Just as she had in their time, Glory strolled into the Magic Box and purchased the needed spell materials from an unsuspecting Giles. When he realized what he’d done, he groaned and admitted to a hysterical Anya that he hadn’t been thinking.
“In all fairness to me, I would have expected someone much taller and more… physically imposing.”
“The things physically imposing about her were on her chest, and you never took your eyes off them long enough to notice anything else!”
“You might have spoken up,” he said stiffly.
“And make a hellgod that can beat up Buffy mad at me? Do you think I’m crazy?” Anya flounced to the back of the store to announce what Giles had done.
Buffy groaned. “Now I’m going to have to ride a snake like a bucking bronco,” she muttered. She turned to glare at Giles. “Just so you know, we had to use your car to chase it last time, so make sure you’ve got plenty of gas.”
“How long after she got the spell ingredients was it before it showed up?”
Buffy squeezed her eyes shut in thought, then shook her head. “I really don’t know. A few days? A week maybe? We’ll just have to watch for it.” She frowned as she remembered where it appeared. “It showed up here, so in our time she already knew I was protecting the key and that I hang out here a lot. She sent it to find me and the Key. She sent it here before she sent it to the house…. And we know she’s figured that much out this time too.”
She glanced at Dawn who was looking apprehensive.
“It’ll be okay. You’ll just keep coming here with me, and we’ll be watching for it. With luck, one of us—” she gestured between herself and Spike “—will be able to see it before it gets inside and it will never get a chance to find… the Key.”
“It won’t find me,” Dawn said. “I’m going to go straight home from school from now on and I’ll hide under my bed. You can deal with the snake.”
“You’ll be safer where we are,” Buffy said. “If it goes looking for the Key at the house, then we’ll have to be there too. Spike can patrol the outside and I can be inside with you and Mom. One way or the other, we have to either stop it before it locates the Key, or be close enough to it to catch and kill it. It was really, really fast. I remember Giles’s car had a hard time catching up with it.”
“I don’t like snakes,” Dawn muttered.
“Then follow directions and you probably won’t have to see it. I can’t watch for the snake and look out for you at the same time unless we’re in the same place.”
Anya stared back and forth from Buffy to Dawn. “Aren’t you just as worried about your mother seeing the snake as you are Dawn?” She waited, eyebrows raised while Buffy exchanged looks with Giles.
“Um… oh dammit!” Buffy did her best to appear flustered, which wasn’t much of a stretch at the moment. “In my time, I guess maybe Mom was in the hospital or something and… I don’t know. I guess I just wasn’t thinking that the snake might scare her too. I was so used to just worrying about Dawn, I forgot that Mom is around more in this time.” She frowned. “Now that I think about it, I’m not really living at the house anymore, so maybe it’ll try to get into our apartment to search.”
“Good luck with that,” Spike snorted. Buffy nodded, remembering Max’s wards, but didn’t explain.
“Did it hurt anybody in your time?” Giles inquired.
“No. It just looked around, saw where the Key was, and took off. It wasn’t very friendly when I tried to stop it from running back to Glory, but it didn’t try to hurt anybody who was with me when it found us. I think it’s job was just to find the Key and report back.”
“Well, I hope you have that Key hidden someplace far away from here. I don’t want a big snake or a hellgod wrecking my—Giles’ shop.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t plan to let it in here. Or into Mom’s house. Spike and I are just going to have to find it before it finds us... or us with the Key, or the Key where I’ve hidden it. In a really good hidey place.”
Buffy ignored Anya’s skeptical expression and began to chatter with Dawn about her school day.
The snake became a non-issue when Spike intercepted it just in front of the Magic Box one evening and cut off its head with a sword. Buffy burst out the door just in time to see it melting away.
“Oh. You got it. Good.”
“Ugly bugger. How’d you kill it?”
“I climbed up its slimy body and broke its neck.”
“That’s my girl,” he said with a grin, twirling the sword. “Never do it the easy way if you can find a harder one.”
“I didn’t know it was coming, and I didn’t have a sword then… smart ass.” Buffy glared at him, but was too relieved to know Dawn was safe for the moment to stay mad at his sarcasm.
They went back into the store and sat down at the table. “How’s your homework coming?” Buffy asked. “And by the way, Spike got the snake, so that’s that.”
Giles sighed and shook his head. “Well, that’s that for the moment. What’s next?”
Buffy thought for a minute. “Well, in my time, Riley was getting suck jobs from vamp whores—”
“There are bite houses here?” Giles didn’t hide his surprise, but coughed and turned away when Buffy asked him how knew what they were called.
“What’s a bite house?” Dawn asked. “And why was Riley going to one?”
“Pretty sure the name says it all, Bit,” Spike growled. “And that’s all you need to know about them.”
“Um, yeah. I guess that’s a conversation for another time,” Buffy agreed. “Anyway, maybe… I’ll check it out. Or Spike will. He’s the one who showed me in our time.”
“I’m not twelve, you know,” Dawn grumbled.
“You’re not an adult either,” Spike said, fixing her with a glare. She glared right back at him.
“Don’t give me that look! I get that in your time you had to take care of me and that gave you a right to be bossy. But Buffy and Mom are still here now. You’re just her boyfriend, and you don’t get to act all ‘I’m the man of the house’ with me.”
She flounced away back to the store’s tiny bathroom, missing the pain that flashed in Spike’s eyes. Buffy put a gentle hand on his arm and murmured, “She didn’t mean that to hurt you. She just doesn’t know you exactly the same way she did in our time.”
Anya looked at Spike with what was almost sympathy. “She’s just a moody teenager. I’ll bet she’ll forget all about it by time she comes out.” She smiled broadly. “But while she’s not here, tell us about the bite houses.”
Buffy cast a glare toward the back of the store, but said, “Riley was feeling all unappreciated or something like that, and he was going to a vamp whore house to get bitten. Spike showed me what was going on, I burned the house down and broke up with Riley when he gave me an ultimatum.”
“He gave you an ultimatum?” Even Giles seemed shocked enough to rejoin the conversation.
Buffy snorted. “Yeah, he said either I had to forgive him or… wait, you know what? That’s not quite it. He didn’t want me to forgive him, he wanted me to admit that being the slayer and caring more about my sick mom and the Key than his ego made it all my fault he went there looking for… whatever. When I didn’t do it, he took off with his old Initiative buddies and went to South America.”
“Sounds like bloody good riddance,” Giles said.
Spike added, “Took the words right out my mouth.”
“You should have come to me,” Anya said. “I could have had somebody work a vengeance on him. He deserved it.”
“Hallie causes enough trouble next year,” Buffy said with a snort. “We don’t need her showing up any earlier than she will anyway.”
Anya frowned. “You’ve met Hallie?”
“Not yet. But we will… or maybe not. Next year is going to be so different…”
“I have,” Spike said. “Knew her when she was a human bitch.”
“Hey!” Anya glared at him. “Hallie’s been my friend for hundreds of years. You don’t get to talk about her like that! You couldn’t have known her when she was human.” When Spike fixed a cold stare on her, she retreated behind Giles muttering, “Even if you are a vampire. If you met her before you got turned, she must have working.”
“Something I should know?” Buffy asked, shrugging when he shook his head.
Dawn’s eventual emergence from the bathroom was anticlimactic as they’d gone on to discuss what to do about the bite houses… “Burn them to the ground!” Buffy insisted, while Spike, and surprisingly Giles, argued that they weren’t hurting anyone who didn’t want to be hurt.
“Maybe the big lump won’t go there this time around,” Spike finally snapped in exasperation. “So, you won’t be saving him from a fate worse than death.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “This isn’t about Riley,” she said. “It’s about letting vampires feed on people.”
“Willing people,” he growled back. “Who are you to decide what’s good for ‘em and what isn’t?”
“I’m the Slayer.”
“Think you might be confusing that with God or something,” he muttered. “C’mon, Bit. I’ll walk you home. Should be safe now. At least until the bitch comes up with something else.”
Apparently Dawn had forgiven him, and also figured out she could get more out of him if Buffy wasn’t around. She shoved her books into her bag and cheerfully walked out the door with Spike.
Buffy was standing in the alley, arms folded, staring at the bite house she’d managed to locate again when Spike walked up behind her.
“You gonna warn anybody before you burn it down?” he asked quietly.
She shook her head. “I’m just watching to see what kind of people go in there. I don’t understand it. Why would anyone want to get bitten?”
“Do you remember how you felt when I sucked so hard I pulled your blood out?”
“It felt good while you were sucking, but if that hadn’t felt so good, having my skin burst would have hurt!”
“But the sucking felt good, didn’t it? Now try to imagine for a minute that I just gently put my two sharpest fangs into your skin somewhere, and then started sucking. You might feel the bite—or you might not, dependin’ on what else was goin’ on at the same time—but once the sucking started, you’d forget all about those little pinpricks. Trust me, love, the little bit of pain from the bites those customers are getting are more than worth it to them.”
She stared at him with narrowed eyes. “Why didn’t I know this?”
He shrugged. “Because except for Drac, who probably had a thrall on you, nobody that bit you was worried about makin’ it feel good, were they? Old Batface never would, and I doubt the big poof was thinkin’ about anything but what he needed to survive.”
Buffy nodded her head and looked thoughtful before saying, “Why didn’t—don’t you ever bite me? For real, I mean.”
She waited while he stared at her with wide eyes and an open mouth, finally finding his voice.
“Wouldn’t do that without your permission, love. Except for those little nips I take when we’re…. Wouldn’t do that to you unless I thought you wanted it.”
“How would you know if I wanted it, if you never told me you could do it and it would feel good?”
“Just assumed you wouldn’t, Slayer,” he said gruffly. “If you want it, all you have to do is ask.”
“Don’t you want it?”
He took a deep breath. “Can we finish this conversation some other time, in some more appropriate place than a dirty alley?”
Buffy glanced around and sighed. “You’re right. This isn’t a good place for that kind of conversation. But we are going to have it,” she said.
“Countin’ on it, love.” As they turned to walk away, he said to her back, “And just so you know, I’ve always wanted it and I always will, but it’s your decision to make, not mine.”
Buffy couldn’t think of any way to find out if Riley was visiting the house, short of asking him to take his shirt off in front of her, which seemed like a really, really bad idea. She ended up telling herself he had no reason to feel underappreciated now, so his ego wouldn’t need the boost it got from being needed by a vampire. She was fairly certain he had written off her two vampire boyfriends as “a slayer thing’ and since she hadn’t ever really gotten into a relationship with him, there was no reason for jealousy to have driven him to check out vampires for himself.
So, when he approached her early in December to tell her he was thinking about leaving Sunnydale, she was a little surprised that he would bother to tell her. But she put on a smile and tried to act surprised.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“South America. There’s some sort of demon infestation going on down there and we’ve been asked to help out because of our experience here. But I haven’t decided if I’ll go yet. I think I could still do some good here.”
Buffy nodded as if that was all new information to her.
“I don’t suppose you know anything about it?” Riley asked, his tone indicating he wouldn’t be surprised if she did.
Buffy cocked her head at him. “What do you want me to say, Riley? Will it make you happy if I say I have no idea what’s going on in South America? The Council might know something about it, but they haven’t shared it with me. I’ve got my own situation here to worry about, so it’s not like they’ll expect me to go.”
She studied his face. “Or do you want me to tell to be careful down there because you might get hurt? Or that you might meet a girl you really like, and—”
“Which one of those is true?”
“Whichever one you want it to be, Riley. Nobody’s mentioned a demon infestation to me, so let’s go with that one, okay?”
“I’m probably leaving town, Buffy. We’re all leaving. No more Initiative soldiers here, just your regular National Guard guys. Don’t you think you could share some secrets with me now?”
“Is that why you’re here? Not to say good-bye but to ask me to tell you what I’ve already told you I can’t?”
“I know you have secrets, and I don’t like secrets.”
She took a shot in the dark.
“Really, Riley? Do you know what a bite house is?”
He blinked at the sudden change of subject, but looked away briefly. “I think I’ve heard of them,” he mumbled.
“Ever been to one? If you have, then I’d suggest you get on that helicopter tomorrow and never look back.”
His face went through several colors and expressions before he settled on cold anger.
“What I do and don’t do isn’t any of your business, Slayer.”
“And that’s exactly why it is my business. I’ll burn them down if have to, but it’ll just be easier if you leave with your buddies.”
“How do you—Never mind. You aren’t going to tell me, are you?”
“Maybe someday. But not today. Have a good trip, Riley. Be safe down there.”
She turned and walked away, making a mental note to take another look at the bite house, or send Spike to check it out.
She also watched from the woods near the base as Riley boarded the helicopter.
“Don’t trust him, love?” Spike asked from behind her.
She sighed. “In our time, I let Xander talk me into apologizing to Riley for… whatever it was that I did to make him feel inadequate… and I ran all the way here to do it, but I was too late and he couldn’t hear me yelling over the engine.”
She smiled at Spike’s growling curses, then patted his arm. “It’s just as well. He would have been no help against Glory, and he probably would have staked you.”
“He did stake me,” Spike said, smiling ruefully at her shocked expression. “But he used one of the Initiative’s toys to do it, so I thought I was dust, and it hurt like a bugger, but plastic isn’t fatal to vamps. We ended up sharing some medicinal whiskey while he threatened to do it for real if I ever touched you.”
Buffy turned a fierce glare on the helicopter now in the air.
“You should have told me!”
He shook his head. “Doubt you would have cared that much, love. You were still pretty brassed off at me yourself for letting you in on his little secret.” He nudged her arm. “Back to my question. Didn’t you trust him to leave?”
“Not really. This is a different Riley from the one that was in love with me, and he’s never really gotten over being pissed off and curious about us and about the things we know. I wouldn’t have put it past him to say he was going, then stay here out and try to figure us out.”
“Well, he’s gone now.” Spike pointed to the lights on the rapidly disappearing helicopter.
“Good riddance,” Buffy said as she turned away. “Now don’t we have stuff to do tonight?”
“Don’t know about you, but I definitely have plans,” he said with an exaggerated leer and a pat on her ass.
Shaking her head and laughing, Buffy began to jog back toward Sunnydale.
“I meant important stuff,” she said over her shoulder.
“Hey! It’s important to me!” he growled as he broke into a trot behind her.
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