Buffy ran to help, putting one hand on the teetering boxes and the other on his leg to guide his foot. “Step down now,” she said as she nudged his leg forward. “I could have gotten some of these,” she said, taking the top one off and handing it to Joyce. She didn’t look at Spike, peering at her over the boxes he still held, as she said, “Are you in that much of a hurry to get rid of me?”
 
Buffy kept her voice light, but a trace of disappointment must have bled through as Spike said, “Just thought the quicker you get this baggage home, the more likely you’ll be able to do a patrol tonight.”  He hesitated, “Or did you want me to do it for you so you can spend some time with your mum?”
 
Buffy took the next box off and stared at him. “I was kind of hoping you’d want to spend some… but never mind. I guess you really are ready to get rid of me.”
 
“There you go again,” he growled. “Thought we’d agreed you were going to stop trying to sound stupid, Slayer.”  He didn’t explain what he meant by that, just carried the remaining box to the back of the SUV and put it in with the others.
 
Leaving Joyce to close up the back and start the car, Buffy ran inside to make sure she hadn’t left anything. She paused just inside the door, staring at the big umbrella stand in which they’d been keeping weapons.  She felt Spike’s presence just behind her and leaned back barely enough to be able to feel his chest brush against her back. Buffy felt his hands hovering over her shoulders, but they never actually touched her.
 
“Take what you want, love,” he said, his breath stirring the hair by her ear. “I won’t be taking anything with me. Or, you could leave one or two here in case you need a safe haven with weapons one night.”
 
He stepped back and made room for her to turn around.
 
“Do you think it will stay vamp-proof if I’m not living here?” She grabbed one of the swords and her crossbow, leaving two swords there as well as an extra stake.
 
“Don’t know why not. What Red did was a pretty general ‘no vamps allowed’ spell. It wasn’t specific as to who owns or is living in the house. Might ask your watcher about it though. He’d be the expert… in theory.”
 
He touched her back lightly, urging her towards the door. “Best get Mum and your belongings home, Buffy. As it is, you’ll be unloading in the dark.”
 
She glanced up at him. “We could do that faster and easier if there were two people with super powers working.”
 
He snorted. “Reckon you could at that. Alright, you go on with Mum and I’ll be right behind you, soon’s I have some nourishment and get my boots on.”
 
Buffy’s smile felt inappropriate for what was happening, but she was so glad he would be there later she couldn’t help it.  “Okay. We’ll wait for you.”
 
 
 

 
 
Chapter Thirteen
 
CHAPTER THIRTEEN
 
With Spike and Buffy carrying the big loads, they managed to get all the boxes from the Jeep to Buffy’s bedroom in just a few trips.  Buffy had left a path from her door to the bed saying, “I’ll put this stuff away tomorrow.”
 
Joyce surveyed the piles of boxes from the doorway. “I had no idea you’d moved so many of your clothes to Spike’s house.”
 
“Not mine, Joyce,” he said from behind her. “If it belongs to anybody, it belongs to the Slayer.”
 
Buffy gave him a funny look but didn’t point out that many of the memories in that house weren’t all that good, something he’d half-way expected her to as soon as he thought about it.
 
“Well, considering that’s where I learned all about Macbeth and how good Spike is at acting, I think that house will always remind me of Shakespeare.” She grinned at him. “And it’s where I learned we can’t do homework together for more than a couple of hours before we have to go kill something.”
 
“Something that isn’t each other,” he agreed, smiling back at her. Neither of them noticed the way Joyce flinched and stared back and forth between them.
 
She spoke up quickly before there could be more reminiscing. “So, dinner before or after… patrol? Is that what you call it?”
 
“I’m still full of pizza, Mom.  Just leave dinner out for me and I’ll have it when we—I—get back later.”
 
“Oh.  All right then, I’ll just…” She turned to leave, forcing Spike to back up into the hallway. Taking the hint, he turned and preceded her down the stairs.
 
Buffy peered out the door of her room after them. “I’ll just get some patrolling clothes on and then we can go, Spike.”
 
“No rush, Slayer. It’s just now full dark. We’ve got plenty of time.” When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he hesitated, not sure which way to go.
 
“Why don’t you join me in the kitchen, Spike? You can talk to me while I start dinner.”
 
It was pretty obvious her invitation was more of an order than a suggestion, and he followed her with a mental growl.
 
“Something you wanted to say to me?” he asked. “Something you don’t want Buffy to hear?”
 
Joyce avoided looking at him as she went about taking things out of the refrigerator. “I just wanted to ask how long you’re planning to hang around, now that Buffy is home.”
 
He sat down on a stool. “I reckon some of that’s going to depend on you,” he said. “I told her I’d be here until she was home and we were sure it was working out.”
 
“Wouldn’t that be something Buffy and I should decide for ourselves?” she asked with some asperity. “I don’t believe it would be your decision to make.”
 
“Wouldn’t. But I’d never forgive myself if I went blithely off to South America, leaving Buffy to find herself out on the street again.” He gave Joyce a hard look. “Although I guess by now you know enough about Slayers and Watchers to know she’d be perfectly safe from molestation if she was living with Rupert.”
 
“Safer than she would be with you,” Joyce said, staring him in the eyes and not flinching when he let them flash amber for a second.
 
“Not true,” he said, calming his demon. “But I get your meaning. I’ll be out of her life as soon as I know she’s gonna be alright with one or the other of you.”
 
Will you be out of her life?”
 
Spike shrugged and met her suspicious gaze with his own pained expression. “That was our agreement when we made the truce. It’s what I planned. Just didn’t know it was gonna take this long before you took her back, or that I’d be so… involved… in keeping the Slayer safe and happy.”
 
“Are you in love with my daughter?” Joyce’s expression was more sympathetic than he might have expected, but her opinion of his right to be so was more than clear in her voice.
 
“I might be,” he said calmly. “She doesn’t know that, and she doesn’t need to.”
 
“She certainly doesn’t!”
 
“Untwist your knickers there, Slayer’s mum. I’m not planning to—” He hesitated, hearing Buffy’s footsteps as she tripped down the stairs. He smiled sadly as he recognized the new bounce in her step now that she was back in her home. He stood up. “There she is,” he said with a smile as she came into the kitchen.
 
“Here I is,” she said back with a puzzled smile of her own. “Are we ready to go find evil and slay it?”
 
“That was the plan,” he said.
 
“’K. Let’s go then. See you later, Mom. I won’t be very late. We’re just going to clean out a couple of the cemeteries we didn’t get to last night.”
 
She almost skipped out the kitchen door, waiting impatiently for him on the porch. “Come on. Evil’s waiting for us.” She jumped off the porch and started walking toward the street.
 
“Evil’s walking right behind you, love,” he said, smiling at her in spite of himself.
 
 She giggled and turned to face him. “You’re awful smiley tonight,” she said, walking backwards so she could see his face. “That’s not very evil.”
 
“I like seeing you happy. And you’ve been chirping like a little bird ever since you and your mum kissed and made up.”
 
“Oh. Well, I am happy. I mean, I’m not happy that we aren’t… I’m not….” She frowned and shook herself, then faced front again.  “But I’m happy to be home in my own bed, with my own bathroom, and my mom’s cooking…”
 
“I get the picture, Slayer. Let’s go kill things, yeah?” He started jogging down the street, hoping there was going to be something big and nasty waiting for him before the night was over.
 
XXXX
 
He got his wish when they ran into a large group of new vampires clustered around a grave and obviously waiting for someone else they knew to rise.
 
“Your call, pet, but, as good as you are, that’s a lot of evil for one Slayer. I could take out a few.”
 
“Help yourself,” she said. “I’m not feeling greedy tonight.”
 
They faced the confused fledglings, balancing on their toes and smiling as they waited to be attacked. Which they were, as soon as the vamps smelled Buffy and heard her heartbeat. They didn’t even notice that Spike didn’t have a heartbeat, nor that he was now wearing the face of a much older vampire. They moved to surround the two apparently easy meals.
 
“Sheesh, somebody must have turned an entire football team,” Buffy muttered as she went back to back with Spike, facing the eager fledges.
 
“Suggest we whittle the numbers down right off,” Spike said. “Then we can play.”
 
“Got it.” Buffy held up her stake and ran it through the chest of the vampire just reaching for her.
 
She heard Spike’s fighting roar as he waded into those in front of him, snarling and punching until he was through the line and had thinned it by at least two.
 
By the time they had each taken out several fledglings, they’d given themselves more room to move around, and the remaining vampires were approaching more slowly and cautiously than they had originally. Having figured out that Spike was also a vampire, they concentrated on Buffy, their food-starved fledgling brains incapable of resisting the lure of her blood, even as they began to realize trying to obtain that blood meant certain death.
 
Spike dusted the ones he’d incapacitated and began to look for a vamp to fight one on one, hoping he could find one that would give him a good fight. When he thought he’d found the one he wanted, he first checked on Buffy with a quick glance and saw she was methodically working her way through the remaining group members. They were too hungry to run away, and too wary of her stake to attack, so she had to single one out, go after it, stake it, and then pick out another one.
 
Spike’s vamp didn’t give him as much of a fight as he’d hoped. He dusted it and joined Buffy in her game of catch-and-kill.  It wasn’t long before they were facing each other, grinning, as dust drifted away all around them.
 
“Wow. When I told Mom it wouldn’t take long, I didn't expect to get a whole night’s worth of slaying done in the first half hour.”
 
“We did make a big dent in the undead population, at that.  Are you calling it a good night’s work already, then?” He tried to keep the disappointment from his voice, but the look on her face said he’d failed.
 
“I wasn’t planning to, but I guess that depends on you. Do we have time to do more, or are you planning to leave tonight?”
 
He shrugged, smothering the urge to shout no. “Could, I reckon, if we’re done for the night. Wasn’t expectin’ to be finished this early, but—”
 
“We’re not done,” she said quickly. “I was just asking if you were going to leave if we were done. I mean, if that’s what you want to do…” She bit her lip, looking very much like someone trying to sound unconcerned about the answer.
 
He groaned under his breath and stepped closer to her. “Slayer… Buffy… It’s not what I want to do. It’s what I need to do. We don’t need our truce anymore, you don’t need a place to live, and when I’m gone you’ll be able to slip right back into your old life with your family and your mates.”
 
“They’ll get used to you,” she said, her lower lip beginning to poke out. “If you stay here, they’ll get used to you.”
 
He growled, realizing it was going to take stronger measures to get her to agree he needed to leave.
 
“I don't want them to get used to me! I’m a vampire, you—” He bit back the insult on the tip of his tongue and continued. “A dangerous vampire. Goddammit, Buffy, I’m William the Bloody! Part of the Scourge of Europe, killer of slayers. You should want me gone. What’s wrong with you?”
 
 He threw his hands up and turned away, but not quickly enough to miss the hurt expression on her face. By the time he turned back to her, the hurt feelings had been replaced with a righteous anger.
 
“What’s wrong with me, you…you…jerk, is that I like you and I’ll miss you and I didn’t want you to go away yet.”  She walked up to him and began punching him on his arms and chest. “But now I don’t care!  Go on. Go away. Who cares? Go somewhere you can go back to being evil and killing people if that’s what you want. Go!” 
 
He’d caught most of her intended blows on his arms, but enough had made it past his blocks that he was forced to grab her hands to keep himself from being badly bruised. Her strength was equal to his, and they were soon in a serious contest of wills and power. They strained against each other for long minutes, neither able to gain the upper hand until Buffy relaxed just enough to cause him to stumble toward her. She collapsed backwards, pulling him down and propelling him over her head with her feet.
 
They jumped up at the same time, pivoted, and stood, breathing hard and glaring at each other.
 
Why do you ‘need to’ leave so soon? Why, Spike? And don’t say you have to find Drusilla. I already figured out you know where she is.”
 
He rolled his eyes before responding. “Fine! I do. Always have known where she’d run to. She’s in South America somewhere, probably Argentina. She loves to tango, my Dru does.”
 
“So, you don’t need to leave already, then. You just want to.”
 
Spike sighed and sank to the ground, leaning against a tombstone and gesturing for her to join him. Still wearing an expression that wavered between angry and disappointed, Buffy dropped down beside him, not quite close enough for their shoulders to brush. She waited with poorly disguised impatience while he chose his words.
 
“Slayer. Buffy… I’m not all souled up like Angelus was when you met him. I am what I am. The longer I’m here, the more likely we are to come to serious blows over something I do. Do you have any idea at all how hard it’s been on me to be getting my blood from a bag rather than the tap?”
 
“No, but—”
 
“Rhetorical question, love,” he said quickly. “I know you don’t. But it is hard. Too bloody hard sometimes. I’ve been able to do it because I had a good reason and an end in sight. But I can’t do it forever. Not even to make you happy.”  He sighed and risked a light touch to her cheek. “I’ll never again want to kill you, Buffy, but I can’t change who and what I am. We’re both going to be better off when I leave. It doesn’t have to be tonight, but it has to be soon.”
 
She stared at him and he tried to force himself to meet her gaze without faltering, but he couldn’t. As soon as he shifted his eyes away from hers, she pounced.
 
“You’re lying! That’s not the reason you want to leave.”
 
He growled and thunked his head back against the marker for one Elizabeth Reynolds, wife and mother.
 
“It’s a good bit of the reason, Slayer. I’m not lying about it. You’ve got no idea what it’s like to—  I already told you, I don’t ‘want’ to leave, I have to.”
 
“Why?”
 
“I have never met such a stubborn—” he snarled. “Because it’s not the only reason. And that’s all you need to know.”
 
“I don’t understand,” she said, another pout on her face. “I thought we were friends. I thought you liked me. Why do you want to—”
 
Spike grabbed her cheeks with both hands and held her face still while he stared into her bewildered eyes. “Because I do like you, Buffy Summers. More than is good for either one of us.” Instead of letting go, he dipped his head and fastened his mouth on hers, holding the kiss until she began to respond enthusiastically and the urge to deepen it was becoming overwhelming. He pulled away, letting his feelings for her shine from his gaze long enough to see understanding dawning in hers.
 
“I have to go, love,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers briefly. “I have to go.”
 
He got to his feet and extended a hand to pull her up from where she was staring up at him, one hand on the lips he was already regretting having left so soon.  
 
“You… we… you… me?”
 
“’Fraid so, pet. Now do you understand why I have to go?”
 
She nodded slowly, her eyes brimming with tears. “We can’t…. I won’t… Not another vampire….”  She met his sorrowful gaze with her own look of confused anguish. “But I don’t want you to leave,” she said with a catch in her voice. She shook her head. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”
 
“You’ll do what you do, sweetheart.” He paused to savor the warm feeling he got at being able to use one of the endearments he’d been swallowing for so long. “You’ll go to the beach, and have fun with your friends, and you’ll go back to school in the fall, and you’ll slay evil when you find it.”
 
“But you won’t be here to help me.”
 
“You don’t need my help, Slayer. If I thought you did, I wouldn’t leave. But you don’t. You’re one hell of a slayer. You won’t need help from me. Got your watcher, your friend the witch, your other friend the useless blood sack—” He grinned when she glared at him, then continued, “You’ll be fine.”
 
Chapter Fourteen
 
 
 
CHAPTER FOURTEEN
 
They began to walk out of the cemetery, automatically heading for Crawford Street. Buffy noticed first and stopped.
 
“I don’t live there anymore,” she said, pointing down the street in the direction of the mansion. “We forgot.”
 
“That we did,” he said. “Old habits die hard, yeah?” He kept his tone light, and Buffy tried to follow his lead. They turned around and began walking toward her house chatting idly about the houses they passed as they walked and how slaying was probably going to taper off for the summer. As they approached her neighborhood, Buffy slowed her pace.
 
“So… are you going to leave tonight?” She tried to match his light tone, pretending it was just more of their normal evening chatter.
 
“Think it’s best, love, don’t you? There’s no takin’ back that kiss.”
 
“I liked the kiss,” she said, giving him a sideways glance.
 
“I noticed.” He didn’t mention how difficult her response had made it for him to stop, but it hung in the air between them.
 
“What if I want to do it again?”
 
“If you still want to do it again after you’ve turned eighteen, let me know,” he said with a muffled growl. “Now stop teasing the poor old besotted vampire and wish me a safe journey.”
 
Neither of them mentioned he wouldn’t be around for that birthday.
 
They had come to a stop just two blocks from her house. Buffy knew her mother would be thrilled that she was getting home so early after all the time she’d spent preparing her for not seeing much of Buffy at night. 
 
“I hope Mom doesn’t expect me home this early every night,” she said, momentarily forgetting about Spike’s pending departure.
 
“Probably a good thing to ease her into it,” he said. “Give her some time to get used to you goin’ out every night, and then start making it later. She knows a lot more than she did, but knowin’ something and being able to accept it aren’t always the same thing.”
 
She shot him a sharp look.
 
“We are still talking about my mom, right?”
 
“Could be,” he said noncommittally.
 
“Right.”
 
They stood silently for a moment, neither one anxious to end what was probably their last patrol together, but at a loss for how to say good-bye without losing the casual atmosphere they’d managed to maintain since leaving the cemetery.
 
Finally, Buffy looked at him and sighed. “You aren’t going to kiss me good-bye, are you?”
 
He shook his head, refusing to meet her eyes. “Not a good idea, love. Much as I’d like to….” He shook his head again. “It’s a terrible idea, now that I think on it more.”
 
Buffy nodded. “Worst idea ever.”
 
“Exactly.”
 
Summoning up every bit of determination and maturity she’d had to learn in the months since Angel lost his soul, she nodded, went up on her toes, rested her hands lightly on his shoulders, and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Before she could move back, his arms banded around her in a grip she knew she wouldn’t have been able to break. Not that she wanted to…
 
They remained clinging together, Buffy’s arms now wrapped tightly around his neck, her face pressed against his shoulder, long enough for their bodies to say everything they weren’t putting into words.  The sound of a car alarm down the street startled them out of their silent embrace, and they both let go at the same time.
 
“Have a safe trip, Spike,” Buffy whispered. “Come back some day.”
 
“Take care of yourself, Slayer. Always have a weapon handy.”
 
Without another word, he whirled in a swirl of leather and disappeared almost faster than her ability to pretend she wasn’t going to cry.
 
XXXX
 
Buffy took her time walking to her house, waiting to go in until she was sure all traces of her tears were gone.  Which wasn’t enough to fool her mother, but Joyce wisely chose not to ask what was wrong. She just showed Buffy where the remains of dinner were and how long to put it in to warm it up, then excused herself to go to bed.
 
“I’ll probably be at work by the time you get up tomorrow,” she said as she paused in the door of the kitchen. “Do you have plans?”
 
Buffy shook her head. “I’ll call Willow and Xander to tell them I’m living at home again.  And Giles. He needs to know where to find me. He might want to have a meeting or something.”
 
“Okay, honey. Well, sleep well. I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”
 
“Good night, Mom. I’m glad I’m home.”
 
“I’m glad you’re home too, sweetheart. Night.”
 
Buffy sucked in her breath at hearing her mother use the same term of endearment Spike had used, but forced herself to push away the urge to cry again.  Spike was right. He was a notorious vampire, a stone-cold killer, and she was the girl chosen to rid the world of his kind. Nothing about their changed personal relationship had altered those facts of life.
 
She prepared her dinner and sat at the counter to eat it, smiling sadly at how being at home meant eating alone, whereas living with a vampire meant she usually had a companion for her evening meal.
 
XXX
 
As Buffy’d told Spike it would, slaying slowed down in the summer. Giles really had no explanation for it, other than “Maybe demons take vacations too” but they all agreed it was nice to know the previous summer’s easy months hadn’t been a one-time thing.
 
“Are we hitting the beach this weekend, Buffy?”  Xander asked as he joined Buffy and Willow at the Bronze where they’d been discussing what to do with the remaining weeks of the summer.
 
“I guess we could. Do you guys want to go?”
 
“Cordy does. I’ll drive… um… if you think your mom would let us use her Jeep.”
 
“I dunno. I’ll ask her. She’s been really nice to me since I came home. I’m sure it’s going to wear off eventually, but we might as well take advantage of it while we can.”
 
Willow nodded. “Work that parental guilt as long as you can. That’s what I do.”
 
“You two do realize I have no idea what you’re talking about, don’t you? ‘Parental guilt’? What’s that?” Xander’s question was obviously not serious, and they just smiled at him with sympathy for his home situation.
 
 
XXXX
And so went the rest of the summer, lazy days with Willow or Giles, weekends at the beach, quiet nights when she might not see even one vampire and only the occasional demon. One of the things she’d learned from Spike was that not all demons on the hellmouth were evil or dangerous. Some were there because they just liked living near the source of power. Now, if she saw one of the demons he’d told her were harmless, she just smiled and waved them on, hoping their obvious fear was just because of who she was and not because she’d done something to them or a family member.
 
 
“If you’re not sure, kill it, Slayer,” Spike had said one night when she’d hesitated. “Especially if it’s trying to hurt you. Most of the harmless ones will stay out of your way. If you see them, it’ll be by accident, or because they look so much like humans that you don’t know they’re part demon.”
 
Partdemon?”
 
Spike had laughed at her. “You’d be surprised how many of those there are, pet. Some humans don’t mind sharing a bed with a demon.”
 
“Or a house?” she’d asked innocently. “That’s what I’m doing, isn’t it?”
 
“I guess you are at that,” he’d replied, a strange look on his face. “At least there won’t be any half-demon sprogs in this case.”
 
 
Buffy sighed, remembering that conversation and his subsequent attempts to help her recognize which demons she should kill, and which ones not.  Just then, she rounded a corner and found three vampires holding one of the few demons she’d actually met pinned against a wall. He was keeping them at bay with a baseball bat.
 
“Hey, Clem,” Buffy said cheerfully. “How’s it going?”
 
“I’ve been better, Slayer. But thanks for asking.”
 
The closest vamp turned to stare at her.  “What did he call you?”
 
“I guess we haven’t met yet—I mean with you being all not dusty. I’m Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?”
 
“This is none of your business, Slayer,” the largest vampire growled, but didn’t approach her. “Just walk on and we’ll forget we ever saw you.”
 
“You’re vampires. I’m the Slayer. Ergo—my business. And anyway, Clem is a friend of a… friend… of mine, he’d want me to help him.”
 
“Watch him,” the apparent leader said to one minion as he turned to face Buffy. “I’ll be right back.” He charged at Buffy, signaling his other companion to go around her. She jumped into the air and flipped over the one behind her, staking him as she landed.
 
“You’ve bitten off more than you can chew, little girl,” her opponent snarled. “You have no idea who I am.”
 
“Nope,” she agreed. “Don't know, don’t care.” She dodged his attempt to punch her, closing in under his arm and plunging her stake into his chest while he was still wondering where she’d gone.
 
His remaining companion had turned to watch the fight, and was now on the ground with Clem standing over him with his bat.
 
“Good job,” Buffy said, staking the stunned vampire where he lay.
 
“Thanks, Slayer. I appreciate the rescue. Those thugs were after my poker winnings.”
 
“No problem. Happy to help. Things are slow this summer, and it was nice to have something to do.”  She gave an embarrassed shrug. “I guess slaying other demons—even vampires— probably isn’t your idea of something nice to do,” she said.
 
“Nah. I’m cool with it. I know you don’t go looking for non-evil demons.”
 
“You know that?”
 
“Well, I know Spike told you we exist when he introduced us. And he told me you were too honorable to kill anything that wasn’t evil.”
 
Buffy smiled. “He said that, huh?”
 
“Yeah. He pretty much thinks you… I guess I shouldn’t be telling his secrets. But he really likes you. Hard to believe he’s the same vampire that showed up here last fall and said he was going to kill you.”
 
Buffy nodded, but couldn’t think of a reply, so she just said, “Well, nice to see you again, Clem. I’m just going to finish my patrol so I can get home early tonight.”
 
“Sure. Sure. You’ve got things to do. Thanks again. Tell Spike I said ‘Hi” when you talk to him.’
 
Buffy frowned. “I don’t talk to him, Clem. He’s down in South America somewhere.”
 
“Oh.” The wrinkled demon studied her face for a second, then said, “Right. Sorry, Slayer. I just figured you guys would stay—never mind. I’ll tell him myself.”
 
Before Buffy could grasp what he’d said about telling Spike himself, Clem had disappeared into the darkness.
 
She put “find Clem again and ask him if he knows how to get hold of Spike” on her mental list of things to do, and went back to cruising the cemeteries for newly risen vampires.
 
 
XXXXX
 
 
She hadn’t run into the wrinkled demon again yet, and was contemplating hitting Willy’s to look for him that evening when the ringing phone interrupted her mental planning. She picked it up, expecting Willow to want to talk about the weekend.
 
“Hello? Wills?”
 
“Not hardly, love.”
 
“Spike? Is that you?”
 
“It’s me. Never meant to do this, but—”
 
“But Clem told you he saw me and let the cat out of the bag.”
 
Spike chuckled. “Interesting way for you to talk about someone who gambles for kittens, but yeah. He told me he saw you and that you would probably figure out he knows where I am.”
 
“Why didn’t you mean to do it? If you can stay in touch with your demon friends, why can’t you stay in touch with me?” She waited, but he didn’t reply right away. “And just so you know, I was gonna ask him for a phone number the next time I see him.”
 
“I guessed as much. That’s why I’m calling. Didn’t want you trying to beat it out of the poor sod.”
 
Buffy’s voice took on an angry edge.  “So, you weren’t going to call before Clem told you he talked to me?”
 
She heard him sigh before he answered.
 
“Wasn’t planning on it. As long as I could talk with him once in a while, I could keep up with how you were doing without…”
 
“Without actually talking to me?” Buffy couldn’t keep the disappointment and pain from her voice.
 
“Was tryin’ to make a clean break, love,” he said gently, his own sorrow plain in his voice. “But I’m weak, and I can’t stand not knowing if you’re okay, so I call Clem sometimes. He’ll know if there’s something I need to worry about.”
 
“What if there was? What if I had another apocalypse coming?”
 
“Don’t know. Haven’t really thought past needing to know you were okay and living your life.”
 
“I am. But it’s boring.”
 
“Boring?”
 
“Well, it’s still summer, so not much is going on slaying-wise. I mean, we go to the Bronze and we go to the beach sometimes, and I had to go visit my dad and his girlfriend for a weekend.  I got lots of new clothes out of that trip.” She smiled, thinking about her dad’s guilty spending, then added, “But it’s still boring.”  She hesitated, then whispered, “I miss you.”
 
“Oh, sweetheart,” he groaned. “Don’t do that to me. I can see that lip sticking out from here. I miss you too. You have no idea how much—  And as long as that’s true, I’m staying away.”
 
“I miss you. You miss me. But you aren’t here. What’s wrong with this picture?”
 
Buffy knew she sounded like a petulant teenager, but hearing Spike’s voice again reminded her of how much she liked having him around. He didn’t answer her, and she sighed. “Okay. I sound like a brat. I know. I’m not really that stupid… but—”
 
“Does my old heart good to know you—but that’s not how life is for us, Buffy.”
 
“I know” She shook her head, even though he couldn’t see it. “I know. You vampire, me Slayer. I get it.”
 
“Wish it could be different, Buffy.”
 
“Yeah. Me too.” She took a deep breath and tried to sound more cheerful. “So, did you have any trouble finding Dru?”
 
“No. Found her.”
 
“Everything okay?”
 
“We’re workin’ on it.”
 
Deciding she didn’t want to pursue exactly how he might be working on making up with his girlfriend, she changed the subject again.
 
“So, are you going to give me a phone number to call? In case I need you for something?”
 
“Buffy….”
 
“Just in case I have something I need help with. I promise I won’t use it for anything else.”
 
“I don’t stay in one place, love.”
 
There was a long silence that Buffy refused to be the one to fill. Finally, there was a muffled growl from the phone and she was sure she heard something about “stubborn bint”. She smiled and waited.
 
“Fine. What if I promise to call you once a month? During the day when your mum will be at work?”
 
“Okay. I go back to school pretty soon, but I’m usually home by four. If I know what day—”
 
“I can’t be that specific, love. If I don’t get you, I’ll just try again the next day. Is that going to work?”
 
“I guess so.”
 
“You know this isn’t a good idea, don’t you?”
 
“I think it’s a great idea.”
 
He snorted. “Pretty pleased with yourself, aren’t you?”
 
“I don’t know what you mean. We just talked and then we agreed that you’re going to call me.”
 
“Uh huh. I’ve got to go now, Slayer. I’ll talk to you again soon.”
 
“Okay…. Be careful, Spike. Don’t get dusty.”
 
“Not planning to. Stay safe, love.”
 
And he was gone.
 
Chapter Fifteen
 
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER FIFTEEN
 
Whatever strings the Council had pulled, Snyder apparently had not been able to countermand his instructions to let Buffy begin her senior year of high school once she’d passed her exams. His glare followed her progress down the halls, but with the hellmouth having a peaceful start to the year, he’d had no reason to discipline her for anything.  But hope springs eternal….
 
“Miss Summers!”
 
“Yes, Sny—Mr. Snyder?”
 
“I’ve got my eye on you.”
 
“Um… okay?”
 
“You and your little gang of miscreants.”
 
“My—right. Miscreants. Gotta go.”
 
Buffy bolted to the library where she began muttering about “little weasels” and “spying on me”.
 
“Is there a problem?” Giles glanced up from the book he’d been reading.
 
“Snyder. He’s ‘got his eye on me’.”
 
“With luck, he won’t see anything to get his too-tight knickers in a knot,” Giles muttered, flushing when Buffy grinned at him.
 
“Whoa, Giles. Tell me how you really feel.”
 
“You should pretend you didn’t hear that,” he said.
 
“Fat chance. So what’s up?”
 
“There are some prophesies I’m studying. Something about an Ascension. That’s all I know at the moment. It doesn’t appear to be imminent, but I will have to keep digging.”
 
“Meanwhile, I’ll just keep slaying regular old vampires.”
 
“That would appear to be the best plan. Perhaps it will be a quiet year for you.”
 
XXXXX
 
“So much for a quiet year,” Buffy muttered as she listened to Faith’s story of how Kakistos had killed her watcher and she’d run away from him.  The knock on the door had them exchanging alarmed looks.
 
“Are you—”
 
Faith shook her head. “Nobody but you knows where I am.”
 
The door burst open while the two slayers were edging away toward the back of the small room. They ran out the back, only to find themselves being herded into a trap. However, two slayers working together proved more than even something as old and canny as Kakistos could handle. When Faith ran him through with a piece of lumber, Buffy cheered, and the two very dissimilar slayers left to get something to eat. Buffy tried to ignore Faith’s “slaying makes me hungry and horny” comment, but she couldn’t help thinking about how much she enjoyed having Spike along to patrol with her, and how good he looked to her after. She assured herself that just because she could appreciate Spike’s looks, that didn’t mean she was a slut, as she was beginning to realize Faith might be.
 
XXXX
 
Faith managed to avoid the whole band candy incident, mostly by refusing to attend school. If she noticed the adults running around Sunnydale behaving badly, she didn’t pay much attention to it.  She swept through a few cemeteries and retreated to her hotel room. She thought she caught a glimpse of Giles and Buffy’s mother going at it on top of a police car, but didn’t care enough to get closer and make sure. As out of character as it would have been for either one of them, she shrugged it off as a trick of the light.
 
Buffy told her about the night’s events the next day.
 
“Damn! That’s what I get for being a good little slayer and going to bed early. Did you say you set fire to a giant snake?”
 
“I made him go back where he came from. I don’t think he was on fire though. It was an…interesting… night. Sorry you missed it.”
 
“Yeah. Me too. Damn!” She smirked. “Guess that couple I saw getting it on, on the police car really was your mom and watcher.”
 
“What? No! No, they…. Oh God. Please tell me they didn’t—”
 
Faith just grinned at her. “Oh yes, they did.”
 
Buffy groaned. “Scrubbing my brain now. Thanks for that image.”
 
“Anytime, B.” Her mood improved, Faith walked off, smiling to herself.
 
 
XXXX
 
 
“Hello?” Buffy tried to make her voice sound casual, but it had been well over a month since Spike’s call and she was beginning to worry that he wasn’t going to keep his promise to call her every month.
 
“’Lo, love.”
 
She breathed out in relief when she recognized his voice, then steeled herself to sound surprised and uninterested. Which might have worked if her initial “hello” hadn’t been quite so out of breath and frantic.
 
“Oh, Spike. Is that you?  Has it been a month already?”
 
His response was a low chuckle. “If you’re too busy to talk, that’s okay. I can try again next month.”
 
“Not funny, Spike. And it’s been a whole lot more than a month!”
 
“It’s been six weeks. And I’m sorry, pet. Had to wait till I was somewhere I could talk privately.”
 
“Privat—oh. You mean without Dru?”
 
“Something like that.”
 
“Oh.” The reality of their situation settled back on Buffy’s shoulders. “Well, that’s… that’s good, I guess. I mean, that you and her… she….”
 
“It’s not all moonlight and roses, Buffy. I’m trying to make it work, but she knows…. She says you’re floatin’ all around me.”
 
“I’m sorry?” Nothing about Buffy’s voice indicating she was even remotely sorry, and he laughed at her.
 
“You are not sorry, you minx.”
 
“No. I guess I’m not. I’m sorry I’m not sorry.”
 
He laughed again. “I miss you, Slayer. Dru’s not as nearly as much fun as you are.”
 
“I miss you too. I’m not having any fun here.”
 
“So, things are quiet then?”
 
“Oh, no things are popping. They just aren’t fun.  And hey, turns out when Dru killed Kendra, another slayer was called. I’m out of the pipeline… I think.”
 
“Does that mean you aren’t the Slayer anymore?”
 
“Well, no. It just means there are two of us. And Faith is kinda…. She’s different from me. Like, really different.”
 
“Good different, or bad different?”
 
“I’m not sure yet, but I’m leaning toward bad-different. And not just because she’s slutty and won’t go to school. I’ve tried being nice to her, but….”
 
“Say the world, love, and she’s my third slayer.”
 
“I’m going to pretend you’re kidding about that…”
 
“If anything she does hurts you—”
 
“I’m the Slayer, Spike. I can take care of myself.”
 
“Speaking of taking care of yourself. When’s your birthday?”
 
“Not until after Christmas. It’s in January.”
 
“And you’ll be eighteen then?”
 
Buffy’s voice got breathier. “Yes. I’ll be eighteen. Does that mean you want to come back to see if I still want to kiss you again?”
 
He gave a soft laugh. “Wasn’t where I was goin’ with it, no, but thanks for the reminder that I’ve still got a good reason to come back someday.”
 
“Oh.” Buffy tried to hide her disappointment. “Well where were you going with it then?”
 
“I can hear that pout, love. Just put it away. I’m not sayin’ I don’t think about you all the time. I do. Every soddin’ day. But what I’m worried about right now is how much of a wanker your watcher’s going to be about that bloody test he’s expected to put you through on your birthday.”
 
“Oh, the crucial-something you told me about? I don’t think Giles will do that to me. I mean, I might have to fight some vampire the Council sends, but he’s not going to—”
 
“If you start to feel weak or tired or sick or… I don’t even know what it is they do exactly, but if you feel like you might be losing your powers, you stay home. You hear me? Don’t patrol, don’t go anywhere with your watcher, and don’t go outside at night unless the house is on fire.” When she didn’t respond, he continued, “Buffy? Are you listening to me?”
 
“I heard you. But it’s silly. Giles wouldn’t do that to me. I’m sure he wouldn’t. Faith’s last watcher was evil, but Giles isn’t… he’s more like a father to me than my own father is.”
 
“Repeat what you just said.”
 
“What? He’s more like—”
 
“Before that. About the other slayer’s watcher.”
 
“Oh. She was evil, it turns out. She’d been fired, but she was after some glove that would make her into something—I’m not sure what, but she thought it would give her a lot of power and Faith believed her when she told her she needed to get the glove because we were evil. I had to fight Faith while Willow and Xander tried to set up the stuff we needed to destroy the glove. And then the bitch—not Faith, her watcher—got the glove and put it on and started trying to kill us.”
 
“Didn’t manage it, I take it?”
 
“Um, no. But I had to cut off her arm and she got zapped by the glove. And then we destroyed it and it was all good. Except maybe for Faith… I mean she feels bad that she almost got us all killed and could’ve turned loose evil on the world, but it just made her act like she’s even madder at me.”
 
Spike was quiet for a moment until Buffy said, “Spike? Are you still there?”
 
“I’m here, love. Just thinking. I’m gonna let you go now. You have yourself a happy Christmas. Try to give a thought to an old vampire while you’re having fun there.”
 
“Aren’t you going to call me again? Why are you wishing me Merry Christmas already?”
 
“You’ll hear from me, sweetheart. You can count on it. Jus’ not sure when exactly. But you’ll hear from me. I promise. Take care of yourself, love. Stay safe.”
 
“You too, Spike. Don’t get dusty.”
 
XXXXX
 
Buffy sighed as she hung up the phone, not sure what he’d meant by ‘you’ll hear from me” and afraid to let herself believe he meant he was coming back. Thinking she’d better warn Faith about not trying to stake any blond vampires with British accents, she fixed herself a sandwich before getting ready to patrol. They rarely patrolled together anymore, but Buffy thought maybe she’d better see if Faith wanted to. To give them a chance to talk if nothing else.
 
It didn’t go as well as she might have hoped.
 
“Wait. Miss Goody-two-shoes is telling me she’s had not one, but two vampire honeys, and I’m to give this one a pass?”
 
“Okay, you knew about Angel—Angelus and that I sent him to hell. And you knew that Spike helped me by taking Drusilla out of the picture and distracting Angelus for me. And you knew my mom kicked me out for a while. The only thing I didn’t mention was that Spike came back to help me and we ended up saving each other’s lives. Which pissed off Drusilla, so she left him.” Buffy stopped and took a deep breath. “And he’s not my ‘honey’. But I do… care… about him… and I don’t want you to have to fight each other.”
 
“You mean you don’t want me to kill him.” Faith narrowed her eyes at Buffy, who winced.
 
“Or vice-versa,” she whispered.
 
“You don’t think I can take him?” Faith’s growl would have done credit to a vampire.
 
“He’s very good,” Buffy said tactfully. “He’s already killed two slayers. I’m just saying I don’t want you two trying to kill each other.”
 
“You don’t think I can do it,” Faith said flatly.
 
“I don’t want you to try.” Buffy tried to keep her voice even, but the look on her face was a grim reminder that Faith hadn’t exactly come out ahead in their only fight. It had been fairly even, but in spite of everything Faith had tried, it was Buffy who’d still been on her feet to take out the evil ex-watcher.
 
“Can’t always get what you want, princess,” Faith sneered as she veered off to do her own patrol, leaving Buffy biting her lip in frustration.
 
XXXX
 
Christmas came and went with no sign of Spike and no phone call, but with enough excitement between the snow flurry on Christmas and the temporary insanity that made all the mothers want to burn Willow and Buffy at the stake, to keep her from dwelling on his absence.
 
Until just before her birthday when she almost lost a fight to a fledgling vampire that she should have been able to handle with one arm.  She got up from the ground and went directly home, shaking her head when Joyce asked what was wrong. 
 
“Nothing. I’m just a little tired. I’m going to bed.”
 
Joyce frowned, but nodded. She went back to the kitchen and was fixing herself a cup of tea when she heard a light tap on the door. Her eyes grew wide when she spotted Spike holding a finger to his lips.  Against her better judgment, she opened the door and hissed at him, “What are you doing here? And why are we whispering?”
 
“Don’t want the Slayer to know I’m back yet,” he whispered to her. “Just need to tell you not to let her patrol anymore unless the other slayer is with her, or you know I’m around. Gonna do my best to keep an eye on her, but I almost would have been too late tonight. Don’t want to take any chances.”
 
“What are you talking about?” Joyce’s voice rose, then dropped again when Spike rolled his eyes.
 
“I’m talking about whatever her wanker of a watcher is doing to her that’s making her weak. He’s setting her up for a test on her birthday. She shouldn’t go anywhere near him that night. Or even leave the house.”
 
Joyce blanched. “He’s taking her to an ice show for her birthday.”
 
“No. He isn’t. Not unless I can convince him he should tell the Council of Wankers what they can do with their Cruciamentum.” He stood up from where he’d been leaning in doorway, having remained outside the door even though he could tell his invitation was still good. “I’m going to try to fix this without letting Buffy know I’m here… but if I can’t, I’ll have to stick close to her.”
 
“How can you fix it?”
 
He flashed his fangs at her.
 
“Gonna have a chat with her watcher about where his loyalties lie and see if he’s willing to be reasonable. Probably can’t stop the test, but I can keep him from making her any weaker than he already has.”
 
“I’m coming with you,” Joyce slammed her mug down on the counter.
 
Spike studied her face and nodded. “I appreciate the thought, luv, but I’d rather you stayed here with Buffy. I don’t think she’ll go back out after the scare she had tonight, but we can’t be sure of it. I’m going to reason with her watcher—and I’m not planning to be nice about it. Probably not something you should see.”
 
“I wasn’t planning to be nice, either,” Joyce muttered, but she returned to her kitchen stool. “But I guess I should stay with my daughter.”
 
Spike grinned at her. “I’d lay odds you were a potential slayer that just aged out of the window before you were called.” He turned to go, then looked back over his shoulder. “Do you want me to come back and tell you how it went if it isn’t too late?”
 
“Yes, please,” she said. “If it doesn’t go well, he’ll have to deal with me tomorrow.”
 
“If he’s smart, he’ll listen to me rather than have to face a brassed off mother.”
 
He laughed and waved as he jumped off the porch.
 
Sixteen
 
 
AN: For all those concerned that Spike is pulling a season 4 Angel act, that hadn’t even occurred to me. Such a different relationship so far in this one. But I can see what it would appear so.  Two things: one is that Spike does indulge in stalking behavior in canon (season 5 anyone?), so it’s hardly OOC for him; and the other is that he needs to make it appear that Buffy is doing this alone if at all possible. He doesn’t want anyone to know he’s there except Joyce and Giles. For him to coming riding to the rescue (not that he won’t if he needs to) wouldn’t do much for Buffy’s confidence and probably wouldn’t count as a successful Cruciamentum to the Council. So at this point, he is planning to stay out of sight. Whether he is planning to slip out of town again, ala Angel, is not clear. He’d expected Buffy to forget about him, but she hasn’t, so he is rethinking his plan….
 
 
CHAPTER SIXTEEN
 
His first instinct was to kick down the watcher’s door, but he wasn’t sure that his one-time invitation to the apartment hadn’t been revoked, so he knocked hard enough to get the man’s attention if he was sleeping.
 
Giles opened the door and began, “Buffy? Why aren’t you—” His voice turned colder. “Spike.”
 
“Watcher,” Spike replied. “We need to talk.”
 
Spike waited to see if he was going to be asked in. He was standing close enough to the opening to have surreptitiously tested for a barrier with his toe, so he was ready to move if Giles tried to close the door on him. However, after a minute of obvious uncertainty, Giles nodded and stood back to allow Spike room to come in.
 
“Thank you,” Spike said as entered.
 
“Somehow I suspect I didn’t really have a choice,” Giles muttered. “Don’t think I didn’t see you test to see if I’d done a disinvite.”
 
Spike snorted a short laugh. “You’re smarter than you look, Watcher.” He walked into the middle of the room and looked around. “I’m surprised you haven’t done one by now.”
 
Giles glared at him. “I’d hoped it would never be necessary. I should have known you wouldn’t keep your word to leave and never return.”
 
Spike frowned. “The only people I gave my word to were the Slayer and her mother. And I never told either of them I would never return. Quite the contrary in Buffy’s case…. But I had hoped not to have to.”
 
He sank into an overstuffed chair and stared at Giles. “I reckon you can guess why I had to now, Watcher.”
 
“I’ve no idea why you’ve chosen to come back now, but perhaps if Buffy hasn’t seen you yet, you can leave without disrupting her life again,” Giles blustered. But when Spike just continued to stare at him, his eyes flashing between blue and amber, he sighed, sat down opposite the vampire, and dropped his head.
 
“I’ve stopped it, you know,” he said. “The drugs. I haven’t given her anything since two days ago. I’m hoping they will be out of her system before—”
 
“Before the Council of Wankers tries to kill her so they can replace her with something younger and less free-thinking?”
 
“Indeed. I have contacts within the Council who have advised me that seems to be the plan. I have tried repeatedly to get them to understand that Buffy’s… independent… and creative thinking is what has made her such a good slayer, but the bastards can’t see past their noses.”
 
“So what’s the plan?”
 
“I’m to pretend to be taking her out for the evening, then drop her at the appointed place where she will face a very violent and powerful vampire.”
 
“What if she won’t go?  I warned her about this abomination of a test months ago before I had any idea how—” He cleared his throat and continued, “And I reminded her of it more recently. She may be less willing to go with you than you expect.”
 
“If I don’t take her there, they will just come after her another way. The best I could do was to stop incapacitating her and hope she has all her powers back before she has to meet Kralik.”
 
Spike frowned and growled. “I’ve met him. Ugly bastard, but tough as nails and almost evil enough to put Angelus to shame. How the hell did the Council get him?”
 
“No idea. And I’ve no idea how they are controlling him until they are ready for him to attack Buffy. I’m quite sure they are all here in Sunnydale and setting things up for her test. I just pray the drugs have left her system.”
 
“I saw Buffy almost get killed tonight by a fledgling vamp she should have dusted without even tryin’.”
 
“Dear lord! You saved her?”
 
Spike shook his head. “Didn’t need to, but it was too bloody close for comfort. I don’t want her taking on something like Kralik until I know she’s completely recovered her powers.” He looked thoughtful. “Although, if I dust their hired killer, maybe they’d like to substitute William the Bloody for him. They know I kill slayers, I should—”
 
Giles cut him off.
 
“No. That won’t work. I was very cautious about what I told them of the time after Angelus, but I did tell them about the truce you made with Buffy. And I know I’m not their only source of information in Sunnydale. It is entirely too likely they already know you and Buffy have a… friendship of sorts.” He sighed. “No. She will have to meet Kralik and defeat him. That’s the only way to force them to allow her to continue.”
 
“So, when is the magic day, then? All I know is it’s this month, but it must be soon if she’s already weak.”
 
Giles frowned. “Her actual birthday is tomorrow. I’d expected the drugs to have worn off by now.”  He stared at Spike, his frown deepening. “Are you sure she’s still weak?”
 
“I’m sure. I know Buffy. I know how she fights, what she can do… there’s no way that just-turned nitwit should have been able to give her a hard time. She was weak and she was slow. Just barely managed to get the stake into position for him to fall on it.”
 
Giles sighed and took his glasses off to clean them. “Well, let us sincerely hope that she is back to herself by tomorrow. If not….” He peered at Spike. “Shall I assume she will have whatever backup she needs?”
 
“She will. I’m hoping she won’t need it. But I’m not going to stand around with my thumb up my arse while she gets killed.”
 
“Does she know you’re here?” Giles abruptly changed the subject.
 
Spike shook his head. “No. Joyce does, but I don’t want Buffy to know until after… and maybe not then.”
 
Giles stared at him, then got up and walked to his cabinet. He took out a bottle of scotch and two glasses, carrying them back into the living room with him. When he had poured them both a substantial amount, he handed one glass to Spike and sat again.
 
“Joyce and I have had several conversations in the past few months,” he said, sipping his drink. “She seems to think your interest in helping Buffy extends much beyond a simple truce and the resulting friendship.”
 
Spike just stared at him over the rim of his glass, waiting for the actual question.
 
“Are you in love with my slayer?”
 
“Probably.”
 
“She’s already been badly hurt by one vampire that thought he was in love with her. He betrayed her. She’s very young to have suffered that kind of pain in her life.”
 
“Know that, don’t I? Why do you think I walked away?”
 
Spike growled and took a long drink from his glass before he continued.
 
“But, let’s be clear about this—I’m not Angelus. Souled or unsouled, he was a bastard. Hell, Liam was a cherry-busting wanker when he was human. I’ve got no soul to lose. And I’m not some little-girl raping monster. I know much of what Buffy thinks she feels for me—”
 
He snorted as Giles’s eyes got wide and he gasped, “You think Buffy has—for you?”
 
“Yeah. I wouldn’t call it love, but she’s… interested. I figured it was a combination of proximity, loneliness, gratitude, and maybe a bit of hero-worship, and if I just left and stayed away, she’d fall right back into being a teenager who worries about proms and where she’s going to go to university more than she does about the whereabouts of an old vampire.”
 
“I presume you think that’s not the case,” Giles said with a glare. “From time to time, Joyce has mentioned Buffy’s seeming lack of interest in high school life, but  it seemed to be improving, and we’ve assumed she would eventually return to her previously normal self.”
 
“Because being the Slayer is all about being a normal schoolgirl,” Spike snorted.
 
“Point taken. But Buffy has always done her best to be as normal as possible. She and Cordelia even competed against each other for Homecoming Queen….” Giles frowned. “Although the need to fight together against a group of vampires in something called ‘Slayerfest’ seems to have mended what had become something of a rift. Neither of them ended up Homecoming Queen, and the need to depend upon each other for survival seems to have made peace between them.”
 
“What was the cheerleader doing in a Slayer fight?”
 
“I’m not sure. It had something to do with a limo that was meant to contain Buffy and Faith— About whom I suppose I should tell you….”
 
“Newbie slayer, bit of a loose cannon, not sure which side she’s on and jealous of Buffy?” 
 
When Giles gaped at him, Spike grinned and shook his head.
 
“I said I was trying to stay away. Didn’t say the Slayer was gonna let me disappear from her life without a fight. I’ve spoken to her on the phone twice. She told me a bit about the other Slayer, but she never mentioned anything about being targeted in a coordinated effort. What lowlife was responsible for that?”
 
“We’re not clear on that. All we know at this point is that there is a local demon planning an Ascension. No doubt the influx of demons and older vampires is related to that in some way. Buffy and Faith will have their hands full every night until we can identify the main threat and eliminate it.”
 
“Sounds like maybe I need to hang around.”
 
“As much as it pains me to admit it, it’s possible that may be a good idea. I’m not sure how Faith will adjust to working with the notorious William the Bloody, but I presume she will accept it if I make it clear you can be trusted.”
 
“You saying you trust me?” Spike’s expression wavered between offended and pleased.
 
Giles finished his drink. “I’m saying Buffy does, and until we get this bloody test over with, I’m willing to believe you will not let anything happen to her.”
 
“Good enough.” Spike drained his own glass and stood up. “I’m off to find a safe place to spend the day.” He scribbled something on piece of paper from the desk and handed it to Giles. “Call this number if there’s anything I need to know. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume all is going according to plan and I’ll just shadow Buffy and try to judge how close I think I need to be.”
 
“I don’t imagine they will want to delay, but I haven’t exactly been taken into their confidence.”
 
“I expect Kralik might be a bit for even experienced watchers to handle. Think I’ll swing by that hotel and check it out.”
 
“Just because they aren’t slayers, doesn’t mean they are not quite skilled at killing vampires,” Giles said, not hiding his reluctance at expressing concern for Spike’s safety.
 
“Aw, worried about me, are you?” Spike’s grin faded. “Don’t worry, Watcher. Got too much ridin’ on being around if I’m needed to get myself dusted. But I appreciate the warning.”
 
Giles nodded. “If I see Faith, I will endeavor to convince her you are to be left alone.” He sighed. “She is not, however, inclined to listen to me.”
 
“Kinda like Buffy then, isn’t she?” Spike snorted at Giles’s disgruntled expression and pulled the door shut behind him.
 
XXXX
 
Spike went by the old boarding house where Giles had told him the Council team was holding Kralik.  He got just close enough to hear the vampire bellowing for his drugs, and to note how many human heartbeats he could hear, then continued on his way to Restfield cemetery and the older areas where there were many above ground tombs. Before he could find one that suited him, he remembered that he had access to a perfectly good, if a bit musty, vamp-proof old house, and he headed for Crawford Street.
 
He was pleased to find the old mansion almost as he’d left it, with just a lingering scent to tell him that Buffy still visited it sometimes. When he smelled her on the sheets of his bed, he fell onto it, burying his face in her scent and trying not to read too much into the fact that she’d obviously spent some time there by herself. He drifted off to sleep with a smile, picturing Buffy clutching the pillow he was holding to his nose.
 
XXXX
 
When Spike woke up around noon, he took another sniff of his pillow, then stretched. He suddenly remembered about Joyce. He growled to himself as he tried to remember the name of her gallery so he could call, but gave it up and just began planning his apology.
 
Which, when he got out of the shower, he found he was going to need immediately.  He was wearing only the water drops he hadn’t brushed off when he started down the hall to his room and found Joyce and Giles staring at him.  They quickly averted their eyes, Giles saying, “For God’s sake, man, put some clothes on!”
 
“Sorry,” Spike said, with no sincerity whatsoever. “Thought it would be safe to walk around without my kit in my own house…. So to speak,” he added, remembering he’d told Joyce the house belonged to Buffy if anyone. He ducking into his room, pulled on his jeans and a tee-shirt, and came out to wave them to the kitchen.
 
“To what do I owe this surprise visit? A bit early for tea, if that’s what you dropped by for.”
 
“I’m here because you said you were coming back to tell me what you found out from Rupert,” Joyce said.
 
“I said if it wasn’t too late. It was gone midnight and I thought my time would be better spent getting the lay of the land for this barbaric ritual Rupert has set Buffy up for.”
 
“And it didn’t occur to you to warn me that Joyce would be on my doorstep if you hadn’t told her not to?” Giles’s look promised, if not imminent staking, at least that Spike had tasted the last of his good scotch that Spike was ever going to get.
 
Spike just grinned at him as he turned to check the freezer, where he was pleasantly surprised to find relatively fresh frozen blood. He set it in the microwave and as it thawed, he sat down.
 
“So, as of last night, Kralik was apparently confined somehow and not happy about it. I counted three heartbeats, so those would be the vampire minders. Looks like they’ve been boarding and bricking up most the doors and windows, so they must be planning to lock Buffy in with the monster.”
 
Joyce went pale. “Monster?”
 
“Big, nasty, ugly version of me, Joyce. He was a serial—” Giles’s cough stopped him but not before Joyce realized what he’d started to say.
 
“Oh my God. My baby!”
 
“It’s okay,” Spike soothed. “I’m going to be there the whole time. If Buffy’s enough back to herself that I think she can take him, I’ll just watch. If I think she’s in trouble….” His eyes flashed amber and his fangs came down. “That monster will learn what a real vampire is like,” he said with a guttural snarl.
 
“You do realize we aren’t finding that at all reassuring,” Giles said dryly. “That Buffy will still be locked in that building with a dangerous vampire.”
 
“Buffy’s not afraid of me,” Spike said with a shrug. “So neither should you be. You just do your part and get her there.”
 
Joyce nodded her head. “Spike isn’t going to hurt Buffy, Rupert. Don’t be stupid.”
 
Ignoring the disgruntled watcher, Spike asked Joyce. “Could you tell how Buffy feels this morning?”
 
She shook her head. “Not really. I rarely have any reason to see her using her powers, so I wouldn’t know if she was better or not.”
 
Spike sighed. “All right. I’ll just shadow her again tonight and hope she’s back to herself. I’ll try not to let her know I’m there.” His face when he said that had Joyce laying a sympathetic hand on his.
 
“I know this is hard for you, Spike. And I appreciate what you’re doing for my daughter.”
 
He shrugged and squeezed her hand as he removed it. “I’m a big boy.”  He poured his blood into a mug and began drinking. “Just let me know if anything changes. I’m guessing neither Kralik nor the Council of Wankers is locked into it being the exact date of her birth. Don’t want to be caught by surprise.” He glanced at Giles. “You don’t know if they trust you or not,” he said. “They may just think they can do this with without you.”
 
Giles frowned. “I hadn’t thought of that—but I certainly wouldn’t put it past that bastard.”
 
“Bastard?” Joyce asked.
 
“Quentin Travers. Head of the Council. He’s had it in for Buffy since she disobeyed his orders to stop seeing Angel. He’s mentioned coming here in person for her Cruciamentum.”
 
Spike’s eyes flared. “So, it’s alright if I eat him?”
 
“It’s a tempting thought,” Giles said. “But Buffy would never forgive you for killing someone for her.”
 
“Spike sighed. “She wouldn’t. Even if it was a wanker that was trying to kill her.”
 
“So. We’re agreed then? You’ll watch Buffy tonight and be there if they start without me?
 
Spike nodded and drained his mug. He licked the blood off his lips and grinned at their expressions, still smiling as they turned to leave, trying not to seem to be hurrying. His smile faded as he thought about how much danger Buffy was in, and how important it was that he remain out of sight.
 
 
Chapter Seventeen
 
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
 
Thanks to a quick call from Joyce to tell him Buffy had gone out for a short patrol before Giles was to pick her up for the ice show, Spike was on the streets and looking for her almost immediately.  He located her fairly easily, frowning when at the entrance to Restfield, a car pulled up and a tall, well-dressed man got out. He said something to Buffy, who approached him and nodded.
 
“Watcher,” Spike growled. “Reeks of tweed and smugness.” He remained hidden, frustrated that he wasn’t close enough to hear their entire conversation. He growled again when, with seeming reluctance, Buffy entered the car, which then moved smoothly away.
 
“Fuck, Bloody buggering Fuck!” He watched it drive off, fumbling for his phone. It took precious seconds for him to locate Giles’s number and a few more until the man answered.
 
“They’ve got her,” Spike said without preamble. “Older, tweedy bloke, all smooth and oily, put her in the car and drove off.”
 
“Bloody hell,” Giles said. “That bastard didn’t trust me to bring her to them.”
 
“I’m on my way now. Just hoping he’s taking her where I think he is.” Spike hung up and took off at his top speed, arriving at the old boarding house just in time to see the car pull up and stop. Not waiting to watch Buffy go in, he went around to the back, but found all the exits and entrances blocked up. Swearing under his breath, he glanced up to the upper stories and ran to a nearby tree from which he could jump to a balcony. That door was also boarded closed, and rather than take the time to break it down, he climbed from there to the roof. Cursing his lack of speed the whole time, he made his way to an unshuttered third story window and swung down to kick it in, hoping Kralik wouldn’t notice the noise.
 
He made his way down the stairs, trying for silence, but not really caring anymore if the other vampire could hear him. He heard voices coming from the basement, but couldn’t quite make out what they were saying as he neared the main floor. He walked toward the opening from which he could hear the voices, and went down the stairs far enough to see the room in which Kralik had been kept. He snarled when he saw the photos of Buffy on a board facing the broken cage that had once held the vampire. Spike kicked a guard’s body out of his way and followed the sound of now louder voices, taking care to remain out of sight.
 
He located Buffy dodging this way and that in an effort to stay away from the monster stalking her. She was holding a bottle of pills for which Kralik was bellowing, threatening her with a more painful death than she could imagine if she didn’t give them to him immediately. When she broke for the main room, still clutching the pills and just barely ahead of the raging vampire, Spike quickly retreated to a landing on the stairs.
 
Putting a large wooden table between them, Buffy threw the pill bottle at Kralik. In the time it took for him to open it and gulp the pills, Buffy placed a small container of water on the table. With his head back to take the pills, Kralik didn’t notice, but then saw a glass of water within reach. He grabbed it and washed his pills down, grinning at Buffy as he dropped the empty glass and began stalking toward her again.
 
Buffy picked up a chair and smashed it against the large vampire, which slowed him down barely enough for her to stay out of his reach. She held a stake in her hand and continued to back up, beginning to look worried. Spike was just about to drop into the room when Kralik began to shake all over and smoke began coming out of his ears. The huge vampire stared at Buffy as he shook harder and harder.
 
“What did you—” He made one last lunge at her, but burst into ashes before he could do more than claw at her arm.
 
“Holy water,” Buffy said with a dismissive sniff. “What kind of moron takes water from a slayer?” She kicked at the ashes, then turned around and gazed upward. “Are you going to come down here and kiss me, or just lurk in the stairwell?”
 
Trying his best to appear unsurprised and casual, Spike came down the stairs and stood facing her.
 
“You knew I was here?”
 
“Eventually.” She stepped closer to him and put her hands on her hips. “Why didn’t you just come riding in on your white horse and rescue me? ‘Cause, FYI, he was seriously trying to kill me.”
 
“It was your kill to make, Slayer. Wasn’t going to let him have you, but I didn’t want to take it from you if you had it.” He stepped the rest of the way into the room. “Let me see that arm.”
 
“It’s fine. He barely scratched me. Let’s get out of here.”
 
“Um… you might want to hang on that stake for a while, love. I think your friend there turned at least one of his minders.”
 
Buffy shrugged. “I’ll tell Faith where they are. Right now I want that pompous ass that brought me here.”  She started up the stairs, pausing when he didn’t follow.  “Spike?” Her voice suddenly sounded less like an angry slayer and more like an unsure young girl as she turned to face him. “Aren’t you coming with me?”
 
They stared at each other, raw emotion easily visible on their faces. Buffy’s lip trembled, but she was obviously refusing to cry, and Spike folded first. He walked up until he was only one step below her and put his arms around her. With a sigh of relief, she melted against him. As they had when he left, they held each other without conversation, letting their tight embrace say what needed to be said.
 
The sound of the front door being forced open brought a reluctant end to what threatened to last until their legs gave out. Buffy pulled away and turned to continue up the stairs.
 
They emerged at the top of the stairs to find Travers, Giles, and Joyce running into the room.
 
“Buffy!” Joyce ran to Buffy and hugged her. “You’re alive!”
 
“Uh, yeah.” Buffy glared at Travers, “Your pet serial killer isn’t. Turns out drinking holy water didn’t agree with him.” She turned her gaze on Giles. “You were really going to do this to me, weren’t you? Is that why I’m so weak? What did you do to me?”
 
Giles’s face expressed his anguish. “I was. But I stopped drugging you when I found out they didn’t expect or want you to survive. Are you still weak?”
 
Buffy shrugged. “I’ve been better.” She walked closer to him. “Good thing for you. Otherwise this might really hurt.” She buried her fist in his stomach and walked away, leaving him doubled over and gasping for air. She turned her gaze on Travers, who was edging his way toward the open door.
 
“Not a chance,” Joyce said, holding a hat rack like a club and getting between him and the doorway.
 
When Travers turned to go down the stairs, where Spike guessed there were probably weapons, he stepped in front of him and went into game face. “I promised the slayer I wouldn’t eat you,” he said. “But I never said I wouldn’t make you very, very sorry for coming here…” He paused and looked over his shoulder. “Oh look, here comes one of your bodyguards. Why don’t you ask him to protect you?” Spike backed away from the stairway so as to allow Travers to see his newly vamped and bloody Council muscle coming up the stairs.
 
To Quentin’s credit, he drew a stake from his pocket and disposed of his former employee without flinching. He didn’t attempt to continue his way to the basement as Spike had made it very clear he wasn’t going to get there. He stared around at the two adults, the slayer they were so protective of, and the notorious vampire, who bared his teeth at him again.
 
“I can see that I have made a grave mistake. My congratulations, Ms. Summers. It appears you have passed your Cruciamentum without the assistance of those who obviously had planned to help you.” He looked at Joyce and nodded his head. “I cannot fault you for wanting to protect your child. You would have made an excellent slayer yourself had you been called before you got too old.”
 
Spike’s “Aha! I told you so, Joyce!” interrupted what Travers had obviously intended to be a speech.
 
After a glare at the vampire, Travers went on, turning to Giles. “You, however, do not have that excuse. Buffy was your charge, not your child. Clearly you cannot maintain the proper distance required of a watcher. You are dismissed from your position. I will send someone else to watch both Ms. Summers and Ms. Lehane.” Turning his back on Giles, who was still clutching his stomach, he stared at Spike, now wearing his human face.
 
“William the Bloody.”
 
“Council wanker,” Spike replied.
 
“Why are you here?”
 
“Came to make sure Buffy survived your barbaric little test. That’s all. Turns out she didn’t need me, but….”
 
“And now you’re leaving again?”
 
“Don’t think my comin’ and goin’ is any of your business.”
 
Travers narrowed his eyes.
 
“Things did not go well the last time Ms. Summers allowed a vampire into her life. I believe that does make it my business.”
 
“I’m not him.” Spike kept his voice flat and his tone firm. “Got no soul to lose. Got no desire to end the world. Don’t owe you any explanations, and I haven’t forgotten that you wanted to kill the best slayer you’ve ever had. I’ve never broken a promise to Buffy, but I might feel an exception comin’ on.” He let his eyes flash amber again as he glared at Travers.
 
Instead of being angry, the man looked intrigued. “The best?” he asked. “That’s high praise coming from the vampire responsible to killing two of her sister slayers.”
 
“Killed at least two. Fought a few more. Might’ve killed one of them, I’m not sure. Her watcher shot me with a crossbow and dragged her away.” Spike shrugged. “When I tell you Buffy’s probably the best you’ve ever had, you should listen.”
 
“Perhaps I should.” Travers looked toward the open door. “Ah, there’s my other man. Ms. Summers, if you’d be so good?”
 
Buffy looked at the other bodyguard who had paused when he saw all the people in the room, as well as the armed slayer. He turned to run, but Spike was on him before he got off the porch, wrenching the new vamp’s head off. He stood up and faced the humans watching with various degrees of interest and disgust.
 
“What? Why should the Slayer have all the fun?” He dusted off his hands, then put them in his pockets as he waited.
 
“I suggest we all adjourn to our respective homes, or in my case, hotel room, to recover from the events of this evening. Obviously, although Rupert has been relieved of his duties, Ms. Summers—Buffy—will continue, and in conjunction with Ms. Lehane—” Travers caught the exchange of looks between Giles and Buffy. “Is there a problem?”
 
“I wouldn’t tell you if there was,” Buffy sniffed, walking over to stand near Spike on the porch.
 
Travers sighed and looked at Giles. “Rupert?” 
 
Giles shook his head. “Faith is also a very… independent… young lady. In a manner quite different from Buffy’s. I suspect she won’t be terribly amenable to getting a new watcher. If you count me, she’s been through three since she was called less than a year ago. I believe she intends to go her own way. So far, that has not affected her slaying….”
 
Travers shook his head. “That is unfortunate, as the line appears to go through her now. Ah well, perhaps the new watcher will be able to do a better job of controlling her.” He ignored Buffy’s snort of disgust. “I’m going to return to my hotel now. I’ll be leaving in the morning. You may expect the new watcher within the fortnight.”
 
He walked calmly down the steps to his car as though he hadn’t just lost two employees and a very useful captive vampire. He didn’t look back as he got into the car, started the engine, and drove away.
 
Joyce stared at Giles. “Is he for real?”
 
“Alas. Shall I drive you home, Joyce?”
 
“I’m not sure yet that I’m not going to punch you.”
 
“It would be well-deserved. All I ask is that you pick another body part than the one Buffy has seemingly destroyed.” He rubbed his diaphragm and winced.
 
“Buffy? Are you coming home now? You should get that arm cleaned up.”
 
Buffy glanced at Spike. “Are you coming with us?” She waited, but her expression said there was only one acceptable answer.
 
“I’ll be right along, love. You take the Watcher’s offer of a ride.”
 
She frowned at him with suspicion, but he shook his head. “Wouldn’t do that to you, Slayer. I’ll be there. You go on.”
 
XXXX
 
True to his word, Spike knocked on the kitchen door not more than fifteen minutes after Giles had dropped Joyce and Buffy off. Giles hadn’t waited to find out if Joyce was going to invite him in, but said he was going to go home and ice his abdomen and look for signs of internal injuries. Neither Buffy nor Joyce offered any trace of sympathy and he left with no idea whether or not he had been kicked out of Buffy’s life.
 
Joyce was still fussing over Buffy’s wound, even though it had already started to close. She glanced up at the knock, saw who it was, and sighed.
 
“Come in, Spike, It’s unlocked.”
 
He entered almost shyly, nodded to Joyce and peered at Buffy’s arm. “Doesn’t look too bad, Slayer.”
 
“Too far from my heart to kill me,” she said cheerfully, pulling her arm away from Joyce with a smile of thanks.
 
“That is not even close to funny, young lady!” Joyce said. She began putting her first aid supplies away, muttering to herself as she did so.
 
Buffy and Spike exchanged small smiles and moved closer together.
 
“I should probably patrol,” Buffy said. “Travers grabbed me before I even got into the first cemetery.”
 
“I think you’ve done your bit for today, Slayer. We’ll hit them all tomorrow and take out whatever you missed today.” Spike paused and glanced at Joyce, who had spun around with a cry of dismay at Buffy’s comment about patrolling. “I’ve got a better idea. What if I take you both out to dinner to celebrate the birthday properly?”
 
Joyce looked like she might be planning to object, then saw the delight on Buffy’s face and sighed. “That’s very nice of you, Spike. Although Buffy and I ate our dinner some time ago. But I imagine we could both use some dessert. What’s a birthday without cake and ice cream?”
 
“Dessert it is,” Spike agreed. “That alright with you, Slayer?”
 
“Yep. Just let me change my clothes. I’ll be right back.” 
 
Chapter Eighteen
 
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
 
Buffy dashed out of the kitchen and they could hear her rapid footsteps on the stairs. Spike and Joyce stared at each other in a silent contest of wills. With a sigh, Joyce dropped her gaze.
 
“So. Are you here to stay, or are you going to make my daughter unhappy again by running back to your real girlfriend?”
 
“Ouch!” Spike said, visibly wincing. “Got right to the point, didn’t you?”
 
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
 
“The watcher and I think it might be good if I hang around a while. Seems like some demon is planning a big event and it’s bringing a lot of undesirables to Sunnydale. And the other slayer is a bit of a loose cannon. She may or may not be reliable backup for Buffy.”
 
Joyce sighed again. “We’ve tried to include Faith as much as we can. The poor girl has had a terrible life so far and it’s made her much… harder… than someone her age has any right to be.”
 
“Point is, no matter how hard a life she’s had, she’s a slayer. She has a duty, and if she doesn’t want to do it, Buffy could suffer for it.”
 
Joyce was silent, but her face was set into lines of stubborn resistance.
 
“As for the rest of it… Dru and I… we aren’t together anymore. She said I’m not enough demon for her, and that I’m too… too….” He took a deep breath.  “She thinks I spend too much of my time thinking and worrying about Buffy.” He stared at Joyce, forcing her to see what she didn’t want to. “You know I’m in love with her. You figured that out last year, yeah? It didn’t go away while I was gone, and I don’t expect it’s going to.”
 
“She’s just a child—” Joyce shook her head, and started over. “I know, she’s legally an adult now, and I know she’s had some… experience… I would have preferred she hadn’t, but she’s very young and you’re… not.”
 
“No, I’m not. I’d be a bit old for her even if I were human and of this time.  Although, not in my time,” he said, looking thoughtful. “In my time, our age difference would be considered just about right.”
 
“You’re not human, and this isn’t your time.” Joyce seemed to be searching for whatever reasons she could find to prevent the relationship she was afraid to acknowledge.
 
“No. It isn’t. And the Slayer isn’t some delicate flower that’s never been without the protection of her family while they pick out the proper young, but mature, gentleman for her.” Spike didn’t mention that Joyce had thrown her under-age daughter out of her home, but he could see her wince.
 
“Touché” Joyce said. “She’s not a normal eighteen-year-old, and you’re not an ordinary older man.”
 
“I’m not even a normal vampire,” Spike said with a snort of laugher, then sobered. “I’m not going to hurt her, Joyce. If I think that’s what’s going to happen, I’ll take myself out of her life. I promise you.”
 
“Your idea of hurting her and mine are not the same thing.”
 
“I expect they aren’t,” he said. “But it is what it is, and whatever else it becomes is between the Slayer and me.”
 
The sound of Buffy jumping down the stairs, put an end to the conversation, and Joyce was wearing a forced smile when Buffy joined them.
 
“Are we ready to go?”
 
“Just let me get my jacket,” Joyce said. “I’ll drive.” She went out to the hall closet to get her coat, leaving Buffy and Spike staring at each other.
 
“What did you guys talk about?”
 
“’Bout what you’d expect. She thinks I’m not what you need in your life and was hopin’ I was leaving again.”
 
“Are you?”
 
He shook his head. “Not unless you tell me you want me gone, or I think being here is harming you in some way.”
 
“I want you here,” she said, blushing, but meeting his eyes firmly.
 
He nodded. “Let’s go have ourselves a birthday celebration, and we’ll talk later about what that means.”
 
XXXXX
 

“Can we drop you somewhere, Spike?” Joyce asked as they walked out of the restaurant.
 
“That was some serious desserting,” Buffy said before Spike could answer. “Thank you, Spike. That’s the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted.”
 
“I think it was the vanilla ice cream that made the dish,” Spike responded, snorting at her attempt to change the subject.
 
“It was delicious,” Joyce said, pretending she didn’t know Buffy had deliberately tried to derail her thoughts. “Thank you, Spike. It was very thoughtful of you.”
 
“Wanted the Slayer to have something better than facing a homicidal maniac to remember for her eighteenth birthday.”
 
“And on that happy note….” Joyce unlocked the car doors and stared at Spike. “Do you want me to drop you somewhere?”
 
“Since I’m obviously not invited back to your house,” Spike said with a wry twist to his mouth, “I reckon I’ll just run a few errands and then make my way back to Crawford Street.”
 
“Mom! That was rude. What if I want Spike to come back to the house? I haven’t seen him for a long time. We have catching up to do.”
 
Joyce sighed. “Yes. I suppose it was rude, especially after he bought us dessert. But it’s been a long day and I was hoping to go to bed soon.”
 
Buffy put her hands on her hips. “And having Spike in the house is going to make that impossible?”  She blew out a strong breath and continued. “Look, I know you don’t want… and we aren’t going to… but if you don’t trust me….”  She stopped and got a sterner expression on her face. “You do remember that we lived in the same house for more than a month, right? If Spike was going to seduce me, or ravage me, or whatever it is you think will happen if you aren’t in the same room, don’t you think it would have happened then?”
 
Spike’s face was still as he waited to see how Joyce would react. Her shoulders slumped and she gave in. “You’re right. I’m being rude, but in my defense, I had to watch one old vampire take advantage of your youth and break your heart. I’m just trying to—”
 
Spike interrupted her. “You almost lost your daughter tonight, and you’re tryin’ to keep her safe, physically and emotionally. Trust me, Joyce, I understand that… and I want the same things for her. But she’s the Slayer. Her life is on the line every night. I’m no threat to her physical safety. I’m here because I want her to be the longest lived slayer ever and I’ll do whatever I can to make that so.”
 
“And her emotional well-being?” Joyce glared at him, making it clear she remembered their conversation from earlier in the evening.
 
“Not going to hurt her,” he said quietly. “Not going to do anything to make her have to stake me, not going to change into some kind of monster just because she—” He shook his head. “This conversation shouldn’t even be happening. I want to be here with Buffy. She wants me here. That’s as far as we’ve gone in terms of a relationship. Anything else is up to her.”
 
Her is standing right here!”  Buffy glared back and forth between them. “Anything and everything is up to ‘her’. Get over yourselves, both of you.”
 
Both Spike and Joyce managed to look equally abashed at the scolding, but Joyce spoke first.
 
“You’re right, Buffy. I’m sorry. Let’s all go back to the house. Please get in, Spike.” Joyce opened the driver’s door and got behind the wheel while Buffy and Spike took a moment to sort out where Buffy was going to sit. At Spike’s insistence, she got into the passenger seat while he sprawled in the back.
 
No one spoke during the short ride to the Summers home. They were out of the car, on the way to the front door and Joyce had remained silent. Without looking at either one of them, she unlocked the door and opened it, keeping her gaze down as she took off her coat.  Still without meeting anyone’s eyes, she hung up her coat and walked to the stairs.
 
“I’m just going to go to bed now. I have a busy day tomorrow… and you have school, Buffy. Please don’t stay up too late.”
 
“I won’t, Mom,” Buffy responded, rolling her eyes at Spike’s grin. “I promise. Good night.”
 
“Good night, Joyce,” Spike added. “I won’t stay long. Slayer needs her beauty sleep.”
 
“Good night, Buffy, Spike.”  Still without having turned to look at either of them, Joyce disappeared up the stairs.
 
“What do you mean, I need my beauty sleep?  Are you implying I’m getting old and ugly?”
 
She put her hands on her hips and gave him a mock glare.  He laughed and shook his head as he reached for her, putting his hands around her waist and pulling her closer.
 
“You know that’s not what I meant, love. You’re just as beautiful as you were when I left here. More so, to be honest. You’ve lost that worried look you used to have, and you’re obviously eating better.”
 
“So now you’re saying I’m fat?”
 
She tried to maintain the illusion that she was insulted and angry, but he just kept chuckling and held her tighter.
 
“I’m saying you’re growing into the amazing woman I knew you were goin’ to be. You’re beautiful, curvaceous, and if you don’t ask me to kiss you now, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
 
Buffy put her arms around his neck and stood on her toes to reach his mouth. “Kiss me,” she murmured against it.
 
There was nothing tentative about this kiss—only their second one—on Spike’s part or Buffy’s. He gave her a second or two before he ran his tongue over her lips, asking for entrance. Without hesitation, she sent her tongue out to meet it. They played dueling tongues for a while until with a groan, Spike deepened the kiss even more, holding her up when her legs threatened to give out. Eventually Buffy tore her mouth away to gasp for more air.
 
“Wow, wowie, wow” she said, feeling his chest shake under her cheek as he chuckled. Now that she wasn’t so focused on what their mouths and tongues were doing, she could feel his length pressed against her stomach and she stiffened just enough that he let go of her.
 
“Sorry, love. I don’t have any control over that. Not when you’re that close and I’m kissing you.”
 
“Guess we can’t blame it on sparring this time, huh?” she said, blushing. “It’s… it’s okay. I didn’t mean to make you let go.” She peered up at him, blushing even more.
 
“Just as well, sweetheart. Not saying I don’t want more, but I’m just back, your mum wishes I wasn’t, and I’ve no doubt your watcher has a stake with my name on it. We’ve got time to work this out.”
 
“Spike,” Buffy said, then shook her head and sighed. “I don’t know what I want to say to you. I want to remind you I’m not a virgin, and I’m over eighteen…. And at the same time, I’m really glad you aren’t going to push me because I don’t know if I….”  She looked up at him, reading on his face the calm acceptance of whatever she was going to say. “I know what I said when I was mad at Mom about never having sex again, especially not with another vampire, but I… I think I’m over that.” She blushed furiously, but made herself continue. “But I don’t know if I… I love you. And, I want to be in love when I—and that’s dumb, cause I already have and being in love didn’t keep that from being awful—and I—”
 
He put his fingers on her lips. “Shhh, love. I understand what you’re saying. You want to love with your heart, not just your body.”
 
She sighed in relief. “That’s what I was trying to say. I mean, I know you’re a guy and it’s different for you, but—”
 
He pulled her into a loose embrace, obviously leaving it up to her how close their bodies were. He smiled when she put her arms around his neck and let their bodies touch, neither pushing against, nor avoiding, the hard object pressing into her stomach. He nuzzled her neck and placed a light kiss on it.
 
“Ah, there’s my girl. It’s not that different for me, love. I’m just way ahead of you in havin’ my heart and body on the same page. If I just wanted your amazing little body, I’d keep kissing you until I got it. But I don’t want to coax you into bed by pushing the right buttons to get your body makin’ decisions for your heart. I want you there because you want to be there with me. I want all of Buffy.”
 
Buffy stiffened and frowned up at him. “I don’t know if I should be happy that you don’t want to push me, or offended that you’re so sure you could.”
 
In response, he fastened his mouth on hers again, holding the kiss until she was melting against him and whimpering in the back of her throat. He took his mouth off hers and kissed his way across her chin and down to her neck where he pulled the skin into his mouth, growling softly. He slid his hands down to her ass and pulled her in hard. When Buffy jumped up and wrapped her legs around his hips, she surprised herself as much as she did him, but he didn’t hesitate to let her grind against him. Which she did until she realized what she was doing.
 
With great reluctance, she dropped her legs and slid down his body, giving a little gasping whimper when her descent was temporarily blocked by his rigid cock. He rocked his hips into her, then sighed and pulled them back so she could continue her progress to the floor. As soon as her feet were down, she pushed herself away and glared at him.
 
“Fine. You made your point. You’re a good kisser. If you wanted to, you could make me do it.”
 
“I do want to, Buffy. Don’t ever doubt that. Want you so bad I can’t even—I do want you. And if I thought you’d be alright with shagging a man you aren’t in love with, I’d have you naked before you knew what I was doing.” He touched her cheek and ran his finger down her face. “But you aren’t like that. And you’ve already been abused by one old vampire that should have kept it in his pants. Don’t want to be that to you.”
 
“Do you love me?”
 
He cocked his head at her. “I do. Think you might have figured that out by now. I haven’t tried to hide it.” He looked almost disappointed in her, and Buffy flinched and touched his hand in apology.
 
“But if you love me, you won’t do the same thing to me Angel did, will you? I mean, he wouldn’t have done that if he was Angel, but Angelus… he didn’t love me anymore. Because he didn’t have his soul.”
 
“I don’t have a soul, love,” he reminded her gently, his expression sad but patient.
 
Buffy frowned. “You don’t. But you love-loved Dru, and you love me. How come you can do it and Angel couldn’t?”
 
He took a deep breath. “Sweetheart, there is no way for me to answer that without telling you a lot more than you want to know about your first love. We’re not the same. That’s all you need to know. All vamps aren’t alike, just like all people aren’t alike. Some don’t even kill to eat.”
 
When her frown deepened, he hurried on.
 
“Most do. Don’t ever stop to wonder about that before you stake something. We’re demons. Pure and simple. But some demons are stronger than others, and some humans give the demon a bit more to work with—like your deranged stake-bait tonight. If the wankers hadn’t been so keen to be rid of you, you’d have met something so stupid and slow that it might not have even given you a fight.”
 
“Isn’t your demon strong?”
 
“Yes and no. It makes me strong, no doubt about that. It’s very strong that way, but I can control it. Just never had much reason to want to until I met you.”
 
“So, where does that leave us?” 
 
The short conversation had given Buffy’s libido time to calm down, and while she wanted more Spike kisses, it was pretty obviously not something to indulge in while in her probably not-sleeping mother’s living room. His resigned smile told her Spike was aware of the change in her.
 
“It leaves you going upstairs to sleep by yourself so you can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in school tomorrow. And me going back to the house and sleeping in a bed that still smells a little bit like you for some reason…” He cocked his head at her and raised one eyebrow.
 
“I missed you,” she mumbled. “I was just… and then I fell asleep and—”
 
“Not complainin’, love. Far from it. I was just yanking your chain a bit.” He pulled her into a chaste embrace and kissed the top of her head. “I’m going to hit an all-night butcher’s for some blood, maybe swing by Willy’s to see if there’s a card game I can get into before I go home. I’ll probably sleep all day tomorrow.”
 
Buffy nodded. “I’ll come by when I get out of school.” Her eyes suddenly got big. “And watch out for Faith. I told her to leave you alone, but she just got mad at me… again.”
 
“I’ll be careful. Good-night, Buffy.”
 
“Night, Spike.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Nineteen
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER NINETEEN
 
Spike hadn’t made it all the way to Willy’s when he glanced down an alley and saw a girl fighting two vampires that appeared to be a bit older and more experienced than the usual run-of-the-mill fledglings. He stopped to watch, willing to help if necessary, but knowing better than to get between a slayer and her prey.  Instead, he leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette, noting how she moved and her speed. He nodded in appreciation when she incapacitated one vamp and turned her lethal attention on the other.
 
He frowned when, instead of quickly putting that one away, she put the stake in her waistband and began to pummel him. Even when he was down on the ground and clearly unable to defend himself, she didn’t pull out the stake, but sat on the vamp’s chest and punched and punched until his face was a bloody, pulpy mess. Only then did she stop, shake the blood off her hands, and pull out the stake. When she’d turned the vampire to dust, she stood up slowly and turned to face Spike, who’d flipped his cigarette down the alley to sputter out in a puddle of blood.
 
“Did he do something to offend you, Slayer?”
 
“He was a vampire, I’m a vampire slayer. Just doing my job… William the Bloody.”
 
“Know me, do you?”
 
“I know who you are. Buffy’s latest undead honey that gets to be special and walk around undusted because she’s got the hots for him.”
 
Keeping her eyes on him, she walked to the vamp she’d crippled and kicked him in the head. She drove her stake through his heart without every taking her gaze off Spike, and without turning her back.
 
“I’ve been told you’re off limits,” she said, still holding the stake and clearly evaluating him.
 
He cocked his head at her and nodded. “Probably should take that to heart, pet. And not just because the real Slayer would be brassed off at you.”  He saw her stiffen and knew he was pushing his luck.
 
“I’m just as real as she is… anytime you want to find that out the hard way, you just let me know.” She glared at him. “And what do you mean, I should take it to heart? Just ‘cause B thinks you’re all that doesn’t me I can’t turn you into a memory.”
 
Spike stood up and poised on the balls of his feet, just in case she turned her words into actions. “You’re not bad, luv. I’ll give you that. American girls make the best slayers—at least that’s been my experience. But you’re not as good as Buffy, and you’re not up to taking me on. I expect you’d give me a good scrap, but you’re not quite there yet.”
 
“You arrogant son of a bitch!” Faith threw her stake at Spike’s chest, but he caught it easily and smiled at her.
 
“And you haven’t yet learned not to let your opponent get to you with words. Rookie mistake.”
 
“So is thinking that was my only stake,” Faith snarled as she jumped toward him, another stake out and one leg already coming around to kick him in the head.
 
More easily than he might have expected, Spike was able to grab her foot and pull her up and around, forcing her off balance and stumbling to her knees. Even as she tried to tackle him from the ground, he was vaulting over and behind her, throwing his body on her back and forcing her face down into the dirt and debris in the alley. He pinned her there, using his own powerful arms and legs to keep her from pushing herself up or him off, holding her down while she sputtered threats and obscenities. He waited until she’d stopped to pant for air, before he leaned down and growled in her ear.
 
“When the vamp who has fought slayers his whole unlife and is still walkin’ around, tells you, you aren’t ready for him, you need to listen. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to. Much rather have you all healthy and able to help Buffy out, but I don’t want to have to spend all my time watchin’ my back, so tell me now. Are we going to be alright when I let you up, or do I have to knock you out so as to get out of this alley without a fight?”
 
“We already had a fight,” she snarled, flexing under him as she tried to take him by surprise. He just shoved her down harder, knowing her face was being scraped on the rough pavement.
 
“No, luv. We’ve just had a little getting-to-know-you dust up. If you’re going to try to kill me when I let you up, that will be a fight, and I don’t want to have it. And neither should you. Won’t try to kill you, but I can’t promise I won’t if I have to.”
 
“Buffy won’t let you kill me,” Faith said, with just a trace of doubt in her voice.
 
“She won’t want me to. But she knows better than to expect me to roll over and bare my chest to you. Already told you to leave me alone, didn’t she?”
 
“She doesn’t get to tell me what to do!”
 
“No, I suppose not,” he said with a sigh. “Nor should she. You’re a slayer in your own right and need to make your own decisions. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that about Buffy being the ‘real slayer’. Was just seeing how easy it would be to rile you up.”
 
“Did you just apologize to me?” Faith relaxed under him, but Spike had been around too long to fall for that and instead of loosening his hold on her, he tightened it. “It’s hard to take that seriously with my face in the dirt.”
 
“I’m apologizing for suggesting you weren’t a real slayer. Not for defending myself. And as long as I think I’ll need to defend myself, your face is going to stay in the dirt. Bit of an impasse, innit?”
 
After another spate of obscenities that had Spike grinning in admiration, Faith growled, “Fine, asshole. We’ll settle this some other time. Let me up and I won’t try to stake you.”
 
He cocked his head at her and gave it some thought, then nodded and jumped off her body and to his feet in one motion. Faith remained where she was, only rolling over and sitting up to glare at him. “This isn’t over yet.”
 
Spike shrugged. “If you say so. From what I hear, there’s an apocalypse looming. Seems to me that having me on your side might be a good thing.”
 
“I don’t need help from a bloodsucker!”  She popped to her feet, but remained a safe distance away from him.
 
“Don’t know that yet, do you? Watcher thinks there might be a problem. In the meantime, the hellmouth is attracting more older vamps like these two, and demons too. Nights are going to be more… interesting. Two slayers might be safer than one on her own.”
 
“I didn’t have any trouble with those two,” she said.
 
“No, didn’t seem like you did. Was a good slay—except for wasting all that time beating the stuffin’ out of that last one. Pounding him to a pulp might have felt good, but it left you wide open for something to come up behind you with a weapon and make you wish you’d done a quick staking.”
 
“Are you giving me advice?”
 
“Just sharing my observations. Don’t give a rat’s ass what you do with the information as long as it doesn’t put Buffy in danger.” He walked to the entrance to the alley, then turned and tossed Faith’s stake to her. “Might need this later,” he said with smirk, having caught her looking around the alley for it. As soon as he was around the corner, he used his speed to disappear, so that by the time she got to the sidewalk, he was out of sight.
 
XXXXX
 
Keeping one eye over his shoulder, just in case he ran into Faith again, Spike decided against Willy’s and stopped at the all night butcher’s to stock up on blood. He set up a tab, left a substantial deposit against what he’d decided would be an every-other-day pickup, and headed back to the house on Crawford street. As he put his blood away, he wondered if he’d done the right thing by treating Faith the way he had. He didn’t want to make an enemy of her if Buffy was going to need the help, but he didn’t have a good feeling about the girl’s reliability.
 
While one of the blood packs was warming, he looked through the few books he’d left on the shelves in his room, picking one he’d started but not finished. He settled himself onto his bed with a glass of reasonable fresh pig blood on the table and the book in his hand. He made a mental note to look for a comfortable reading chair and a TV, things he hadn’t bothered to worry about when both he and Buffy were sure they were only going to be in house for a short period of time.
 
He read until he felt the dawn creeping in the east-facing windows, then got up and put the book down next to the blood-caked glass. He stared at it for a second, then sighed and took it to the kitchen, putting it in the sink to soak. Growling at himself for allowing his time with Buffy to domesticate him to the point he was worried about dirty dishes, he shed his clothes and went to bed for the day.
 
XXXX
 
He was up and drinking blood in the kitchen when Buffy came in after school. She looked almost disappointed to see him sitting at the counter.
 
“What’s the matter, love? Were you hopin’ to catch me naked and in bed? Or in the shower, maybe, like your mum and watcher did?”
 
Buffy blushed and stammered. “No! I didn’t think you’d be nake—Wait, what? When did my mom see you naked?”
 
“The other day. She and the watcher paid me a visit I wasn’t expecting and caught me walking from the shower to my bedroom, wearing nothing but a few drops of water.”
 
“Oh my God. My mother saw you naked. Giles saw you naked!” Buffy looked like she was about to hyperventilate.
 
“No harm done. They averted their eyes and I got dressed.” He leered at her and wiggled his eyebrows. “Anyway, now they won’t be askin you what you see in me, will they?”
 
“What I—? Ohmygod. You are so full of yourself!” Still blushing furiously, Buffy said, “Now they know more about what I see—might see—in you than I do”
 
“We can change that anytime, love. Just say the word.” Spike stood up and began to peel off his shirt.
 
“Stop that! Anyway, I’ve seen you without a shirt before. I used to live here, remember?”
 
“Oh. Right. So it’s the pants you want me to take off then?”  He reached for the top button on his jeans, making no attempt to hide his grin.
 
Buffy walked to him and slapped his hand away. “Stop being such a smartass. I have important things to talk to you about.”
 
He laughed and held her hand, bringing it to his lips before letting her take it back.
 
“Alright, Slayer. What’s so important that you’d rather talk about it than see me naked?”
 
“I don’t… didn’t… I want… Argh! Were you always this annoying?”
 
“Probably.”
 
Buffy shook her head to hide a smile and sat down on the other stool. “Finish your breakfast,” she said, pointing to his mug. “I want you to come to the Scooby meeting tonight at Giles’s. I want everybody to see you and know that you’re here to help us when we figure out which demon is trying to ascend—whatever the hell that means. Demons don’t go to heaven, they go to hell.”
 
“Think it means to change form, love. To ascend to a higher level of being.”
 
“A higher level of demon-hood?”
 
“Doubt the goal is to get into heaven, so, yeah, something like that.”
 
“Wonderful….  Anyway, I want you there. I want everybody to get used to you and not be… afraid.”
 
“Why wouldn’t I want them to be afraid of me?”  He stared at her with genuine confusion. “I’m a bloody vampire!”
 
Buffy stared back. “But if everybody is afraid of you… I want them to see how important it could be to have you here. So they won’t think I… I mean….”
 
Spike remembered what the other slayer had said about being Buffy’s new undead “honey” and realized what she was trying to say.
 
“You’re afraid they won’t believe I should be here if it’s just because I’m your… friend.”
 
“Is that what you are? Just my friend?”
 
“Would it make it any better if you introduced me as your boyfriend? Or your lover?”  When she flinched at that, he sighed and reached out to touch her cheek. “I can tell you right now the other slayer is already assuming that.”
 
Buffy frowned. “The other—Faith? You met Faith already?”
 
“I did. Watched her slay a couple of vamps last night and then we had a little conversation.” He glanced at Buffy’s worried face. “Didn’t go as well as it might have,” he admitted. “I don’t think we’re going to be the best of friends.”
 
“I don’t think I want you to be any kind of friends with that slutty—with her,” Buffy said. “But you need to get along. We’re all on the same side.” She glared at him, aware that he wasn’t meeting her eyes.  “Explain how it didn’t go well.  Did you fight her?”
 
“Well, not fight her so much as just… show her she wasn’t quite the slayer she thinks she is. I’m not sure she isn’t going to make another try once she convinces herself it was just a fluke.”
 
What was just a fluke?”  
 
“She tried to stake me and I didn’t let her.”  Buffy’s narrowed eyes told him that wasn’t good enough. “In all fairness to her, I was goading her a bit.”  Buffy’s eyes narrowed even more and she stood up from her stool.  “But in all fairness to me, she did try to stake me!” he said quickly. “Had a right to defend myself, didn’t I?”
 
“So, let’s recap,” Buffy said in a dangerously quiet voice. “You watched her fight, then you antagonized her, probably by telling her she wasn’t very good, and then when you defended yourself, you humiliated her even more. Have I got that about right?”
 
“When you say it that way, it sounds so….”
 
“Immature? Not helpful? A good way to make an enemy?”
 
“Bloody hell, Slayer! The chit has more attitude than two of me. I apologized to her for what I said that set her off, but I’m not going to apologize for defending myself. I could have killed her easily, but I stopped her without really hurting anything but her pride. Had to make her promise not to start a real fight if I let her up. I don’t think she’s going to want me on her side.”
 
Buffy sighed and looked away. “This is going to be hard, isn’t it?”
 
He didn’t pretend not to understand her. “If it’s too hard, I’ll leave again, sweetheart. Don’t want to come between you and your friends or family.”
 
“Don’t you see that’s what I’m trying to do?  Keep that from happening? Faith is… she’s already kinda… different. Her first watcher got killed, and Faith ran from the old vamp that killed him. She did kill Kakistos after he followed her here and we had to fight him together, and that made her feel better for a while. Then that fired watcher came to town, and Faith believed her when she said we were all trying to keep the glove for ourselves or something, and she almost got us all killed. So then she felt really bad, I guess. I don’t know.  I think sometimes she really plays up the bad girl stuff just to make herself sound special.”
 
“She’s a bloody slayer. She’s already special. Stupid bint can’t see that?”
 
Buffy shook her head. “The point is, according to Giles, and my mom and Willow, she probably has really low self-esteem. So we’ve been trying to make her feel important and competent, and you just showed her she isn’t as good as she thinks she is. Or as we want her to think she is.”
 
“So I’ve only been here two days and I’ve already mucked it up. Is that what you’re sayin?”
 
“I don’t know what I'm saying! I’m just… I want you here, but I don’t want to be arguing with my friends all the time. And I have to work with Faith…  I just think if you come to the meeting with me, and if they see you with me a lot, they’ll get used to you and… and it’ll be okay that I… we… maybe… someday….” 
 
She met his eyes with her own, blinking back tears. “It’s different now. It was so easy when we were just sharing the house, and we weren’t… you didn’t…. and I didn’t want to kiss you all the time but now I do, and—”
 
Spike stopped her with a finger on her lips. “And I want to be kissin’ you all the time. Everything else is just… details.”  He tipped her chin up and nibbled on her lower lip. “All the bloody time. Every day. Every night.” He punctuated each short statement with light but warm kiss. “All the time,” he finished, holding her face between his hands and fastening his mouth on hers. “Starting now.”
 
 
Chapter Twenty
 
 
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER TWENTY
 
Spike held Buffy’s face for the kiss until she was whimpering and reaching for him. Then, without breaking the kiss, he dropped his arms to pull her into his body and hold her there. Unlike the more or less platonic embraces when he left Sunnydale and the equally heartfelt but chaste one they’d shared after her Cruciametum, this one was soon as intense and passionate as the one the night before.  Although now, there was no mother upstairs to worry about.
 
They finally pulled their mouths apart so Buffy could take a deep breath. Spike rested his forehead against hers, his breathing just as ragged as her own.
 
“Bloody hell, love,” he groaned. “I might spontaneously combust if we do much more of that.”
 
“I like kissing you,” she said, her breathing still heavy. “Isn’t there some way we can kiss without—”
 
Spike pulled his head back.
 
“Without what? Without me getting a cockstand? Not a chance, love. That happens anytime you’re close enough for me to smell you, never mind having your tongue in my mouth and your body telling me you want it as much as I do.  If you can kiss me without getting into it like you do, I’ll try to keep my hands… and other body parts… away from you, but that’s the best I can promise.”
 
“I thought you were going to let me have some time to…. to…. I don’t know. To fall in love? Or not fall in love, but want to sleep with you anyway?”
 
“So did I, sweetheart. And I meant—mean it, but I’m only flesh and blood. Being dead doesn’t mean I’m…dead….” He frowned. “That made more sense in my mind.” He sighed, releasing his grip just enough that they weren’t pressed so tightly together. “What I’m trying to say is, I want you so bad I’m having a hard time controlling myself. That’s never happened to me before—”
 
“You never—” She gestured at the impressive bulge in his pants, accidentally brushing her hand against as she did so and earning a moaned “bloody hell” from Spike. “Not even when you were human?”  She blushed. “And sorry! That really was an accident.”
 
“You can have accidents like that anytime you want to, Slayer,” he said, shifting his hips away from her.
 
“But you—” 
 
He smiled and caressed her cheek. “If I thought you’d done it on purpose just to tease me, I’d be bloody brassed off at you right now. But I know you didn’t. And it felt just as good as if you’d done it on purpose.”
 
She met his eyes doubtfully, but nodded. “So, if I do it again, you’ll know it was on purpose. “’K?”
 
His eyes glazed over, making her giggle. “Back to when you were human. Didn’t you ever get like that then?”
 
He snorted. “Poor William spent half his adult life walkin’ around trying to hide the effect women were having on him. He couldn’t do much to control that body part, but since his chances of anyone getting close enough to touch it were somewhere between slim and none… all he had to do was hide it.”  He shook his head. “When I became a vampire, it was just something else to learn to control—like my fangs and my demon. Not saying I didn’t let it out to play whenever I could, but if I couldn’t or shouldn’t, yeah, I can usually ignore it.”
 
“Shouldn’t?” Buffy frowned. “I thought being soulless was all about not having to worry about ‘shouldn’t’?”
 
“It is, mostly. But sometimes even a soulless vampire knows when he really shouldn’t do something. Usually would have less to do with what’s right or wrong and more with what’s safe or not safe, but the point is, sometimes you just shouldn’t. And I’ve never had any problem with that… until now.”
 
“Should I be flattered or frightened?” Buffy asked. She dropped her arms and moved back a little. He immediately released his light hold on her.
 
“Not trying to do either one, love. No sense flattering you, you already know I think you’re desirable, amazing, and more than I deserve. And I’m not trying to frighten you. Christ knows I don’t want you to be afraid of me… for any reason. Just trying to explain….Fuck if I know what I’m trying to explain. I just… it was easier when I didn’t think I’d ever—” He shook himself and growled.
 
“So, are you saying no kissing until I’m ready to… to… whatever?”
 
“I can’t answer that for you, love. We can try that…. If that’s what we need to do. Or we could…”
 
“We could…?”
 
He cocked his head at her. “There are lots of ways to take the edge off and make each other feel good without actually getting all naked and… naked.”
 
Buffy blushed. “I think I know what you mean, but I don’t….”  She peered at him from under her eyelashes. “But not specifically.”
 
“Don’t worry about it, love. Let’s just get to your meeting and worry about it later, yeah? I’m sure the sight of your watcher and friends fighting to put a stake through my heart will calm my todger right down.”
 
Buffy pointed to the windows. “It’s still daylight, and I haven’t been home yet. The meeting won’t be till after dinner, so you can finish your blood and take your time. I’ll call you when I’m leaving the house and you can meet me somewhere.” She picked up the phone charging on the counter and memorized the number before putting it back.
 
“Need to get you one of these,” he said, nudging the small phone. “That way I can talk to you without going through your mum.”
 
“Could come in handy,” she admitted. “I wonder why Giles hasn’t bought one for me.”
 
“The watcher probably still uses carrier pigeons to communicate,” Spike scoffed.
 
Buffy made a face at him and turned to leave. “I’ll call you in a couple of hours,” she said.
 
“I’ll be waiting.”
 
She hesitated, then darted in to peck him on the lips and was quickly out of reach again.
 
“See ya,” she said, almost running for the door, pausing only to grab the book bag she’d dropped there.
 
“That you will, love,” he said, smiling to himself. “That you will.”
 
 
XXXX
 
Buffy dashed home, changed her clothes and had a snack. While she waited for her mom to get home and for the sun to go down, she looked over her homework for the night. She wondered if Spike would be willing to help her with it this year, and wondered if her mom would approve of him more if he did.
 
Joyce got home in time to see Buffy putting her books away and asked, “Done with homework already?”
 
“Yep. Started it as soon as I got home. We didn’t have much today. I think the teachers are all too tired to grade papers.”
 
“Why would they be tired?”
 
“I dunno. I think Snyder’s harassing them as much as he does me. He’s already getting psyched about graduation for some reason.”
 
“Oh. Well. That’s good I guess. How is school going? You are going to graduate, aren’t you?”
 
“Oh yeah. I’m doing okay. Willow helps with notes and now that Spike’s back—”
 
“And what does Spike have to do with graduating?”
 
“Don’t you remember how he helped me study for those exams I had to take last year? He knows a lot of stuff.” She frowned. “I’m not sure why, because he acts like he’s never been to school… but I think he’s lying about that. He reads too much and he knows too much stuff not to have gone to school somewhere, sometime.”
 
“So, he’ll be helping you again?” Joyce’s voice was tightly controlled, but Buffy rolled her eyes anyway.
 
“Mom. I’m going to be spending time with Spike. I know you don’t like that idea, but he’s going to be good backup for slaying. If he helps with my homework, that’s just like a… bonus.” Buffy sighed and stared at Joyce until she reluctantly met Buffy’s gaze. “And I… I like him. A lot.”
 
Joyce shook her head. “I was afraid of that.”
 
“He likes me too.”
 
“He’s in love with you,” Joyce corrected. “But even if he wasn’t another vampire, he’s an older man. You should be with boys your own age. I don’t know why you have this thing for older—”
 
“Mom. I might not live long enough to be as old as Spike would be if he was human.” Buffy bit her lip when Joyce flinched. “Sorry. But it’s true. I’m not your average teenager, and I don’t want an average boy. I want somebody who understands my life—my world. Somebody who can share it with me. And that’s Spike.”
 
“I thought you were just going to go slow and see how you feel? It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind.”
 
“The only thing we’re going slow about is sex.” Buffy shrugged when Joyce flinched even more visibly.  “Sorry, mom. But it’s not like I’m a virgin. He promised not to push me, but—”
 
Joyce waved her hand. “I’m fairly certain the rest of that statement is not something I want to hear.”  She sighed. “I assume this means you’re rethinking your idea that you would never want to have sex again? Especially with a vampire?”  Joyce sat down and dropped her head to her hands resting on the counter.  “I just want what’s best for you, Buffy.”
 
Buffy put her arms around Joyce and hugged her just tightly enough to emphasize her greater-than-normal strength.
 
“I know you do, Mom. And I appreciate it. But I’m not a normal girl. I never will be. And no matter how much we might hate the idea, I’m probably not going to live a normal life span or anything like it. If I can find somebody who makes me happy, don’t you want me to have as much time with him as I can? Spike is perfect for me in so many ways. He’s almost as strong as I am, he’s good backup in a fight, he understands my life, and he makes me laugh when I want to cry.”
 
“Buffy, he’s a vampire!”
 
“And I’m a slayer. Neither one of us is exactly a shining example of what we’re supposed to be. We should hate each other… and we did used to. But now we don’t. We don’t want to kill each other anymore, we want to—”
 
Without raising her head, Joyce once again held up her hand in the universal signal for “halt”.  “I’ve got it. Details are not needed.”
 
Buffy giggled. “Sorry, Mom. Forgot who I was talking to for a minute.”
 
Joyce gave a shaky laugh and raised her head to smile at Buffy. “I know you’re legally an adult now, but I am still your mother, not your best friend. Save those details for Willow.”
 
“Okay, Mom. I’ll keep all our conversations PG from now on.” 
 
“Please do.  And please help me with dinner by making a salad while I warm up some spaghetti.”
 
 
XXXX
 
By the time they were through eating, it was dark outside and Buffy was getting restless. She pulled out the paper with Spike’s number on it, went to the phone, and dialed.
 
“Is it time, love?”  His warm voice was all she needed to hear to know she was doing the right thing by letting him into her life.
 
“Yep. I’m going to leave now. Do you want to meet me there, or somewhere on the way?”
 
“Are you walking?”
 
“Um… yeah? That hasn’t changed.”
 
He laughed. “We’re going to work on that, Slayer. I think it’s considered un-American for a teenager not to be driving by now.”
 
“Very funny. I’ve been busy. And what’s that got to do with anything?”
 
“Probably nothing. I’ll catch up with you somewhere along the way so we can arrive together.”
 
“Okay. See you in a little while.”
 
She pulled on a jacket against the nighttime chill and filled her pockets with stakes. She added holy water, but opted not to wear a cross, blushing when she admitted to herself she didn’t want anything coming between her and Spike when they next kissed. Buffy debated about the sword, then shrugged and put it in a harness on her back. She yelled her good-night to her mother and went out, being careful to lock the door behind her.
 
 
XXXX
 
Buffy felt the tingle only a split second before she recognized who was causing it. She laughed at Spike’s disappointed expression when he dropped to the sidewalk beside her and she didn’t flinch.
 
“You know I can tell it’s you by now,” she said, nudging him with her arm. “Don’t you?”
 
“Didn’t think about it. I knew you could sense vamps, didn’t know you could be so specific.”
 
“I didn’t used to be. I had no idea what Angel was until he kissed me and vamped out, but I figured out what those neck tingles meant pretty fast after that.”
 
“He vamped out when he kissed you?” Spike’s voice was a combination of disbelieving gasp and angry growl. “What happened?”
 
“I screamed, he jumped out the window, fell off the roof and ran away.”
 
“Reckon I can’t top that for a first kiss, can I?”
 
Buffy stopped and pulled on his arm to make him turn and face her. “When you kissed me the first time, you weren’t trying to hide what you are, I didn’t scream, and I spent all the time since then wanting you to do it again. I think you win.”
 
“Well, that’s alright then,” he said, smiling as he lowered his mouth to hers. “I think I win, too.”
 
They remained on the sidewalk kissing until a passing driver honked and yelled at them.
 
“Let’s go,” Buffy said, breaking away reluctantly. “The faster we get this meeting over with, the sooner we—”
 
“The sooner we what?”
 
She could hear the anticipation in his voice. “The sooner we can do a patrol and go home,” she said primly. “What did you think I meant?”
 
His only response was a growl as he fell into step beside her. Their swift strides brought them to Giles’s apartment in a short time, and Buffy reached for the door, only to find Spike opening it for her and holding it until she’d entered. She gave him a grateful smile as she ducked under his arm and waited for him to close it behind them. A glance around the room showed that everyone was there except Faith.
 
A chilly silence greeted Spike’s arrival, but he just gave one of his patented smirks as he followed Buffy farther into the room. He nodded at Giles, and smiled at Willow who gave a tentative wave. He met Oz’s eyes, keeping his demon quiet as he allowed the wolf to assess him. Oz gave a shrug and broke the eye contact to put a protective arm around Willow. Spike grinned and shook his head.
 
“What was that all about?” she whispered to Spike, forgetting that Giles had walked over to them.
 
“Nothing, love. Just the two predators in the room—not counting yourself, of course—getting to understand each other.”
 
“An interesting way of referring to a slayer,” Giles said, making no attempt to keep his voice down.
 
“If you’re a vampire, or any other sort of demon or evil-doer, that’s exactly what a slayer is. Something that hunts and preys on you.  What would you call it?”
 
Giles looked momentarily discomfited and glanced at Buffy, but she seemed unfazed by Spike’s assessment.
 
“It’s okay, Giles. I’ve made my peace with what I am… what Faith and I both are—”
 
“You’re nothing like that loose cannon,” Spike growled, glancing around the room to see agreement on everyone’s face.  “Is she expected?”
 
Giles shook his head. “I invited her, as I always do, but she shows up when she wants to, and doesn’t when she doesn’t. It will be something of a relief to be able to hand her off to another watcher.”
 
“Just so the Council doesn’t think they’re handing me off,” Buffy said. “I’m not having some new watcher-guy.”
 
“Well, you have some time to get used to the idea. Travers did say within a fortnight, so we have at least a week, perhaps more.”
 
“The question is, what the hell is the evil undead doing here?”
 
Spike met Xander’s indignant question with a calmness that surprised Buffy. Instead of the expected snarky response, he studied Xander for a moment and then said, “Buffy tells me you saved her life a couple of years ago. Gave her CPR or something so she could carry on and put old Batface out of our misery?”
 
Xander frowned and gave a cautious nod. “Somebody had to. Angel couldn’t.”
 
Spike frowned. “Couldn’t or wouldn’t?”
 
“He said he couldn’t because he had no breath. What of it?”
 
“He lied,” Spike said tightly. “And thank you.”
 
Xander blinked. “For what?”
 
“For saving Buffy’s life, what do you think?” Spike expression said he wasn’t sure how bright Xander was.
 
Before they could continue the conversation, the door slammed open and Faith jumped into the room, pausing just inside to make a rude noise at the vampire following so closely he bounced off the barrier.
 
“Let’s go, B,” she said. “There’s work to do.”
 
Chapter Twenty-one
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
 
Buffy whirled, stake in hand, and was out the door right behind Faith. Waiting for them was a larger than normal group of vampires, not all of them obvious fledglings. Spike waited until the two slayers had carried the fight away from the door, then stepped out to watch the melee. Although very different, Buffy and Faith worked well together, thinning the numbers in front of them with relative ease. 
 
Spike narrowed his eyes in suspicion, as he realized the fight was drawing the girls farther away from the safety of the building. No sooner had Giles shouted, “Look behind you!” than Spike was throwing himself between a large, unfamiliar demon and the two very busy slayers.
 
“I’ve got it,” he snarled. “You ladies keep throwing out the riffraff.”
 
Despite his confident words, Spike was hard pressed not to get killed as the demon proved to be both very strong and surprisingly agile. Spike’s usual ability to deal with larger opponents by being quicker and more nimble was just barely keeping him from being seriously injured. Fortunately, the demon’s focus was on the two slayers, and it was treating Spike as more of an annoyance than a serious threat. 
 
In a brief respite from being pummeled, Spike heard Giles’s voice and gave a quick glance to find a sword arcing toward him, hilt first. With a “Ta, mate!” he turned back to the fight just in time to slash the back of the demon’s support leg as it was reaching toward an oblivious Faith with a heavily clawed arm. With a roar, it turned back to Spike and raised the long arm to smack him down. He swung the sword as the claws neared his head, then rolled away. When he sprang to his feet, he saw that Buffy and Faith had dusted all the vamps and turned their attentions on the now one-armed demon.
 
“Buffy, catch!” He tossed her his sword and ran to the door where Giles was already holding two more weapons. Faith grabbed the pike, leaving Spike to take an extra sword. He went back to the fight, but waited as the two armed slayers used their weapons to slowly dismantle the snarling monster. When it fell to its knees, Faith’s pike protruding from its back, Buffy used her sword to take off the head.
 
The three of them stood there watching, weapons at the ready, as it began to dissolve into a foul-smelling liquid that oozed across the street and into the gutter.
 
“You do know how to make an entrance, Slayer number two,” Spike said. “Not sure I like your friends though.”
 
“I told them it was a private party, but you know vamps, can’t take a hint when they aren’t wanted.”  She stared at Spike coldly as she spoke, causing Giles to speak up from the doorway.
 
“I suggest you all come inside where it is relatively safe before you take the time to thank Spike for distracting the demon until the two of you were able to concentrate on it.”
 
Buffy and Spike both sent Giles a surprised look, but obediently followed directions and entered the apartment. Faith stood outside, confusion on her face as she obviously struggled with what to do.  Giles stepped back from the door, saying, “Please close it behind you, Faith, so we can talk about what we’ve learned today.”
 
With no one staring at her in a way that would make her feel obligated to be defiant, she shrugged and walked in, closing the door behind her. “Sure. No sense allowing any more riff-raff in that we have to.”
 
Spike’s expression remained stoic, but he could see Buffy was having a hard time keeping her temper. “Easy, love,” he rumbled in her ear. “No reason for us to expect her to be glad to see me. Let the watcher handle it.”
 
Giles seemed to sense the tension and he nodded in Spike’s direction as he spoke directly to Faith. “Just so we’re all clear on this—that vampire attack was clearly designed to draw you both out where the demon could attack you. It’s quite apparent from the difficulty Spike was having before being armed, that you would not have fared well challenging that monster with nothing but your stakes. And in your case, Faith, Spike’s attack on the demon is the only reason you’re not currently suffering from what might well have been a killing blow. You and Buffy weren’t even aware of its arrival, nor were you free to defend yourselves from it had you noticed.” He sighed and turned to his desk.
 
“I believe tonight’s organized attack indicates the importance of having as many experienced fighters as we can in the upcoming battle.”
 
“There’s a battle?”
 
Giles nodded. “Between Willow’s computer skills and the Council’s many sources of information, we’ve learned that there is definitely an ascension being planned for a particular date in the late spring. We’re still gathering information, but it seems clear that a large amount of blood and death will be required for a successful ascension. Hence the steady arrival of the older vampires and demons. And the, so far unsuccessful, attempts to kill Buffy and Faith.”
 
“Awesome. So some jerky demon we don’t know wants to get even jerkier and we have to handle all his recruits.”
 
“Something like that. However, with three of you, I’m hoping it won’t be as onerous as it could be.”
 
Three of us?”  Faith stared hard at Spike. “Are you counting the, last time I checked, old vampire over there? How do we know he isn’t with the bad guys?”
 
Buffy shut down Xander’s anticipated agreement with a hard look, then turned her glare on Faith.
 
“Because we know him. We’ve—I’ve—known him longer than I’ve known you. And I trust him.”
 
Faith rolled her eyes. “Why? Because you’re banging him? That didn’t go so well last time you gave it up for an old vamp… or so I’ve heard,” she added with a smirk.
 
“I’m not… we’re not—” Spike’s hand on her arm stopped Buffy in mid-stutter.
 
“It’s none of her business what we are or are not, Slayer. She’s just baiting you. Remember what I told you about her? Why she’s the way she is?”
 
Buffy frowned, trying to remember what he’d said about Faith, who was now glaring at him with narrowed eyes that managed to seem angry and worried at the same time. Suddenly Buffy remembered he’d said Faith was afraid. She behaved the way she did out of fear.
 
“What’s he talking about?” Faith clutched her stake, glaring at Spike who looked relaxed, but Buffy could feel the tension in his body and knew he was ready if Faith attacked.
 
Forcing herself to seem unbothered, Buffy shrugged. “It’s nothing. No big deal, just stuff he thinks he knows cause he’s so old.” She deliberately turned her back on Faith, placing her own body between Spike and the other slayer. 
 
Giles interrupted the tense moment by saying, “While Spike is still soulless and, one must assume, evil, I’m quite convinced that he is on Buffy’s side, no matter who or what her opponents may be.” Before Faith could react to that subtle reminder of Spike’s record for killing slayers, he continued. “And, by extension, he can undoubtedly be considered an ally by her friends. I trust him to assist all of us in the battle against evil.”
 
Faith moved as far away from Spike as she could and sat down next to Xander. “I don’t see why I should trust him,” she muttered.
 
“Because I didn’t kill you when I could have,” Spike said quietly, his mild tone belied by the cold stare he leveled at hers. “Buffy and the watcher would never have known about it. An’ I’d appreciate it if you’d remember that the next time you’re feeling like I’m not trustworthy.”
 
Faith glared at him, but didn’t say anything else while there were murmurs of surprise from everyone except Buffy.  
 
“So, you two had already met?” Giles looked back and forth between Spike and Faith, his need to get the meeting on track at war with his watcher’s need to know more.
 
Spike just nodded, leaving it to Faith to decide what to say. Her nostrils flared as she took a deep breath, then she slumped against the back of the couch.
 
“You might say that,” she said, refusing to look at Spike.
 
Giles sent a questioning look at Spike, but the vampire shook his head and didn’t add to Faith’s comment. Giles’s returning nod made it clear he was planning to return to the subject when Faith wasn’t around. Spike shrugged and said, “So, don’t we have a battle plan to make?”
 
“Do we know who the demon is? The one who is planning the ascension?”
 
“Well, all signs point to the Mayor’s office being the center of activity. If we had some way to get information on what’s going on there….”
 
“Maybe I can help with that,” Spike said. “I’ve kept a low profile since I got back in town, but I can start hitting some demon bars and see what I can learn.”
 
“That’s too dangerous!” Buffy said, not quite drowning out Giles’s “An excellent idea.”
 
Spike put a reassuring hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “Should be safe enough. I don’t think it was widely-known that you and I were living in the same house last year, or that I helped you. You probably dusted any vamps that might have seen us out and about together back then. And I haven’t been back long enough for anyone to see us yet. Everybody will just think I’ve come back for the ascension.”
 
“You see! He’s probably one of them. He’s just using Buffy to find out what we know about—” Xander broke off when Willow poked him in the arm.
 
Buffy’s indignant reply got no farther than “That’s the stupidest—” before Giles broke in.
 
“Spike could be an important source of information for us,” Giles said firmly. “If he is careful, there should be no danger of the demon community finding out about his… relationship… with Buffy.”
 
“Clem knows,” Buffy said. “What if he isn’t the only one?”
 
Spike shrugged. “Clem’s a good mate, and not evil. I’d be surprised if he even knows or talks to anybody connected to what’s coming. It might be worth asking him, though.”
 
“I should do that,” Buffy said firmly. “If he doesn’t see you, he can’t accidentally tell anybody about us.”
 
“He already knows about us, love. At least, he knows how I feel about you. He’s not going to believe I’m part of a plot against you, so he may as well tell me what he knows and then he can stay away from me. Don't want to put him in danger if and when I have to go public with whose side I’m on.”
 
“Okay. We’ll talk to him together.” She glared at Giles. “I still don’t like it, though.”
 
“I didn’t live this long by being careless, Slayer,” Spike growled. “It’ll be fine.”
 
“Buffy, this is a situation in which Spike can be quite useful to us, and with minimal danger to himself. I do not understand your reluctance to use his offer of assistance.”
 
Buffy looked back and forth between Spike and Giles, then sighed in resignation. “Okay. Fine. He can pretend he’s still evil, and maybe he can find out which demon in the mayor’s office it is.”
 
“I’ll keep poking around online,” Willow said. “Maybe I can get more information that way.”
 
Spike took out his phone and dialed Clem, moving back to the door where he could speak privately. After a few minutes of quiet conversation, he nodded and closed the phone.
 
“We’re on, Slayer. He’ll meet us in ten minutes.”
 
“And then what?” Faith’s narrowed eyes and harsh tone indicated her lack of conviction in Spike’s usefulness.
 
“And then, dependin’ on what he tells us, Buffy will come back here to share, and I’ll hit a few demon bars to see what else I can learn.”
 
“And if he doesn’t have any additional information to provide?” Giles’s question, while in a kinder tone, was as pointed as was Faith’s.
 
“Then I reckon Buffy’ll just do her normal patrol, and when I know she’s safely home, I’ll see what I can find out on my own. We’ll call you if that’s what’s gonna happen, so you’ll know not to expect her back.”
 
“I guess we’re done for the night, then,” Xander said, standing up to stretch. “Looks like we get to sleep early tonight.”
 
Oz stood up also, holding his hand out to Willow. “I can drop you off on my way to take Willow home,” he said.  “Can I drop you somewhere, Faith?”
 
“You can drop me at the Bronze,” she said with a glare in Spike’s direction. “Maybe I can find some vamps there that I’m allowed to stake.”
 
As she and Spike opened the door to leave, Buffy shot Giles a look, at which he said, “I will work on it.”  She nodded and ducked under Spike’s arm, leaving him to pull the door closed.
 
“What was that cryptic bit of slayer-watcher code about?”
 
“He’s going to try to talk some sense into Faith so she backs off and leaves you alone,” Buffy said.
 
“Think that’ll work?” Spike sounded more curious than concerned, and Buffy muttered under breath. “What’s that, love?”
 
“I said, if it doesn’t, then I’m going to ‘talk’ to her. Again.”
 
He draped an arm over her shoulders and gave a squeeze. “Much as I appreciate the thought, Buffy, I don’t want to create any more problems for you with her than you already have. Just leave her be for a while.”  He released her shoulders and bumped her with his hip. “Feel free to keep an eye on my back, though. Just in case.”
 
“Way ahead of you there,” she sighed. “I’m almost afraid to let you out of my sight.”
 
“If I’m going to be any use to you, I’ll have to be out of your sight a good bit. Don’t want anyone knowing I’m working with you until I’ve done as much as I can to help you take down this over-ambitious demon. What or whoever he is.”
 
“Well I don’t like it.”
 
Her lip came out in the beginning of a pout, but before she could distract him, Spike pointed ahead of them.
 
“Is what it is, love. Look, there’s Clem now. Try to look harmless.”
 
“Clem already knows I’m harmless... okay, maybe not harmless, exactly, but he knows I wouldn’t hurt him.”
 
“He does. But just as your little Scooby friends and the other slayer have an instinctive reaction to me, any demon, no matter how non-evil and friendly, is going to have that same reaction to you.”
 
Putting on her best I-don’t-want-to-kill-you smile, Buffy said, “Hi, Clem. How are you?”
 
Looking very nervous, he seemed to be smiling through his wrinkles as he said, “Hello, Slayer. Can we get somewhere nobody could see us?” He kept sending anxious glances up and down the street.
 
As they followed him into the cemetery and the shelter of a space between the stone wall and a large crypt, Buffy said, “Yeah. I guess you’ll lose some demon-cred if anybody sees you talking to me, huh?”
 
“If the wrong people see it,” he agreed. “I can’t defend myself as well as Spike can, so I have to worry more than he does.”
 
“We don’t want anybody seeing Spike with me either,” Buffy said quickly. “You haven’t told anybody about us, have you?”
 
“No. No. Of course not. I don’t think anyone even knows he’s back yet.”
 
“Enough chit chat,” Spike growled. “What do you know about this ascension that’s being planned in the mayor’s office?”
 
Clem shrugged. “Not much. Seems like the old man is planning to make it a big deal, and he’s bringing in vamps and demons for the big event.” He glanced at Buffy almost apologetically. “I heard there was a whole gang of new vamps in town looking for you and the other slayer.”
 
“They found us,” Buffy said with a shrug. “He’s gonna have to do better than that. They’re gone and so is their demon bodyguard.”
 
“Whoa!” Clem gawked at Buffy in open admiration.
 
“That’s my girl,” Spike said.
 
“Um, we had a little help.”
 
She smiled up at him and they almost forgot about Clem’s presence for a second. When he cleared his throat, Spike shook himself and focused his attention back on his friend.
 
“So, you think it’s the old man himself who’s planning to move up the food chain?”
 
“Oh yeah. He’s been in his human form for a long time and he’s tired of it. Apparently he was just waiting until his current wife died to move on.”
 
“Don’t suppose you know when he’s planning to do this?”
 
“Late May? There was something about having a lot of humans all in one place that would make it work,”
 
“Graduation,” Buffy said flatly. “That explains why Snyder’s so nervous about it. He must be one of the mayor’s minions.”
 
Spike growled his agreement. “Would explain why he’s always had it in for you, wouldn’t it?”
 
“That sniveling weasel!” She kicked a rock into the wall. “I should let you eat him!”
 
“Say the word, Slayer.”
 
She sighed. “But he’s human. I guess?” She looked at Clem and Spike for confirmation. They both nodded. “Well, rats. That sucks.”  She poked Spike, who was still looking hopeful. “Guess than means you don’t get to… suck, I mean.”
 
“I got it.” He shook head and turned his attention back to Clem. “Anything else we should know?”
 
Clem shook his own head, saying, “Nothing I can think of. If I hear of anything else, I’ll give you a call.”
 
“Ta, mate. We appreciate it. Saves a bit of leg work, it does.”
 
“Yes, thanks, Clem. You’ve been a big help.”
 
“Well, if that’s it, then, I’ll just be heading home.  You two kids have fun.” With a wave, he vanished into the darkness, moving surprisingly quickly for something his size and build.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Twenty-two
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
 
“So now what?”
 
Spike leaned against the wall and pulled her between his spread legs.
 
“I think we should take advantage of this little bit of privacy to do some snogging,” he said, suiting actions to words.
 
“Mmmmph…”
 
In a very short amount of time, Buffy was climbing his body and wrapping her legs around his hips as he tried to brace himself against the wall without crushing her ankles. He groaned when she rubbed herself against him, mixing sweet nothings with muttering obscenities into her ear, as they both became increasingly frustrated.  With another groan, he managed to push her away far enough for him to say, “What say we find a place to get comfy? Not trying to force anything on you, love, but I could do a much better job of getting you off if I wasn’t trying to remain upright to do it.”
 
Buffy exhaled deeply and nodded, keeping her face down in embarrassment.  “I’m sorry,” whispered. “I guess trying to pretend that’s not going to happen every time we start kissing is wishful thinking, huh?”
 
“Not what I’m wishing for, but, yeah. Seems like we’ve got a bit of a problem.” He adjusted himself without appearing to be at all embarrassed and stood up straighter. “So, if you don’t want to find someplace less public and more comfortable, what do you want to do?”
 
“I think it’s pretty obvious what I want to do,” she muttered, still not looking at him directly. “But I guess what I should do is go tell Giles what we know.”
 
“All right, love,” he said. “And I’ll go hang out at Willy’s for a while and see if I can find any minions with brains I can pick before I kill them.”  When Buffy nodded, still without looking at him, he sighed and touched her chin, tipping it up until she had to look at him. “You know we’re going to have to sort this out soon. I’ll wait for you as long as I have to, but really not interested in walking around with blue balls while I do it.”
 
“Do you think I’m teasing you? On purpose?” Buffy’s eyes were wide as she reviewed her actions and wondered if she was being unfair to him.
 
“Ah, no, sweetheart. Of course I don’t. But your body’s sending mine signals I just can’t ignore. There’s no way I’ve got the strength to push you away when you’re like that, and it seems like that’s where we find ourselves every time we start kissin’. I just think, until you know you’re ready for more, we need to keep some distance between us.”
 
“You started it!” she said, glaring at him.
 
“I did. And I’m sorry… not for what we were doing, which was brilliant. But I’m sorry I didn’t think ahead to what it might lead to. Won’t happen again. I promise.”
 
“You’re never going to kiss me again?” Buffy’s horrified expression made him smile.
 
“Don’t be daft. Take that look off your face. Someday I’ll kiss you until you can’t breathe; I’ll kiss you all over your body. But not until you tell me that’s what you want.”
 
“I thought you were going to teach me how to… without actually…. Didn’t you say we could do that?”
 
“Did. And I will if that’s what you want. That’s really all I meant by taking it someplace more comfortable just now, but—” He took a deep breath and blew it out before continuing.  “—we’re not—I’m not a kid. And I love you. I’ll take whatever I can get while I can get it, but you have to understand that what I really want is to make love to you with my whole body. And when it feels like that’s what you want too, it’s a mite too hard  to ignore it sometimes.”
 
“Oh.”
 
Buffy wasn’t sure if she should be worried or flattered. She thought she knew what he meant by “make love with his whole body”. But then, she’d been sure what she and Angel had done was making love, and then it was over so quickly and she’d fallen asleep and he was gone when she awoke. Now she wasn’t sure if she really did know what Spike meant. Should losing her virginity to Angel have been more involved than it was?
 
She frowned at him and moved slightly away, settling for an uncertain, “I don’t see what loving me has to do with anything, but if it means it’s different—”
 
“Sorry, love, didn’t mean to scare you. We’ll work it out, yeah?”
 
He took her hand and, first checking around the corner of the crypt, he walked out into the more open area of the graveyard. They walked toward the gate, holding hands as if they were strolling around a park, stopping when they reached the sidewalk.
 
Very reluctantly, Buffy released their linked fingers and pointed to the left. “I’m going to go talk to Giles. But maybe you should come with me? We know who it is now, so—”
 
“There’s still a lot we don’t know, love. I might pick up all sorts of information at Willy’s.”
 
“But it could be dangerous—”
 
“I’ll be fine.” He smiled at her worried expression. “Got too much to look forward to, to get careless. I promise.” He stroked her cheek. “I’ll be at the house sleeping while you’re in school tomorrow.”
 
“Okay,” she said, leaning into his hand. “But be careful, okay?”
 
“Always am,” he said.  Her only reply was a snort of disbelief as she turned away, leaving his laughter behind her.
 
 
XXXXX
 
When Buffy appeared at the door so soon after having left, Giles frowned and looked behind her for Spike.
 
“Was your meeting not successful?” he asked as he closed the door.
 
“It was, but Mr-I’m-a-master-vamp-and-I’m-not-afraid-of-anything wanted to go to Willy’s anyway.”
 
“I see. So, what did you learn?”
 
When Buffy had filled Giles in on who was the apparent demon planning to ascend, he said, “That explains a lot about Snyder’s antipathy toward you as well as his worrying so much about the graduation ceremony this early in the year.
 
“It isn’t going to be easy, having the man who runs Sunnydale aligned against us.” He sighed. “I’ll research him immediately, but you and Faith will need to be very careful from now on.”
 
“Speaking of Faith…” Buffy stared around for any sign that her sister slayer was still there.
 
Giles shook his head. “She was not interested in learning more about Spike… or Angelus. I did get her to believe that he is on our side, I hope, but she is never going to be very fond of him, I'm afraid.”
 
“Just as well,” Buffy growled. “If she tries to put her skanky hands on him….”
 
Giles rolled his eyes. “Let’s just hope for a lack of hostility on her part, if that’s all right with you?”
 
Buffy flushed and nodded. “Of course it is. I just hate not knowing how much to trust her.”
 
“Well, until such time as she does something to prove us wrong, I suggest we treat her as what she is.  A slayer,” he added at Buffy’s expression. “She is a slayer by training and birth. We need to assume, no matter how unusual her attitude and upbringing, that she will want to remain on the side of good.”
 
Buffy frowned. “Have there ever been any slayers that didn’t? That went all evil?”
 
Giles looked down and cleared his throat. “It may have happened once or twice. It’s not common. Slayers are chosen for a reason by the Powers That Be, and they rarely make mistakes.”
 
Buffy cocked her head. “What happens to those ‘rare mistakes’? Do they get early Cruciamentums?”
 
Giles looked away from her as he muttered, “Something like that, I imagine.”
 
“You imagine, or you know?” She narrowed her eyes at him, but he refused to respond to her glare with an answer.
 
“I don’t believe it’s relevant. Faith has given us no reason to suspect her loyalties and certainly no reason to dwell on what she might do if they change.”  He walked to the door and put his hand on the doorknob. “If that is all you have to report, I suggest you go home and get a good night’s sleep. We will meet again tomorrow night to discuss this information, as well as whatever Spike learns tonight.”
 
“Awesome. I have to spend the day tomorrow in the same building with the little weasel that is conspiring with a demon. And I’m supposed to ignore it?” She marched to the door and yanked it open. “If he wasn’t human, I could just slay him.  It would be like a…a community service.”
 
“I somehow doubt that your new information about Principal Snyder has affected your relationship with him at all. And we do not want to tip our hand as to what we know this early in the year. We have a great deal of planning and preparation to do before the ceremony. In the meantime, you must act like a typical student.”
 
When Buffy just gaped at him, he coughed, adding, “In as much as that is possible for you, of course.”
 
“Of course,” she snorted as she went out the door.
 
 
 
XXXX
 
Spike left Willy’s in the company of a vampire he’d discovered was one of the mayor’s top lieutenants. After some time bragging at each other about their respective ages and the evil they’d done, Trick had agreed to introduce Spike to his boss.
 
“If you’re telling the truth about killing two slayers, I’m sure he’ll be interested. We’ve got two of them here, and they need to go before the Ascension.”
 
“Haven’t been able to take them out yet?”
 
Tricky looked annoyed. “Should have had the one when I first got here with Kakistos. Thought he was going to kill her, but the little blonde bitch was with her and somehow they killed him. I wasn’t about to take on both of them by myself.”
 
“So you ran off?” Spike gave his voice a contemptuous edge.
 
“Did you miss the part where there were two of them? That blonde one is not going to be easy.”
 
“I don’t like easy,” Spike said with a shrug. “It’s not as much fun.”
 
As they rounded a corner, they almost ran into Faith walking out of an alley and shaking dust off her hands.
 
“Shit…” Spike said without explanation when Trick glanced at him.
 
“That’s one of the slayers. We should be able to take her together.”
 
“Ya think?” Spike snorted, his disdain clear. The other vampire bristled and rose to the bait.
 
“That’s the easy one,” Trick said. “If she’s alone, I might have a go at her by myself. Assuming you’ve got my back.”
 
“Sure. Knock yourself out,” Spike said, trying to signal Faith with his eyes that she shouldn’t let the other vampire know she recognized him.
 
“William the Bloody,” she snarled. “And with a major bad guy vamp. What a surprise.”
 
She fell into a fighting stance, stake in hand, but Spike could feel the fear coming off her. Still hoping she’d play along, he said, “She called me out by name. I think this one should be mine.”
 
“How does she know your name?” Trick looked back and forth between them. “Have you already fought her?”
 
Spike shrugged. “We had a little dust up when I first got to town. I was in a hurry and couldn’t finish it at the time, so I let her go after I had a little taste. Didn’t tell her my name, though. She prob’ly knows who I am from the other slayer and her watcher. If she described me, they’d know me from last time I was in Sunnyhell.”
 
“So you know the other slayer too?”
 
Spike silently cursed himself for not being more careful what he said.
 
“Fought her a couple of times, last year. Had her pinned the first time, but her mum hit me in the head with an axe and she got loose. The other times, we just got interrupted by something else. And after she let Angelus loose, she stopped worrying about me and concentrated on him. Killed him. Sent him right into the hell he was trying to bring about.”
 
“How do you know?”
 
“Was there, wasn’t I? Took my lady and left while she and my grandsire were fighting. Since she obviously won that fight, seems like leaving was the right decision.”
 
Trick was staring at him with suspicious eyes and Spike wondered how much the other vampire knew about the events of the previous year. Faith was listening to them, watching warily as she edged farther away from the alley and more out into the street where, even this late at night, there might be onlookers.
 
“Then why are you back?” Trick seemed to be more interested in his story just then, so Spike turned his body and tried to signal behind his back for Faith to run.
 
“Heard the message. Jus’ like everybody else. Big Ascension planned, all vamps and demons welcome to come share in the spoils. Dru and I are having one of our breaks, so I thought I’d come back and see if there might be a spot for me. And maybe get a shot at the Slayer again.” He grinned at Faith, showing his teeth at her. “Didn’t know I’d be gettin’ two for the price of one.”
 
He could see the instant Faith realized his stalling was giving her an opportunity to get away and she wavered, her uncertainty clear.  Spike’s snarl as he moved in her direction seemed to make up her mind, and she whirled and ran toward the center of town. Although Spike had acted as if he was attacking, he managed to keep himself between Trick and Faith long enough for her to get to safety.
 
“Fuck!” he snarled. “Too much talking, not enough biting. Bitch is getting away.”
 
“We’ll get her again,” Trick said. “If they’re going out alone, we might be able to get both of them between the two of us.” He seemed to have accepted Spike at face value and assumed he was now a comrade.
 
If we catch her alone again,” Spike said, staring in the direction Faith had run. “I think she was afraid of us.”
 
Trick nodded. “Yeah. I remember that from when I first got here. She was scared shitless of Kakistos, but she ended up dusting him anyway.”
 
“With help.”
 
“True. It’s really the other one we need to worry about. She’s not afraid and she’s one hell of a fighter. But you already know that, I guess.”
 
“I do. I do indeed. I’ve been looking forward to another match up since last year. I’ll let you have this one. The Summers bitch is mine.”
 
“You know her name?”
 
“Don't you? Haven’t you studied your enemies?” Spike stared at Trick as if he’d just confessed to drinking milk instead of blood.
 
“Uh… yeah, of course. I mean, the old man does. He knows all about Sunnydale. I just wait for him to tell me what to do and who to do it to.”
 
“Right….” Spike drawled. “Well, I’m going to head off. You can let your boss know William the Bloody is back and he’s ready to help.”
 
“You want to work for him?”
 
Spike snarled. “I’m nobody’s minion. I was the master here for a good bit of last year. He should remember that. I work with, not for.”
 
“I’m not sure he’s going to like that, but I’ll pass the message on. If you can rid him of the slayers, he might be okay with it.”
 
Spike shrugged. “He can be okay with it or not. Either way, I’m here for the Slayer.”
 
They parted company and Spike debated about trying to locate Faith’s home to make sure she knew he was saving her life, not threatening it, then shrugged it off. He set off for the mansion, a bottle of O Neg in his pocket, reminding himself to drink it and get rid of the evidence before Buffy got out of school that afternoon. He didn’t mind drinking pigs blood for sustenance, but his demon demanded some of the real thing from time to time, and he liked to keep it happy.
 
 
Chapter Twenty-Three
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
 
To Buffy’s surprise, Snyder kept out of her way most of the day. It wasn’t until Willow tentatively mentioned that Buffy was looking “very slayerish” every time they saw Snyder, that Buffy realized he seemed to be afraid of her. Between his having apparently hooked up with the Mayor in some way, thus probably now knowing more about Buffy’s other life than when he’d just assumed she was a delinquent student, and her own inability to hide her reaction to what she now knew about him, their roles had somewhat reversed. 
 
On those rare occasions when they found themselves in the same hallway, instead of trying to avoid his notice as she normally did, the look Buffy focused on him now was the cold, hard stare of a Slayer. It was enough to send him scuttling off to harass students elsewhere in the building.
 
“I think he’s afraid of me,” Buffy said to Giles when she joined him and Xander in the Library. “That’s kind of cool.”
 
“I’d be afraid of you too, if you looked at me the way you looked at him,” Xander said.
 
“How did I look at him?”
 
“Kinda like you do when you’re about to go all Kung Fu Buffy on something,” he said with a nervous grin. “Or like when somebody says something negative about Spike.”
 
“Oh. Well. Too bad.” She shrugged. “If he doesn’t like the way I look at him, he should probably stay out of my way.” 
 
She bit her tongue and didn’t add that so should anyone who said anything bad about Spike, but the look on Xander’s face told her he had filled in the missing words. He held his hands up in surrender.
 
“Giving him the benefit of the doubt for now,” he said. “Willow filled me in more on what went down last year and how he helped you get home and pass your exams. At least this vampire doesn’t just show up with cryptic prophecies and then leave without helping you.”
 
“Exactly. Well, not exactly, I guess, but yeah. When Spike thinks I could use some help, he, you know, helps. He’s really nothing like Angel or Angelus.”
 
“For which we are all very grateful.” Giles followed his dry comment with a nod toward his office and a “May I see you for a moment, please, Buffy?”
 
Willow and Oz had joined Xander and Buffy, and all four teenagers stared at Giles who said nothing to enlighten them, only walked into his office, expecting Buffy to follow. She exchanged puzzled looks with her friends, then trailed Giles into the small room. He shut the door behind her and gestured to his desk. Faith was sitting in his chair, rocked back with her feet on the desk as she toyed with a stake.
 
“Did you know your honey was hanging out with one of the vamps that came here with Kakistos? The old one that got away from us and that’s gone to work in the Mayor’s office?”
 
Buffy frowned at the implication in Faith’s voice, but shook her head. “I know he was heading for Willy’s to see if he could find some minions to interrogate. If that guy is really working for the Mayor, he’d have been a good choice.”
 
“They were going to kill me!” Faith said, lowering her feet to the floor with a crash. “They came walking around the corner as chummy as can be and started talking about which one was going to get to kill me!”
 
Buffy’s stomach clenched, but she kept her voice calm as she said, “And yet, here you are, all alive… again.” The reminder that Spike could have killed her before and hadn’t wasn’t lost on Faith and she flushed.
 
“Well, that’s because I ran away while they were still arguing over which one was going to kill me,” she blustered, her voice trailing off as knowledge dawned in her eyes.
 
Buffy crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows, waiting patiently while Faith visibly reviewed the incident and accepted that she’d been able to get away because Spike had made it possible.
 
Faith slumped back in the chair and cursed. “Fine,” she said with a growl. “Spike let me get away and he did it without blowing his cover.” She shook her head. “I missed what was going on at the time, but I see what he did.” She rolled her eyes. “He must think I’m really stupid.” She looked a question at Buffy, who just shrugged.
 
“I haven’t seen him since we talked to Clem. I’ll catch up with him this afternoon or later tonight.” She gave Faith a small smile. “I’ll be sure to tell him you said thank you.”
 
“I’ll say it myself,” Faith muttered as she stood up and looked at Giles. “Meeting tonight?”
 
He nodded. “My apartment, around seven.”
 
“I’ll be there.” She went out of the office and, without speaking to anyone else, left the Library and took the closest exit from the building.
 
“What do you think?” Buffy asked Giles as they rejoined the others.
 
“I’m cautiously optimistic that she learned something from this. This is the first time she has asked about a meeting and volunteered to be there.”
 
“I hope so,” Buffy said. “Life will be a lot less stressful if I don’t have to worry that somebody on our side is going to try to take Spike out.”
 
“Could she do that?” Xander appeared almost hopeful, and Buffy gave him one of the stares he’d been trying to avoid. “I mean, not that I want her to, but I thought he already kicked her ass?”
 
Buffy rolled her eyes, grateful for the glare Giles sent in Xander’s direction.
 
“She couldn’t beat him in a fair fight, but if he trusts her, he wouldn’t be watching his back, and I can’t watch it for him while we’re in the middle of a battle.”
 
Xander looked surprisingly thoughtful. He glanced at Giles as if for verification, then, “So how many times has he not killed her?”
 
Buffy sighed. “Twice, I guess, if we count last night when he stalled that other vamp—”
 
“Trick,” Giles put in. “His name is Trick and I am researching his history.”
 
Buffy nodded and continued, “Anyway, he hasn’t killed her himself when he could have, and last night he kept somebody else from trying to kill her. And I wouldn’t have known about it either time, so it’s not just because I’d have to stake him.”
 
Giles interrupted again. “And he also saved her life last night when she was too busy fighting vampires to notice the demon behind her. Which I believe I made clear to her at the time. It remains to be seen if these actions will soften her attitude toward someone who could be an important asset to us.”
 
“Well, if you don’t have anything for us now, I’m going to go check on that important asset and see what he learned from Trick last night. We’ll see you at seven.”
 
Buffy waved her good-bye and left the building by the same door Faith had used.
 
Xxxxx
 
As Buffy wandered toward Crawford Street, she thought she could feel eyes upon her. She changed her route to go in another direction that allowed her to go in and out of shops along the sidewalk. It took only a few stops for her to spot the man stalking her as he stopped every time she did and watched the door of the store. “Yay for watching lots of cop and spy movies,” she muttered to herself as she slipped out the back door of a shoe store where they knew her as a good customer. Her story that an old boyfriend was following her brought sympathy and a quick agreement to letting her out the back.
 
Buffy checked the loading dock and peered up and down the alley before smiling her farewell and running down the alley to emerge several streets away. She hid in a shadowed doorway, but when she saw no sign on the stalker, she circled around to come at the mansion from another direction.
 
She found a shirtless Spike already up and having his breakfast when she finally got to the house.
 
“Mornin’, love,” he said. “Not for you, I guess, but I just got out of the shower.”
 
She made note of his wet hair and laughed. “I’m glad I got delayed. Naked you would have been a shock.”
 
“Naked is brilliant,” he said. “We should try it some time.”
 
Buffy blushed and paused with the kitchen island between them, unsure if his no kissing rule meant she couldn’t say hello the way she wanted to. Apparently reading her mind, he grinned and crooked his finger at her.
 
“Come give us a hello, Slayer. I promise to keep it PG.”
 
“What do you know about PG?” she murmured as she leaned in to meet his lips. “You watch porn.”
 
“Know it means, if it was anybody besides you, it’d be boring,” he said, holding the kiss just long enough to make it real without leading to anything more.
 
“It’s boring?” She pulled back with a pout.
 
“Would be if it wasn’t you. Nothing’s boring when you’re involved. Trust me.” He gave her one more chaste peck and went back to his blood.  “So, you’re a bit late. School was out a while ago, wasn’t it?”
 
“Oh yeah, but there was this guy….” Buffy went on tell him about the man tailing her and how she’d ditched him.
 
He growled, but smiled at her pride in her actions.
 
“Wonder what that was about?”
 
“I dunno. I didn’t want anybody to see me coming here, so I got away.” She frowned. “It’s going to be hard keeping this a secret, isn’t it?”
 
Spike nodded. “I ‘s’pect it will, love. Don’t imagine I’ll get away with it for very long. Too many chances for us to be caught out. Hopin’ I can get some more information before that happens, but a vamp as old as Trick is bound to crafty.”
 
“Maybe you shouldn’t do it? We already know the important stuff—that it’s the Mayor and he’s planning to do it at Graduation.”
 
“I’ll be careful, love. We know the main thing, but we don’t know exactly how it’s going to happen, or what he might need to do yet to prepare. Aside from trying to take you and Slayer number two out of the picture. Could be there’s some important ingredient he needs for the ascension that we can locate first and put a stop to the whole thing before it ever gets goin’.”
 
Buffy snorted. “We should get so lucky. But I don’t like it. If something happens to you….” Her expression changed from disbelief to a worried pout.
 
He smiled softly and pulled her closer, nuzzling her neck and leaving light kisses as he whispered in her ear.
 
“I love that you worry about me, Buffy, but I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time. I know how to be careful.”
 
“I just don’t want anything to happen to you,” Buffy mumbled into his neck. She froze as the truth of her words sank in. She pulled back to meet his puzzled gaze. “I really, really don’t want anything to happen to you!” she said, making no attempt to hide her own wonder.
 
‘That’s good, yeah?” he said with a worried smile. “I don’t want anything to happen to you, and you don’t want anything to happen to me. What’s wrong with that?”
 
“Nothing! It’s wonderful!”
 
“It is indeed wonderful, but I’m not sure—”
 
“Don’t you get it?” When he just continued to stare at her as if she’d started speaking in tongues, she sighed and rolled her eyes. “Why don’t you want anything to happen to me?”
 
“Because I love you, you silly…..”  He trailed off as she began to grin at him. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” He grabbed her by the shoulders, staring at her with a mixture of joy and trepidation.
 
“I think so. I’m pretty sure I am. I mean, I missed you when you were gone, I’m happy you’re back, I want to be with you all the time, I worry about you, I’d be heartbroken if you left again, and when you kiss me I—”
 
There were no more words for several minutes as they fell into more of those kisses, this time without any need for restraint. When Buffy’s legs were once again wrapped around his hips, this time with more success than the night before, he pressed her back against the refrigerator and used the leverage to provide the contact she was seeking. Her increasingly frantic whimpers and cries spurred him on until she collapsed against him, gasping for air.
 
As she recovered herself, she realized he was still hard and still nestled between her legs.
 
“Why did we do that here when you have a perfectly good bed right down the hall?” she asked as she nudged him away so she could put her feet back on the floor. She kept her head down so he couldn’t see her flaming face.
 
“Because I wanted you to get off on me at least once, just in case you were going to change your mind. You haven’t , have you?” He gave her a worried nudge with his nose as she continued to keep her face down.
 
She shook her head. “Nope. Just feeling guilty for getting my happy before you did.”
 
He laughed and picked her up again. She automatically put her legs around his waist as he began walking toward his bedroom.
 
“No worries, love. I’ll never get tired of watching you come. Or hearing it. Or feeling you against me. And I expect to get my own share of happiness as soon as I get you naked.”
 
“Don’t you have to be naked too?” She hid her blush against his chest, unable to resist inhaling the scent of his skin or the urge to kiss it.
 
“Oh, I plan to be, sweetheart, never doubt it. Figured you understood that.”
 
He carefully maneuvered through the door to his bedroom, managing not to bump her knees against the jamb as he did so. When he reached the bed, he turned around and sat down, leaving her now sitting on his lap, her legs still around his waist. As they began kissing again, Spike slid his hands under her shirt, unhooking her bra and pushing it and the shirt up to her shoulders. He interrupted the kiss to push the shirt and bra off over her head and, while Buffy’s arms were up in the air, he fastened his mouth on one nipple and began sucking on it.
 
Her surprised gasp, followed by her increased breathing as she arched into his mouth, made him smile against her flesh. He switched to the other breast, massaging the first one with his hand while he sucked the other nipple to a rosy peak. Buffy’s head was thrown back, her eyes shut, and her hands grasping his hair and holding his face against her chest. When he stopped sucking and began to kiss his way back up to her mouth, she brought her head forward and met him eagerly, pressing their nude upper bodies together.
 
Matching moans as they were skin to skin for the first time sent Spike onto his back with Buffy lying on him. He gasped against her mouth, “Was hoping to take my time, love, but I want you so bloody bad….”
 
Buffy’s response was to roll off his body and pop the button on his jeans. She was tugging on his zipper when he nudged her hand away, gently pushed her onto her back, and began to kiss his way down her torso. He unbuttoned her jeans and pulled the zipper down with his teeth, breaking away to slide down the bed and pull them down her legs. He reached up with one hand to snag her underwear and drag it down with them. Buffy had already kicked her shoes off, so nothing impeded his goal of stripping her naked, which he accomplished very quickly. He stood up and shoved his own jeans to the floor before getting back onto the bed on his hands and knees. 
 
He began kissing his way up her legs, pausing when he got to her neatly trimmed curls, abandoning his first thought when she gave a shocked gasp and pulled her legs tightly together.
 
“Alright, love. We’ll get to that,” he murmured, continuing up her body until they were face to face and his fingers were stroking her to the accompaniment of more of the whimpers he was beginning to recognize as signals for more. Her legs fell apart to give him more access, and he continued his actions until her hips were moving of their own volition. When he’d spread the moisture around and her body was telling him she was more than ready, he pressed his cock against her entrance, whispering, “May I come in, love?”
 
Her response was to grab his ass and pull on his hips. He worked his way into her, taking his time to allow her to adapt to the unfamiliar sensation. “Are you ready for this, love?” Buffy could feel him trembling with the effort to go slowly within her almost virginal body, and she wrapped her legs around his, pulling him even deeper.
 
“News flash, vampire. I’m a slayer. High pain threshold, and I’ve been ready for this since I walked in the door this afternoon.”
 
He gave a strangled laugh and began to move his hips against her, smiling when she moved with him and they fell into an easy rhythm. The easy rhythm grew very quickly into something else, his thrusts becoming stronger and faster while Buffy’s cries and gasps urged him on. His roar of completion when Buffy shattered around him told her she didn’t need to worry about having been selfish this time, and she gave a satisfied sigh as he collapsed on top of her.
 
When he tried to roll off, she held him in place. “Where are you going?”
 
“Jus’ going to let you breathe, love.”
 
“I’m breathing just fine. You stay put. We’ve got another hour before I have to get home for dinner.” She kept her legs around his and her arms around his back to emphasize her words.
 
“Bloody hell, Slayer,” he said in an awestruck voice. “If I didn’t already love you, that would have done it.” She felt him begin to swell inside her and gasped in surprise, feeling him shake with chuckles as he said, “Have I mentioned how quickly vampires can recover?” 
 
“Must be one of those things you were going to share with me with I got old enough,” she said, beginning to move against him. “What else don’t I know?”
 
“Did you know you can drive?” He rolled them over so that she was lying on him, his hands holding her hips in place. She pushed herself up so she was sitting, catching her breath when that position forced his cock farther into her.
 
“Did I hurt you, love?” His hands were preparing to lift her away, but she shook her head.
 
“Not hurting!” She wriggled against him to emphasize her words, smiling when his eyes rolled back in his head. “Do you like this?”
 
In reply, he began to raise his hips, slowly at first, and she realized he was letting her set the pace.
 
“How long did you say we have?” he asked as their pace increased and she began experimenting with using different muscles and rhythms.
 
“Long enough!” She leaned down to kiss him, finding another position that was worth exploring. “Maybe long enough…”
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Twenty-four
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
 
“I think we should have skipped that last time,” Buffy said, pulling on her jeans and searching for her bra. “I’m going to be so late to dinner. Mom’s going to know what we’ve been doing!”
 
He laughed and sat up, shaking his head. “Not sure I follow that line of reasoning, love. Unless you’re planning to walk in and light up a cigarette or something,” he said, doing so himself.
 
“She’ll know. She’s got those Mom senses and she’ll take one look at me, I’ll turn red, and she’ll know.”
 
“Is that how she found out about Angelus?”
 
“No. She didn’t know much about him at the time, and I didn’t see her until the next day when I was too busy feeling crushed to worry about feeling guilty. If he hadn’t told her, she probably never…. But she knows you, and she knows you… and we… and now I….” She sighed. “She’s just gonna know, okay?”
 
“Guess that means I should stay away from the house for a few days? Give her time to get used to the idea and calm down?”
 
Buffy shook her head. “No. I think you should come by to pick me up. I don’t want her thinking you’re going to disappear now that you got what you wanted from me.”
 
He was off the bed and holding her before she had time to move.
 
“That is never going to happen, Slayer. You’re stuck with me now.”
 
“Promise?” She kept her face buried in his chest, her voice sounding much like the young girl he’d first encountered the year before.
 
“With all I have and am,” he whispered, pulling her closer. “I’m yours forever. Whether you want me or not.”
 
“I want you,” she said, still not looking at him. He tipped her chin up and smiled.
 
“Well, that works out nicely then, doesn’t it?”  He turned her around and gave her a little push. “Now get that delectable arse home before I forget that I don’t want your mum mad at me.”
 
She giggled as she looked over her shoulder to see his cock swelling up again. “You better put that away before you pick me up tonight!”
 
“I’ll hide it. Making no promises about puttin’ it away, though.” He made shooing motions with his hands. “Now go on with you. I’ll be by for you around half past six.”
 
Buffy waved and hurried out the door, running almost the whole way to her house.
 
XXXX
 
To Buffy’s relief, her mother was involved in an apparently lengthy telephone call with her sister in the Midwest and only waved a hand when Buffy came in.  Which gave her time to run upstairs, clean up a little, and change into slaying clothes. For once she was grateful that Joyce made her do her own laundry, knowing that her underwear and jeans would have given away what she’d been doing.
 
By the time Buffy came downstairs, Joyce was off the phone and working on dinner.
 
“Will you toss the salad, please, Buffy?” she asked as she peered into the Crock-Pot she’d[Sp1]  set up before leaving for work. While they worked together to put a meal on the table, Joyce regaled Buffy with all the drama that was going on with her family. Buffy laughed and nodded in the right places, although she hadn’t seen her aunt or cousins since she was very young and had no idea about their lives.
 
As they ate, she told Joyce there was a Scooby meeting at seven and about having to dodge someone following her on her way home from school.
 
“Oh my God! In the daytime?”
 
“I’m pretty sure he was human, Mom. It was easy to lose him. I guess he works for the Mayor—oh, by the way, the Mayor is a demon of some sort. He’s what I have to do something about this year. Before graduation, if I can.”
 
“Before graduation?”
 
“Yeah. But if we can’t do it by then, you’re going to want to stay home.”
 
“You don’t want me to watch you graduate? Buffy, that’s just—”
 
“Mom. We’re going to try to take care of it before then. I promise. I’m just saying, if it comes right down to the wire, I don’t want to have to worry about where you are and if you’re safe.”
 
“And I am not going to miss your high school graduation! Not after we’ve worked so hard to make it happen.”
 
“All right. Let’s not worry about it yet.” Buffy glanced up as there was a knock on the door.  “I’ll get it. You stay here.” Buffy was suddenly all slayer, and Joyce obeyed without even thinking about what she was doing. When she could hear Spikes familiar accent, she remembered that it was her house and stood up.
 
“Why didn’t you let me answer the door?” she demanded, glaring at Spike as if it was his fault.
 
“Because I wasn’t sure who it was going to be,” Buffy said. “He’s a little bit early, and if there are humans stalking me now….”
 
“Good evenin’, Mrs. Summers,” Spike said with a small smile. “Didn’t mean to alarm everyone with my knock.”
 
“It’s fine, Spike. I was just surprised at Buffy’s reaction.”
 
“She has a point. You’d best make sure your doors are locked and the windows too. Humans won’t have to worry about any invisible barriers the way vamps do.”
 
“Maybe I can get Giles or Willow to come over and do some kind of spell to keep people out too,” Buffy muttered. “There’s got to be a way to keep strangers out.”
 
“Red should be able to set up some wards, love. Or the watcher will know how. It would be a good idea. I’m a bit disappointed it never occurred to him before this. I can guarantee if you’d been raised by a watcher, your house would be protected from nearly everything except flood or fire.”
 
Joyce frowned. “What do you mean, ‘if she’d been raised by a watcher’?”
 
“Most potential slayers are identified as such when they’re very young and are raised in the watcher’s family, or by the watcher alone if he or she doesn’t have a family.”
 
“That’s terrible! Why would their parents let them…? I’d never do that!”
 
“In some cultures, less sophisticated than this one, the parents are proud to know they may have produced a slayer, and they’re happy to let her go for training. If she doesn’t get called before she ages out, she comes home. In a lot of cases, the girls are already orphans. They get ‘adopted’ by their watchers.”
 
“So, Buffy’s different?”
 
Spike laughed and put his arm around Buffy’s shoulders just long enough to emphasize his words, but not long enough for Joyce to object.
 
“You have no idea how different she is from other Slayers. It’s what makes her so good at her job. So unpredictable. She hasn’t been indoctrinated her whole life with the Council of Wankers’ party line. Thinks for herself, Buffy does.”
 
“Which is why they wanted to get rid of her,” Joyce said shrewdly.
 
“More than likely,” Spike agreed. “But she was too good for them.” He beamed at Buffy proudly.
 
Joyce shook her head. “I’ll never understand any of this. I’m still working on vampires are real.” She glanced at Spike, who obliged her by letting his fangs drop and his eyes flare yellow before going back to his human mien. “Thanks for the reminder,” she said with a snort.
 
“Any time,” he said, then turned to Buffy. “Are we ready to go, pet?”
 
“Yeah, just let me check the windows and doors—”
 
“Buffy, I’m a grown woman, and I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time. I think I can manage to lock my own doors.”
 
“Okay. Sorry, Mom. Being a slayer kinda makes you bossy.”
 
Joyce nodded. “I remember how impressed I was last year when those creatures….” She paused to glare at Spike, who shrugged apologetically. “When Spike and those other vampires attacked the school and you were so cool and calm while you told people what to do to stay safe. I just don’t need that level of slayer bossiness in my own house.”
 
“And on that note….” Buffy gave her mother a quick hug, grabbed a jacket and followed Spike out the front door.  “Lock it behind us!” she called, giggling at her mother’s “I know” as Joyce slammed the door behind them.
 
XXXX
 
“Whoa! You brought the car.  Is it a special occasion?”
 
“Taking my lady out for the night. Could be.” He held the door open for her, then walked around to the driver’s side and got in. “Or, it could be I got here early with the car so we could have time for some snogging before we have to go in to the room full of nummy people I’m not allowed to eat.”
 
“Just as an FYI, reminding me that you want to eat people is not likely to result in ‘snogging’, which, by the way, is a totally gross word for kissing.”
 
Buffy tried to keep her expression as stern as her words, but Spike’s chuckle told her he wasn’t fooled.
 
“Duly noted, love. If I want a snog, don’t call it that.”
 
Neither one mentioned the reminder about his eating habits.
 
The car did allow them to arrive a little early for the meeting, and as Spike had anticipated, they spent the extra few minutes making out in the car, now parked in a darkened area of the lot.  Lights on Oz’s van as it pulled in had Buffy reluctantly breaking what she mentally referred to as “Spike’s make-the-world-go-away kisses”.
 
“Looks like that’s Oz and Willow. I guess we’d better go in.”
 
“Fine,” he grumbled, adjusting himself. “Just when it was getting interesting…”
 
Buffy giggled and gave his bulging jeans a little pat. “I think that’s always interested,” she said, blushing as she did so, but she smiled when he gave an appreciative laugh.
 
“It is, love. Anytime you’re around, for sure.”
 
He opened his door and waited for Buffy to slide out behind him. With the car now between them and the rest of the parking lot, they clung together for another few seconds until they heard Willow’s voice.
 
“Buffy? Spike? Why are you parked way back there where it’s dark?”
 
“Um…” Buffy thought quickly. “I was checking for vamps. Giles needs to tell his landlord about all the lights that are out back here. It could be dangerous.”
 
Ignoring Spike’s snort of laughter, she walked toward her friends with a serious frown on her still-red face.
 
“Really. I mean who doesn’t want a lot of lights in parking lots in Sunnydale?”
 
“Uh huh.” Willow and Oz just looked at each other, then began walking toward the door. “So, are you guys coming in?” Oz asked as he opened the door and held it for them.
 
“Of course we are. We have important stuff to tell you about.”  Buffy smiled her thanks and followed him through the door before looked around the almost empty room. “But we should probably wait for Xander… and Faith. If she remembers she said she was coming.”
 
Before Spike could pull the door closed behind them, Xander came running up the sidewalk, shouting for him to wait.  Xander brushed past Spike, his eyes searching the room for Buffy.
 
“Buffy! You need to come with me. Faith is fighting some old vampire by herself and it doesn’t look good.”
 
Buffy and Spike were back out the door before Xander even finished speaking.
 
“Where are they?”
 
Xander gestured toward the street. “Just down the block. I caught up with her and asked if she was on her way here when the vamp came out of nowhere. Seems like they kind of know each other, ‘cause she called him by some stupid vampire name—” 
 
At Spike’s growl, Xander said, “Come on. Like ‘Spike’ is what your mother called you.”
 
“Trick,” Buffy said. “She’s fighting Trick. I’m surprised he’s alone.”
 
Buffy was vaguely aware that Xander was following them the best he could as they started sprinting in the direction he’d pointed. But by the time he reached the fight scene, they were just watching from the sidelines. They leaned against a parked car, seemingly relaxed, but with their eyes following every move made by both Trick and Faith. Buffy was tossing a stake up and down, but Spike put his hand on her arm when she started to move closer.
 
“Let’s just keep it fair,” he said, jutting his chin at two new vampires coming at the combatants from one side.
 
“I’ve got them. Three more at nine o’clock.”
 
Without more conversation, Buffy stepped out to intercept the two vampires Spike had spotted first. After telling Xander to say put, Spike approached the ones coming from the other side.
 
“Don’t you boys have any more respect for your boss than to get in his way when he’s making a kill?” he said as he got between them and the ongoing battle.
 
They blinked and growled, not sure what they were supposed to do since this clearly much older vampire seemed to think he was in charge.  Across the empty lot in which Faith and Trick were still exchanging blows, Buffy had already dusted the two vamps on that side.
 
“Hey! That’s the other slayer. What are you doing with her? Whose side are you on?”
 
“Not yours,” Spike responded, staking the closest vamp and going into game face.
 
Buffy had circled around, pausing to hand Xander a stake, and was now approaching the confused vampires from the rear.  They looked back and forth between Spike and the slayer they knew to be the more dangerous of the two, then turned to run. Buffy threw her stake, hitting one in the back, while Spike took to his heels after the other one, catching him easily and breaking his neck.
 
Seemingly indifferent to or unaware of the activity going on around them, Faith and Trick continued their almost-even battle.  Faith’s eyes flickered once to Buffy, who just said, “Here if you need me,” and remained standing a respectful distance away. 
 
Taking advantage of her momentary inattention, Trick managed to hit her hard enough to knock her down. Spike’s “You’ve got this, Slayer” gave Trick just enough pause to let Faith get her breath back, and she was on her feet before he could follow up what should have been a fight-ending blow.
 
“What the hell—” he began, frowning at Spike. He had no time to ask questions, as Faith threw herself back into the fight, attacking furiously. Within seconds she had Trick on the ground and her stake over his heart. She plunged it home, but remained kneeling in the dust, breathing hard and trying not to look at anyone.
 
Spike walked over and extended his hand. “That was a bloody good fight and a righteous kill. Good job, Slayer.” Buffy could hear the capital letter that he usually only added when speaking to her.
 
Faith peered up at Spike through the hair that had come loose in the fight, then took his hand and let him pull her to her feet.
 
“Yeah, well, thanks,” she mumbled. “I’m wicked happy you guys came along. Not sure I could have handled all of them.”
 
“That’s what friends are for,” Buffy said with a small smile. “Guess we better get back to the meeting, huh?” She turned to walk off with Spike, leaving Xander and Faith to follow.
 
“Thought I told you to run?” Faith said with a sideways glance at the stake Xander was still holding.
 
“I did,” he said. “Ran straight to the reinforcements.”
 
“You could have stayed there and been safe,” she said, with a puzzled frown on her face.
 
“And miss all the excitement?  Anyway, I was safe. I had two slayers and a grouchy old vamp to protect me.”
 
 
XXXXX
 
Giles was waiting at the door as the four of them walked up.
 
“All is well, then?”
 
“It is now,” Spike said.
 
“You can stop researching Trick,” Buffy said, beaming at Faith. “Faith dusted him.”
 
“It was pretty awesome,” Xander said, nodding his head.
 
Faith flushed and looked uncomfortable for a moment, then reverted to her normal cocky self.
 
“Yeah. Guess the mayor’s gonna be looking for a new deputy,” she said with a shrug. “No big deal. Just another vamp.”
 
Spike looked thoughtful. “Looks like there might be a vacancy there….”
 
“No!”
 
Nobody pretended not to know what he was thinking or why Buffy was objecting to it. Giles frowned and nodded his head.
 
“It could be quite useful for us to learn exactly what is being planned and when.”
 
“We know when,” Buffy said. “Whatever is going to happen, it will be at graduation. We’ve got plenty of time to figure out what it is.  Don’t your books tell you about ascensions, Giles?”
 
“Very little, I’m afraid. It isn’t something that occurs all that often, and the records don’t agree on what takes place.” He gazed at Spike. “I don’t suppose you know?”
 
Spike shrugged and shook his head. “We vamps don’t mix much with demons old enough for ascensions,” he said. “Pure demons don’t think much of us because too many of us are human-like.” He looked at Buffy’s unhappy face, saying softly, “It’s too good a chance to pass up, love. I’m sure Trick told him about me. He’ll probably be expecting a visit from the former Master of Sunnydale. We know we won’t be able to keep this a secret for long. Should take the chance while we’ve got it.”
 
Buffy stared at him, then looked around the room, only to see nodding agreement from everyone there. She sighed, her shoulders drooping.
 
“Fine. Whatever. Do what you need to do. But if you get dusted…. I’m going to be really, really pissed off at you.”
 
“Love you too, Slayer,” he said with smile meant only for her.  “If I’m going to do this, I should probably get on it.”
 
Before Buffy could give a dismayed argument against it, Giles spoke up.
 
“Actually, Spike, unless you would have a very good excuse for why you already know Trick is gone, that doesn’t include having watched him die at Faith’s hands without offering assistance, I think it would be best if you gave it another day or so. Give him time to realize he may have lost his employee, and time enough to make sure you and Buffy weren’t seen together slaying the minions.”
 
Spike nodded. “I expect you’re right at that, Watcher. I can hit Willy’s and ask around for Trick, let it be known I was expecting to join him tonight for an attempt on Slayer Number Two, but he didn’t show up. Gets the thought out there that something slayer-related might have happened to him without having to let on I saw it.”
 
“Sounds like a plan,” Xander agreed enthusiastically. “You’ll just go hang out with the vamps and demons, and the rest of us will… not hang out there….” His voice trailed off. “What? We can’t go with him.”
 
“Slayers One and Two can do their patrol rounds, and then take themselves home,” Spike growled. “Don’t want you two by yourselves for a while. Not until we sort this demon out.”
 
“Don't tell me what to do!”
 
“I don’t take orders from you!”
 
Ignoring the glares from the two girls called to kill his kind, Spike appealed to Giles.
 
“You’re their bloody watcher. Can’t you do anything with them?”
 
A snort from Oz, a giggle from Willow, and coughing laughter from Xander had Giles sending them a glare before he responded with a resigned shake of his head.
 
“I’m fairly certain they don’t take orders from me either,” he said, turning his attention to Buffy and Faith. “However, I would like to strongly suggest that you follow Spike’s advice to do your patrolling together as much as possible for a while. We’ve seen twice now, that the mayor is quite determined to take at least one of you, and no doubt, both if he can, out of the picture. Chances of that being successful should be greatly reduced if whatever else he sends against you has two slayers to fight.”
 
Buffy and Faith exchanged looks.
 
“I guess we can do that,” she said, raising an eyebrow at Faith.
 
“Five by five with me,” Faith agreed with a shrug.
 
“So. If that’s settled, I’ll just head for Willy’s. See what else I can pick up in the way of information and what ideas I can plant about the Mayor’s head minion. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Slayer One.” And he was out the door and gone, leaving Buffy biting her lip and frowning.
 
 
 
 

 [Sp1]
 
Chapter Twenty-five
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
 
Spike got to his car, snorting in disgust when he spotted a vampire hiding in the back seat. He pulled open the door and yanked the surprised vamp out onto the pavement, his own eyes flashing yellow briefly.
 
“Are you as bloody stupid as you look?” Spike growled rhetorically, taking in the boy’s obvious youth.
 
“I didn’t know it belonged to one of us. I just figured it was somebody new in town who didn’t know to lock his doors.” The young vampire sounded more sulky than frightened, earning a growl from Spike.
 
“I don’t lock my doors because nobody in his right mind would steal from William the Bloody. And I don’t worry about vamps because….” Spike went into full game face…. “I’m the only master vamp here.”
 
The suddenly less cocky fledgling flinched, but shook his head. “That black guy that turned me… he’s old. Maybe older than you are.”
 
Spike laughed, dropping his vampire mien. “Not anymore he isn’t.”
 
He didn’t elaborate, but the response surprised him.
 
“Did Buffy kill him?”
 
Spike narrowed his eyes and took a stronger grip on the boy’s arm.
 
“No. The dark-haired slayer did it. How do you know Buffy’s name?”
 
“Oh, I go to school with her… at least I did until this happened.” He gestured at his wrinkled face and fangs. “I know what she is. Most of us do. She’s why our class hasn’t lost as many members as the ones that came before us.”
 
“Reckon that makes you the exception to the rule then,” Spike said, with a snort.
 
“Huh. I guess it does.” The kid frowned. “Kinda sucks that I’ll never be old enough to drink….”
 
Spike rolled his eyes. “You’re a vampire, you stupid git. You can do whatever you want. Nobody is going to care how old you are… or were. Long’s you stay away from human bars, you—” He shook his head. “Why don’t you come with me to Willy’s? Learn something about being a vampire.” 
 
“That would be awesome! I’ll bet there’s a lot you could teach me.”
 
“Startin’ with respect for your elders,” Spike muttered as he pointed to the passenger side of the car. “Get in.”
 
 
 
“So, you’re William the Bloody? I think I heard about you. Did you really kill two slayers?”
 
“Spike, to you. And yes.”
 
“But not Buffy.” The boy sounded almost proud of the girl who should have been his sworn enemy.
 
“No. Not her. Not yet, anyway.”
 
“Are you going to? I mean are you going to try?”
 
Spike started to growl at the lack of confidence, then shrugged and peered sideways.
 
“If I try, I’ll do it.”
 
“Why?”
 
Spike almost swerved into a parked car. “What the bloody hell do you mean ‘why’? She’s a slayer. I’m a vampire. It’s what I do.”
 
“I don’t think you should kill Buffy. I like her. She was always nice to me.”
 
Spike exhaled loudly as he pulled into a parking place. “She won’t be nice to you now, you git. She’ll make you dust in a heartbeat.”
 
“You just don’t know her,” the boy said with complete confidence. “She’s a nice person.”
 
“I know her well enough,” Spike growled as they got out of the car. “She put me in a wheelchair with a broken back last year. I owe her.”
 
The young vampire stared at him. “Oh.”
 
“Yeah, oh. Let’s go—do you have a name?”
 
“Me? Uh, yeah, my name is—was—Joey. But maybe I should give myself a new vampire name?”
 
“You’re not likely to stay undusted long enough to need another name,” Spike said as they entered the bar.  Willy nodded when Spike pointed to a booth and shoved Joey into the seat opposite. When the bottle and two glasses appeared on the table, Joey’s eyes got big.
 
“You didn’t even have to tell him what you wanted.”
 
“‘S not like I’ve never been here before,” Spike growled.
 
“But you must be pretty important if he remembers you like that.” Spike squirmed uncomfortably at the growing hero-worship in the young vampire’s expression.
 
XXXX
 
An hour later, when Spike had made it known that Trick didn’t show up for a planned attack on Faith, and had successfully snarled Joey into not mentioning that Spike knew Faith killed the missing vampire, he decided he’d spent enough time laying the groundwork for his future offer to take Trick’s place in the Mayor’s employment.
 
“Why didn’t you tell anybody you saw him get… dusted? Is that what we call it?” Joey had been drinking his shots like a trooper, although not doing a very good job of hiding his distaste for it. His eyes were somewhat glazed from having tried to match Spike’s consumption.
 
Spike sighed and rolled his eyes. “Don’t want it to look like I’m after his job, do I? Can’t let anybody know I watched it and didn’t help him. Anybody asks, you can just say I overheard the real slayer’s do gooder friends talking about it.”
 
“Real Shlayer? If Buffy’s the real shlayer, what’s the other one? Isn’t she real?”
 
“Real enough, and getting better. But Goldilocks was here first, so she’s Slayer Number One. The new one is Slayer Number Two. Either one of them could make you disappear in a heartbeat, so you need to stay away.”
 
“Why would Buffy hurt me? She knows me.” Joey frowned unhappily.
 
“She knows human you. To the Slayer, this you is just another pile of dust waiting to happen.”
 
“Well that shucks.”
 
“Welcome to my world, mate.” Spike stood up and yanked Joey up by the arm. “Let’s get out of here. Think I’ve done what I can for one night.”
 
“Why do I have to go?” Joey said, his voice in between a snarl and a whine. “I wanna keep drinking.”
 
“You can come back and drink again when you’re buyin’. I just needed you to make me look sociable-like while I got my message out.” He dragged the unsteady boy toward the door. “Anyway, you’re about one shot away from unconscious. Be a waste of good booze.”
 
When they got to the parking lot, Spike eyed the swaying boy whose eyes were drifting shut and snarled at himself.
 
“What the bloody fuck am I goin’ to do with you? Can’t leave you here to run your mouth and ruin my story.” He glanced around the parking lot, deciding it wouldn’t be a good idea to dust Joey in a public place.  “Get back in the car.”
 
“Where are we goin’?” Joey asked, slumping against the passenger side door. “Are we going home now….?” His voice trailed off as he passed out, head leaning against the window.
 
“Beats the bloody hell out of me,” Spike muttered as he pulled onto the street. He drove toward Crawford Street, still wondering what to do with the young vampire who seemed to think he’d been adopted. He paused at the entrance to Restfield Cemetery, catching sight of Buffy and Faith as they came through the gate, laughing about something.
 
Buffy’s laughter broke off when she recognized Spike’s car, and she glanced around for onlookers before walking over to it. She frowned when she leaned down to talk to him and noticed the unconscious boy in the passenger seat.
 
“Spike…?”
 
He sighed. “Get in the back, slayers, before somebody who shouldn’t sees you talking to me.”
 
Frowning, the two girls got into the back seat. Faith leaned forward and poked Joey.
 
“Are you seriously expecting to carry a corpse around in your car all night?” she asked, poking the boy again. She flinched back when he groaned and opened his eyes.
 
“Are we there yet?”  Joey straightened up and seemed much recovered from his drinking after the little nap. He glared at Faith, who was poking him again, then noticed Buffy.
 
“Buffy!  Hey! Remember me? Joey from American Lit class?”
 
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. “I remember you. But it seems to me you were a lot more… alive… the last time I saw you.”
 
“Well… yeah. I was, I guess. But then this happened to me, and….” He sighed. “Life’s been kinda sucky this week.”
 
“In more ways than one, I’d guess,” Faith snorted.  She glanced at Spike. “Did you make him or are you just adopting him?”
 
“Spike’s been helping me with vampire stuff. He showed me where I can go to drink and he taught me how to do shots, and now we’re going to go home.” He frowned when Spike snarled at him as the girls laughed. “Aren’t we?”
 
Ignoring Joey, Spike growled, “I didn’t ‘make’ him, and I sure as hell won’t be adopting his fledgling arse. He was hidin’ in my car and I just took him with me to Willy’s to make it look like I was mingling with other vamps.”
 
“Why was he in your car?”
 
“Ask him.”
 
Buffy looked at the confused fledgling. “Joey? Why were you in Spike’s car?”
 
“Why are you in Spike’s car?” Joey asked. “He told me he’s going to kill you. He kills slayers, you know.”
 
“I do know that,” Buffy said, glaring at Faith who was still snorting with laughter. “Answer my question.”
 
“I… I’m not doing a very good job with this vampire stuff. I was hungry and tired and I thought I’d either find somebody easy to eat, or at least a place to sleep.”
 
Faith couldn’t contain her laughter as she said to Spike, “So, youare adopting him then?”
 
“Maybe I’ll just give him to you,” Spike snarled at her. “Let him find out the hard way what a slayer is.”
 
“I’ll be happy to show him,” Faith said, fingering her stake.
 
Showing he wasn’t really very sober yet, Joey said, “Buffy is the Slayer. You’re just Slayer Number Two.” He sniffed in Faith’s direction, causing her to stop laughing.
 
“Are you really that stupid, or just drunk?” she asked, waving the stake in his face.
 
He flinched back from her. “You killed the other old guy, didn’t you?”
 
Faith shifted her gaze to Spike. “You told him?”
 
“I might have mentioned thinking you did it,” he mumbled, trying to pretend he couldn’t see Buffy’s glare.
 
“So now he can tell everybody that you know us and you didn’t stop Faith from slaying Trick. Wonderful!” She turned her glare on Joey. “You should have left town when you got turned, Joey. You know what I am… what I do to vamps.”
 
Joey gave Spike a frightened look. “I wouldn’t tell anybody. Tell her she can’t dust me!”
 
“Slayer can do whatever she bloody well pleases, mate. Either one of them can. You probably should leave town. Go somewhere there aren’t slayers.”
 
“But… but I live here. In Sunnydale. It’s all I know. I can’t live anywhere else.”
 
Spike rolled his eyes. “You are the dumbest—” He sighed. “One last time, let me remind you that you’re a soddin’ vampire. You can go wherever you want and do whatever you want—long as it’s dark, anyway. You’re faster and stronger than most people you’ll run across. Just take what you want.”
 
“I’m stronger and faster?”  He eyed Buffy and Faith dubiously.
 
“Not than they are, you blithering idiot! They’re slayers. And not me,” Spike added when Joey turned his golden eyes on him. “I’ll tear your head from your shoulders and stuff it down the hole.” Spike looked at Buffy and Faith. “Reckon that’s what I ought to do any rate. There’s no way to be sure he won’t blab to the wrong person.”
 
“Not to mention, he’s a freakin’ vampire,” Faith said dryly. “In case either of you two have forgotten that.”
 
“I haven’t forgotten it,” Buffy sighed. “But he’s so….”
 
“Stupid? Ignorant? Bloody pathetic?”
 
Joey looked hurt. “Why are you being so mean? I thought we were friends.” He turned to Buffy and Faith. “And I thought we were friends?” At Faith’s snort, he amended, “Well not you, I guess. But you’re very pretty. I’d like to be friends.” He gave her a tentative smile as his eyes lost their amber glow.
 
Faith just rolled her eyes and opened the car door. “Let’s go, B. Your honey here can do what needs to be done. The less we’re around him, the more likely he can get away with his evil plan for a while.”
 
Buffy opened her own door and stepped out, saying to Spike, “If you can’t get him to leave, you’ll have to dust him. He was a nice kid, but he could put you in danger and—”
 
“I’ll handle it, love. You get yourself and Two out of here before somebody sees us talking instead of fighting.”
 
With a last lingering look, Buffy took off running after Faith and they were soon out of sight. Spike turned to look at Joey.
 
“If I take you to the bus station, will you get out of Sunnydale and stay out for a couple of months?”
 
“What if I say no?” the young vampire replied with a pout.
 
“Then you’re dust.” Spike shrugged. “Your choice. One chance. Take it or leave it.”
 
“Can I come back?”
 
“If you want to. You might find you like the big city. But yeah. Few months from now we’ll either be okay, or dead. Either way, it won’t matter who you say what to.”
 
“I’ll go… but I don’t know why you don’t trust me not to tell anybody you’re friends with the slayers.”
 
“I don’t trust you not to dust yourself falling over your own feet,” Spike growled as he put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb.  He didn’t speak again until they got to the bus station. He handed Joey some money and waited for him to get out.
 
“Where am I going?”
 
“Where ever there’s a bus leaving to tonight,” Spike said. “That pass you got from the slayers tonight is gonna have an expiration date on it. You want to be long gone before it occurs to them they should have dusted you.”
 
Joey clutched the money without counting it, saying, “I’ll pay you back when I come home. I promise.”
 
“Yeah, yeah. Just get your arse out of Sunnyhell while you’ve still got one.”
 
 
XXXX
 
Shaking his head, Spike waited outside the bus station until he saw Joey get on one of the waiting buses. As soon as it pulled out, he drove away, wondering what was wrong with him that he hadn’t just broken the fledge’s neck when he didn’t need him anymore.
 
 
Chapter Twenty-six
 
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
 
Buffy caught up with Faith quickly, and they dropped their pace to a fast walk once they were safely away from Spike’s car.
 
“Any idea what your honey is gonna do with that pitiful excuse for a vampire?” Faith gave Buffy a nudge. “Gotta say, I’m surprised you left it to him.”
 
“Whatever he wants to I guess.” Buffy shook her head. “Poor Joey. He used to be a nice kid. Kinda sucks that he got himself vamped, but if I gave a pass to everybody who went to high school with me, we’d be up to our eyebrows in vampires with pimples.”
 
Faith snorted her appreciation of that image.  “So, you’re gonna make Spike do the deed?”
 
“He’ll do it, or he won’t. Probably he’ll dust him, but you never know with Spike. He’s not like other vampires.”
 
“So I’ve noticed,” Faith said dryly. 
 
Buffy gave her a sharp stare. “I know you meant that in a good way….”
 
‘I do. Don’t be getting your panties in a wad. I just meant that I’ve been around him enough now to know he’s not like any vampire I’ve ever seen before. I can see why you might be willing to overlook his little being dead handicap.”
 
“Remind me to tell you about what happened last year… with my mom and all. Spike helped me keep it together. And I don’t just mean he saved my life—which he did— he helped me get it back. I owed him a lot... and I learned to really… like… being around him.”
 
“I bet being easy on the eyes made that a lot easier,” Faith said with leer. “Don’t suppose you want to tell me what he looks like naked?”
 
Buffy just smiled and shook her head. “The less you know about that, the better for our relationship.” She knew the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes, but kept her tone light.
 
Faith burst into laughter. “That good, huh? Damn, you have all the luck!”
 
“Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t,” Buffy said, remembering the reason she’d ended up living with Spike.  She shook off the momentary sadness to say, “If Giles thinks we shouldn’t go around alone, do you want to stay with us for a while? Get out of that crummy motel?”
 
“Bet your mom would love that,” Faith scoffed.
 
“She’d be fine with it. We have an extra bedroom, and she worries about you living by yourself anyway.”
 
Faith didn't’ respond immediately, but before Buffy could repeat the offer, Faith was shaking her head.
 
“I appreciate the thought, but I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time. I can’t see me living where somebody’s going to be worrying about what I’m doing or asking me what time I’m coming home. Didn’t get that from my own mom—back when I had one.”
 
Buffy nodded her understanding. “I get that, I guess. It took a while for Mom and me to work things out when I first moved back home. She wanted to tell me what to do just like she did before she found out I was the slayer, and I’d been living with Spike and doing whatever I wanted or needed to whenever. There were some adjustments to make… for both of us.”
 
“But you’re good now?”
 
“We are right now. Depends on how much time I start spending at Spike’s. It could go south pretty fast if she thinks I’m over there too much…”
 
“And that’s why I’m gonna keep living by myself,” Faith said. “Just in case some sex-on-a-stick vampire decides to adopt me. I wanna be free to enjoy it.”
 
Buffy frowned. “I wasn’t kidding about how different Spike is,” she said. “You can’t—”
 
“Relax, B. I’m just pullin’ your chain. Stake first and worry about dating potential later is my motto. I’m not gonna be looking for love in all the wrong places.” Faith stopped and pointed toward downtown. “Here’s where we part ways. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
 
“Okay. Sure. I’ll probably come by right after school.”
 
XXXXX
 
Buffy went directly from school to Faith’s’ room in the motel, only taking time first to make sure nobody was following her. With Giles having repeated his advice that they remain together as much as possible until they had taken care of any unusual threats, it made sense they should hang out in the daytime too.
 
Faith was expecting her and ready to go.
 
“So, what are we doing?  I’m getting hungry and bored sitting in this room all day.”
 
“Let’s go to my house and get something to eat.” Buffy paused and bit her lip. “I… I might want to swing by Spike’s on the way. Just in case he has any new information for us.”
 
Faith laughed. “You sure you want me along for that?”
 
Buffy snorted. “Honestly? No, I don’t. But we do what we have to do. And you should know where the house is, anyway. Just in case you need a place to hide some night.”
 
“The house a vampire lives in?”
 
“Willow put some wards on it last year when I was living there. The only vamp that can get in is Spike. And most demons can’t either. They don’t keep humans out, but that’s only happened once.”  Buffy giggled. “Those guys never tried to come back.”
 
“Humans came in and Spike didn’t have them for dinner?” Faith stared at Buffy in disbelief.
 
“He wanted to. Trust me… I was sure I was going to have to stop him from—but I didn’t. He scared the hell out of them, and made them clean up their mess, but then he sent them away to tell the rest of Sunnydale’s lowlifes that the house wasn’t empty, and it wasn’t just a teen-age girl living there.” Buffy giggled again. “I guess they must have spread the word, ‘cause I don’t think there’s been a human near the place since.”
 
“That’s wicked cool. Talk about having a scary guard dog.”
 
“Very scary guard dog,” Buffy agreed. She took another look around to see if they were being watched, but saw nothing suspicious. When Faith asked her what she was looking for in broad daylight, Buffy just shrugged and said, “Nothing. I hope.” They walked quickly, and if Faith thought it was odd that Buffy seemed to be going around in circles, she didn’t say anything.
 
 
 
 
As they reached the mansion on Crawford street, Faith was gazing around in amazement. “You gave up digs like this to go home?”
 
Buffy snorted. “It’s not as fancy as it looks. Probably was at one time, but it was deserted for years until Angelus set himself up here. Spike and I didn’t do much to fix it up. He thought Dru was coming back any minute, and I thought I’d be going home in a few days.”  As she opened the door, Buffy continued, “Turned out we were both wrong.”
 
“Hey, honey, we’re home,” Faith sang out.  “If you’re not decent, don’t change on my account.”
 
“Be careful what you ask for, Two,” Spike said as he entered the foyer, still zipping his pants.  He couldn’t hide his smirk when Faith stared at his bare chest and abdomen with wide eyes, but one look at Buffy’s face wiped the smirk off. He quickly pulled on the tee-shirt he was holding and walked over to give her a warm kiss. “Guess this means no afternoon delight for us today,” he said with an exaggerated sigh.
 
“Behave!” Buffy blushed and smacked his chest, allowing her hand to linger there until he took it and brought it to his mouth so he could kiss her palm and tickle it with his tongue.
 
“You want me to behave, you’d best keep that hot little hand to yourself, love,” he said, smirk back in place when her heart rate increased in response to his licking.
 
“Uh, I can leave if you two—”
 
“No, sorry,” Buffy mumbled. “We’re fine.” She focused her attention back on Spike. “We’re on our way to Mom’s for something to eat, but I thought I’d show Faith where this house was, just in case.”
 
Spike nodded, turning more serious. “Good idea. If you ever find yourself in need of a bolt hole, you’re more than welcome to duck in here,” he said. “Wouldn’t make a habit of coming here a lot right now, but once we take down His Honor….”
 
Buffy’s face paled. “I didn’t think of that! We shouldn’t be here.”
 
“Relax, Slayer. Wouldn’t be a vamp or demon out and about in daytime, would it?” He frowned. “But after I make contact, it might be best if you stay away. Don’t know who he’s got working for him, but we know some of them are humans, yeah?”
 
“Not to mention the guy that followed me the other day was human.”
 
“Forgot about that. Yeah, that needs to be nipped in the bud… so to speak,” he added, letting his fangs drop.
 
Buffy shook her head at him.
 
“Okay, we’ll take the long way home and see if he picks me up again.”
 
“You’re careful, yeah?” Spike said, ghosting his hand over her cheek.
 
“Of course I am! I watch for a tail all the time now. I made sure nobody followed me to Faith’s, and I made really sure nobody followed me here.”
 
“Well that explains all the gawking around you were doing,” Faith snorted. “I forgot about that guy that followed you. I thought you were just embarrassed to be seen with me.”
 
Buffy shrugged, pretending she hadn’t caught the insecure undercurrent in Faith’s comment. “I don’t think it matters if we’re seen together, but I didn’t want to lead anybody to where you live, so I was watching for him.”
 
“If he does it again, I think we should have a talk with him,” Faith said, smacking her fist into her palm.
 
Buffy rolled her eyes, but Spike nodded his approval. “No reason why you shouldn’t make sure he knows you know who he is. He probably works for the Mayor, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to want to brass off two slayers. An’ if the man who thinks he runs Sunnyhell has his eye on his likely enemies, you can bet he already knows where Two lives,” Spike said.
 
“Probably true,” Faith shrugged. “That asshole I killed last night already knew where it was, and he worked for the Mayor, didn’t he?”
 
“He did. Now he doesn’t.” Spike shook his head. “Might want to think about finding another place to sleep. Even a slayer can be vulnerable when she’s snoring…”
 
“I tried to get her to stay at my house, but she thinks my mom would cramp her style,” Buffy said, grinning at Faith to show she wasn’t complaining.
 
Spike’s laugh followed them to the door. “Better your style has to take a hit, Slayer Two, than your hard slayer head. You should probably think about it.”
 
 
XXXX
 
While Buffy and Faith debated the pros and cons of living in the same house, they both began to squirm and glance around.
 
“You feel it too?”
 
“Yep. Somebody or something has eyes on us.”
 
“Guess we’re taking the long way home, then,” Buffy said as she paused to look into a store window and point at something inside. “I’ll duck in here for a minute and you can pretend to be waiting for me.”
 
Buffy entered the store, exchanged pleasantries with the shopkeeper, then rejoined Faith, shaking her head as if talking about what she’d look at.
 
“See anything?”
 
“I think so. How about we split up for a few minutes? I’ll watch to see who follows you, then we can switch places.”
 
“Sounds good.”
 
While Faith nodded her head and entered the shop Buffy had just left, Buffy set off down the street, pausing occasionally to look into a window and try to catch a glimpse of anyone in the reflection. She turned around after going a block or so and waited for Faith to catch up, narrowing her eyes when she noticed a man who’d been loitering across the street from the first shop now keeping pace with Faith from the other side of the street.
 
“Whacha got?” Faith asked when she joined Buffy and saw that her gaze was focused elsewhere. They both pretended to be looking in the shop window.
 
“That guy with the funky hat was waiting for you to come out, and he followed you here.”
 
“Huh, and the one in the hoody, pretending not to know him, followed you all the way down the street.”
 
“Guess we ought to say hi, huh?”
 
Without more discussion, the two slayers darted across the busy street too quickly for the men to realize they’d been caught until each had a very powerful, if feminine, hand on his bicep.
 
“You lookin’ for a good time?” Faith asked with her best slutty leer. “Why don’t we step in here and talk about it?” As she spoke, she was marching her captive into a nearby alley, closely followed by Buffy who was even less gentle with her captive.
 
“Why are you following me?” Buffy demanded, shaking her captive by the arm she hadn’t let up on.  “Who sent you?  Why shouldn’t I just call the cops on you?”
 
When his eyes lit up, Faith snorted. “Seriously, B. We know who sent them. They probably have the cops on speed-dial.”  She turned to her captive, now glowering at her and struggling to free his arm, saying, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t break both your knees so you can’t stalk any other girls?”
 
Showing that he hadn’t really been briefed on what Slayers were, Faith’s captive attempted to pull away and hit her with his free fist. At the same time, Buffy’s captive tried to use his larger size and weight to push her against the alley wall. His surprise when she slid to one side and shoved him face first into the wall would have been funnier if he hadn’t dropped to the ground unconscious. She shrugged and turned her gaze to Faith.
 
Faith’s captive was lying on his back, glaring up at her and not quite sure how he’d ended up there. With her grip on the fist she’d stopped with one hand, Faith twisted that arm while she placed her foot on his neck.
 
“I think you broke yours, B,” Faith said, glancing at the other man’s inert body.
 
“Maybe,” Buffy said with a lack of concern that made Faith’s victim blanch. It was obvious that Faith’s threat to break both his knees was suddenly seeming much more credible to him.
 
Buffy walked over and glared down at him. “Why were you following us?” When he didn’t respond, Faith stepped a little harder on his throat and twisted the arm even more.
 
“Think you ought to speak up, asshole,” Faith said.
 
“We’re supposed to figure out what you’re doing when you aren’t together.”
 
“Well, that’s just nosy,” Buffy said with exaggerated indignation. “Don’t you think so, Faith?”
 
“Sounds wicked pervy to me. What with me being underage and all….”
 
He rolled his eyes toward his companion.  “Is he dead?” he managed to get out past Faith’s foot.
 
Buffy walked over close enough to see that the man she’d slammed into the wall was breathing.
 
“No.”  She turned back to the man on the ground. “But he could probably use an ambulance pretty soon. Guess you better answer our questions a little faster, huh?” She leaned down. “So, what have you learned about what we do when we aren’t together, huh?”
 
He tried to shrug, but gave it up when he couldn’t move the arm Faith was still twisting.
 
“You go to high school, and mostly spend time at home or at your watcher’s.  She just watches soap operas all day,” he almost sneered at Faith, but stopped himself with visible effort.
 
Faith snorted her lack of interest in his opinion. “Guess I need to start bringing guys home so he has something to talk about.”
 
Buffy looked offended. “Why didn’t you say we also slay vampires and demons? You know, those things your boss keeps sending after us.”
 
“We don’t go out at night. It’s somebody else’s job to watch—” He caught himself, but not before Buffy and Faith exchanged glances.
 
“What ‘somebody else’?” Buffy demanded while Faith took her foot off his neck and dragged him to him feet. When he didn’t respond, she shook him.
 
“Answer, asshole!”
 
“Mr. Trick or one of his boys,” he muttered. “They’re supposed to be watching you at night and trying to catch you alone.”
 
Faith laughed so hard, she lost her grip on the surprised man’s arm.
 
“What’s so funny about that?” he demanded. “Trick is a righteous nightmare.”
 
“What’s funny is, she dusted him last night. He’s not going to be watching anybody. And neither are his minions once we find them.”  Buffy was grinning as his face paled even more. “Good thing for you, we don’t kill humans… usually.”  She began to walk away. “Let’s go, Faith, we’re gonna be late for dinner.”
 
“Right. Don’t want your mom yelling at me before I’m even living there.” Faith turned her back on the men in the alley and followed Buffy out onto the street.  “See you around boys… if you’re really, really stupid.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Twenty-seven
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
 
Wondering if he should do something to make himself known to the Mayor, or just wait until he was sure the man knew there was now a vacancy in Trick’s position, Spike headed for Willy’s to see what the rumor mill was saying.  He was stopped in the parking lot by three vampires he didn’t recognize.
 
“Something I can do for you gentlemen?” he said, his tone and manner making it very clear the words weren’t sincere.
 
“You can come with us quietly. Our boss wants to talk to you.” The apparent leader of the trio folded his arms and waited.
 
“If I don’t?”
 
“We’ll take you there anyway… you just won’t like it.”
 
Rather than exchange any more words with the, no doubt more than beatable but still larger vamps, Spike took out the leader’s knees and while he was screaming and falling, punched him in the temple, leaving him on the ground unconscious. The other two didn’t hesitate, but Spike was already spinning away, pulling a stake from his pocket and running it through the chest of another would-be assailant. When the remaining lackey hesitated, Spike bent down to stake the one just beginning to regain consciousness. He stood up and gave a fangy grin.
 
“Looks like it’s just you and me, mate,” he said, falling into a fighting stance. “I’ll even give you the first punch.”
 
“Look, man, I don’t want any trouble. The boss just wants to talk to you. That’s all.” He glanced at the piles of dust beside them. “I don’t think he’s gonna be happy about Mike and Jake, though.”
 
Spike shrugged. “Guess he’ll need to find himself a better class of minions. So, where is this boss of yours?”
 
“I can take you there. He’s in his office.”
 
“Right. Let’s go then. I still have things to do tonight.”
 
XXXXX
 
Spike wasn’t surprised to find himself being led to the office building behind City Hall. He was surprised to find himself alone with the seemingly human mayor. He reminded himself that this prissy old man was planning an ascension and trying to cut short those plans by an attempt to kill him probably wasn’t a good idea. Not in terms of Spike’s long-term survival and future with Buffy.
 
Putting on his most innocently evil face, Spike nodded his head at the mayor.
 
“If you wanted to see me, all you had to do was ask,” he said with a growl. “Was plannin’ to introduce myself sooner or later.”
 
“William the Bloody, childe of Drusilla, grandchilde of Angelus,” Mayor Wilkins replied. “Former temporary Master of Sunnydale.”
 
Spike snarled and stood up straighter. “Nothin’ temporary about it. I just took some time away to handle some business elsewhere.”
 
“And now you’re back.”
 
“And now I’m back. Had to sort out a few of your boys tonight. Reckon I would have had to sort out your man, Trick, at some point, but one of the slayers took care of that.”
 
The mayor frowned, his human façade momentarily taking on a demonic cast. “Indeed,” he said. “One of those annoying little girls was bad enough, two of them in my city is making my life unnecessarily difficult.”
 
“Killing slayers is a bit of a hobby of mine,” Spike said. “Maybe we can work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
 
“I suppose I do have an opening now that Mr. Trick has come to an untimely end. Are you looking for employment?”
 
Spike shook his head. “Probably more of a partnership arrangement. I don’t follow orders from anybody.” He shrugged. “But I owe the blond bitch for dropping that bloody organ on me last year, so she’s probably not gonna live much longer anyway. We might be able to work something out about the other one. What did you have in mind?”
 
“Just keep them out of my hair until a certain date. I don’t care how you do it—you can kill them or just keep them busy. We’ve been trying that ourselves, but it hasn’t gone well for my people. The young ladies insist on killing the demons and vampires, and now they are intimidating the humans. Very frustrating.” The mayor frowned. “I’d had some hopes for recruiting the younger girl. You might try to approach her. I sense a lot of unhappiness and perhaps less of a commitment to all that’s good. See what you can do there. It could be quite useful to have a slayer on my team.”
 
“Given that she took out your number two man, seems only fair she be given a chance to take his place,” Spike said with a thoughtful nod. “I’ll see if I can get her alone and explain her options.” He gave the mayor an amber-eyed stare. “Can’t promise anything if the chit turns out to be unreasonable, though.”
 
The mayor shrugged and sat down to indicate the interview was over. “You’ll use your best judgement,” he said. “If you do well, there will be no question who is the Master of Sunnydale.”
 
“Wasn’t aware there was a question about that,” Spike growled.
 
“There’s always been a question,” the mayor said, fixing Spike with an old demon’s flat stare. “I just haven’t felt the need to enforce my authority until now. This is my town,” he said. “You'd be wise to remember that once I’ve ascended.”
 
Spike narrowed his eyes, his innate objection to taking orders from anyone fighting with his need to help Buffy.  His own demon was screaming to challenge the harmless-appearing old man, but he successfully fought it down. His fangs had dropped, but the struggle must have been apparent on his face, as Mayor Wilkins gave a satisfied smile when they disappeared.
 
“I was sure you would be reasonable about the situation,” he said smugly. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have some paperwork to catch up on.”
 
Without another word, Spike whirled and left the office, ignoring the curious vampires waiting outside. Knowing they would have heard every word, Spike snarled his lack of respect for them as he pushed his way through the small group.
 
XXXXX
 
It was still early, and Spike headed for Giles’s, hoping to catch the two slayers before they went out for the evening. He veered away from that direction when he sensed he was being followed, grateful for that decision when he found himself surrounded by some of the mayor’s remaining minions.
 
“This is getting bloody old,” he snarled. “What the fuck do you want now?”
 
A frightened-looking human was pushed forward. “Tell him,” the one seemingly in charge said.
 
“I… I mean, I work at… I was….”
 
“Spit it out,” Spike said with exaggerated patience.
 
“I saw you. Last year. I saw you with the slayer. You… you saved my family from a demon.”
 
I saved your family?”
 
“Well, the slayer killed the demon. But you were just watching her. You didn’t try to kill her when you could have.”
 
“And then what did I do, after I watched the slayer take out a demon?”
 
“Uh… I don’t know. She walked us to a safe place and I didn’t see you again.”
 
Spike rolled his eyes. “So, you watched me study the Slayer’s fighting style, didn’t see me take advantage of the way she was already busy fighting something, and have no idea what I did next. Is that about right?”
 
“Well…. But you didn’t kill her!”
 
“Do you know who I am?” Spike spoke to the quivering human, but his message was meant for the watching vampires. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “I’m William the Bloody, Slayer of Slayers. I don’t help demons kill them, I do it myself. One on one. Me against the deadliest thing I’ll ever face. Where’s the glory in taking out one that’s already fighting for her life? I watch, I learn, and when I’m ready, I make my move.”
 
Spike transferred his gaze to the vampires frowning in confusion. “The blond slayer is mine.” He snarled for emphasis. “I’m going to take it very personally if some wannabe tries to kill her.”  He snorted. “Not that it’s likely to be one of you sorry excuses for vampires, but just in case you’re thinkin’ about it. I won’t be happy, and I’ll be looking for something to take it out on.”
 
While the watching vamps muttered among themselves about whether or not to believe Spike, the human man began to sidle away.  Spike’s hand on his arm made him squeal in pain and fear.
 
“Not so fast, there, you walking snack. We’re going to have a talk about why you would think ratting out someone you thought saved your life—confused as you may be about that—was the right thing to do.” Without looking at the minions again, Spike walked off, dragging the tearfully protesting man with him. He forced the man into an alley and waited to see if they’d been followed. He could sense at least one vampire nearby, and caught a glimpse of one hanging on a fire escape where he could see what Spike was doing.
 
With a muttered “You’ve got this comin’, wanker”, Spike pulled the man to him and bit his neck. He took just enough blood to cause weakness and near unconsciousness, then threw what he hoped looked like a dead body against an ajar door. Voices from inside told him the noise had attracted attention, and he swaggered out of the alley, confident he’d done what he could to seem to have killed the man without actually doing so.
 
Spike allowed the watching vampires to get away without knowing they’d been spotted, and hoped they would carry word of Spike’s vengeance back to the major’s minions. And that they believed his story of having been watching Buffy’s fighting style and wanting to face her one on one.
 
XXXXX
 
His hopes were dashed when he realized he was still being followed, albeit still less than expertly, and he resigned himself to not seeing Buffy for a while.  While pondering how to get word to her, he almost missed the sound of a crossbow being cocked. Almost, but not quite. He dropped to ground and rolled just as the bolt flew past where his back had been only a split second ago.
 
Spike’s snarling leap carried him from the ground to the vamp holding the weapon in less time than it took for her to realize she’d missed. He didn’t even slow down to ask who sent her, just snapped her neck and left her for the sun to handle. He picked up the crossbow and took it and the quiver of bolts with him as he continued on his way. He used the next alley and fire escape to make his way to the roof tops and use them to get around the downtown area, picking off minions as and when he could. When he was confident he’d dusted every vamp except the two he could see running for City Hall, he called it a night and headed for the mansion, wondering how to let Buffy know he was all right.
 
XXXXX
 
Which turned out not to be a problem when she showed up at the mansion on her way to school. As deeply asleep as he was, he heard her come in, relaxing back onto the bed when he caught her scent. He was pretending to be asleep as she crept into the bedroom and only sat up when it seemed she was going to leave without waking him.
 
“Where do you think you’re going?” he said, laughing when she yelped in surprise.
 
“I was going to let you sleep,” she said, glaring at him. “You big faker!”
 
“Wouldn’t be much of a vampire if I couldn’t sense a ripe little human girl in my bedroom, would I?” he said, still laughing as he started to get up. Buffy’s face turned bright red when the sheet dropped away from his naked body.
 
“You’re naked!”
 
“Not like you didn’t already know that’s how I sleep, love. What’s wrong?”
 
“I’m on my way to school,” she said, as if that explained everything. Which, given the way she was staring at his body probably did.
 
He licked his lips and reached for her hand. “You could spare a poor old vamp a few minutes of your time, couldn't you?” He tugged her toward the bed. “Just a little something to start the day off right and make up for disturbing my sleep?”
 
“I was just checking on you because I didn’t see you last night,” she murmured as she allowed him to pull her down on his lap.
 
“As you can see, I’m just fine. Had a meeting with his honor, dusted a bunch of his minions, almost got ratted out by a piece of human shite that was ungrateful for you saving his life last year, taught him a lesson, and came home to my lonely bed.”
 
He began to nibble on her neck as his hands began loosening her clothing. “That was my evening. How about you?”
 
“Faith and I found the guys who were following us,” Buffy gasped as his hand slid up her leg under her skirt. “I think we made them pretty sorry, but we let them go.”
 
He nodded. “Reckoned you did. The mayor already knew about Two taking out his main minion. Offered me the job.”
 
Buffy stopped squirming to sit up straighter. “He did? What did you say?”
 
“Told him I didn’t take orders, but might consider a partnership where I keep you and Two out of his hair and he ‘let’s me’ be the Master of Sunnydale. Like I need permission from a too-full-of-himself half-human demon.” Spike snorted, then went back to removing Buffy’s clothes. “So, my job is to keep you too busy to bother him. Think I’ll start now…”
 
“Too busy to bother who?” Buffy said, pushing him down and covering his body with her own.
 
“Exactly,” Spike agreed, putting his hands on her bare rear and pulling their hips together. He rolled them over, slipping inside her as soon as she opened her legs in welcome.
 
There was no more conversation about the mayor or anyone else as they fell into a familiar rhythm that culminated more quickly than usual in a mutually satisfactory fashion.
 
Buffy opened her eyes and stared up at him. “Did we just have a quickie?”
 
“We did. Not that I wouldn’t be willing to spend the entire morning at this, but I’m guessing ‘I’m late because I was shagging my undead lover’ wouldn’t fly as an excuse for school.”
 
Buffy giggled, pushed him off and sat up. “I think you could safely say that. Where are my clothes?”
 
“On the floor. Even your panties. Can’t have you going off to classes in a skirt and no knickers.”
 
While Buffy dressed under his admiring gaze, she said, “So what’s the deal for tonight? Do you think you talked your way out of being accused of helping me last year?”
 
Spike shrugged. “Dunno. Depends on how smart the minions are or how paranoid their boss is. Either way, I don’t have to see him again unless he sends for me. I’m just supposed to keep you and Two from interfering.  Oh, and he thinks Two can be turned to the Dark Side. I’m supposed to recruit her.”
 
Recruit her? Faith? He wants you to recruit Faith?”
 
“Not all slayers are as good and pure as you are, love. And Two’s led a rougher life. I’m guessing a little affection and respect from the right person, and she’d be easy to turn.”
 
“You mean make her a vampire?” Buffy looked like she was seriously regretting not having a stake handy.
 
“Easy, Slayer. No. I just meant her commitment to being on the side of good might not be as strong as yours is. Given the right inducements, she might be open to changing sides.”
 
“Oh my God.” Buffy sat down abruptly. “She almost did that before. She was willing to kill us on her fake watcher’s say so.”
 
“But she didn’t. Did she? We just need to make sure she feels appreciated and respected enough that she has no reason to seek out an old demon for validation or affection.”
 
“Oh my God,” Buffy repeated.
 
“It’ll be all right, Slayer. We’ll talk to her later today, if you think the two of you can get here without being seen. If not, we’ll talk tonight. I’m thinking his honor is running too low on vamps to keep sending them to see what I’m up to. I should be able to get to the watcher’s place tonight. Last night I just had too many nosy minions trying to catch me doing something they could tattle about.”
 
Buffy finished putting on her shoes and stood up. “Okay. We’ll try to come by this afternoon. If we can’t for some reason, we’ll see you tonight. If you aren’t there by eight, I’m going to come looking for you. And Mayor Wilkins better hope I don’t have to go through him to find you.”
 
Spike pulled her in for a hard kiss, then pushed her away from his eager body. “I appreciate the thought, Buffy, but I don’t want you taking on that old demon until we know more about him, how strong he is, and what he plans to ascend to.”
 
Buffy’s expression and tone were pure slayer as she said, “Then it would be in his best interest to leave you alone.”  She shook herself and gave him a quick kiss, once again looking like a young girl taking leave of her lover. “See you later.”
 
“That you will, love. I promise.” Spike’s smile was a mixture of gratitude and affection as he watched her walk out, book bag over her shoulder. “That you will,” he whispered again as he fell back onto the bed to sleep the rest of the day.
 
Chapter Twenty-eight
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
 
Buffy was arguing with Giles and was very close to ignoring his advice and going out to look for Spike when he slipped into the room.
 
“No worries, love. I’m here, all safe and sound. I’m glad to see you’re the same.” He raised an eyebrow in question, indicating he’d had his own moments of concern when she didn’t appear after school.
 
Before Buffy could answer, Faith said, “A new set of assholes followed us today and we had to stay away.  I’d have been okay with killing them after they saw us go to your digs, but B was her usual goody-two-shoes self.” Faith grinned at Buffy who rolled her eyes. “So we had to settle for beating them up again.”
 
“Good decision,” he said. “That happens often enough, his honor is gonna run out of human minions stupid enough to get in your way.”
 
Buffy snorted. “You’d think they would’ve figured it out by now. Even Snyder is staying away from me lately.”
 
“Speaking of minions…” Giles gave Spike a questioning look. “I understand you have been able to make contact with Mayor Wilkins?  And he trusts you?”
 
“I’m pretty sure that old demon doesn’t trust anybody,” Spike said with skeptical snort. “But for the time bein’, he thinks I’m here to take over being Master of Sunnydale again.” He frowned and his eyes flashed amber. “Arrogant git thinks I need his permission for it.”
 
“Uh, does anybody else find it scary that Spike wants to take the Master’s place? Given what happened to Buffy?” Xander raised his hand, dropping it when no one replied. “Just me, huh?”
 
“Just you, Harris,” Spike growled. “Old Batface got what was comin’ to him, thanks to the Slayer, and I did for his abomination of an offspring. Even if I hadn’t been entitled to the title by bloodline—which I am with Angelus and the tart gone— just being here and taking out all his minions would have been good enough to earn it. My fights with Buffy were just icing on the cake.”
 
When he caught the expression on Giles’s face, as well as the distress on Buffy’s and Faith’s, he obviously tried to backtrack without actually lying. Buffy bit her lip when he walked over to her, but tried not to flinch when he touched her chin. His sigh told her he’d noticed, but he continued anyway, tilting her chin up so she would meet his gaze.
 
“That’s all just vampire stuff, love. It’s got fuck all to do with you and me. I don’t give a—I don’t care anything about it, except that it gives me some standing in the demon community, and sometimes that comes in handy. If the mayor is worried about whether I’m a threat to his power, he’s less likely to spend time wondering why you and Two are still free to harass his minions.”
 
“So, you aren’t planning to be the new master?”
 
He blew out his breath. “If you mean, am I going to start recruiting minions and setting myself up as some kind of rule enforcer for the local vamps, bloody hell no! But I’m not above using the position to learn more about the Ascension comin’ up and what it might mean if we can’t stop it.”
 
“We think we can stop it,” Buffy said. At a nod from Giles, she continued. “It’s going to take a lot of work, and everything will have to go just right, but we think we can stop the bloodbath he needs to have to make it work. Here’s what we can do….”
 
When she’d finished, she paused and waited for him to say something. He cocked his head, asking, “Where do I fit into this little slayers vs demons, high schoolers vs vampires scenario?”
 
“Well, since you’re the closest thing we have to another slayer, I—we—thought maybe you could be in charge of helping the kids. Xander’s going to give weapons to everybody he thinks can be trusted with them, but most of them are just going to have crosses and stakes.” Spike’s sound of disgust, made Buffy narrow her eyes. “That’s better than nothing!” she said, stamping her foot in emphasis. “If they know they’re fighting for their lives—”
 
“It’s not a bad plan, Slayer. Not saying it is. But here’s the problem I have with it—First thing is, if I’m in game face, I’m just as likely to be shot or stabbed or whatever as any other vamp. They won’t know I’m on their side, and we can’t afford to tell anybody I am until it all goes down. The longer the mayor thinks I’m working with him, the more freedom I have to move about the city and do what I can to even the odds.”
 
Buffy nodded as she recognized that very real problem.
 
“And the second one?” Faith’s expression showed that she was pretty sure what he was going to say, and Buffy sighed.  Spike looked back and forth between the two of them before he answered.
 
“Think you both know what I’m goin’ to say. There’s no way I’m sending Buffy to fight an ascending demon while I hang back taking out any minions stupid enough not to figure out what side I’m on.” He gave Faith a tight smile. “No offense meant, Slayer Number Two, but I need to be Buffy’s backup, not you. You can slake your slayer thirst for dust by protecting the delicate little kiddies while I help Buffy with the big guy.”
 
Faith stared around the room, correctly reading from the expressions there, even Xander’s, that there was general agreement with Spike’s assessment. Her eyes narrowed and she stared right at him as she bit out, “Fuck you. Fuck all of you!” and ran out the door. 
 
Buffy started after her, but Spike put a hand on her arm.
 
“Let me go, Spike! This is exactly what the mayor was hoping for.”
 
“Know that, Slayer. But let me go. I’m the one that made her feel like less than she is, I need to be the one to convince her she’s got too much worth to throw it away working for evil.”
 
“How are you going to do that? You just pretty much told her she wasn’t needed.”
 
“Didn’t mean it that way, and if I catch up with here after she’s calmed down, I should be able to help her see that.”
 
“Fine,” Buffy growled. “But if she goes over to mayor’s side, I’m blaming you.”
 
“Fair enough.  I’ll be back.”  He left the apartment without paying any attention to the babble of “Goes over to what?  Why would she do that?” that followed Buffy’s comment.
 
Giles was wearing his sternest look as he asked, “Buffy? Is there something we need to know?”
 
She sighed and told them about Spike’s meeting with the mayor and what the man had said about Faith.  There was a moment of silence before Giles nodded. “I can see where she might find the appeal in that. Given that she has already made at least one poor choice about where she seeks validation.”
 
“Wonderful. Well, let’s hope Spike can talk her out of it…”
 
 
XXXX
 
Spike followed the scent of angry slayer from what he hoped was a safe distance, frowning when she appeared to be heading for City Hall. He sped up to get closer, then cursed when she ducked into an alley. He was ready for her when she leapt at him, catching her stake arm in midair.
 
“Easy there, Number Two. I’m on your side.”
 
“I have a name!” she gritted out between her teeth as she matched her strength against his. She almost toppled over when he suddenly released her and stepped back, holding up his hands for peace.
 
“You do. And a lovely one it is,” he said quietly. “My apologies. My mouth isn’t always my best asset. It tends to let words fall out that don’t really reflect what I’m thinking.” Before she could reply, he continued, “I don’t mean that you aren’t every bit as important a slayer as Buffy is. It’s just that I met her first and I met you later. Those nicknames don’t reflect my assessment of your worth, only when you came into my life.” 
 
He waited to see if she would respond, noting her slightly relaxed stance and taking that as encouragement. 
 
“And I never meant to imply you couldn’t or wouldn’t back Buffy up just as well as I could. My need to be at her side has everything to do with my feelings for her, and nothing to do with my belief in your abilities. I’m sorry if it didn’t sound like that to you. I should have asked you if you would mind changing places with me so that I could be closer to the woman I love at a time when she might be in grave danger.”
 
Faith leaned against the wall. “I’ll bet you conned more women into giving it up by talking to them than you ever did by showing your teeth,” she said, sending him a glare. “But I’m not one of them.”
 
“You aren’t,” he said with a small smile. “Never even tried it on a slayer, to be honest. I always wanted them to know what I was.”
 
“I’ve got no freakin’ idea what you are,” she admitted, as she stood up straighter. “Do you know where I was goin’?”
 
He shrugged. “I’m hoping you were just going to stomp off a very legitimate fit of temper, maybe take it out on a few vamps.” He peered at her. “But I’m guessing you were thinkin’ about going over to the other side.”
 
She looked startled, but nodded. “I’m not sure if I was going there to try to kill him myself, or just to see if he wanted to hire me.”
 
“He does,” Spike said without inflection, watching her reaction closely.
 
“He what? How do you know?”
 
“Met with him last night and had a bit of a discussion. Part of his ‘allowing’—” Spike paused to snarl his disgust. “—me to be the master of Sunnydale’, was for me to keep you and Buffy out of his hair and/or kill at least one of you. But he suggested you might be willing to think about switching sides if you weren’t feeling appreciated enough by the white hats. He wanted me to pursue that with you.”
 
He held his breath while he watched her digest his words, waiting to see how she would respond to the mayor’s assessment of her vulnerability. He saw anger, pride, fear, and finally sadness fly across her face before it settled into a Slayer’s firm determination.
 
“I guess he doesn’t know slayers as well as he thinks he does,” she said, holding her chin up defiantly.
 
“That’s my sincere hope.” Spike ventured a smile in her direction. “Are you ready to go back to the watcher’s now?”
 
“Yeah. Let’s go.” She started marching back the way they’d come, slowing her steps as they approached the apartment complex.  She slid her eyes to the side. “Am I really that insecure?”
 
Spike stopped and touched her arm. “You’ve got all the tools you need to be one hell of a slayer. I know that. Buffy knows that. The watcher knows it. The only one who isn’t sure about it is you.”
 
“You kicked my ass.”
 
“Nah. I gave you a little taste of what it means to be too cocky with a master vampire, that’s all. You came right back and handed his arse to a vamp even older than I am. You’re good, Two—Faith. You just need to believe it.”
 
“But I’m not Buffy,” she said with shrewd understanding.
 
“Nobody is,” he said shortly. “Not to me.”
 
Faith nodded. “I can live with that. I’m not all that compared to Buffy because you’re banging her.”
 
Leaving him staring after her, she laughed and opened the unlocked front door. She left it open for Spike and stared around at all the wary faces. 
 
“What? A girl can’t go for a walk by herself anymore?”  She walked in and flopped down on the couch next to Xander. “What did I miss?”
 
Spike pulled the door closed behind him and walked over to sit on the arm of Buffy’s chair. She got up and pushed him down into the chair, then perched on the arm herself with his arm around her waist.
 
“Okay, so let’s go over it again so we know what we still need to do before—”
 
“Fuck!” Spike’s outburst caught everyone by surprise, and he gave an apologetic “sorry” before explaining.  “Can’t believe I forgot this! You don’t have all that time you thought you had. I don’t know when graduation is, but Wilkins asked me specifically to keep the slayers out of his way until after next week. If there’s something going down now, we need to find out what it is.”
 
“You can’t go back there!” Buffy stared at him. “Even if he doesn’t know about us yet, he’ll be suspicious if you try to ask him to tell you what he’s planning. And graduation isn’t for a few months yet.”
 
“We need to know, love. Maybe he’s waiting for graduation day and maybe he isn’t. There’s got to be some reason he isn’t worried about either of you after next week.”
 
XXXXX
 
Spike watched while Buffy and Faith worked their way through a group of vampires that seemed to be less interested in fighting them and more interested in yelling at Spike to help them out.
 
“Be sure you get them all, slayers. Don’t want any left to carry tales,” he said as he casually leaned against a tombstone and lit a cigarette.
 
“Not a problem,” Faith said, dusting the last one and exchanging a high five with Buffy. She smiled at Buffy, saying, “I think I’ll just head home by myself and let you two….”
 
Buffy giggled, then sighed. “I think we’d better stick together. That might not be the only gang out here tonight.”
 
Spike stared back and forth between them, then broke into a grin as his nose told him what the girls were talking about. He put an arm over each one and began urging them toward Revello Drive. “Right. Need to get you ladies home so you can get your… sleep.”
 
Buffy gave him a suspicious glare, then turned bright red as she remembered what he’d told her about being able to tell how she was reacting to him. She shook his arm off. Faith glanced from Buffy’s flaming face to Spike’s smirk and laughed.
 
“Not as dumb as you look, huh?” 
 
When Spike dropped his arm, she moved away and began walking.
 
“I’ll just tell your mum you have important slayer business to handle and you’ll be back really late… or really early… in the morning.”
 
“We’ll walk there with you,” Buffy said smothering a smile. “Just in case.”
 
“Knock yourself out, B. Next time it might be my turn.”  When it got very quiet, she quickly added, “Not with your honey. Wouldn’t have him on a bet! I just meant I might find somebody warmer and, you know, breathing. No offense, dead guy.”
 
“None taken.” He smiled. “I am what I am. As long as Buffy’s okay with it, I don’t care who else is.”
 
“On that cheery note…” Buffy stopped at the corner from which they could see her house. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
 
Faith shrugged. “Nah. I’ll just raid the fridge. That way we both get something from the fight.” She began jogging toward the house while Buffy tried to avoid Spike’s curious gaze.
 
“Unless she thinks I’m taking you out to dinner, that little exchange doesn't make a lot of sense.”
 
“It does if you’re a slayer,” Buffy said. 
 
“So, slaying makes you hungry?”
 
“Yep.”
 
“And what else does it make you?” he crooned, stopping to pull her against his body.
 
“I’m pretty sure you figured that out already,” she said, blushing even as she molded herself against him.
 
“Just checking to make sure I’m right. I know that’s what a good fight does to me, but knowin’ it has the same effect on you is a bit of a revelation…”
 
“Feel free to keep that news to yourself,” Buffy gasped, pushing herself away. “And don’t we have a bed to go home to?”
 
“We do,” he replied, taking her hand and beginning to jog in the direction of Crawford St.  “And the sooner we get there, the better.”
 
They ran the entire way to the mansion, alternately laughing and groping each other. They were almost to the front door when Spike slid to a halt and went into game face. Reacting instantly, Buffy cast her own senses out, trying to see or hear whatever it was that had him sniffing and listening so intently.
 
“Inside,” he growled. “Now!”
 
“You too!” Buffy said, even as she obeyed him. She paused when she’d opened the door to make sure he was right behind her. When he shoved her in and slammed the door, she glared at him.  “What the hell—”
 
“Sorry, pet. I’m not sure what’s out there, but if we’re lucky, it didn’t see you with me.” He hit the light switch that illuminated the front of the house, blinking at the sudden glare but knowing it would make it impossible for whatever was outside to see in the uncovered windows.
 
Snarls from outside the front door and then from a nearby window made it clear that the barrier was still in place, and grunts and thuds against the door said that Willow’s wards against demons were working also.
 
“Looks like we’re alright. The only things that can get in here are hu—”
 
With a crash, one of the windows burst inward and a man rolled into the room. Spike was on him before he could regain his feet. He was in full game face, shaking the man and demanding, “Who sent you?”
 
The man cast his glance at Buffy. “You’re not going to let him kill me, are you? Isn’t that your job—to protect humans?”
 
Buffy shrugged. “You broke into our—his house. Why should I protect you?”
 
“What kind of a slayer are you?” the man demanded, completely oblivious to how ridiculous he sounded, complaining to Buffy from his position dangling from Spike’s hand.
 
“One that doesn’t care much what happens to humans that work for demons,” she snapped back. “What are you doing here?”
 
When there was no reply, Spike shook the man again. “Answer the question, wanker.”
 
“You won’t kill me,” his captive said with less confidence than he probably meant to. “She won’t let you.”  He flashed another glance at Buffy, who sighed and nodded.
 
“Probably I won’t. But you didn’t know that when you came crashing in here.”
 
“I kind of did. He didn’t kill Jasper when he could’ve. Even left him where he’d be found right away.”
 
“Jasper?”
 
Spike frowned, then shot Buffy a guilty look. “Must be that git that tried to tell them he saw me watching you fight and didn’t kill you. I might have done what I needed to, to show my bonafides, but I didn’t kill him.”
 
“Why didn’t you tell me about it? And what do you mean by ‘what you needed to do?’”
 
“I was getting around to it, love. Just got sidetracked by Slayer Two’s little problem.”
 
“So he knows? The mayor knows that you’re helping me?”  She turned her glare on the intruder who seemed to be relaxing, even though Spike was still holding him in one powerful hand. As she did so, she noticed the vampires peering in the broken window. The no entry spell was preventing them from entering, but from there they could see and hear everything in the room. Grabbing a stake off a nearby table, she darted to the window and reached out to grab one of the watching vampires by the shirt and pull him far enough forward that she could run the stake through his chest. 
 
Through his dust, she glared at the remaining watchers. “Who’s next? Any more of you Peeping Toms want a piece of this?” She waved the stake around, snorting when the watching vamps faded back into the shadows away from the window.  “I didn’t think so,” she muttered, looking around for something to block the open window. She turned off the outside light, plunging the room into darkness except for a dim glow from the kitchen at the other end of the hall.
 
“Well, if he didn’t know before, he certainly will now. Guess that little bit of theatre is done for already.” Spike answered Buffy’s question as if there had been no pause in their conversation. 
 
Marching his casual air, she said, “I guess so. Oh well. We know most of what we need to know.”  She turned a speculative eye on their unwelcome visitor. “What’s your name?” she demanded, startling him even more than seeing her dust the vamp had.
 
“Uh… um… Charley?”
 
“Is that an answer or a question?”
 
“Charley. My name is Charley.”
 
“Well, Charley. What are we going to do with you?”  She looked at Spike who had released Charley but was still close enough to grab him if necessary. Spike shook his head and turned on a lamp.
 
“I’d like to say I’ll just eat him, but I’m guessing that isn’t going to happen…”
 
“It isn’t,” she said curtly. “And we’ll talk about Jasper later.” 
 
She glared at Charley. “What’s your job supposed to be this week?” she asked.  When he refused to answer, she glanced at Spike who immediately went into game face and licked his lips.
 
“Tell him he can’t hurt me!” Charley said, moving closer to Buffy, who moved away.
 
“Don’t hurt him, Spike,” she said without putting any conviction in her voice.
 
Spike put his hand around Charley’s neck again and ran his teeth down his neck, leaving a trail of blood there.
 
“He’s hurting me!”
 
Buffy shrugged. “He’s not very obedient.”
 
When Spike leaned in again and ran a fang across the first bleeding scratch, leave a blood cross on his neck, Charley screamed, “I’m supposed to find out if he—” he gestured at Spike—“can be trusted.”  He snorted. “Looks like that’s a no if he’s working for you. Mayor Wilkins knows Spike’s dusted a lot of his vamps and he wants me to find out why.”  He looked over at Buffy. “He wants somebody who can fetch something he needs for the ascension and he said either a slayer or a really strong vampire could do it. I guess he was hoping he’d found one.”
 
“And what is it he needs that he can’t get for himself?” 
 
Charley shook his head. “Don't ask me. I know he’s not sending anybody human after it. But he’s kinda pissed off that he’s lost so many vamp soldiers, ‘cause he was hoping to find one strong enough to send for it.”
 
“Wanker,” Spike said. “And if his minions didn’t keep tryin’ to kill me, I wouldn’t have to take out so many of them.”
 
“I still would,” Buffy said cheerfully. “What else do we need to know?”
 
 When there was no immediate answer, Spike pulled Charley toward his fangs again, but only had a chance to draw a few drops of blood before the man slumped in his hold and sighed.
 
“I’m a dead man, no matter what,” he said. “Guess it doesn’t matter now. Whatever it is he wants, it’s supposed to help him with the ascension and make it impossible for the slayers to get near him. Once he has that, he says he won’t care whether you can stop them or not. It won’t matter. He’ll be safe until Graduation and the ascension ceremony.”
 
“What exactly is he ascending to?”
 
“Beats me. It’s all demon crap. Says he’ll be too big and strong for anyone to stop him—even a slayer.” He gave Buffy a timid look. “He says if Spike hasn’t killed you by then, he’s going to make you his first meal. Whatever that means.”
 
“It means he’s going to choke on me,” Buffy said, putting a soothing hand on a snarling Spike’s arm. “We’ll make sure he does.”
 
Edging away from Spike, who had stopped snarling but was still wearing his fangs, Charley said, “That’s all I know. I swear. Can I go now?”
 
“Go where?” Buffy narrowed her eyes at him.
 
“Don’t know. Can’t go back to the mayor, he’ll wonder why you didn’t kill me—”
 
“No, he won’t. You knew comin’ in here the Slayer wasn’t goin’ to kill you, or let me kill you. Hiz honor knows that too. Especially if that wanker I bit last night has been runnin’ his mouth about it. You can go right back to work. Just don’t tell him you gave out any information that we didn’t already have.”
 
“But—” Buffy began, then shrugged. “I guess you’re right. The mayor knows you’re helping me now. And if he’s that cocky, he probably won’t care that Charley told us more about his plans.”
 
“So, out you go, mate.” Spike dragged Charley to the door, opened it, and threw him back out into the front yard. “Don’t come back.”
 
Spike and Buffy stood at the door and watched as Charley began jogging toward downtown.
 
 
Chapter Twenty-nine
 
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE
 
When they could no longer see Charley, Buffy and Spike worked together silently, pulling the heavy drapes over the broken window and anchoring  them in place with an old wardrobe.
 
“Not pretty, but gets the job done.”
 
“I guess. I wonder if Willow or Giles can come up with a spell that would keep humans out too?”
 
Spike shrugged and shook his head. “I’ve never heard of one, but there could be wards put up to warn us if anyone is poking around, just like on your mum’s house. That, and old fashioned locks on the doors, I reckon.”
 
Buffy sighed. “Fine, you check all the doors and windows and I’ll clean up the glass.”
 
 
Fifteen minutes later, the glass had all been swept up and put in a cardboard box left over from Buffy’s move back to her home, and Spike had finished locking all the first floor windows and doors except the one now blocked with a heavy piece of furniture.  They stood in the foyer, neither one making any move toward the bedroom.
 
“Are you still staying here tonight?” Spike asked when Buffy stood in one place, staring at the door.
 
She startled and spun around to stare at him. “I… don’t you want me to?”
 
“Bloody hell! Of course I do. But you look like your post-slaying urges might have left with that piece of human trash we just let go.”
 
“You don’t think we should have let him go? What would we have done with—” Her eyes grew big when Spike’s expression momentarily showed exactly what he thought they should have done, and she moved closer to the door.
 
With an exasperated sigh, he shook his head.  “I’m sorry, love. This whole being a white hat thing is not in my nature. It’s not how I deal with things.”
 
“You think you should have killed him?”
 
“All I’m sayin’ is, the demon in me thinks I’m a bloody idiot for letting a meal walk out the door. A meal that was here to do us some kind of harm, even it was only to run back to his boss and report that I’m a bit too friendly with the Slayer. I know that you think we had no other choice, but it’s a mite too far out of my normal comfort zone to let an enemy walk away.”
 
He walked over to Buffy, but waited until she nodded permission to rest his hands on her shoulders. “I’m going to need some guidance sometimes, sweetheart. I know right from wrong—all vamps do, in spite of what your watcher might have tried to tell you. We know when something is wrong by human standards, we just don’t care. I’ve had well over a hundred years of doing the exact opposite of what’s good and right, and I’m not always going to have what’s right as my first reaction. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to please you, or that I’m not going to try, but even when I’m doing the right thing, you’re probably gonna be able to see me fightin’ with the demon sometimes.”
 
Buffy sighed and dropped her head to the side to rub her cheek against the back of his hand.
 
“As long as you win those fights, I guess it doesn’t matter that you might want to do something else.”
 
“I’ve never lost a fight in my life,” he said, with the beginning of a smile. A smile that faded when she quirked an eyebrow at him.  “Well, except against you, I guess.” He gave her an abashed grin. “But then I was fighting against goodness, not for it.”
 
He dropped his hands to her waist and pulled her closer so he could nibble on her ear and kiss the side of her neck. “Back to my original question about where you’re spending the night…. Where were we when we were so rudely interrupted?”
 
Buffy giggled and brushed her hand against the rapidly hardening bulge in his jeans.
 
“We were trying to see who was going to be the first one to the bed,” she said. “I think I was winning.”
 
“Only because I like watching your arse when you’re walking in front of me,” he said with a grin. “How about we decide to arrive together?” He swooped her up and began walking toward his bedroom. He paused and dipped her so she could turn off the lamp, then shifted into game face to make his way into the bedroom and kick the door shut behind them.
 
The windows in Spike’s bedroom had always had heavy, blackout curtains, so there was no question of anyone seeing in from outside, even if he’d turned on the light. But with Buffy’s murmured agreement, he left the room in total darkness as he placed her on the bed and followed her down.
 
“I can’t see you,” she whispered, stroking his face and running a finger over his fangs.
 
“But you know I’m here, love. Always will be. You’ll never be alone in the dark.” She felt his face fade back to the human one she was so used to, and raised her mouth to his.
 
“Always works for me.”
 
XXXX
 
Buffy awoke just as the sun was filtering its light into the hallway from the uncovered windows in the kitchen. She stretched and moved out from under Spike’s tightening arm.
 
“Let me go. It’s daylight and I need to get home before Mom wakes up.”
 
“Be careful, love,” he said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. “You know it’s not just creatures of the night looking for you.”
 
“I’ll be fine,” she said, brushing her lips across his, but slipping away before he could pull her back onto the bed. “Go back to sleep.  Now that we don’t have to be careful about it, Faith and I will come by and get you on the way to tonight’s Scooby meeting.”
 
“I’m bloody sure Two doesn’t feature being known as a ‘Scooby’ any more than I do,” he grumbled, even as he dropped back onto the bed and shut his eyes.
 
Buffy gave a soft giggle and left the room. She looked right and left, then chose to go out the kitchen door rather than the front. She was pleased she had when she peered around the side of the house and spotted two men loitering across the street. She checked the garage, glad to see that Spike had closed it as best he could with the broken doors, and that the very substantial door into the atrium was also closed and locked. Satisfied that Spike was as safe as he could be from humans, and knowing his senses didn’t shut down completely when he slept, she crept through the overgrown shrubbery in the back yard and sneaked away through the neighboring properties.
 
 
 
She walked into her own kitchen to find Joyce just starting the coffee. They stared at each other, Buffy wearing her guilt all over her face and Joyce wearing an expression that varied between angry and sad.
 
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Buffy began. “I meant to—”
 
Joyce shook her head. “Don’t,” she said. “I knew you didn’t come home with Faith, so I wasn’t worried. Not about your physical safety, anyway.”
 
“I love him, Mom. And he loves me. I know this isn’t what you wanted for me, but it’s my life. For as long as I have it. And I want to have Spike in it.  He loves me,” she repeated.
 
Joyce sighed and turned away to fix her coffee.
 
“I believe he does, Buffy. Much more so than that other vampire ever did, I’m sure. But it’s just hard… to know you’ll never marry and have children of your own. That you might not even….” She shuddered. “That you might not even live to be old enough to regret that you didn’t.”
 
Buffy bit back the “welcome to my world” that she wanted to snap out and gave her own deep sigh.
 
“I’m not too crazy about that thought either,” she said. “But I think having somebody as strong as Spike in my life might put the odds a little more in my favor. He’s pretty determined to keep me alive.”
 
Joyce nodded. “Would you like some cereal? Or eggs? I might have time to—”
 
“That would be great, Mom. But what I really need is to take a shower and figure out what to wear to school today. Something that doesn’t scream ‘I’m going to kill our principal because he’s planning to help the mayor murder us all at graduation.’”
 
“Kill the principal? I know you don’t like Mr. Snyder, but—”
 
“Relax. I’m not really going to kill him. Much as I might like to. He’s human, so off limits. But it’s hard to look at that little weasel every day and know he’s working with the man who wants to use the blood of—” She broke off at the expression on Joyce’s face.  “You know what, Mom? You don’t need to hear any of this. We’re going to take care of it somehow, long before graduation. Everything’s going to be fine. I’m just going to take my shower now….” Buffy edged out of the kitchen, leaving Joyce staring into her coffee cup.
 
 
XXXX
 
After ignoring Harmony’s sarcastic comments about ‘what the nerds are doing’, the core Scoobies met in the library for lunch. Faith perched on a desk near the table, close enough to hear and participate, but far enough away to make it clear she wasn’t a part of the group.
 
“Afraid you’ll catch something?” Xander said as he indicated the empty chair next to him.
 
“Dirty looks from your snooty girlfriend,” Faith said, remaining in place.
 
Xander’s expression darkened. “Probably not going to be a problem,” he muttered, turning his back on her.
 
Buffy and Willow exchanged sympathetic looks but didn’t say anything about his comment. Cordelia had been noticeably more and more distant lately and her “something’s going on with my parents” explanation hadn’t really helped to explain it. Willow’s “she’s decided she’s too good for us again” hadn’t helped Xander at all, although he tried to defend Cordy by saying something really was going on with her parents. They were spending a lot time with lawyers and their driveway only held one late-model expensive car now.  Cordy had offered no explanation for where her own car had disappeared to, leaving the rumors to fly wherever they might.
 
Giles cleared his throat to get the attention back to him.
 
“I realize you are giving up your own time to socialize with your friends—” There were snorts all around, including from the normally silent Oz.  “Yes, well, at any rate, I thought you should know, particularly Buffy and Faith, that Wesley Windham-Pryce will be here by the weekend. He is quite anxious to meet you….all.” Giles paused, frowning.
 
“What’s a Wesley whatchamacallit?” 
 
“Wait, let me guess. That’s my latest watcher,” Faith responded for Giles. “I wonder what’s wrong with this one?”
 
“Please try to keep an open mind and give the poor man a chance,” Giles said in a less-than-reassuring manner.
 
Buffy couldn’t help herself. “Oh, I know that look, Giles. You already know what’s wrong with this one.”
 
He looked uncomfortable, but said firmly, “Mr. Windham-Pryce is quite… young. But he comes from a well-respected family of watchers and I am sure he will be quite competent.”
 
“Un huh,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. “Well, at least he’s not my watcher.” She made a face at Faith, who flipped her off.
 
“Actually, Buffy,” Giles said slowly. “As you know, I’m no longer employed by the Council. He is meant to be here for both of you.”
 
“What? Oh no. Not me. I’m just getting you trained!”
 
While all the teenagers giggled, Giles tried very hard to appear appropriately stern, but gave in and sighed in resignation.
 
“I’m sure you will have the poor sod whipped into shape in no time,” he muttered almost to himself as he went back to the book on ascensions he’d been reading, leaving Buffy and Faith to exchange high fives.
 
 XXXX
 
 
When added to Buffy’s report of having met a demon who offered to sell them the Books of Ascension, Giles’s perusal of the little bit of information available in his books gave them some hope that they could prevent the mayor from reaching his goal. Giles agreed that they needed to get those Books before the demon could offer them to the mayor, although the $5000 requested might be difficult to get from the Council.
 
Faith exchanged a look with Spike that had Buffy narrowing her eyes at them. “What are you two thinking?”
 
“We’re thinking we should just take the books we need. Or have you suddenly decided you want to negotiate with demons?”
 
Spike raised an eyebrow at Buffy, who snapped back, “I’ve already negotiated with a demon!”
 
When she watched his face shut down, she touched his arm in apology. “And it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done,” she added. “I didn’t mean to make it sound like it wasn’t.  It’s just… stealing the books from him seems like such a… bad… thing to do.”
 
“Then leave it to the evil guy, to do it,” Spike said, squeezing her hand. “You and Two can just hang out and be backup in case the demon is smarter than we think. Go ahead and tell him you’ll have the money by tomorrow night, and arrange a place to meet.”
 
Buffy sighed her reluctant agreement, and looked at Giles. “Do we know what the Books of Ascension do exactly?”
 
“Not exactly. But they appear to contain information—spells and whatnot—that he requires to complete the ascension ritual. The mayor is only half demon, and he needs to become invulnerable before he can undergo the transformation at the end of a successful Ascension ceremony.”
 
“So, if he doesn’t have the books that tell him how to become invulnerable, he’s just a regular old demon and he can be slain?”  Buffy was suddenly much more on board with stealing the books from the demon book-seller.
 
“We must assume so.”
 
“Well, all right then. One book stealing appointment coming up. Let’s go.”
 
“Go?”
 
“Well yeah, it’s not like he gave me his address and phone number. I have to leave a message with some sleazy guy at a newsstand and then he’ll let me know when and where.”
 
XXXX
 
As they walked downtown, Spike began dropping back more and more until Buffy turned around with her hands on her hips. “We don’t have to hide anymore. Are you ashamed to be seen with us?”
 
“Don’t think it’s in my best interest, pet. Even if the old wanker knows about you and me, that’s not the same thing as seeing all three of us chatting like old friends.  Not to mention, I can be better backup for you two if I’m not visible until I’m needed. You go on and do what you need to do. I’ll be around.”  
 
 As he finished speaking, Spike faded into the shadows of a nearby alley. Buffy frowned as his signature faded.
 
“Can you feel him?” she asked Faith, who shook her head.
 
“No. But I don’t have as much experience with him as you do.”
 
“That’s pretty sneaky,” Buffy muttered. “I wonder if he can hide his signature, or if he just got too far away too fast?”
 
“Don’t know. But if he can keep those vamp vibes down until he gets really close, it’s a wonder he only killed two slayers. Must be a slacker,” Faith snorted.
 
Buffy laughed, but frowned. “He fought more than two. I think he probably killed at least one more, but he doesn’t count it because her watcher drove him off and dragged her away. I don’t think he’d hide what he is, though. Not with a slayer. He likes—liked—fighting us, but he wants it to be a fair fight.”
 
“Well that’s just stupid.”
 
“That’s Spike,” Buffy said, wondering if he was close enough to hear them. Just in case she added, “Sexy but not very bright.”  A muffled growl told her that he was closer than he seemed, and she sent her slayer senses out until she had a general idea in which direction to look. It did her no good because he was not visible to her enhanced, but still human, eyesight. She giggled and waved in his direction, then walked off to deliver her message.
 
Buffy left the message with a bored-looking newsstand attendant, then she and Faith moved away from the middle of town to do a patrol through the closest cemeteries.
 
“Can you still feel him?” 
 
Buffy shook her head. “No, I don’t know where it is. But it’s not like we need a bodyguard. We’re slayers!”
 
“Damn right we are. These vamps won’t know what hit ‘em.”
 
Chapter Thirty
 
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER THIRTY
 
Spike watched the girls go off in the direction of the cemetery, but remained in place in the shadows.  His patience was rewarded when the newsstand attendant spoke briefly on a cell phone, then put Buffy’s message into a drawer. He was still waiting when the book-selling demon appeared, looked at Buffy’s message, wrote something on it and handed it back. The attendant put it back into the drawer, the demon handed him a few bills and, as quickly as that, sank back into the shadows.
 
As soon as the demon was gone, Spike strolled up to the newsstand and yanked the drawer open. One look at his fangs averted the human-looking attendant’s attempt to stop him, but Spike didn’t take the note, only memorizing the address and time before returning it to the drawer.
 
“Don’t lose that, mate,” Spike said as he moved away. “Could be important.” He ignored the barely audible grumbling from the still-intimidated man.
 
 
XXXX
 
 
Buffy walked into the Library the following afternoon to find Giles talking to a tall, nice-looking, if a bit uptight-seeming, man.
 
“Oh, sorry, Giles. If you’re busy I’ll just come back later.”
 
“No, no. That’s quite all right. We’ve actually been waiting for you. Buffy, this is Wesley Windham-Pryce.”
 
Buffy narrowed her eyes at the newcomer. “Is he evil?”
 
“I beg your pardon?” The new watcher sniffed his disdain for her question.
 
“I believe him to be… not evil,” Giles said.  He frowned as Buffy put the duffle bag she was carrying down on the table. “What have you there?”
 
“Oh, Faith and I ran into a bunch of pretty serious-type vamps last night. I brought my souvenir. Faith has the other one.”
 
“Are you all right?” Giles asked just as Wesley said, “Did you destroy the vampires?”
 
“Yes and yes,” Buffy said. “But it was touch and go there for a while.”
 
Giles frowned. “Where was….”
 
Buffy waved a hand around. “He was lurking somewhere. I guess he got distracted. We did okay without—” She stopped and turned to stare at Wesley who was not hiding his curiosity very well.  “Is this going to be a problem?”
 
“Possibly,” Giles replied, making no attempt to satisfy Wesley’s obvious impatience.
 
“Oh. Well. Anyway, Faith and I were fine, and we ended with these two weird swords.” She pulled a short sword from the bag.
 
Wesley stared at the sword, then turned away to go through Giles’s books. He returned quickly, with a book in his hand, open to a page he was studying intently.
 
“Do you know what these are?” he demanded of Giles.
 
“Funky-looking swords?” Faith’s voice preceded her into the room. She tossed the longer sword onto the table, then looked from Wesley’s frowning face to Buffy’s.  “New watcher?”
 
Buffy nodded, rolling her eyes.
 
“Is he evil?” Faith was gave Wesley her own suspicious stare.
 
Buffy shrugged. “Giles says no. Not evil, just maybe not very bright. Can’t really tell yet…”
 
Faith’s snicker did nothing to alleviate Wesley’s sputtering outrage. 
 
“Why do you permit this level of insolence?” he demanded of Giles. “And why do these girls keep asking if I’m evil?”
 
“Because the last watcher Faith had was evil. With a capital E,” Buffy said as if explaining something to a child. “Didn’t they tell you about that?”
 
Wesley’s outrage faded somewhat as he acknowledged that he did know about Faith’s former watcher. “Miss Post was not the intended watcher sent here. She murdered the perfectly respectable woman who was intended to take over Miss Lehane’s training.” He looked at Buffy again. “I’m given to understand that you were responsible for Miss Post’s death? You killed her?”
 
Buffy raised her chin defiantly. “The lightning bolt killed her. I just cut off her arm. You know, the one that had the glove she was trying to use to kill us.”
 
“But you were responsible for her death.”
 
Buffy gave him a slayer’s cold stare. “Did you miss the part where she was trying to kill us?  And Evil?”
 
He cleared his throat and looked away, missing the barely visible smirk Giles was hiding and the much more visible expression of contempt on Faith’s face.
 
“Yes. Well. Let’s carry on, shall we? Miss Lehane, I am Wesley Windham-Pryce, your new watcher. And Miss Summers’ new watcher as well.”
 
Both girls stared back at him, exchanged looks, and shook their heads.
 
“Giles is my watcher,” Buffy said, not quite drowning out Faith’s “Screw that!”
 
Wesley seemed to choose to ignore them, pointing to the swords and asking, “Where is the amulet that would have been with these swords?”
 
“We were a little busy trying to keep the swords from lopping off important body parts,” Buffy said. “Amulets weren’t part of the plan.”
 
“Yeah, we didn’t have time to look for jewelry.”
 
“Well then, you’ll go back this evening and find the amulet. It is important that we destroy it before it finds its way to Balthazar.”
 
“What’s a Balthazar? And why do we care?”
 
Wesley turned to Giles. “Have you taught them nothing?”
 
“We have an old demon planning an Ascension in a couple of months. There hasn’t been time to concern ourselves with one that’s already dead.”
 
“He is not dead, merely temporarily incapacitated. And his followers would have used these swords to protect the amulet he needs to regain all his strength. He is here somewhere. Perhaps unable to move around freely, but that would change if he got the amulet.”
 
He turned back to Buffy and Faith. “You will have to bring the amulet back here to be destroyed. Perhaps you should go now.”
 
Giles signaled Buffy with his eyes that they should just leave the library. With one last glare at Wesley, Buffy turned to leave.
 
“Giles usually says ‘please’ when he sends me out for something. And I get a cookie when I come back.”  She tossed her head and walked out. “Come on, Faith. Maybe we can find our own cookies.”
 
Wesley watched the girls leave, then turned to Giles. “You really have permitted them to be much too disrespectful and disobedient. I can see that I will have my work cut out for me.”
 
Giles snorted. “I can’t wait to see you in action. It should be an educational experience. For at least one of us.”
 
XXXX
 
“So, what do think, B? Are we doing to get Mr. Stick-up-his-ass his amulet?”
 
After having eaten dinner and changed into slaying clothes, the girls were making their way back toward the busier part of Sunnydale, chatting as they walked.
 
Buffy sighed. “I suppose we ought to. I don’t know what a Balthazar is, but Giles did seem surprised he wasn’t dead, so maybe the amulet really is important.”  She turned toward downtown. “But let’s check on those books first. See if that skeevy demon read my note.”
 
They hadn’t even reached the newsstand before the attendant was fishing the note from the drawer and holding it out to them.  Buffy snatched it from him, frowning. “What’s wrong with you?” she said as he backed away from her. “You weren’t afraid of me yesterday.”
 
“Yesterday I didn’t know there was a vampire looking for you. He read the note.”
 
“Vampire?”
 
Faith snorted. “We’re slayers. There are always vamps looking for us… unless they’re running the other way. That happens.”
 
“This one knew right where I put the note, and he was old. Scared the shit out of me.”
 
Buffy laughed. “If you’re afraid of Spike—blond guy, black coat?” At the man’s nod, she continued, “I think you’d be happy to have us around.”  Buffy glanced down at the note, then smiled at Faith.  “I guess Spike knows where we have to meet this guy too. We can grab the amulet and then meet him and the book demon.”
 
XXXXX
 
 
After a quick trip through the cemetery where they’d fought the vamps with the swords, Buffy and Faith searched the crypt until they found something that looked like it could be an amulet, then strolled toward the place they’d been told to bring the money.
 
“I wonder if we should have a bag with us or something?” Buffy said. “Just so he doesn’t suspect anything until we get close enough to grab the books.”
 
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Faith replied as she sped up. “Your honey is already here and he’s gonna need somebody to hold those books.”
 
“Wha— Oh my god!” Buffy shot past Faith just in time to stop a vampire from driving a stake into Spike’s back. She knocked the vamp away, barely pausing to stake him before she was back on her feet and at Spike’s right, facing a group of mixed human and vampire minions. The books were spilled partly out of a bag on the ground behind Spike, next to the body of the demon. Faith took up a position on the other side of the books, facing the minions who were now circling them.
 
“I’ve got this. If you want to up your slay count tonight, Slayer,” Spike said, “feel free to take it to them.”
 
With a nod, Buffy leapt into action. Leaving Spike and Faith to guard the books against any vampires foolish enough to attack them, Buffy began systematically working her way through the now more spread out vamps and their human assistants. She staked the vampires and settled for knocking the humans unconscious. She had a brief uncomfortable moment when she kicked a man in the jaw, but she could see him crawling away as she was staking the vampire she’d been aiming for, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
 
 As the number of opponents dwindled, Spike and Faith managed to get farther away from the bag of books and continue the battle without losing sight of what they were fighting for.
 
Once they had knocked out most of the humans, and staked all the vampires, the remaining human minions began to edge away from the lethal threesome, sometimes dragging their unconscious comrades, sometimes not. Their fear of going back to their boss empty-handed was clearly losing the battle to their more immediate fear of the two slayers and the snarling vampire. Only one man tried to get to the books while the fight was still going on, but the time he spent shoving them back into the bag gave Faith a chance to see him. She knocked him to the ground with one blow and was bringing her stake down toward his chest when Spike’s shout of “He’s human!” gave her enough time to turn the blow away and only graze the man’s arm.
 
The slayer and Deputy Mayor Allen Finch, stared at each other with equally wide, frightened eyes as the last of the vampires became dust.
 
“I almost killed him,” Faith said, breathing hard. 
 
“But you didn’t.” Buffy came up beside her to offer support. “And he would have killed you if he could, so—”
 
“No I wouldn’t!” Finch said quickly. “I’m just here to bring the books back to Mayor Wilkins. I didn’t know you were bidding on them too.”
 
Spike kicked the demon’s body as he walked past it to join Buffy and Faith as they stared down at the frightened deputy mayor.
 
“Don’t feel bad about doing for that wanker now, if he was trying to sell them to the highest bidder.  He might have even have been setting you up.” The snarl that accompanied that remark sent Finch cringing.
 
“I don’t think so,” he said quickly. “We didn’t know you’d be here. I was just supposed to get the books and carry them back to Mayor Wilkins.”
 
“Do you always bring twenty other minions with you to help you carry a book bag?” Faith snorted.
 
“It’s dangerous to walk around Sunnydale at night alone,” Finch muttered as he clutched his bleeding arm.
 
“Seems like it wasn’t in your best interest to travel with the wrong companions either,” Spike said, licking his lips as he eyed the blood leaking through the man’s shirt.
 
“What do these books do? Why does your boss want them?” Buffy tried to take Finch’s attention off Spike’s hungry expression.
 
His shifting eyes showing immediately that he wasn’t being truthful, Finch said, “I really don’t know.”
 
Buffy cocked her head at him.  “Really?”  She turned to Spike who was still wearing his fangs. “Are you hungry?”
 
“I could eat,” he replied, moving closer and licking his lips again as he reached for the Deputy Mayor’s arm.
 
“He needs them to tell him how to do the ritual to make him invincible!” Finch said quickly, shrinking away. With Faith behind him, Buffy in front, and Spike almost drooling on his arm, any loyalty Finch may have had seemed to have vanished.
 
“And he needs to be invincible to survive the Ascension….” Buffy said, exchanging smiles with Faith and Spike.
 
“I think we got what we need, Slayers. What say we put them in a safe place?” Spike picked up the book bag and hung it off his shoulder.
 
“What are we going to do with him?” Faith pointed at Finch, still cringing on the ground. His arm appeared to have stopped bleeding, and he seemed otherwise unhurt.
 
“Let him crawl back to his boss,” Spike said. “He might make it if nothing smells his blood.  Or he might not.” He shrugged. “Not our problem.”
 
Buffy and Faith exchanged looks, then Buffy sighed. “You take the books to…. a safe place. We’ll see that this creep gets part way home.”
 
Spike snorted. “Sometimes you birds are no fun at all.”
 
“I get that a lot,” Buffy said as she yanked Finch to his feet.
 
“I don't,” Faith said with a wink in Spike’s direction. “I’m all kinds of fun.”
 
Spike’s laughter followed them as they began walking.
 
The closer they got to downtown, the slower the mayor’s deputy moved until he was almost standing still.
 
“Move it, assistant demon. We don’t have all night.” Faith gave Finch a little shove, which sent him stumbling, but not walking.
 
“Mayor Wilkins is not going to be happy with me,” he whined.
 
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Well, here’s a thought. You remind him that your job was just to carry the books, it was those other guys that screwed up and ran away or got themselves dusted. And, another thought? Don’t tell him you told us about his ritual. See? Easy peasy.”
 
Since he was still refusing to move, Buffy decided he was close enough to City Hall for them to let him finish the trip on his own.
 
“Let’s go, Faith. We’ve got things to do, places to go, people to see…”
 
“People to do, things to see….” Faith snorted, ignoring Buffy’s glare.
 
Finch drew himself up taller. “Aren’t you going to apologize for almost killing me?”
 
Both slayers gaped at him, then Buffy grabbed Faith’s arm and pulled her away before she could act upon the things she was sputtering in her obscenity-laced response. She was still muttering that she hadn’t killed him and he should be dammed grateful because she was definitely changing her mind, when they got out of earshot.
 
She shook Buffy off, saying, “Come on, B. You should have at least let me scare the crap out of him.”
 
“Sorry. Only one scare the crap out of a guy per night, and I already let Spike do it. Let’s get back to Giles and tell him about the books.”
 
XXXX
 
When they got to Giles’s, they found him and Wesley already poring over the books in excitement, while Willow hovered around them, trying to see for herself. Spike sat in the big chair sipping from a glass full of amber liquid. Wesley’s attention went from the books, to Spike, to the unafraid Scoobies, and back to the books. His relief was obvious when Buffy and Faith came through the door.
 
Waving a hand in Spike’s direction, he said, “I was given to understand that William the Bloody had left Sunnydale after the death of Angelus.”
 
“Did,” Spike said, making no attempt to appear harmless and going into game face for a few seconds.
 
“But you’re here. In Sunnydale. In Mr. Giles’s home.”
 
“I am. All three of those things.”
 
“This is not acceptable, Rupert.”
 
“Spike has been quite helpful to us since his return,” Giles said. “You did notice it was he who brought us these books, did you not?”
 
Wesley stared from Spike, whose expression had changed to a much softer one when Buffy entered the room, to Buffy and Faith, neither of whom seemed bothered by the vampire or inclined to stake him.
 
“What is going on here? This is most irregular. Two slayers, a teen-aged witch, a few other teenagers with no useful skills—” He broke off at Xander’s indignant “Hey!” and Oz’s laconic, “You just never know…” which brought a snort from Spike and giggles from the girls.
 
“And now you expect me to accept the presence of one of the world’s most dangerous vampires, sitting in your home and drinking scotch as if he were a welcome guest.”
 
“Because he is a guest. I believe you will find Spike to be quite different from any other vampires you may have met…. How many would that be, exactly, Wesley?” Giles waited with a bland expression on his face while Wesley stammered and struggled with his answer.
 
“We do not entertain vampires or demons in our homes or in the Council itself,” he said stiffly.
 
“Your loss, and welcome to the real world,” Buffy said. “Where we sometimes have to get close to demons and vampires.”
 
“They’re easier to stake that way,” Faith added. “You do know how to stake a vampire, don’t you?”
 
“I… of course. It’s one of the first things we learn… how to stake a vampire.”
 
“Really? How many did you have to dust to graduate from Watcher School?” Xander’s question, asked in all innocence, sent Wesley into a spasm of coughing. 
 
Faith strolled up to him and forced him to meet her amused gaze. “You haven’t staked any real vamps yet, have you?”
 
“I understand the technique,” he said, drawing himself up to his full height. “There just wasn’t time to pick up an actual vampire for me to stake before I had to leave to come here, but I’m sure I would be quite able to do so.”
 
“They sent you out into the field without any field experience?”  Giles’s shock was obvious.  “You’re… you’re… an amateur, andyou want to lecture me on my actions? Me? And my slayer who has stopped two apocalypses so far and slain enough vampires to graduate the last ten classes of watchers!” 
 
The longer he spoke, the angrier he seemed to get, and Wesley visibly shrank again.
 
The scene, which was causing Buffy, Faith, and Spike to exchange grins, was interrupted by Willow’s excited shout as she waved a book around.
 
“Guys! I found something!”


AN - Updates have slowed down and I apologize for that as I know it makes it more difficult to follow a story when you don't know when the next chapter is going to appear. Not much I can do about that just now. It is what it is.
A reminder that this story began with a very non-canon "what if?", which has affected everything that came after. Please don't expect to find canon-specific events, conversations, etc in this AU season 3 story. Thanks.
 
Chapter Thirty-one
 
 
 
 
Chapter Thirty-one
 
“Look here, in this book! It shows the swords and some demon named Balthazar. It says he was planning an Ascension, but some other demon stopped him and took his amulet that he needed.”
 
“Does it say where he is?”
 
“No. It just says he didn’t get to ascend and he was pretty pissed off about it.”
 
“Let me see that!” Wesley snatch the book from Willow’s hand, earning a distinct growl from Oz. The startled watcher paused to stare across the room, allowing Giles to take the book away from him.
 
“That is my book. If you don’t mind, while you apologize to Willow for your rudeness, I will see what we can learn from this.” The glare that accompanied Giles’s remarks made it very clear that Wesley should not even think about trying to take the book back.
 
“My apologies,” he said stiffly in Willow’s direction. “I allowed my concern for our situation to affect my behavior.”  He saw that Giles was scanning the pages in front of him and, went back to studying the Books of Ascension.
 
“Well, this is fun, of the kind that isn’t,” Xander said after silence had fallen in the room. “Anybody up for charades?”
 
“If we’re done here, we could leave the exciting parts to the watchers and take ourselves home,” Spike said, getting to his feet. He glanced at Faith. “Think you can find your way back to the house if I take Buffy with me for a while?” he asked her.
 
“Sure, my new bestie here can drop me off,” Faith said, nudging Xander’s arm. “Since your snooty girlfriend isn’t here to object to it.”
 
Xander frowned briefly, then nodded. “No problem. The Harris mobile is at your service.”
 
As Wesley watched with his mouth open, all five teenagers and the old vampire got up and walked out as a group.  He visibly struggled to find words as he realized what Spike had said.
 
“Buffy? Buffy is leaving with William the Bloody. Is she insane?”
 
“In a sense, I suppose. I believe the term more often used is ‘in love’.”
 
“In love? With an unsoulled vampire?  I recall there was some sort of a relationship with Angelus, but he had a soul, did he not?”
 
“As I’m sure you know, the soul was not as firmly anchored as it could have been, and when he lost it, Buffy was forced to kill her first love in order to save the world.  She did that with Spike’s assistance.”
 
“That’s hardly a reason to develop a relationship with him! Surely her thanks would have been sufficient?”
 
Giles sighed and looked up from the book, putting his finger between the pages to hold his place. One look at Wesley’s disapproving expression had him inserting a book mark and setting the book down on the table. He met the disapproving look with his own less-than-patient glare.
 
“Sit down, Wesley. I think you need to know more about the events of the last year than the Council may have shared with you.”
 
Suiting actions to words, Giles poured two glasses of the scotch Spike had been drinking and gestured for Wesley to take one. When they had sat down, drinks in hand, he began.
 
“Last year was a very difficult one for Buffy. And it didn’t get any better when she sent Angelus into the hell portal he was opening….”
 
 
 
When Giles had finished telling Wesley as much as he knew about Buffy’s time living with Spike, a vampire she’d watched go from heartbroken and drunk former reluctant ally, to helpful housemate, to care-taker, friend, and eventually self-sacrificing potential lover, Wesley had yet to ask any questions.
 
“As you can see, rather than take advantage of Buffy’s trust and innocence, he kept his word to leave Sunnydale as soon as she was safely living at home and able to return to school in the fall. His only reason for returning when he did recently was to prevent what almost happened when that bloody moron, Travers, tried to ensure she didn’t survive her Cruciamentum. Had he not crept into town just before her birthday, there’s a chance Faith would be the only slayer guarding the hellmouth.”
 
He stopped and took a sip of his drink, and shook his head.  
 
“Although, probably not. I don’t believe Spike’s help was needed or involved in Buffy’s slay, but that was his reason for being here. To keep her alive if she needed him. I agreed that he should stay on to help us with what we now know is the Mayor’s plan to ascend to a higher rank of demon by way of killing the entire senior class of Sunnydale High School. We are hoping, with two slayers and a master vampire on our side, we can prevent it from getting to that point.  If it does, we will need both slayers and Spike to prevent a bloodbath.”
 
“You talk about Miss Summers as if she was something over and above what she is—simply one more girl in a long line of Chosen Ones.”
 
Giles frowned at the callous description of the Council’s most important assets.
 
“Is that what you think she is?” Giles stared at Wesley over the rim of his glass. His eyes refused to allow him to avoid the question. “Just one more in a long line of disposable Council tools?”
 
Wesley squirmed a bit at the even more callous descriptive, but plunged on.
 
“Well, surely, she isn’t anything but an unusually lucky and clever slayer? Albeit, one with an unfortunate predilection for falling in love with her enemies. Miss Lehane should be just as capable of performing the duties required.” Wesley was obviously struggling to find a reason not to accept Buffy’s unique way of conducting herself.
 
Giles sighed and finished his drink before he responded. “Faith has a great deal of potential, but I fear stopping an apocalypse by herself may be a bit out of her reach. Whereas Buffy’s ability to survive a test meant to kill her only serves to prove what a mistake Travers would have been making. Perhaps we should get back to the books and try to find a way to end this problem in a way that doesn’t have her facing down another apocalypse.” He stood up and turned his back, hoping his urge to throttle Wesley wasn’t as visible from that angle.
 
 
XXX
 
Outside, Buffy and Spike smiling their thanks, but refused offers from both Oz and Xander to give them a ride to Buffy’s house.  When Xander continued to mutter about why shouldn’t Buffy just ride with him, Faith smacked his arm hard enough to hurt and said, “Quit tryin’ to mess up Buffy’s love life. He’s getting it, you’re not. Not from Buffy anyway,” she finished with a leer that made him blush even as his pupils dilated.
 
Once both couples had driven off, Spike growled his relief. “I thought they’d never leave.” He pulled Buffy into a kiss that soon had her mewling in her throat and trying to climb his body.
 
“Well, that was a bloody bad idea,” he gasped, pulling his mouth away. “Now we’ve got to walk back to the house like this.”  He adjusted himself and shook his head. “Should have known we couldn’t just grab a quick snog without—”
 
“Come on,” she giggled, pulling on his hand. “Last one home is a… a… slowpoke.”
 
Without further conversation, they began to run at a deceptively easy pace that got them to Crawford Street in inhumanly fast time.
 
“I won!” Buffy said as she touched the door ahead of him. “You’re a slowpoke.”
 
“Something I’m going to teach you to appreciate,” he purred as he opened the door. “Might take me all night….”
 
“Promises, promises,” she said breathlessly, already tugging his shirt off.
 
“Ah, ah. Slow, remember?” He took her hand and led her into the bedroom where he sat her on the bed and began to untie her shoes. He spent minutes on each foot, massaging it and nibbling on her toes. When he sucked one big toe into his mouth and began to nurse on it, Buffy’s startled “Oh!” of unexpected arousal made him grin.
 
It took him over fifteen minutes to get Buffy’s clothes into a heap on the floor, spending precious time kissing, licking and sucking on her skin as he slowly exposed it to his talented mouth. By the time he had found his way into her folds and was gently teasing her with his tongue, she was gasping and whimpering in combined frustration and pleasure.
 
“Spiiiiike” she keened, trying to push into his mouth. 
 
“That’s ‘slowpoke’ to you, love,” he said, taking tiny nips of her clit but never remaining in place long enough for her to go over the edge he’d been holding her on. Only when he thought he saw actual tears in her eyes as she whimpered and begged him to stop torturing her did he finally pull the needy bit of flesh into his mouth and suck the orgasm from her.
 
When she’d stopped trembling and was lying bonelessly, legs still spread and with his head resting on her lower abdomen, she took a deep breath and sighed, “If you ever go that slow again, I may have to kill you.”
 
“You didn’t like it?” He did his best to sound hurt, but the twinkle in his eye gave it away and she glared at him.
 
“Don’t be stupid,” she said, swatting at his head. “How am I going to top that?” She let her head fall back on the bed, sighing dramatically. “I don’t know how to do stuff like that!”
 
 
 
“Don’t have to, sweetheart. Letting me bring you that much pleasure makes me almost as happy as… this,” he said, sliding up her body and into her before she even realized what he was doing.
 
Even as her legs automatically wrapped around his hips, she was complaining, “Wait! I can’t—” Without moving anything else, he captured her lips and began kissing her, slowly and gently, but with gradually increasing pressure and depth. “Mmmmm,” she murmured between kisses, beginning to move her hips. “Maybe… in another minute or….”
 
“Take your time, love. I’m not going anywhere. Could spend the rest of my unlife here and dust happy.”
 
In spite of his words, he began moving in tandem with her and was soon gasping his love and appreciation for her as they brought each other to a mutually satisfying conclusion. Buffy drifted off to sleep, still holding his body to hers and with his purr echoing in her ears.
 
XXXX
 
Buffy entered the library after school, surprised to find Faith already there. As Willow, Oz, and Xander—as well as Cordelia, somewhat to everyone’s surprise—followed, Wesley was left frowning. Although one look at Cordelia temporarily wiped it off his face.
 
She looked him up and down, noted the expensive suit, good haircut, and smiled as she extended her hand. “Hi. I’m Cordelia Chase. And you are?”
 
“Wesley Wyndham-Price, at your service,” he said, not quite stumbling over the words as he shook her hand. “How lovely to find someone in this place with manners,” he added, glaring at Buffy and Faith.
 
“Oh, I know exactly what you mean,” she agreed.
 
Her disdainful sweep of the room included everyone, and Buffy snapped at her, “What are you doing here, Cordy? We haven’t seen you in weeks.”
 
Cordelia looked somewhat taken back as she stammered a little. “Well, I mean not that I want to be, but I am still part of this bizarre little in-crowd, and I heard… I mean, I thought… Don’t we have planning to do, or something?” She looked at Xander for the first time since she’d come in. “You told me there was an apocalypse coming and everybody had to help.”
 
Buffy rolled her eyes, but nodded. “We can probably use all the help we can get, but we’re hoping to put a stop to it before it gets to apocalypse time. I’m sure Giles and Wesley have been busy researching all day. Right, guys? Have you figured out how to stop that old man?”
 
Giles gestured for Wesley to speak, sighing when the younger watcher preened in front of Cordelia’s rapt attention. Faith’s snicker momentarily distracted Wesley, but he soon recovered.
 
“Yes. Well, as Miss Summers—Buffy has so cleverly guessed, Mr. Giles and I spent quite a bit of time last night and today going over both the Books of Ascension and the book with the account of Balthazar’s attempted Ascension and it appears there is a strong connection between the presence of the amulet and swords here when there is another Ascension ritual being planned.”  He looked around to be sure he had everyone’s attention.
 
“It is possible there is also a connection between the Wilkins demon and the amulet, but we have yet to learn what that may be. I have contacted the Council and they are researching the old records there.”
 
“Hey, maybe we can find this Bathtub guy and sic him on the Mayor.” Xander said with a laugh.
 
“As much as I hate to admit it, that is a possibility we’ve been discussing,” Giles said, wincing. “Well done, Xander.”
 
Everybody stared at Xander, who seemed just as shocked as they were. Buffy gave him a smile and Faith high-fived him. Cordelia just sniffed and continued to look at Wesley.
 
“Yes, quite,” Wesley said, appearing somewhat disconcerted by both Xander’s comment and the slayers’ reactions to it. “We have indeed determined that it is possible your mayor is the demon that stole the amulet and prevented Balthazar’s Ascension decades ago. If Balthazar’s minions have been able to steal it back, that would certainly go a long way toward thwarting Wilkins’ own Ascension, as well as to explain their presence in Sunnydale.”
 
“Well, neither one of them has it now, do they? We gave it to you,” Faith said.
 
“Yes. We have it now. And we will be destroying it at the first opportunity, as soon as we have researched how best to do that.  The destruction of the amulet may be all it takes to interrupt the Ascension. But we won’t know that until we hear back from the Council and have determined what is the best way to destroy it.”
 
“Sledge hammer?” Xander’s attempt to earn more praise brought nothing but sighs and head shakes.
 
“Come on, Xan. You’ve been around too long not to know it won’t be that easy.” Buffy gave him a sympathetic smile.
 
“Might have been,” he muttered, sinking into his chair.
 
“Mr. Giles and I will remain here the rest of the evening, waiting for a call from the Council, and continuing to research the amulet’s proper mode of destruction. I suggest Miss Lehane and Miss Summers return after sundown for further instruction.”
 
“What about us?” Willow folded her arms and glared at Wesley. “I’m the one who found out about it.  What if you need magic to destroy it?”
 
“What if the Mayor figures out we have it and tries to get it back?” Oz added softly. “Seems to me we should probably all be here.”
 
“And Spike,” Buffy said. “He’ll want to be here.”
 
“Unless we have some reason to think the Mayor is aware we have it in our possession, and that we intend to destroy it, I see no reason why he would try to come after it immediately. If we can work out the correct procedure, we can destroy it this evening.”
 
“Sounds like a plan. Let’s just hope Wilkins doesn’t get wind of it.”
 
“Indeed.” At a slight sound, Giles raised his head to frown at the library’s main doors which were quivering as if someone had started to open them, then changed his mind. Buffy and Faith got to the doors so quickly the others didn’t even see them move, throwing them open and entering the hallway.
 
Oz spoke up. “I heard it too. There was somebody there.”
 
“I didn’t hear anything,” Wesley said. “And I’m closer to the door than you are.”
 
“Guess I just have better ears,” Oz said with one of his laconic smiles.
 
Buffy and Faith returned from their exploration down the hallway, grumbling to themselves about students without enough sense to go home at the end of the day.
 
“Anything?” Giles asked, bypassing Wesley who seemed to be about to ask the same question.
 
“It’s hard to tell. There are still a lot of kids milling around out there. Could have been anybody.”
 
Faith spoke up. “We should probably stay here to help guard it. Just in case….”
 
“We’ll all stay,” Xander said. “We can send out for pizza for dinner.”
 
Wesley glared around the room, clearly wondering how he’d lost control of not just the slayers, but the other teenagers as well. A glance at Giles for help went unanswered as he just nodded and went back to his reading.
 
“This is highly irregular and against all protocol,” he muttered to no one in particular, as he sat down and pulled one of the books toward himself. “Completely against protocol.”
 
Chapter Thirty-two
 
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO
 
 
By the time Spike arrived well after dark, pizza had been consumed, books consulted, and theories discussed until no one could be sure who had suggested what. Wesley’s attempt to keep a list on a piece of paper wasn’t going well as it was being passed around the table, suggestions were scratched out, and new ideas added to the point it was becoming illegible.
 
Spike snatched it out of Xander’s hands. “What’s this then? Somebody’s grocery list?”
 
Wesley tried to snatch it back, recoiling when Spike snarled at him.
 
“Mr. Giles! Why do you permit this creature to attend your meetings with your—our—my slayers?”
 
Giles walked over and took the list from Spike. “Behave yourself, William. It’s a list of ideas for how to use what we know about the Mayor and Balthazar’s history to help us.” He handed the list to Wesley and gestured for Spike to sit down.
 
“Spoil sport,” Spike muttered, but obediently went to sit near Buffy. “So, what do we know?”
 
Without waiting for Wesley to speak up, in spite of his being the one now holding the list, Giles quickly recapped. “We know that the amulet is necessary in some way for an Ascension. Possibly because, used in the proper rite, it will bestow immortality or invulnerability upon the demon planning to ascend.”
 
Wesley broke in, glaring at Giles as he did so. “Very few demons are strong enough in their own right to survive an Ascension without the invulnerability that comes with immortality. Which is why Balthazar was so eager to get it back, and why the Mayor is so eager to have it.”
 
“So, I crush it under my boot, and we’re done with it. What’s the holdup?”
 
Wesley turned his glare on Spike, who bared his fangs back at him until Buffy punched him on the arm.
 
“It cannot be destroyed that easily. We must perform a ritual at precisely the right time of the night, and in the right place. Once we have done that, we will be able to destroy it.”
 
“I’m guessing the right time and place isn’t the high school library when it’s just gone nine,” Spike sighed. “So how long do we have to keep this thing away from Hiz Honor?”
 
“Actually, Spike,” Giles said, taking over the conversation again, “This is a useful spot, although anywhere in Sunnydale would probably work. Being over the hellmouth is an asset for a change. However, we need to keep the amulet safely out of the Mayor’s hands until midnight. Then we can perform the ritual and you may stomp on it to your heart’s content.”
 
“Seems easy enough. Slayers and yours truly can do some quick sweeps outside while you two watcherly types set up your ritual. Just to keep an eye on the perimeter so to speak.”
 
“I can go with you,” Oz said in his quiet way. He and Spike exchanged looks while Buffy and Willow frowned at them. 
 
Spike nodded. “Extra ears and noses are always welcome,” he said.
 
“I don’t understand.” Wesley stared at Oz and then glanced at Willow. “How can an ordinary human be of any use at all?”
 
“Oz isn’t ordinary! He’s a genius,” Willow said loyally before turning to Oz. “Are you sure? You can’t fight if something happens. I mean, you can, but—”
 
“Maybe not like those three, but I can—” He stopped, glancing at Wesley, then shrugged. “I’ll just stay by the door and listen and watch for anything suspicious. I can duck back inside if I need to. It’ll be okay.” He smiled at Willow and touched her cheek. “They might need you in here to help with planning the ritual.”
 
Buffy and Spike were already near the door, waiting impatiently, while Faith rose and stretched. Buffy rolled her eyes when Xander stared at Faith’s blatant showing off. Cordelia sniffed, turned her back, and asked Wesley, “What can I do?”
 
Wesley stammered and blushed. “You… that is I… I would be most gratified if you would continue looking through here for anything that might add to what we know about this amulet.”  He handed her the book Oz had been reading. “If you don’t mind.”
 
“I don’t mind,” Cordelia said with a smile. “I can read.”  She sat down, crossed her legs, and began reading.
 
Willow and Xander exchanged incredulous looks while Spike, Buffy, and Faith added snorts of laughter. Their laughter became even more audible when they saw Giles trying to hide his own smirk. Oz gave a laconic shrug and followed Faith to the door.
 
Without answering Wesley’s plaintive, “I don’t understand why Willow’s young man is going outside with the supernaturally enhanced,” they all left the library by the exterior door, stopping on the small porch outside.
 
Spike looked at Oz and grinned. “So, are you out here with the supernaturally enhanced because you think you might hear or smell something, or just because you couldn’t stand to be there anymore?”
 
Oz shrugged. “Little bit of this, a little bit of that.  My nose is pretty good even when I’m not a wolf, and so are my ears. Not as good as yours maybe, but better than the average bear.”
 
Buffy and Faith laughed at his cartoon reference, but Spike just frowned. “I thought you were a wolf? What’s a bear got to do with anything?”
 
“Yogi Bear? Boo Boo? Ringing any bells?” When Spike shook his head, Buffy sighed. “And here I thought you watched a lot of television. Never mind, I’ll explain it later.”
 
Spike shrugged his lack of interest, saying, “We should probably split up and take different parts of the building. Maybe one slayer and one with good hearing and smelling abilities?” Spike glanced at Oz. “Unless you were serious about just staying here on the steps and listening for anything evil.”
 
Oz shook his head. “No, I’ll go with Faith.” He pulled a stake from his jacket pocket. “I’ll be all right.”
 
Buffy frowned but nodded. “Just be careful, Oz. I don’t want to have to explain to a witch that we got her boyfriend killed.”
 
“He’ll be fine,” Faith said. “I’ve got his back.”
 
“Okay. Let’s go then. We’ll go right and you go left. We’ll turn around on the far side of the gym. Oz, you and Faith can check out the art wing, okay? Meet you back here in a little while.”  Buffy paused. “If anybody hasn’t shown up by the time they probably should have, whoever’s still here should probably go back inside. It is a public building, anyone could get in if they had keys.”
 
Both couples waved and started off to cover their sections of the campus.
 
“What’s got you so jumpy?” Spike asked as he followed Buffy along the side of the building. He noticed she was keeping to the shadows as much as possible, and frowned. “What haven’t you told me?”
 
She sighed. “Nothing really. It’s just that while we were talking about having the amulet and what we needed to do to destroy it, Oz thought he heard someone listening at the doors, and when we looked, there were too many kids still at their lockers and hanging out for us to see who it might have been. Probably, it’s fine, but we already know that Snyder is working with the Mayor, and who knows how many other human minions he has. If he finds out we’ve got his amulet and that we’re going to destroy it….”
 
“We can expect him to try to take it back. Got it.” Having said that, he moved slightly away from her and went into game face. “Too bad wolfboy can’t control when he’s furry,” he muttered. “He’d be able to skulk places we can’t.”
 
“Well, he can’t. Which is probably a good thing. He wouldn’t hurt Willow, but I’m not so sure about the rest of us. He’s pretty scary when he’s a wolf.”
 
They continued to make their way around their half of the building, meeting Oz and Faith back on the porch.
 
“Anything?” 
 
Oz shook his head and Faith added, “No vamp vibes. You?”
 
“Nada,” Buffy said. “We’ll give it a couple of minutes, then take another pass. We’ll circle the whole thing this time. You guys can watch across the front. Maybe Oz will smell or hear something.”
 
Spike nudged Buffy. “Any time you’re ready, Slayer.”
 
“’K, let’s go. Same deal as before – if we don’t show up—”
 
“We’ll know you stopped to have a quickie,” Faith said with a smirk.
 
Spike laughed at Buffy’s blush. “I like the way you think, Slayer Two.”
 
“I don’t!” Buffy snapped, embarrassed that Oz had heard them. “Let’s go.”
 
She started off in the opposite direction from the first time, almost forgetting to keep to the shadows in her anger.
 
“Easy, love. Thought we were being all sneaky-like?” Spike’s voice in her ear reminded her of their mission, and she slowed down and moved closer to the wall.
 
“We are.” She glanced up at him. “Guess I wasn’t being all that subtle, huh?”
 
“No worries, pet. It’s not like we were invisible all standing out there on that porch together. If anybody’s watching, they already know what we’re doing and that we aren’t inside.”
 
“Great. So much for sneaky.”
 
They continued their patrol, Spike using his eyes and ears, and Buffy extending her senses and hoping Spike’s signature wouldn’t block any other vamp vibes. They paused at the far end of the building when they saw what should have been a locked door to the gym standing open. Spike put a hand out to stop Buffy and sniffed the air, listening and staring around with amber eyes. They crept up to the door, and he listened for a few seconds. Without speaking, he touched her arm and signaled with his head to retreat around the corner.
 
Still without conversation, they ran as fast as they could back to the door to the library, to find Faith and Oz waiting for them and holding the door open. The speed with which Spike and Buffy returned, as well as Spike’s vampire mien, made conversation unnecessary.
 
“Inside. Now.”  Spike held the door while Buffy, Faith, and Oz slipped inside and waited for him to shut and lock it. As soon as the others saw what he was doing, they were on their feet and grabbing weapons from Giles’s office, while Buffy and Faith began piling furniture in front of the swinging doors leading into the main part of the high school.
 
Giles immediately took his place in front of his office where the amulet and the items needed for the ritual were set out on his desk. He glanced at his watch, frowning when he saw that it was only ten o’clock and much too early to do the destruction spell.
 
Wesley stared around in both amazement and confusion as the teenagers, including Cordelia, all armed themselves with crossbows and joined Giles in front of his office door. It wasn’t until they were all in place that Buffy quickly filled them in on what they’d found.
 
“There’s no way that door opened itself,” she said with a sigh. “I guess that means there was somebody listening earlier today.”  She gestured to the swinging doors in front of which they’d piled furniture. “That should slow them down. With luck, you’ll be able to pick them off as they come through.” 
 
Spike whirled toward the front door at the same time Oz stared intently at the doors into the school.
 
“Incoming, Slayers. Can hear them down the hall and outside, so they’ll be coming from both directions.”
 
“I suggest you arm yourself, Wesley,” Giles said when the young watcher just stood by the table full of books looking bewildered.
 
“But… but we have two slayers here.” When Wesley noticed that Spike was wearing his fangs and taking his place with Buffy and Faith as they spaced themselves out facing the doors into the high school as well as the exterior door, he somewhat grudgingly added, “And a vampire.”
 
“And we don’t know how many vamps and demons are waiting to come through those doors. Buffy and Faith… and Spike… may be quite busy. It will be up to the rest of us to prevent the loss of the amulet and any loss of life.”
 
Wesley grew a little pale, but resolutely pulled a stake from his pocket. He frowned when he saw that Oz, Xander and Cordelia were armed with cross bows and had placed themselves where they could shoot in any direction while not leaving Giles alone to guard his office. With an embarrassed flush, he put the stake away and took up one of the swords stacked behind Giles. He glanced around, then joined Cordelia close to the door, leaving Oz and Xander to form a first line of defense behind Faith, now facing the swinging doors. 
 
The doors began to shake as the attackers realized they weren’t going to be able to use surprise against those inside. They snarled and shouted as they tried to push the doors open. As soon as there was a big enough opening, a vampire shoved his way through, only to be met with Faith’s sword. He dusted before his head had even fallen to the ground, but there was another one right behind him.
 
Meanwhile, the exterior door swung open, a set of school keys dangling from the hand of the first vamp through it. Buffy swung her sword and cut off his hand before removing his head.  Spike was already facing the windows, ready when a blue-scaled demon burst through in a shower of glass. He ran his own sword through its chest, then dropped the sword behind him to meet the next one through with fists and fangs.
 
With the minions trying to get in the swinging doors from the hallway forced to come through one or two at a time, Faith left them for the Scoobies to pick off with their crossbows while she joined Buffy and Spike in taking on the ones pouring in the doors and windows. Even without the benefit of surprise, the sheer numbers appeared daunting at first. But the two slayers and Spike worked smoothly together, slowing down the rush as those outside began to understand that what awaited them in the building was sudden death.
 
As the Scoobies began running out of bolts to shoot from the crossbows, they picked up the swords left for them near the office door and formed a sharply pointed wall in front of Giles’s office. All except Cordelia, who threw her now-useless crossbow at an approaching vampire’s head before ducking behind Giles and into the office. Wesley began swinging his sword, somewhat inexpertly, hoping to remove, if not a head, at least an important body part. Alas for him, the vamp he slashed at was holding a chair as a shield and the sword went into the wood and got stuck there.
 
Seeing the dwindling numbers of attackers coming in the door and windows, Spike moved in front of the human defenders and removed the prematurely celebrating vamp’s head. Waving off the dust, he handed that sword to Wesley, instructing, “Hang on to the bloody thing this time, won’t you?”
 
“But you have no weapon now,” Wesley said, clinging to the new sword never the less.
 
“Don’t need one for these wankers. Got all I need right here.” He gave Wesley a fangy grin before he turned and punched an incoming vampire in the face without even seeming to look at him. He grabbed the dazed vamp and threw him toward Xander. “Here you go, Harris. Don’t say I never gave you anything.”
 
“Nightmares? Ruined nights? Stop me when I get to something I might actually want from you, Spike.”  In spite of his words, Xander easily beheaded the thrown vampire while he was still in midair.
 
Wesley watched in awe and horror as Spike single-handedly prevented most of the vampires coming through the not-quite-fully-opened doors from getting within sword range of the humans behind him. Those that did were quickly handled by Giles or Xander or Oz. Willow had found a super soaker and was shooting holy water at them. A snarl from Spike when she got too close to him, splashing the side of his face, brought an “Eep!” and “Sorry!” from her. 
 
Wesley had let his own sword’s point drop toward the floor as he watched Spike fighting with what could only be called joy. That joyful expression faded quickly when Buffy came sliding into him, temporarily knocked off her feet by a demon’s powerful blow. Ignoring the vampires in front of him, Spike leaped on the back of the demon that had struck her, snarling his rage.
 
“Slayers, switch!” he shouted as he began pulling the demon’s horns back to expose the unprotected throat.
 
“Like hell!” Buffy said, leaping to her feet. “He’s mine!”
 
“Not if I kill him first,” Spike answered as he sank his fangs into the throat in front of him. The demon reached up with both huge paws and grabbed Spike, lifting him in the air and ignoring the way Spike’s fangs were embedded in his throat, tossing him into the wall. He was still bleeding from Spike’s bite when he turned toward Faith, but Buffy brought her sword across the back of the demon’s knees, then whacked it across his bloody neck when he fell. It took two tries to get the head off, but it eventually rolled away.
 
A dazed Spike looked up from the floor to see Faith extending her hand.
 
“Ta, pet,” he said, letting her pull him to his feet and shaking his head to clear it. “Did I win?”
 
“You wish,” she said with a laugh. “Buffy killed him. But you can have that one,” she added, pointing behind him to where another, smaller but armored, demon was just entering the library.
 
With the attack winding down, and fewer and fewer vamps and demons trying to get in, Spike took his time working out his embarrassment over being thrown across the room on his new opponent. He quickly identified the demon’s underarm area as the only unprotected spot on his body, but avoided hitting him there until he’d relieved his frustrations and Buffy reminded him that they were still in a battle.
 
“Come on, Spike. Quit playing. We’re not done here.” She tossed him a sword, which he snatched out of the air and plunged into the demon’s armpit.
 
“Sorry, love.”  His apology was barely out when Faith went to the door and peered outside.
 
“I think we’re about done here,” she said. “I don’t see anything but a couple of vamps slinking off.”
 
“Well, looks like these guys didn’t get the memo. Let’s take it to them and be done with it.” Buffy pointed toward the now mostly-open doors to the main building. She glanced at Giles and took a quick look to make sure no one was injured badly. “Will you be okay here if we do some clean-up in the halls?”
 
Giles looked around at the sword-wielding teenagers and Wesley. “I think we’ll be fine, Buffy. But don’t allow yourselves to get pulled into a trap. It appears we’ve decimated their numbers, but that doesn’t mean there are no more of them.”
 
“Way ahead of you, Watcher,” Spike said. “We’ll do a quick hall-clearing, door locking, and be back in time for supper.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Thirty-three
 
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE
 
As Buffy, Faith, and Spike started down the hallway, Faith said, “I’d say we should split up, but I haven’t spent enough time in this building to be able to find my way back.”
 
“You’re kidding, right?” Buffy rolled her eyes. “It’s not like this is as big as my high school in LA.  That one you could get lost in. Sunnydale High only has a couple of new wings. Everything else is gym, cafeteria, library, or a classroom off one of these main halls.”
 
“Slayer even knows her way around here through the ceiling,” Spike snorted.
 
“Huh?”
 
Buffy pushed Spike against the lockers. “And whose fault was that? You shouldn’t be reminding me.”
 
Her glare was only half-serious and he laughed as he put his arm around her. “If I thought you’d forgotten about it, I wouldn’t be remindin’ you, but we both know you remember it perfectly well. Right up to when your mum hit me with that fire axe.”
 
“More Buffy-Spike history I don’t know?” Faith said with a grimace. “And how did your mom get into it?”
 
“Had her dead to rights until Joyce stepped in and whacked me on the head with an axe. Saved Buffy’s life and gave me a little taste of what I was taking on here in Sunnyhell.”
 
“He beat you? He would have killed you?” Faith gave Spike another look that was part anger and part reluctant admiration.
 
“He’d like to think so,” Buffy huffed. “It’s not like I was planning to lay there and let him hit me with that piece of the wall.”
 
“But he could have? He beat you in a fight?”
 
“He was winning… but it was temporary.”
 
By now both slayers were glaring at him, and Spike backed away. “Right you are, love. You’d have been on your feet and kicking my arse, Mum or no Mum.  I’m just going to go this way, yeah?  Won’t have any trouble finding my way back, I’ll just follow my ears and nose.”
 
Without further conversation, he hurried down a side corridor and away from the two glaring slayers. “Touchy bints,” he muttered to himself. “It’s not like they don’t dust dozens of my kind every night.”
 
Buffy and Faith exchanged looks, then burst into giggles as they continued toward the cafeteria. They sobered when they came upon the body of the night janitor, his throat torn open and his… green? blood spilled on the floor.
 
“Oh, poor Cletus. I forgot all about the night time cleaning staff.”
 
“Looks like ‘poor Cletus’ was a demon of some sort,” Faith said, approaching the body and studying it closely.  “I’m surprised you never noticed that.”
 
Buffy joined her in looking at the janitor she’d barely paid any attention to. “He doesn’t look very demony… except for the green blood. I guess he’s one of the ones Spike told me about that passes for human. He said there are a lot them who do night work that humans won’t do.”
 
“I wonder if that’s who was listening at the door this afternoon?”
 
“I kinda hope he was. Then I won’t feel so bad about letting him get killed.” Buffy bit her lip, but shrugged when Faith rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll just assume he got what was coming to him for helping the mayor… or Snyder. That’s probably who he told.”
 
“Doesn’t look like he’s been dead very long. I wonder if—” Faith was interrupted by the sound of running feet. Both slayers sprinted down the hall in the direction of the footsteps, slowing down when they realized the vampires were moving too fast to be caught. They jogged to the open gym door, on alert for any stragglers, but fairly certain the remaining vampires were on their way back to report the failed mission.
 
Buffy closed the door and locked it from the inside, hoping they had already captured the only missing keys. They pulled one of the bleachers in front of it, just in case, giggling over the surprise the PE department was going to have in the morning.
 
“They’ll just think some of the football players were pranking them,” Buffy said. “Or some other explanation that doesn’t involve two girls moving something that big.”
 
They did a quick glance into all the classrooms on the way back to the library, but felt no trace of any vampires left in their part of the building.  As they reached the library, it occurred to Buffy that she couldn’t even feel Spike. She frowned and looked around, peering down the nearest corridor.
 
“What’s wrong?”
 
“I can’t feel Spike. If he’s on his way back here, I should be able to feel him by now.”
 
“I guess this isn’t a good time to make a crack about what parts of him you want to be feeling,” Faith said, even as she frowned in sympathy and extended her own slayer senses.
 
“I wouldn’t,” Buffy said tersely. “Why don’t you go on in and make sure everybody’s okay. I’m just going to take another look around to see if I can find Spike.” Without waiting to see if Faith would obey, Buffy jogged off in the direction Spike had taken when he left them.
 
 
She grew more and more concerned the farther away she got from the main hallway, stopping to look into every classroom and trying to feel the strong tingles that meant Spike.  Her relief when she finally felt him was short-lived as she turned a corner and found him tied to a pole, head down and apparently unconscious. Her only warning that they weren’t alone, aside from some vague tingles, came from a dark corner of the hallway.
 
“I want my amulet, Slayer. Bring it to me and your pet vampire won’t be returned to you in a dustpan.”
 
Buffy strained her eyes, but all she could see was a somewhat darker blob huddled in the corner.
 
“Who or what the hell are you?” She was pleased to hear that her voice didn’t tremble, but was the cold, lethal voice of an angry slayer.
 
“That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you prevented my minions from bringing it to me, and now you’ve almost lost it to my oldest enemy. I am not happy with you.”
 
“Yeah, well, making demons happy… Balthazar… isn’t really in my job description.”
 
“Really? I was given to understand the vampire has some value to you. Is that not true?”
 
“Oh, that’s true,” Buffy said, moving to be closer to Spike. “That’s why I’m thinking about killing you the slow way….” She could see that Spike was regaining consciousness and she moved behind him to release his bonds.
 
“Those are strong enough to hold a vampire,” Balthazar sneered. “You can’t—”
 
Buffy yanked the ropes against the pole, muttering an apology to Spike when his arms were pulled more tightly. On the second yank, they had stretched enough to drop to the floor, freeing Spike.  Although obviously still somewhat dazed, he whirled to snarl into the corner.
 
“Get them!” Showing that he still had a few minions, Balthazar’s cry brought several sword-wielding vampires out of the shadows. Buffy had little time to wonder why she hadn’t felt them, before she was using her own sword to good advantage.
 
“Have you got this, Slayer?” Ignoring the vamps, already reduced in numbers by Buffy’s counterattack, Spike stalked toward the shadow shrinking back into the corner, snarling “...try to put a thrall on me…”.
 
We’ve got this,” Faith said, throwing her stake into a vampire’s back and picking up his sword out of the dust.  “You two just can’t stay out of trouble, can you?”
 
“Who’s minding the store?” Buffy asked. “Not that I don’t appreciate the help, but—”
 
While they talked, Buffy and Faith made short work of Balthazar’s remaining minions. 
 
“Looks like this was the scrub team. Not as hard to kill as the first ones we met.” Buffy stopped moving and waited for Faith to answer her question.
 
Faith shrugged. “Turns out Willow’s pet wolf can get all toothy and furry if he thinks somebody’s trying to hurt her. Stupid new watcher yelled at her and tried to take a book away. She wasn’t hurt, but she lost her balance and sort of fell against the wall.”
 
 
“Uh oh.” Buffy dropped her blade to her side.
 
“Yeah. Wesley’s hiding in Giles’s office with everybody except Willow. She’s standing by the door and wolfboy is standing in front of her sounding like a junkyard dog.”
 
“He didn’t hurt anybody?”
 
“Nah. Willow stopped him before he could bite Mr. Stick-up-my-ass. Now he’s just blocking the door”
 
“We should get back there. Come on, Spike, either kill this guy or let me do it.” Buffy approached the corner, straining her eyes to see what was there.”
 
“Got a better idea,” Spike said. “Let’s just put him out where Hiz Honor can find him, and let them thrash it out.”
 
“I like how you think, Mr. Bloody.” Faith beamed her approval as Buffy ducked into a nearby room where work was being done and grabbed a painter’s tarp.  Between the three of them, they managed to get it over the shapeless blob now shrieking curses in several demon languages. When he was wrapped up and they could no longer hear his threats to show them how powerful he was, they dragged him to the door and out on to the school grounds. 
 
“Front of building,” Buffy grunted, pulling on her corner of the tarp. “Where he’ll be easy to find.”
 
They rounded the corner to find themselves face-to-face with Deputy Mayor Finch and several vampires that were trying very hard not to appear unwilling to be there, but failing miserably as they remained behind him.
 
“Just the slimy toad we wanted to see,” Buffy said.
 
“Have you had enough? Are you willing to give me the amulet now?”
 
He frowned when all three of the powerful people facing him laughed.
 
“Guess you missed the memo. You lost. But we’ve got something even better,” Spike said, handing his corner of the tarp to one of the minions. “A present for your boss.”
 
Finch peered into an open corner of the tarp.  “What is this?” He shrank back at the invective that flowed from the opening.
 
“That’s Balthazar. He and your boss are old mates. He’ll be glad to see him. I promise.”
 
Finch shrugged and gestured for the minions to being hauling the tarp toward a waiting van. “I’ll need the amulet now,” he said. “Or I’ll be forced to call in another attack.”
 
“Knock yourself out,” Faith laughed. “You might have a few minions left that we haven’t already dusted.”
 
“You have no idea what resources we have,” he blustered.
 
“Pretty sure we do,” Buffy said. “But you’re welcome to come in and count the piles of dust, if you need….” She glanced at Spike. “What’s that word I’m looking for that means I’m telling the truth?”
 
“Affirmation,” he replied with a grin.
 
Buffy made a face. “That’s such a Giles word.”
 
Finch watched the exchange, his eyes going back and forth between them. He yelped and jumped with Faith came up behind him and goosed him.
 
“Give it up, wannabe boy. Take your prezzie back to your boss and tell him he lost this round.”
 
Without another word, all three walked to the Library porch and watched as the van drove away.
 
“What do think?”
 
“I don’t think that old demon’s going to give up easily,” Spike said as he held the door for the girls. “But if we can get rid of that ugly thing he needs to become immortal, he won’t be ascending any time soon, and that gives us more time to bring him down.”
 
 
 
When their entrance was greeted by a snarling wolf, Spike stepped in front of Buffy and Faith.
 
“Down boy,” he growled. “We’re here, you can go back to your usual nerdy self.”
 
Wolf and vampire held each other’s gaze long enough for Buffy to begin readying herself to intervene, but with a sigh and a vigorous shake, Oz began to change back to a human.  Willow was right there to hand him his pants, keeping her eyes carefully averted. Buffy also turned away, but Faith just watched with interest as he quickly pulled the rest of his clothes on.
 
As soon as Oz was dressed and back to normal, Giles emerged from his office, rolling his eyes when Wesley sidled past him to get as far away from Oz as he could.
 
“What is our current situation? What was taking so long?” Giles looked at Buffy, then back and forth between Faith and Spike.
 
The three warriors, who had been fighting almost non-stop since the beginning of the attack by the Mayor’s minions, threw themselves into chairs and sighed. They exchanged glances, but it was obvious Spike and Faith were expecting Buffy to do the talking.
 
“We had another bunch of demons and vamps that wanted the amulet.”
 
“Another group?”
 
“Balthazar,” Spike said tersely.
 
“Balthazar?  He’s here?” Wesley seemed to suddenly forget to be nervous about Oz as he brushed past him to confront Spike.
 
“Not anymore, he isn’t,” Buffy said. “We sent him off to visit with his old buddy the Mayor.”
 
“I don’t understand…” 
 
“And we’re all shocked by that news….” Spike muttered, not quite enough under his breath. Buffy glared at him, but Faith laughed aloud and even Giles snorted.
 
Choosing to converse with the only one not mocking him, Wesley asked Buffy, “Why did you let him go?”
 
“We didn’t ‘let him go’, so calm down,” Buffy said. “He and the Mayor are enemies, remember? Aren’t you the one who found that information?” She waved her hand when Wesley looked as if he might argue.  “Doesn’t matter. The point is, we know they hate each other because they both want to use the amulet to ascend. We gave him—”
 
“Neatly trussed up,” Spike put in.
 
“— to the Deputy Mayor to take back to his boss. With a little luck, one of them will kill the other one, and even if they don’t kill each other, it should keep them busy until we’ve smashed the amulet.”
 
“Which it is almost time to do,” Giles said. He gestured toward his office. “We’re all set up for the ritual.”  He glanced back at the three defenders sprawled in their chairs. “If we could prevail upon you one more time to see that we are not interrupted…”
 
“Yeah. Yeah. We’ve got this. Go do your magicky thing.”  Buffy stood up and stretched, pulling Spike to his feet. When he swayed for a second, she frowned.  “Are you okay? What did that slimy thing do to you before I got there?”
 
“I’ll be all right, love.” Spike smiled at her concern. “Just still a bit woozy and could use some blood soon’s we can find some....”  While showing Buffy a previously hidden gash in his side, he let his hungry gaze wander to Wesley, who immediately retreated to the office. With a snort, Spike touched Buffy’s cheek. “I’m good to go, Slayer, but might hang back and watch you and Two in action if I’m not needed.”
 
Willow spoke up, giving Spike a hopeful smile. “If the stories we found about Balthazar and the Mayor are right, maybe nobody’s going to be needed. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”  She glanced up as Giles called to her from his office.
 
“Wilow, we need you in here now, please. It is time.”
 
Buffy and Faith patrolled between the exterior door, the broken windows, and the doors leading into the main building, and Spike leaned against the table, sword dangling by his side. Meanwhile, the others crowded into Giles’s office and began following instructions. Their chanting soon rose to a crescendo then died. There was silence for a few moments, then Giles emerged, followed by a complaining Xander, and held out his hand to Spike.
 
“I believe you were the first to offer to crush the amulet?”
 
“Yeah, Fangface has dibs….”
 
Spike glanced at Xander’s disgruntled face. “I do like to smash things. But Harris has bigger feet than I do. Let him have the honors.”
 
Xander’s eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed. “Why? Do you think something’s going to happen to me if I step on it?”
 
Cordelia’s “Xander, don’t be stupid” was followed by similar comments from the other Scoobies, but Spike just rolled his eyes.
 
“Bloody hell. Just give it here, Rupert.” He snatched it from Giles’s still outstretched hand and threw it to the floor, bringing one booted heel down on it as hard as he could. There was a tense silence until he lifted his foot to reveal the crushed amulet lying in pieces.
 
“Ladies?” Spike looked at Buffy and Faith, but they shook their heads.
 
“I think that’s more of a guy thing,” Buffy said. “Let Xander finish it off.”
 
Xander brought his own foot down on the small pieces, twisting and turning until it was obviously nothing but dust.  With a satisfied smile, he nodded at Spike and Giles.
 
I think that got it,” he said.
 
“So it seems.  A good day—night’s work, everyone. I believe we can all go home for some well-deserved rest now. Although, I do suggest we leave in a group. Just in case.”
 
Giles glanced around and made a half-hearted attempt to straighten up the library’s furniture as he walked to the door. Then he shrugged, saying, “This is probably Principal Snyder’s fault, I’ll let him worry about clean-up.”
 
They all laughed in agreement as they left the building. Buffy and Spike stood quietly watching as Xander and Willow got safely into Giles’s car. Cordelia refused to join them, accepting Wesley’s offer of a ride and following him to his rental car.
 
“Guess I’m walking,” Faith said.
 
“We’re all walkin’,” Spike replied. “C’mon, ladies, let’s get you home.”
 
Chapter Thirty-four (of 35)
 
CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR
 
When they reached the Summers residence, everyone’s walking speed dropped dramatically. By the time they’d finally come to a stop, Spike was rolling his eyes and growling.
 
“I know why I don’t want to say goodnight yet, Two, but what’s your problem?”
 
Faith looked at Buffy and said, in an uncharacteristic tone of apology, “I think Buffy should stay home tonight.”
 
Spike frowned. “So do I, if I’m being honest, but what’s going on?”
 
“Two things, really. One is her mom isn’t saying much, but she’s really unhappy about it when Buffy spends the night with you.  Like really unhappy. And having me there isn’t helping with that. She wants her daughter.”
 
When Buffy went to say something, Faith waved her to silence.
 
“That between you and your mom. I’ve got your back either way, but I thought you should know.” She bit her lip. “The other thing is, we don’t know what happened downtown tonight. The Mayor and Balthazar might have tried to kill each other, or they might have decided to join forces against us. Your mom’s safe from any vamps they send, and the wards might keep out demons, but we know the Mayor has lots of humans working for him too. And there’s nothing to keep them out if he is looking for revenge.”
 
Buffy nodded and sighed. “You’re right. The house isn’t protected against regular old human evil. I’m not sure I would’ve thought of that,” she said with a small smile of gratitude.
 
“Some of us know a little more about human evil than others,” Faith said with no expression and cold eyes. “I always think about it.”
 
Unsure how to respond to that, Buffy looked at Spike to see an unusually soft expression on his face. Not one he normally would show around Faith.
 
“Good thing Buffy has you here to keep her straight,” he said, his smile showing his sincerity. He ignored Buffy’s mock glare and pulled her into a hug. “I was going to suggest you stay here tonight, anyway. It’s been a long night and we’re all a bit knackered.”
 
She stiffened and said, “You don’t want me to go home with you? Not that I was planning to anyway, but—”
 
“I’ll always want that, love. You know I will. But I’m not stupid and not that selfish. Your mum needs you, and you and Two need to stay together until you know there’s nothing gunning for you.” At their identical scoffs, he added, “Anything out of the usual that either one of you could handle alone with one hand behind your back. That’s what I meant.”
 
“Sure you did,” Faith snorted.
 
”What she said,” Buffy murmured against his lips.
 
They extended their goodnight kiss as long as they could, but broke apart when Faith began making gagging noises. With a rueful laugh, Spike released Buffy and began to walk away.
 
“I’ll see you ladies tomorrow,” he said. “Come by the house and tell me what you’ve learned.”  He waved and broke into a jog.
 
The girls walked to the front door and opened it. Buffy frowned. “That should have been locked.”
 
“Joyce leaves it unlocked for me,” Faith said. “I told her not to, but she said until she has another key made….”
 
“We need to do that tomorrow,” Buffy muttered as she shut and locked the door. “You go on up, I’m just going to check the other doors and windows.”
 
 
XXXX
 
“Buffy?  Aren’t you going to school today?”  Buffy glanced up to see her mother peering in her door, with a concerned, but smiling expression on her face.
 
Buffy had time to see how happy Joyce was to find her in her own bed, before she woke up enough to respond.
 
 “Uh, yeah. I guess so. What time is it….” She looked at her clock and shot out of bed. “OMG! I can’t be late… again. Thanks for getting me up, Mom.”
 
“You’re welcome, honey. You must have been really tired. Faith is still sleeping too.”
 
“We kicked a lot of demon butt last night. And it was pretty late when Spike walked us home.”
 
“Are you all right?” Joyce frowned. “Rupert hasn’t been drugging you again, has he?”
 
Buffy laughed as she struggled into some clothes. “No, Mom. We’re just ordinary, even-slayers-are-human, tired from all the fighting we did last night.” Buffy ran a brush through her hair and joined Joyce to walk downstairs. “It’s all good, though. I think we might have prevented the Mayor’s ascension, and if we got really lucky, he and Balthazar might have killed each other. Isn’t that great?”
 
Joyce looked puzzled, but smiled supportively. “If you say so. Why do you want our Mayor to die?”
 
“Oh. I guess I didn’t tell you. Turns out he’s the one planning an ascension. That means he gets to become an even bigger demon,” Buffy explained when Joyce frowned. “He wants to be immortal, and I think we stopped him from doing that last night.”
 
“Oh. Well, that’s good then. I’m glad it was a good night of slaying.” She smiled, adding, “And I’m glad you made it home. I’m always happier when I know you are safely asleep in your own bed.”
 
Buffy sighed. “Instead of safely asleep in Spike’s bed?  Mom, I—”
 
“I don’t want to hear it, please. Just give me some time to get used to the idea that you’re seeing him before you ask me accept that you’re moving back there.”
 
Buffy frowned. “I’m not planning to move in with him. We haven’t even talked about that. It isn’t really his house, anyway. Is that what you’re worried about? That if I spend the night there sometimes I’ll move out again?”
 
Joyce sighed and sat down at the counter. “I suppose I am. I feel like I was just getting my daughter back when he showed up and took you away again.”
 
“Spike didn’t take me away the first time, Mom,” Buffy said, keeping her voice and face as neutral as she could in the face of such unfairness. “He gave me shelter and support when I needed it. And that’s all he did. That and flash his fangs at you so you’d believe we were all telling the truth. He never touched me, he never even gave me any idea how he felt about me until the night he left. And the only reason he came back was because he was afraid for me.” 
 
Buffy took down a box of cereal and began filling a bowl. She didn’t say anything else or look at her mother until she’d poured milk into the bowl and sat down opposite Joyce to eat her breakfast. She bit her lip when she saw the stricken look on Joyce’s face, but began spooning cereal into her mouth and pretending she hadn’t noticed the tears Joyce was trying to blink away.
 
Buffy finished, carried her bowl to the sink, ran water into it and turned around with a sigh.
 
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know that was harsh. But he did everything he could to help me finish my junior year of high school and get back into my own house with my own mother, and you’ve done nothing but treat him like some kind of kidnapping child molester.”
 
“What do you want from me, Buffy? I’m still learning to accept that you aren’t a normal high school girl, that you probably won’t go to college, won’t…. won’t get married and have your own children, and now you want me to accept that you’re sleeping with a hundred-year-old vampire. I just need some time.”
 
“And that’s why I came home last night. Which, by the way, was Spike’s idea. All I want is for you to give him a chance, Mom. Try to treat him the way you would if he was some college boy I was dating.”
 
“All right, sweetheart. I’ll do my best. Just tell him no PDAs in front of me or I might hit him with an axe again.”
 
Buffy laughed and gave Joyce a hug. “And on that note, I’m going off to school. I can’t wait to see how Snyder’s taking the damage that his boss caused to the building.”
 
 
XXXXXX
 
 
Buffy was running too late to stop by the Library before her first class, so she didn’t see Giles or the Library until lunchtime. With the exception of a couple of broken chairs stacked against a wall in the corner, it was surprisingly neat and clean.
 
‘Whoa, Giles. You must have gotten up extra early!”
 
“Most amusing. And quite wrong. I’ll admit I arrived earlier than usual, but the custodial staff had already noted the mess and were well on their way to having it cleaned up.” He pointed at window the demons had come through, which was now covered by a large piece of plywood. “Haven’t replaced that yet of course, but I suspect it will take a while to have a new window properly cut and installed.”
 
“Don’t suppose they mentioned finding Cletus? Or that his blood is green?”
 
“Not to me they didn’t. They were busy complaining about the amount of dust on everything, as well as the broken furniture and the window.”
 
“Okay, then. All we need to do now is find out what happened when the Mayor and Balthazar had their little reunion.”
 
“Wesley and I have learned a bit more about Balthazar. It was in some of my older books that I’d had no reason to consult lately. It seems he is capable of using a form of mind control on most vampires and that’s how he managed to remain hidden and functional all this time.”
 
“That explains some of the stuff Spike was muttering when I turned him loose.”
 
“I suspect the control wouldn’t work well on a vampire of Spike’s age and… disposition.”
 
Buffy snickered, but nodded her agreement.  “Probably not. It looked like they went the old fashioned knock-him-unconscious route.”
 
“No doubt the safer option,” Giles said wryly. “In any case, without the amulet, and without a pool of easily manipulated vampires, Balthazar would probably not have an easy time against a half-demon sorcerer of the Mayor’s age and power. We may have prevented him from becoming immortal, but he does still live in our city and he still draws power from the hellmouth. It remains to be seen what he’ll do next.”
 
XXXXX
 
 
When everyone had gathered in Giles’s apartment for an evening of pizza and reviewing the day’s news, a knock on the door had Buffy and Faith on their feet, stakes in hand.
 
“Surely the vampires in this city don’t knock?” Wesley said, frowning. “Perhaps it’s another one of your….” He waved his hand at the Scoobies.
 
“It’s probably just Spike,” Willow said. “Sometimes he knocks”
 
“It doesn’t feel like Spike,” Buffy muttered. She glanced at Faith. “Do you feel any vamp vibes?”
 
“Nope. Whatever’s out there must be human… or demon.”
 
“Which we will never know if I don’t answer the door,” Giles said with some asperity as he maneuvered around the two slayers. “If you don’t mind….” Buffy and Faith backed up, but remained on alert as Giles opened the door.
 
Standing there, obviously trying to appear less nervous than he clearly was, was Deputy Mayor Finch. He was flanked by two uniformed Sunnydale policemen who looked somewhat bewildered by the visit to what appeared to be a gathering of students and their teacher.
 
“Finch? What do you want? Did you give your boss our present?”
 
He shuffled his feet. “Yes. I did. And I have a message for you.” He glanced at his escort and then into the somewhat crowded room. “Just for you,” he said pointing at Buffy, “and maybe her, I guess. He said ‘slayers’.”
 
“Anything you say to me, you can say in front of my watcher and my friends,” Buffy said as she gestured into the room.
 
With muttered instructions to his bodyguards to wait for him, Finch followed Buffy’s tacit instructions to enter. He glanced around, frowning when he noticed Wesley and Cordelia, then facing the two slayers.
 
“Mayor Wilkins is quite unhappy about the loss of his amulet,” he began as if reciting something he’d memorized. “However, he was pleased to be able to put an end to an old enemy, and he thanks you for that.” Finch cleared his throat. “It seems that some of the more powerful demons he was negotiating with about the Ascension are not pleased that he was unable to complete the ritual that would have made him powerful enough to survive the Ascension. As a result, they have rescinded his permission to attempt to Ascend, and have removed their support for his continued presence on the hellmouth. He must move to another area and spend his remaining years either as an all-human sorcerer with a normal life-span, or as a full demon. He has chosen to become a full demon, saying he no longer wishes to be human. He finds it tedious.”
 
There was silence while Finch recovered his breath, having recited his message all in one rapid speech. Finally, Giles exchanged looks with Buffy and Faith before asking, “So, we are to assume there will be no more attempts on Buffy or Faith’s lives? Is that what you’re saying?’
 
“Um… I guess so?” Finch appeared flustered. “I mean, they are slayers. Something tries to kill them all the time, doesn’t it?”
 
“Sometimes it’s even the Council of not-so-good-guys,” Buffy muttered with a glare at Wesley.
 
“Let’s be clear. Their normal duties as slayers aside, are you saying there will be no attempts to remove them emanating from the Mayor’s office?”
 
“Exactly.” Finch stood up a little straighter. “In the absence of Mayor Wilkins, I will be the acting Mayor of Sunnydale for the rest of his term. I can assure you, I have no intention of harming citizens who do so much to keep our city safe.”
 
“Huh.”
 
“Wicked cool.”
 
Xander raised his hand. “Does anybody besides me think this is way too easy?”
 
“Relax, Xander. I’m sure something else evil will pop up any minute… or by next year, anyway.”
 
Everyone nodded their agreement with Buffy’s cynical view of life on the hellmouth.
 
Even Finch shrugged as if in accord, then glanced around the room. “Where is the vampire?”
 
“He’ll be here,” Buffy said shortly. “He had something to do first. And it’s really none of your business where he is.”
 
Finch raised his hands is supplication. “I mean him no harm. I just wanted to offer him the deed to the property he seems to have settled into. It was taken over by the city years ago, but I can arrange to make him the owner. Or you,” he added with a knowing glance at Buffy. “Whichever he wants.”
 
“Why would you do that?” Buffy’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.
 
The new acting mayor of Sunnydale gave a small smile that suddenly made him seem much less of an incompetent flunky than they’d thought him to be. “I intend to be in office for a long while, and I want to express my gratitude to everyone who made this possible.”
 
“Okay, now he sounds more like a normal politician,” Xander said.
 
“I’ll tell Spike what you said. I’m sure he’ll be interested.” Buffy stood by the door, making it clear the visit was over.
 
Finch nodded, and opened the door, only to run into Spike, his hand still raised to knock. His startled “Eep!” was followed by a glare at his two bodyguards. They looked at each other and shrugged.
 
“He wasn’t breaking any laws, Boss. Acted like he had a right to be here.”
 
“He does have a right to be here,” Buffy said, tugging Spike through the door to join her. “You did the right thing.” She didn’t mention that the wrong thing probably would have resulted in damage to their egos, if not to their bodies. 
 
However, Giles joined her to say, “You made the correct decision, officers. Thank you for not harassing my guests.”
 
Having recovered his equilibrium, Finch said to Buffy, “Will you please explain my offer to him?”
 
She nodded and moved away, allowing Giles to close the door.
 
“Offer?” Spike said.
 
“I’ll tell you later,” she responded. “Did you get… that thing you were going to do done?”
 
“I did. Ready to show it to you anytime you’re ready to see it,” he said with a smile.
 
“I think I’m ready. We’re done here, aren’t we, Giles? There isn’t going to be an ascension, Balthazar’s gone, and the Mayor is going to leave town to be a real demon somewhere else.”
 
While Giles frowned his dismay that she was leaving already, and Wesley sputtered about her duty and patrolling, Spike took advantage of the delay to grab a piece of the pizza for himself.
 
“Hey! If you’re going to keep eating our food, you’re going to have to start chipping in around here, fangface,” Xander’s less than sincere complaint, brought a snort from Spike.
 
“Could be worse, Harris. I could be reaching for you instead of the pizza.” Spike gave Xander a fangy grin as he bit into his prize.
 
“Buffy! Your boyfriend is threatening to eat me!”
 
“Behave, Spike. And don’t steal Xander’s pizza.”
 
“But I like pizza,” Spike said as they walked toward the door. “And I like scaring Harris.” He pulled the door open and held it for to go out. “You don’t let me have any fun…”
 
As the door closed behind them, Faith snorted and said. “I’m pretty sure they’re on their way to have all kinds of fun.”  She laughed as everyone else coughed or hid their faces in embarrassment. She shook her head. “Speaking of no fun…. I think we’re going to need more pizza.”
 
Wesley, who had remained uncharacteristically quiet all evening, muttered almost to himself, “Don’t these people eat anything except greasy Italian food?” As he spoke, he reached for his own slice of the rapidly disappearing pie. “I’m surprised you don’t eat pizza for breakfast.”
 
“I do,” Xander volunteered. “It puts hair on your chest.”
 
 
 
Chapter Thirty-five
 
 
 
 CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE
 
 
Buffy brushed her hand against Spike’s, saying, “Do you mind if I do a short patrol first?”
 
“Don’t mind, love, but chances that we left any vampires standing in this town after last night are pretty slim, don’t you think?”
 
“I’m counting on that,” she replied. “That's why a said a ‘short’ patrol. Whatever we run across in cemeteries between here and the house is what I get.”
 
“Sounds like a plan, Slayer. You might want to start with that git. Looks like he didn’t get the memo that his boss lost the war.” Spike gestured with his chin toward an approaching vampire that he recognized as the one that had taken him to meet Mayor Wilkins only a short time ago. The vamp halted when he saw that Buffy and Spike were together.
 
“Uh… Spike? You do know that’s the Slayer, don’t you?”
 
“Do know that. The question is, why are you surprised to see her with me?”
 
“I…uh… I thought you were supposed to be killing her for the boss. Or keeping her too busy to bother him, anyway.”
 
Spike laughed, earning a glare from Buffy when he said, “Well, I’ve been doing my best to keep her busy, but sometimes I have to let her go home to see her mum and her watcher.”
 
“So, you’ve got her under control then? Is that why I heard you were hanging out with her before I left?”
 
“Where’ve you been?” Spike didn’t answer the question, just touched Buffy’s arm when she visibly bristled at the idea that she was under his control.
 
“I just got back in town from picking up some stuff for the boss. I dropped his packages off at the office, but it’s all dark and nobody’s around. Do you know what’s going on?” The vamp kept a wary eye on Buffy, obviously trying to keep Spike between himself and the Slayer. 
 
“More’n you do, I’ll wager.” Spike was grinning as Buffy moved to the side so she could see the nervous vampire.  “See, here’s the thing. While you were gone, there was a bit of a dustup about some piece of jewelry Hiz Honor wanted for something. And the Slayer here had it. Most of the other vamps you’re lookin’ for are being swept out of the high school by now. And the amulet is just as much dust as they are, so your boss hasn’t had a good day and he’s decided to go off and be a demon somewhere else.”
 
“Finch is in charge,” Buffy said. “But I’m not sure how much use he’s going to have for vampires. You probably shouldn’t plan on a long future with him. Or a long future at all….” she added as she stepped forward and ran a stake through his chest before he’d even absorbed Spike’s words.
 
She glanced at Spike, who was staring at her. “Did you know him? I mean, he wasn’t like a friend or something, was he?”
 
He shook his head and put his arm around her. “No, just one of the Mayor’s minions sent to fetch me a while ago. And wouldn’t have mattered if we were mates. You do what you were chosen to do, yeah? If there’s anybody I feel strongly about saving, I’ll tell you and we can talk it out.”
 
“You mean like Clem? Or Joey?”
 
“Exactly. Clem’s a mate. And he’s harmless… more or less. No reason for you to slay him, and I’d be a lot happier if you didn’t.” He gave her shoulders a squeeze, then took his arm away. Without responding to the rest of her question, he said, “Don’t you have some dustin’ to do before I take you home and show you what was delivered today?”
 
Her expression made it obvious she wasn’t forgetting about Joey, but she just said, “Should I be disappointed that you’re so willing to spend time watching me slay?”
 
“You know how turned on I get watching you fight,” he said with a leer. “Trust me, it’s totally related to my new purchase.”
 
xxx
 
Thirty minutes and three slain fledglings later, they entered the old mansion. Just inside the door were several large cartons, their contents spread around the middle of the foyer.
 
“Seriously? You want to put our new bed in the front hall?”
 
Instead of answering her, Spike pulled her close and nuzzled her neck. “Say that again, love.”
 
Buffy frowned. “Say what again? That I don’t want the bed in front of the door?”
 
He sighed. “No. The part about whose bed it is.”
 
“Our bed? It is, isn’t it? Our bed?”
 
“That’s how I’ll always think of it, sweetheart. Just makes my old heart try to beat to hear you call it that, is all.”
 
“Oh.” Buffy flushed and leaned into him. “Well, it is ourbed. You got it for me, right? So we can have more room. So that makes it ours.” She straightened and turned to stare at the pile of wooden parts.  “I’m not sure it’s going to be very comfy like that, though.”
 
“I didn’t have time to put it together before I left, and anyway, I wanted you to help me decide where to put it.”
 
“What are my options?”
 
In spite of having lived in the mansion for as long as she had, Buffy really hadn’t explored much of it beyond the main open areas and the two bedrooms she and Spike used. She avoided the room Angel and Dru had spent their time in just as Spike did, and wasn’t really interested in what else might be in the other parts of the building.
 
“Well, there’s the room I’m usin’, but it’s a bit small for such a big bed. There’s your old room, which lets in a lot of bright sunlight. Not my favorite thing to wake up to…”
 
“We’re not putting it in… that other room,” she said, unwilling to mention who’d been the last occupants.
 
“Nor that,” he agreed. “But there are more rooms in the back. One of them is right good sized and has its own bathroom. I expect it was the actual master bedroom and the ones we’ve been using out here probably aren’t even intended to be bedrooms.” He pointed at the one Angel had taken for himself. “Maybe that one,” he said. “But I’ll wager the others were a library or a game room or something.”
 
Buffy narrowed her eyes. “Tell me again how poor you were growing up…. Library, game room? What the hell are those?”
 
“Just things big houses used to have in my day,” he said quickly. “Lets go take a look at the other bedroom and see what you think.”
 
Buffy followed him down the hall and past the never-used dining room, muttering to herself, “Regular people don’t have ‘game rooms’ or ‘libraries’ in their houses. Only rich people have stuff like that.”
 
 
xxx
 
Once they’d settled on the big bedroom Spike had found on the sheltered side of the house, they carried all the bed parts including the mattress, which took them both to move due to its size, to the room. It took them only a short while to put the bed together and put linens on it.
 
Buffy stood back and admired their handwork, then stared around the otherwise empty room. Spike was busying himself moving the lamp they’d used for light closer to the bed.
 
“Kinda bare, isn’t it?”
 
“Won’t be. I’ll move my bookcases and stuff in tomorrow. Let me know what you want and I’ll bring that in too.”
 
She shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “I don’t think I left much here, did I?”
 
“Don’t think you’ll be spending enough time here to want some of your own things?” Spike cocked his head and tried to keep his voice calm and casual, but his clenched fists had obviously not escaped Buffy’s notice. 
 
She sighed, and gestured for him to sit down. When he had gingerly perched on the side of the bed, his back stiff, she kicked off her shoes and jumped onto it, landing cross-legged and facing him.
 
“Oi! That’s no way to treat our—my—new mattress!”
 
Buffy sighed again.
 
“Okay, first of all, it’s our mattress. So if I wanna bounce on it, I will.  And second of all… what the hell is wrong with you?”  She didn’t wait for him to reply, ignoring the growl building in his throat and continuing, “I can’t live here, Spike. You know that perfectly well. For crap’s sake, last night it was your idea for me to sleep at home. All I’m saying is that is my home. For right now it is. So that’s where my stuff is. You helped me carry it all out of here, remember? And that’s where my mother, who would like to think she’s part of my life, lives and expects me to live too.”
 
“What do you mean ‘for right now it is’? Does that mean you might…? Not that I'm asking, mind you, but if I did—”
 
“Out of all I just said, that’s what you heard?”
 
“It’s the important part,” he said, peering hopefully at her from the corners of his eyes. “What did you mean?”
 
“I mean, I’ll be out of high school in a few months, and if I do decide to try college here in Sunnydale, I’d be moving out anyway to live in a dorm, so if Mom gets used to the idea that I don’t live with her anymore—except maybe on vacations….”
 
“Well, alright then.” Spike turned around and flopped down on his back, reaching for the hand that she snatched away. He twitched when Buffy untied his boots and pulled them off. When she tickled his feet, he growled but it quickly turned into a smothered giggle as he tried to keep them away from her. He kicked feebly, but Buffy’s grip on one leg was too firm for him to pull it away while laughing so hard. She slid her hand up his leg and began pulling the hairs on it.
 
“Stop that!  I mean it! I’ll…. Oh, that’s it, missy….”
 
With a genuine growl, he sat up, grabbed her shoulders, turned them both and pinned her to the bed. With his mouth on her neck, he began sucking as hard as he could, turning her indignant sputtering to happy murmurs as she relaxed under him. When he stopped sucking and raised his head, she opened her eyes.
 
“You stopped,” she said, a disappointed pout on her face. She wriggled against him and raised her eyebrows questioningly. He laughed and kissed her nose.
 
“I did. Just thought it might be more fun if you were naked.”
 
“Are you going to be naked too?”
 
“There’s that unnecessary question again,” he said. “One day you’ll figure out that if you’re going to be naked, I’ll be right there with you. Every time.”
 
“Always?”
 
“Always.”
 
“Well, okay. Then why do we both still have our clothes on?”
 
“Because somebody distracted me from my plans for the evening by tickling my feet,” he said, growling again. When she caught her breath at his growl, he repeated it, saying in his best bedroom voice, “Or maybe you were just tryin’ to get me to growl?” 
 
Buffy didn’t answer him verbally, only wrapping her arms and legs around him to feel the vibrations against the places she wanted them.
 
When the sounds she was making told him she was close, he latched onto her neck again and sucked in rhythm with her needy whimpers, bringing them to a quick conclusion. He kept his mouth on her, kissing and licking her throat while she regained her normal breathing.
 
“Wowie, wow,” she breathed. “If growling and sucking my neck can do that, I surprised I wasn’t dead a long time ago.” She squirmed out from under him so he could help her out of her clothes. “I’ll bet there’s nothing in the Slayer Handbook about how good that feels.”
 
“Bloody good thing there isn’t,” he chuckled, tossing her jeans and underwear on the floor and sitting her up so she could shed her shirt and bra. “There’d be new slayers popping up all the time.”
 
Buffy snorted her agreement and began pulling on his shirt.  “Off. Now.”
 
“Bossy bint,” he muttered, his smile and quick obedience making it clear he wasn’t really objecting. While he pulled his shirt over his head, Buffy was unzipping his jeans, which he quickly kicked off. He pushed her down on the bed, saying, “Now where were we?”
 
“We were here—” Buffy quickly flipped them over, and sat up on his thighs. “Except you were being all growly and sucking guy, and now it’s my turn.”
 
“You can’t gro—” Spike’s voice broke off when Buffy leaned in and fastened her mouth on his throat, just where she’d learned drove him crazy. “Bloody hell, Slayer, you know what that does to me.”
 
“Mmmmph,” Buffy said around her mouthful of Spike flesh.
 
She’d had to slide up his body to grab his throat, which put her just where Spike wanted. He grabbed her hips and lifted them, bringing her down onto his cock. Between Buffy’s sucking on his neck, and his own more than ready body, he was soon arching into her and growling again. A renewed attack on his neck, made Buffy’s appreciation for it very clear, and it wasn’t long before they were both vocalizing their pleasure. Buffy’s accidental bite as she clenched her whole body, drew blood to her lips.
 
She rolled off and sighed, raising her hand to wipe her mouth, surprised when Spike stopped her.
 
“Let me, love,” he said, leaning over her and licking his own blood off her lips.
 
“That should seem ickier than it does,” she said, sighing in happy satisfaction. “I’ll probably think it is when I’m feeling less….”
 
“Less what? Appreciative? Slayerish? Sexy?  Stop me when I get to something you aren’t feeling.”
 
“You are so full of yourself!”
 
“Know what my lady likes.”
 
“I do not like biting you!”
 
“For somebody who doesn’t like it, you do it often enough,” he said, laughing when she tried to hit him without actually sitting up.
 
“Hmph,” she snorted. “I don’t like it. It’s just a… a side effect of the things I do like. That’s all. They just kind of go together.”
 
“Like you and me, yeah? We ‘just kind of go together’ nicely.” He rolled on top of her, his renewed interest more than obvious. She opened her legs to allow him to slide in, putting her own legs around his hips and holding him in place. “You see? We fit together perfectly.”
 
“We do,” she murmured her agreement as they began to move together. “We really do.”
 
“And we always will, love. I promise you.”
 
The End