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…”
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.”
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?”
“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.”
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.
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