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.”
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.”
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