Together Again by slaymesoftly
Chapter #1 - Prologue and Chapter One
The first time Andrew mentioned Spike in front of her, Buffy had just returned from Romania and the hellmouth there.  She thought he was reminiscing, speaking about Spike as if he’d just talked to him yesterday.  Then Giles said something to one of the slayers about meeting with Spike when she got to Cleveland, saying that he would ‘fill her in’ on the situation. Rather than let Giles know she’d overheard, Buffy walked away, her brain whirling. She’d heard the rumors, of course. They all had. An unnaturally blond vampire, fighting on the side of slayers. He would show up, participate in the fight, perhaps save a girl’s life, then give a wave and disappear. But they all assumed Spike had just become a slayer version of an urban legend. An imaginary creature that showed up whenever a slayer was in trouble.
It seemed that somehow, while Buffy was in Romania, he’d gone from legend to actual undead warrior with whom Giles, at least, was in contact.  She hadn’t seen or heard from him since he’d been thrown out into the sun during that last fight with Twilight. She’d hoped his bugs rescued him, but was too busy to watch. When he didn’t show up after things settled down, she’d mourned him for a third time, and gone about the work of training and recruiting slayers.  Life was fairly peaceful for years, and then….
Suddenly, a year ago, the world’s hellmouths had become very active – all of them. And most recently, Buffy had taken a squad to Romania at Dracula’s personal request. When she protested that he was probably the one causing all the terror and death, Xander stood up for his former master, employer, and totally unexpected friend.
“I know how he comes across, Buffy, but that’s just his public persona. Don’t you remember Japan?”
She frowned, remembering how, when they’d all seemed to lose their strength and abilities, including him, Dracula took command and reminded them of who he’d once been. Vlad the Impaler hadn’t had superpowers when he defeated his enemies and protected his country from the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire. He had only his own innate ability to fight, his refusal to quit, and a single-minded and bloody approach to strategy.  It was enough then, and it had been enough for Tokyo. He took charge of that battle and carried the slayer side to victory. She also remembered his insistence that Xander be allowed to remove the head of the vamp that killed his girlfriend, saying honor required it. And then he’d let Xander do his mourning in the privacy of his castle in Romania.
A castle that, until recently, had been a popular tourist attraction, bringing a great deal of money into a remote and impoverished part of the country. Until a crack in the small hellmouth under the town’s burial ground allowed out demons and vampires that terrorized both the tourists and the townspeople. Tourism quickly fell off and the area was sinking back into poverty.
Among the demons roaming the area was at least one Turok-han, which had set itself up as guardian of the hellmouth — making it impossible for Dracula to get into the area to close it. He could hold his own against the other feral vampires released, but a Turok-han seemed to be beyond him. Hence the request for Buffy and her scythe.
“Drac thinks a lot of you, Buffy,” Xander said as he pleaded the case that she travel to Romania and offer assistance. “He asked for you specifically.”
So, off she’d gone to the wilds of the Carpathian mountains to come to the aid of the world’s most famous vampire. Dracula, aka Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia, and the most famous vampire in the world, had asked for a slayer to help him protect his people. She showed up with her scythe and a small squad of experienced fighters.
“Thank you for coming,” he said, bowing over her hand. Instead of the flowing robes he’d worn when she first met him in Sunnydale, or the elegant suits he’d favored while they were fighting the supervamps, he was now dressed in what appeared to be soft leather pants, an ordinary, if luxurious, fabric shirt, and a leather vest. Clothes suitable for fighting. His long hair was held in a low braid down his back. He looked much more the competent warrior than the effete creature she’d been expecting.
“Yeah, well. You helped us when we needed it, so…”
He nodded and smiled. “And a slayer’s sense of honor and obligation is almost as great as my own.”  He gestured toward the people streaming into the courtyard of the castle. “You and your companions are welcome to shelter here for the night, along with my countrymen.”
“Thanks – but we’ve got the run of this nice inn in town, so we’re good. Anyway, if we’re fighting vamps and demons, we’ll need to be out there where they are, won’t we?”  She stared at the people still coming up the hill. Those near the rear seemed to be hurrying. “Not to be rude or anything, but why the hell did they come to you for safety? Isn’t that not really in their best interest?  How many of them don’t make it out in the morning?”
He drew himself up to his full height and glared at her. “I am their prince. It is my sworn duty to protect them. Under the current circumstances, bringing them into my compound is the only way to do that. They are safe here while I go out to do battle every night.”
Buffy eyed the castle windows where she could see pale faces peering out. “What about your ‘brides’? Do they go out to fight too?”
“No. They remain here.”
“And they don’t eat anybody?” Buffy scoffed.
“Only those who request it. They take only from willing donors, who are always able to walk out the next morning. My brides get what they need, the donors get what they want. It is a fair trade.”
“You’re running a bite house!”
“I prefer to view it as a quid pro quo situation,” he said with an offended sniff. “My brides provide a measure of safety against other vampires, and my castle walls against the demons. Those who choose to, may provide sustenance to their protectors, knowing they will not be killed. It is working out nicely.”
Buffy just shook her head. “So, if that’s working so well, what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that my people cannot go about their normal business for fear of losing their lives and possessions. That lovely inn that you are staying in should be full of tourists this time of the year. Eager to spend their money on souvenirs and tours of Dracula’s castle.  For many years, tourists have been a source of income for us. Now, they are afraid to come to my beautiful mountains. You have closed a hellmouth before, I would like you to help me close mine.”
“Don’t you need it? For, like, energy or something?”
He shook his head. “I need only to be near it often enough to renew my energies. That does not require it to be open, only accessible. It needs to be closed, and right now it is guarded by an extremely ugly, uncouth, and unreasonable version of a vampire.”
“A Turok-han,” Buffy said, hefting her scythe.  “They come from hellmouths.”
“And I believe you have defeated one?” He eyed her scythe appreciatively. “With this unique weapon?”
“Nah. I didn’t have the scythe then. I had to fight him the old-fashioned way. I used a piece of wire to pop his head off.” She grinned to herself at Dracula’s sudden hiss and wide eyes. “The ones I killed with the scythe were a lot easier.”
“I suddenly do not feel so embarrassed at having lost my own feeble attempt to control you.”
Buffy let her grin show. “Yeah. Buffy doesn’t do control very well. Ask the Council of Watchers… oh wait, you can’t. They’re gone. It’s the Council of Slayers and Watchers now.”
They watched as the last of the humans from the area straggled into the castle and the gate was closed.  Dusk settled over the heavily forested countryside and wolves began to howl.
“Seriously?”  Buffy raised her eyebrows at him.
He shrugged his embarrassment and mumbled, “It is expected. My pets are trained to howl when the sun goes down. Those that are left, anyway.” He frowned. “These uncivilized creatures from below have taken a toll on them also. So few remain, I’ve had to bring the cubs into the castle to keep them safe.”
“Okay. So we’re doing this for money and puppies, then.” Buffy stretched and looked around. “I’m going back to the inn to get my squad. Do you want me to leave one here?”
He shook his head. “My brides are surprisingly able to take care of anything that tries to enter the castle. I’ve taught them all the rudiments of sword-fighting and then….”
He cleared his throat. “One of them may have been a slayer.  Taken many centuries ago, but she retains much of what she’d learned before she….”
“Before she succumbed to you?”
“Yes,” he said simply. “Times were different then. I was different. I would not do such a thing now.”
“Un huh,” Buffy said, remembering when he’d attempted to add her to his harem when she was only nineteen.
He smiled at her. “Such a wonder as you, it was beyond my capability to resist.” She just narrowed her eyes at him and he hastened on. “It seemed like an excellent idea at the time. After all, you’d fallen in love with Angelus….” When Buffy continued to glare at him, he added, “It was, as you say now, worth a shot.”
“You know I sent Angel to hell on the point of a sword when I was seventeen, right?”
“Yes. Such devotion to duty and strength of character…. ah, you’d have made a truly worthy mate for Vald Tepes, Prince of Wallachia.” He looked wistful for a moment. “But, your desires lie elsewhere, do they not?”
“None of your business,” she growled. “Now where do I find this hellmouth and the ugly guy guarding it?”
Pulling on what appeared to be armor made of heavier leather and picking up a sword, he gestured for her to precede him down the hill. “We will meet your little army of slayers and banish these foul creatures tonight.”
It had actually taken more than one night, and the loss of one slayer, but Buffy did manage to take out the Turok-han using her scythe to behead him while Dracula’s swordsmanship kept him too busy to notice her approach. The slayer squad killed as many demons and vampires as they could find, herding many of them back to the spot in an ancient cemetery where the hellmouth gaped open.  As soon as she felt they’d pushed as many demons as they could back into the hole, Buffy nodded at one of her girls who threw a small object into the opening.  There was a short wait, while everyone covered their ears, and then the ground shook and began to collapse.
Unlike when Sunnydale fell into the hellmouth there, this collapse didn’t even extend to the edges of the cemetery. Buffy and her squad stood at the entrance to the graveyard and watched to be sure nothing else was getting out, but it seemed to be plugged pretty well. 
“What do you think?” she asked the satisfied-looking old vampire standing off to the side. “Are we done here?”
“I believe you have fulfilled your mission. Yes. There will be clean up of course. Random vampires and demons that did not make it into the mouth, but the main source of danger is past. I will have my people construct a permanent cover for the area.”
“Well, it’s almost morning, so I think we’ll head back to the inn to sleep for a while. I can give you one more night to help with cleanup, but then we have to get back. Little hellmouths are popping up all over the place and we’re staying pretty busy. Got to say, though, yours is the only one that rated its own Turok-han. Only two or three really big hellmouths have had those show up.”
He nodded. “Once it was obvious I was not going to allow the escaping creatures to feed upon my people, it seemed they felt more was needed.  However, I feared it was not the only one finding its way into the world. I believe we are facing, perhaps not as great a world-wide contagion as what we witnessed some time ago, but a definite event.”
 “I’d kinda hoped we’d put a stop to that when we defeated the first evil and then sent Twilight packing. I’d hate to think it’s another awakening of evil.”
“I suspect it is more of a last gasp. We may be witnessing the last throes of whatever it is that wants to rise into our world. But it will still require vigilance and fighting to force it down for good.  You may call upon me if necessary, but I suspect you will be able to handle this yourself… with the proper assistance.”
Buffy waved her hand at her girls, now walking away in the direction of the town. “I have plenty of good assistance.”
“I was not referring to your army of small female warriors,” he said as he turned to go back to his castle.
Buffy stared after his retreating back, frowning in confusion. Then she shrugged and followed her girls for a day of well-earned rest.
Chapter #2 - Chapter Two
Chapter Two
Once she’d realized that not only was Spike alive, but he really had been fighting his way around the US assisting slayers where and when needed, she marched into Giles’s office and sat down. Suddenly, Drac’s parting words – “Please give my regards to William” – made sense.
“Good morning to you too, Buffy,” Giles said with an annoyed frown.
“It won’t be a very good morning if you don’t have a really good reason for not telling me Spike is alive and you’re in contact with him.”
“Ah. It was, in fact, one of the things I expected to share with you later today. I thought you might want to rest for a few days before going off on another mission.”
“Spike is a mission?”
“No. He is not the mission. But he will certainly be a part of it.”
“So, if he wasn’t, you weren’t going to tell me?”
Giles frowned. “Of course I was going to tell you! Do you not trust me at all?”
Buffy just stared at him until he sighed and looked down.
“Fair enough, I suppose. The truth is, we didn’t know until a few days ago that he was anything but a rumor. A slayer from the Cleveland hellmouth contacted Andrew, who gave me a phone number to use. I spoke to Spike only briefly as he is recovering from some grievous injuries, but if his reports are correct… and I’ve no reason to think they are not… there is a situation developing rapidly around the Cleveland hellmouth. Similar to, if not as bad as, the one in Sunnydale. As a corollary to that, the smaller hellmouths around the world – or around the United States at least – seem to have quieted down. We have them all under surveillance, but there has been little activity there. It seems to be concentrated in Cleveland now. Our resident slayers had also mentioned the increased activity, but it wasn’t until recently that we understood the gravity of the situation.”
“Evil’s last gasp?”
Giles frowned at her. “Why do you say that?”
“It’s what Dracula said. He thinks it’s a last attempt by the First to break into this world.  And it hasn’t worked so far because it’s weak and we’re still here fighting.”
“That actually makes a kind of sense…. it would explain the cease of activity at the smaller sites. That didn’t work, so it is throwing all its resources into the only remaining large hellmouth.”
“So, what’s it doing that makes this a bigger deal than any of the others? And why does it need me?”
He sighed heavily. “For one thing… Faith is dead.” He waited for that to sink in.
Buffy found herself short of breath. While she and the only other original slayer had never become close friends, to some extent because they were usually needed in separate places at the same time, she had become accustomed to the thought that there was someone else in the world who understood at least parts of her life. She exhaled sharply.
“What happened?”
“It seems she and Spike—” Buffy didn’t hide this gasp. “That they were ambushed by a large group of Turok-han. The numbers would have meant nothing if they had been ordinary vampires but—”
“But these were ubervamps.”
“Indeed. The other slayers came to the rescue when they realized what was happening, causing the remaining Turok-han to run into the hellmouth, but it was too late. They found Spike’s unconscious body lying on Faith, holding his hand over a gaping wound in her back. She was gravely injured, but insisted they bring Spike in the ambulance with her. She said he… he had saved her life. As it turns out, that was a bit optimistic. While he may have prevented any further injury, she had bled too much already and did not survive until they reached the emergency center.”
Buffy nodded. “And Spike?”
“The emergency personnel assumed of course, that he was also dead, and allowed the slayers to take him away for ‘burial’. He regained consciousness a few days ago and requested the Cleveland slayers contact us.”  Giles gave Buffy a sympathetic smile. “He did ask for you, but you were still in transit from Romania, so he spoke with me.”
Buffy nodded. “I’ve been back for a day and a half now.”
“If I understood the situation correctly, he is still gravely injured and had only the strength to take the one phone call. They are quite hard-pressed at the moment and the infrastructure is crumbling around them. Communications are difficult, even when they have the time.  The request was for reinforcements, food, medical supplies, and other support.”
“What other support?”
“I believe that to be you, Buffy. Both Spike and the slayers remaining seem to have an unshakeable faith in your ability to turn the situation around.”
Buffy shut her eyes briefly, remembering how Spike’s words had given her the courage to go after the scythe that ultimately was instrumental in saving the world so many years ago.
“I guess it’s a good thing I haven’t unpacked then,” she said, abruptly. “When do we leave?”
“Tomorrow morning. The plane will have to land in Pittsburgh, but there will be vans waiting to take you to Cleveland. With luck you will be able to drive all the way into the city.”
“We can’t fly into Cleveland?”
“Apparently not. The news organizations are referring to it as an ‘unexplained weather event’ and advising people to stay away. The Army seems to have established a perimeter since I spoke with Spike, but they are not venturing into the city.”
When they rolled up to the outer suburbs of the city, they found barricades across all the main roads and military guards telling them they couldn’t go in. Buffy was getting very close to having Willow just put everybody to sleep for a few minutes, when soldiers began saluting a man striding toward them.
“Buffy? Is that you?”
“Stand down, men. If she wants to go in there, I’m sure she has a good reason.” He turned to Buffy and gave her a stiff hug. “You do have a good reason, I hope.”
“Well, we hope so. We know what’s going on, and probably why, and we’ve already got fighters in there.” He nodded that he knew there were already slayers in the city, saying he was glad to hear they were alive and able to call for reinforcements.
“So, you’re the cavalry?” he said, taking in the three vans full of weapons and slayers.
“Yep. No bugles or horses, but riding to the rescue.”
“We heard… I mean, I saw, from a distance… But he seemed to be fighting with the girls, not against them, so…”
“Spike’s here. I know. And yes, he is fighting with the girls. Has been since before we knew this was going to be such a big thing. He’s already closed one hellmouth all by himself – I’m hoping he won’t have to pull the city down around his ears this time.”
“Okay. Well, you know then.  Go on in… and good luck.”
Buffy nodded. “If we can clear the way to the hellmouth, I might send somebody back for something that will make a big boom if/when we toss it in there.”
“Anything you need, Slayer,” Graham said, ignoring the shocked expressions on his men. “In fact, take this. You can just tell us what you need and where you need it.”  He handed her a small communicating device. “That should come right to me.  And, Buffy?”
She raised an inquiring eyebrow.
“Those… creatures…they don’t survive a rocket launcher.”
“Good to know,” Buffy said with a grin. “Don’t suppose you have any extras?”
Graham signaled to one of his men who stared at him incredulously. “She won’t even be able to pick it up. Never mind fire the fu—dammed thing,” he protested. At Graham’s stern, “soldier….” he sighed and reached into a nearby truck for a weapon that was almost as long as Buffy was tall. 
She took it from him with a smile, thanking him and putting it over her shoulder. Holding it in place with one hand, she ignored his gasp and thanked Graham before she placed it in the van. She nodded for one of the other girls to take the heavy box of ammunition for it from the still disbelieving soldier. When that was also stowed away, the girls all got back into the vans and drove through the now-open barricades.
They had an address for the GPS, and directions from one of the Cleveland slayers, so it took very little time driving the empty streets to reach the hotel the slayers were using.
“Pretty nice,” Buffy said as she got out and greeted the leader of the small squad of slayers remaining.
“We couldn’t stay in our house,” the other slayer, Rachel, explained. “It’s too close to the hellmouth and those damn vamps were keeping us awake – pounding on the door and rattling the windows. Plus, we couldn’t get very far if we did go outside…” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Faith… she shouldn’t have gone out by herself. That was the rule. No less than two slayers, preferably more.”
“But she had Spike.”
Rachel, nodded. “She did. She said if she couldn’t stake it, he’d just gnaw it to death. They were laughing when they left.”  She looked at Buffy with stricken eyes. “I took girls after them as soon as we realized they’d been gone too long.  But we didn’t get there in time… and the hospital is so far away now…”
“It wasn’t your fault, Rache. Nobody expected you to be responsible for two adults who’ve spent their entire lives being reckless.” She took a breath. “So, Spike is okay then?”
“Okay might be probably a little too… He’s not dust. And he’s awake. He’s eating now and he can stand up… for a few seconds at a time. He sat up long enough to talk to Giles and tell him about Faith, and then he went back to bed for another 24 hours. He lost a lot of blood too, and whatever they hit him with…. his head doesn’t look real great.”
“Are you explaining why he isn’t here to meet us, or warning me what he’ll look like if I go to him?”
Rachel sighed. “Both, I guess. He’s better, but he’s a long way from being healed. And he looks it.”
“He heals from the inside out,” Buffy said without thinking. “Where is he?”
Rachel pointed down the hall. “He has the last room on the right.”
“Okay. Thanks. Just tell the girls where you want them, and where they can put the stuff we brought.”
Leaving Rachel to take charge, Buffy squared her shoulders and walked down the hall to stand in front of the door behind which the vampire she’d thought out of her life forever was healing. She took a deep breath and raised her hand to knock.
“Come in, Slayer. It’s not locked.” 
The voice sounded just like it always had, if missing the extra warmth she expected to hear. She pushed the door open and entered slowly to find Spike sitting on the edge of the bed, holding one hand to his side.  The coolness of his vocal greeting and his obvious lack of interest in any physical one made any thoughts of a happy reunion vanish.
“How are you?” she said, frowning when he didn’t look up. She could see that one side of his head had a small dent in the middle of an ugly unhealed wound.
“I’ll be alright soon.” 
She rolled her eyes at the non-answer.  “Don’t push yourself.  We just got here. We can take over for a few days until you and your… the other… slayers have had time to rest.”
He nodded. “Reckon the girls could use some time to heal too.”  He raised his eyes to hers for the first time since she entered the room. “I’m sorry about Faith. Know you weren’t each other’s best friends, but that’s a loss that has to hurt.  I tried to save her, but … I didn’t.”
Buffy flashed back to his confession years ago that he saved her every night in his dreams, and understood what was underlying his apparent lack of interest in seeing her.
“I know you tried. It wasn’t your fault. We’re slayers. Sooner or later we all die.”
“Not on my watch,” he growled. “It’s not supposed to happen when I’m around to prevent it.”  He slid back on the bed and put his legs up, his hand never left his side.
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him, but instead of asking what was wrong, she said,
“You can’t be everywhere, Spike. We lost a girl in Romania last week. Do you want to take the blame for that too?”
He sighed and slumped back against the headboard, shaking his head. He leaned it back and shut his eyes. “Right you are. Can’t be everywhere.”
“When we’re done here, we’re going to have a conversation about how you could be anywhere without bothering to let me know you were alive. I suggest you heal up. It might not be a fun conversation for you.”
He gave a soft huff of laughter. “Don’t doubt it.  But there’s things you need to know.”
“I don’t want to know them. Not right now. Maybe not ever.” For just a moment her stoic expression broke down, but she quickly snapped it back into place.
She threw her hand up. “I don’t want to hear it.  Maybe when we’re done here.”
To her surprise he didn’t argue, just nodded his head. “Probably for the best.”
She turned to leave the room. “Do you need anything?” she said over her shoulder. “More blood? Pain killers? A bandage?” She stared pointedly at where he was pressing against his side. “We brought a lot of supplies.”
“You brought blood?” He raised a skeptical eyebrow at her.
“Well… no. But I could go get you some if you—”
“I’ve got plenty, Buffy.” His voice softened briefly into the tone she was more used to hearing. “The girls raided a hospital’s freezer for me. I’ll be ready to get back into it in another day – two at the most.” Almost as quickly as it had appeared, the warmth was gone and the hardened soldier was back.
“Okay. Then I’ll just go… do things.”
“You do that. I’ll be here.”
“You’d better be,” she muttered as she pulled the door shut behind her. “You’d damn well better be.”  She couldn’t see the small smile as he closed his eyes again.
Chapter #3 - Chapter Three
True to his word, by the wee hours of the following morning, Spike was on his feet and greeting the slayers as they returned from that night’s patrol. He was still gaunt-looking, but no longer clutched his side and seemed to be steady on his feet.
Buffy and her scythe had accounted for two Turok-hans, but she’d been unable to get close to the hellmouth. The slayers she brought with her had spread out with their local counterparts and made short work of any normal vamps or demons they encountered. By previous agreement, they only concentrated on clearing a path to the hellmouth, rather than going throughout the city. She acknowledged Spike with a nod then addressed the slayers.
“Good work, girls.  There might be enough of us now to begin taking back parts of the city.  Everybody get something to eat and some rest. We’ll work out a strategy before we go out again tonight.” She turned to go to the kitchen and find something to eat herself when she saw that Spike was watching her.
“Hey. You’re looking better.” 
He nodded, his expression less than welcoming.  “Told you I would be.”
“Well, don’t rush it. Give yourself at least one more night before you jump back into the fray.”
He surprised her by letting out a low growl.
“Nothing. Just… looks like General Buffy’s in charge again. I’ll just be in my room.” He turned and vanished down the hall.
Buffy frowned and asked Rachel, “What flew up his butt?”
She looked uncomfortable, then sighed. “I think… maybe….” Rachel shook her head. “Spike and Faith were pretty tight. They did all the planning and they did it together and just kind of asked us for input once they decided. And now that she’s gone… It’s been just him. We kind of depended on him to tell us what to do as soon as he regained consciousness and could focus. But he struggles with it sometimes.  Maybe he thinks you’re taking over his job?”
Buffy frowned, pushing down the bolt of jealousy at hearing how close Spike and Faith had been in favor of evaluating his attitude since she arrived.
“He asked us to come,” she said, glaring toward his closed door and raising her voice. “And he’s hurt. If he wants to be part of the strategy session, he needs to say so. If he’s going to stay in his room and pout — I guess I’ll just leave him to brood….”
Spike’s door flew open and he snarled, “I heard that!”
Buffy couldn’t resist a small smile at his predictability. “You were meant to. Do we need to talk?” She looked around the now-empty lobby, nodding at Rachel when she mouthed a silent “I’ll be in the kitchen”, then back at Spike.  “Do we?” she repeated.
He emerged from his room and limped to an overstuffed chair pushed up against a wall. He dropped into it and sighed.
“I reckon we do,” he admitted. He looked up at her from under his lashes. “I’m sorry. Actin’ like a spoiled brat, aren’t I?”
Without answering his obviously rhetorical question, she sat in the nearest empty chair. “So, what’s wrong?  Is Rachel right? Do you think I’m trying to take away your job?”
He shook his head. “You’re welcome to my ‘job’, Slayer. Never wanted to be responsible for so many little girls. It was easy when Faith was here. She was the boss and they all knew it. Now they expect me to tell them what to do… and that makes them my responsibility. I don’t like sending them out to fight when I can’t be with them to keep them safe.”
“Okay. Well, in the first place, these girls are slayers. And yes, they probably aren’t as… independent… as Faith and I had to be. There’s no reason they should be. They’ve always been part of a group and had others to depend on….”
She grew thoughtful. “That might be something we’re doing wrong in training. They fight well in groups, and follow orders, but they don’t learn to think for themselves.”
“Told you years ago, Buffy, that part of what makes you so good is the creativity and unpredictability you bring to the fight.  It’s what makes you special. I don’t think you can teach that.”
She blushed at his matter-of-fact compliment, but continued, “Maybe not, but if we give them more chances to be on their own, with no one to depend on but themselves….” She exhaled sharply.  “Well, that’s a worry for another day. Right now, you need to stop worrying about being responsible for them, and just assume they can take care of themselves. It’s what they are.  And in the second place… you’re more than welcome to take part in any strategy or planning. I never said you shouldn’t be there. You just got all huffy and walked away before I could hand you your engraved invitation.”
“Said I was sorry,” he growled, slumping back in the chair.
“You did. And look… I know I said we weren’t going to have a…. I don’t even know what kind of a conversation to call it—personal I guess—until this was over. But, we need to be able to work together. It won’t be like whatever you and Faith had—” Buffy’s tightened lips didn’t go unnoticed and Spike grinned, then quickly lost it when she glared at him.
“Those pretty hazel eyes are looking a little green right now, luv,” he said, using a pet name for the first time. Buffy relaxed a fraction, even though she heard the difference between his generic “luv” and the “love” she’d been used to hearing from him. “Turned out Slayer number two and I worked well together. Two of a kind, in some ways…. not alike at all in others. But neither one of us was stupid enough to start something you might object to. She wasn’t suicidal – her words, not mine – and I’m just as much a one-woman man as I’ve ever been. It was a working relationship and that’s all it was. Mutual respect and all that, but nothing else.”
“If you’d stopped talking at ‘not starting something I might object to’, I might have believed you. Now it just sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself and me.”
“Just tryin’ to get that issue out of the way so we can work out our situation.” She couldn’t tell from his stoic expression if he was confirming her guess or not, but he didn’t meet her eyes.
“And what is our situation? You’re here. I’m here. We have other slayers, Turok-han butt to kick, and a hellmouth to close.  Been there, done that. We know what to do.”  She stared at him. “You don’t think I’m going to expect you to set fire to yourself to do it this time, do you?”
He snorted and shook his head. “Not worried about that this time. Don’t have the right equipment for it.”
“No gaudy jewelry?”
He shook his head, wincing as he did so. “Not the equipment I’m talking about.  I need for you to know….” He hesitated. “Was hoping we could put this off until I’d made sure you knew you could trust me….”
“Why wouldn’t I trust you?”
“Because somewhere along the way – between popping in and out of that amulet a couple of times – the soul went walkabout. That precious little spark that’s so important to you is gone.”
Buffy flinched, then put her hand on his arm. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry, Spike. You worked hard for that soul.”
He shrugged, then picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I’m okay without it. Made me a bit too wimpy, to tell the truth. My demon’s a lot happier now. But it matters to you. You know that, and I know that.” He put her hand back down on her own leg, giving it a little pat before shifting as far away as he could get without leaving his chair.
“And now you think I won’t trust you,” she said without expression. “As if all those years before it, when I trusted you, don’t matter anymore.”
“You trusted me because of the chip. It’s gone. No chip. No soul. There’s just me.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow at him. “Who’s been running around the country helping slayers and who’s been living here with them without helping yourself to the blood that would heal you overnight….”
“We’re not talking about other slayers just now. We’re talking about you.”
“Do they know?” Buffy tried to ignore the implication.
“Faith did. She didn’t much care. She’d seen too much of the big poof’’s on again/off again shenanigans to put much stock in a soul. The other girls don’t know. All they know about William the Bloody is what they’ve been taught in Slayer School.”
“We teach them about souls,” Buffy said, squeezing her eyes shut. “We use you and Angel as examples.”
“And that’s why they don’t know,” he said, rising to his feet.  “We’ll be fine, Buffy. We know how to work together – soul or no soul. It won’t be important until the job is done. You need to go eat and get some sleep. I’ll see you tonight for planning.”
She brought her head forward and watched him as he walked to his room without looking back. When he’d disappeared behind his closed door, she dropped her head back again, her mind whirling.  After several minutes of trying to cope with the idea of working beside soulless Spike, remembering his status as soulless and evil the first time they formed a truce to work together, as well as how he’d cared for Dawn while she was dead, Buffy shut down that line of thought and got up to take care of her body’s need for food and sleep.
The younger slayers trickled into the small meeting room designated for meetings, glancing at the end of the table where Buffy, Willow, and Rachel were sitting, with Spike leaning against the wall behind them.  One of the original Cleveland girls frowned and glared at them.
“Is there a problem, Jessie?” Rachel asked, her expression making it clear she understood what the problem was.
“Spike’s our leader. Why isn’t he sitting down? Isn’t he part of this?”
Buffy nudged Rachel before she could respond, saying, “Let me.” She stared at the defiant girl, noting the warmth of her gaze every time her eyes went to Spike, and sighed. She glanced over her shoulder to glare at him, knowing he was smothering a smile when he ducked his head. She rolled her eyes, then turned her attention back to Jessie and the other girls, some now lined up behind her in solidarity.
“He isn’t sitting down because he didn’t want to,” Buffy said. “He is very much a part of this, and I’ll be depending on his knowledge and experience with this hellmouth the entire time I’m here. Was that all?” 
Jessie looked somewhat abashed and shrugged her shoulders. “Yeah. I guess so. I just wanted to be sure you weren’t kicking him out or something.”
“I’m not. Any more questions?”
Her back-ups having quietly found seats around the room, Jessie mumbled her agreement and found a seat herself.
Beside Buffy, Rachel addressed the room. “Does anybody else want to express an opinion about the help we asked for and got?”  Her glare made it obvious it wasn’t in anyone’s best interest to air any negative opinions. There was some muttering and squirming, but no one mentioned anything.
“Okay then. Let’s look at our options.” 
Chapter #4 - Chapter Four
As the slayers gathered weapons and went over last minute instructions, Spike stood near the door. His lack of coat and weapon made it obvious he wasn’t going to be going with them, and his expression made it equally obvious he wasn’t happy about it.
Buffy slipped up behind him to hiss at him, “Be mad at me all you want, but don’t let these girls go out there thinking you don’t believe they can fight if you’re not there. They don’t need that from you.”
The local slayers kept sending less-than-subtle glances at Spike, their unhappiness about leaving him behind keeping them separate from the girls who’d arrived with Buffy.  When it looked like there might be harsh words exchanged between the two groups, he sighed and forced a smile. Stepping to the door, he said, “Come on, troops. I’ll be waiting to hear how many of those ugly buggers you make dust tonight. If you’re really good, I might even throw a party for you when you get back. The girl who slays the most vamps gets to sit next to the sexy vampire that doesn’t want to eat you. Probably…” He wriggled his eyebrows at them, watching the older girls who got the double entendre blush. Grinning, he waved them out the door with a personal comment for each girl.  Not until they’d all left the building – now protected by Willow’s boost to the simple no-entry spell they’d had in place before – did he lose the grin and turn away.
“Thank you,” Buffy said quietly. “Those girls obviously think you hung the moon. Your confidence in them is important.”
He growled under his breath. “I know that. Shouldn’t have needed you to kick my arse in gear. It won’t happen again, Slayer. I know my job.”
Buffy sighed. “It’s not a ‘job’, Spike. It’s just that they want to please you. Let them.” As the rest of the slayers filed out of the building, she put a hand on his arm. “I know you want to be there with us. But I also know if you’re not giving me a hard time about staying back, it’s because you know you shouldn’t be out there. If you don’t think you’re healed enough to fight, that’s all I need. You’re grounded until further notice.”
His answering snarl was only half-hearted and he didn’t throw her hand off, nor did he bother to argue with her.  “Best get outside before they start without you,” he said.  “I’ll be here when you’re done for the night.”
“’K. I’ll be back later.” She turned away, pretending she didn’t hear his “You’d bloody well better be.”
He turned as he felt Willow come up behind him.
“Not being a good patient?” she said with a sympathetic smile.
“I’m tryin’,” he grumbled. “There’s just no pleasing some people.”  He cocked his head at Willow and gave her one of his little-boy smiles. “Don’t suppose you could magic me all back together?”
She wagged her finger at him.  “I could make you feel better, but that would get us both in trouble. You just rest and drink your blood like a good little vampire.” She smiled at him again. “We both remember how long it took for you to get back on your feet after one Turok-han had been beating on you. Even with Buffy sneaking you her blood—”
“I never asked her to do that!” he said quickly.
“I know you didn’t. She wanted you to get better fast. It creeped me out at the time, but I understand it better now. She’d been so afraid she wasn’t going to find you in time. And then you were so trashed…. All she was thinking was the man she loved had almost died and she needed to make him well.”
Spike flinched at her words, but nodded. “I s’pect she was also thinkin’ her next strongest fighter needed to get back in the game.” He didn’t comment on being the man Buffy loved.
“That too,” Willow admitted. “But I think she’d have done it anyway. I mean, we all knew she loved you… but—”
“Been nice if somebody shared that with me,” he grumbled, starting toward the kitchen.
“She couldn’t,” Willow said to his departing back. “I think she was afraid to let herself feel anything but her responsibilities for all those girls… and the world. But after you were... gone…. That wasn’t a good time for her, and that’s when we realized…. She was proud of you, but she was mourning too. And then you—”
“Don’t remind me,” he groaned as he turned to look at her. “I let the big poof talk me into thinking she was better off without me. And I still believed it when she tossed me into the sun. We never got time to settle anything before Twangle needed killin’ and she shoved me away. Which I’m choosing to believe was because she knew the bugs were going to grab me before I turned to toast….”
“Uh huh. And what’s your excuse this time?  You do know everybody thought you were a myth, don’t you?”
“This time she really is better off without me,” he said flatly. “I’ll help her close this hole into hell, but that’s it.”
Willow stared at him. “Don’t do that, Spike. Don’t disappear again.”
He didn’t respond, just turned and continued in to get more blood from the freezer.
“Don’t do that to her, Spike,” Willow whispered as he walked away. “Please don’t do that to my friend…”
When the girls began coming back in, several hours later, Spike was at the door to meet them. As was Willow, with a maid’s cart she’d appropriated for the medical supplies.  As the girls entered, they were greeted and sent off to shower if they seemed fine, or to sit down and have their wounds treated if they had visible injuries.
Spike had a pleasant word for each of “his” slayers, commenting upon everything from demon goo in their hair to how deep a wound looked. He also had welcoming words for the girls who’d arrived with Buffy, none of whose names he knew yet. But he’d already begun giving them nicknames, and soon had them smiling at him.  Without being asked, several of the uninjured girls dropped their weapons and began helping Willow with the first aid where it was needed.
Even as he nodded his approval, and chatted with ‘his’ girls about who won the coveted seat next to him, his worried eyes scanned the empty doorway for the two slayers he hadn’t seen yet.  He gave an audible sigh when Buffy finally followed Rachel through the door, closing it behind her before dropping her scythe on a chair. Spike and Willow noticed almost simultaneously that Buffy’s left arm, which dangled at her side, was bleeding through a makeshift bandage.
Willow started toward Buffy, but halted when Spike spoke.
“Buffy?” was all he said as he waited for her. Their eyes met and exchanged silent communication before she nodded and waved Willow off.
“I’ve got this,” Spike said, taking the first aid supplies and bandages from Willow. He began to follow Buffy who was already walking toward his room.  She opened the door with her good hand and walked in, standing in the middle of the floor uncertainly.
“Let’s do this, love. You need to stop bleeding, and I need to be well enough to get out there with you.”
She nodded and moved to the bathroom. “It’s bleeding too much to unwrap it on a rug.”
As he watched, she stepped into the tub and slipped what was left of her shirt off to the side.  Spike reached in and tugged it over her head, ignoring the blood spattered sports bra.  He carefully began unwinding the bandage that had obviously once been someone’s sweatshirt. He gave a hissed “Bloody hell” as almost immediately blood began welling out of it and dripping into the tub. He ripped the rest of the bandage off, lowered his head, and began swallowing blood as fast as he could. He held Buffy’s arm over her head with one hand, applying pressure on the brachial artery until he no longer felt her blood filling his mouth. 
As soon as he felt the blood stop gushing, he began licking the wound, cleaning in and around it and at the same time, slowing down the bleeding even more. When he had it almost closed, he lowered her arm and reached behind him for a gauze pad.  He pressed it against the wound, asking her, “Do you think you can hold this here? Just for a second or two.”
Buffy nodded, but her face was pinched and pale, and she knew she wasn’t going to remain erect much longer.  Before she could warn him that she was feeling dizzy, he was spreading antibiotic ointment on the wound, and replacing the gauze with a new, clean pad. He’d just finished wrapping it when she began to sway.  “Spike….” she breathed just before she collapsed, only falling a few inches before he had both arms around her.
“I’ve got you, Buffy. Hang on, I’ll get you to the bed.”
With no noticeable effort he picked her up and carried her to his bed, laying her down and frowning at her ashen face. 
“I’ll be right back. You stay here.”
“No problem,” she whispered, her eyes already closing.
Moving faster than he had in days, Spike ran to the kitchen, grabbing bottles of water, two different kinds of juice, and at the last minute, a piece of fried chicken. He ran back to his room to find Willow standing in the doorway, her face crinkled in worry.
“This can’t be good,” she muttered, staring at Buffy’s seemingly lifeless body.
“She’ll be fine,” he snapped. “Heartrate’s good and steady, the bleeding’s stopped. She just needs some liquids and some protein. Something better than this chicken leg. Steak would be good.”
“You might want to wipe your mouth and chin before you let anybody else see her lying on your bed looking like she’s dying,” Willow said, taking the water from him and walking toward Buffy.  He flinched and ran into the bathroom to wash Buffy’s blood off his face. Willow flicked a glance at him when he came back, then put her attention back on Buffy. 
“You sit up and drink this or I’m going to have to stick a needle in your arm and get it in that way,” she threatened when Buffy made a face at the juice Willow was holding to her lips.
Without comment, Spike sat on the other side of the bed and slipped an arm behind Buffy, lifting her just far enough that she could drink without choking. She gave him a bleary glare, but opening her mouth and began to swallow. When she’d drunk half the bottle, she stopped and shook her head. Willow pulled the bottle back and Spike let Buffy lie back against the pillow he shoved behind her.
Willow and Spike exchanged small smiles as some faint color came back to Buffy’s face.  Even with her eyes closed, she was looking less near death than she had only minutes before.  Willow stood up and handed the bottle to Spike. “I guess you’ve got this. I’ll go check on the other girls and make sure everyone’s doing what they need to do.”
Spike nodded as he took the juice from her.  “Ask Rachel to come in and report, would you? Need to know how this happened.”
“It happened because she’s a slayer and she puts herself in harm’s way, Spike. You, of all, people, shouldn’t need a reminder of that.”
“Don’t like reminders that involve this much blood loss,” he growled. Buffy’s light tug on his sleeve shifted his attention back to her and he immediately softened his tone. “You want more juice?”
“Yes, please,” she whispered, struggling to sit up by herself.
“Hold on,” he said, putting his arm behind her again and lifting her until he could put the bottle to her lips.  He held her in place while she gulped down the rest of the bottle of juice and relaxed against him. Buffy gave herself a few seconds to enjoy the position she was in, then, taking a hint from his rigid posture, she sighed and said, “You can let me go now. I think I need to rest.”
She glanced down at her blood-soaked body and made a face. “I think I also need to get out of these disgusting clothes. They’re starting to solidify.”
He frowned, then got to his feet and went to a dresser, opening a drawer and pulling out a tee-shirt. He carried it back to the bed and stood there, confusion making him frown. “This would do a fair job of covering you, but…”
Ignoring his obvious embarrassment, Buffy said, “That’ll work until I can walk back to my own room. Just help me out of these gross jeans and this bra.”  When he didn’t move, she looked up. “What? It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Or don’t you remember how to take my clothes off?”
“I remember,” he growled, but obediently dropped the shirt and reached for the button on her jeans. While Buffy shut her eyes, he unfastened her jeans, then went to the foot of the bed to take off her boots and socks.  He tugged on the legs of her jeans, but they didn’t move, being too stiff with dried blood. With a sigh, he went back to her side and began to pull them off her hips, trying very hard to both avoid touching her skin, and jostling her enough to hurt her arm. By the time they were off, Buffy seemed to be sleeping or unconscious, so he took them to the bathroom and threw them in the still blood-spattered tub. He came back with a warm wet washcloth and began to carefully sponge away the blood drying on her upper body and face. He carefully smoothed back her hair, whispering, “You can wash that out when you feel up to it, Slayer.” He stared at the bloody sports bra in indecision, then exhaled hard and reached under her, grateful to find it was the kind that fastened and not one that would have to be pulled over her head and bad arm.
He got it off, carried it to the bathroom, and threw it into the tub with the jeans and his own somewhat bloody shirt, before returning to stare at the almost-naked woman on the bed. Shaking his head at himself, he went back to the shirt drawer and got a clean tee-shirt for himself before trying to figure out how to get the other one on an injured and sleeping girl.
Buffy took the question out of his hands by opening her eyes and muttering, “Why am I naked?  And cold?”
“Sorry, pet. Didn’t think about drying you off.” He grabbed a towel and brushed it over her everywhere he’d washed off. Then he took the tee-shirt and said, “Okay, I’m going to slip this over your bad arm, and then you’re going to have to sit up so we can get it over your head and the other arm. Are you with me?”
“Yeah, yeah. I need to drink some more anyway.”
She watched with interest as he very slowly and carefully worked the shirt over the bandaged arm until he got it to her shoulder.
“Okay, here we go, you tell me if I’m hurting you.” He pulled her into a sitting position and wrestled the neck opening over her head, smiling when she raised her other arm herself and stuck it through the armhole.  He tugged the shirt down until she was covered from her shoulders to her thighs.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m sorry you had to do that.”
“Didn’t mind,” he said gruffly. “Jus’ didn’t want to hurt you.” 
“You didn’t.” Her voice was soft, but sounded stronger. “May I have some water?”
“Of course. You can have as much as you want. Here.” He held the water out, not sure if he should hold it for her or not, but she smiled and took it from him with her uninjured arm. She tipped it up and swallowed as much as she could at one time, catching the expression on his face as she lowered the bottle.
“Nothing,” he said, grinning. “It’s just that I think you could give me a run for my money in a chugging contest.”
She snorted, but smiled. “We both know that’s not true.” She handed him the half-empty bottle, which he set beside the bed within easy reach. “I think I need to sleep again….” she said, sliding down against the pillow, her eyes already closing.
He frowned, but nodded when she murmured, “My body knows what it needs. And right now it needs to sleep and do some repair work.”
He watched as her breathing became deep and even, then saw gooseflesh on her arms. He pulled the covers from underneath her, shaking them out, and then gently dropping them on her sleeping form. He stood, staring at her head on his pillow, then shook himself and left the room.
Chapter #5 - Chapter Five
He found Willow in the kitchen, dispensing herbal medicines along with food and drink. She raised an eyebrow at Spike and moved to his side.
“Do you need me?”
“Don’t think so, but you might want to check in on her before you turn in for the day. She told me she needed to sleep, so I let her, but she’s only had the juice you gave her and about half a bottle of water.”
Willow shrugged. “Buffy’s been a slayer for a long time, and she’s been hurt bad before. She probably knows more about what she needs than we do. But I’ll look in on her,” she added when he started to frown. “Where will you be?”
“Dunno. Feel pretty good from that bit of slayer blood I had before I got it stopped. What I’d really like is to go out and dismember whatever did that to her. But I don’t guess my sun allergy is going to allow it, so I’ll just look over the supplies Buffy brought with her and then sit with her till she’s ready to go back to her own room.”
Willow nodded, giving him a sideways glance. “What makes you think she’s going to want to go back to her own room?”
“It’s where she belongs,” he said in a tone that said he wasn’t interested in more discussion. Willow ignored his tone, saying as she began to walk out, “Just so you know, I don’t think she’s going to see it that way.”
Willow peered in the door of Spike’s room, having already decided she wouldn’t wake Buffy if she was still sleeping.  When she saw her sitting up and struggling to reach the other juice bottle, she dashed in and grabbed it.  Shoving it into Buffy’s hand, she scolded, “You shouldn’t be moving around yet.  Let one of us take care of you.”
“You’ve got other girls to worry about,” Buffy muttered as she sank back against the headboard with a sigh of relief. “It’s not like there’s a bell I can ring for service.”  She upended the juice bottle and drained it, handing the empty back to Willow. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Do you want more?”
Buffy shook her head. “That’ll hold me for a while. I’m feeling a lot stronger. A little more rest and I’ll be ready to—”
“You’ll be ready to go back to your own room and rest there,” Spike’s growl preceded him into the room.  “Don’t even think about finishing that sentence any other way.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. “Who died and made you God?”
“You came closer to it than I ever want to see again. That makes me… maybe not God, but definitely the bloody boss!”
“You. Are. Not. The. Boss. Of. Me.”
He sighed, his shoulders slumping in defeat as he sank into a chair. “No one knows that better than me, Slayer,’ he said in a soft voice. “If I ask you nicely instead of yelling, will you please just do the smart thing?”
Willow looked back and forth between them, and said, “I’m just going to….” When they paid no attention to her, she walked out the door, saying to herself, “… to leave now.”
“And the smart thing is to get out of your room and your bed?” Buffy’s voice was carefully controlled as she schooled her face into a non-committal expression.
“It is. Best thing for both of us.”
“Were you always this stubborn?”
He snorted. “Hello, Pot. My name is Kettle.”
Buffy shook her head, wincing when it jiggled her sore arm. “No. No I’m not. I can take a hint.”  She tossed the linens off and swung her bare legs to the side of the bed, getting to her feet before even Spike’s speed could stop her from rising.  He did get there in time to catch her as she collapsed.
Swearing in several languages, he ignored her weak protests to place her back on the bed and pull the covers up over her feebly kicking legs.
“Goddammit, Slayer, stop all your wiggling around and stay put!”
“If you don’t want me here, I don’t want to be here. Let me go!”
“You can’t walk yet. You haven’t eaten anything and you’re too weak to get yourself there.”
“Then you can carry me to my own room!”
“Not lettin’ you out of here till I know you’re getting better,” he growled. “So just shut up and have some more water.  And use it to wash down these iron pills.” He held out two little round pills in one hand, and the water bottle with the other.
Muttering to herself about miserable bastards who thought they could tell her what to do, she grabbed the pills and threw them into her mouth, then snatched the water bottle from him and gulped down as much of it as she could. She handed it back, then sat back with her arms across her chest – holding the injured on with the other hand.
“Does it hurt?” Spike asked, watching her face as she gingerly rubbed the bandage. “Do you want some pain meds?”
She sighed and closed her eyes as she tilted her head back. “I think I need some food. Raw meat would be good.”
He snorted. “Would you settle for a piece of chicken while I go back and see what I can find in the kitchen?”
She waved her free hand. “That’s fine. Give me the chicken and see if you can find me something else. Protein and carbs – sugar would be good.”
“Are you going to stay put?”
She opened one eye and glared at him. “I’m not going anywhere. If you don’t want to stay in the same room with me, you can go sleep in my room.”
“If I don’t—” He growled. “I plan to stay in the same room… but only as long as I have to, to make sure you’re gonna be alright.”
She didn’t answer him, just sat up straighter and took the chicken from him, gnawing on it without looking at him again.  With another growl, he left the room, leaving the door open.
“Don't you trust me?” she shouted.
“No!” he yelled back as he disappeared down the hall.
Buffy finished the few bites of meat on the chicken leg and threw the bone across the room and out the door. She whimpered when the action pulled on her still-healing wound, peering under the bandage to see blood oozing out again.
“Dammit,” she hissed, holding her hand over it and hoping it wouldn’t bleed through to where Spike could see it.  She hadn’t counted on his ability to smell fresh blood, though.
“What the hell did you do?” he growled, pushing a cart with covered dishes on it with one hand, and holding the gnawed chicken bone in the other. He tossed the bone on the cart and went directly to the bed where he yanked her hand off the bandage, his nostril flaring.  “What did you do?” he repeated.
“Turns out throwing something isn’t as much a one-armed activity as I thought it was,” she muttered. “It’ll stop in a minute.”
“It’ll stop right now,” he said, unwinding the bandage and holding her arm to his mouth. He passed his tongue quickly along the scar, pausing at the place where the skin had pulled apart. “Here it is. Just a little tear.”  He licked it quickly, nodding when the bleeding stopped and it began to close again.  “Now try not to do anything stupid until I get it bandaged again.”  He gave her a glare as he set the arm down and turned to get another bandage.
“Can I be stupid then?” she asked, more meekly than he would have expected.
“Spoil sport.”
He didn’t respond, coming back with more gauze and bandages. Still not speaking, he wrapped the wound again and stood up. He silently pulled the cart closer and took the covers off the dishes.
“What do you want first?”
Buffy looked over the selection and jerked her chin toward the middle plate. “The hamburger, please. And the chocolate milk.”
Spike waited until she’d wriggled her way back against the headboard, then set the plate on her lap. He opened the carton of chocolate milk, inserted a straw, and set that close enough for her to reach with her good arm. He recovered the other dishes, and sat down to watch her eat.
Buffy wolfed down the hamburger and drained the milk carton before attempting to speak again.
“That felt good,” she said, giving him a small smile. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, placing the empty plate and cardboard milk carton on the cart. “What else do you want?”
“I want to be better… now.”
“And I want to get a suntan. Guess we’re both out of luck, Slayer.”
“Seems like.  Is everybody sleeping now?”
“Mostly. A few girls taking turns as guards, just in case.”
“Help me decide what to eat next, and then you can get some sleep too,” Buffy said, not looking at him.
He didn’t respond except to look through the food and find a roast beef sandwich. “Here you go. With mayonnaise, just the way you like it.”
“You remember that?”
“Apparently,” he said. “Don’t really know where that came from. Just knew it. Here, take this too.” He handed her another bottle of water, then pushed the cart a short distance away.
While Buffy tore through the sandwich, washing it down with gulps of water, he took off his boots and stared at the floor.
“Don’t even think about it,” she said quietly as she moved over closer to the far side of the bed. “It’s your bed.”
He nodded and went to close the door, standing with his back to her for a moment.
“Spike? We can do this.”
“Know we can, Buffy. Jus’ not sure if we should.”
“Contrary to what you might like to believe, I am perfectly capable of sleeping in the same bed without molesting your body. You’re not all that, you know.”
He snorted. “I suppose I’m not. And you’re too hurt to be molesting me anyway. Reckon it’s safe then,” he said, lying down on his side and putting the pillow over his head. “Night, pet.”
“It’s 10 am,” she responded as she slid down until her head was on her pillow. “Not night.”
“Always have to have the last word, don’t you,” he growled, pulling the pillow down around his ears.
“Yep.” With that less-than-brilliant comeback, Buffy shut her own eyes, made sure she wasn’t close enough to touch him, and fell into a healing sleep.
Buffy slept until late afternoon, getting up to use the bathroom and drink some more water.  She stared at Spike’s inert body, then looked at her own tee-shirt clad body and sighed. Opting not to attempt to go to her own room for clothes wearing nothing but her underwear and Spike’s shirt, she carried the water bottle back to the bed and sat up to finish drinking. She carefully remained far enough away that wouldn’t accidentally touch him.
While she had the time, she gazed at him, unable to really see anything but a shape under the linens and the pillow still over his head.  Cocking her own head, she gave serious thought to what he’d said about his soul, trying to decide how she felt about it. While she’d long since acknowledged that she’d been in love with him when he was soulless, she also still cringed at the thought that she could have been.
With a sigh, she shook her head at herself, knowing that between Angel’s complete personality changes between souled Angel and unsouled Angelus, and the lessons the Council was still instilling in new slayers about the importance of recognizing that vampires were soulless, and therefore never to be trusted, she was more than a victim of her own prejudices. Prejudices that were exactly that – pre judging of individuals based on whether or not they had a nebulous quality with which many thousands of horrible human villains through the centuries had been blessed.
She was lost in memories of evil humans she’d known and non-evil demons, as well as ambiguous ones like Dracula. She reminded herself that both Angel and Spike had their souls when the First was controlling them, and that Angel had his soul when he became Twilight and tried to end this world. Spike without his soul had been easier to trust than Angel, or Amy, or….  She blinked back to the present time to see Spike staring at her.
“Oh. You’re awake.  Hi.”
“So are you,” he replied. “Feeling better?”
Buffy nodded. “Not quite ready for round two with a crowd of ubervamps, but, yeah. I’m feeling a lot stronger. I was just about to check the wound – want to do the honors?”
He sat up, rolling shoulders in lieu of a full stretch.  “Sure. Let’s see it.” He carefully unwrapped the bandage, smiling when he took off the gauze and saw only a trace of old blood on it.  He switched the light over the headboard on and scrutinized her arm, poking the new skin gently.
“Looks pretty good, pet. Slayer healing at its best.”
“Not to mention vampire blood clotting saliva – or whatever it is that goes on when you decide to heal something instead of ripping it open.”
He flinched at her description, but nodded. “It has its uses,” he said. “Especially if you have a … friend… who’s always getting herself cut up.”
“I probably don’t want to know what other uses it has,” she said, shuddering, then smothering the urge to ask if he’d healed any wounds for Faith.
“You don’t,” he said tersely. “And I didn’t.”
“Didn’t what?”
“What you didn’t ask me. If I’d tasted Faith.” He sighed. “I was planning to as soon as I got enough pressure on it to get the bleeding slowed down, but then one of those wankers tried to remove my scalp with something heavy and it was lights out.”
“How did you know what I was thinking?” She glared at him, narrowing her eyes even more when he laughed.
“You’re pretty easy to read sometimes. ‘specially when you’re wonderin’ about something, but don’t want me to know it.”  His laugh tapered off to a bemused smile. “And other times I haven’t a bleedin’ clue what’s going on in that brain.”
Buffy flexed her arm, wincing when the action pulled on the recently closed wound.
“Hey! Don’t be undoing all my hard work there!” he said as he got up. “I’m going to wrap that up again so you don’t accidentally pull it open or bump it on something tonight. Just stay put.”
“I can walk to the bathroom, Spike. I’m not crippled.” She suited actions to words and followed him, silently holding out her arm for him to put a protective bandage on. “You do good work,” she said as he tucked the ends in neatly. “Maybe you have a future career as an EMT or something.”
He just rolled his eyes at her and shook his head. “I can see that now – me trying to stop bleeding by drinking from some poor sod, and then ending up with pieces of wood sticking out all over my body.”
Buffy giggled. “I just meant the bandage-wrapping part, but yeah, you’d be like a secret miracle cure, as long as nobody saw you.”
“Speaking of people seeing things…” he said as they went back to the bedroom. “I’m going to go get myself some much less tasty blood and you some more liquids and food.  Do you want me to ask Willow to bring you some clothes, or do you want to take your chances going down hall in my shirt?”
 “That’s what I was thinking about while you were sleeping – that I probably shouldn’t leave your room in my underwear. One of your little hero-worshippers is liable to try to kick my ass.”
He snorted. “Doubt any of them are that stupid, love, but there’s no sense makin’ it look like something it isn’t.”
“Right.” Buffy’s expression faded from amusement to a blank mask. “Because it isn’t.  A something.”
“Exactly.” He didn’t meet her gaze, just pulled on his boots and left the room, taking the cart with him. “I’ll be right back.”
In spite of his words, it was Willow who came in next, carrying another roast beef sandwich and two more bottles of water. She had a bag hanging on her arm which she dropped on the bed after Buffy had taken the food from her.
“So – as fashion-forward as you look in Spike’s old tee-shirt, I thought you might want your own clothes.”
“You thought I might, or Spike told you to get some clothes for me?”
Willow sighed. “I know you’re probably both too beat up for smoochies, but I kinda hoped staying in the same room all day might—”
“Nope. He’s still acting like he wants nothing to do with me. Except when he’s yelling at me for not resting or eating or taking care of my arm.”  Buffy looked into Willow’s sympathetic eyes. “He’s convinced I won’t want him without a soul. And I don’t know what to do about it.”
“So it is gone, huh? I thought that might be it. I’m not that great at reading auras, but I thought it might have gone missing. But it’s Spike. He didn’t have one for all the time we knew him except that last year in Sunnydale. Why is he so sure it matters to you?”
“Because he’s an idiot?  I don’t know. But he does.” She raised her eyes again. “I’m afraid we’re going to finish this fight and he’s just going to disappear before I can—”
“Maybe he won’t. You’ve got some time. He might think he’s all supervamp now that he’s had some of your blood, but I don’t think he’s 100% yet, and you obviously need at least another night and day before you think about heading back out there. He’ll come around.”
“I hope you’re right, Will.” Buffy stood up and stretched, picking up the bag of clothes. “I’m going to take a shower before I put these on. Thanks for bring them.”
“No problem. Just come on out to the lobby when you’re ready – if you feel up to it.”
“I feel fine. Can’t really use the arm yet, but I’ll be able to by tomorrow. I think I might give the girls a lesson in using rocket launchers. If I can get a few more of them out of Graham, we might be able to take out a lot of those creepy things without anybody having to get close enough to get hurt.  If nothing else, they could clear the way for an assault on the hellmouth.”
“’K, see you in a little while.”
Buffy stepped into the shower and noticed that her bloody jeans and the other bloodsoaked things were gone from the tub and the blood had all been washed away. “Guess Spike or Willow took care of that while I was sleeping,” she muttered as she let the warm water flow over her head and face. 
As good as the hot water felt, she forced herself to wash her hair and scrub her body quickly, turning it off as soon as she’d rinsed.  She wrapped one towel around her head and used the other to dry off. Along with the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in the shower, she saw that the hotel had included lotion and even a moisturizer and toothpaste on the sink. She found a toothbrush in one of the drawers, as well as deodorant, a comb, and a hairdryer. 
Feeling much more like herself once she was dressed and properly groomed, she opened the door and let the steamy air out into the room. She was somewhat disappointed not to find Spike waiting for her, but put her boots on and headed for the lobby where she found him surrounded by the local slayers while Willow and the girls who’d come with them were spread out around the room. As soon as Buffy walked in, Rachel broke away and came up to her.
“You look great! How do you feel?”
“I feel fine,” Buffy said, smiling at the genuine concern in the other slayer’s voice. “The arm’s not completely healed yet, but I’ll be ready to go by tomorrow night. And I have a plan for tonight.”
She huddled with Rachel and Willow, gesturing for Spike to join them. She ignored the glares from “his” slayers and waited for him to sit before she repeated what she’d told Willow about using the rocket launcher.
“Here’s what I’m thinking – we’ll go out tonight, but not very far, and try to draw a couple of them to us. I’ll need a couple of girls who are comfortable with guns—”
“Why not let the soldier boys make themselves useful?” Spike interjected. “The girls can keep them safe enough while the ones who actually know how to use those weapons do the firing. If they can clear the way, and we have the explosives ready, we can be in and out and back to safety without risking a lot of lives. Then all that’s left is the clean-up of whatever uglies didn’t get caught.”
Buffy stared at him, her mouth open. “That’s… that’s just…”
“Brilliant? Amazing? “Common sense?” Stop me when I get to the right word, Slayer.” He smirked at her as she flushed and nodded.
“Brilliant works,” she said. “Okay, so, tonight we rest. I’ll call Graham and tell him what we’d like to do. He can ask for volunteers tomorrow.”
Chapter #6 - Chapter Six
When Buffy’d made her call, explained her plan to Graham, and arranged to meet him and a squad of men with rocket launchers shortly after noon the next day, she returned to the lobby and called the slayers together to explain the plan. Graham had agreed that hitting the hellmouth in early afternoon, while all the Turok-hans should be inside, would be the best use of the the big weapons, and he said he intended to bring flame throwers also. She explained to the slayers that, with luck, the soldiers would take out the majority of the ubervamps blocking the way to the hellmouth while the slayers protected them from attacks from the side or rear. When the way had been mostly cleared of uber-vamps, she could fight her way in to blow it up with the easily-carried explosives Graham would provide.
She heard Spike’s growl when she didn’t say “Spike and I….”, flashing him a smile and adding, “I’ll have Spike with me, so one of us will be sure to get through.”
“So, what do we do tonight? Are we going to patrol anyway?”
“I’d suggest get a good rest, make sure your weapons are in good condition, maybe do a little sparring if you can do it without hurting each other. Maybe a couple of short patrols – but big squads – I don’t want to take any chances of losing anyone.  Just enough action to keep them busy and give them no reason to think we’re planning anything unusual for tomorrow. I don’t know if these things do much thinking, but if the First is running things, it might get suspicious.” Buffy frowned at her own words.  “Let’s hope we can get in there close enough for the flame throwers to do some major damage before they wake up and figure out it’s an attack.”
“I doubt if any of them can recognize individual slayers – except maybe Buffy if the First is helping – so we could probably get away with sending out different groups at different times. Enough to keep them busy and to think we’re running our regular patrols, but with everybody getting plenty of chances to rest up for tomorrow. Meanwhile, the girls who aren’t patrolling can be resting and getting some sleep.”
Willow looked at Buffy and Spike to see if they approved. She beamed when Spike said, “Good thinking there, Red. You’d make a good general.”
“That is a good idea,” Buffy agreed, smiling at Willow. “The more we can rest and sleep, without giving away that we have big plans for tomorrow, the better.”
Plan made, the girls were divided up into larger than normal squads and the order of patrol was worked out so there would always be one group on the streets at all times, while those not out would be resting for the next day’s attack. Buffy and Rachel huddled together and came up with squads that contained a mix of both experienced Cleveland slayers and the no-less-experienced at fighting, but less familiar with the city, newer arrivals.
“How’s your arm?” Willow frowned at Buffy. “Are you going to be able to do this?”
Buffy held out her arm, which was no longer bandaged, and showed Willow the scar.  She flexed it, and lifted a nearby chair.  “It’s good. And by tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be better. I’ll stock up on liquids and protein tonight before I go to sleep, and by the morning I’ll be ready-to-fight Buffy.”
“And what about Spike?”
Buffy sighed. “I’m not really sure. It’s not like he got enough of my blood to turn him into super-vamp. I’m sure it all went into healing him faster than he would have on whatever he had here…. But….”
“But there’s no way he’s letting you go in there on your own.” Willow shook her head. “If I don’t like what I see in the morning, I may have to give him a little magical boost. I hate to do that to him, but you need him at 100% and he’s never going to admit it if he’s not there yet.”
Buffy nodded her agreement. “Yeah. He can be really stubborn…” She ignored Willow’s snicker. “Why do you hate to do it? Is it bad for him?”
“No. Not really. It won’t hurt him. And he’s probably well enough not to do any serious damage by over-exerting. As long as he doesn’t think it means he’s superman, he should be fine, just a little stronger than he might be without it.  But when it wears off… he’s going to crash pretty hard.”
“Oh. Well, as long as he’s safe somewhere when that happens….”
“Yep. We just have to make sure he’s in a safe place where nothing can get at him while he’s weak.”
“Well, he’ll be with us so….”
“Are you sure about that? You don’t think he might­­–” Willow chewed her lip, obviously fighting the urge to remind Buffy he might be planning to leave.
Buffy sighed and nodded her understanding. “I’m not going to let him out of my sight. If he tries to ditch me after the fight, he’s going to find out how hard I can be to get rid of.”
“Okay then. Why don’t you get some sleep?  I’ll stay up for a while and make sure the girls are all safely in before I go to bed.”
“Okay. Come and get me if you need me.”
Willow glanced to where Spike was still chatting up the slayers. “And where will you be?”
“Where he doesn’t want me unless he thinks I’m dying,” Buffy said as she began walking toward his little group.
Spike glanced up at her approach.  “What’s up, Slayer?”
“All of us,” she said. “The idea is to rest up tonight and tomorrow morning.”
He stood up. “That, ladies, I believe is our less than subtle hint that you should all be tucked into your little beds. Off you go.”
Buffy ignored the glares from what she insisted on referring to as his “groupies” and waited until they had all wandered in the general direction of their hallway.
“Us too,” she said. “We both need all the down time we can get.”  She reached her hand up to touch the side of his head – one of the few times she’d touched him since finding out about the absent soul. “I’m trusting you that this little dent here is all that’s left of what was probably a major concussion if not a coma.”
“Vampires don’t get concussions,” he growled.
“Then what do you call it when you’re unconscious for three days?”
“Huh. Well, resting is what you need to do tonight too. Maybe with a blood nightcap.”
“Not volunteering that, are you?” He gave her a half-hearted leer that didn’t hide how unlikely he was to accept such an offer.
“I probably would if I didn’t know you’d be stupid about it.  And if I didn’t know I don’t have it to spare tonight,” she admitted before he could say it. “That’s why we need to get to get some more nourishment and then get to bed. Tomorrow could get rough.”
He followed her to the kitchen, watching as she pulled out a bag of frozen blood for him before finding food and drink for herself. He thawed and warmed the blood while Buffy wavered between another roast beef sandwich and a bowl of fruit.
“Take the meat, love. You’re still building blood cells. You can worry about fiber and vitamin C later.”
Buffy made a face, but obediently pulled out the slab of beef and sliced off several pieces. She set them on plate and put it back, adding a small amount of fruit to the plate.
“Should I find it scary that you know so much about human nutrition?”
He snorted. “Something you may not know about me, Slayer. I like to read. Everything.  Anything. If I'm bored enough, I’ll even read information about foods I’ll never need or want.”
She cocked her head at him. “You’re right. I knew you had a lot of books – for a guy who lived in a crypt – but I didn’t know that about you.  How come I didn’t know that?”
“Doesn’t exactly scream ‘Big Bad here’ does it? And when you were visiting me, I was never that bored.” He gave her small smile that, in spite of his words, was more affectionate than leering.
“I guess not,” she said, smiling back at him.
They sat in comfortable silence while Buffy ate her meat and fruit, washing it down with more milk, and Spike drank his warmed blood. When they’d both finished and cleaned up, the comfortable silence was replaced by a much less comfortable one as they began to walk toward the rooms.
Several sets of hostile eyes followed their progress across the lobby and to the hall leading to Spike’s room.
“She looks fine to me. I don’t see why he’s still taking care of her.”
“She should leave him alone. He needs to rest.”
“Rachel said they had a… a thing. A long time ago.”
“Well yeah. But he’s over it, right? I mean they haven’t been together… and he and Faith—”
Spike had been listening as he walked and whirled to glare at them.
“I think you bints need a reminder about vampire hearing,” he snarled. “And that the affairs of your elders are none of your business.”
Faces pale, the offending girls whirled and ran out of the lobby to their own rooms in the other wing.
“What was that all about?” Buffy frowned after the girls, wondering what he’d heard to cause him to show so much anger toward them.
“That was about a bunch of bloody nosey little girls thinkin’ they have some kind of right to worry about where you’re spendin’ the night.”
“Didn’t think your room was the right choice, huh?”
He sighed. “No.” He looked at her sideways. “But isn’t that the very subject we were so busy trying not to talk about?  They aren’t wrong that you shouldn’t be spending the night in my bed again – they’re just wrong about the why.”
“Which is?”
“We might not be as strong as we will be by tomorrow, but we’re not… not too weak for…”
“For…. seriously?”  She stopped and put her hands on her hips. “I haven’t even had a chance to kick your ass for hiding from me all this time. Not to mention you keep trying to push me out of your room. If you think there’s a chance in hell I’m going to try to—”
“I want you, Buffy.” His quiet statement made her temporarily mute. When the silence dragged on, he continued. “Not saying I’d try to force myself on you… Don’t need a soul to keep from ever—” He shuddered. “But I can’t say sleeping beside you… I wouldn’t be getting much sleep, is all I’m saying.”  He raised his glance from the floor he’d been studying so intently.  “If you want me rested and ready to go tomorrow, I think you need to put your tempting little body somewhere else.”
She stared at him, trying to read his expression and body language. Nothing he’d said or done since she got there had given her any reason to expect a comment like that. She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Will you still be here when I get up?”
He frowned. “Of course I will. Where else would I be with a big fight coming up?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Someplace I’m not?”
“I’ll be here Buffy. Got your back tomorrow. Soon’s the way is clear enough, we’ll make our way into the hellmouth and throw in things that make big noises.”
“And after?”
“Let’s just get through this battle, yeah?”
“I’m not going to let you go without a fight. Not again.” Before he could respond, she brushed her hand against his and walked down the hall to the room she’d spent so little time in she had to think for a moment to remember which one it was.  “Good night, Spike. See you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow, love,” he murmured as her door closed. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Chapter #7 - Chapter Seven
Spike’s subtle eye roll and smirk when Buffy’s first act when she came out of her room was to look for him made her flush. He was leaning against the wall right outside the open door to his room, clearly waiting for her to emerge.
“Didn’t trust me?”
She shrugged. “If you promise me you won’t leave before we can have a talk, I wouldn’t have to worry that you won’t be here when I need you.”
“No, what? No I won’t have to worry, or no, you won’t promise.”
“Both. Come on. Let’s get some breakfast and round up the troops.”
More glares, this time less much less obvious, greeted their arrival in the kitchen together. When Jessie mumbled something to the girl next to her, Spike said, “Something you’d like to share with the class, Jess? Cause if it isn’t something you want us all to hear, it’s probably best kept to yourself, yeah?”
The offending slayer and her friend quickly took their food with them and left the kitchen. Rachel gave Buffy an apologetic smile, saying, “Do you want me to talk to her? There’s really not much excuse for her behavior since you got here.”
Buffy shrugged. “She’ll get over it. Spike should’ve known better than to get too flirty with these younger girls. Older women usually know when he’s just being… him.”
“What makes you think I flirted with that… I don’t treat her any different than I do anybody else.”
“Exactly. You flirt with everybody. Don’t pretend you don’t. She was probably too afraid of Faith to act like that before, but I’ll bet she thought she was going to get somewhere with you after Faith got killed. Then I showed up.” She grimaced at him. “Moving me into your bedroom when I got hurt probably really rattled her cage.”
Spike snorted. “If she was afraid of Faith – who had no reason to care who I flirted with, I’d like to remind you – then she should be wetting her knickers when you walk in the room.”
“She doesn’t know me,” Buffy said.
“Well, someone should tell her you don’t share your toys before she says something where you can hear it.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “You’re not my ‘toy’, Spike. And I’m not worried about a silly little girl and her delusions.”
“You’re not? Why the bloody hell not?” He looked offended. Neither of them noticed that Rachel had left the room.
She shrugged. “If you didn’t go for Faith, and you’re a one-woman man who still wants my body, then she doesn’t have a chance. And I’m not going to waste time and energy worrying about her.”
He stared at her until she blushed and looked away.  “Not that you couldn’t if you wanted. I mean we’re not....”
He tipped her chin up so he could meet her eyes. “I am a one-woman man. And that hasn’t changed since you became the one. Don’t know that it ever will, to be honest. Not while I know you’re alive.” He took his finger off her chin and let his hand drop to his side. “Which doesn’t mean I’ve been a monk all these years, or that I plan to be a monk after we’re done here. But I’d never give you a reason to be off your game in a fight. That’s another one of those things I learned the hard way.”
“But you won’t promise not to leave.”
“Not going to talk about that now.”
“You don’t think it’s going to throw me ‘off my game’ if I’m wondering the whole time that when the fight’s over I’m going to look up and you won’t be anywhere around?”
“I promise you I will be right beside you the whole time. And we’ll walk back here together and have that talk.  Is that good enough for you?”
“I guess it’ll have to do.”  
“Buffy,” he sighed. “I’m not trying to make this harder. I promise. It’s just that I know—”
“You know nothing.”  She turned her back and walked toward the kitchen exit. “But we’ve got a battle to fight and slayers to organize, so let’s go.”
 Hours later, when everyone was dressed, fed, and eager to go, Rachel and Buffy (and Spike, whose presence was enough for “his girls” to settle down and listen) called them all together in lobby to discuss the plans.
“There’s no reason to think we can’t get close to the hellmouth in the daylight. If we run into any stray demons that don’t have sunlight afflictions, take them out if you can, but don’t get lured into chasing one. Our strength is in our numbers.”
“And in the big guns just walking in the door,” Spike added as Graham and his men entered the lobby.
“And our friends with big guns,” Buffy said, smiling at the small group of soldiers in battle gear. “You guys need to hear this too.”
When Graham had joined her, exchanging a stiff nod of recognition with Spike, she looked out at the faces and shook her head. “This is way too much like last time,” she muttered before raising her voice.
“Okay, everybody, here’s what you really need to know. The First Evil is behind this.  We don’t know if he’s behind it from a position of strength, or if this is some last attempt to make himself a home here. But if he has any tricks left, the biggest one is going to be that he can mimic anyone who has died. Anyone who has been dead for any length of time.”
She looked around, seeing disbelief on all the soldiers, as well as a few of the slayers too young to have heard the tales of life in Sunnydale that last awful year.
“And just so you know – that’s going to include me….” She waited for the shocked murmurs to die down. “… and Spike.”  At their disbelieving expressions she rolled her eyes. “Hands up every slayer here who doesn’t know that a vampire is an animated corpse?” The murmurs died down but from the back one girl said, “But Spike is—”
“Spike is a walking deadman,” he said before Buffy could speak. “No more, no less. If you’ll remember, they let you take me from the hospital because they thought you were taking my dead body home for burial.  If any of you see me anywhere but within touchin’ distance of Buffy, it’s not me. Don’t look at it. Don’t talk to it. And for the bloody love of God, don’t do anything it says. Do you bints have that?”
Into the sullen silence, Buffy added, “That same thing goes for me. If I suddenly appear in front of you, instead of wherever you last saw me, and without Spike at my side, chances are that isn’t me either. Don’t do what it says. Same thing if you think Faith just came back from the dead to help out.  It will look like her, it will talk like her, but it won’t be her. It won’t be her, it won’t be your recently deceased grandmother, or anybody else common sense tells you is dead and gone.” 
She smiled at Graham’s men in what was meant to be a reassuring manner.
“Ditto for you guys. I’m hoping your part will be done before the First gets his act in gear, but just be aware.  My girls are going to keep the regular vampires and demons off you while you incinerate the Turok-hans, but if you suddenly hear or see somebody you know is dead telling you to start shooting at the girls… or me or Spike… before Graham has told you to pull back, please don’t do it.”
“When do you want me to give that signal, Buffy?” Graham frowned at her, choosing not to follow up on her comment about being dead.
“If the flame throwers work as well as we hope they will, Spike and I will carry the explosives with us and when we think we can fight our way to the opening, I’ll give you a signal to have your men stop shooting and get some distance. You’ll still have slayers around – and I’m assuming your guys can hold their own against ordinary vamps?”
He nodded. “I only brought men with some experience. They all have tasers and stakes.” He looked around the lobby. “Have you used the launcher I gave you yet?”
“Nope. It’s right over there by the door. Figured you might want it back just in case.”
“Good thinking.”
“Okay. I think that’s it. Willow’s going to give us a cloaking spell that should get us almost all the way to the tunnel. We go down from there.”
“Yeah, the actual hellmouth is under a parking garage, but there’s a tunnel leading into it. That’s why we think if we can surprise them, they might all be trapped in that tunnel and your flame throwers can take them out. If it turns out they can’t reach that far, then we’ll bring out the rockets.”
“Uh… Buffy?  They might take out the supports of the parking structure too.”
“Oh. Well. If that happens, then the hellmouth will be under it too, so….”
“I’m not saying it will happen, just that firing rockets into an area under a heavy building might not work out quite as you hope. If your plan is for you… and Spike… to go in there to set off the explosives….”
Buffy nodded.  “Won’t be the first time we had a hellmouth caving in around our heads.  It’ll be all right.” She shrugged.  “Or it won’t.”  Graham blinked at her matter-of-fact approach to possible death, then looked around at the other slayers lining up to go out.
“You really aren’t like other girls, are you?” He waved his hand toward the room. “All of you.”
Buffy gave a sad laugh. “No. We’re not. These girls get a much better chance at at living into their late 20s or 30s than I had at their age, but they all know their chances of having grandchildren are pretty slim.”
“And yet, here you are.”
“Did you miss the part about how I’ve been dead? Long enough for the First to use me as one of his trouble-making decoys? It’s a long story, but let’s just say I’ve had a little help defying the odds.”  She glanced up as Spike returned from having a last chat with “his girls”. “A lot of help, sometimes,” she added, smiling at him.
“Help with what, love?” he asked as he came up next to her.
“Living past my expiration date.”
“Ah. That.”
“Yeah. That. Are we ready to go?”
“Troops are. Chompin’ at the bit, so to speak.”
Buffy looked at Graham. “Let’s go then. Tell your guys to avoid hitting anything solid as much as possible. ‘K?”
 When it turned out the flame throwers worked even better than rockets against the not ordinary, but just as flammable, ubervamps, those became the weapons of choice.
Which meant the men wielding them had to approach much closer than originally planned, putting more pressure of the slayers to keep their sides and flanks protected from the demons of all sorts screaming out of the tunnel.  Willow and a few girls deemed still too weak or injured to fight, acted as field medics – Willow throwing a protective shield around the girls as they dashed to reach any slayers who were down, pulling them back to the relative safety behind the lines and triaging them in one of the vans. 
“Stay with me,” Buffy said, as she dashed from one side of the battlefield to the other, using her scythe as needed to clean her path.
“Got your back,” Spike growled, decapitating a demon that was reaching for her with venom-dripping claws. “Think it might be time, Slayer.” He gestured in front of them where the flame throwers were becoming weaker. Fortunately, between them and the hellmouth entrance, there were few Turok-hans to be seen, but large piles of ash where they’d been.
They ran to Graham and the men behind the flame throwers. “I think we’re ready to give it a shot,” Buffy said. “Those things worked like a charm.  Now it’s time to shove what’s left of these ugly guys back into the hell they came from and bury them.”
Spike took the offered explosives from Graham, raising his eyebrows at their small size.
“Don’t worry. They’ll do the job. I know they look like ordinary grenades, but they aren’t. Just pull the pins, toss them in and use that super speed to get the hell out of there.”
Spike nodded dubiously and gave one to Buffy. “Just in case,” he said, “soon’s you see the Slayer is clear, send a couple of those rockets in there. Nothing like burying a hellmouth under a lot of concrete to tie up any loose ends.”
“If you don’t see both of us, you don’t fire,” Buffy said, giving Spike a glare. “I told you, you’re not going down with this one.”
“What if we don’t see either one of you, but there are still vamps coming out?”
“Then knock it down,” Buffy said. “Don’t worry about us.” 
When they’d thrown the explosives into the gaping maw of hell, Buffy had a bad moment wondering if she’d been too quick to suggest they knock down the building.  Not only were there still Turok-hans emerging from the hole, but the slayers who were supposed to be backing Buffy and Spike up had disappeared, leaving howling ubervamps climbing out behind them and large numbers of ordinary vampires between them and the exit. She resigned herself to having to fight their way out, and began to jog toward the exit.
“Let’s go. We don’t want to be here when those things go off—”
“Right behind you, love. Keep moving.”
No sooner had he spoken, then the ground heaved beneath their feet knocking them down. Ears ringing, they scrambled up quickly to see that the attacking vampires had been knocked down also. Behind them, the remaining Turok-han were clawing their way out of the crater left by the explosion.
Grabbing Buffy’s hand, Spike began running, using the still prone vampires as stepping stones. With speed she hadn’t realized she had, Buffy was barely able to keep up as Spike, using the boost Willow had given him before leaving the hotel, did a good imitation of her run across the roofs of Sunnydale so long ago. It wasn’t until they were almost out that he began to flag and Buffy remembered what Willow had said about the power boost and what could happen when it wore off.
“Come on, Spike! You can do this. Keeping running. You can fall down once we’re out of here.” Mentally cursing the slayers who had been supposed to protect their escape route, Buffy found herself now clutching his hand and pulling him along. When he collapsed, she barely slowed down to pull his arm over her shoulder while she kept moving toward the exit from which she knew rocket fire could come at any time.
When the first rocket whistled over their heads, she felt a genuine shiver of fear. Even with the increased strength that seemed to have come with advanced slayer age, Buffy was struggling to support his dead weight. When she realized he wasn’t moving his feet at all, she paused long enough to balance him on her shoulder. Thanking the PTB that he wasn’t Angel’s size, she staggered forward, expecting any second that another rocket would join the first one in shaking the walls of the tunnel.
The remaining Turok-han behind them had taken advantage of Buffy’s pause to catch up and she had to drop Spike long enough to turn around and take its head off.  With a moan, she saw two more vamps advancing on them, one of them holding a stake, clearly meant for Spike – now lying helpless on the ground. Buffy was standing over him, scythe at the ready, when they disappeared in a cloud of dust.
She sighed in relief as a small group of the slayers she’d brought with her came forward and picked Spike up. While two of them carried him out of the tunnel, past the men with the rocket launchers who were waiting impatiently, the others fell in beside Buffy and used crossbows to thin the ranks of the other vamps still standing between them and safety.
As soon as they were safely past the rocket launchers, Graham gave the signal and rockets whooshed their way into the tunnel, to explode far enough in that they could hear, but not see it.  The men were retreating as they fired, following everyone else out and away from the parking structure that was now making ominous cracking noises.
Crowding into the vans and trucks, the small army of soldiers and slayers beat a hasty retreat from the area. Stopping at what felt like a safe distance, they watched as the parking garage seemed to collapse in on itself, leaving such a big cloud of dust that they could no longer see it.
“Is he all right?”
Buffy turned to glare at Jessie, who was staring at Spike with worried eyes.
“He’s fine. Just tired,” Buffy said, Willow having assured her that Spike was just passed out from the spell’s after effects.
“He didn’t look tired when he told us to leave,” the girl said. “He was fine then.”
“Leave? When would Spike have told you to leave? He was with me the whole time.”
“No he wasn’t.  He came to see how we were doing and he told me I was doing great and then he… he…” Her face crumpled. “Oh my God…”
“You idiot.”
Buffy turned her back and ignored the whimpering girl for the rest of the ride. She rolled her eyes when Rachel, having been filled in by the other girls who said Jessie’d told them Spike wanted them to pull back, said, “I’ll handle this. I’m so sorry, Buffy. After you and Spike both told them not to listen to—”
Buffy sighed. “The First can be very convincing,” she said as they walked behind the girls carrying Spike to his room. “It fooled me once or twice too – and I knew Spike a hell of a lot better than Jessie does.” She shook her head. “But dammit! She almost got us killed. If the other girls hadn’t told Graham to stop firing and come after us….”
“She’s going to be on kitchen duty for the rest of her life,” Rachel said. “And whatever else I can think of that might help her keep her mind on her work and not how sexy she thinks your vampire is.”
Buffy snorted. “I told him he was flirting too much. I’ll bet you anything all the First had to do was wink at her and tell her how pretty he thought she was, and she would have believed him if he’d asked her to jump into the hellmouth.”
“I can’t believe you’re being so calm about this,” Rachel said. “I’d want to kill her!”
“Oh I do. Trust me. When you talk to her, tell her to stay out of my sight for the rest of the time we’re here.” She paused at the door to Spike’s room when he was lying on the bed, still unconscious, while Willow did a magical scan to be sure he was okay.  “Besides, when Spike wakes up and finds out what happened – she’s going to want to kill herself when he gets through with her.”
Rachel frowned. “He isn’t going to hurt her, is he? I mean, she deserves it, I guess, but—”
“No. He won’t hurt her… not physically.”
“Oh. Well okay then. I guess technically, he’s the one who should decide her punishment, he’s the….”  She paused. “Is he going to leave when you do? The girls think he’s the boss here. They’re so used to listening to him and—”
“Rachel, you’ve done a great job here with Faith gone and Spike unconscious for three days – you did great. As far as I'm concerned, you’re the senior slayer now. I’ll have Giles make the change in your title and paycheck.”  She paused.  “I’m hoping when I leave here, Spike will be coming with me. Either way, he won’t be staying here. That’s not his pattern.”
“He can’t very well go back to being a myth,” Rachel snorted. “I’ll rat him out in a heartbeat.”
“No. He can’t do that. But he can disappear again if he wants to.”
“I suppose he can. We just got so used to him being around and helping Faith run things…. I guess it really wasn’t all that long ago. It just seems like he’s been here forever with all the stuff that was going on.”
“You’ll do fine without him. I promise.”
Chapter #8 - Chapter Eight
Willow came to the door and waited while Buffy thanked the girls who’d carried Spike in. As soon as Buffy turned to her, she said, “He’s going to be okay. I’d boost him again, but then he’d just crash again, so I think it’s better to just let him recover on his own.  The effects should wear off in a few hours, but he’s still going to be weak for a day or two.”
“Okay. Thanks, Will. You’ve been a champ this week. I know you’re antsy to get back to Merry Olde. Maybe you can fly out tomorrow sometime. It’s going to be awhile before we’ve cleaned up all the stragglers here and the Army can let people back in. Which reminds me, I need to thank Graham before he leaves.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Willow snorted. “Those soldiers think they’ve died and gone to heaven – if heaven was full of teenage girls giggling at them and asking questions about their flame throwers. I think Graham might have a hard time getting them out of here for a while.”
Buffy laughed. “Too bad we can’t send out for pizza and let them have a party. I’m going to find him anyway. Once I go into that room, I’m not coming out until Spike can walk out with me.”
The two old friends walked toward the lobby, leaving Spike’s door open in case he woke up and wanted something.
Buffy found Graham and laughed again at the expression on his face.
He shook his head. “I should have seen this coming. I don’t suppose you know which ones are too young for my men to be hitting on?” he asked, half-seriously.
“Not exactly. Most of the girls I brought with me are in their mid-to-late teens. Rachel is twenty, I do know that. She probably knows how old her girls are. At least one of them is old enough to think Spike was going to be interested in her.” Buffy’s voice trailed off to a growl.
“Yeah. I heard what happened. We were really confused when the slayers all came jogging out of the tunnel before we even heard the explosions. But when the one said Spike had told her to get out…. That was dumb of me. You told us what could happen. I should have known better than to—” 
“Don’t sweat it. My girls figured it out before your men could shoot us or pull the building down on us. I’m just glad they stopped firing!”
“I wasn’t going to let them shoot blindly into the tunnel after your girls ran in. I told them to hold their fire until the girls came back… with or without you.”
“That’s exactly what you should have done.”  Buffy smiled at him. “Anyway, it’s been a long afternoon and evening, so I just wanted to thank you before I turn in. You’ll probably be gone before I come out again….” She looked around the lobby where each soldier and two or three girls seeming to hang on his every word. “Or maybe not.  The hotel has plenty of rooms if you want to stay here tonight and go out in the morning.”
He groaned. “Not really what I want to do, but it might be easier than tearing these guys away from their admirers.”
Buffy wished him luck and went to the kitchen where she snagged some drinks and food, and a bag of frozen blood for Spike.  She then made her way to the room, only to find Jessie and two of the other girls standing in the doorway and staring at the dead man on the bed.
“What are you doing here?” Buffy snarled, setting the food on a table just inside the door.
“I just wanted… we wanted to… is he going to be all right?”
“Not as all right as he would be if our backup hadn’t been sent away and we didn’t have to fight our way out,” Buffy said, making no attempt to soft-pedal the situation. “If my girls hadn’t come after us, we’d both be dead – or dust in Spike’s case.”
She ignored Jessie’s moan and the gasps from the other girls, shutting the door in their faces.  Checking Spike to see that there’d been no change, Buffy decided to take a quick shower before joining him on the bed.  She grabbed another one of his tee shirts from the drawer and carried it in to the bathroom with her.
When she emerged a short time later, hair still damp, she brought the food in and put it in the small fridge. She studied Spike for a minute, then wrestled his coat off and removed his boots. She briefly considered taking his jeans and shirt off too and hiding them so he couldn’t sneak out if he woke up before she did, but shook her head at herself.
“You’ll either stay or you won’t,” she said to his inert body. “And you’d probably leave naked if you had to.”
She turned off the lights and slipped into the bed, curling up beside him and throwing one leg over his just in case.
Buffy awoke slowly, her first thought being to check that Spike was still next to her. Her initial panic when she realized her leg was no long pinning his to the bed faded when she felt his hand gently stroking her head.
“Know you’re awake, Buffy. Felt your heart rate go up.” His hand stopped stroking but remained resting on her head.
“Stupid vampire senses,” she grumbled, rolling toward him to meet his amused gaze.
He smiled at her. “I feel weak as a kitten, but I don’t seem to be hurt anywhere. What happened?”
“What do you remember?”
He frowned. “Remember being knocked flat, getting’ up and runnin’. Get’s a little blurry after that.  What happened to me?”
“Willow’s little power boost this morning made you really fast, but running like that used up what was left it. Remember, she said you’d be weak when it wore off. I guess you just used up so much getting us out of there that when it ran out, you crashed. I had to carry you.”
He gave her a quick hug, saying, “I appreciate that, pet. But where were our backup slayers?”
“The First got to your little hero-worshipper and she told everybody you said to leave.”
His eyes shut briefly. “He appeared to Jess as me?”
“Yep. Very convincingly it seems.”
He opened his eyes and raised an eyebrow. “Is she still alive?” 
“For the moment….”
He sighed and shook his head. “You see why I stayed away from you now?  If I had my soul, I never would have given her any reason to be so…. I wouldn’t have chatted up a girl her age.”
“Yes you would. This isn’t your fault, and the missing soul never kept you from flirting. Not once you got over being crazy, anyway.  This isn’t your fault… well, okay, maybe a little…. no more flirting with impressionable little girls.” She smacked him on the chest, getting a huff of laughter from him as he grabbed her hand.  “But we warned them all. It’s on her that she didn’t listen and was stupid enough to think you’d leave your position just to come talk to her. She made a bad slayer decision and we almost paid the price.”
“So, how’d we get out then?” They both ignored the way he continued to hold onto the hand resting on his chest.
“My girls came back in after us. And Graham stopped after one shot when he realized we weren’t out and there were slayers going in. Once we were all out, they fired until the whole place fell down. It was pretty cool. I’m sorry you missed it.”
“I’m sorry I missed it too. How long have I been out?”
“I dunno. What time is it?”
“No idea. Feels like it’s still night.”
“Probably is. Are you hungry?”
“I could take some nourishment…” He released her hand and went to get up, then  flopped back on the bed. “On the other hand, I might just stay here where it’s comfy.”
Buffy laughed and sat up. She saw him eyeing her tee-shirted body and said, “What? I wasn’t going to leave you alone, and I didn’t have any clothes in here. I didn’t want to get into bed naked.”
She got up and walked to the mini-fridge to take out his blood. “It didn’t thaw very much. Can I trust you to stay here if I go warm it up?”
“Not going anywhere, Buffy. Even if I could. Won’t do that to you. If I go, it’ll be because we both decided it was the best thing to do.”
“Scout’s honor.”
“You were never a Boy Scout.”
“No, but I ate one once.”
“Ugh!” She went to the door and peered out, hearing no voices. “I guess everybody’s finally asleep. I’ll be right back.”  She slipped out the door and ran to the kitchen without seeing anyone, warmed his blood in a mug in the microwave, and walked back to the room, holding it carefully.
Spike was sitting, propped up on pillows and growling to himself.
“Here, stop growling and have something to eat.” Buffy handed him the cup, making sure he was strong enough to hold it before going back to the fridge to get herself something to eat and drink.
“When I get back to the Slayer School, I’m going to talk to Giles about changing the curriculum. We need these girls to be more independent and smarter. That’s not happening. I don’t want to bring back the Cruciamentum, but I think we need some kind of a test before we send the girls out. Something that shows they can think on their feet and adapt to changes. And make good decisions.”
“You sound like quite the school marm,” Spike said, looking at her over the rim of the mug.  “Not saying that’s not a good idea, love, but the truth is, some of them are going to be smarter than others. That’s just how people are.”
“Slayers aren’t just people!”
“No. They’re not. But these girls… they’re not quite what slayers used to be. Maybe that’s their training, but maybe it’s just that – when you aren’t the only one in all the world, you don’t have to be quite as….  I dunno. I’m just talking out of my arse. Pay me no mind.”
Buffy stared at him. “Are you saying they aren’t as strong as the slayers you fought before?  I thought it was just that Faith and I were stronger because we’re older – you know, kinda like vamps get stronger when they’re older?”
He shrugged. “I’m not saying anything. Just… maybe… that slayer demon got its essence thinned out a bit when it was shared with so many potentials. They aren’t ordinary girls by any means, don’t misunderstand me, but I don’t think many of them could hold a candle to you… or even Faith… when you were that age.”
“Wonderful – I’ve created a bunch of fighters who can’t fight.”
“No you haven’t. You’ve made the world a safer place – and sent the First packing again – using those fighters. Just maybe something else to add to those changes you were talking about making at the school. See if you can sort out which ones have the brains to go with the brawn.”
“If only I had a bad ass vampire that likes to fight slayers to take back there with me…..” Buffy blinked her eyes innocently at him.
“No fair. We can’t have that argument when I can’t get up and walk out.”
“I think it’s the perfect time to have it. Then if I can’t convince you to come back with me and give it... us… a chance, I can tie you up before you’re strong enough to leave.”  She smiled at him. “I thought about hiding all your clothes, but I figured being you, you’d just walk out naked.”
“Pretty sure if you got me naked – or tied up – leavin’ would be the last thing on my mind.” He gave her a lascivious grin.
She just stared at him, her smile fading. “If you mean that, how can you keep talking about not… not being with me? Where I am.”
“Because I still want you. And I still love you. And having a soul has fuck all to do with either of those things. Didn’t need it before, and I don’t need it now.  Don’t think I’d take it back if it was offered….” He glared at her. “Just in case you were planning to ask Willow for a little favor.”
“Color me confused. You want me. You love me. You don’t need a soul to do it….”
“Only difference the soul makes to me as far as we’re concerned is it would give me the will to walk away without having you in my arms one more time. Without it, I’ll take what I can get, while I can get it. Just like soulless me did back—”
“You aren’t ‘getting’ anything! If you think I’m going to go to bed with you, knowing you’re planning to leave me after…after…. You—” She almost sputtered her outrage. “Your thinking sucks!”
Before he could reply, she went on, hands waving around as she paced the floor. “I haven’t said a damn thing about the soul. The only one who keeps harping on not having it is you. I loved you without it, I loved you with it, and I can love you without it again.”
“You hated yourself for loving me without it. Don’t try to deny it.” His voice was firm, but his eyes held just a trace of doubt.
“I did.” When she saw his face shut down, she added, “But that was a thousand years ago, you moron! Before you went and got the soul… for me.  Doing that for me was all it took to show me you didn’t need it.  And if that didn’t convince me, the way you’ve been helping slayers all over the world for years would have.”
She sighed and moved closer to him. “Face it, Big Bad. You aren’t big or bad any more. You haven’t been evil for so long you don’t even remember how. And if you did get the urge to do something evil, how better to keep that from happening than living with a slayer? THE Slayer. The one who always foiled your evil plans?”
“I reckon that would put a damper on any evilness I might want to get up to….”
His resolve was visibly weakening, and Buffy pressed her advantage, moving
even closer to the bed.
 “It would. I’d be watching you like a hawk.”
“You’d probably have to keep me beside you all the time… just in case…” He reached a hand forward and tugged gently on a piece of hair. “Really close like….”
She nodded as she moved even nearer. “It’s a tough job, but somebody’s going to have to do it. It should probably be me…”
“You’d be the one with experience,” he agreed, brushing his lips over hers. He leaned back against the pillow, pulling her toward him.
“Exactly.” She followed her lips until she was lying against his chest and he was deepening the kiss. For long minutes all they did was indulge in the kisses they hadn’t shared for so many years.  “I almost forgot how good a kisser you are,” she murmured against his mouth.  “Almost…”
“Almost doesn’t count,” he replied, leaving her mouth to nibble on one earlobe. “Long as you usually remembered.”
“Did you?” she asked, pulling back suddenly. “When you were ‘not being a monk’? Did you forget me?”
He shook his head. “Not possible, Buffy. I might have exaggerated just a tad about the not being a monk, but not by much. Anytime I tried to shag somebody else, I’d end up comparing her to the woman I really wanted and… it never ended well.” He nuzzled her ear again and Buffy felt the increasing tension in his body. “What about you? Didn’t go into a convent, did you?”
“Close enough,” she muttered. “Why do you think I fell for that….” She felt him stiffen even more at the reminder of something they’d both just as soon forget ever happened, and she stopped herself before she could completely ruin the mood. “Never mind. No, I hardly date at all. I’m busy, I’ve long since given up on normal, and I just….”
She felt him relax slightly and sighed. “Do we need to talk about that? I thought you were dead, you know. This business of disappearing and letting me think you’re dead is getting old.  I don’t think you’ve got any right to get testy about anything I do… did… when you were playing dead somewhere!”
He loosened his arms and dropped his head back against the pillow. “You’re right, love. I don’t have a right. Demon has a jealous streak and without the soul to keep it in check….”
Buffy huffed and sat up straighter. “That jealous streak was still there when you had the soul, and you know it.”
He laughed softly. “I guess it was at that. I’m sorry.”  He dipped his head to meet her narrow-eyed gaze.  “Think we can forget the past and just start over?”
She smiled at him and leaned back into his embrace. “Knowing us, probably not. We’ll be fighting about things from years ago all the time.  But we can try. We can try to start over.”
“A new beginning, yeah?”
She nodded and squirmed around to be lying on him, smiling when he slid down to a more horizontal position. 
“A new beginning… starting now.”
“Can we get naked before we start?”  He pulled her tee shirt up until it came off over her head.
“I thought you’d never ask.” Buffy sat up and tugged on his shirt until he sat up and shrugged out of it. Sliding down his legs, she undid his jeans, then moved all the way off the bed to tug them down his legs. She dropped them to the floor and stood there, hands on hips and staring at his erect cock. “I see at least one part of you has recovered from spell.”
He gave a shrug and looked away. “So it seems. Got to admit though, the rest of me still feels weak as a kitten. Maybe we should wait—”
Buffy just smiled and pushed her thong down her legs. “I think I can handle this. You just lie there and think happy thoughts.” She moved back up on her hands and knees until she was hovering over him, his cock brushing her stomach as she leaned in for a kiss. “I think I remember how to be on top… and what you like…”
He spread his arms and legs out and grinned at her. “I’m all yours, Slayer. Do with me what you will.”
And she did. Repeatedly.
Chapter #9 - Chapter Nine/Epilogue
Willow’s early morning wake up knock, found them still wrapped up in each other, although temporarily sated and just dozing. She followed her knock by opening the door, only to slam it again with an “eep!” when she caught a glimpse of the two naked bodies entwined on the bed.
Buffy groaned and pulled the sheets up over them.
“It’s okay, Wills. Come on in. We’re … well, not decent, but we’re covered.”
Willow opened the door slowly and peered in to the room without actually looking in their direction.
“So… you guys are… okay then?”
Buffy looked at Spike, a question in her eyes. “Are we? No more hiding-from-Buffy Spike?”
He shook his head. “No, love. You’re stuck with me now.”
Buffy looked back toward Willow and her red face. “We’re good. We’ll be better, but we’re good now.”
“Well, that’s… good then. ‘Cause we might have a teeny problem…”
“Is this about the soldiers and our girls?”
“Okay, then, maybe we have two teeny problems….”
Buffy sighed. “Sounds like we need to get dressed and come out into the real world.  Give us a few minutes to shower and get dressed and we’ll meet you in the lobby.”
“We’ll meet her in the kitchen. I need to eat. Expended a lot of energy recently,” Spike said a leer.
“Kitchen it is. Later!” Willow slammed the door again.
When the door had closed, Spike put his arms around Buffy and pulled her down with him. 
“I thought you were tired?”
He sighed and dropped a kiss on her shoulder. “I am, truth be told. I just hate to leave this and go face the real world.”
“Right there with you,” she said with a grimace. “But welcome to my life.”
“I remember, sweetheart.”  He stretched and moved his legs experimentally.  “Looks like I’ve recovered enough to walk myself to the shower. Care to join me?”
Somewhat longer than the few minutes she’d asked for, Buffy and Spike left their room and walked to the kitchen, mostly ignored by the few slayers lolling around the lobby.  Buffy tossed Spike a bag of frozen blood and while he warmed it up, she fixed herself some cereal. Willow came to join them as they sat at a small table to eat.
The first thing she did was study Spike intently, then smile. “You look like you’re pretty much recovered,” she said. “I didn’t really expect you to crash that badly when I gave you the boost. I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for, Red. Without that boost, I’m not sure we could have outrun those ugly buggers as far as we did. No harm done that good rest didn’t cure.”
“‘Rest’, huh? Is that what they’re calling it these days?”  Willow smirked at him.
He looked at Buffy. “She’s getting sassy in her old age, isn’t she?” he said with a grin.
Willow pointed a finger at him. “Vampire – toad. Could still happen.”
“I don’t want warts, Willow,” Buffy said, her laughter joining theirs. They were quiet for a few moments, smiling and content. “This feels good. Like we’re almost us again. All we need is—” She stopped, not sure what to say about the missing members of the old Sunnydale Scoobies.
“We’ll have a big reunion thing when everybody’s home,” Willow said. “Right now, we have a few fires to put out.” They looked at her expectantly, and she sighed, pointing to Spike. “Your little groupie girl has taken her mistake to heart. To the point where nobody wants to go out with her because she’s so reckless. I don’t know if she’s trying to atone by being a one-girl slaying squad, or if she’s so upset with herself that she’s hoping for suicide by vampire. It’s hard to tell because she won’t talk to anyone.”
“So that’s my problem to fix,” Spike said, staring into his mug. He raised his eyes to Buffy and began, “If I had….”
“Bullshit,” she cut him off. “Your soulless state has nothing to do with this. Just go find her, explain… explain… something that doesn’t make her feel like an even bigger idiot for thinking your flirting meant anything besides you can’t help yourself around women.”
“I agree,” Willow said. “Let her grovel and apologize, just don’t go feeling all sorry for her and go with the comforting hug. You know she won’t see that for what it really is.”
Spike looked at Buffy’s carefully neutral expression and snickered. “Know better than that, don’t I? Even if I was the hugging type, which I’m not.”
He finished his blood and went to the sink to rinse the mug out. “So where do I find this death-seeking slayer?”
“She’s with Rachel. In the meeting room.”
“Got it. See you in few, Slayer.”
“You’d better….”
Buffy watched Spike walk out, then looked her own question at Willow. “And the other teeny problem is….?”
“Some of the girls think they want to join the Army.  You’ll have to talk to Rachel about it. Most of them were her girls, but a couple of ours too.”
Willow looked surprised when Buffy just shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea…”  She told Willow about Spike’s observations about the newer slayers, as well as her own doubts about how good a job she was doing preparing them for the real world.  “Maybe, for girls who want to be told what to do all the time, it could be a good thing? They’d ace the basic training stuff, and even if they didn’t like it and got out after a year or so, think of all the weapon experience they’d have.”  She bit her lip. “I’ll talk to them, but I’d like to talk to Graham first. Did he leave?”
Willow nodded. “Yeah. They did spend the night here… and don’t think that wasn’t fun, making sure any girls who were hooking up were old enough to do it legally….”
Buffy made a face. “I’m glad I slept through that.”
“You should be,” Willow grumbled. “You owe Rachel and me… big time!”
Buffy laughed. “You know you’re a much better mother hen than I am.”
“Well, those are the two issues. If the girls wanting to be soldiers doesn’t bother you, we might as well go see how Spike’s doing with his problem.”
They entered the meeting room just as Spike was facing off against Jess, who was clearly battling tears.
“I’m not trying to myself killed! And I’m not asking anybody else to come with me, so I’m not getting them killed either.”
“So what the bloody hell are you doing then?”
“I’m trying to make up for… for….” She lost her battle and the tears came.  “I almost got you killed! Because I was too stupid not to know that you’d never treat me like you did Faith until I was that good of a slayer.”
“Like Faith?” Spike stared at her with wide eyes, then at Rachel, whose eyes were just as wide.  “Trust me when I tell you you don’t want me treating you like I’ve treated Faith.”
“But… but you… weren’t you… I thought you and Faith….”
“Let me tell you something about me and Slayer Number Two. We were a bit alike in a lot of ways. Not all of them good ones. So yeah, we flirted and snarked, and shared innuendos that most of you are too young to even understand. Just braggin’ at each other.”  He took a deep breath and went on. “And we were part of the same team that saved the world the last time the First thought it was going to take over up here.  We might have bonded a bit back then. When we weren’t punching each other about something...  But fighters on the same side against the forces of evil is all we ever were. Don’t know what you thought you were seeing here, but even if you were stalking us, I know too bloody well that you never saw anything that might cause Slayer Number One to take it out of my hide.”
“Who? Wha—” She looked up as Buffy entered the room. “Why do you call them Slayer #1 and Slayer #2? And why would she care what you did with Faith?”
“Because I was here first, and Faith came after me. So to Spike, who already knew me from when I was only sixteen, I’m Slayer #1 and Faith, who came around later, is Slayer #2.  Once there were hundreds of you, he stopped giving out numbers.” Buffy gave Spike a “fix this now” look as she walked up to him.
“So, the numbers have nothing to do with how important you are to him.” Jess beamed as if she’d just won the lottery.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I thought you were handling this?” she muttered.
“I was workin’ on it.”
“Did you really fight Faith?” Jess brought their attention back to her.
“Once or twice. Short fights is all they were.”
Jess nodded. “What about her?” She pointed at Buffy.
“Buffy? Bloody hell yes. Back when I was evil, fighting with her was one of my favorite things.” His eyes lit up.  “I was called the Slayer of Slayers.  A good fight with a slayer used to make my night….  When I was all evil and whatnot,” he added as Buffy’s eyes narrowed and even Rachel looked like she might be reaching for a stake.
“But you didn’t kill her or Faith.” Jess frowned her lack of understanding.
“Was a bit handicapped by the soul the times I got into with Faith. And before that, I was a bit handicapped by the fact that Buffy usually handed my arse to me… eventually.” He sighed. “All of which has nothing to do with nothing. What we’re talking about here is that you’re going out there taking chances you shouldn’t. And if you think you’re going to prove you’re just as tough as either of the two older slayers…. That’s not going to happen. Not now. Maybe not ever.”
“You don’t know that!”
“I do, luv. Trust me. I spent most of my unlife studying slayers, fighting them when I could, killing them when I got lucky…. You’re talking to the expert.”
“Then you should fight me.”
Spike growled. “Did you listen to a thing I said?”
“You said you’re an expert on fighting slayers. I’m a slayer. Fight me. Maybe I’ll surprise you.”
Instead of answering her, he glanced at Buffy. “What do you think, sweetheart? Do you think I have my strength back yet?”
Buffy shook her head. “Maybe you were working on it last night, but not now you don’t.”
“An’ why’s that?” he said, a trace of a grin on his face.
“Because if you do, I’ve really lost my touch,” she said back at him, sticking her tongue out.
“Oh, I think your touch is still there, love. My aching body can vouch for it.  And if you stick that out again, I’m going to bite it.”
“Promises, promises…”
The playful banter, the obvious sexual tone to the conversation, as well as the heated and affectionate looks passing between Buffy and Spike did more to bring Jessie down to earth than anything anyone had said up to that point.
“You. She. When? What?” Her brow wrinkled in bewilderment and dawning understanding.
“Those two have a history that goes back to almost before you were born,” Willow said. “Faith wouldn’t have touched Spike even if he was willing, because then she would have had to answer to Buffy. And that didn’t go well for her the last time it happened.”
Suddenly looking very much her youthful age, Jessie looked back and forth between the three older people in the room, and then to Rachel. “Did you know this?”
Rachel shrugged. “I’ve heard about them. And Buffy was the first person he wanted to talk to when he woke up from his coma—” 
“I was just resting!”
“Right. From his three-day ‘rest’. He wanted to call her. But yeah, I already knew a little bit of their history from Faith.”
“Why didn’t we—I— know?”
“Because it wasn’t any of your business! I was here to help you fight a war, not entertain you with the sad story of my love life.” Spike sighed. “I’m sorry you misunderstood my… the way I am with women. Don’t know how you didn’t notice that I flirted with all you birds exactly the same way… including Faith. It was all talk. Never touched anyone did I?”
Jessie stared at Buffy, unable to avoid seeing that she had a possessive hand on Spike’s arm, a hand which he raised to his lips and kissed before dropping it to his side, linked with his.
“So, are we done here?  You’re going to behave like a regular slayer and just work on keeping the vampire population down and getting older and smarter?”
When Jessie looked like she might be going to argue, Rachel spoke up. “That’s not negotiable, Jessie. You’re on kitchen duty for a while anyway, but you won’t be going back out until I know you’re not going to put any of my other girls in jeopardy with your recklessness.”
Jessie continued to stare at Buffy, finally saying, “Did you really beat Spike when you fought him?”
“Most of the time, yeah. We used to be pretty evenly matched, but I usually kicked his ass in the long run. Why?”
“Why isn’t he dust?”
Buffy shrugged and looked at Spike. “I thought he was one time. But it turned out his… another vampire had carried him out of the burning building.”
“She put me in a wheelchair that time,” Spike added. “Lucky for me she didn’t come looking to finish the job.”
“Lucky for me,” Buffy said, leaning into him. “You were around to help me save the world from Alcathla.”
“Lucky for us,” he said, putting his arm around her. “The more time we spent together – even if it was fightin’ – the more we—”
“And that’s really none of your business either,” Rachel said firmly. “You know all you need to know. Spike isn’t interested in you and never was because he’s Buffy’s, and you aren’t ready to go out by yourself and be Super-Slayer to try to make up for your mistake during the battle. Now we’re done here. Go to the kitchen and see what you can do there to help put some food on the table tonight.”
Giving Rachel a murderous glare, Jessie began to stomp out of the room. As she got to the door, she turned around and said, “When I think I’m ready, I’m coming for you, Spike. Be watching for me.” She flounced out leaving silence behind her.
Moving faster than the eye, Spike had Buffy wrapped up and off the floor before she could follow through on her obviously lethal intentions. He held her until she stopped squirming and muttering threats, finally letting her put her feet on the floor but keeping his arms around her.
“I should have killed her,” Buffy said as she shook him off. “Dumb bitch.”
“She’ll get over it, love. By the time she’s even close to being strong enough to think about fighting me, she’ll be smart enough not to.”
“She’s stupid, Buffy, but I don’t think she’s that stupid.” Willow glanced at Rachel for confirmation. Rachel shrugged.
“I don’t think so, but that was pretty dumb right there. I’m sorry, Buffy. Maybe I should—”
Buffy shook her head with a sigh. She smiled at Spike. “I guess I should thank you for keeping me from killing one of my own slayers.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t have killed her,” Spike said. “But it probably would have been a while before she was out of the hospital.”
Buffy snorted her agreement.  She smiled at Rachel.  “I’m going to leave you a squad of my girls to help out with the cleanup. But I think Spike and I should probably leave with Willow tonight.”
Rachel nodded. “I understand that.  I can’t thank you too much for coming and helping us out,” she said. “I think I was way out of my depth.”
“If Faith hadn’t been killed, you’d probably have been okay between her and Spike, I—what?”
Spike was shaking his head. “We needed you here, love. Needed that off-the-wall thinkin’ that goes on in your little slayer brain.”
“Well, I’m glad you finally called for me. Even if you were trying to do it without me at first.”
“I’m glad I called you too. But to be honest, Faith and I had already been talking about calling in reinforcements – and yours was the first name she thought of.”
“She thought of? Not you?”
“Your name is always on my mind, Buffy. Didn’t need a crisis to bring it out.”
“Apparently it needed a crisis to get you to pick up a phone,” Buffy said, giving him a mock glare.
“I was ready to come home,” he said with a shrug. “Just needed a good enough excuse.”
As he pulled her closer and nibbled on her neck, Buffy rolled her eyes at Willow.
“Are you buying this, Willow?”
“I will if you want me to, but if he was faking not wanting to be back in your life, it was a damn good act. He fooled me.”
“Yeah. That’s what I was thinking. ‘Ready to come home’ my ass!” She put her hands on her hips and glared at him, her expression softening when he just smiled at her and touched her cheek.
“It was worth a shot. Just because I was stupid is no reason not to try to look smarter.”
“You were stupid.”
“I was. Are you going to let me make it up to you?” He pulled her close again, neither of them noticing that Willow and Rachel were still in the room.
“Maybe. Are you going to forgive me for never telling you I didn’t need the soul to love you?”
“I wonder if we have enough time before our plane leaves to start making it up to each other?”
“No! Start packing!” Willow’s emphatic order startled them apart. “I want to go home.”
“Home. We’re going to your home.”
“Home. Our home.”

The End