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Challenge #578 What If I Loved You? Part 1 by slaymesoftly
Challenger #578 at BSV
Spike saves Buffy at the beginning of Fool For Love instead of Riley....
Buffy was enjoying her first slay of the night, quipping about the vamp’s smell and his obvious age (based on his looking like a Van Halen reject) when the fight suddenly went very wrong. As she flipped over a headstone, stake raised, the faster-than-she-had expected vamp grabbed her arm as she landed, spun her around and impaled her on her own stake.
Her eyes widened in shock and pain. This was not how it was supposed to go. As she stared at the stake protruding from her body, she gasped, then pulled it out.
Oh, bad move, Buffy! Her sweater was immediately soaked with her own blood and she felt a frisson of fear for the first time in years.  As she tried to flee, she found herself moving too slowly, the pain of the wound as well as the steady loss of blood impeding her ability to out run the vamp.
When he suddenly appeared in front of her, grinning and mocking, she raised the stake but he easily brushed it away and threw her against a crypt.  Picking up the lost stake, he stalked her as she lay there, helpless and bleeding.
Oh my God. This is it. This is the day I die.  I’m sorry, Mom—
She had tears in her eyes, but didn’t flinch as the vamp raised the stake for a killing blow. She pulled her knees into her chest, hoping to get one good kick in to buy herself some time. To do what with, she wasn’t sure, but she wasn’t going down without a— She blinked in surprise when her attacker suddenly disappeared in a flash of black leather.
Snarls coming from the combatants now rolling around on the ground would have given away who her rescuer was, even if Buffy couldn’t see the shockingly blond hair.  
“Sp... Spike?” Buffy’s pain filled whisper put an end to the fight as Spike wrenched his opponents head off, whirling to go to Buffy before the dust had even drifted to the ground.
“Slayer? Buffy?  What happened?” His nostrils flared and he glanced to where she was holding a hand to her side.  “You’re bleeding!”
“Thanks for noticing,” she muttered as best she could while trying not to moan.  “Help me up. I have to get—”
She stopped as Spike handed her a large white handkerchief he had folded into quarters.
“Here,” he said. “Hold this against the wound.” He didn’t wait for her, but pulled her sweater up and placed the handkerchief pad against the hole in her side.  When she was holding it there with a trembling hand, he shrugged out of his coat and pulled off his tee-shirt, ripping in down the center. Without looking Buffy in the face, he put his arms around her back and turned the ripped shirt into a makeshift bandage. He wrapped it around her twice, tying it off when he was confident it would hold the blood soaked handkerchief in place.
As he put his coat back on, he finally met her gaze. “How the hell did—” Buffy stared at him and held up her bloody hands, then closed her eyes and slid to the ground. She never heard Spike’s anguished cry, or felt him pick her up and look around frantically, wondering what to do with her.
When Buffy awoke, she was lying on Giles’s couch, and he was unwrapping Spike’s handwork.  Behind him, looking worried, Spike was holding a tray with cotton, gauze, antiseptic, antibiotic cream, and everything else Giles had pulled from his emergency kit. He set the tray of supplies down next to Giles and moved to stand near Buffy’s head.
“You probably should have taken her to the emergency room,” Giles grumbled as he exposed the deep wound.
“Yeah, that would have gone well.” Spike snorted. “I’d be dust or in jail, and she’d be trying to explain to them what she was doing walking through a graveyard and getting poked with a sharp piece of wood.”
“Give me the antiseptic,” Giles said, dropping the bloody bandage on the floor. Spike silently handed him the cleaning solution, flinching in sympathy when Buffy gasped as Giles poured it into the wound.   Without thinking, she grabbed Spike’s hand and clutched it tightly until the tears stopped spurting from her eyes.
“Easy there, pet,” he said squeezing back, grateful for the vampire strength that protected his fingers. “aHHIt had to be done. Who knows how many corpses that bloody stake has been in.”
“No Emergency Room,” Buffy gritted out through clenched teeth.  “And ow!”
“Sorry,” Giles muttered as he smeared antibiotic cream on the wound and dribbled antibacterial powder down into it. “It’s very deep and I don’t want an infection to set in.”
“I don’t get infections,” Buffy said. “Slayer healing, remember?”
“Even slayers can use a little help sometimes,” Giles said as he packed the wound with gauze and wrapped an Ace bandage around her torso to hold it in place. “There. That should keep it from bleeding any more than it already has.”
“Was probably just as well that it bled so much,” Spike said. “Would help wash out any pieces of wood or dirt.”
“Thank you, Doctor Bloody.” Buffy glared at him, then her expression softened. “Did you just save me?”
Spike looked embarrassed, rubbing the hand she was no longer squeezing across the back of his neck. When there was no reply, Buffy tried to sit up, only to lose her balance and fall back on the sofa.
“What the hell?”
“You lost a lot of blood, Buffy. You need to lie still until your body has time to build it back up.”  Giles got to his feet, picking up the tray of first aid materials as he did so. “I will be right back with some replacement liquids.”  He took the first aid materials with him into the kitchen where he began to search for something suitable for someone suffering from blood loss.
Buffy gazed at Spike, who, now that Giles wasn’t kneeling beside her, had moved back to her side.  She frowned.
“You did save me, didn’t you? I’m remembering it now. You pulled that vamp off me and you bandaged me up.”  She peered at the pale skin showing under his open coat. “With your shirt and a... handkerchief?  What kind of vampire carries around a handkerchief?”
“One that was brought up properly,” he mumbled. “Just be glad I had it.”  He looked away from her as she tugged her sweater back down over the new bandage.
“And then you brought me here.”
“Well, yeah,” he blustered. “What else was I going to do with an unconscious Slayer bleeding like a stuck pig? Had to take you somewhere, didn’t I? Didn’t feature taking you to your mum in that condition.”
“You could have helped yourself to some of that blood,” she said, frowning as it occurred to her. “It’s not like I would have noticed – being unconscious and—”
His shocked expression changed before her eyes to one that combined pain and anger.
“You think I would do that to you? Take advantage like that?”
Buffy stared at him, trying to reconcile the evil demon she knew him to be with the obviously hurt man in front of her.
Before she could think of anything to say to make that expression go away, Giles was back with a large glass of orange juice.
“This was all I have in the way of fluids suitable for someone in your condition—” He glared at Spike’s coughed “Scotch is a good pain killer” before continuing. “But I have water on for tea, and a pitcher of it in the refrigerator. You may have your choice of warm or cool liquids once you have finished this.”
Buffy gave him a grateful smile and took the juice, wincing a little as she reached for it.
“I guess that’s it for tonight’s patrol,” she sighed. “Only one vamp accounted for... and Spike got him.”
“Speaking of whom...” Giles turned a suspicious stare toward the vampire.  “Why were you there when Buffy got hurt? Did you set this up?”
“Did I....?  Bloody hell, you miserable bastard!  I was walking home and heard them fighting.  Was just going to see if the Slayer would want company patrolling after she finished with that one. Took me a few seconds to figure out something was wrong, and a couple more to figure out exactly how wrong it was going. I just barely got there in time to keep that ugly bugger from having himself a really good day. How could you think I’d set her up for that?”
Spike finished his speech, glaring at Giles and taking short, angry and unnecessary breaths. They stared at each other for several seconds while Buffy frowned in confusion. Giles nodded and shrugged an apology. His years of watcher training had given him finely honed powers of observation, and he was more than aware of Spike’s growing feelings towards Buffy. And Spike wasn’t oblivious to Giles’s knowledge. Although they’d never discussed it, there was tacit agreement between them that Spike’s feelings for Buffy had long since gone from the bane of his existence, to the reason he remained in Sunnydale.
“Quite right,” Giles said with a sigh. “I apologize, Spike.”
“Giles, did you just apologize to Spike?” Buffy looked back and forth between them in bewilderment. “And for what?”
“For suggesting he may have had a hand in anything that—” Spike’s vigorously coughing and head shaking interrupted Giles and he hesitated.  “I think, in recent months, Spike has shown us a willingness to assist in our fight against evil, and it would not seem to be in character for him to have arranged a situation like that. I’m quite sure if he still desires your demise, he wants to be the one responsible for it directly.”
“Too bloody right,” Spike growled, throwing Giles a grateful look. “You’re my slayer... to kill, I mean... and I’ll be arsed if I’m letting some random vamp take that away from me.”
“Nice save,” Giles said dryly before turning his attention to Buffy and taking the empty juice glass.  “Would you prefer tea or ice water now?”
“Water, please. I could use some sleep and the tea might keep me awake.” She squirmed around on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position. “Do you mind if I crash here tonight? I don’t want Mom to know what a close call I had.”
“Of course you may. But would you not prefer the guest room?”
“Nah. I’d rather not go upstairs just now. I’ll be fine here. I just wish I’d finished patrolling, though. Seems like there are a lot of vamps out there now.”
“I’ve got it, Slayer,” Spike said abruptly. He’d been quiet during the conversation about Buffy’s need for rest and liquids, and she had almost forgotten his presence. She looked at him in surprise.
“You’re going to finish my patrol for me?”
“Could use another spot of violence or two before I turn in. The night’s young yet.”
“I guess it is... for you. You’re around us so much, sometimes I forget you’re a vampire.”
“Don’t ever forget that, Slayer.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t.” 
“Um, okay?  Anyway, if you finish my patrol, I’d appreciate it.  Maybe by tomorrow night I’ll be—”
“You’re not going back out there until you’re 100%!”
“Absolutely not. Not until you’ve healed completely.”
Buffy stared back and forth between the two men who had spoken simultaneously.
“Is this Giles and Spike are weird night?  Cause you’re both acting really funny. And not ha-ha funny. You’d think I’d never been hurt before.  In case you’ve forgotten, Giles, I’ve already died once.”
“I have not forgotten that,” he said stiffly. “Nor that I did nothing to prevent it until it was too late. Hence my concern.”
Buffy turned her attention to Spike. “And you! Do you really think I’m buying that ‘keeping you alive so I can kill you’ crap?”
He shuffled his feet and stared at the floor. “I’d really appreciate it if you did,” he mumbled, refused to look at her.
“Well I’m not going to. And as soon as I feel better, we’re going to get to the bottom of this Spike is being nice to Buffy thing you’ve got going.”
Without responding to that comment, Spike just walked to the door, saying over his shoulder, “Get your rest, Slayer. I’ll take care of tonight’s evil doers.”
When he’d pulled the door closed behind him, Buffy turned to Giles. “Do you know what’s going on with him?” She took the water glass he gave her.
“I’m afraid I might.”
He shook his head. “I could be wrong. In which case, it isn’t anything I want you to be concerned about. And if I’m correct, it isn’t my place to tell you.” He set down a pitcher of more water on the floor beside the couch.  “Please drink as much as you can, and then get some rest. I suspect you will feel much better by tomorrow.”
“I hope so,” she muttered and winced again when she set down the now-empty glass. “This isn’t any fun at all.”
“I will alert the media,” Giles said as he went upstairs.
“Very funny, Giles.”
“I try. Goodnight, Buffy.”
By late morning Buffy was sufficiently recovered to feel more like herself, although she agreed that her side was not healed enough for patrol to be a good idea yet.
“Do you have any idea what happened last night?” Giles inquired. “How a routine slay of one vampire became a life and death situation?”
“I think I’ve spoiled you,” Buffy said with a small smile. “You expect me to survive life and death situations all the time.”
Giles nodded and flushed with embarrassment. “Quite so,” he said. “You are an extraordinary slayer. Which is why I’m confused and would like to understand what happened last night.”
“I don’t really know,” Buffy said, almost to herself. “It was weird.  Maybe I just got too cocky. He wasn’t a fledgling, but he wasn’t exactly a master either, and Spike had no trouble with him. Maybe I’m just getting slow in my old age....”
She cocked her hear at Giles. “What do the Watchers Diaries say about slayers that die? How does it happen usually? Apocalypse or vamps? Do their watchers describe what happened to them?”
He visibly flinched.  “The watchers are not often privy to the exact circumstances. As you well know, slayers usually do their job by themselves. Their watchers can only surmise what happened when they find the... body.  Surmise and grieve...”
“Hmmm. I need to find somebody who knows what slayers do that gets them killed. So I can not make the same mistakes.  That’s important information. Your books should have it!”
“May I suggest that you consult someone who has some experience with slayers who’ve lost their lives?”
“Well yeah, but who.... Spike!  How could I forget that he’s killed two of us? I’ll get him to tell me what they did wrong, and—”
“It’s entirely possible that what they did wrong was pick a fight with the wrong vampire,” Giles said with a sigh. “You’ve fought Spike more than once. Would you say he was an easy slay?”
Buffy laughed. “Good point. But Spike is really old. He couldn’t have been that good when he fought his first slayer. I just need to get him to tell me about them.”
Giles smiled at her. “Just be prepared to find out it is not information he cares to share with you.”
“I’ll make him tell me.”
“I’m sure that will go well,” Giles muttered as he prepared to leave for the Magic Box. “Please try not to re-injure yourself in the process.”
“Well, if I can’t beat it out of him, I’ll have to find another way,” she said, unconsciously holding her side.
“You could try asking him.” Giles waved a hand as he picked up his keys on the way to the door. “I’m sure if you practice between now and this evening you will come up with the right words.”
“I heard that!”  Buffy glared at the now-empty doorway.  “I have words! Nice words!”
Chapter Two
After dodging a phone call from Riley earlier in the day --  “Just tell him you don’t know where I am,” she hissed to Giles who had his hand over the phone’s mouthpiece – Buffy determined she needed to talk to Spike about killing slayers sooner rather than later.  She really didn’t want to be around Riley until she was pretty well healed from what he would undoubtedly view as a close call that couldn’t or wouldn’t have happened if he’d been patrolling with her. That conversation would go much better if she could just brush off the injury with a cheery “I’m already healed up, see?” and an explanation for what went wrong and what she would do differently in the future.
Although she was still very stiff and her side was painful to the touch, she phoned Giles and insisted she was more than capable of walking to Restfield by herself and didn’t need to wait for him to return from the Magic Box. She set off, wondering if Spike would be home and alone. Although she was pretty sure he wasn’t still seeing Harmony, she didn’t actually know that and really wasn’t interested in any confrontations yet. Even with a vampire as lame as Harmony.
She hesitated when she reached to door to his crypt, noticing that both the inner and outer doors were closed.  When pulling on the outer door made her wound complain, she stopped pulling and, instead of barging in as she normally would, knocked on the inner wooden door.  She was just raising her hand to knock again when it was opened by a very sleepy-appearing Spike.  A shirtless, tousle-headed, sleepy, surprisingly yummy-looking Spike. Buffy mentally smacked herself.
He blinked at her blearily for a second, as if not sure who she was, then shook himself awake.
She bit her lip.  “You were sleeping, weren’t you?” He gave her one of his “duh” looks. “I’m sorry. I thought you’d be awake by now.”
“Had a busy night,” he said. “What do you need?”  As he finished speaking, his nostrils flared and he growled. “Why are you bleeding again?”
Buffy put a hand to her side and gave a guilty shrug. “I guess I should have knocked on the outside door, but I didn’t think you’d hear me.”  She pushed gently against her side and winced. “Did I really make it bleed again?”
“Smells like it. You’d best come in here and let me get a look at it.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll just go back to Giles and he can put another bandage on it.”
He shook his head and stepped back. “No, luv. Don’t want you walkin’ around bleeding, even if it is still daylight. I have bandage stuff here.  Anyway,” he added as she reluctantly entered his home, “you came here for a reason, so you may as well tell me what it was.”
“Well,” she started, “I was—”
“Buffy! What are you doing here? Spike, what is she doing here? I told you I’m her nemesis! You’re supposed to protect me from her, not invite her in!”  Harmony had stopped with just her head and upper body sticking up from the lower level.
Buffy narrowed her eyes and moved away from Spike, staring suspiciously at Harmony.  “What is she doing here?  Why did you want me to come in? Is this a trap?”
“Bloody, buggering fuck!”  Spike looked back and forth between the two girls glaring at each other.
“Harm, I told you to stay down there. If you’d done what you were told, the Slayer wouldn’t know you were here.”
He turned to Buffy, his harsh tone changed to pleading. “I’m letting her stay down there until you forget how much you want to slay her.”  At Buffy’s still narrow-eyed expression, he added softly, “I’m sleepin’ up here.” He gestured at the sarcophagus with bed linens and a pillow on it.
“I didn’t ask,” she said, her tight shoulders relaxing anyway. “And what does she mean she’s my nemesis? I didn’t think she even knew that word.”
“Wager she can’t spell it,” Spike said, earning himself a small smile from Buffy while Harmony gave an offended growl.
Harmony’s eyes suddenly widened and she began sniffing the air. “What’s that smell? It smells like... blood. It smells like fresh blood. Did you go to Willie’s and get blood for me, Spike? That is so swe—” She broke off at his growled denial, shifting her gaze to where Buffy was still holding her side.  “Buffy? Are you bleeding? Are you hurt?”  She started to climb the rest of the way out of the hole, her fangs dropping as she stared at Buffy.
“If you even think about it, Harm, I’ll dust you right now.” Spike’s deep snarl halted her progress toward Buffy, who had dropped her hand from her side and was bouncing on her toes in a fighting stance making “bring it on” gestures at her old classmate.  “And you,” he whirled on Buffy. “You just sit down there until I can replace that bandage. Don’t even think about trying to fight that stupid bint.”
“Who are you calling ‘stupid’?”
“Don’t tell me what to do!”
Spike rolled his eyes up at the ceiling. “Give me strength,” he muttered as he stood between them.  Turning to Harmony, he grabbed her by the shoulders saying, “You ‘ve got two choices, Harm. Take your bloody unicorns and leave through the tunnels, or I’ll toss you out the door into the sun. I’ll give you a count of ten.”
Her lip trembled as she pulled away from him. “Why are you always so mean to me, Blondie Bear?”
“Because I’m a bad, rude man. Now get your arse out of here.”
“Well, if I go, that’s it. I’m not coming back again!” She dropped down into the lower level.
“Promises, promises,” he said as he turned to Buffy.
“I can hear you!”
“Nine, eight, seven....” 
There was the sound of scrambling from downstairs.
Buffy smothered a small giggle. “You’re terrible. What an awful boyfriend you are.”
“I’m not her boyfriend. Haven’t been since – for along time. I just gave her a place to stay for a while until she could get out of Sunnydale.” He peered at Buffy. “Nemesis, huh? Old Harm’s moving up on the evil scale.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about. I didn’t even know she was still here.”  She put her hand back on her side. “But, even as dumb and lame as she is, I’m glad I didn’t have to fight her.”
“Let me see it,” he said, forgetting about anything but Buffy and her injury.
She lifted her shirt to the bottom of her bra and stood calmly while he unwrapped the ace bandage and gently pulled the now-bloody gauze off. “Fuck,” he muttered, putting it back and placing her hand on it. “Hold that till I get new packing.”
He went to a small cabinet and dug around, coming back with guaze bandages still in their wrappings.  “Sorry I don’t have any antibiotics, luv, but at least these are clean.”
“It’ll be fine. It was already healing, I just kinda pulled the scab off when I opened that heavy door. See, the bleeding has already stopped.” She peered down over the shirt she was holding up, and she and Spike both stared at the wound, which had indeed stopped oozing. 
“It has. But we’re going to wrap it up again anyway.”
He placed a new gauze pad over the wound, waiting for a few seconds to see if it was going to seep through, then used the bandage Giles had used to hold it in place. With Buffy awake and no longer suffering from serious blood loss, she was much more conscious of how close Spike’s face came to her body as he wrapped the bandage around her. As he finished tucking the ends in, his fingers lingered for a second, just barely brushing her bare skin. Buffy’s surprised gasp did nothing to cover his own soft groan. He snatched his hand back and turned away while Buffy pulled her shirt back down.
Neither one of them made eye contact, Spike staring at the bloody gauze on his floor while Buffy found the walls very interesting. When the silence was becoming more embarrassing than talking would have been, he picked up the gauze, took it to his kitchen and stared at the cardboard box he used for a trashcan.
Buffy cleared her throat and stuttered a bit as she said, “I don’t... really know how something like that works... but if you... I mean not in front of me, cause... ewww... but you have a fridge... and I know my blood is...”
Still holding the bloody gauze in his hand, Spike stared at her with wide eyes.
“Are you offering me your blood?”
“Well, no.... I mean, not exactly. I’m just saying that if you put that in the fridge, I wouldn’t... I wouldn’t ask you why you were doing it or anything....”
“Just when you think you know somebody....” He shook his head and set the now hardening and stiff pad inside his small refrigerator.  He shut the door and stared at it for a few seconds, then turned back to face her.
“So, what was it you wanted, luv? What is so important that you had to walk here when you’re supposed to be resting? What couldn’t have waited until tonight?”
“Well... Giles and I were talking, and then I thought about you, and I wanted to know, and—was I going to see you tonight?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t want to check on you and see how you were doing?”
Once again Buffy found herself confused and looking into eyes that held pain and anger before Spike’s shut them down into a corpse’s lack of expression.  She shook her head and sighed. “I guess I just figured you’d tell yourself you’d done enough – with all the life save-age and then finishing patrol for me. I’m... I’m sorry, Spike.”
He shrugged. “Just didn’t want to see my hard work go for naught,” he said. “It’s not like I care what happens to you.”
“Right. About that....” He raised an eyebrow, waiting.  “See, here’s the thing. The Watcher’s Diaries don’t say much about how or why slayers get killed. They’re just like ‘Susie died and Linda was called’ or some old-fashioned version of that. No explanation for what Susie might have done differently, or what she shouldn’t have done. Nothing helpful.”
“And you came to me because...?”
“Well, you’ve killed two slayers, and... I thought maybe you might have some ideas about what I could have done last night to keep what should have been an easy slay from turning into a near-death experience.  You can tell me what you did when you killed your slayers... or what they did or didn’t do that made it easy for you.”
Spike slumped against the sarcophagus. “Don’t’ want much, do you, Slayer?”
“I want to stay alive, Spike,” she said flatly, watching him visibly flinch at her words before he straightened up and nodded.
“I want that too, Buffy,” he said, holding her gaze long enough for her to read the truth of it.  “What do you want to ask me?”
Buffy stumbled over her words for a second, taken back by his quiet admission and the strange look that accompanied it.  “You... I mean, we’re.... but....”
Spike gave a small grin. “Which of those very articulate questions would like me to answer first?”
“Those weren’t... They were just... Never mind.  Just tell me about the two slayers you fought. What went wrong?”  When he cocked a sardonic eyebrow at her, she mumbled, “Well, not from your point of view, I guess.”
“No, not from my point of view. Was bloody brilliant for me.” He sighed and shook his head. “But prob’ly not what you want to hear.”  He took her elbow and guided her to a ratty-looking couch. “Why don’t you sit down.  No sense aggravating that hole in your side by standing around when you don’t need to.”
Buffy allowed him to steer her to the couch, smiling in thanks when he held on to her arm as she gingerly lowered herself. She briefly touched her wound with one hand, making sure the bandage hadn’t shifted before gazing up at him.  “Okay, I’m sitting. Talky please.”
“Before I tell you about the two I killed, I need to tell you that they weren’t the only ones I’ve fought. Once I’d killed the first one, I thought I was a vampire god and I sought them out when I could. Drove old grandpa crazy, it did. Calling attention to myself like that.  But then he was gone anyway, and the whore left to suck up to Batface, and Dru didn’t care what I did as long as there was blood involved.”
“You fought more than two? Why aren’t you dust?”
“Fought ‘em, but they weren’t ready to go yet, and I wasn’t quite as much of a rock star as I thought I was.  I think I might have had one more, but her watcher shot me with a crossbow and Dru had to drag me away to hiding.  Know that slayer wasn’t up to comin’ after us, but her watcher had balls and he might have done it.”
“So you might have killed three slayers.” Buffy’s voice couldn’t hide her emotion. “And you fought a couple more and got away undusty.”  She stared at him with newly aware eyes. “I knew you were good, but....”
“I am good, luv. Now. But when I met that first slayer, I was just lucky.  She was very young and very tired of slaying every night. Could see it in her eyes and in the way she moved. Not that she didn’t try, did her best—“ He pointed to the scar on his eyebrow. “Gave me this, she did, but her heart wasn’t in it. She looked almost grateful when I had her pinned. Said something in Chinese and then I... I bit her and she was... gone.”
“What about the other one? The one in New York. You weren’t a fledge then.”
“No, I wasn’t. And she was bloody good at her job. Could have danced with her all week. But that last time we met...” His eyes glazed over as he lost himself in memories Buffy wasn’t sure she wanted to know anything about.
“Spike? Earth to Spike?”
He startled and began to pace.  “Sorry, pet. Got lost in memories for a bit. She was something, that one was....” The expression on Buffy’s face snapped him back to reality.  “Not as good you, mind, but good. And not real young, either. She’d been at her job a good long while, I’d reckon. We fought for hours, sometimes I was on top, sometimes she was on top, but when it ended, it was me came out on top, and I could see it in her eyes. That same look that said she was done and ready to go to her reward.”  He sat down beside her and took her hands in his, squeezing them gently.  “Didn’t even bite her. I broke her neck – a clean break – and I saw the light go out in her eyes. Took her coat as a... a—”
“Trophy?” Buffy shuddered as she glanced over to where Spike’s leather coat hung on the back of a chair.
“In her memory. You can call it a trophy if you want to, but I did it to honor her, not to demean her.”
“So, you’re saying both those slayers wanted to die?”
“Not saying they wanted to die – just that when it became inevitable, they were alright with it. They quit fighting. They’d been doing their job for a long time and it was time for them to go to their reward.”
“But I don’t want to die!  So why was that smelly guy almost able to kill me?”
“I don’t know, Buffy. But we’re going to sort it out before you go back out there by yourself again.” He ignored the way she bristled at his assumption that he could tell her what to do and continued, “Could’ve just been bad luck on your part. Or maybe you’re just so bloody good you’ve gotten careless.  But I have a plan.”
“I didn’t ask you for a plan,” she grumbled, pulling her hands away. “I just asked you to tell me how you killed your slayers, so I can make sure I don’t make the same mistakes.”
“Well, unless you’re tired and want to leave your job, you aren’t likely to make the same mistakes.”
“So, what’s the plan, then? If you don’t think I’m ready to just roll over and make some fangy guy’s day?”
“My plan is for you to fight me.”
“Excuse me?”
“Well, you can’t really fight me, fight me, on account of I can’t fight back till I get this bloody chip out.  But we can train together. I don’t think the chip will fire if it knows I’m not really tryin’ to hurt you. Turns out it’s pretty good at reading intent...” His mind clearly wandered off for a few seconds.  “I’d love to know what that’s all about...”
When Buffy shifted impatiently, he went on quickly, “I know you’re good. Faster and stronger than most. But you’ll come across other old vamps, and they might have a few tricks you haven’t seen yet. If you work out with me a couple of times a week, you’ll have a chance to keep yourself sharp and ready for whatever comes along... even if it’s an apocalypse or a Frankenstein monster.”
“I had help for that,” she said, looking down at her hands.
“And help is what I’m offering. The watcher can’t train you the way I can because he can’t match your speed or strength.” He stood up and stared down at her.
“Why would you do that for me?”
When he turned away, she grabbed the sleeve of his shirt and pulled him back, hissing when the movement pulled on her wound.
“Spike? Why would you do that? Tell me.” She let go of his shirt and put her hand on the wound, pressing lightly against it.
He gave a worried frown as he saw where her hand had gone, then knelt down again where he could meet her gaze. 
“Because I don’t want you to die. Don’t want you to even come close to it again. And I’m going to do whatever I can to keep it from happening, whether it’s making you train harder, or patrolling with you to watch your back, or—”
She stopped him by holding her hand up, palm out. “Do I want to know why?”
He gave a rueful smile, grabbed the hand, and brushed his lips over her fingers before she could pull it back.
“I’m pretty sure you don’t, luv. It’s not something I even want to think about, never mind admit out loud. Let’s just go with I’m bored and need to get some violence in my life, yeah?”
She looked at the fingertips he’d kissed so gently, then back at him.
“You know I have a boyfriend, right?”
“Trust me,” he growled, getting his feet and walking away. “I’m only too aware of that.”
“A boyfriend who already doesn’t like you...”
“Aware of that too, although I’m not sure why. I’m the injured party here – the one that got tazed and drugged and chipped. Don’t know where he gets off thinking I’m the wanker.”
“It might... I may have said something... and I totally didn’t mean it the way he took it, but he’s got this complex about Angel, and now that he’s all unenhanced....” She paused and stared into his puzzled eyes. “I think you better keep your distance from him unless I’m around.”
“You expect me to hide behind your tiny little skirts?” He bristled with indignation that rapidly turned to curiosity.  “You said something? About me?  What did you say?”
“Nothing! I just... he was being an ass about getting that chip out of his heart, and he said I wouldn’t want him if he was just a normal man, and I might have said.... and I just pulled it out of thin air.... if I wanted someone with superpowers, I’d be dating... you,” she finished so low a human wouldn’t have heard it. 
She looked away from the grin spreading across his face and stood up.
“I should go now. Giles is going to be worried about me, and I haven’t even told Mom I got hurt yet. I was waiting till I was healed up, but she’s going to wonder—”
Spike had walked back and was standing right in front of her, too close to be comfortable, but not so close that she could seriously object. He tipped her chin up and forced her to meet his gaze.  She narrowed her eyes, daring him to make a big deal of it.  He met her challenging glare, then dropped his own eyes and nodded.
“Right then. Just happened to be the first stronger than normal man that came to mind.”
“Exactly,” she said firmly, confident she was telling the truth, but surprised at how badly she wanted to take the disappointed look off his face.  “Spike... I....” She trailed off, at a loss for what to say to him. He’d as much as told her he loved her, and she’d just made it clear that she wasn’t interested. At least, she didn’t think she was... was she?” 
When she didn’t continue, he sighed and shook his head. “Spike... I... what, pet? What’s left? Reminded me you have a boyfriend and explained away why he doesn’t like me. You shouldn’t be here anyway. Should be at your mum’s resting and healing up. Don’t worry about patrol tonight.” He started to turn away, hesitating when she put a hand on his arm.
“I forgot one thing,” she said softly.
“What’s that then?”
“To thank you for saving my life last night.”  She rose onto her toes and pressed her lips to his, just long enough for it to be a real kiss. “Thank you, Spike.”
He groaned as he put his arms around her in a loose embrace, careful not to put any pressure on the wound.
“You could give a man whiplash, Slayer.” He touched his forehead to hers and visibly inhaled before brushing his lips across her mouth and straightening up too quickly for her to object.  When she didn’t say anything or pull away, he leaned in again. But this time she stepped back, putting a restraining hand on his bare chest, then dropping it before she could get lost in the feel of hard muscles under silken skin.
“No,” she whispered, shaking her head. “We can’t do this. I can’t do this, Spike. I don’t cheat on the man I’m.... dating.”  She winced at having not been able to say “the man I love”, but after giving her a thoughtful glance, Spike nodded and lowered his arms.
“Wouldn’t expect any less of you, Buffy.”
“Oh. Okay. So... I’m just... just going to go now.  Home. To my mom’s house, where I can be lazy for another day or until I don’t have a hole in my side anymore.”  She started edging toward the door, surprised when he rushed to open it for her.  Buffy smiled her gratitude, remembering what pulling on the heavy doors had done to her earlier.
“Thank you,” she said. “That big door was a little much for me today.”
“That was a deep gash you got, Buffy.  Slayer healing or not, you’ll need to take a while to get over it.”
Her smile faded to a less friendly expression. “I can’t loll around forever, Spike. I have classes and a nighttime job to do. I’ll be fine in another day.”
“You can take a few days,” he growled. “I’ll handle whatever evil doers try to take advantage of your little vacation.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll be a Buffy slug for a while.  But you come and get me if something comes up that I need to know about. Especially if it’s a skanky bitch in a tight red dress.”
Her glare stopped the expected piggy remark from leaving his mouth, and with a small pout, he settled for a leer.  Her only reply was to roll her eyes as she walked out into the late afternoon sunlight, smothering a small smile.
Chapter Three
Giles didn’t express any surprise when Spike showed up shortly after dark, simply opened the door and backed away.
“No Scooby meeting tonight?” Spike glanced around the empty room.
Giles shook his head. “Buffy called it off when she told Willow about her injury, and that she was going to be at her mother’s for another night,” He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Spike. “She seemed quite sure that her patrolling duties wouldn’t be neglected....”
“Told her I’d handle it.  She pulled that gash open again today just tryin’ to open the door to my crypt. Stupid bint.”
“Ah, so she did find you this afternoon?”
Spike nodded. “She did. Woke me up from a sound sleep wantin’ to know what the slayers I killed did wrong. Like there was one little thing she could do or not do that was gonna make the difference.”
“I’m assuming the answer was more complicated than that?” Giles tried hard not to show how desperately he wanted to know what Spike had told Buffy, but Spike’s knowing smirk said he hadn’t been successful.
“Was and wasn’t,” he said, then elaborated on his cryptic reply.  “It’s not something she needs to worry about. I don’t know what went wrong last night, except maybe she’s so used to easy kills she got sloppy.  If that was it, getting stabbed with her own stake should have been a wake-up call.”
“Not one I’m interested having her repeat,” Giles said.
“Nor am I, Watcher. And you well know it.”
Giles nodded and gestured to a chair. “I do,” he said as he pulled the scotch bottle from its cabinet and poured two glasses full.  “The question is, does Buffy know it?”
Spike sighed and rested his head against the back of the chair. “She does. I as much as told her.” He sat up straight and took one of the glasses with a nod of thanks. “But that’s not what I came here to talk to you about.”
Giles sat on the sofa and sipped from his own glass.  “No?”
“No.” Spike leaned forward. “Buffy’s probably the best of all the slayers I’ve ever faced—” He gave a small smile as Giles’s eyes widened just a little at the implication. “—better even than the one I killed in the 70s, and she was something special.” Before he could get lost in memories again, Spike went on. “Buffy’s so good I don’t think she gives staking vampires quite the attention she should. What’s a poor old vamp after she’s ripped the heart out of a cyborg’s chest?  I’m not saying she’s not working hard, I just think she’s maybe the littlest bit over-confident. That confidence, a stronger-than-most vampire, and a bit of bad luck may have contributed to last night’s debacle.”
Was he that strong? Buffy’s fought Angelus... and you... and even managed to slay the Cruciamentum vampire the Council tried to use to get rid of her.” Giles said the last part of his comment in a low mutter, but Spike’s ears had no trouble picking it up.
“Cruciamentum? You did that to her?” His eyes flared amber and his fangs dropped as he snarled. Giles flinched back, wondering briefly if Spike could overcome the pain from the chip if he was properly motivated.
“It wasn’t my finest moment,” Giles said, shaking his head and holding up his hands in a sign of peace. “And she was quite rightfully hurt and angry.” He took a long drink from his glass. “I thought Joyce would never forgive me.”
“I’m not sure I’m going to,” Spike growled, although he was wearing his human mien again. “What did they throw at her? Not the normal idiot fledge, I take it?”
Giles shook his head. “No. His name was Kralick. Some sort of serial killer before he was turned. Nasty piece of work.”
“I know who he was,” Spike said, his eyes flaring again. “But she did alright?”
Giles nodded. “She was very clever. She was able to remain out of his reach long enough to get him to swallow holy water. Buffy is very creative. As you no doubt know,” he added with a small smirk.
“She is, and I do. All the more reason for last night having not happened. She needs more training to keep her sharp.”
“She has long since surpassed anything I can give her. While Buffy may not be an academic star, she is quite intelligent and she absorbs whatever she is taught about fighting and weapon skills almost immediately. We train, but she is merely tolerating me.”
Spike nodded. “Got a plan for that.”
“You plan to watch her back twenty-four hours a day?”
“Better than that. I plan to make her so good that her back will never need watchin’ — not that I’m not planning to be there,” he added quickly. “I am. Just in case. But we both know I can’t be there all the time. And the Slayer would be brassed off at me if she thought I was trying to. Not everything she faces has to hide in the dark like I do.”
“Unfortunately quite true,” Giles agreed. “So you are planning to take over her training?” 
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist there, Watcher,” Spike said, grinning at Giles’s disgruntled expression. “Not gonna try to replace you, but I am going to see that she works out with somebody who can match her speed and strength and who has another hundred plus years of experience fighting vamps and demons... and humans... to share with her.  If I can teach her some things she doesn’t know, and help her understand that she can’t be casual about even a simple one-vamp slay, maybe I won’t have to spend my days worryin’ that she’s taking on something she shouldn’t while I’m not around for back up.”
“Welcome to my world,” Giles said wryly, holding up his glass in a toast. “I will worry every night, and you can handle the daytime worrying.”
Spike lifted his own glass in return, then took a long swallow from it.  He cocked his head at Giles.
“I know a bit about what Joyce goes through – although Buffy keeps her in the dark about most of what she does – but never gave that much thought to you. Most watchers are unfeeling wankers that treat their slayers like cannon fodder.”
Giles winced, but shook his head. “It may appear so to you, and no doubt that is the Council’s view of the girls they send out into the world, but I can assure you that very few watchers who’ve been in the field take such a cavalier attitude toward their charges.  Many of them have raised their slayers from childhood, and I’m sure their feelings would have been every bit as... parental... as mine are. The difference is, their slayers did not live long enough for the Council to have to suffer the consequences of those feelings.”
“Slayer says they fired you.” 
“They did. Or I quit. Hard to say which came first. The bottom line is that I no longer report to them everything Buffy does, and they leave us alone because they don’t want to leave the Hellmouth unprotected.”
“Wankers,” Spike growled.
“Indeed. But a good source of information when we need it. They are not so foolish as to pretend Buffy isn’t doing an excellent job of preventing apocalypses, and they offer support as needed.”
“Gonna help her out with that bitch that cleaned her clock?”
“They are looking into it for us,” Giles responded stiffly. “At this point, we still don’t know why she/it is here and what she wants. Our hope is that she didn’t find it and will go elsewhere to seek it.”
Spike shrugged. “Good luck with that. Hope always makes bad things go away. ”
“It’s what we’ve got,” Giles said with a sigh.  He finished his drink and held his hand out for Spike’s empty glass.  “If you have nothing better to do, I’d like to hear more about these other slayers you faced.”
Spike shrugged. “With the right amount of persuasion....” 
Giles snorted and refilled their glasses.  He handed Spike’s back to him, then walked to his desk and picked up a notebook and pen.
“Let us begin with the Chinese girl,” he said. “How did you find her? And why were you, a relatively young vampire at the time, able to kill her?  Did you have assistance from Angelus or—”
Spike’s snarl made him cringe, but his voice was steady as he jotted something in the notebook. “I’ll just take that as a no, then.”
Buffy had just finished explaining to Joyce that she was going to be fine, but that Giles and Spike had insisted she not patrol until she was completely healed. She hadn’t said much when she arrived home late the previous afternoon, other than she was too tired to patrol and was going to bed right after dinner. Which she did. Now that she was awake, and apparently ravenous again, Joyce’s questions about what was going on had become more pointed.
“It’s not a big deal, Mom. I mean, it was kind of a big deal at the time, but Spike did the first aid thing and carried me to Giles and he finished the patching up and gave me stuff to drink—”
“He gave you a drink?” Joyce looked at the phone as if planning to give Giles an earful about giving her underage daughter alcohol.
Buffy laughed, holding her side as he did, which did nothing to take the frown off Joyce’s face.  “Relax. I meant he was giving me fluids to replace the blood I lost and....I’m not making this any better, am I?”
Joyce had gone from frowning to looking as if she might be sick. “Blood loss?” she said weakly. 
“Uh, yeah. I was... kind of... stabbed, you know?  So, yeah, bleeding. But Spike stopped it, so it was okay.”  She gave Joyce her best “I’m fine” smile.
“Spike. Who is a vampire. Stopped the bleeding.”
“Yeah. Turns out he carries a hanky. A clean hanky.  Who knew, right?”
“He had a handkerchief and he made a bandage out of it. And then he tore his shirt in half and wrapped it around me to hold the handkerchief in place, and then... and then I think I fainted, cause when I woke up I was on Giles’ couch and he was yelling at Spike for not taking me to the ER.”
“Which would have been my first choice.”
“You know we can’t do that, Mom. I mean, if I’m dying, yeah, but I wasn’t. I just needed a safe place to hang out until Slayer healing kicked in, and some juice or something.” 
“He could have brought you here.”
“You would have wigged. And anyway, Giles has all the Buffy-patching stuff, and—” Joyce held up her hand.
“I’ve changed my mind, I really don’t want to know.”  She shook her head as if to clear it. “So Spike saved your life last night.” It wasn’t a question, and Buffy didn’t reply except to nod. 
“I will have to thank him the next time I see him. As much as I like Spike, I never expected to be thanking him for saving you.”
“I never expected you’d have to do that,” Buffy said with a wry smile. “He’s just full of surprises.”
Joyce smiled at Buffy, smothering what looked like it might be a grin.
“Nothing. It’s just that some of these things that are surprising you, I could have told you about some time ago.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes at her mother. “Just how many times has Spike dropped in on you in last couple of years? I only caught him at it once.”
Joyce laughed. “That was actually the first time since... since you tried to convince me you and Spike were in a band.” She scoffed and shook her head.  “Like I couldn’t read the guilt all over both of you. If I hadn’t seen you make that vampire go poof, I’d have been sure you two were having some sort of sordid affair.”
“As if!”
Joyce nodded. “Well, yes. Now that I understand more about that time and what you were facing, I realize that something as simple as being in a relationship with a somewhat older and less than clean-cut man would have been preferable to what was really going on. And that, at the time, you and Spike had been enemies until that other vampire—” Buffy rolled her eyes at Joyce’s refusal to use Angel’s name. “—made it necessary for you to join forces.”
They exchanged rueful grimaces, recalling the time it had taken for them to rebuild their relationship after Joyce had essentially told Buffy not to come home if she was going to insist on being the Slayer. They were silent for several minutes while Buffy wandered into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of ice water.
She turned around to smile at Joyce. “And now you and Spike are best buddies.”
Joyce laughed and shook her head.  “I would hardly say that.” She sighed deeply. “Although I have to admit, if I were a few years younger....”
Buffy spit water all over the counter in front of her.  “Mom!”
“What?  I’m not a nun, you know. And now that I know him better, I can see that Spike is quite an attractive man... er, vampire.”
“In the first place,” Buffy spoke in a modified shriek.  “He is over 100 years old! And... and... you’re my mother! You can’t like Spike!”
Joyce held her mildly curious expression for a full minute before collapsing in giggles.
“I’m just teasing you, Buffy.  But Spike has been here for hot chocolate and female companionship several times. I think he’s been a bit lonely without Dru and with being unable to behave like a true vampire.”  She gave Buffy a shrewd glance. “And, if I’m honest, I’d guess he was hoping you would be here many of those times.”
Buffy sighed and refilled her glass.  “I suppose he was – but how did you...?”
“The way he talks about you... all the time... and just... I don’t know. Call it a mother’s intuition.  I take it my intuition is correct?”
Buffy sighed again. “Yes. It is. But I didn’t know that until yesterday.”
“And nothing. I don’t know. I can’t worry about it now. I need to take a nap and try to get healed up so I can get back to work. Just in case that crazy skank shows up again and I have to fight her.”
“All right, honey. I have to go to the gallery for a while, but if you need anything, call me. Okay?”
“I’ll be fine. And if I need something, I’ll just make Dawn get it for me.”
“She won’t be home for a while. I believe she said she was going home with Janice after school.”
“Oh. Well, that’s okay. I’ll be fine.”
Chapter Four
 A good nap, good lunch, and many glasses of water later, Buffy was prowling around the house looking for something to do.  She stared wistfully outside into the gathering darkness, feeling a pull she didn’t want to admit to as the night settled in.  Her grin when she spotted Spike’s old Desoto was much larger than normal, and she schooled her face into sterner lines – which were easy to maintain when Dawn popped out of the passenger side.
Growling under her breath, she threw open the front door and glared at them.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving the bit a ride home, Slayer. Figured you wouldn’t want her walking home while it’s dark.” Spike spoke to her from the driver’s seat, peering out carefully to be sure the sun was really gone.
“It’s dark. Get out here where I can yell at you without actually... you know... yelling. It makes my side hurt.”
“You can’t yell at Spike for giving me a ride home,” Dawn said, adding her glower to Spike’s concerned frown. 
“Oh, don’t worry. You’re next. You know better than to walk anywhere after dark without me.”
“I didn’t need you. I had Spike,” Dawn said with a toss of her head as she flounced into the house. She paused on the porch to look back them.  “Thanks for the ride, Spike. Don’t let her yell at you. You tell me if she does and I’ll... do something....”
“Appreciate the concern, Bit, but I’m a big boy. The Slayer yelling at me is way down on my list of things I can’t handle.”
With a “humph”, Dawn went into the house, slamming the door behind her.
Spike leaned against the fender and cocked his head at Buffy.
“I’m assuming that little tantrum means you’re feelin’ better?” he said with a small smile.
Buffy had the grace to look ashamed as she joined him in leaning against the car. “Better enough to be bored. Not better enough that I can’t make my wound hurt.”
“Didn’t bleed again, did it?” His smile faded and he started to reach for the hem of her shirt, then thought better of it.
“No, I don’t think so.” Buffy pulled her shirt up herself, exposing a completely closed, but still angry-looking scar. “What do you think?”
“I think if just yelling at me makes it hurt, then it’s a long way from healed inside and you shouldn’t be out here.” In spite of his words, he touched the raw skin over the wound, just barely brushing it with his fingers. Buffy shivered and he quickly apologized.  “Sorry, love. Didn’t mean to—”
“It’s okay. You didn’t hurt me. It just... I wasn’t expecting you to touch it, that’s all.”
There was an uncomfortable silence as neither of them was able to find a way to pretend that Spike’s touching her hadn’t become something more meaningful than it would have been two days ago.
Finally, Buffy gave a sigh and pushed away from the car.  “Do you want to come in for a while? If we go somewhere, I’ll probably see something I need to slay and—”
“And there is no way I’m letting that happen.”
Spike barely acknowledged Buffy’s indignant “You won’t let that happen?  Who died and made you boss?” except to snap back just as indignantly, “You almost did. Now get your arse in the house where it’s safe.”
Buffy started her furious response, then had to acknowledge the fear behind his angry words.  She sighed and walked to the porch, sitting down on the step and gesturing for him to join her. He glanced up and down the street, not seeing anything to worry about, and lowered himself to sit beside her, arm just close enough to touch if one of them leaned at all.
“If I’d known you were going to be so stubborn, I’da....”
“You’d have what? Let me die?” She challenged him with her eyes, staring into his until he sighed and looked away.
“No,” he mumbled. “Wouldn’t have let you die. Kind of the point of all this, innit? I don’t want you to die.”  He nudged her shoulder. “Be nice if you’d cooperate with it a bit more.”
She gave a soft giggle. “I’ll try. I just don’t deal with boredom all that great.”  She pushed back against the shoulder still resting against hers. “You, of all people, should understand that.”
“Touché, pet,” he laughed. “Pot – Kettle, yeah?”
“Pretty much.”
“So, am I’m going to have to tie you up to keep you safe until you can take care of yourself?”
“Okay, see that’s the thing....”
“Being tied up? I was kidding, but if you’re up for it....” His eyes glazed over briefly.
That settled, Buffy continued.  “The thing is – The only thing Riley and I fight about is that he’s always trying to protect me. And he gets all huffy if I have to save him – which I do sometimes when he insists on patrolling with me. It’s.... it’s not something I’m good at – being protected. I’m the Slayer. I save the world every spring. I don’t need a boyfriend who thinks he should get between me and my job.” She gave him an almost apologetic smile. “It kinda makes me mad.”
“Duly noted.” He nodded and gave her a matching smile of apology. “But here’s another thing. I take care of the women I love. Can’t help myself.” He ignored Buffy’s twitch at the word she didn’t want to hear.  “And right now, you could use some care-taking. You’re the strongest slayer I’ve ever seen. I’ve no doubt that as soon as you’re healthy, you’ll be able to kick my arse from here to there.  And I can’t wait till you’re ready to try it. But until then, I reckon you should get used to being mad, ‘cause I intend to be in the way as much as possible.”
She stood up and glared at him. “Why are you being so stubborn?”
“There’s that Pot-Kettle thing again.  I think I’m being perfectly reasonable and you’re being a bloody stubborn bi—bint.”
Her glare got more focused. “I know what you were about to say.”
“Doesn’t count if I didn’t say it,” he said as he stood up. “Let’s go inside. I’ll hang out till your mum gets home.”
“And then what?”
“And then I’ll go sweep a few graveyards free of whatever’s crawled out tonight and finish the night at Willy’s.”
Spike had no sooner finished speaking, then a large black SUV roared into the driveway, screeched to a halt, and disgorged a frantic Riley.
Ignoring Spike, except to shove him out of the way, he grabbed Buffy’s shoulders and shook her.  “You got hurt and you didn’t tell me?  What’s wrong with you? Why did I have to hear it from Xander’s girlfriend?”
Spike’s low growl escalated to a full snarl as Buffy yelped and grabbed her side. Before he could follow through on what was obviously going to be a headache inducing act, Buffy shook Riley off, stepping between them and placing her hand on Spike’s chest.
“I’ve got this,” she said in her best ‘let it go’ tone of voice. “I’m fine. Nothing tore, it just surprised me when it hurt. Don’t be stupid.  Just go on and patro—do whatever you were going to do.  Please...” she added when he continued to growl and glare at Riley, who was now glaring back and looking very homicidal.  “Please, Spike. I’ll handle it.”
Without actually responding to her, Spike whirled and was in his car and disappearing down the street before Riley had even had time to ask, “What was he doing here? And what did you mean, ‘you’ll handle it’? What is there to handle? If he was going to jump me, I was ready for him. I’d love to add his dust to the ground.”
“Come in the house, Riley, and I’ll explain....” She turned around to face him at eye level as she paused on the top step. “And just so you know... if I hadn’t been badly hurt, and wasn’t still sore from it? I would have decked you for grabbing me like that, assuming Spike didn’t get to you first.”
Without waiting for a reply, she turned her back and opened the door Dawn had slammed such a short while ago.  Holding her hand to her side and putting gentle pressure on the sore spot, she went into the living room and sat down on a chair, pointing to the couch.  Riley frowned at being so far away from her, but sat down, his frown increasing as he saw where her hand was.
“Buffy... are you... did I... Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I never thought... I mean you always heal before I can even.... You really are hurt!”
Buffy tugged up her shirt, allowing him to see the raw skin and deep bruising on her side. His face paled. “What happened?” he whispered. She put her shirt down before he could touch her.
“I got careless with the wrong vamp and he stabbed me with my own stake. If Spike hadn’t.... All you need to know is, as of night before last, I owe Spike my life. He pulled the vamp off me, stopped the bleeding with his tee shirt, and carried my unconscious body to Giles for more first aid. And then he finished my patrol.”
Riley blinked a few times and shook his head.  “All right. For whatever reason, he saved your life. Probably just so he could kill you himself someday—what?”  Buffy’s snort of laughter that tapered off to giggles did nothing to improve his disposition.
“That’s what he’d like us to believe,” she replied, somewhat cryptically.
“Why didn’t anyone call me? I could have helped.”
Buffy shrugged. “It was a pretty bad wound and I lost a lot of blood. So, I’m sorry, but calling you just didn’t make my radar at the time. Once Giles got me bandaged up and full of juice and water, it was late, and I crashed at his place and spent the rest of the night asleep on his couch while my slayer healing did its thing.”
“And since then?”
Buffy sighed. “There was nothing you could do. I just have to heal. And I knew you’d be all... worried... so I figured I’d wait to tell you about when it was all over and I was okay again. I probably would have called you later tonight. After dinner, maybe.”
“You mean you’re not...” He fell back against the couch. “I could have pulled it open again.”
“Hence the almost Spike headache,” she said. “He’s been almost as bad as—um, I mean, he’s been really grouchy about anything that keeps it from healing. So when you grabbed me....”
“Do I want to know why the vampire you’d be dating if you wanted superpowers is the one taking care of my girlfriend? What was he doing here?”
“He gave Dawn a ride home when he saw her walking alone.” Buffy was careful to avoid the first question, but Riley wasn’t giving up.
“That doesn’t answer my question. Why does he think it’s his place to take care of you? should have been here. Not Spike.”
“Did you miss the whole ‘he saved my life’ part? He’s just trying to make sure I’m not going to take any chances until I’m better. If he hadn’t seen Dawn walking down the street at dusk, he wouldn’t have been here.  And if you hadn’t grabbed me like that and made me yell, he would have left quietly. He thought you really hurt me.”
“He should mind his own business,” Riley muttered, his expression unhappy as he accepted that he’d been in the wrong.
“Yeah, good luck with that.” 
Whatever Riley was going to say next was interrupted by the phone. Buffy answered, surprised when the caller introduced herself as a doctor’s scheduler and asked for Joyce. Buffy took down the name and number on a pad by the phone, chewing her lip.  She looked up as Dawn came downstairs.
“Did you know Mom’s been seeing a doctor?”
“Yeah. I think she got tired of all those headaches she’s been having, so she saw one a couple of days ago. Why?”
Buffy shrugged and pointed to the pad. “They just called to schedule more tests and maybe a ‘procedure’.”
The two girls exchanged worried looks that they were still wearing when Riley came into the hallway.
“Everything all right?” he asked, smiling at Dawn who smiled back, but not as warmly as she could have.
“Where’s Spike?” she asked. Buffy glared at her, but said, “He had to leave.”
“Why do you care where Spike is?” Riley demanded. “Is this whole family in some kind of thrall to that vampire?”
Buffy snorted and Dawn laughed. “Nobody’s in ‘thrall’, Riley. We just all like him, especially Mom.”
“Especially Dawn,” Buffy said. “I think she’s got a crush on him.”  While Riley looked shocked, Dawn rolled her eyes.
“I’m so over that. Anyway he’s not interested in anybody but—” Before she could finish her sentence, she noticed Riley’s narrowed eyes and Buffy’s frightened ones. “—but that lame Harmony. Honestly, you’d think Spike would have better taste.”
“Back on the subject, which is not Spike’s lovelife, what tests is she having?”
Dawn shrugged. “I don’t know. She didn’t tell me what happened when she saw the doctor. And then you came home all hurt and cranky.... We’ll just have to ask her when she gets home from work.”
“I guess so.” Buffy squared her shoulders. “It’s probably nothing.”
“Of course it’s nothing. What else could it be?”
The phone rang again, and Dawn ran to answer it with the “I’ll get it!” so typical of most teenage girls. She trilled her “hello”, then frowned and mumbled, “Yes, she’s here. Hold on.” She handed the phone to Buffy saying, “It’s Mrs. Diloran from Mom’s gallery.”
Chapter Five
CHAPTER FIVE  (This fic now has a title – “What If I Loved You?” I’ll be using both it and Challenge 578 for the time being until I can figure out how to change it everywhere)
“Hello? Mrs. Diloran?  This is Buffy...  Yes... Oh my God.  Yes, yes, okay. Yes, thank you very much.”
Buffy put down the phone with a shaking hand.  She looked up and met Dawn’s frightened gaze.  “It’s Mom. She collapsed at the gallery. They’re loading her into an ambulance and we should meet them at the hospital.”  She turned to Riley.
“Riley, can you—”
“Of course. Whatever you need.  Hop in the car and we’ll be at the hospital in no time.”
Buffy smiled her thanks as she locked the house up and grabbed a jacket. Dawn was already waiting impatiently on the porch when Buffy and Riley left the house.

True to his word, Riley got them to the Sunnydale Memorial just in time to see Joyce get transferred from the ambulance to a gurney. She waved feebly at Buffy and Dawn, then grimaced and put a hand to her head. They trailed behind her as she was wheeled into the ER, firing questions at the poor orderly, who of course had no idea what to tell them. Joyce was taken directly into an examining room where the door was shut in their faces by a man identifying himself as their mother’s neurologist, Dr. Phillips.
“Mom has her own neurologist?  How did we not know that?”
“She probably didn’t want you to worry,” Riley said as he joined them. It had only taken a few minutes for him to park his vehicle, but Buffy had already forgotten how they got to the hospital, and she blinked at him in surprise for a second before catching herself.
“Too late,” Buffy said. “I’m officially terrified.” She gave Riley a sickly smile when he put his arm around her for support. “Thanks for the ride,” she said as he squeezed her shoulders. “I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t been there to drive us.”
“Spike would have given us a ride,” Dawn said with the assurance of youth.
Riley glowered.  “Spike had already left when the call came in. He’s of no use to you at all.”
“Well if he did, it was probably because you were there. He was planning to come in and wait with us till Mom got home and then he was going to do Buffy’s patrol for her.” At first oblivious to Buffy’s wide eyes and tight lips, she slowly realized what she’d said and how it was being received by Riley.  “Uh, I mean, that’s what he would have done if he didn’t know Buffy had a boyfriend who could... But he does. Know that she has a boyfriend. So he would know that you’d be there to take us wherever we need to go.” She picked up a magazine and pretended to be reading it. “That’s probably why he left when you got there. He knew it was all okay....”
“What the hell is she talking about?” Riley ground out. “It sounds like your family has adopted that worthless vampire.”
“Look, Riley... I know you don’t like Spike. But the thing is, because of what your... people... did to him, he can’t be a vampire anymore, so he’s become sort of, kind of, a... a... honorary Scooby. Like Anya and Tara. You know? He’s just kind of part of the gang now.”
Riley narrowed his eyes. “Tara and Anya are part of ‘the gang’ because they’re dating Willow and Xander. What’s Spike’s excuse?”
“He’s lonely,” she snapped, then sighed and lowered her voice. “And he knows us. All of us. He knows my mom, and he likes her because she’s nice to him. We’ve all known Spike for a long time. And yeah, he was evil most of that time, but he never killed any of us and he helped me and....” She stopped and exhaled loudly.  “And Spike and Giles... they kind of bonded. They know a lot of the same English stuff. We’re his... friends. Sort of.”
Dawn rose to defend her favorite vampire. “Didn’t you tell us your nasty boss wanted him back because he was stronger than anything else she tried the chip on? Sounds pretty worthy to me.”
“Dawn you’re hero-worshipping a demon. A demon who, I admit, is – was – really strong, and yes, Maggie had big plans for him. He was the only successful experiment we had. A prototype of a planned—”
“Weapon,” Buffy said flatly. “That’s what he is to you. A weapon you don’t control anymore. No wonder you don’t like him. He got away.”
“Only because he ran to you, and you and your ‘Scoobies’ – and Giles, who should know better – protected him from us.”
“Apparently protection was what he needed,” Dawn sniped from her seat, then ducked back into her magazine.
“And protection is what he has,” Buffy said quietly. “Please remember that, Riley. Spike is just as much under my protection as the humans in this city. And I have enough on my plate right now without having to wonder if you’re going to stake him when I’m busy worrying about my mother.”
“I don’t want to fight with you about this now, Buffy. What’s important is your mother’s health. I’m here for you.”
“And I appreciate that Riley. I really do. Thank you.”  Buffy smiled and tried to seem properly appreciative of his presence. “I guess all I need right now is to learn how to be patient.  Not really my thing,” she said with a grimace as she remembered her earlier conversation with Spike. “But when I said I was bored, I didn’t really mean I needed something like this.”  She rolled her eyes skyward. “Do you hear me, Powers That Be?  This is not what I had in mind. I can do bored. I promise.”
“Who are you talking to?”  Riley looked around, up at the ceiling and back at Buffy.
“Nobody, apparently.” She sighed as she walked over to sit next to Dawn on the small sofa, without realizing it left nowhere for Riley to sit except in a separate plastic chair. He fidgeted for a moment, then sat down.  The uncomfortable silence in the room was eventually interrupted by the arrival of the doctor who’d introduced himself earlier. He was followed by a much younger doctor who smiled nervously at Buffy and Dawn.
“Miss Summers?” Both girls rose to their feet with a “Yes?” 
“Oh, yes. The records show that Mrs. Summers has two daughters. Although she never mention....well not important, I guess. Anyway, your mother has a... growth  on her brain that has been causing all the headaches. Today, it seems to have caused enough pain to render her temporarily unconscious. I think it is imperative that we remove it as soon as possible. I’d like to schedule that for the morning.”
“Growth?”  “On her brain?”  Both girls spoke at the same time. Buffy bit her trembling lip. “Do you mean she has... cancer?”
Doctor Phillips shook his head. “I truly – and I am not just saying this to make you feel better – do not believe we will find it to be cancerous.  But we won’t know for sure until we get it out and take a look at it. At a minimum, we will relieve the pressure on her brain and eliminate the headaches. And if I am correct, and it is just a benign growth, she will be perfectly fine as soon as she heals from the surgery.”  He turned to the man behind him. “Dr. Wilkinson will have some papers for you to sign, although your mother has already signed permission for the surgery—”
“Can we see her?” Buffy interrupted. “Tonight. Can we see her?”
He hesitated, then nodded. “You may. She may not be terribly coherent. She’s under pretty heavy sedation to alleviate the pain. Please do not stay very long. Surgery will be at 8 a.m. and you may, of course, wait in the adjoining area reserved for family members. Dr. Wilkinson will take you to her after the paperwork has been completed.”  With a quiet ‘good evening’ he excused himself and left the ER.
Dr. Wilkinson held out his hand to Buffy. “Call me Ben. Please,” he said with a smile. “I’m still getting used to the ‘Dr.’” He shook hands with Dawn and Riley before handing Buffy a clipboard full of forms for her to fill out and sign. She sat down and went through them as quickly as possible while Riley and Ben spoke over Dawn’s head about Joyce and how she was doing.
When she was finished she handed the clipboard to Ben and asked, “Can we see her now?”
He led them to the room where a sleepy Joyce was about to be rolled out of the ER and taken to the surgical floor.  Buffy ran to her side, leaning over to hug her, trying to keep her face cheerful. Dawn ran to the other side and began to babble.
“Mom! How do you feel? Why didn’t you tell us you were sick? Do you want me to stay with you?”
Joyce frowned at Dawn in confusion, then looked at Buffy and her expression cleared. “Buffy, there you are. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to worry you. But it will all be fine tomorrow. They’ll take it out and I’ll be fine.”
“Of course you will,” Buffy said in her firmest “I’m the Slayer and this is how it’s going to be” voice. “And Dawn and I will be waiting for you right outside the recovery room when you wake up.”
Joyce glanced at Dawn and frowned again, putting a hand to her head. “I... okay. I think I need to sleep now.  I’ll see you...  girls... tomorrow.”
At a nod from Ben, Buffy and Dawn kissed their mother’s forehead and followed Ben and Riley out of the room. Ben said he had to get back to work, but would see them the next morning and left. Dawn and Buffy trailed Riley to where he’d parked his SUV, neither girl having much to say on the way home.
There were a few awkward minutes when they reached the Summers home and Buffy wasn’t sure what to do about Riley. Yes, since he’d apologized for grabbing her so roughly, he’d been wonderful to them. Not complaining when he was left in the waiting room while Buffy and Dawn went to see Joyce, or that neither of them talked on the way home, but still.... All Buffy really wanted was some time to process what was happening to her formerly comfortable life.
“I... I’d be happy to stay here tonight, Buffy. If you wanted company.”  His tentative offer touched her, and before she could think it through, she said, “Oh that would be nice, Riley. I could probably use a little distraction.  I doubt I’m going to sleep much tonight.”
“Oh!” A happy smile broke out across his face.  “I assumed you were too sore for... but, hey, if it’s distraction you want, I’m your man.”
“Huh? Wha—?  Oh. Oh no. God no!” His happy smile disappeared at Buffy’s obvious horror.  “That’s not what I meant by distraction. How can you think... with my mom having brain surgery tomorrow?  I just meant someone to talk to.”
“Because I’m nobody,” Dawn sniffed. Buffy startled, having forgotten her younger sister was listening to them.
“That’s not what I... of course you’re somebody, Dawn. I just meant another grown-up... that’s not helping, is it?”
“No. But that’s what happens when you aren’t a real person to anyone. Just the little, non-slayer-powers-having sister. I get it. I’ll just take my unimportant self to my room so the ‘grownups’ can talk about not having sex tonight.”  She snatched the house key from Buffy’s hand and marched to the door, giving it its second impressive slam of the evening after she’d entered.
Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. “Sorry you had to see that, Riley. She’s just—”
“She’s just a teenage girl. And one who’s worried about her mother. It’s okay, Buffy. We really don’t pay much attention to her. In fact, I can hardly remember seeing her last year.  I mean, I’m sure I did. And that we spent some time together when I was here, but it’s all pretty fuzzy.”  He smiled at Buffy. “I guess I was just so blindsided by her beautiful sister, I didn’t notice her.”
Buffy smiled back weakly.  “So, you want to come in for a while? Might be something on TV.”
“Sure. I’d love to. I don’t know if you noticed, but we haven’t seen each other or talked in a couple of days. I know you were avoiding me so I wouldn’t worry, but it just seems odd, you know? How you do so much on your own. You don’t even include all your Scooby friends sometimes. It’s like you’re the only girl in the world and only Giles — and apparently Spike — is allowed in.”
“Riley, you just described a slayer. Well, minus the Spike part, I guess. But that’s pretty much how it is. The Slayer works alone. And you kinda get used to it. Handling things alone, I mean. I can’t just be the Slayer when I’m working and then be somebody else when I’m not.”  She walked up the steps and opened the door, looking back at him over her shoulder. “I’m sorry I don’t seem to need you the way you think I should. Being the Slayer’s boyfriend isn’t exactly fun. Guess I should have warned you about that when we met.”
He jumped over the steps to stand beside her. “I can handle it,” he said, taking her hand. “It’s just that, where I’m from a girl like you—”
“Riley, where you’re from there are no girls like me.” 
She dropped his hand and entered the house, waiting to see if he was coming in. He sighed and followed her inside, closing the door behind him. Neither of them noticed the old Desoto parked a few houses down the street. Nor the very still black figure leaning against a tree.
Chapter Six
When the door closed behind Buffy and Riley, Spike threw his cigarette on the ground and got back in his car to go look for something else to kill. He was suddenly feeling the need to get into a fight that would last longer than the few fledglings he’d found and dusted earlier in the evening.  After telling him she didn’t want to go out, Buffy’d obviously changed her mind for the soldier.
Spike had checked the house earlier, planning to report to Buffy about his patrol, only to find it completely empty. Meaning Joyce wasn’t home. And now that their evening out was over, Riley was following Buffy into the house. Snarling, he peeled out from his parking spot, not caring if they heard him or not.
True to her word, Dawn had gone to her room, so Buffy and Riley had the living room to themselves. Buffy turned on the TV and settled onto the couch. After a moment of hesitation, Riley sat beside her and put his arm across the back of the sofa.  After a desultory perusal of the menu, Buffy settled on an old Bruce Lee film and put the remote down.
With them both being martial arts experts, they soon found themselves enjoying the fight scenes and commenting on the various moves.
“Whoa! That’s a new one on me. Have you seen it before?”
“Yeah, that’s one of Sp—ecial moves that Giles taught me. Seems like vampires like it a lot, so I needed to learn to defend it.”  She frowned. “Isn’t is weird how all vamps seem to know how to fight? Even the ones still brushing dirt off their clothes?  Did you guys ever study that? Do you know why they all seem to know how to fight?”
Riley shrugged. “Can’t say we did. We usually used nets and tasers to capture them, and their food was drugged to keep them docile, so....”
Buffy glanced at him and shifted slightly away. “Really? So you never like, actually had to fight one?”
“Well, there was that time Spike got loose while Maggie was testing him for—” At the look on Buffy’s face, he continued quickly. “Turns out he’d figured out the drugged blood and wasn’t eating it. So when he got loose, it took five of us to bring him down. Maggie wouldn’t let us dust him because she was excited about how he did on her tests and she’d already decided he should get the chip.”
Buffy bit her lip. “Five guys, all human – more or less,” she added, remembering how enhanced Riley had been before having his own chip removed. “I’m surprised you were able to pull him down without getting somebody killed.”
“He did put two of my best men in the hospital,” Riley muttered. “I wanted to stake him, but Maggie was the boss. We finally got a taser on him and threw him back in his cell.”
Buffy found herself perfectly comfortable with the idea that Spike had seriously injured two of Riley’s men. She remembered her own surprise encounter with a squad Maggie had sent to test her and nodded, saying almost to herself, “I guess he must have been pretty weak from the lack of blood.”
“You think he should have beaten us?” Riley sounded offended and disbelieving.
“Do you remember what did to your squad?”
He shifted uncomfortably. “Well, yes, but—”
“Spike beat me the first time we fought. We’ve always been pretty evenly matched – just never managed to kill each other. I don’t think even five enhanced humans could have taken him if he was healthy and you didn’t have tasers.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing we did,” Riley said through tightly clenched teeth. “And that he’s got a chip now.”
“I suppose it is. If he didn’t have that chip....” She smiled up at Riley. “If he didn’t have that chip, I guess that vamp last night would have had a really good day.”
“How can you joke about almost dying?”
Buffy shrugged. “I already died once. You know that’s why Faith is a slayer. It’s an occupational hazard. Slayers don’t live very long. I’m probably already past my expiration date.”
“It’s not funny.”
“No, it isn’t. But I did my ranting and crying about how unfair it all is years ago. Now I just concentrate on getting better at what I do and living as long as I can.” She turned back to the screen. “Oh look. Now there’s a move I haven’t seen yet.” She studied the fight going on intently while Riley studied her with newly aware eyes.
“You really aren’t like anyone else,” he murmured. “And I don’t mean that just in a ‘you’re an amazing girl and I really like you kind of way’.” Buffy gave him a small smile before turning back to the screen.  They were quiet until the credits rolled, then Riley stood up and stretched.
“I guess I should take off. It’s getting late, and if I’m not going to spend the night....”
“I don’t think it would be a good idea,” Buffy said. “We have to get back to the hospital first thing in the morning, and I’m going to try to get some sleep.” She walked toward the door with him. “Thanks for keeping me company.” Their goodnight kiss was perfunctory on both parts, something that left both Riley and Buffy frowning as the door closed between them.
When Buffy had closed the door behind him, she walked to the kitchen, leaning on the counter and picturing her mother there, smiling and joking about Spike only that morning. Sudden fear clenched her body, and she shuddered. With no real idea why the night air might be soothing, just that she knew it would, she opened the back door and went outside to sit on the porch steps.
She put her head on her knees and gave in to the emotions she’d been holding so tightly in check all night, sobbing quietly into her lap. A whisper of sound brought her head up in time to see Spike stalking toward her. His game face and furious expression died with the planned comment about her date with Riley as he saw the tears in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She put her head back down so as not to give away the lie.
“Buffy?” He sat beside her and lifted one hand for a tentative pat on her back. “Talk to me, Slayer.”
Taking a deep breath, Buffy filled him in on where she’d been all night and why she was crying. By the time she finished, he was pacing the yard, swearing in several demon languages, and she was in control of herself again.
“Be quiet, Spike. You’ll wake Dawn up.”
He cocked his head for a moment, then shook it from side to side. “Wild horses couldn’t wake the Bit up.” In spite of his words, he stopped pacing and sat back down beside her. “What can I do, Buffy?” he asked quietly. “Don’t want to get in the way, but if you need something, just ask.”
“I need for my mother to not be facing brain surgery tomorrow morning, but I guess there’s not much you can do about that.”
“Would if I could, love.”
She nodded. “I know you would.” She leaned into him a little, just enough to brush their arms together. “Thanks.” She straightened up before he could make more out of it than she wanted.  “How did patrol go tonight?”
“Not much to do.  Cleaned out two cemeteries and the Bronze parking lot. I’ll catch Restfield on my way home.”
“Then why are you so beat up?” she asked, finally noticing that he was somewhat the worse for wear. He cleared his throat and studied the tops of his boots.  “Spike?”
“Saw you coming home with the big lump,” he mumbled, “and thought you’d gone out after telling me you wouldn’t. And when he followed you inside.... might have had some excess need for violence that required cleaning out a demon bar.”
“By yourself?”  When he nodded, she shook her head and gave a soft laugh. “And Riley thinks I’m exaggerating how good you are in a fight.”
“Bragging on me, were you?”
“I dunno. Maybe. Sort of? Don’t let it go to your head.”
“Too late,” he said with obvious delight.
Buffy laughed again, almost sadly. “And on that note....” She stood up and stretched, blushing when she caught Spike staring at her, then grabbing her side when it reminded her that stretching wasn’t a good idea. “Ow!”
He rose to his feet and put his hand over hers where she was holding her side. “Looks like I’ll be patrolling for you a while longer.” He left his hand on hers, moving closer. “Wish there was some way for me to be there tomorrow, but I reckon the tin soldier has that covered.”
She made a face at him, but shook her head. “I’m going to call Giles for a ride to the hospital. I’ll let him tell Willow and she can tell everybody else. I guess Riley has to work.  It’s just as well. He wants me to be so needy, and I....”
“And you don’t want to be needy. Know that, Slayer. Man doesn’t know how to appreciate what he’s got.” He leaned in and brushed his lips over hers, once again pulling away before she could object. “Whenever you’re ready for a man who does, you know where to find me.”  He released her hand and stepped back. “I’m sorry about your mum. If you have a chance sometime tomorrow, please let me know how she’s doing. And don’t worry about patrol for a while. I’ll talk to the watcher and we’ll keep it covered.”
Buffy nodded and walked to the door. “Good night, Spike. I... I’m sorry you thought I was blowing you off for Riley.” She cocked her head at him. “You looked really mad when you got here.”
“I was a mite brassed off at you,” he said. “But I would’ve got over it. Not really sure what I was planning to do about it anyway...” he admitted with a shrug. “But I would rather have had something to be mad about than to have your mum in danger.”
She nodded. “Me too. Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Night, Buffy.”
Spike was well on his way back to Restfield when he stopped to watch a woman in a tight red dress, gesturing to scabby-looking little creatures and shrieking at them. His vampire hearing was easily able to catch what she was screaming.
“What do you mean, you can’t find my Key?  That Slayer bitch has it. You need to take it from her.  No, I don’t know what it looks like. But she does! Now find her and find my Key and do it— No!” Her shriek got louder.  “Not now!”
Spike watched with interest as she shuddered all over and turned into a tall young man who seemed embarrassed, but not surprised, to find himself wearing a dress and high heels. Looking around quickly to see if anyone was watching, he met Spike’s eyes through the windshield.  Spike drove closer and rolled down his window.
“Bit underdressed aren’t you, mate?  Give you a ride somewhere?”
The man nodded. “If you could just drop me near the hospital?  I’ve got extra clothes there.”  He climbed in, surprisingly unconcerned about getting into a stranger’s car in the middle of the night in Sunnydale. “I’m Ben,” he said as he stared out the window.
“Spike. And either you’re really new here, or the you that looks a lot better in that dress has some reason not to worry about vampires.”
Ben shivered and moved closer to the window. “I’m worried, but Glory isn’t, and she usually knows what she’s talking about.”
“Relax, I’m not planning to bite you. Was just a bit curious, that’s all. It’s not everyday you see a bloke pop up like that, and then get in the car with a stranger. What if I was human?”
“If you were human, you wouldn’t have remembered that you saw the change. And since you’re a vampire, Glory isn’t worried, so.... Stop here.”
Spike obeyed and Ben got out of the car and glanced around before running behind a dumpster. He emerged minutes later in medical scrubs and waved to Spike.  Shaking his head, Spike drove away, but instead of going home he went to wake Giles up.
When Spike’s incessant pounding had finally awakened Giles, he opened the door with a curse and a revolver in his hand. Spike blinked in surprise, then grinned.
“You have hidden depths, Rupert. Although that wouldn’t help you much against a dead man.”
“Well, given that you’re the only dead man capable of getting in here, it seemed appropriate.  What do you want, Spike? It’s gone 2 a.m. already.”
Spike pushed his way inside and walked to the desk. “Get your notebook, Watcher. I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to write it down. Several times and places, cause if that wanker was telling the truth, you’re not going to remember it after I tell you.”
“This couldn’t wait till tomorrow?” Giles grumbled, even as he took out a pad and pen.
“This might could, but it’s not my only reason for coming here tonight.”
He proceeded to instruct Giles to write down Glory’s name, that she was searching for a key of some sort, that she thought Buffy had it, and that she could turn into a human man named Ben, but that humans wouldn’t be able to remember seeing it happen. He checked that Giles had written everything down, including the instructions to keep writing it over and over. He added that Ben apparently worked at the hospital.
“Which brings me to my main reason for being here... the hospital.” He quickly filled Giles in on Joyce’s condition and the evening’s events, leaving out his encounter with Riley.
“So, Buffy and the Bit need a ride to the hospital first thing in the morning.  And they’ll need some moral support while they’re there. I’d do it myself but this pesky sun allergy means I can’t.”
“Oh dear lord.”  Giles leaned back in his chair. “Poor Buffy. Poor Joyce. Of course I’ll pick them up in the morning. I’ll call Buffy first thing and tell her to wait for me.”  He gazed at Spike. “If this Ben person and Glory are working together... what?”  Spike rolled his eyes and pointed to the notes Giles had written down.
“You just keep repeating that to yourself until you get it. Maybe you can get the witches to work a spell to counter whatever it is that is causing it, but in the meantime, keep a note in your pocket.”
Giles nodded. “What I was going to say was, this may be one of those times when you cannot be there 24/7 for Buffy. Glory can obviously appear in the daytime, as can Ben. Perhaps Riley can....”
Spike’s snarl startled him, but before Giles could remonstrate with him, Spike sighed and nodded.
“I expect you’re right, Watcher. Much as I hate it, you’re right. His fancy weapons might be a good thing to have around. Although he’s going to be just as blind to the real situation as anyone else.”
Spike stood up. “I might try to find one of those little scabby creatures and see if they know what this key looks like. Pretty sure they aren’t human, so getting information out of one of them might be fun.”  He laughed at Giles’s shocked expression. “I am what I am, Watcher. The chip and my feelings for the Slayer aside, I’m still a demon, and I like demon things.”  Giles shuddered, but nodded.
“Very well. I will set the alarm and try to get a few more hours of sleep before I call Buffy.  This is important information – I only hope I can remember to read it. I will talk to Willow about working on a counter spell. Perhaps a general spell to remove other spells will work.”  He walked Spike to the door.  “I suppose a thank you is in order,” he said.
“Don’t hurt yourself, there, Rupert. Your smile is quite thanks enough.”  With a laugh, Spike disappeared into the dark leaving Giles to close and lock the door behind him.
Chapter Seven
When Giles called at 6 a.m. to tell Buffy that he knew about Joyce and would be by to pick them up by 7:30, she let out a breath she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding. In spite of her brave words to Spike about working alone, the idea that her surrogate father would be there while they waited provided some relief for the anxiety she’d been living with since the phone call the night before.
She and Dawn were standing on the front porch when Giles drove up, and they ran to the car before he had even come to a complete stop. Without the usual argument about who was going to ride in front, they got in and buckled up.  After exchanging morning greetings and expressing his sympathy about the reason for their trip, Giles drove directly to the hospital, letting the girls out at the front and telling them he’d meet them upstairs.
To his surprise, they were still in the lobby when he came in, and orderlies were struggling to drag a strangely dressed man away from Dawn who was pinned against the wall, cowering behind Buffy, while the man shrieked that he knew what she was and that she had to be “destroyed”.
Giles grabbed Dawn by the arm and pulled her away, freeing Buffy to leave her post in front of her sister and follow them to the elevators. There were deep breaths all around as they rode to the fourth floor, only to emerge and find other similarly dressed and disturbed-looking men being herded into the psych ward. Catching sight of Dawn, they all began shouting and screaming about destroying the Key. Fortunately, their orderlies were able to prevent them from rushing out, and Giles pushed Dawn through a set of double doors and into the much quieter surgical wing.  Buffy waited to be sure none of the crazy people were going to escape before following Giles and Dawn through the doors and into another area of the building.
They were greeted by Ben, who explained that he would be scrubbing in with the surgeon to observe as part of his residency program. He and Giles shook hands and he left, promising to take very good care of Joyce and let them know as soon as she was in recovery.
“Well, that was just... really, really weird,” Buffy said as they sat down in the family waiting room. “I wonder who they think you are, Dawn?”
“They didn’t say they knew who I am, they said they know what. How rude is that?”
“Quite rude,” Giles said with a small smile. “Did one of them say something about a Key?”
Buffy’s face lost all color. “He did.  He looked right at Dawn and said ‘the Key must be destroyed’.”
Giles frowned. “That’s interesting....”
“I know you meant to say ‘stupid and scary’ right, Giles?” Dawn glared at him until he looked away.
“Yes, yes. Of course I did.”
While they waited, Buffy much less than patiently, for news about Joyce, Giles put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a scrap out, paper upon which he’d written: Glory is Ben, Ben is Glory. They are the same. Ask Spike what he saw. Talk to Willow and Tara about a general remove all spells spell.
“Buffy,” he said. “What was the name of the young doctor who brought us in here?”
“His name is Ben – er Dr. Wilkinson. Why?”  Giles silently handed her the scrap of paper. Buffy read it with a frown, then handed it back.
“That makes no sense. What did Spike say?”
“Oddly enough, I cannot remember what he said specifically, only that I was to write down what he told me and to work on a spell to cancel any other spells that may be lingering around Sunnydale. He seemed quite certain there was magic being used to our detriment.”
Buffy just shrugged. “Okay, well it’s not cool that the skank – Glory? What kind of a name is Glory? — is back in town and still thinks I have whatever she’s looking for. But I don’t know what Ben has to do with anything. He’s just a doctor here. When I know my mom’s going to be all right, I’ll worry about her.”
“It appears, from what Spike saw last night after he left you, that she has minions that are not human. He was going to search for one and to try to... persuade... it to give us more information.”
Unbothered by the implication of how Spike intended to get the information, Buffy just nodded.  “Okay. Well I hope he learns something we can use about this “Key” that she’s looking for.” Buffy shot a glance at Dawn. “And why those crazy guys think it has something to do with Dawn.”
Giles stood up. “I believe I will go find a phone and suggest to Willow that she begin working on that spell immediately. If she and Tara come up with something that will work, we will put it into effect right away. At worst, it may explain Spike’s cryptic instructions, and at best, perhaps tell us what we’re dealing with.”
An hour later, the neurosurgeon appeared at the entrance to the waiting room. He smiled as Buffy and Dawn leaped to their feet, nodding at the older man who he assumed to be their father.
“We got the whole thing and it appears to be benign. I will, of course, have it tested to be sure, but I’m feeling quite confident.  You mother will need to remain in Recovery for a while longer, then she will have her own room on the floor. When I examine her in the morning, I will be able to tell her when she can go home.”
“Can we see her?” 
He shook his head.
“Not yet. She is in and out of consciousness as the effects of the anesthesia wear off, and of course, she will be on pain meds for a while until she’s healed. You may wait here for a few more hours, or you can go home or to school and come back this afternoon when she is more likely to be awake and able to speak with you.”  He turned to Giles.
“Are you their father, Mr. Summers?”
“Ah, no... I am... their uncle.  Joyce is my sister. Their father is... out of the country, I believe.”
The doctor looked dubious once he heard Giles’s accent, but nodded. “Well, I’m glad the girls have someone to look after them while their mother is recovering.” He looked back at Buffy. “I will let you know immediately if there is any change or any problem, but I’m not anticipating anything like that. If you have any questions that arise today, please call my office.”
They thanked him, and waited until he’d left the room before conferring.
“If there’s nothing we can do here, I suggest we repair to the Magic Box and begin researching a general spell-cancelling spell. We can call Willow from there and ask her to join us.”
Buffy and Dawn exchanged looks.  “I’m not going to school today!”
“I wasn’t going to make you,” Buffy said. “But I don’t know about leaving Mom...”
“I believe the surgeon was quite clear that you would not be able to see her or have any sort of meaningful conversation until she has had several hours to recover—“ He was interrupted by Ben’s appearance in the doorway.
“Oh, hi.”
Ben looked around furtively, then gestured for Buffy to come closer. “If you want, I can let you peek in at your mother. She’s in and out of sleep, but she asked for you.” Buffy joined him so quickly he blinked. “Uh, okay. Let’s go then. Just you.”
Leaving Giles and a stormy-faced Dawn, Buffy followed him down the hall.  “Um. Thanks, Ben. I really appreciate this.”
“Happy to do it,” he said, lowering his voice. “Here, just take a few seconds to let her know you’re here and then we’ll have to leave.”
Buffy entered the room full of semi-comatose people all attached to machines of one sort or another. She was relieved to see her mother had only the standard IV beside her bed, and a small heart monitor sensor attached to one finger. Figuring that meant Joyce wasn’t in seriously bad shape, she approached the bed with more confidence.
“Mom?  Did you want to see me?”
Joyce opened a bleary eye. “Buffy? Is that you?”  Buffy patted her hand and assured her that she was there.  “Where... who is that other girl who came with you? Why was she here?”
Buffy stiffened. “That was Dawn, Mom.  You know, my little sister? Your other daughter?”
Joyce tried to frown.  “You’re an only child, Buffy. You know that.”  Before she could continue to argue, Joyce sighed. “I’m so sleepy....” and shut her eyes.  Ben gestured for Buffy to leave, and after giving her mom a kiss on her bandaged forehead, she followed him out of the room.
“Well that was weird. I wonder why she can’t remember Dawn?”
The young doctor shrugged. “I’m not an expert on brain stuff, but I’d guess it’s just some kind of after effect of the anesthesia. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Buffy continued to frown as she remembered how bewildered her mother had seemed at Dawn’s presence the night before, before she’d had any anesthesia. Shrugging it off as something to worry about later, she remembered Giles’s note that he said was something Spike had told him about the woman she’d fought.
“Ben, um... this is going to sound... but you know, it’s Sunnydale, and you’ll get used to... strange things...”
Ben gazed at her with amused curiosity.  “What is it?”
“Do you know anything about somebody or something called ‘Glory’?”
Rather than the puzzled frown she expected, Ben went white as a sheet and his eyes looked like they wanted to leap from their sockets.  He appeared as if he was going to hyperventilate for a few seconds; long enough for Buffy’s slayer sense of danger to go haywire and for her to back away from him.
“No...nothing. I know nothing. No idea what you’re talking about. I have to go now. They’re paging me!” With that he dashed down the hall and into an elevator that was just closing.
Buffy ran to the waiting room and began herding Giles and Dawn out. “Let’s go. I’ll explain later. Ben knows something he doesn’t want to talk about.”
When they were in the car, Giles said, “If this has anything to do with Ben and ‘Glory’, whatever that is, we need to run by my apartment and get my complete notes from last night. Perhaps they will be less cryptic than the note I brought with me.” 
While Giles went for the pad upon which he’d written down everything Spike had told him to, as well as a few notes to himself about anything else Spike had said and about getting a spell-removal done, Buffy called Willow and without explanation, asked her to bring Tara and meet them at the Magic Box. When she’d hung up, she looked at Giles to see him reading and re-reading everything he’d written down the night before.
“Well, this makes no sense at all,” he said. “Spike must have been drunk or something. I don’t know why I wasted my time on....” His voice trailed off as he came to his own notes about Spike’s warning that he was not going to remember any of it.  His face grim, he said, “Let’s go get that spell done.”
It took a very short amount of time, with them all searching, including Dawn, to locate several general spell-ending spells and for Giles and Willow to pick the one most likely to work for them.  While Giles gathered supplies off the shelves, Willow and Tara went over the words, wanting to be sure nothing went wrong.
“So, what’s going to happen now?” Dawn asked.
“If all goes well, any overall magic that is preventing us from remembering what Spike insists he saw last night, should be gone. As well as any other spells anyone has put on us. Which, to be fair, is unlikely, but one never knows....”
“Yeah, like Buffy and Spike being so sure they were going to get married last year and that all the rest of you were under a spell, but they weren’t. It was pretty funny....”
Willow’s glare told Dawn exactly how not funny she thought that particular memory was, but the teenager just stuck her tongue out and wandered around the shop looking for something to do.
The spell itself was relatively straightforward and easy, but it did require Giles, Willow and Tara to hold hands and concentrate together as they said the words.  They turned down Buffy’s offer to add her and Dawn’s concentration to the mix.
Willow shook her head and Giles agreed that Buffy was probably too close to supernatural magic – being the Chosen One – to use in a spell, and Dawn was... not needed. There was a moment of panic when Buffy wondered if removing all magic could cause her to lose her powers, but Giles assured her that only specific spells would be cancelled, not something as momentous as having been chosen to be the Slayer. 
The three participating people joined hands and began to recite the words of the spell meant to remove all magic spells currently in effect.  The finish was a bit anticlimactic at first, with nothing visibly changing. Giles noticed it first. When he read his note again, he remember Spike’s telling him that Glory had turned into Ben right before his eyes. And that Spike had left to track down a minion...
He stood up and stretched, saying, “I believe I should contact the Council to see if they know anything about this ‘Glory’ creature and her key.”  As he turned away, he spotted Dawn by the window and sat back down again with a thud.  “Dear Lord,” he whispered, as he stared at the girl who’d just appeared in their lives a few months ago.
Chapter Eight
“What?”  Dawn demanded. “Why are you... why are all of you staring at me?”
“You’re not real,” Willow said in awe.  “I mean, you’re real now, but you weren’t real. You just....” She shook her head.  “But I remember you! When you were in elementary school and....   Wow. That is some heavy-duty magic.”
Dawn stared back at Willow, then shifted her gaze to Buffy who was looking at Giles rather than Dawn.
“Giles?  What the hell? Dawn’s my sister.”
“Let’s all just pause for a moment and do some deep-breathing. Yes, it appears that we may have been magically manipulated into remembering Dawn from years ago when Buffy first came to Sunnydale.  It also appears, that those memories have been implanted somehow, and that her actually appearance in Sunnydale was only a few months ago.  Coincidentally, around the same time that this Glory person – who we now all know Spike watched turn into a human – came to Sunnydale looking for a “key” that she is quite sure Buffy is keeping from her.” 
He paused and waited for the unbelieving chatter to die down before continuing.
“I will contact the Council again, in light of these new developments, and with luck, they will have information for us. Um... and perhaps Spike will have found one of the minions and been able to convince it to....  Well. He may have some information for us this evening as well.”  He turned to Buffy, who had walked over to Dawn and was trying to reassure her that she was very “real”.
“I also have some books here that we can consult. Now that we have a name to put to the... creature.  But, I think we must consider the possibility that Dawn’s appearance is somehow connected to this ‘key’ for which Glory is searching, and it would not be wise to allow her to go out without some form of protection.”
“My life is over...” 
Ignoring Dawn’s moan, he added, “I will handle the research for the time being. I suspect Buffy and Dawn will be hoping to spend some time with their mother this afternoon and evening.”  He gave Buffy an odd look. “Please remember what Spike said about Ben.  We can hope he was mistaken, but if not....”
“If not, I don’t want him around Dawn until we know why she might be connected to the key.”
“All right. Here’s the plan. I’m going to take Dawn to Spike’s crypt...” At the stares she said, “He’s the only one besides me who can have a shot at kicking Glory’s butt. She’ll be safe there. And I want to talk to him about this Ben/Glory thing. When I asked Ben about Glory, he freaked, so there’s definitely something going on there. And he’s in the same place as my mother, which is more than a little disturbing....”
“That can’t be good,” Tara put in quietly. “I mean... if he’s....”
“We can stay here and help Giles research.” Willow smiled at Tara when she nodded vigorously. “And then we’ll all meet at the hospital later to see how your mom is doing.  I’m going to call Xander now.”
“No need,” Giles said. “Anya is coming in shortly to help me with the inventory. We can tell her then.”
“That’s settled then. I’m taking Dawn to Spike’s and... and then... I don’t know.” She sighed. “I’m pretty much okay, wound-wise, but not quite 100%. I really don’t want to have to fight Glory again if I can avoid it.  I guess we should grab some snacks on the way to Spike’s. I’ll call you guys from the hospital in a few hours and let you know if Mom’s up for company.”
After swinging by the grocery store and getting some things to eat and drink, as well as a People magazine for Dawn to read if she got bored, Buffy led the way through Restfield to Spike’s crypt. This time the outside door was ajar and she and Dawn just slipped through the opening as the interior door opened. Peering behind it, Buffy smiled at Spike who was holding it for them.
“Thanks. Those doors would have been a little tricky with all these bags.”
“You’re welcome, Slayer. Hello, Bit. To what do I owe this visit, and why do you come bearing gifts?”
“Um, actually... I guess I should have asked you first... but... see, here’s the thing...”
“The Bit’s not quite as old as we think she is,” he said with a smirk. “Got that memo when the spell kicked in.  Did it work on whatever else was going on that kept Glory’s secret?”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, it did. I need to talk you some more about that before I go back to the hospital.”
“So, what’s in the bags?”
“Oh, um, that’s part of what I wanted to talk to you about. See... the thing is, these weird guys in the crazy ward were all yelling at Dawn about they had to destroy the key, and they know what she is, and crazy stuff like that. And then when we figured out that she got here... I mean not that we don’t all remember all about her from when she was little, but it looks like something or somebody gave us all those memories and—”
“And she got here about the same time you tried to save that old monk from slutty superwoman?”
Buffy sighed. “Yes. So, obviously Dawn is somehow a part of this missing key thing, and I need a place to hide her from Glory until we know more about what’s going on.”
“Mi casa, su casa, love. You didn’t need to ask. Wouldn’t let anything happen to the Bit, even if you didn’t ask.” He smiled at Dawn who was looking distinctly uncomfortable and annoyed with all the conversation about her. “And the bags?”
“Food. Snacks and stuff to drink. You can’t even imagine how much Dawn can eat in a day.”
“Hey! Not all of us exist on lettuce and yogurt!  I’m a growing girl!”
“Here, growing girl, put your stuff away in the fridge.” Buffy handed the rest of the bags to Dawn, snatching out an apple for herself as she did so. She glanced up at Spike as he was watching Dawn make herself at home in his ‘kitchen’.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I owe you one.”
“Don’t owe me a thing, Slayer.” He r leered at her. “But if you want to demonstrate how grateful you are....”
She laughed and pushed him away. “Behave yourself. My little sister is here.”
“So if she wasn’t here...” He raised a hopeful eyebrow.
“She is,” Buffy said, walking to the couch and sitting down. She took a bite from her apple and grinned back at him. “So you’ll never know.” 
“Never’s a long time,” he said, settling onto a chair. 
Dawn came back, chewing on a sandwich from the deli section.  “So, what’s the plan. Don’t I get to see Mom?”
Buffy sighed and leaned her head back. “I don’t know. When I see what Giles has found out, and I see Ben again, I’ll figure it out. I don’t think you need to be around those crazy people they keep bringing in. Mom would never forgive me if I got you hurt by bringing you to the hospital. I wish you had a phone,” she added, turning to Spike.
“Tell you what, Slayer. When it’s finally dark, I’ll take the Bit with me and drive to there. She can wait in the car until you tell us what’s what. That way, no one will see her unless you think it’s safe. And she’ll be with me, so nothing can happen to her.” He looked at Dawn to see if she was all right with the plan and she nodded.  “Let’s say about 7:30. We’ll be in the parking lot, as close to the building as I can get. And we’ll wait for a half hour. If you haven’t shown up yet, I’ll bring her back here and....”
“And stay here with her,” Buffy said before he could decide to come looking for her. “I need to know she’s safe, Spike. Even if something.... even if I’m busy fighting something somewhere. I need to know she’s safe.”
He growled, but nodded. “I need to know you’re safe,” he said. “That bitch has her scabby little minions looking for you. The hospital where she works when she’s pretending to be human isn’t my idea of a safe place.”
Buffy rose to her feet.  “All right. I’ll head back to the Magic Box and see what Giles has found out. Unless there’s some really, really good reason why I can’t, I’ll meet you in the parking lot at 7:30.” She waved to Dawn and walked to the door with Spike.
“Be careful, Slayer,” he said, too low for Dawn to hear. “And if the tin soldier wants to use big weapons on the superslut, let him do it. Don’t let your need to not be needy get in the way of hiding behind some firepower if that’s what it takes.”
She peered up at him. “Who are you, and what have you done with Spike?”
“Not sayin’ you have to get all girly and snog him for being a hero,” he growled. “Just saying use whatever weapons you’ve got – even if it’s an overgrown—”
“You should have quit while you were ahead,” she said, her smile putting the lie to her words.  “And, news flash, I’m stubborn, not stupid. I’m the girl who took out the Judge with a rocket launcher, remember?”
He laughed. “Seems like I did hear about that. Old Angelus was beside himself.” His expression darkened. “Although he was pretty chuffed that you didn’t stake him.”
“I got over that,” she muttered.
“Know you did, love. Wasn’t criticizing.”
She raised her eyebrows at him.
“Well, maybe a little... but if you’d dusted him then, I never would have had a reason to make that truce with you, and look where that got us.”
She snorted and shook her head as she walked out the open door.  “See you tonight.”
“Yes you will.”
Buffy arrived at the Magic Box to find Giles in a state. 
“What’s wrong?”
“Well, the Council has come through... in a sense.”
“And it appears that ‘Glory’ or ‘Glorificus’ as they called her is a... god of some sort. Not here,” he added quickly. “But in her own hell dimension. Apparently she was trapped here and has been trying to get home for millennia.”
“Why doesn’t she just leave? I’d be happy to open a door for her.”
Giles sighed and sank into his chair.  “Ah, that’s the crux of it. Please sit down.”
“Buffy, sit down... please sit down? Uh oh. This is not of the good.”
Giles waved his hand to Anya and the two witches. “Perhaps everyone should hear this at the same time—Ah, Xander. You too.” 
The newly arrived Xander greeted Anya and joined them at the table.
“Hey, the gang’s all here... well except for Spike, but he’s not really—”
“Spike’s taking care of Dawn,” Buffy said.
He frowned. “Because she can’t take care of herself? I thought she’d be at the hospital with your mom.”
Giles interrupted to point to a chair. “If you will join us, we can bring everyone up to speed.”
“There’s speed?”
He sighed. “Well, inasmuch as we now know that Glory – the strangely powerful woman who Buffy tried to save an old man from some time ago – is actually a... god... from a hell dimension. She has been trapped in our dimension for a very long time, but is constantly seeking to go home.  For many hundreds of years, a group of monks has hidden the “Key” she requires to open the portal that will make it possible for her to go home.  And as the portal may only be opened once every thousand years, she didn’t try to get it from them... until now.”
“Why now? And wonderful,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes.
“It seems the time is almost right for the portal to be opened, if she has the Key. If she fails, she remains trapped in our dimension for another thousand years.”
“So, what’s the problem? Good riddance, right?” Xander looked around the table and could tell from the expressions on their faces that there was more to the story. “Okay.... what don’t I know?”
“The most important thing at the moment, is that opening the portal will not only allow her to go home, but will permit other beings from that rather unpleasant dimension to enter our world. There is, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, no way to open or close the portal without using the Key. We have no reason to think Glory would take the time to pull the door shut behind her, so it is important that we prevent her from opening that portal.”
Xander turned to Buffy. “Why does she think you have her Key?”
Buffy shrugged. “Apparently that old monk I tried to save passed it on to me somehow.  Might have been that glowy thing I picked up outside the warehouse, but I haven’t seen it since that night. We just don’t know how or what it is, so I can’t do anything about it.”
“There is more,” Giles said, getting the focus back. “The Council is researching the exact date that the portal will be available, but we can assume from Glory’s increased activity that it is nearing.  Her minions have been very active lately and they are focusing on Buffy’s activities.  Also, Glory is only able to maintain her form through sucking mental energy from humans. Hence the sudden increase of mindless patients in the psych ward of the hospital. When she is low on energy, she reverts to her current human form... which, according to Spike, is one of the doctors at Sunnydale hospital.”
“It’s Ben,” Buffy said. “He knows something, and if he’s really Glory....”
“Then she knows whatever he knows,” Willow finished for her. “Oh, this can’t be good.”
“Well, right now, all Ben knows is that I’m the Slayer – which, Glory already knew from our little... disagreement... when she first showed up here. As long as that’s all he knows....”
“I believe there to be something else we should consider,” Giles said. He gazed at Buffy and sighed. “I doubt very seriously if it is a coincidence that the monk asked you to guard the key the very same time that Dawn appeared in your life. A perfectly normal girl who didn’t exist until just a few months ago.”
“What are you saying? We already know she must have something to do with—”
“Buffy, what were the men at the hospital shouting at her? Think about it.”
“They said they knew who—what she was and... and that the key needed to be destroyed... they were trying to....  No. No, that’s impossible. Dawn is my sister. Period. End of story.”
“If the monks wanted to be sure you would take good care of the key, what better thing to do than make it a member of your family?”
Buffy was shaking her head in denial, even as she was remembering how odd it sometimes seemed to have a sister. And yet, how close she felt to Dawn at other times...
“I think it’s something you have to consider, Buffy,” Giles said gently. “I’m not sure how we can know for sure, but I will continue to research the matter. In the meantime....”
“In the meantime, Dawn is with either me or Spike, all the time.” Buffy stood up. “I’m going to go see my mom now. I’ll call you from the hospital if she’s up for company... or if there’s a problem.”
“Um... Buffy, if this... god-person... is a human sometimes, how is Spike going to help?”
Buffy shrugged. “If she tries to hurt Dawn while she’s human, one of us will make her sorry if Spike can’t do it.  But if she’s being Glory....” She shuddered. “I’m not sure even Spike and I together can win that one, but we’ll sure make her wish she’d stayed in her hell dimension.”
Chapter Nin
Joyce was sitting up and picking at a very unappetizing looking meal that seemed to consist of different colors of Jello.   She smiled when she saw Buffy, raising her head and then wincing.
“Hi, honey. Want to share my dinner?”
Buffy eyed the tray and shuddered. “Um... no thanks.  How do you feel?”
“Like somebody made a hole in my head and pulled my brain out through it.”
“Oh, Mom....”
“It’s okay, Buffy. I’m kidding... sort of.  It’s not bad actually, and the headaches are gone. I’ve got good painkillers, and Dr. Phillips tells me I shouldn’t need them for more than a few days.  The brain heals quickly, and the hole they made was very small and they put the bone back, so....”
“Ugh! That might be TMI, Mom.” Buffy shuddered.
“This from the girl who washes blood and demon ichor from her clothes in my washing machine?”
Buffy shrugged. “It’s not your blood. That’s different.”  She smiled and moved closer to the bed. “So, you feel better?  Are you better enough that I can yell at you for not telling me about the headaches and doctor visits?”
“I just didn’t want to worry you, honey. You’ve got so much on your plate all the time – school, slaying, important stuff like that. I had no idea my headaches were going to turn out to actually be something.”
“Yeah, well, do me a favor, huh? Let me decide what is and isn’t really important to put on my plate. ‘K?”
“Okay. From now on I’ll tell you everything.”  Joyce looked behind Buffy. “Where’s Dawn?”
“Oh, good. You remember her!”  Joyce frowned, then her eyes got wide.
“Oh my God.” She stared at Buffy. “But... but she’s my daughter... I...”
“She is your daughter. And my sister. Giles is looking in to how that’s possible, but she is. It’s just that... she popped into existence this year. Completely with her memories of her life to this point, and our memories of her.”
“I think I feel another headache coming on....” Joyce’s voice was weak, but she smiled her reassurance at Buffy.
“Yeah, we’re all kinda like that. Still trying to wrap our brains around it. Anyway, the thing is, Dawn coming into our lives is somehow connected to that woman who killed the old monk. Something about a key Glory needs to open a portal. It’s all kind of guesswork right now, but we’re learning more all the time.  Dawn’s with Spike right now, just in case....  I’m going to meet them in the parking lot in a while, and if it seems safe, I’ll bring her up to see you.”
“Safe?”  Joyce frowned and put her hand on her head.
Buffy went to the door and peered up and down the hall. “Have you see Ben – the young doctor – today?”
“Earlier, I did. Not for a while. Why? He’s quite good looking, but surely having Riley and Spike in your life—”
“Is quite complicated enough. Got it, Mom. I’m looking for Ben because he’s... and this will really sound crazy... he’s—right here! Hi! I just came by to see how Mom’s doing.”
Ben gave her a tentative smile, but his eyes were shifty and he tried to keep his distance. “She’s doing really well. I was just checking on her before I leave for the evening.” He shuffled his feet and seemed embarrassed, but plunged on. “I don’t suppose you’d—I mean would you like to join me for a late dinner? Somewhere not here?”
Buffy gaped at him, then shook her head. “I... that’s nice of you, but... I have a boy—actually, maybe two? And—”
“Look,” he said, glancing around as if someone could hear him. “I know who you are. And I know why she wants you. She’s getting stronger and I don’t know how much longer I can... You need to know what I know.”
“Right. Okay. Um... where and what time?”
“I get off at 8. Maybe... the diner down the street? I know it’s not much, and I did say ‘dinner’, but—”
“That’s fine. Um... I might be a little bit late... but it’s fine. I just want to make sure my sister gets a chance to see Mom tonight, but then I’ll take her... home... and meet you. Okay?”
“Sure. That’s great. I’ve got things to do on other floors before I check out for the night, but I’ll see you there.” He left quickly, as if not wanting to be close to her for long.
As soon as he’d left and Buffy checked the hallway to be sure, she ran back to Joyce’s side. 
“Look, Mom, I can’t explain everything right now, but when Dawn comes up, just act normal, okay?  I mean, as normal as it can be that you’re recovering from brain surgery and we all just found out that Dawn.... Just go with it, please?”
Joyce sighed and sank back against the pillows, pushing away her remaining food.
“I’m not a fool, Buffy. If Dawn only appeared a few months ago, then all the memories we think we have aren’t real. But they feel real, and she feels like my child. I’m not going to say or do anything to endanger her... or myself. I haven’t been the slayer’s mother all these years for nothing.”
Buffy smiled. “No, you haven’t.  And just so you know, she might have a bodyguard with her when she comes up... besides me. I’ll be here too, but....”
“Spike is always welcome, Buffy. Did you think I wouldn’t want to see him?” Joyce smirked at Buffy’s obvious surprise that she would know who the bodyguard might be.
“I don’t know. Just seemed like a good idea to let you know before he showed up with us. And I might pull a Giles and tell them he’s a cousin or something.” Buffy glanced at the clock on the wall. “I’m going to call the Magic Box and let everybody know you’re doing fine, but I think I’ll tell them to wait till you get home to visit. They aren’t going to allow anyone but family in here tonight anyway. Spike’s bringing Dawn over around 7:30, so we’ll be back then.”
“All right, honey. I’ll see you later. Tell them to bring me a hamburger!”
Buffy laughed as she went out the door, her relief at hearing Joyce sound so perky making her almost miss the noise from the other end of the building. Almost.
Running toward the sounds, she found Ben standing outside the psych ward while another young doctor was apologizing to him.
“Hey, man. I’ve got no idea what’s going on. They’d all settled down and were just kind of zombie-like all day until you walked in.  Don’t know why they’re afraid of you, but they are. I’m going to have to ask you to stay out. Let us try to get them settled again and maybe you can try again tomorrow. I’ll get somebody else to keep me company this evening.”
Buffy peered around Ben’s body to see a good half of the patients cowering back in one corner and shrieking every time he looked at them. She frowned, remembering how they’d wanted to attack Dawn.
“Well, that’s weird,” she said, pointing into the ward. “They were all ready to fight this morning. They weren’t afraid of me... not that they have any reason to be,” she added quickly, remembering the other resident who was listening to them. “But they’re terrified of you....” Ben is Glory, Glory is Ben. Spike’s words came back to her and she narrowed her eyes looking from Ben to the cowering men and back again.  “I wonder why that is?” 
Ben shifted his feet uncomfortably, then began to edge away. “Don’t know. But I’ll just go... See you later, Buffy?”
“Yeah. See ya, Ben.”
After calling the Magic Box and explaining that it would be best if everyone waited until Joyce was home and feeling better to come see her, Buffy found herself with some time to kill. Giles informed her that Riley had called there searching for her, and she realized she hadn’t spoken to him since her mother’s operation. Feeling guilty about her lack of interest lately, she wondered if she should call him and say she needed him for something. Then she remembered that Spike would be coming to the hospital in a couple of hours and thought better of it.
“It’s not like he’d be coming here armed with big guns or something,” she muttered to shut up her conscience. “He’ll just be a jerk about Spike and....”
“Buffy! There you are. I’ve been trying to find you all day.”
“Riley! You’re here. And you’re Riley, and here. Where my mom is.”
“Are you all right?  Did you get any sleep last night after I left?”
“Uh... yes. Some. Not a lot. I mean, you know, it was already late and we had to be here really early this morning... So... yeah, kinda tired and fuzzy-brained today.”
“I’m sorry. But your mom is okay? I figure you would have called me if anything... I mean... she’s okay?”
“She’s fine,” Buffy said with a relieved smile. “Not cancer, and she’s complaining about the food already.”  She gave him an apologetic look. “But, she’s still in ICU, so only immediate family can go in there – which is pretty much, just Dawn and me... and maybe Giles cause he lied and said he was my uncle.”
“That’s okay. I’ll see her when she’s feeling better and home. I just wanted to be here for you. I thought... I mean... how did you get here this morning? Who was with you?”
“Giles picked us up and he stayed until we knew Mom was okay and recovering. And then we... we had some important stuff to do at the Magic Box... and yeah. It’s been a busy afternoon. I was just thinking maybe I should go back to the Magic Box for a while until it’s time to... um... to visit my mom again. With Dawn.”
Riley nodded. “Why don’t I give you a ride over there, then?  We can pick up Dawn and come back together.”
“Uh... okay. Sure. That’s a good idea. We’ll just go there, and... then we’ll come back here.”
Everyone looked up in surprise when Riley walked in behind Buffy. Only Xander greeted him with enthusiasm. Giles looked at Buffy and smiled tightly. “Oh Buffy, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve just heard from the Council and we have new information.”  He gestured for Buffy to join him in the training room, which she did, shrugging her lack of understanding for it at Riley, who sat down next to Xander.
“What now?”
Giles sighed. “It appears that with the breaking of the spell(s), including the one that was hiding Dawn’s recent appearance from us, the Council has realized what she is. And they have contacted the few monks from that order that are still alive.”
“My sister, is what she is,” Buffy growled.
“Quite so. And she was apparently made from you somehow. So she is very much your sister, in that you share DNA.” He waited for Buffy to figure out what he was saying.
 “You mean, she’s made from me? Wouldn’t that make me more like her... mother... or something?”
“I suppose it would in some ways, but you obviously could not have a daughter that age, and if she were an infant, she would be too vulnerable, so a sister seems to have been the best choice.”
“So... you’re saying Dawn is the key Glory’s looking for. Not just connected to it in some way?”
“That appears to be the case. It is imperative that we keep her out of Glory’s hands until after her window of opportunity has passed.”
Buffy nodded, then frowned. “But how is Dawn supposed to open anything? She’s just a normal teenage girl.  She doesn’t have any super powers or magical talent or anything.”
“We’re researching that,” he said, not meeting her gaze.
“So, what do the crazy guys have to do with it? They know what she is... and they’re terrified of Ben, by the way.  So they must know what he is too.”
Giles nodded. “They are from an ancient order of soldiers whose job it was to prevent Glory from opening the portal, should she find the key.” He frowned. “It appears that their strategy consists of destroying the key, thus trapping Glory in this dimension where she can be prevented from doing more damage.”
“Uh, Giles. I’ve fought that skanky god. Not seeing a bunch of medieval wannabes preventing her from damaging anything. Especially if they piss her off by destroying her key. Which, so not happening, by the way,” she added.
“I believe they expect to kill her human host. After they have destroyed the Key so that she cannot use it.”
“Oh great, so not only do I have to protect Dawn, I’ve got to worry about Ben too?”
Giles gazed at her, then nodded almost to himself. “I don’t believe you should include him in those you need to protect. If anything, should something happen to him, it could be quite fortuitous....”
“I know you aren’t telling me I should kill a human being in cold blood....” Buffy stared at him, her expression shocked. She started shaking her head.  “If I have to stop him from taking Dawn, I’ll stop him. But I’m not going to kill him. Not unless he’s Glory. Her I’ll take out in a heartbeat.”  She turned and marched back out to the main part of the shop. 
“Do you guys know what that was all about?  Were you here when Giles talked to the Council?” Buffy stared around the table. Willow raised her hand. “We were,” she said. “Xander and Anya were—”
“We were taking inventory. In the basement,” Xander said quickly. “We figured we’d get caught up when you did.”
Riley was frowning at them all. “What is there to get caught up on? I don’t know what the deal is with Dawn, but obviously she didn’t just appear out of thin air a few months ago, so someone is playing games with us.  Probably Spike. It would be just like him to invent something like that to make us all suspicious of Dawn.”
He turned to Buffy. “Where is she, anyway? I thought she’d be here with your friends.”
Buffy studied his face for a full minute, her silence telling her friends not to say anything yet. When Xander started to open his mouth, Giles cuffed him in the back of the head before sitting down.
“Dawn is where she’s safe,” Buffy finally said. “I didn’t say she was here, I said I’d be taking her to see Mom.”
“Oh. I thought that was why we came here. Not that I mind seeing you guys,” he added quickly. “But I didn’t think Buffy would be bothering with Slayer stuff while her mom was in the hospital.”  He looked at Buffy. “Weren’t you taking a break because you got hurt?”
“I’m just not patrolling, Riley. I’ve got somebody handling that for me. There is no such thing as a break from slaying stuff. And Giles and I had important things to talk about.”
“Things I’m obviously not going to be a party to,” Riley said stiffly.
Buffy sighed and looked at Giles. He shook his head and said to Riley, “Buffy is not deliberately hiding anything from you. It’s just that you don’t always believe us when we discuss supernatural events, and that makes it difficult to discuss... things.”
“What ‘things’?”
“Do you remember that skanky woman who beat me up and threw me through a brick wall?” 
Riley blinked, then nodded. “Yeah. She sounded like a pretty powerful vamp or demon.”
“She’s a god. A hell god, to be specific.  And she’s back in town. She thinks I have something she needs to get back to her own dimension, and I need to concentrate on keeping my family safe while we figure out how to kill something that seems more powerful than all of us put together.”
Riley rolled his eyes. “And there you go again. A ‘god’?”
“A hell god,” Giles said coldly. “From an extremely unpleasant dimension full of creatures we would just as soon did not gain access to this world through the portal she intends to open to get home.”
“So, what is this thing she thinks you have?”
“It’s a key. We’re not sure how it works, but she apparently has to have it by the time the portal is in position, or she will be stuck here for another thousand years.”
“You aren’t planning to give it to her, I take it?”
Buffy shook her head. “No. I’m not. But I’m not going to destroy it either.”  She gave him a pleading smile. “Look, Riley, the truth is, the less you know about the key and Glory, the safer you are. And that’s one less person for me to worry about while I deal with this.”
Buffy’s mistake was obvious to everyone as Riley’s expression darkened and he stood up. “I am not something for you to keep safe, Buffy. You need to get over this ridiculously ego-centric idea that you’ve been indoctrinated with...” He shot Giles a glare. “And stop thinking that it’s your job to save the world. Just show me this ‘key’ and we’ll get a squad to protect it until she stops looking for it.”
“Riley, trust me, if it comes to that, I will the first one to ask for military help. I’m not above throwing grenades at her.  I just need to be sure she isn’t going to throw them back. Or that she can be killed by non-magical means.”
Riley glanced at Willow and Tara. “No offense, ladies, but floating pencils and somehow hypnotizing your friends into thinking they’re blind or getting married or whatever isn’t really magic. I’m not sure what it is, but somehow I don’t think it will work better than a shot from an M-16.”
“And when and if we know that for sure, we will know how to handle her and if you can be of assistance.”  Giles was making no attempt to hide his irritation at Riley’s on-going insistence that Buffy’s powers – as impressive as they were – were anything but enhancements from the Council of Watchers, and that there was a scientific explanation for everything they encountered. He refused to discuss Angel’s soul and the difference it made in the old vampire’s attitude and behavior, although he was more than willing to point out to Buffy that Spike did not have one....
Chapter Ten
AN - I'm going out of town in a few days, so this story won't be updated again until sometime in December. I'll be working on it as I have time, but won't be posting. My apologies in advance for the delay.

“Spike?” Dawn looked up from her magazine to see if he was paying attention to her.
“Yeah, Bit? You need something?”
“I was just... You remember me, don’t you?”
“ ‘Course I do. Like it was yesterday – peeking down the stairs at your mum and me chatting while the Slayer did something in the kitchen. Cheeky little thing, you were.”
“I remember that too.”  She raised big, damp eyes to his. “But it wasn’t real, was it?  I’m not real. I’m a...a figment of everyone’s imagination.”
He moved across the room to kneel in front of her. “You’re as real as you need to be, Niblet.” He wrinkled his nose and sniffed her. “Smell real. Smell delicious, truth be told. If I didn’t have this chip....”
She flinched away from him. “You’d eat me?”
“Sorry, luv. Let my mouth run away from me there. You know I’d never harm you. Just meant to reassure you that you are a real, live, heartbeat having, red-blooded American girl.”
“How can I be?” In contrast to her first reaction when he talked about how good she would taste, she held out her arm.  It trembled, but her tone was firm. “Bite me,” she demanded. “See if I taste real.”
He recoiled so fast he ended up sitting on the floor staring up at her. “Have you gone barmy?”
“It would prove I’m real, wouldn’t it? I mean you could taste the... the realness? And if your chip fired....”
“Niblet, if I thought it would do you any good, I’d risk the headache in a minute.” He got off the floor and took her hands in his, squeezing them reassuringly. “And the subsequent dusting at the hands of your sister,” he muttered to himself. “But I’m not going to bite you. You don’t need to bleed to prove you’re a real girl. Maybe you didn’t come into this world in quite the same way most of us did, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t just as real as anybody else. However it was done, you’re here now. And that’s all that matters.”
Somewhat mollified, but still unhapppy, she sighed and pulled her hands back.
“I knew you wouldn’t do it. Is it time to leave yet?”
“Almost. Won’t take but a few minutes in the car, and we don’t want to be sitting around waiting for Buffy any longer than we have to.”
Riley glared around the room, not finding much sympathy from anyone but Xander. Anya stared at him, frowning. 
“Riley, do you know how old I am?”
He blinked at her, shaking his head more at her irrelevant question than in response.
“I’m over a thousand years old... I mean, not now, not this body... but the me that used to be a vengeance demon has been around a really long time.” She cocked her head at him. “I don’t usually tell people that because then they’re afraid of me and they might not want to spend money here. But I think it’s okay to tell you now. Now that you don’t work for that horrible woman who wanted to experiment on demons anymore.”
He just stared at her, then at Xander who gave him a sickly smile. “I think you’re all crazy.” He pointed at Giles. “And I’m blaming it on you. As the adult in this group, and Buffy’s mentor, it’s pretty obvious where they get all these strange ideas.  Magic. Supernatural beings. Gods.  Next thing you’ll be telling me that the key is a person or something.”
“No, Riley.” Buffy looked at him sadly. “You can be sure none of us are going to tell you anything like that.”  She sighed. “Look, why don’t you just go back... back to your apartment. Let me get Mom all taken care of and home, and figure out what we have to do about Glory and then I’ll call you.”
He stared at her, then spun on his heel and went out the door, slamming it behind him.
“Uh, Buff? He looks pretty mad. Don’t you think you ought to go after him?”
Xander looked back and forth between Buffy and the still quivering door. She shook her head and sighed before answering.
“No. I don’t want him there when Spike brings Dawn to visit Mom. He’ll just go off on everybody and he’d end up stomping out of there too. I’ll talk to him when this is all over.”
“You might lose him.”
Her shoulders slumped, then she straightened up and plastered on a smile. “I might. Wouldn’t be the first time my job got between me and my love life. Probably won’t be the last.” She shook herself.  “Guess I’d better get going if I’m going to walk back to the hospital. Spike and Dawn are supposed to be there by 7:30.”
“I’ll take you,” Giles volunteered. “We can continue our conversation about our options.”
Xander raised his hand. “Why do we need options?”
“Will someone please bring Xander and Anya up to speed on what we know about the key and where it came from? And Anya, would please close up the shop when you leave?”
Anya beamed at being given more responsibility and shooed them out the door.
They got to the hospital in time for Buffy to run up to Joyce’s room and make sure she was all right and that Ben hadn’t been around again.
“Okay, Mom, Spike’s bringing Dawn over and we’ll be back up in a few minutes. Meanwhile, Uncle Giles can keep you company.”
As she turned to leave, Giles appeared in the doorway and she said, “Look, Mom, it’s Uncle Giles.”
Both adults rolled their eyes as she giggled and went down the hall to the elevators. Joyce gestured to a chair.
“You may as well have a seat, Rupert. It seems we may be in for an interesting time.”
“Buffy told you about Dawn? But she just found out tonight.”
“She told me Dawn is somehow involved with this key that woman is searching for.” She stared at Giles shrewdly. “I’m guessing ‘involved’ might not be a strong enough word.  Is it?”
“He shook his head and sighed. “You need to know what we know. Which is by no means everything, but more than we did yesterday, or earlier today for the matter.” He began to fill her in on how Dawn had come to be, and that she’d been made from Buffy somehow. “So you see, even though you did not actually give birth to her, she is actually your daughter. She looks different, but genetically she is Buffy.”
“You know, if that man... Buffy’s first watcher... if he had tried to tell me half as much as I’ve had to accept and live with for the past several years, I’d have had him committed.”
“You’ve actually done quite well,” Giles said with a smile. “For someone who did not come from a culture where vampires and demons are part of the lore, and where prospective slayers are known and respected, you’ve adapted nicely to being the mother of one.”
“It may seem like that to you,” she said with a sigh, putting her head back carefully and shutting her eyes. “But I am constantly terrified that I will lose my only child – and now it seems I have two children to be terrified for.”
“I can only imagine....” he said, not without a trace of irony. “However, Buffy has so much more help than most slayers ever get. In addition to whatever benefits I can provide, she has friends with magical capabilities and....”
“And a powerful vampire who is in love with her,” Joyce finished with a wry twist of her mouth. “And I’m not referring to that other creature she had in her life.”
He smiled and shook his head. “I was sure you weren’t. Buffy’s relationship with Angel was never in anyone’s best interest. As much as I hated to see her unhappy, I was not sorry to see the last of him. I doubt he will ever be completely out of her life, as his quest for redemption and her calling mean they are often working for the same goals, but I am hoping the romantic attachment she had has faded with time and other... interests.”
“You don’t worry that one of those interests may turn out to be Spike?”
“Of course, I do. But as much as I hate the thought of another vampire in her life – this one without a soul – I have to say that I won’t be sorry if that insufferably arrogant soldier takes himself elsewhere.”
“Oh? So what’s going on there? Fill me in, please.”
Buffy went out the sliding doors and immediately spotted Spike’s old car in an unlit area of the parking lot.  She walked up to the driver’s side and smiled at him.
“Right on time.”
“I try to keep my word, Slayer. So, what’s it look like?”
“Well, no sign of Ben or Glory, and Mom is anxious to see Dawn, so I guess we can just go on up.”
“If anybody asks, you’re my... cousin. That should work. You and Giles have the same accent.”
“Oy! Our accents are nothing alike!”
“They sound alike to us. Close enough. Let’s go.”
They moved toward the doors, Dawn almost skipping alongside as Buffy and Spike laughed at her eagerness.  None of them noticed the dark SUV parked near some trees at the far edge of the lot. Or the narrow-eyed man in it.
The little band of two attractive blonds and a coltish teenager, had no trouble getting to Joyce’s room. The people at the nurses’ station glanced at them but no one questioned Spike’s right to be there.
As they entered the room, Dawn rushed to Joyce’s side and hugged her. Then she pulled back and studied the bandage around Joyce’s head. “Nice look,” she said with a smirk.
“Don’t get sassy,” her mother said with a smile. “You should look so good with a hole in your head.”
“No trouble then?” Giles asked, directing his question first at Buffy, then Spike.
“Nothing that we noticed. No sign of the bitch or her alter ego. If he’s not here—”
“Ummm, that reminds me....” Buffy glanced at Joyce for moral support, but she just shook her head, holding her bandage with one hand.
“You’re on your own, Buffy.”
“Reminds you of what?” Giles frowned, trying to remember what they might have forgotten.
“Uh... well, I’ll tell you in a second.” She glanced up at the clock that showed it was only 7:45.  “First, we need to tell Dawn and Mom... and Spike...” She sent him a small smile. “...what we know about how Dawn got here and what... what she is...”
“The Key,” Dawn said. “Do you think I’m stupid? If I appeared the same time Glory showed up looking for her key, then I must be it.”
They all gaped at her, Buffy and Giles exchanged looks.  “That... that appears to be the case,” he said. “I’m quite impressed, Dawn.”  He went on to fill them in on the latest information that the Council had come up with. “The only thing we aren’t sure of, is how Glory intends to use Dawn.”
“Blood.” Spike’s voice was matter-of-fact but clear. “It’s always about the blood. That’s what she’ll want from Niblet.”
Dawn shrank closer to Joyce, who put an arm around her and gave her best mother bear imitation. “I don’t think so.”
“Not gonna happen, Mom. If we can’t take her out ourselves, we’ll just have to keep Dawn away from her. As long as she doesn’t know, she’ll just keep looking and—”
“How long do you think it’s going to take for her to figure out kidnapping Niblet or your mum would be the best way to get you to cough up the key?” Spike said. “You need to get out of here, Slayer. Take your family and go somewhere safe.”
“So she can grab Willow or Giles or....”
“Should all go. Don’t leave her anybody that she could torture or brain suck it out of. You, Joyce, the Bit, Scoobies, the tin soldier—”
“He doesn’t know anything,” Buffy muttered. “I didn’t tell him.”
Spike blinked in surprise, then nodded. “Just leaves me then. She won’t worry about an old vamp. I can stay here. Patrol. Let you know when she leaves....”
Buffy was shaking her head, even as Giles said, “That’s actually quite a good idea.”
“Mom’s not going to be up for a road trip any time soon,” Buffy said. “And running away from this year’s Big Bad isn’t really my style.”
“Given that your mum is such a lovely, reasonable person, I’m guessin’ you get that stupid stubborn streak from your father,” Spike said, glaring at her.
Ignoring him, Buffy glanced at the clock. “Um... just so you know... I have an... appointment now. Just down the street.  You guys can stay here and keep Mom company, and I’m going to just....” She started edging toward the door, but Spike’s vampire speed got him there first.
“An appointment? At 8:00 at night? Where are you going?”
“I’m meeting somebody for coffee,” she said in her haughtiest, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do tone.
She pushed Spike to the side and ran down the hall. He exchanged looks with Giles, then asked Joyce, “Do you know what she’s talking about?”
Joyce frowned. “I think I heard her agree to meet that younger doctor tonight. She was just about to tell me something about him when he showed up and she never finished what she was going to say.” When Giles and Spike both began swearing in several languages, she added, “But whatever it was, you seem to know about it.”
“I’ll get her. You stay here with Joyce and the Bit,” Spike growled.
“Might I suggest, if it is Ben she’s meeting, that the... less disabled man may be the best choice?”
“And if he decides to pull a switch on her?”
Spike and Giles glared at each other, before the watcher sighed and agreed.
“Right you are. It may take both of you.”
Before he’d finished speaking, Spike was out the door, passing the nurses’ station so quickly they weren’t sure what they’d seen. Forgoing the wait for the elevator, he used the fire stairs, jumping easily from one landing to the next. He burst out the emergency fire door and ran to the front of the hospital, looking back and forth and sniffing the air.
Riley’s sudden appearance surprised him and he groaned inwardly. “Not a good time, capt’n,” he said trying to get around the bigger man.
“Looks like she’s cheating on both of us,” Riley said, holding Spike’s arm and pointing down the street to where they could see Buffy being greeted by Ben and ushered into a small coffee shop.
“I don’t have time for this bollocks now,” Spike growled, shaking him off. “I need to be there.”
“She’s just meeting one of the doctors. Chill out, Spike. She’s not your girl to be spying on anyway.”
“Is that what you’re doing? Spying on the slayer to see if she’s got another man in her life?”
“I don’t think she has another man in her life.... and she won’t have you either—”
Riley’s suddenly increased heart rate was all the warning Spike needed to dodge the stake aimed at his heart. He snarled and blocked the blow, his chip allowing him to use his superior strength to defend himself until Riley’s yelp of pain set it off. With Spike holding his head and swearing, and Riley cradling the arm that had encountered Spike’s block, they weren’t looking down the street until the sound of breaking glass caught their attention.  When Buffy sailed out onto the sidewalk in a shower of glass, Spike shoved Riley away and began to run, throwing over his shoulder.
“If you want to kill something, make yourself useful and get something powerful and lethal to shoot at that bitch!”
He didn’t need to explain who the bitch was as Glory stepped through the broken window and stalked toward Buffy, now on her feet and in a fighting stance. Spike was already at Buffy’s side when Riley finally shook himself out of his shock and ran to his SUV, wishing he’d brought both more manpower and more firepower with him. 
Chapter Eleven
“Oh, the pet vampire. Isn’t that cute. Hey, thanks for the lift the other night,” she said with a smirk. “Let’s see if you know where she’s hidden my key.” Moving too fast for either Buffy or Spike, she grabbed his head and plunged her fingers into it. His muffled scream was barely audible in the uproar caused by a crowd of minions running across the busy street to attack Buffy.
It was soon obvious that, no matter how many of them Buffy slayed – not easy to do without a sword – their focus was to incapacitate and capture her, not kill her.  Buffy did her best, sending many of them to the pavement with broken bones, but eventually numbers were in their favor and she went down in a swarm of ugly little creatures with chains and manacles.
With a “Well, you’re worthless. That brain is dead,” Glory tossed a barely conscious Spike away. “And you’re welcome, by the way,” she added, tossing a bloody clump of tissue at him.
Riley arrived, carrying his assault rifle, just in time to watch Glory throw Spike aside and pluck Buffy from the midst of the minions. She held Buffy up and shook her. “You’re coming with me, and you’re going to tell me what you’ve done with my key.”
Riley took a deep breath, assuring himself he was not shooting at a human woman, and fired into Glory’s body until the gun was almost empty.
Blown backwards by the force of the bullets, Glory dropped Buffy to the ground and shrieked her anger. She staggered to her feet and began to stalk toward them again. Buffy struggled to get out of the chains the minions had managed to get on her, while Spike remained on all fours, bleeding from his eyes, ears and the holes Glory had put in his skull. His blurry vision tried to focus on the bloody piece of brain matter lying in front of him and he reached out a tentative finger to poke it, revealing a small piece of plastic.
Riley emptied the gun into the advancing hellgod, slowing her down enough for Buffy to get to her feet.  Visibly drained by the effort it took to counter the bullets she’d absorbed, Glory shrieked again and began to shake.
Before their eyes, and those of the crowd that had gathered to watch, including some of Sunnydale’s finest, who were remaining safely out of reach, Glory began to grow and change until Ben was standing there, barely covered by the red dress and cowering in fear from the man with the large gun. He held up his hands, saying, “I’m just as human as you are. Please don’t shoot me.”
Riley lowered the gun and shook his head. “I don’t understand,” he whispered. As soon as the gun was pointed toward the ground, Ben took off running, kicking off the high heels as he did so.
“Riley, stop him!” Buffy said, still fighting to get untangled from the chains.
“I’ve got it, Slayer,” Spike rasped, staggering to his feet.
“Forget it, Spike. Even if I let you go after a human being, you won’t be able to stop him.” Riley pushed Spike back down, surprised when the vampire used a leg sweep to drop Riley to the ground beside him. Showing Riley his fangs, Spike said, “Yes I will, soldier boy. Best remember that, if you know what’s good for you.”
While Riley struggled to accept what he was sure Spike had said, Buffy shook off the last of her chains and got to her feet.  “Spike, don’t hurt yourself!” she said as she dropped the manacles on the ground.
“I don’t think he’s going to,” Riley said. “Look.” He gestured to the bloody chip lying on the ground. “You know what your duty is now, Buffy. Go do it.”
Sending Riley a look of complete disgust, she shook her head and took off after Spike and Ben.
Even still woozy from Glory’s attempt to suck his mental energy, and with a violent headache from the chip being sucked out of his skull, Spike had no trouble catching up with Ben who turned to face him.
“You can’t hurt me,” he said, standing up to his full height. “I know about you and your chip.”
You, the other, much more dangerous you, seems to have relieved me of that little problem.  Can’t say I enjoyed the process, exactly, but....” Spike swayed on his feet, but remained upright.
“You follow the Slayer. She won’t let you kill me.”
“Think she will,” Spike said. “Doesn’t matter. Gonna do it anyway and sort it out with her later.” He advanced on the man, face shifting as he did. With the blood still visible in his eyes and draining from his nose and ears, his normal frightening face looked terrifying.  “No way in hell am letting you live long enough to bring that bloody bitch back.”
“Spike—” Buffy’s voice carried to him as she ran toward them. It was clear she was not happy.
“Stay out of it, Slayer. She can’t have you and she can’t have the Bit. This is the way to end it.”
“Spike! He’s human! And innocent.”
“Nothing innocent about luring you out here by yourself and setting you up for his live-in hellgod. Think about it, Buffy. If she goes home, he’s free of her. You think he isn’t trying to save his arse by helping her out?”
“I can’t let you do this.”
“Can’t stop me anymore, love.”
Seeing there were several curious people between them, including Riley, Spike took his chance and dove for Ben, knocking him to the ground and grabbing him by the throat.  Through Spike’s snarls, and Buffy’s anguished attempts to pull him off, the now-familiar shaking began to take place and suddenly Spike was spitting out the blood and shouting, “Get out of here, Buffy. Run!”  He pushed her away from him with one hand, while trying to hang on to an emerging Glory with the other.
“No! She’ll be weakened. It’s now or never, Spike.” Buffy jumped on Glory’s back and began trying to wrench her head off.  Spike began throwing punches into her torso, trying to find a vulnerable spot that might allow him to pull out whatever she had in the way of a heart.  Between the two of them, Buffy now punching Glory’s head, in lieu of having pulled it off, they managed to keep her off balance enough that she couldn’t quite get away.  The longer they fought, the weaker she seemed to become, and eventually she fell to the ground and shook until she was Ben again.
He lay there, gasping for air with shattered lungs and a destroyed diaphragm, his eyes swollen almost shut but visibly full of fear. 
“Buffy?” Spike’s voice held a plea, but she shook her head rapidly, fighting back tears as she stood there staring at the horribly injured man she’d been hitting so recently.
Spike took a deep breath and sighed as he straightened up. “Got to be done, love. Even if it means we never.... it’s got to be done.” He pushed her aside gently and knelt beside the gravely injured man. “Sorry, mate,” he said. “But it’s you or my girls.”
Before he could follow through on his obvious intention, Giles put a hand on his shoulder.
“Why don’t you go reassure Buffy that you haven’t turned back into a killer.”
Spike glared at him. “Not happening, Rupert. He needs to go.”
“I am well aware of that,” Giles said calmly. “I think it would be best if neither you or Buffy were around when it happens, don’t you?”
Spike studied Giles’s face for a full second, then nodded and stood up.
“She isn’t going to forgive you either,” he said.
“She won’t have to if your move your bloody arse and get her out of here.”
“Right.” Spike turned away and hastened to where Riley was waving his arms and arguing with Buffy that she had to stake Spike now.  “Time to go, pet. Let’s get back to your mum and the Bit.”
Buffy stared from him to where Ben was still gasping on the ground, with Giles leaning over him as if to offer some sort of help. 
“You didn’t—”
“Didn’t. Let’s go before some of these people remember they saw us beating the stuffing out of a woman in a red dress.”
“Is he still....”
“You can see that he is. Let’s go.”
Riley grabbed Buffy’s arm, ignoring the snarl from Spike. “Buffy! He was going to kill that man. He’s unchipped now. It’s your duty to stake him before he’s kills somebody.”
“Could be somebody real soon if you don’t take that meaty paw off the Slayer and let her get out of here.” Spike’s cold stare reminded Riley that he was no longer unable to defend himself against humans, and in spite of himself, Riley lifted his hand.
“Stop it, Spike,” Buffy said. “I don’t need the reminder. Let’s go. Thanks for the save, Riley. That big gun came in handy after all.” Without looking at either one of them, she began walking, back stiff, toward the hospital.
Riley and Spike stood for a few seconds, watching her walk away.
“Shit,” Spike said softly. His gaze went to where Giles was leaning over Ben and gesturing for Spike to follow Buffy.  With a nod, he took off running, overtaking her before she’d gone very far. He fell into step beside her, not speaking until they were walking up the hospital’s fire stairs.
“Afraid to be in an elevator with me?” he asked as she continued her silent march.
Buffy stopped on a landing and sighed. She turned to face him and reached a hand toward his face, dropping it before she touched him.
“You need to clean up before you go into Mom’s room,” she said. “You’re all bloody and beat up. You can’t walk through the lobby like that.”
“Right back at you, Slayer. Not like you came out of that looking like you’re on your way to church.”
“Great. So if we walk in like this, we’ll scare Mom to death – bad choice of words, I guess. But okay. So, we’ll get out on this floor, find the restrooms, clean up, and meet back here. Okay?”
She pulled the heavy fire door open and peered down the hall.  “Looks clear. I see the ladies room right across the hall, men’s room must be close by.”
“I’ll find it. You go first.” 
Buffy slipped out the door and across the hall before anyone could see her, leaving Spike to pull back and hide from a couple of technicians walking down the hall.
“It’s only two floors. Want to walk down?” 
Spike jumped up to the next landing and crouched by the stairs until they had entered the stairwell and gone down, chattering the whole while.
“If I was still evil, I could have had one of them for dinner and I’d be half-way to healed by now,” he grumbled as he hurried back to the door and peered out again. Seeing no one, he stepped out and strolled to the men’s room where he splashed water on his face until it no longer showed pink in the bowl. The mirror did him no good, so he just ran a wet hand through his hair, straightened his clothes, and stepped into the hall in time to see a much cleaner Buffy.
“That’s better, love. How do I look?”
“Like a hellgod just tried to suck your brains out... we need to get some blood in to you.”
“Are you sayin’ I’m not my usual handsome self?”
“I’m saying if you walk into Mom’s room looking like that, she’s going to wig. And if any of the doctors or nurses sees you, they’ll probably send you to the morgue.”
“Bloody hell. It’s a good thing my feelings aren’t easily hurt, Slayer.”
Buffy sighed and tugged him back into the stairwell with her.  “I’m sorry, Spike. I know you got mangled trying to help me, and I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I just don’t know when I’ve seen you look quite this bad, and I don’t want to scare Mom or Dawn.”  She reached her hand to his face and stroked it gently.  “You’re scaring me a little bit too.”
“Huh. So all this time, all I had to do to scare you was get myself beat up?”
“Jackass,” she said, flicking his ear before bringing her hand down. “There’s a difference between being afraid of you and being afraid for you.”
His voice softened as he brought her hand back to his face and kissed her palm. “Worried about me then, are you?”
“Maybe? A little bit? I.... I don’t want anything to happen to you.  Anything dust-wise.”
“Tell you what, pet, you go check in with Mum and the Bit, I’ll run by Willy’s and get myself some 0 neg, and I’ll meet you back at your house later on.”
“You seem pretty sure Glory isn’t going to come looking for us there.”
“I don’t know where that stands right now, but I can tell you, god or not, she isn’t going to bounce back from that beating we put on her. And her hiding place isn’t in any shape to help her out.”  He cocked his head at her. “You know, love, he might die anyway. In spite of you pulling me off before he stopped breathing.”
Buffy bit her lip and sighed. “Don’t patronize me, Spike. I know why you hustled me away from there. I won’t happy about it if Giles kills Ben either, but if it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t you, then....  I think I can live with that.”
“Told the Watcher you were made of sterner stuff than he thought.”
“You were going to kill him,” she said flatly. “Knowing what that would do to any chance of us... knowing I’d probably have to stake you. And what that would do to—” She stopped, shaking her head.
“Was a chance I had to take. Would’ve too if Rupert hadn’t stepped in when he did.”  He still had hold of her hand and rubbed his cheek on it.  “Would you really have staked me for it, Buffy?”
She pulled her hand away. “Yes! No! I don’t know. It’s not like you can’t fight back now…”
“So. The only reason you haven’t staked me yet is because I was harmless?” 
The becoming-all-too-familiar hurt expression that quickly melted into an expressionless mask was back in place, causing Buffy to sigh and shake her head again.
“Stop doing that!”
“What am I doin’?” His voice was as flat and uninflected as the look on his face.
“Making me feel like I should be apologizing for… for hurting your feelings when I wasn’t trying to.”
“Just a vamp, pet. No feelings to worry about, are there?”
She stared at him, his eyes telling her nothing. “If you say so,” she said, turning away. “Guess it’s just my own feelings I’d have to worry about it I had to slay you.”
She was already pulling the door open when Spike’s hand reached past her head and slammed it shut.
“Goddamn it, Buffy, can we just stop this dancin’ around?” She blinked up at him, watching his eyes flash between blue and amber. He took a deep breath and held her gaze as he said, “I’m bloody well in love with you. Don’t pretend you don’t know it. I am, God help me. And if I’m telling the truth, I’m right fond of your mum and little sis too. If I can do something to keep any or all of you safe, I’m going to do it. And if it means I have to kill….” He stopped and shook his head.  “Don’t want to do that to you, love. I know you’ll never love a monster, but there’s somethin’ there between us and it would hurt you to dust me. I understand that. I do. And I don’t ever want to do that you to you – force you to—I don’t want to be Angelus.”
He turned away from her, shoulders hunched. “But I’d do it if I had to. And if you tried to stake me for it, I’d fight back. Wouldn’t try to kill you… couldn’t… I’d let you stake me first if it came to that…  But I’d protect myself long enough to get away. Would tear my heart out to leave you – more than you’ll ever know – but I’d do it.”
Buffy stared at his back for several seconds, running the night’s events and their conversation over and over in her head. With a sigh, she put her hand on the door again.
“Can we just agree that I don’t want to stake you and you aren’t going to give me any reasons why I should? And then I can go see Mom, take Dawn home, and maybe have a hot shower and something to eat while you go do the same?”
“Oh. Um… yeah. Alright. I can do that.”
Buffy rolled her eyes at his abashed tone and muttered, “Drama queen” as she went into the hallway.
“I heard that!”
“You were meant to!”  She turned around and stuck her head into the stairwell. “And please stay away from Riley. He knows the chip is out.  When you’ve had enough to eat and changed your clothes, come by the house. We should be home in an hour or so. We’ll talk about this after Dawn goes to bed.”
Chapter Twelve
After reassuring Joyce that she looked worse than she actually was, and telling Dawn that Spike was also somewhat the worse for wear but undusty, Buffy sank into a chair.
“Do we want to know what happened?”
“Ben-Glory-minions-Glory-Ben again-Glory again-big fight-very badly injured Ben – I dunno. Giles told Spike to get me out of there and weleft.”
“Where is he?” Dawn glared at Buffy as if she might have been lying about Spike’s survival.
“He lookspretty bad. I told him to go get some blood and clean up. He’ll come by the house later.”
“So, we can go home? Is Glory gone?”Dawn's shaking voice gave away how very much she wanted to hear that she was safe. Buffy noticed the tight grip she had on Joyce's hand and gave a reassuring smile.
“I don’t knowfor sure, but I think we're safe--at least for now.” Buffy said, and changed the subject. “When can you come home, Mom?”
Joyce blinked at the abrupt change, but responded with a smileof her own. “The doctor says I’m doing really well, and I can probably go home tomorrow as long as I continue to improve.”
“That’s great!”
“Speaking of going home…. do we have to walk?”
“Well unless Giles—”
“Unless Giles what?” he said as he walked into the room.
“Unless Giles shows up to drive us home,” Buffy said, searching his face for some clue as to what had happened after she left.
“I believe I can handle that chore for you.”  He looked around the room, then frowned at Buffy. “Where is….”
“I didn’t stake him,” she said, giving a surprised blink at the relief on his face. “But he looks like crap, and I didn’t want him to scare Mom and Dawn, so I sent him to clean up.”
“While you yourself lookperfectly---”
“I’ve already heard about how I look from the other snarky Brit, thanks." She narrowed her eyes in warning and Giles took the hint, stopping in mid-sentence.
Joyce was frowning at Buffy as though just noticing the blood on her clothes and the bruises on her arms and face. “You do look somewhat more… abused… than usual, Buffy. What happened out there when you found Ben?”
Buffy waved her hand around. “Oh, you know, the usual. Scabby little minions and me with no sword. There were chains and a hellgod who wanted to take me home with her… no biggie. Just a little harder on my wardrobe than usual.”
Joyce's expression showed she well aware that she was not hearing important details.  With a sigh of resignation, she spoke, the concern in her voice evident. “Well, Dawn and I have had a nice visit while you and Spike were off… doing whatever you were doing. So I think you should go home now and get yourself cleaned up. I'll call you in the morning after I’ve seen the doctor and he tells me when I can go home for sure.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Buffy gave Joyce a quick hug and kiss, taking care not to get any blood on her, then she and Dawn followed Giles to the elevators.
As soon as the door closed, Dawn rounded on Buffy. “Why did you say you didn’t stake Spike? And why did Giles think you might have? Where is he?”
“He’s fine. And I didn’t stake him because Ben turned back into Glory before Spike could kill him. And the second time he was going to kill him, Giles stepped in, so no stakeage necessary.”
“You would have staked him for killing Glory’s secret identity? What’s wrong with you?”
“I didn’t say I would have done it, but I couldn’t just stand by and watch him kill somebodyhuman, even if we did know the somebody was—”
“Was harboring a threat to the entire world,” Giles finished in a dry voice.
“Yeah. That.” Buffy glared at both of them. “How am I the one who feels like a bad guy here?”
“Because Spike was trying to do the smart thing and you wouldn’t let him?” Dawn said with complete seriousness and rolling eyes.
Buffy glared at her, then turned to Giles, saying as casually as she could, “So, Giles, is Glory not with us anymore?”
“It would appear that the poor doctor, who’d come out to see what was going on, was seriously injured by a strange woman who had just violently attacked a young blond couple and then him. He succumbed to his injuries at the scene.”
Buffy stared at him. “And the police are buying that?”
“It’s Sunnydale,” Giles replied.
She bit her lip. “Did I—we—kill him by beating up Glory?”
Giles sighed. “It’s possible Ben had brain damage from your punches to Glory's head, it’s possible Spike, in his attempt to rip out a vital organ, caused serious internal bleeding. It’s also possible he choked on his own blood shortly after you left. We will probably never know… and that would be for the best.”
Buffy nodded, but was silent all the way home, knowing that one of the three of them had ended Ben’s life in an effort to save Dawn’s.
Giles turned down Buffy’s half-hearted invitation to come in while she ordered pizza, saying he wanted to get home and prepare his “statement” for the Council.
“Are you still reporting to them?”
He shook his head. “Not as such, no. But we did request their assistance in this instance and I should reassure them that the situation has been handled and there will be no opening of a portal to a hell dimension this millennium.”
“Uh… Giles. What do they know about Spike?”
“They know of his chipped status, and that he has on occasion been of some assistance to us. I will of course, tell them of his usefulness to us with Glory, including his suggestion that we do a removal spell.” He looked at Buffy out of the corner of his eye. “Is there anything more I need to share?”
Buffy sighed.  “You know, don’t you?”
“That Spike has apparently developed… feelings… for you and your family that are, at best, unusual for a vampire, and almost unheard of for one of Spike’s former prowess and lifestyle? Yes. I’ve been aware of his growing regard for you for some time.”
“Why aren’t you freaking out like you did about Angel?”
Giles shrugged. “You are somewhat older and one hopes wiser now. I expect you to make better decisions about the men in your life. In this case, I’ve had an opportunity to get to know Spike in a way I never had with Angel. It is surprisingly reassuring to know that his affection for you is not dependent on having a soul that could be easily lost.”
“So, you don’t care if I… not that I am! But I might… I mean, it’s okay if I start dating Spike?”
He sighed deeply. “I cannot say I find the idea something to celebrate. All my training tells me that it would lead to nothing but ruin. However, I know better than to think I can instruct you in matters of the heart.  And to be truthful, I think I prefer Spike’s company to that arrogant young man you’ve been seeing.”  He patted Buffy’s hand. “Although I am sure Riley is not going to see it that way. Spike may be in some danger from that quarter.”
Buffy nodded. “I know, but I’m not sure Spike is going to take it seriously now that—” Buffy froze, realizing that Giles hadn’t arrived until they were fighting Glory and wouldn’t have known about the bloody removal of Spike’s chip. She looked at his face, which gave nothing away, and waited to see if he’d noticed her slip.
The silence stretched out until Dawn got bored with the lack of conversation and jumped out to let herself into the house.  Finally Giles gave another sigh.
“Shall I wait then to see if you tell me yourself about Spike’s lack of restraint, or just admit that I saw both the gaping hole in the back of his skull and the equally gaping hole in Ben’s neck?”
“I would have told you,” she muttered. “Eventually.”
“I’m assuming by that you mean that you trust Spike not to go on a killing spree once he has recovered a bit?”
“Don’t you?” she challenged.
“Oddly enough, I do. Although I do think it should not be among the informative bits I share with the Council. I suspect they will not see it that way.”
“Well, they don’t know him like we do.”
“Quite right. Although, there is a Miss Chalmers there – researcher, not a field watcher – who did her thesis on William the Bloody and who would like nothing better than a chance to meet him in person….”
“Spike has a groupie? A watcher groupie?”
“An admirer of sorts, I presume. Very foolish of her to become so enamored of a dangerous vampire, but she could be a very useful ally.”
“You want to pimp Spike out to the Watchers Council????” Buffy’s voice had risen to ear piercing levels.
Giles flinched. “I would not have put it so crudely, but….”
"How would you put it?"
"I do not believe that it would be a bad idea to have someone within the council who was interested in keeping Spike alive - so to speak."
"Just so that's all she's interested in," Buffy muttered.
Giles appeared to be fighting an urge to roll his eyes, but said, "I intend to invite her to visit Sunnydale to meet William the Bloody in person. I am hoping he will be able to convince her to support his presence here as well as his newly realized desire to assist you in your duties."
"Is that Giles speak for don't let her know why he's helping me?"
"It is."
"I'll think about it. Does Spike know about this idea?”
"No, but I have no reason to believe he would object to it."
Buffy narrowed her eyes at that. "So, if I start dating Spike, I have to pretend I'm not so his groupie won't get upset? Not seeing the upside to this, Giles."
"The upside could be a supportive voice on the council, if, or more likely when, they find out about Spike’s chipless state."
"Fine. She's probably all old and tweedy anyway. He won't like her."
Giles started to speak, then obviously thought better of it.
"If that's settled then, I'll just be getting home."  He paused. "You do understand that you - and Spike - may well have saved the world from a most unpleasant fate, do you not? While you may feel that you have violated a slayer's prime directive, that is not the case at all. Ben was well aware of Glory, to the point of setting you up for her. A victim, yes, but hardly an innocent one."
"If you say so." Buffy didn't sound convinced, but didn't argue. "Goodnight, Giles." She got out of the car without looking back.
Much later, when she had showered and dressed in clean clothes, she was sitting in the kitchen, eating ice cream with Dawn when she felt familiar tingles on her neck. As Dawn stood up to rinse her bowl, Buffy said, "Let Spike in please."
 Dawn blinked in surprise but unlocked the kitchen door to let the equally surprised vampire in.
"Buffy knew it was gonna be you," she explained, going back to her seat.
"Did she now?"  He raised an eyebrow at Buffy and walked closer. "How'd you know that, Slayer?"
"We don't get a lot of vampires at the back door," she responded, grinning at his disappointed expression. 
"Right, I suppose not."
Buffy let him mope for few seconds, then laughed.  "Stop pouting, Spike, I can always tell it's you…. Ever since that spell of Willow's."
"I knew that," he muttered. "Just thought you were trying to deny it is all."
"Uh huh...."
Suddenly he raised his head, listening.  "You expecting other company?"
Buffy shook her head and picked up a sword. "Leftover minions?"

Spike shrugged and followed her to the door. "Was hoping the little wankers had all dissolved or something equally obliging."
They went onto porch, telling Dawn to lock the door behind them as they did so. Rather than scabby minions, they found Riley and two other soldiers - all holding stakes.
"Riley? What are you doing here?"
"A better question would be what is Spike doing here?  Shouldn't the no longer harmless hostile be dust by now, Slayer?"
Buffy leaned her sword against the house and sighed.  "That song's getting old, Riley. You and Spike just helped me win a fight against a hellgod. Why do you want to dust him?" 
"Because you haven't. We're going to do what you won't. Put him down like rabid animal he is."
Buffy glanced at Spike. "Have you been foaming at the mouth again?"
"Bloody hell, and I here I thought I'd wiped my chin."
They exchanged small smiles, then Buffy stepped in front of him and down into the yard. 
"Go home, Riley. You can't kill Spike. I won't let you."
Spike followed her to the grass, saying, "Let 'em try, pet." Although he looked much better than he had earlier, he still wore the signs of battle, including the still oozing holes in his skull.
Buffy frowned at him. "Are you okay? Cause, no offense, but you still look like crap."
"I'm fine on the inside," he said, ignoring the men spreading out around him to respond to Buffy 's concern. "Let's see how they do without nets and tasers."
Buffy glanced back at Riley and the two men he 'd brought with him. "Guys? This is really dumb."
Behind her Spike was in a fighting stance, his amber gaze focused on Riley. "Bring it, farm boy. Not gonna be the same pushover now that I don't have your little equalizer in my head anymore.
"We don't need anything but these. You're not all that, Spike." Riley sneered as he advanced, gesturing to his men to continue flanking Spike.
Buffy rolled her eyes and mumbled, “Testosterone overload. Both of you.”She sighed and shook her head. "Actually, he kinda is all that, Riley," she said. "But it's your funeral—”She stopped and whirled on Spike. "I didn't mean that literally."
"Not stupid, pet,"
" 'K then. Have fun, just don't kill anybody."  She moved back to the porch and sat down on the top step.
The men accompanying Riley seemed taken back at both Buffy's sudden willingness to let the vampire fight them, and her casual assumption that he could kill them if he wanted to. They looked at Riley for guidance, but he had already leaped at Spike, stake raised. Buffy's eyes widened in momentary fear and she rose to her feet, but sank back down when Spike easily dodged the intended blow. Before Riley could recover, Spike had hold of his wrist and was squeezing while he bent the arm behind the larger man's back.
He snarled a warning at the only one of the other soldiers who appeared to be thinking about launching his own attack. With Buffy seeming unconcerned about Riley's safety, but obviously poised to intervene if necessary, the man thought better of it and raised his hands as he backed away.
Although Riley was clearly in pain, he cursed at Spike and refused to drop the stake until it fell from his incapacitated hand. Spike kicked it away and released Riley, jumping just out of reach and waiting to see what his next move would be. To Spike's disappointment and Buffy's relief, Riley backed away and drew himself up to his full height.
"I'm very disappointed in you, Buffy. I'll give you what's left of tonight to decide whether keeping Spike alive is more important to you than I am.  If you don't come to your senses by morning, I'm going to accept a position with a new unit hunting demons in South America. It's your choice, the vampire or me. I won't make you stake him since you think you owe him for saving your life, but you need to let me do it, or you've lost me forever. I can't be with a woman who doesn't put me first."
Buffy stared at him, her expression sad but resigned.  "Riley, I really like you. I do. But I'm the Slayer. The world comes first. And it always will... the world and my family and my friends. All of my friends. They understand that. Why can't you?"

"I'm not one of your Scoobies, Buffy. I'm your boyfriend. I should be more important to you than a couple of wannabe witches, a crazy woman who thinks she's a demon--"
"Ex-demon," Buffy interrupted.
Riley rolled his eyes. "Ex-demon, the man who's dating her, and a vampire with the hots for you. None of them should be more important to you than I am. Not if you really love me."  He paused, waiting, but Buffy just sat there, staring at him sadly.  "Although, now that I think about it, you've never told me you love me.... Guess that should have been my first clue."  He glared at Spike. "That and the way you've always protected him."
"I'm sorry, Riley. I just can't be what you want me to be.  I wish I could, but I can't."
As the obviously personal and painful conversation had gone on, both Riley's companions and Spike had moved away to give them some privacy. Although Spike could hear every word.
"You can hear them, can't you?" the braver one asked.
"Can," he responded, taking out his cigarettes and shaking one out of the pack. "Don't think it's going well for your mate. He might be in need of some liquid comfort later on."
"Did you really lose the chip?"  he asked, seeming to think he and Spike were bonding.
In response, Spike turned so they could see the healing, but still jagged rip in his skull. When they'd had time to look, he leaned against a tree and watched Buffy and Riley.
"Would you have killed us if we tried to back Finn up?"
"Promised the Slayer I wouldn't, didn't I?" he said with a shrug as he watched a grim-looking Riley marching toward them. He turned and gave them a toothy grin. "But accidents can happen. Best remember that, mates." He moved away from the tree and balanced on his toes as he waited for Riley to reach them.
They faced each other for a full minute, exchanging looks of mutual animosity before Riley stood as tall as he could and glared down at Spike, saying, "I suppose you think she's yours for the taking now."
Spike shook his head. "She isn't anybody's, you git. But if and when she chooses to share what she can of herself, at least I have enough sense to know it’s a gift to be treasured, not something to be putting conditions on.”He snorted his disgust at Riley.
“I know you want her,”Riley said.
Spike shrugged without answering.
“If I find out you’ve touched her, I’ll be back.”
“An’I’ll be waiting,”Spike said calmly, only the flicker of yellow in his eyes giving away how much he was holding back.
Riley started toward him, halting when Spike’s fangs dropped.  He glared, unwilling to back down but not willing to risk angering Buffy even more or being bested again in front of his men. He settled for using words:  “She won’t love a monster.”
Spike shrugged again and dropped back into his human mein. “Girl likes a little monster in her man,”he said. “Thought you might have figured that out by now. Needs somebody who can match her…or almost match her. “He pretended to be thinking.  “I’d say she’s stronger than I am by now, and getting stronger every day.”He looked Riley up and down with contempt. “Sooner or later you’d have left her anyway. Your ego wouldn’t take it.”
“And yours will?”
Spike grinned. “I like strong women. Always have. I know where my place is when it comes to the Slayer.”
“Her name is Buffy,”Riley said. “She’s not just another slayer for you to add to your tally.”  He gave a smirk at Spike’s obvious surprise. “Did you think I don’t know about your hobby of killing slayers? The only reason you haven’t killed this one is because of that chip we put in your head. Now that it’s gone—”
Spike shook his head and interrupted.
“There’s two reasons I haven’t killed this one, neither one of which has a soddin’thing to do with your chip.  One is because she’s so bloody good at her job. And already was, way back when she was just sweet sixteen and not half as good as she is now.  And the other is because I love her…even when she’s being a bitch.”
“Hey!”Buffy had walked closer to them in time to hear what they were saying. “It’s not my fault you bring out the worst in me.”
“It’s a gift.”Spike flashed a grin at her, then turned back to Riley who was watching the exchange with a bewildered expression on his face.
“Did you just call her a bitch? You don’t deserve her, Spike.”
“Neither do you, soldier-boy.”
 “She’s too good for you.”
“That she is,”he agreed, snorting at Riley’s surprise. “Always will be.”
“You can’t have her,”Riley said, drawing himself up to his full height and pulling out another stake.
“I don’t have her, you stupid git. Nobody ‘has’her. But if she’s willin’to let me into her life in some small way…it’ll take more than you waving a stake around to keep me out of it.”
“Okay, that’s enough. I’ve had it with both of you.”Buffy stepped between them and pointed at Riley’s friends. “You two, get him out of here before I have to stop Spike from killing him.  Riley did a good job tonight. He was a big help when I needed it and I appreciate it, but I’m not going to let him stake Spike.  And I don’t want to have to stake Spike myself because Riley provoked him into killing,”she added, turning to Spike who was once again wearing his fangs. “And you, stop being a macho ass and get back in the house before I drag you in there by your ear.”
Ignoring Riley’s sneering as his buddies began to pull him away, Spike nodded sheepishly and followed Buffy’s stiff back onto the porch and to the door, which Dawn, who had been watching the whole thing, was holding open.
“Man, are you whipped,”Dawn commented in a whisper as Spike walked past her.
“Watch it, Bit,”he growled. “Not chipped any more, you know.”
“I do now.”  She cocked her head at him and studied his mock-angry expression. “But I don’t think it matters. If you wanted us dead, you’d have found some way to do it a long time ago. I’m not afraid of you.”She waved her hand dismissively. “Even if you wanted to kill me, you wouldn’t do it ‘cause Buffy would be mad at you.”
Buffy’s snickers had Spike glaring in her direction and giving a more realistic growl.  Which only caused both girls to start laughing in earnest. The more he growled and snarled, the more they laughed until he finally stopped threatening them and just sat at the counter pouting.
Buffy walked over to him and touched his cheek, which immediately made his fangs disappear.
“You won’t kill her because underneath all that snarling and growling you’re nothing but a big softy –and you love my mom and sister too.”
“Good thing for them I do,”he grumbled, even as he leaned into her hand, turning his head to kiss her palm.  He raised his head and met Dawn’s still amused gaze. “But don’t you ever forget what I am, Bit. Got no soul to lose. I’m me with or without the chip, and I’d never hurt you on purpose. But I am a demon. Don’t go forgettin’that and thinking I’m some kind of undead housepet.”
He held her gaze until the laughter had faded and she stared back at his serious expression with growing acceptance.  She nodded, but couldn’t resist a last remark as she left the kitchen.
“Okay, Big Bad. I’ll lock my bedroom door, just in case.”  With a “Night, Buffy”she went upstairs.
“Undead housepet? Are you moving in?”
He stiffened and turned his head away.  “Sorry, Slayer. Didn’t mean to suggest I was going to become part of the family. Just trying to keep the Bit from—”
She touched his chin and turned his face back to hers. “I was just kidding. Have you always been this insecure?”
“What? Me? Insecure….”He stopped himself in mid-bluster and sighed as he gave her a small smile. “Probably? Was when I was a worthless human git, for sure.”
Shaking her head, Buffy climbed back up on the stool next to him and dipped a spoon in to her melted ice cream. “Did you know you have a groupie?”she asked, looking at him sideways.
“A what?”
“Some tweedy old watcher back at the Council thinks you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread or something. Giles is going to ask her to come here to meet you. He thinks it will help your case if and when the Council figures out you aren’t chipped anymore.”
“And what am I supposed to do to make that happen?  Appear fangless and wimpy?”  He stood up and loomed over her, a low growl rumbling in his chest, and Buffy put her hand on the vibrating spot.
“That’s almost... kinda…. Never mind.”She snatched her hand away. “You’re just supposed to be polite and…charming….”She rolled her eyes. 
“Hey! I can do charming. I’ll charm the pants off her—”
“You’ll what her?”Buffy’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Just an expression, pet. Didn’t mean I’d really….”A grin grew across his face. “Are you jealous?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,”she sniffed. “Me? Jealous? Of you and some tweedy old…”
“Watchers don’t start out old, love. She might have a nubile young body wrapped in that tweed.”
“And if you try to find out if she does….”Buffy raised the spoon in threat.
Giving a happy laugh, he pulled her off the stool and against his body.  “I’m a one-woman man, Buffy. Always have been. Always will be. Stayed with Dru for well over a hundred years, didn’t I?  You won’t get shed of me so easily as that.”
She leaned into him, enjoying the way his powerful arms banded around her while he nuzzled her hair. She sighed and let herself give in to the emotional and physical weariness of the last few days. When she felt him sway and catch himself on the counter, she remembered that he’d been just as beat up and was probably just as tired as she was.
“Would you think I’m terrible girlfriend material if I said I was really tired and I just want to sit on the couch with you and cuddle?”  She mentally congratulated herself on sparing his ego the knowledge that she’d felt him almost fall.
“Nothing I’d like better than to cuddle with you, love,”he said as she pulled free and turned to go. At her disbelieving snort, he straightened up and quickly corrected himself. “Well, maybe not nothing, but it’s late, and we’re tired, and if that’s what you want to do, I’m fine with it. Got the rest of my unlife to show you—”
He trailed her into the darkened living room, still assuring her that he was up for anything she wanted to do. Without answering, she sat on the couch and pulled him down beside her. Spike leaned into the corner and stretched his arm out so she could fit into his side and rest her head on his chest.  Within just a few moments, they were both sound asleep, curled up together as though they’d been sleeping that way for years.
Buffy awoke to the sun 's light shining just over their heads across the back of the sofa to illuminate the wall opposite the window.
"Stay down!" she hissed as she felt Spike stir under her. Somehow as they slept, they had slid down so that Spike was on his back, arms around Buffy who was lying atop his suddenly wide-awake body.
"Don't have to ask me twice," he murmured, pulling her closer. "Told that wanker I know my place with you."
Buffy blushed as she felt the proof of what he meant pushing against her leg. In spite of her immediate insistence that she was only trying to keep him from catching fire, her legs came apart to let his erection fall between them. He began growling and pulling her down even harder.
"Oh my god," she gasped as she found herself unable to resist the urge to rub against the hard bulge between her thighs.
"No god here, love, but I am yours. Never doubt it." He groaned as she whimpered and rubbed even harder. "Not promisin' I won't catch fire though. Bloody hell, Buffy, what you do to me."
He buried his face in her neck, sucking on the soft skin there until Buffy tried to pull away. He grabbed her hips and pulled her back in place, holding her tightly as she gave up the less-than-serious effort to quit what they were doing.
"Don't stop, love. Want to feel you come on me. Please, love, let me make you feel good."  He held her tightly against his body, murmuring encouragement as she moved on him.
With a small shriek, she shuddered against him, keeping her face hidden in his chest as her breathing went back to normal. His hands moved over her back in soothing strokes that stopped when she still hadn’t said anything after several minutes.
"Buffy? Slayer? What's wrong?"
"Oh I don't know,”she mumbled into his shirt. “Maybe that I'm too embarrassed to look at you? And feeling really selfish?" she added as she noticed he was still hard.
He pushed her up enough that she was supporting herself with her hands, unable to muffle another groan as that pushed their lower bodies together again. He used one hand to hold her hips against his, while his other hand went to her embarrassed face. Touching her almost with reverence, he gave her a soft smile.
"Sweetheart, you could use me to pleasure yourself a dozen times a day, and it would never be too much. I want to make you come as often and in as many different ways as I can. Want to watch your face when you do it, hear the sounds you make, know it's me responsible for those sounds."
His expression changed to a leer that still managed to be more affectionate than sexual. "Not saying I don't want you any and every other way I can have you, mind. Or that I wouldn't appreciate some payback--" his leer became more believable and he tipped his hips up  "--but I can wait. Won't promise to be patient, but I'll try."
Buffy pushed herself all the way up, straddling him while she stretched. He frowned when she winced at the top of her stretch, and he pulled up her shirt to look at the scar from her stabbing.
“Did you pull it fighting last night?”He brushed his fingers over it, smiling when she shivered.
“It’s fine,”she said, seeing where his gaze had gone. “It’s just a little tight. Don’t use that as an excuse to peek under my shirt.”
He gave one of the warm chuckles she was quickly becoming addicted to, and ran his fingers lightly over the scar and onto her side, stopping just at the bottom of her bra and stroking there until she was breathing heavily again.
“If I was sure Dawn wasn’t going to wake up….”
“Bit’s dead to the world, love. Can hear her breathing and heartbeat. You know she’s not going to wake up for hours yet.”  He pulled her down where he could suck on her neck again, continuing to run his hands over her bare skin.
“You wouldn’t lie to me just to get…. would you?”
“Prob’ly would,”he said with a laugh as he reached under the shirt and unfastened her bra. “But I don’t need to. She’s well and truly asleep. And given how little sleep she’s had in the last day or so, I’d say she’ll stay that way for some time.”
He rolled them over so that he could slide a hand under the front of her shirt and cup one breast.  As he massaged and tweaked it, he was slowly kissing his way down her neck. Buffy’s soft whimpers and mews encouraged him to pull the shirt and bra off over her head.  His mouth was on her nipple before he’d even let them fall to the floor, and he added his appreciative murmurs to her soft sounds.  
When changing positions so as to be able to use both hands meant he had to grab her to keep her from falling off the couch, they exchanged embarrassed laughs.
“Take it to the floor?”
Buffy’s response was to roll them both over until they fell to the soft carpet.  With room to maneuver, Spike began to kiss her while his hands worked on pushing down the comfy sweat pants she’d dressed in after her shower.  Buffy’s hands were now free to tear at his shirt, ripping it in half instead of letting him pause to pull it over his head.
“Hey! I might have been needing that.”
Buffy took advantage of the break in kissing to run her mouth over the smooth skin on his chest, remember how only a few days ago she’d been afraid to touch it for fear of not wanting to stop. With no reason to hide her desire now, she kissed and stroked and sniffed and licked until his growls were shaking his whole body. While he was distracted, she managed to unzip his jeans, freeing his erection into her hand. His growl changed to a gasp that managed to sound surprised and elated at the same time.
He rolled them again, pinning her to the floor long enough for him to use his feet to push her sweat pants as far down as he could. When he’d kissed her into a semi-coma, he stopped and began running his mouth down her body, pausing only to bite through her underwear before following the pants down her legs and off.  He stopped to push his own jeans off, then surged back up her body to nudge at her wet entrance. Her legs immediately came up around his back, allowing him to slide into her as though they were repeating something they’d done many times before. Her little gasp of surprise made him flinch, but his attempt to withdraw was over before it had begun when she pulled him in deeper and moaned her approval. 
“You feel so good, Buffy.  Could die happy right now.”
“No dying,”she murmured. “Feels too good.” 
“Can make it feel better,”he said, beginning to move his hips without actually losing any of their head to toe contact.
In what seemed like no time, but actually was longer than Buffy had ever experienced before, they were still intimately connected, but gasping for air and speechless.
“Wow. Wowie, wow, wow,”she panted. “How many times was that?”
“Three for you, two for me,”he sighed. “Sorry, love.”
“You’re sorry?She lifted her head to stare down at him.
“I can do better. Was just so crazy to touch you and feel you around me….”
“You’re just saying that to be bragging, aren’t you?”  As Buffy spoke, she felt him harden within her and he grinned at her wide eyes.
“Only a little bit,”he smirked as he began to move again. “Let me know if you can’t keep up, Slayer.”
“Oh, you’re on, vampire!”Buffy raised herself up to straddle him and began squeezing, laughing when his eyes rolled back in his head and he groaned her name.
He reached up and pulled her down again, flipping them so that he was on top. Staring into her laughing gaze, he gave one of the rare soft smiles she was sure only she had every seen.
“I love you, Buffy Anne Summers. I love you so much I’m surprised I haven’t spontaneously combusted by now.”
Buffy blinked rapidly, telling herself she did not have tears prickling her eyes as she searched for a proper response.  Spike’s mouth had a wry twist as his smile became slightly less soft, but sympathetic.
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist there, love. Not looking for you to say it back. Know better than that.  I’ve had a long time to get used to feeling like this , and a while longer than that to get here. Just seemed like a good time to get it out there again…when we’re not yelling at each other about something.”
“I don’t feel like yelling at you right now,”she said softly, pulling him down for a kiss.”
“That’s good,” he said, beginning to move his hips again. “Cause I don’t feel like yelling either. Got a better idea….”
Chapter Fourteen



By the time Dawn came down for breakfast, Buffy was eating at the counter by herself. 

“Where’s Spike?”
“It’s almost noon. Where do you think he is?”
“He doesn’t live here, you know.”
“He went home? Why’d you let him do that?”Dawn stared at Buffy as he she’d lost her mind.  “What if Riley goes looking for him?”
“He’ll be fine,”Buffy said, staring intently at her cereal. There really was nothing wrong with letting Spike spend the day in the basement, but she hoped she could get away with letting Dawn think he’d left before the sun came up.  No such luck….
“He left his coat here?”Dawn pointed at Spike’s coat. “Do you think I was born yesterday—never mind, don’t answer that.”She blushed as they both remembered that she really had come into existence only a few months ago.
“Fine,”Buffy sighed. “He’s downstairs. He wanted to go home through the sewers, but I want to be sure Riley really left for South America before I let him out of my sight.”
“So you stayed downstairs with him?  I know you didn’t use your bed last night.”
“We fell asleep on the couch,”Buffy said, once again hiding the not-quite-a-lie in study of her cereal.  “When the sun came up, I sent him downstairs.”
“Well, that’s just…. really boring.”Dawn got down her own heavily sugared cereal and poured a big bowl. 
“Welcome to my life,”Buffy said, yawning.  “Now that you’re up, I think I’m going to catch a nap before Mom calls. Come and get me when she calls, ‘k?”
Buffy put her bowl in the sink and began to leave room.  “And don’t wake Spike up. He’s still got a lot of healing to do.”
It was noon by the time Buffy heard the phone and picked up the extension in her room in time to hear Dawn say, “Hi Mom.”
“Hi Mom,”Buffy added. “I’m here too. What’s the word on coming home today?”
“They want me to stay here a little longer, but they did say I could sleep in my own bed tonight, as long as I take my meds and rest.”
“So, what does that mean? Pick you up after dinner or before?”
“Unless either you or Dawn has learned how to cook in the past few days, I’d say after dinner.”  She paused. “I hate to keep imposing on Rupert. Do you suppose if you are coming after dark Spike would be willing to drive us?”
Dawn’s “Of course he will!”was quickly followed by Buffy’s, “Mom, I’m sure Giles doesn’t see giving us rides until you can drive as an ‘imposition’. But if you’d rather Spike did it, I’ll ask him first.”
“I’ll ask him right now!”Before Buffy could stop her, she heard the downstairs phone drop to the floor as Dawn yelled, “Spike! Will you drive us to pick up Mom tonight?”
There was a long silence before Joyce sighed. “Did Spike spend the night there?”
“He’s asleep in the basement,”Buffy mumbled. “Or at least he was until Dawn –who may or may not be alive when you get home –woke him up.”
With another sigh, Joyce said, “I’m not up for a full discussion of this right now. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I have no idea, Mom,”Buffy admitted. “It’ll work, or it won’t. Please don’t worry about it or start hating Spike.”
“I like Spike,”her mother said. “You know that. I just remember how broken you were when that last vampire—”
“Not him, Joyce.”Spike’s voice as he picked up the downstairs phone was sad, but accepting. “Never was like him and never will be.”  He didn’t wait for her answer, but continued, “And I’ll be happy to pick you up this evening, and chauffeur your girls around until you’re back on your feet. Didn’t need to ask.”
“Okay. I’ll see you both later on. And, I’m sorry, Spike. I didn’t mean to imply…. I just worry about her.”
“Understood. Here’s the Bit.”
Dawn came back on the line to say, “Don’t worry about anything. We’ll get your room all ready for you before you get here.  Love you, Mom. See you later.”
“I love you, too, Dawn.”
“We’ll come to the hospital around 7:30,”Buffy said. “Do you need me to bring anything?”
“Maybe some clean clothes? At least clean underwear. The stuff I wore in is here in a bag, but it hasn’t been laundered.”
“Got it. Okay. See you after while. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Buffy. Bye.”
“Bye.”Buffy put the phone down slowly, hearing the sound of Spike’s boots on the stairs.  He leaned in the doorway.
“May I come in?”
She snorted. “Little late for me to get prissy about you being in my bedroom, isn’t it?”
“I was just bein’polite,”he said as he stepped in looked around. “Woulda come in anyway.”
“That’s more like the Spike I know.”She grinned at him and he smiled back. “Did you get enough sleep?”
“Did you?”
Buffy yawned. “Probably not, but it’ll do me.  Maybe tonight we can do a quick patrol after we get Mom home and settled in, and I’ll just go to bed early.”
“That would sound a lot more interesting if I didn’t think you meant bed here, alone.”
“Sorry, love. Don’t mean to be pushy…Well I do, but I know your mum comes first.”
She yawned again stretched. “Okay. I’m going to take a shower and get some clean clothes on. And then I guess start getting things ready for tonight. Or maybe the other way around….”
“My cue to take my leave, I reckon,”he said as she stood up. “I need to find some blood and clean out my car, anyway.”  He walked the few steps to where she was standing and tipped her chin up to murmur against her lips, “But I’ll be thinkin’about this morning the whole time I’m gone.”
Her own lips curved into a smile as he turned the caress into a real kiss.  “It was kinda unforgettable,”she admitted when she pulled away to look up at him. “But we’ve got stuff to do. Just because there isn’t a hellgod to worry about, doesn’t mean I can take a vacation.”
“Doesn’t mean we can take a vacation,”he corrected. “I’m in for the long haul…or for as long as you’ll have me. I’m here to help –whatever you need.”
“Hmmm Well, I think we need to clean the kitchen and wash all our empty cereal bowls. And then there’s changing the sheets on all the beds, doing laundry, vacuuming the downstairs….”She giggled at the horrified look on his face.  “Oh. You meant help killing things, didn’t you?”
“Very funny, Slayer,”he growled, nipping at her lower lip.
“Your face was funny,”she said, still smiling broadly. “You were really afraid I was going to ask you to do housework.”   She raised her hand and stroked his cheek. “And I might…someday. But not today. Go, feed your disgusting habit. Just be back in time to take us to pick up Mom.”
“Need to borrow a blanket to get to my car. Are you particular which one I take?”
“Here,”Buffy snatched up the old bedspread she’d been sleeping under. “I have a new one in my school stuff. I just haven’t brought it home yet.”
“Alright. I’ll be back in time to take you.”He hesitated, shuffling his feel as if not sure what to do next, then, seeming to come to a decision, he leaned toward her and gave her a quick kiss. Buffy looked at him, puzzled for a second before she realized what was going on.
“Is this you being insecure again?”
“Just wasn’t sure that’s where we were yet. A little slap and tickle is one thing, hello and goodbye kisses are…I don’t know. Just didn’t want to seem presumptuous, I guess.”
Buffy sighed and rose on her toes to give him a more sincere and lengthy kiss before saying, “That’s probably a good plan, actually. Nobody but Mom, Dawn, and I guess Giles, has any idea that you and me are…. whatever we are.”She gave him a rueful smile. “It probably isn’t something we should spring on everybody just like that.  It might take Xander a little while to—”
“If he tries to stake me, he’s gonna find out the chip’s missing,”Spike growled.
“Oh God, the chip!”Buffy moaned as she sank down on the edge of the bed. “I forgot about that. How are we going to keep all these secrets?”
Spike’s expression darkened. “Seems to me, only one of those things needs to stay a ‘secret’, Slayer. Or is that what I’m to be –a dirty little secret?”  His face settled into the cold mask she was really learning to dislike, now that she knew it was hiding hurt feelings. “Need to know where my place is, Buffy.”
She sighed and glared at him before grabbing his arm and pulling him down next to her.
“Right here,”she said. “Beside me. That’s not a secret. But Giles doesn’t want the Council to know that you’re helping me because we’re…seeing each other…so we have to be careful when your fan club gets here. And the last time we were around my friends, we were…we’ll, I don’t remember what we were doing, to be honest. Probably insulting each other. It’s been a really busy few days and a lot of things have changed.  But just for us.  I mean, they kinda know Riley and I were having…issues. But all they know about you is that you saved me and you’ve been helping me keep Dawn safe.  They don’t know why, and they don’t know about the chip.”
“Alright, love. That makes sense I guess. How do you want to play it?”
“I dunno. Just…no PDAs I guess. Not until everybody’s had time to get used to seeing us together anyway.  And not in front of the Watcher wannabe. I don’t know how you’re going to explain to her why you’re helping me, but Giles thinks it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to think you’re helping me –us –because you….”
“Because I’m in love with you?”He gave her a wry smile.
“Yeah. That. It’s too much like—”
“It is nothing like that. And if you say his name….”
“You know that, and I know that, but they don’t. You’re just another old vampire to them, and one that’s related to An—him.”
Spike’s growl wasn’t muffled enough for Buffy to ignore.
“You can’t do that every time I say his name.  Speaking of people who probably shouldn’t know about this…”she gestured back and forth between them “…until we know for sure what we’ve got.”
“Sorry, love. It’s an automatic reaction.  And you’re right.”He laughed at the shock on her face. “Don’t look at me like that, I admit you can be right every once in a—ow!”  He laughed as he rubbed his arm. “See, now, that’s more us, innit?”
“Just sayin’, the big poof wouldn’t take it well. I know that just as well as you do. And there’s no sense bringing on that kind of a fight unless we know we’ve got something to fight for.”
“Who are you, and what have you done with Spike? And what do mean ‘we’?” 
“Not saying you’d be actually fighting him. That’d be me what needed to try to stay alive long enough to calm him down. But you’d have to listen to a lot of ranting and complainin’and be trying to explain something that’s really none of his business. Wouldn’t be fun for anyone, and not something I want to see happen unless I’ve got good reason to think we’d be fighting for the same thing.”
“I hate it when you sound sensible. It’s so…not you.”Buffy’s words didn’t really match the small smile on her face or the sideways glance she gave him.
“I’ll try not to let it happen too often,”he said, bumping his shoulder against hers.
“See that you don’t,”she replied, bumping him back.  Suddenly they were both aware that they were sitting on a bed, in a room with a door that could be closed.
“Speaking of sensible…”Spike fell backwards and tugged Buffy down with him. Even as she tried to protest that Dawn was just downstairs, Buffy rolled so that he was on top her and could reach her mouth with his.
“This is not sensible….”she gasped as he pressed her down into the mattress and worked a hand under her shirt. “Dawn is—”
“—on her way up here,”he growled, letting her go and sitting up.  By the time Dawn was peering in the door, hands over her eyes, but fingers splayed, they were both on their feet.
“Oh,”Dawn said, sounding almost disappointed. “I thought I might have to shield my virginal eyes.”
“Sorry to disappoint, Bit.  Was just taking my leave of your sis.  I’ll be back later to bring your mum home.”  He cocked one eyebrow at Buffy, and when she gave a tiny nod and a smile, he brushed his lips over hers in a much more chaste version of what they’d been doing when he heard Dawn’s footsteps. “Later, Slayer, Bit.”He brushed past Dawn, clutching the old bedspread as he went down the stairs.
When they heard the door shut behind him, both girls relaxed.
“Sorry,”Dawn said. “I didn’t interrupt anything important, did I?”
“No. Nothing important. We were just talking about how we need to be careful who knows about Spike’s chip and….”
“And your new status as snuggle-bunnies?”
“And that. Just don’t talk about it around anybody except Mom or Giles until I give you the okay, okay?”
“Let’s get started on cleaning up Mom’s room and the rest of the house.”
Bored after several hours of cleaning, Buffy took a shower and came downstairs, shaking out her hair.
“Going somewhere?”Dawn barely looked up from the TV screen.
“I’m going to the Magic Box to talk to Giles and maybe meet Willow and Tara if they don’t have classes.  And pick up some blood to keep in the freezer for Spike…”she added casually.
“So he’s going to be here a lot?”
Buffy shrugged. “Probably more than he has been. It just seems like a good idea. I don’t think Mom will mind as long as it’s frozen.”
“Are you going to be here too? Or are you staying in the dorm?”
“I don’t know. I’ve missed a lot of school lately and Willow and I only share a few classes, so I’m way behind. I wanted to be close by while Glory was around, and then with Mom having surgery….”She sighed. “I’ll probably stay here. It’s cheaper and Mom’s going to need the help for a while.”
“I can help!”
“I know. But you have school too. It’ll just have to be a group effort for a while. I’ll worry about where to live after things settle down.”She pulled on a jacket and waved. “I’ll be back in plenty of time to go get Mom.”
“So, what’s the sitch, Giles? Did you tell the Council that Glory is gone?”
“I did. I would like to say they said to tell you ‘Good job’but we would both know I was lying.”
Buffy snorted her agreement.
“I also shared with them that Spike provided some assistance when and how he could without setting off his chip. I did not share that it was not an issue after his first few seconds with Glorificus.”Giles gave her a wry smile. “Ms. Chalmers was quite pleased to hear about it and is looking forward to meeting him.”
“You reported to her?”
“No. Of course not. She’s not that…no. But she had been following the situation and called me after she heard the report. She is quite eager to come to Sunnydale and begin taking notes for a future paper she intends to write.”
“So….”Buffy said, trailing her hand along the table in an effort to appear uninterested in the answer. “If she’s still writing papers, she must not be very old, huh?”
“Watchers never stop keeping records and writing reports, Buffy. It’s what we do. Whether in the field or not. However, to answer your real question, I believe her to be somewhere in her late twenties.”
“I know you meant to say fifties, didn’t you?”
“No. I did not. And while I don’t expect Spike to seduce her, I do expect him to ingratiate himself as much as possible, and I would prefer that you not interfere while she is interviewing him. The more she likes him, the more flattering –and safer for him and you –her report is likely to be.”He gave Buffy a more sympathetic look than she might have expected as he continued.
“Whatever jealousy you may feel toward her and the time she spends with Spike might be better channelled toward the demon population of Sunnydale. A population that increased a good bit while you were otherwise occupied with Glory.”
“I’m not jealous!”
“Excellent. Try to maintain that thought for the next few weeks, please.”
“Next few weeks?”
“Ms Chalmers –Lydia –will be arriving sometime tomorrow afternoon.”

“Tomorrow, tomorrow?”
“Yes, that would be one. The one follows today. I had arranged to meet her at the airport, but I’m told she will have other Council members with her and they have already organized transportation and lodging.”
“Oh whoopee.”
“On the plus side, I will be free to help you with your mother if she will need transportation.”
“Huh? Oh, Mom. She’s coming home tonight. Spike’s going to take me to pick her up. She said we were taking advantage of you or something.”  At his shocked expression, she quickly added, “I told her you wouldn’t feel that way, but she hates asking for help.”
“And yet, she doesn’t object to taking advantage of Spike….”
“Yeah, well…maybe she figured she’d just spread the taking advantage stuff around,”Buffy said. “I dunno. I guess she just knew Spike would be okay with it.  And it’s nightime, so….”
“So I am the daytime assistance?”
“Are you mad? I mean,”she gestured around the shop, “don’t you have a business to run? Spike doesn’t have anything to do except help me patrol.”
“No, no, I’m not angry about it. Just a little surprised. But it makes perfect sense. She trusts Spike –why, I don’t know –and he will be more than happy to have an excuse to be in your company.”
“He doesn’t need an excuse for that anymore,”Buffy said, not meeting Giles’s eyes.
He sighed heavily. “And what about Riley?”
“Oh, I forgot. You weren’t there last night.”She began to tell him about the confrontation in her backyard and Riley’s threat to leave for South America if she refused to let him stake Spike and tell him he was more important to her than anything else in the world.
“Oh dear Lord.”Giles shook his head in disgust. “I hate to say this, but I believe you are well-rid of that arrogant twit.”  He leaned back in his chair and gazed at her.  “He never did really understand you and your mission.”
“No, he didn’t. He said he did, but he didn’t. He didn’t want me to be the Slayer. He wanted me to be a little damsel in distress.”She raised her eyes to his. “I hope he really left this morning. Spike went back to his crypt by himself.”
Giles frowned, but said, “I’m sure he’ll be fine. Spike is an old vampire and he’s been taking care of himself for a long time. I’m sure, a predilection for seeking out slayers aside, his sense of self-preservation is quite well-developed.”
Buffy nodded. “He’s got more sense than you expect him to sometimes, but I’m afraid losing the chip might make him think he’s super-vamp or something.”  She stood up. “I’m going to go check on him.  We’re picking Mom up at 7:30, so if she’s okay being home with just Dawn, maybe we can have a short Scooby meeting before Spike and I do a patrol.  Will you let Xander and Willow know? Maybe about 8:30?”
“A wise idea. I think some preparation before we have to meet with the Council…members…would not be amiss.”
Buffy grinned. “You were about to call them something else, weren’t you?”
“Nonsense,”he said, barely hiding his smile. “These are my former colleagues and I have nothing but respect for them.”
“Nice try.”Buffy smirked and went to the door. “I’ll call you if something happens that we can’t make the meeting.”
Giles wisely refrained from asking who “we”included, resigning himself to Spike’s apparent place in their lives. 
As Buffy approached Spike’s crypt, she was surprised to see one of Riley’s former squad mates staring at the door as if trying to decide what to do. He startled as Buffy walked up behind him and spoke.
“What’s up? I thought you guys were off to South America?”  The look she was giving him was not a friendly one and he quickly raised his hands and shrugged.
“We’re leaving in a couple of hours. Things got delayed a little bit with Riley’s paperwork –it being a last-minute decision and all that.”
“So why are you here? You do know this is Spike’s crypt, right?”
He nodded. “I do…I just thought maybe I should check on him…Don’t touch that!”He grabbed her arm, pulling it away from the interior door which she’d been about to open.”
“Why not?”she asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why shouldn’t I touch the door?”
He sighed. “I think Finn…he was pretty upset, you know? And I think he might have…but he wouldn’t want you to get hurt, so maybe he really didn’t…”
“What. Did. He. Do?”
Before Graham could answer, the door opened and Spike stood just inside out of reach of the sun’s rays.
“What he did, was take me for an idiot,”Spike said. “You can come in, Slayer. It’s safe enough…now.”
Buffy looked back and forth between the two men who exchanged nods.  Graham turned to go, saying, “We’ll be out of here by 16:00 hours. Good to know you’re okay.”He spoke to Spike rather than Buffy. “I was trying to figure out how to check on you without opening the door myself. In case you were just hurt or something….”
“Appreciate the concern, but I came in a different way. Just take your buddy and get him out of Sunnyhell…tell him I suggest not to plan on comin’back.”
“What the hell is going on?”  Buffy glared back and forth between them.
“Come on in, Slayer. I’ll catch you up.”
Buffy frowned at Graham, but he had turned away and was already jogging toward the cemetery exit.  Muttering to herself, she entered the room and waited for Spike to close the door. The dirty windows let in enough light that she could see in the gloom and she walked to where a crossbow was sitting on a table.
“Did you get a new weapon? Doesn’t seem like your style,”she said, as she picked it up and saw U.S. Govt. Issue on the side. Her eyes flew to Spike’s as he took it out of her hand and set it back down.
“Not my style. Found it when I got home. All set up and ready to shoot the first person through the front door.”
Buffy’s face paled. “He tried to kill you.”
Spike snarled. “More important –it’s daylight, he might have killed you, or the Bit or anyone else who might visit me before dark. Stupid wanker didn’t think about that. Or that I wouldn’t be using the front door in broad daylight. Even if it was dark, I’d’ve smelt him all over it.  As it is, I knew he’d been in here before I even got all the way upstairs. Found the set up right off.”
“He tried to kill you,”Buffy repeated as if she’d heard nothing of what he said. “He knew I didn’t want you dead, and he still tried to kill you.”She whirled and headed for the door.
“Where’re you going, pet? You just got here.”He got between her and the door, rocking back on his heels when she ran into him.
“I’m going to make him wish he’d never been born,”she said, tilting her head back to let him see the fury on her face.
“Let it go, love,”he soothed, his soft smile telling her how much he appreciated her defending him. “No harm done, and now he knows you know, and his buddies know what a poor loser he is…We won’t see him back here any time soon.”
“Aren’t you mad?”
He shrugged. “Been a lot of things in my life, Buffy. Most of ‘em evil. If I got mad every time somebody or something tried to kill me…  Man has as much reason as most –more really. As long as he’s gone and stays gone….”
“Well, I’m mad.”Buffy said with a pout.  “I want to hit somebody.”
“Just hang on to that feeling for a bit. I found a nest in a far corner of the graveyard. Reckon they didn’t know who lives here, but I figured we could educate them tonight after we get your mum home and settled.”
He slid his arms around her and pulled her closer so he could nuzzle the side of her neck. “What brings you here so early? Thought we were meeting up after dark?”
Buffy tilted her head to give him more access and murmured in appreciation.
“It probably shouldn’t feel so good to have your mouth on my throat,”she sighed when he pulled her even closer.
“Prob’ly not,”he agreed with a smile in his voice. “But I’m glad it does. Can think of a few other places to put my mouth that might feel just as good…or better…”
“Your front door doesn’t lock,”she said, her actions belying her concern as she slid her hands under his tee-shirt and raked her nails over his back.
“Does too. And even better –I’ve got a bedroom downstairs.”
“Where Harmony was staying.”Buffy stiffened and pulled away at the memory.
“By herself.”
“I promise, love. Was already too gone on you to give that airhead anything but a safe place to stay. Told you before, I’m a one-woman man. Doesn’t matter if the woman in question is available or not.”
“Really?”She softened her posture and let him nibble on her ear.
“Really. Would I lie to you?”
“You’re evil!
“Point. But you know why I don’t lie to you?”
“Because you’re terrible at it and I always know?”She giggled when she felt the growl in chest change to a chuckle.
“There’s that. But I want you to know you can trust me. And you won’t do that if you think I’d lie to you about anything important.”
“So,”she put her hands back under his shirt. “You’ve never been with Harmony down there?” 
“Not for a long time,”he said. “And I’ve changed the sheets many times since then.”
“We do have a couple of hours to kill….”
“Hold that thought,”he said, darting to the door and dropping a heavy bar across it. He was back before she’d had time to move. He picked her up and walked to the opening to his downstairs bedroom. “Trust me?”
She nodded, then gave a little shriek as he leapt into space and dropped lightly to the floor below, landing with barely a bump.  “Did I scare you, love?”
“You wish!”
 He laughed as he laid her on the bed and followed her down. “Sometimes I do.  But not right now…I don’t want to scare you now, I just want to love you….”
It was a couple of hours of alternating vigorous and tender love making later before they were lying side by side and smiling at each other.  Each now knew much more about the other’s likes, dislikes, erogenous zones, and the scent, taste and feel of each other’s body.  They basked in the afterglow, too satisfied to initiate more, and too content to want to move apart.
“It’s probably time to go,”Buffy finally said with a sigh, leaning closer to nuzzle his arm and inhale the now-familiar scent.
“Probably.”He ran his other hand over the top of her head in a gentle caress.
Neither one made a move to get up and look for their clothes. After another few minutes of smiling for no apparent reason, Buffy sighed again and sat up, blushing at his appreciative leer, but refraining from following her first instinct to pull the sheet up.
“We really do need to go. Or I do, anyway. I have to get home and fix something for Dawn and me to eat and make sure nothing went wrong today and Mom is still coming home.”
Spike stretched, smirking when Buffy’s eyes went to his taut body and growing erection.
“Stop that!”
“Stop what?”He grinned and sat up, running a hand over the soft skin on her back and licked his lips as he stared at her hardening nipples.
“Being all…sexy vampire when I need to think about leaving.”
“You don’t want me being all sexy vampire, you’d best cover up that delectable body before I can’t control my evil self and have my wicked way with you…. again.”
“We can do this. On a count of three –ready? One…two…. mmmph!”
She found herself pinned to the bed with Spike’s mouth on hers and his hips already moving.  She wrapped her legs around his back and arched into him, tearing her mouth away from the kiss long enough to say, “Okay, maybe one more time….”
“This is all your fault.”
“I’ll take full responsibility.  ‘I’m sorry, Joyce. Buffy and I were so busy shagging each other’s brains out that we forgot all about you’.”
“So not funny!”Buffy ran up the steps of her house, shouting for Dawn. Who was sitting calmly in front of the TV, eating popcorn.
“Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah. Where have you been? I called the Magic Box, but Giles said you left a long time ago.”
“I was worried about Spike,”Buffy said. “With good reason, it turns out.”While Buffy ran upstairs to grab the bag of clean clothes she’d packed for Joyce, Spike filled Dawn in on the trap Riley had left for him.
Dawn was still muttering threats against Riley’s entire family when Buffy came down and said, “Let’s go. One Mom coming up.”
It didn’t take long for Joyce to change into her street clothes, and she dropped the hospital gown on the bed with great relish.
“I don’t care if I never see one of these again,”she said as she gathered up the few other things she had with her.  She wrinkled her nose when the nurse showed up with a wheelchair, but showed no real reluctance to ride down to where Spike was to meet them with the car. As happy as she was to get out of the hospital, she had no intention of going any further than her own bed. 
The nurse began to push her, pausing in the hallway when the surgeon happened to walk by.
“Ah, Mrs Summers. I’m glad to see you looking so well.  Remember our conversation about resting and taking the rest of your meds.  I’ll see you in another week to take out those staples.”
“Thank you, Dr. Phillips. I’ll be careful, I promise.”
Buffy smiled. “Is there anything special we should be worrying about or watching for?”
The doctor shook his head. “Nothing I haven’t already gone over with your mother. I wouldn’t be allowing her to leave yet if I weren’t sure that she understands what she can and can’t expect. If there’s anything out of the ordinary, she’s to contact my office. No matter how minor it may seem to be.”
“Okay. Mom’s got her orders. Good to know.”
They wished the doctor a good evening and continued to the elevator and down to the lobby.  Dawn was standing by the door where she gestured to them and pointed outside. The nurse obediently wheeled Joyce through the doors and to the old car to which Dawn was now holding open the front door.
“I can ride in the back,”Joyce protested, but willingly accepted Spike’s insistence that it would be easier to get in and out of the front.
“He just doesn’t want you to see all the empty bottles on the floor in the back,”Dawn said, sticking out her tongue at Spike when he barely smothered a growl.
The nurse looked at them uncertainly –the rough-looking man in the leather coat, the daughter she found somewhat frightening, although she couldn’t have explained why, and the otherwise normal-seeming younger girl almost bouncing with excitement.  But since her patient seemed quite comfortable with them all, and grateful to be going home, she just helped her into car and handed her the bag of belongings. With Buffy and Dawn in the backseat, they were soon on the way to Revello Drive. 
Spike insisted on carrying Joyce into the house, but she drew the line at being carried upstairs.
“Spike! I had surgery on my head, not on my legs. Buffy can walk beside me if you want, in case I get dizzy, and you can walk behind me, and Dawn can…I don’t know. I just know I am perfectly capable of walking to my own bedroom.” 
She focused her best “Because I’m the mom”look on each of them before nodding and starting up the stairs, Buffy beside her watching anxiously while Spike was right behind, ready to catch her if she fell.  Moving slowly, she had no trouble getting upstairs, holding on to the bannister and only stopping once to rest for a few seconds.
By the time the little procession got to her room, Dawn was already there and had turned the bed down.  Joyce gave an appreciative smile and sat on the edge of the bed.  She looked up at Spike.  “Thank you for coming to get me. I really appreciate it, Spike. But now I’m going to want to change into something comfy before I go to sleep….”
“Oh! Right. I’ll just be downstairs, if you need me.  Or even if you don’t need me…. You’re welcome, Joyce. Any time.”
Buffy smothered her giggle at his obvious embarrassment, but Joyce just smiled and said, “Thank you, Spike. I knew you were too much of a gentleman to just stand there.”
While Buffy and Dawn snorted, he shot them both a glare, then disappeared to stomp down the stairs. Joyce looked at her two laughing daughters and shook her head.
“Well, he is, you know. Or he knows how to be, anyway. Perhaps that would be more accurate…”
“Waaaaay more accurate,”Buffy said, still giggling.
“I heard that!”floated up from the base of the stairs, causing more giggles as the girls began to help Joyce get into comfortable pajamas and get settled in her bed.
“What do you need, Mom? I don’t want you getting up for anything except to use the bathroom.”
“I think, maybe a glass of water on the nightstand? I’m really much more tired than I expected to be, and I think I’ll just go to sleep in a few minutes.”She looked up at Buffy. “Will you be home later?”
Buffy blushed, but lifted her chin. “Of course I will.  And Dawn will be here. She can check on you before she goes to bed, and I’ll look in on you when I get home.  We’ve got it covered.”
“Okay then. If you’ll just turn out the light and close the door, I think I’m going to shut my eyes and doze.”
“I’ll be right back with your water,”Dawn said. “I’ll put it where you can reach it…and I’ll be right downstairs or in my room if you need me.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine. You have no idea what a relief it will be to fall asleep and not have to expect someone to wake me up every few hours to make sure I’m okay. I’m completely looking forward to a full night’s uninterrupted sleep.”
“You know you probably just jinxed yourself, right?”Buffy said, giving her mom a wry smile.  “That’s what always happens when I say things like that.”
Joyce smiled back, her eyelids already at half-mast. “Well, maybe that’s just a Slayer thing and won’t apply to me.”
“I hope not. Sleep well, Mom. I’m glad you’re home.” Buffy kissed her mother’s forehead and walked out, passing Dawn who was just coming back with a glass of water to put on the nightstand.
Chapter Sixteen
“That was quick,”Buffy whispered.
“Spike heard her and he was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs,”Dawn whispered back. She quickly placed the glass on a coaster beside the bed and joined Buffy in the hall. They went down to the living room where Spike was sprawled in a chair. He stood up when they entered the room.
“So, what’s the plan tonight, Slayer?”
“Scooby meeting about the Council visit, and then that nest you found, I guess.”
“Council visit?”Buffy’d forgotten that Dawn wasn’t aware of the upcoming aggravation.
“Yeah, Spike’s fangirl wants to meet him and she’s bringing friends with her. I have to explain what happened to Glory, and convince them that Spike is harmless and…less evil…than he used to be.”
“Good luck with that,”Dawn said, laughing at Spike’s growl. “See? If he does that, they’ll all go for their stakes.”
“We’re not going to tell them the chip is gone. There really isn’t any reason for them to worry about him as long as they think he still can’t kill or feed.”
With assurances from Dawn that she would check on Joyce frequently –without waking her up –and that she would lock the doors behind them, Buffy and Spike walked out into the night.
“Ride or walk?”
Buffy shrugged. “Let’s walk. I’ve done enough riding for a while.”
“Alright.”  They walked a bit farther, shoulders brushing occasionally, before he said. “You know that means I have to come home with you. Can’t leave my car there.”
She stopped and turned to stare at him.  “You weren’t planning to come home with me?”
“Did you want me to? I mean, would see you safely home, no matter what, but—”
“Well, I didn’t mean you have to come in and….”
“And shag you on your mum’s living room rug again?  Not that evil, pet.  And don’t want her to hurt herself trying to brain me with whatever heavy object she can find.”
“Well then, it doesn’t matter if you have to pick up your car or not, does it? If you drive me home, or walk back there with me, we’re still going to be saying goodnight on the front porch.”
“Guess we are at that,”he said. “Best make the most of the rest of the evening, hadn’t we?”  He nudged her and leered down into her wide eyes.
“Haven’t you had enough today?”Her mouth twitched as she tried not to smile.
“Not sure I know what enough is when it comes to you, Buffy. But anytime you have a few days off and want to spend them trying to figure it out….”
She shook her head. “You’re impossible.”
“I’m very possible,”he said, putting his arm around her and squeezing. “You have no idea how possible I am.”
She shook his arm off, saying, “We’re almost to the Magic Box. Remember, no PDAs. Not until everybody gets used to us being…us.  And not in front of the Council when they get here.”
“Right. Don’t want to dash the hopes of my tweedy little admirer until she’s hopelessly in love with me. Got it.”
He stepped ahead of Buffy so as to open the door for her.
“All I did was open a bloody door for you. I’ve done it before, and I’ll probably do it again. Nobody’s gonna even notice unless you—”
“Unless I what?”Hands on hips, she challenged him, realizing somewhat tardily that everyone was staring at them as they argued in the shop entrance.
“Unless you make a big deal out of it,”he growled, letting the door swing closed behind them.
“See,”Xander said. “You girls are crazy. They’re still fighting. They still hate each other.”He sat back in his chair with a very satisfied expression on his face, too busy watching Spike and Buffy glaring at each other to notice the skeptical expressions on everyone else, including Giles.
“Uh, hi, guys.”Buffy smiled weakly as she walked toward the table.  Spike sauntered behind her, going to his accustomed place leaning against a bookcase. 
“How’s your mom, Buffy?”Tara’s soft voice reminded everyone why they hadn’t seen much of Buffy for a couple of days.
“We brought her home tonight,”Buffy said, ignoring the sideways glances at Spike who nodded in agreement. “She’s still really sleepy, so we put her to bed and Dawn is checking on her. The doctor said she’ll be fine if she just rests and watches for any of the things he told her to watch for. If she’s feeling up to it, maybe you guys can come by tomorrow night to—”
Giles cleared his throat.
“Oh. Right. The Council will be here tomorrow night. Yay.”
“Explain again why the Council is showing up now that Glory’s been taken care of and not when they could’ve helped?” Xander said what they were all thinking.
“Wankers,”Spike said at the same time Anya spoke up. “They don’t like to get their hands dirty. That’s why they have slayers.”She nodded as if she’d just added to everyone’s education.
“Thank you, that was so helpful.”Giles glared at both of them.  “They are here to verify that Glory is gone, to get Buffy’s first-hand account of what she was like, and…a few other things.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “We can tell them, Giles. They should know.”  She turned to face her curious friends. “The reason they’re here is because Spike has a groupie that wants to meet him, and she brought some friends with her. It’s no big deal.”
“Spike has a groupie?”Xander choked on a bit of stale pizza. 
“Ms. Chalmers wrote her thesis on William the Bloody. She has studied Spike extensively and is anxious to meet him in person now that he is harmless.”Giles gazed around the room. “It is in his best interest that she continue to have reason to want him undusty, so we need to be careful what we say to her about him and his reasons for helping us.”
The girls all exchanged looks with each other, and then looked at Buffy whose slightly pink face was turned away from them.
“Right,”Willow said after a pause. “So, the chip has made him safe around humans and he gets his violent yayas out by helping Buffy kill vamps and demons.”
“And hellgods,”Tara added.
“That’s our story and we’re sticking with it,”Willow said with a firm nod.
“Exactly,”Giles said. “There is, however, one more thing….”
All eyes turned to him, including Buffy’s. She frowned, trying to think what else there might be to worry about. “What more thing?”
“The reason Ms. Chalmers did not come alone is that her colleagues wish to meet…the Key.”
“No way!”Buffy leapt to her feet.
“They simply want to assure themselves that she is an ordinary young girl with no special powers.”
“How do you know they don’t want to kill her? Like those stupid knights?”
Spike snarled and was beside Buffy so quickly everyone blinked. “Over my dust,”he growled from behind her. “I’m not going to play nice with some tweedy bint while her mates are after the Bit.”
Giles sighed heavily. “I tried to tell them their presence wouldn’t be well-received, but they came anyway. I don’t believe they mean Dawn any harm, but they would like to meet her here tomorrow evening.”
“I’m not leaving my mom alone. If they want to meet Dawn, they’ll have to…I don’t know. I don’t want them in my house. Wait a few days or something. They can’t talk to her if Spike and I aren’t here to protect her, and we can’t leave Mom alone yet.”
Tara spoke up quietly. “If you’d like, I can stay with your mother, Buffy. They don’t want to talk to me, I’m sure.”
“What’s the fangless wonder going to do if they do try to hurt Dawn?”Xander asked, looking around the room. “They’re all humans aren’t they?”
“He can still be pretty scary,”Buffy said calmly. “And if it comes down to that, I can kick Council butt while he takes Dawn out of here and hides her someplace safe.”
She smiled at Tara. “That’s a very nice offer, Tara. I’m sure Mom would be fine with it, but I want to talk to her about it in the morning before I say yes. I’m still trying to decide if I think the Council –or however many Council wannabes they sent over –has any right to see Dawn at all.”
“Should we all be here tomorrow? Scooby solidarity or something like that?”
Buffy looked at Giles and shrugged. He glanced at Spike, then back at Buffy.
“That’s actually not a bad idea,”he said. “The more they can see how easily Spike and Dawn fit in with other people, the less likely they are to view them as anomalies to be studied.”
“Does that mean I have to pretend to like him?”Xander asked, glaring at Spike, who was sending him a rude gesture.
“It might be helpful.”
Xander pointed his finger at Spike. “You hear that, fangface?  You and me. BBFFs.”
Spike’s only response was to snort and move toward the door.
“So, we’re all up to speed then? Giles will let us know what time to be here tomorrow—”
“And I’ll come by after my classes so you can show me around and your mom can be comfortable with me there…. assuming she’s okay with it.”
“I’ll come with you,”Willow said quickly. “I can ride or walk to the shop with Buffy and Dawn.”
“Tell your mom I hope she feels better soon,”Xander said as he stood up. He nudged Anya’s arm until she said, “Yes, please tell her Xander says he hopes she will be better soon…oh, and the same from me.”  She gave Xander a murderous glare until he finally quite poking her.
Smothering a smile, Buffy assured them that she would pass the word.  While Giles locked up the shop, having offered to give Willow and Tara a ride home, Buffy explained to them that Spike had found a good sized nest of new vamps that they were on their way to clean out.
They said goodnight to Giles and the two witches, and began walking toward Restfield.
“Mine!”Buffy shoved Spike out of the way to retaliate against a vamp that had thrown a flashlight at her.  “What kind of vampire carries a flashlight, anyway?”she muttered as she stalked the now-retreating vampire. “Don’t you know you can see in the dark?”
“It makes a good weapon,”the vampire said, still retreating from her. “I can hit people with it.  Well, not you, cause you ducked, but most people—”
Buffy addressed his dust as it drifted to the ground. “You had fangs, you moron.”She sniffed in disgust and turned to see how Spike was doing against the only other nest occupant not already dust. She perched on a nearby tombstone as he danced around his much-larger opponent, dropping his vampire mien to rub it in that he was just toying with him.  Buffy watched for a while, admiring Spike’s fluid movement before saying, “Quite playing, Spike. It’s time to go home.”
Without answering her, he knocked the surprised vamp down with a flurry of punches that carried much more force than anything he’d shown so far.  He ran a stake into his victim so quickly that Spike was at Buffy’s side before the dust even settled.
“Good night’s work, Slayer.”
“Did we get them all? I stopped counting.”
He shrugged. “Dunno. I didn’t count when I found them, just made note of where it was. If we didn’t, I imagine the others are looking for new hiding places now.”
Buffy worried her lower lip. “Maybe we should have saved a few for tomorrow night. In case the Council wants to watch me or something.”
“I’m sure we can round up a few poor sods to demonstrate on if we need to.”He stood up and stretched. “Should be getting home to your mum and the Bit, shouldn’t we?”
Buffy hopped off the stone and began to walk toward the gate. “I guess so.”She looked around at the surroundings. “These guys really found themselves a remote corner, didn’t they? I don’t know if I’ve ever been back here. It’s all really old graves.”
He nodded as he joined her, linking their hands as they walked. “No reason for you to be. I keep my place clean, and these are old graves. Nobody new has been buried back here in a long time. Any vamp that hasn’t climbed out of his grave long before this has probably starved to death.”
“Can that happen?”
He shrugged. “Maybe? I don’t know. Far as I know, everybody makes it out eventually.”
Buffy shuddered. “How awful to be stuck there. Even for a vamp.”
He squeezed her hand. “You know what I love about you, Buffy?”
She shook her head and braced herself for something piggy.
“You can show compassion for a creature that you know is evil and that you’d stake in a heartbeat once it got out. You’re an amazing woman.”
He kept walking, holding tightly to her hand, which had gone slack in surprise. She was speechless for several minutes, but moved closer to him so that they were touching with every step.  Just before they reached the gate, he stopped and turned in front of her so they were face to face.
“Didn’t mean to rattle your cage, love,”he said, pulling her closer and leaning down to whisper in her ear. “There are lots of other things I love about you –this for instance…”He ran his tongue down the side of her neck.  “And this…”His hand cupped her ass as he raised his mouth to hers. “And I really, really love—”
While still lost in what she’d started thinking of as “Spike’s make-the-world-go-away”kisses, Buffy found herself against a stone pillar, legs around Spike’s hips and well on her way to wanting to rip their clothes off.
“We don’t have time,”she gasped as she rubbed against him.
“Won’t take long,”he promised, dropping to the ground and taking her with him, his hand already working it’s way into her jeans. Buffy gave a muffled shriek when his cool fingers began a skilled massage of her neediest body part. True to his word, without any of his usual teasing, he worked her clit until she shuddered against his hand, biting his neck to keep from crying out.
She lay there, fully clothed and completely boneless, until she felt him start to rise.
“Oh no you don’t,”she said, pushing him down and onto his back. “Fair is fair.”She tugged his zipper down, releasing him into her hand. She cocked her head and studied his fully erect cock. “Hmmm.  What would work best? My hand or my…. mouth.”
Spike’s response was a deep groan as he canted his hips and pushed up toward her face.  Buffy giggled. “I can’t tell if that was an answer or not. Guess I’ll just have see what works best.”
She began pulling on him, remembering some of the things he’d taught her to do earlier in the day.  His whispered encouragement kept her going, even when she thought she might have heard footsteps nearby. He pulled his coat to cover her hand and his open zipper just as two drunk fledglings came around the corner.
“Hey, get a room, you two,”the shorter one sneered. His companion, putting a hand on the pillar to hold himself up shook his head.
“Got better idea,”he slurred. “You get yourshelf a room ‘n leave the lady here for ush.”
Spike was on his feet and in game face before they’d had time to register that they hadn’t interrupted two humans, but the Slayer and a master vampire. He didn’t bother with threats or fists, just slammed their heads together and while they were stunned, twisted them off. He stood, staring at the dust they’d left behind, taking deep, unnecessary breaths.
A few feet away, Buffy was also on her feet, staring at him.  When he remained in his true face, facing the dust and snarling, long after there was anything to snarl at, Buffy finally said his name.
“Spike…  William?” 
With a gasp, he shook himself back into his human features and turned to meet her frowning gaze.
“Guess that was a mood killer, huh?”he asked as he approached her, more cautiously than he normally would have.
“Ya think?”Buffy tried to keep her voice light and casual, but she couldn’t hide the way her body was tensed for a fight.
Without another word, she went out the cemetery entrance and began walking home. Spike tucked himself away and paced after her, close enough to keep her in sight, but far enough way that she could pretend he wasn’t there. As they turned onto Revello Drive, she sighed and halted, waiting for him to catch up.
“’m sorry, love. Lost my temper. Didn’t mean to….”
“You didn’t mean to kill them?  Or did you mean to kill them, and just got lucky that they turned out to be vamps?”
“Fuck!”He turned away and punched a nearby tree.  “Is that what you’re thinkin’? That I thought they were human?”
“Didn’t you?”Her expression was cold, but there was a slight tremor in her voice.
He shook his head. “No, Slayer. I knew what they were. No heartbeats, no fear of entering a cemetery at night. If they were human, I’d’have heard them coming long before I did. Humans wouldn’t have caught us like that.”He cocked his head at her. “But you don’t believe that, do you?”
“I…I want to believe it. But…what they said, and you were on them so fast…”She raised her eyes to his. “What if you’d been wrong? What if they were human, Spike?”
“They weren’t, Buffy. All I did was dust another couple of vamps. With extreme prejudice, I admit. But they were just vamps. Just like the ones we already killed earlier. Probably heading for that nest we wiped out.”
“What if they had been human? What then?”
“Then they’d probably have pissed their pants, and they’d still be running. Cause I would have been just as brassed off, and just as fangy…. But I wouldn’t have touched them, Buffy. You have to believe me.”
They started walking again, side-by-side, but not touching. When they reached Buffy’s house, she paused by his car. Rather than look at him, she drew random designs in the dust on the trunk.
“I guess I better go in now. See how mom is.”
“Guess so.”
They remained standing, just a few inches apart, until Spike exploded. “Bloody hell, Slayer! You’ve seen me kill before. You saw me trying to pull the bitch’s heart out of her chest. That didn’t bother you.”
“I’ve never seen you like you were tonight,”she said quietly. “I don’t think I ever want to again.”
“Can’t promise that, love. Can’t say it’s likely, but in a similar situation, if there was a threat to you—”
“You do remember I’m the Slayer, right, Riley Finn?”She glared at him, hands on hips.
He slumped against the car. “Touché, Slayer. You’re right. They were no danger to you and I had no right to think they might be.”He peered at her from under his eyebrows. “In my defense, they did interrupt what was turning into a rather spectacular handjob. It’s possible that had something to do with my bad temper.”
“I’m pretty sure that had everything to do with it,”she said, her lips twitching at the corners.
“Could be….  Am I forgiven, then?”
She sighed and moved away before he could touch her. “You will be by morning. I’ll see you tomorrow –will you come by to drive Dawn and Willow to the Magic Box?”
“And you?”
“And me.”
“All right, love. I’ll see you tomorrow –later today, actually. Check on your mum and get some sleep.”
She nodded and went up the steps, unlocking the door and stepping inside. “Goodnight, Spike.”
“Goodnight, Buffy.”
Chapter Seventeen
As soon as Spike arrived at Buffy’s, he was greeted by an annoyed and somewhat frightened Dawn Summers.
“Why do I have to meet these dorks?  What if they want to take me away or something? Are you going to be there?”
“Calm down, Niblet. Your sis and I are both going to be there. Right beside you. And the Watcher will be there, and Red here –she can turn them into frogs if she thinks they’re planning something sneaky.”
“I’ve been trying to explain to her that it’ll be fine. They just have to see that she’s a normal, annoying teenage brat and—”
“These are the same people who tried to kill you a few years ago!”Dawn said. “You don’t know what they want with me.”
“Well the quickest way to find out what they want is to get there. Giles called and said they’re already there. Seems the morons forgot that Spike couldn’t show up until after dark.”
“Spike runs around in daylight all the time.”
“Another one of those things they don’t really need to know about him.”Buffy almost shoved everyone out the door, waving a goodbye to Tara and thanking her for staying there. 
They all got into Spike’s car and reached for their seatbelts.
“What? You don’t like my driving? It’s only a couple of miles.”
“I’ve ridden with you before,”Willow said. “That’s all I’m saying.”
“Ungrateful bunch of bints you are,”he muttered as he backed out of the driveway.
While Spike conspicuously held the door open for all three girls, the eyes of everyone in room went to the little group now entering the shop.
“Just trying to show how harmless I am,”Spike whispered to Buffy as she passed under his arm with a roll of her eyes.
Willow moved to the table to sit beside Xander, scanning the room for any signs of danger. Spike, Buffy and Dawn remained standing near the door as if ready to bolt at any second.  Buffy’s eyes also went around the room, ending at the small group of Council members clustered in the back. She looked them all up and down, dismissing most of them as harmless researchers and knowing Spike was listening to heartbeats and assessing the chances anyone was tensing up more than was justified by the situation.
They both noted the larger man in the back, who seemed less than comfortable in his tweed suit.
“Bodyguard,”Spike murmured and Buffy nodded.
“Got him.”She met Willow’s eyes and followed her gaze to one of the more innocuous-looking men.  “Magic at 3 o’clock,”she murmured back.  “Oh, and there’s your groupie.”
The Council members frowned at the obvious communication going on between one of the world’s most notorious vampires and the currently only functional Slayer. Spike touched Buffy’s arm lightly to draw her attention to the man just to Lydia’s right. She nodded that she recognized the posture of someone who was poised to fight if necessary. “The big guy’s a decoy,”she said, louder than she had before. “That’s the one we have to watch.”Spike gave a toothy grin when the man flinched, before narrowing his eyes and meeting Spike’s gaze with his own firm stare.
“If you two are done figuring out which ones you might have to fight, can I just go sit with Willow and Xander? We need to get this over with. I have homework to do.”With that, Dawn flounced across the room and plopped into the chair next to Willow, ignoring Buffy’s hissed, “You’re supposed to stay near us!”
Dawn waved her hand dismissively. “They aren’t going to believe I’m harmless if I’m standing beside you two.”She addressed the group of Watchers, all staring in various stages of confusion. “They’re the ones that like to kill things. I’m just a girl who happens to be related to one of them. I’m harmless…well, maybe not harmless harmless, Spike has taught me a couple of things in case my dates get too handsy…”She paused to glare at him. “Not that I’m likely to ever have any dates with him scaring off every boy I meet.”
Bonafide teenage complainer status settled, she sat back in her chair and stared at the bewildered Watchers.  “Okay, let’s get this show on the road. What do you want to know? And FYI? My crushes and grades are none of your business.”
They gaped at her. Temporarily speechless, they turned their attention to Buffy and Spike. Lydia Chalmers stepped forward with a timid smile, holding out her hand to Spike.
“It’s…very nice to meet you, William,”she managed to get out. “I’ve studied you for so long.”She paid no attention to Buffy, standing rigidly to Spike’s right.
Spike stepped forward, ignoring the gasp from her bodyguard, and took her hand, bringing it to his lips as he smiled at her.
“Haven’t exactly been introduced yet, have we, luv? William the Bloody, at your service. The Watcher –Rupert –has told me a bit about your work on me. We’ll have to chat more so I can clear up any discrepancies in your information.”
He dropped her hand and went to lean against the counter, behind which Anya was staring at him. “I knew you weren‘t really a thug,”she whispered. “Where did you learn to talk like that?”
Spike just laughed without answering her. Lydia remained where she’d been, clutching the hand he’d kissed and staring at him as he and Anya talked in whispers.
Buffy was now left still standing near the door, alternating glares between Dawn and Spike. When she realized everyone in the room was waiting for her to say or do something, she blew out a breath she wasn’t even aware she’d been holding and relaxed her shoulders. 
“Fine,”she said as graciously as she could manage as she went to stand behind Dawn’s chair. “What do you want from us?”
Moving into watcher-mode, they all turned to her, taking out recording devices and notebooks.
“When you first encountered Glorificus, what were the circumstances and what happened?”
“She was torturing some old guy dressed like a monk, and she kicked my ass and threw me through a wall.”Buffy’s response was short and terse.
“What else can you tell us about her?”
“She was a skank? And her dress was too tight and too short?”
Spike snorted, meeting Giles’s gaze and exchanging smirks. The Watchers frowned, not sure if they should make note of those observations or not. Their eyes went to Spike.
“What about you? What did you think about her?”
“Nice body, bit too bitchy…even for my taste,”he said, winking at Lydia, who simpered and blushed.  “Watching her turn into a man was definitely a turn-off….”
“You saw her change?” 
“I’m fairly certain that was in my report,”Giles said, his jaw twitching. “The fact that Spike saw it happen, and was able to have a conversation with her host is what led us to work the spell that cancelled all other spells –including the one that was hiding Dawn’s rather unusual appearance in Sunnydale.”
“Why did you go to Mr. Giles with this information?”one of the bodyguards asked.  Buffy visibly tensed, but everyone was watching Spike with varying degrees of curiosity and suspicion.
Spike shrugged. “I’m right fond of the Bit –Dawn –and her mum. Wouldn’t want them to be hurt in any way. So if the Slayer was going to have to fight this shape-shifting bitch, she needed to have all the information.  Didn’t know then that Dawn was the Key Glory was looking for, just knew that if something happened to the Slayer, she and her mum would be shattered by it.”
“Is that why you also saved Miss Summers’life when she was stabbed with her own stake?”The man asking the question managed to put all the scorn he clearly felt for Buffy into that one short sentence. He blinked and shrank back when Spike stood up and snarled at him, but before he could do any damage to his harmless image, he caught Giles’s eye and visibly forced himself to relax.
“I have a lot of respect for this slayer,”he growled, flickering his eyes to Buffy. “Not going to have some common vamp take her down when I never managed it myself. Killin’that vamp was reflex –getting her to her watcher for help…that was more about saving her life. And not putting her mum and sis through a funeral.”
“So…”the man persisted, “…you and Miss Summers, and her family and friends, are now…what? Co-workers against evil? Friends?”
Spike’s glance went to Xander who was giving him a thumbs-up. “We’re friends, I guess. As much as vamps and humans can be. Working with the Slayer gives me a chance to maim and kill –always a plus, when you’re a demon.  And having…friends…is better than not having them, innit?”
“Are you friends because the chip keeps you from killing them?”
Spike shrugged. “Chip got me here. Wouldn’t say it was the most important thing now, but it definitely played a part.”
“And if you lose it somehow?”
Spike looked at Buffy as he responded. “Wouldn’t expect my feelings to change. Was friends with the Slayer’s mum long before the chip, and Buffy and I worked together before –helped save the world from Acathla, as you well know, I’m sure. Chip had naught to do with anything that happened before I got it.  Might be what kept the rest of the world safe, but most of these…”He swept his hand around the room. “They were already pretty safe from me. Even if I did manage to scare them once or twice.”He shifted his gaze to Xander and grinned. Xander responded with the expected rude gesture, and the apparently good-natured exchange had the desired effect on the Watchers.
Everyone relaxed a little and they began to mingle with the Scoobies, the mage seeking out Willow to discuss her obvious power; those worried about Dawn asked Buffy for permission to speak to the Key. “She has a name!”Buffy said, but moved away slightly so they could pull up chairs closer to Dawn. She noticed that the mage was now dividing his attention between Willow and Dawn.  Lydia had gravitated back to Spike, asking somewhat breathlessly when they could arrange to talk.
His gaze flickered to Buffy as he answered. “Don’t have any plans tonight, luv. But I’m thinking you’d be more comfortable with the Slayer present than being…alone…with me.”
Lydia blinked. “Oh,”she said, pointing to the obvious bodyguard and the less imposing-looking, but probably more dangerous one, “I won’t be alone.”
Spike cocked his head and laughed as he looked at her supposed protection. “No, I see that.”
Keeping a wary eye on Spike, the bodyguards moved closer to Buffy.  “Given your initial encounter with Glorificus and its outcome, we would like to evaluate your fighting style to decide if you need more training. Is there somewhere we could go to do that?”
Barely containing her anger, Buffy pointed at the door to the training room.  While she and Giles seethed, Spike watched with great interest as the two men walked to the door and opened it.
“This will do,”the smaller one, who’d introduced himself as Nigel, nodded. “Ms Summers, you don’t mind sparring with George here, do you?”
Buffy stared at George. Although big and obviously fit, he was no bigger than Riley or any of his squad members.  “He’s human,”she said. “What will that show you?”
"We will be able to assess your fighting style and offer suggestions where—”
Buffy shoved them both into the room, paying no attention to the fact that they both stumbled and fell against each other. Temporarily ignoring Lydia, Spike wandered to the door, as had Giles, who was making no attempt to hide his anger.
“Seriously?”she seethed. “Youre going to tell me how to fight?”
In an obvious attempt to catch her off guard, the smaller man swept his leg at hers, blinking in surprise when she didn’t even change her expression or glance at him as she jumped over it. He leapt toward her, a flurry of punches indicating he might well be the more dangerous of the two men, but again, Buffy ducked easily and spinning behind him, kicked him on his ass, knocking him to the ground.
Spike smothered a grin as he entered the room.
“Maybe they should watch us spar, pet? You don’t want to be sending them home with broken bones.”
“Are you sure I don’t?”she muttered even as she nodded in agreement.  “You two go stand over there,”she said to the embarrassed Nigel, pointing to where Giles and Lydia were standing just inside the door. “You can watch me spar with a real vampire.”
“But…he can’t hurt you. How can you—”
“The chip knows the difference,”Spike said smoothly. “It’ll know if I’m seriously trying to hurt or kill her. Who knows? If she makes me mad enough, you might get to see the chip in action too.” 
Buffy began to take off her shoes and Spike toed out of his boots as he dropped his coat to the floor.
“What are you doing?”George frowned at them.
“Don’t really want to hurt each other, do we? This reduces the risk of an accident.”
“Giles taught me to do that,”Buffy said with her most innocent expression. “Don’t you take your boots off when you spar so you don’t really hurt anybody? Isn’t that like Training 101 or something?”
She turned around to hide her laugh, just in time to catch Spike’s eye. “Nicely done, Slayer,”he whispered.
“You too,”she whispered back. “Sometimes you lie and I can’t tell. I wonder if that should bother me…”
“I have hidden depths,”he replied in a normal tone of voice.  “Ready, pet?”
“To quote a friend, ‘I was born ready’,”she said with a grin as she straightened. “Best two out of three?”
“You’re on.”They faced each other for a few seconds, then came together in a flurry of fists, few of which managed to land any serious punches. They broke apart and began to fight in earnest, moving fluidly around the room, first one attacking, then the other. The speed with which they moved and counter-moved had the audience by the door watching with wide eyes.  There was a gasp when Spike threw Buffy to the floor and pounced upon her, fangs bared, followed by another gasp when she smashed her forehead into his face. He snarled as he held his bleeding nose and backhanded her away. Immediately, he was lying on the floor, holding his head and howling.
As Buffy reached for him, Lydia ran past her to hover and pat his shoulder, holding out a large linen handkerchief.  “Oh my, oh my, are you all right?”She turned a glare on Buffy.
“What did you do to him?”
Buffy shrugged. “I made him mad and he hit me.”
“Well don’t you feel bad about this?”Lydia said, stroking the top of Spike’s head as he held her handkerchief to his nose. The large piece of linen successfully hid his grin from everyone but Buffy, who glared at him and kicked his foot as she stood up.
“No. Why would I? His fangs were at my throat, so I did what I had to do to get away. Just like I would have if we were fighting for real.”
“But you hurt him!”
Buffy rolled her eyes and appealed to George and his buddy, who was studying her intently. They nodded and, Nigel, the less-intimidating appearing but obviously more experienced of the two said, “That’s quite enough. We’ve seen what we need to see.”
Leaving Spike to Lydia’s fussing, and vowing to make him pay for it later, Buffy accompanied the men back into the main room of the shop.
Lydia’s bodyguards kept glancing through the open door of the training room, as she remained behind to comfort Spike.  Buffy managed to limit her reaction to the scene to breaking the slats on the chair back she was clutching. Giving Giles an apologetic shrug, she sat down.
“So now what? You’ve met Dawn, you’ve met Spike, you’ve watched me fight –are you going home now?”  She made no attempt to hide her delight in that idea.
“Some of us are.”The mage, who appeared to be somewhat in charge, glanced in Lydia’s direction. “I’d like to run some magical assesments of the—Dawn. Just to see if there is some residual power there. And Miss Chalmers would like to remain for a while and continue her studies of…the vampire.”
Buffy’s expression darkened, but she just said, “Oh. Will she be staying by herself, or with her babysitters?”
“I believe George will be remaining here. We’ll be discussing whether or not Nigel should also.”
Buffy looked at the two men who’d just watched her spar on an equal basis with an old vampire, and appear to almost lose to him before breaking free.  “You think they’ll make better bodyguards than I will?”
“I’m assuming your other duties, including those to your ill mother, will keep you from being present at all times. George is quite skilled at hand-to-hand contact and is always armed.”He gave her a small smile that challenged her to suggest otherwise.
“Fine,”she gritted out. “If he’s going to be there all the time….”
“I will.”The deep voice came as a surprise as no one had yet heard George speak.
Buffy nodded and repeated “fine”as she stood up. “Spike and I need to get Dawn home so we can patrol.”She started toward the training room where Spike and Lydia were deep in conversation.
“If you don’t mind, we’d like to have George and Nigel accompany you as you patrol. They will be sure to remain out of your way.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Just be sure they stay unmunched on while I’m busy with, you know, real demons and unchipped vampires?”She leaned on the door of the training room and called in her sweetest tones, “Oh Spike? Would you mind wrapping this up so we can patrol? Lydia’s friends want to come with us.”
“Of course,”he said with equally exaggerated politeness. “Miss Chalmers? Do you mind? We can continue our fascinating conversation tomorrow.”
She simpered and nodded. “Please, call me Lydia.”Then quickly added, “I’d love to come along tonight. To see you in action, so to speak.”
That necessitated a whispered conversation among the remaining Council members that involved much arm waving and grumbling from George. Buffy watched him for a few seconds, suspicion growing as his gaze followed Lydia’s progress around the room.
“I think your groupie has an admirer,”Buffy said softly as she and Spike watched the arguing.
“Guess I’d better watch my back then,”he replied as he listened to the discussion. “You’d think they’d remember that I have vampire hearing.”He shook his head in disgust.
“Just as well they don’t. We might need to know what they’re planning at some point.  How’s your nose?”she asked, abruptly changing the subject and turning her back on the other room.
“It’s fine, love.”He gave her one of his softer smiles. “It was the right thing to do, even if you did know I wasn’t going to really bite you. Killed two birds with one stone, so to speak. They think I’m still chipped, and they can see that you aren’t easily defeated. Win, win, I’d say.”
“Well, I’m sorry, anyway. Force of habit.”
“Those habits keep you alive,”he said, risking a small squeeze to her hand. “You’ll never hear me complain about them. Anyway, owe you an apology for that slap, don’t I?”
“Nope. You were hurt and you reacted.”The warmth left her eyes. “Just don’t ever do it again. It hurt!”
“I’ll kiss it better when we—ah, ready to go, are we?”He abruptly turned away from her to talk to Lydia and her shadows.
“Yes,”George said tersely. “I will keep Miss Chalmers safe while Nigel observes the action. We can leave immediately. Mr Giles will see that Dawn gets home soon.”
“Guess we’d best go find some action then,”Spike said. “Ready, Slayer?”
“I’m coming,”she said as she finished retying her shoes and stood up. “Let’s go kill something.”
“My kind of woman,”Spike said, not noticing Lydia’s flinch or Nigel’s frown.
“Your kind of woman is pale, cold, and certifiable,”Buffy said, tossing  her head.
All three watchers stared in bewilderment at the exchange that left both slayer and vampire laughing as they went out the door.
Chapter Eighteen
The evening was uneventful until they got to Shady Rest and ran into a mixed group of vampires and demons working on some sort of ritual. Suddenly, Buffy and Spike were in the midst of a melee, while George and Nigel pushed Lydia behind them, using crosses and crossbows to ward off the occasional stray vampire that thought the humans looked like easier prey.
While the watchers had been impressed by what they saw when Spike and Buffy were sparring with each other, watching them working together in perfect synchronicity to clear out a group of demons and their vampire guards was an eye-opening experience. Watching them do it with such joy and abandon was more than a little disturbing.
As the last demon fell to the ground and began to dissolve, Buffy and Spike exchanged high fives, barely remembering at the last second that a congratulatory kiss was not a good idea.  They shared rueful smiles before turning back in time to see George drive a stake through a vampire’s chest with complete confidence and professionalism.
Lydia seemed surprisingly unruffled by the violence she’d just witnessed, obviously having complete confidence in her guardians, even as she ignored them to gaze at Spike with worshipful eyes.
“You were wonderful,”she breathed.
While he preened, Buffy snorted and turned to George and Nigel, who’d managed to keep Lydia perfectly safe from any group members that thought the humans were standing between them and escape from the deadly couple decimating their companions.
“Not your first rodeo, huh?”she said with admiration in her voice.
“No.”Nigel’s terse response softened as he added, “But I must say, I was quite grateful that we had you…and William…in front of us. That was…. quite impressive.”
“Call me Spike,”he said, joining Buffy. “I’d call that a good night’s work, wouldn’t you, Slayer?”
“Yep. I’m done. I need to get home to see how Mom is. I think Giles was going to drive Dawn home and pick up Tara, but just in case…”
“Just in case, we’d best grab my baby and get going.”
“Baby?”Lydia’s eyes went wide.
“His car,”Buffy said, making a face. “His very old, smelly, loud car.”
“Which has been carrying you and yours around for several days, Summers”he growled.
“Uh…you aren’t going to leave us here, are you?”Lydia looked around the dark graveyard.
“Oh, no. We’ll walk you back to your hotel and then we’ll go get the car. Which one is it?”Buffy strode toward the gate without looking back. Spike shrugged and stretched his legs to stay even as the humans jogged to catch up.
After leaving Lydia and her friends at the hotel, Buffy and Spike hastened to the Magic Box to pick up his car.  The shop was locked up and dark, so Buffy assumed Giles had taken Dawn home and that they could safely leave.
Spike pulled into the driveway behind Joyce’s SUV and shut off the engine.
“Home again, home again,”he said, reaching across the seat to run his fingers through her hair. Buffy leaned into his touch, but shook her head when he tried to pull her closer.
“I need to get inside and make sure everybody’s okay. You can come in if you wanna, but—”
“But I’ll be leaving in the same condition I’m in now?”He put her hand on the bulge along his leg.
“You are such a pig!”In spite of her words, she gave him a squeeze before reaching for the door handle.
“You’re going to leave me like this?”
“You’re a big boy. You’ll deal.”
He sighed. “I’d hoped my days and nights of dealing with it by myself while I dream about you were over.”
“If that was meant to be romantic or flattering, it didn’t quite make it. Just so you know…”She climbed out of the car and walked around to the driver’s side, offering her mouth for a goodnight kiss.
“I’ll work on the romantic and flattering,”he murmured against her lips as he deepened the kiss.
“See that you do,”she gasped, finally pulling away before she followed her lips and tongue right through the window and on to his lap. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll be in my crypt…all by myself…alone…in my bed…”
She laughed. “You’d better be there alone.”
He laughed along with her. “I think Lydia’s shadow isn’t going to let her be alone with me.”
“You picked up on that too, huh?” 
He nodded.  “Poor sod is completely gone on her. And she has no idea.”
“That can happen….”Buffy blew him a kiss as she backed toward the house. “She’ll figure it out eventually. Maybe he’ll save her life or something.”
“Maybe so.  Sleep well, love.”
“Night, Spike.”
Buffy woke up to find her mother sitting in the kitchen and having a cup of coffee.
“Mom! This is not resting!”
“I’ve been resting for two full days. I’m bored. It’s not like I’m going back to work yet, but there’s no reason why I can’t sit in my own kitchen and drink instant coffee. Or watch TV in my own living room.”
“But nothing. I’m not doing anything strenuous. You or Dawn can do the laundry, dishes, vacuuming –but I can certainly cook a simple meal, fix myself something to drink, and watch TV. Maybe with clothes on. Do I need to get dressed, or will Spike not be here till later?”
Buffy decided not to comment on Joyce’s assumption that she would be seeing Spike in the evening, just said, “I think you can stay comfy today. I don’t know what’s going on tonight. It depends on what those Council jerks do. I guess most of them are leaving today, but Spike’s groupie is staying.”
“Spike’s groupie?”
Buffy sighed. “I thought Dawn told you about it when she got home last night. There’s a watcher, a woman, who did her thesis on him and she wanted to meet him.”
“And has she?”
“Oh yeah. She practically slobbered all over him. He’ll have her wrapped around his finger by the time she leaves.  Which, mission accomplished, I guess if he does. As long as he’s got somebody on his side over there, Giles thinks it will help if and when they—”Buffy stopped, not sure what her mother knew about Spike’s chip. As usual, mom’s intuition was all Joyce needed.
“If and when they find out his chip is not working?”
Buffy sighed. “Yeah, that. But it isn’t just not working. Glory dug it right out of his skull. It was pretty gory.”
“That must have been painful for Spike!”
“Well, we were a little busy getting our butts kicked at the time, so he had to suck it up and get back in game.”  She glanced around the kitchen. “Did Dawn go to school today?”
Joyce nodded, then winced. “Ow. Note to self –stop making gestures with my head.”  At Buffy’s frown of concern, she smiled. “It’s fine. Just pulls on the stiches a little, that’s all. Inside my head doesn’t hurt at all.   And yes, Dawn went to school. There was no reason for her not to. I expect to be back at the gallery by the end of the week. Part-time, at least.”
“Please don’t rush it, Mom.  We can handle everything here –and maybe Spike and I…okay, maybe not Spike…but me. I can help at the gallery.”
Joyce laughed. “You’d be surprised how helpful Spike could be. Not just with the heavy lifting, which he’s helped me with before, but he’s actually quite knowledgeable about art and artists. Even the modern ones.”
“Spike? My Spike? And I didn’t mean that quite—”
“I know how you meant it.  And I think you’ll find that much of his rough exterior is a persona he adopted for some reason.”
“Yeah, I’m figuring that out. It’s kinda mind-boggling, you know?”
Joyce just smiled and sipped her coffee.
Finally accepting her mother’s assurances that she was going to be just fine and would not do anything more strenuous than carry her coffee cup into the living room, Buffy left the house to check in with her advisor at Sunnydale U. She was pretty sure the semester was a lost cause. And possibly the whole year.
“I guess slayers just weren’t meant to have real lives,”she muttered. “There’s always night school –oh wait, I’m busy at night.”
She was still muttering when she stopped in to the Magic Box to check on the status of the Council visitors.  She was surprised to find Nigel and George sitting at table reading a newspaper. A glance toward the training room told her why.
Lydia sat on a chair, legs crossed and notepad on her lap as she stared up at Spike with rapt attention.  His attention, on the other hand, which had been focused on whatever story he was telling her, shifted immediately to the doorway and Buffy. Lydia’s expression lost its happy enthusiasm and became one of forced welcome as she saw what had drawn his attention away from her.
“Miss Summers. How are you today? I didn’t expect to see you so early in the day.”
“I’ll bet you didn’t,”Buffy said, forcing a smile. “I’m a little surprised to see Spike here so early in the day. He’s usually sound asleep around now.”
“Oh, William has been explaining to me that he requires very little sleep when he’s healthy. And he got to bed well before dawn, so he was wide awake when Rupert took me to his crypt to talk to him.”
The look Buffy shot “Rupert”didn’t bode well for his future health, but he just shrugged and, with a grim smile, reminded Buffy that “Miss Chalmers is here to interview William and get to know him. The sooner she can collect all her data, the sooner she and her two companions will be on their way home.”
“Of course,”Buffy said through her teeth. “I’d almost forgotten that.”She turned her patently fake smile on Spike.  “Have you been giving her what she needs, William?”
“Doin’my best, Slayer.”He refused to meet her gaze.
“I’m sure you are.”She turned her back on them and focused on the two watchers. “Where are your buddies-in-nosiness?”
Nigel sighed.  “Miss Summers, contrary to what you seem to believe, we are not here to make your life harder, only to learn more about it so that we may be of assistance in the future.” 
She didn’t even try to hide her scoffing “Right. Of course you are.”Buffy transferred her attention to Giles. “So what’s the sitch with Dawn? Are they satisfied she’s just a normal teenage hormone bomb?”
Grateful to have some good news, he responded quickly.  “Yes. They talked to her a bit more last night, ran some tests for latent power, and concluded that she is no danger to herself or anyone else.  They are probably already on their way back to England as we speak. Only Miss Chalmers and her…companions…are remaining here somewhat longer.”
“Define ‘somewhat longer’,”Buffy demanded, looking back and forth between Giles and Nigel.
They both looked uncomfortable, but neither one spoke. At last, George spoke up. “Lydia–Miss Chalmers will tell us when she is ready to leave. This is quite an opportunity for her. Very rarely does a watcher have an opportunity to meet an old vampire in person, let alone be permitted to interview him.”  He finished as if reciting from memory something Lydia had clearly told him.
As he finished speaking, Spike and Lydia emerged from the training room. He was grinning and she was flushed and appeared flustered.  Again, her happy expression faded when Spike went directly to Buffy and pulled her to the back of the shop for a private conversation.
“Do you think you can stop glaring at me long enough to let me explain?”
“What’s to explain? Giles showed her where you live, so now she can show up whenever she wants to, and she obviously thinks you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, so…”
He rolled his eyes and growled. “That was the idea, wasn’t it? Get her so besotted that she’ll fight for me if and when the Council decides I’m no longer an asset to their Chosen One?”
“I’m not their ‘Chosen One’,”Buffy said. “They tried to get rid of me.”
“Didn’t work, did it? And now they have some idea exactly how much you are not a run-of-the-mill slayer.  You’re bloody amazing…. when you aren’t acting like a jealous girlfriend…. and now they think I’m almost a worthy evil-fighting partner. I’d say we’re doing pretty well so far.”
“I’m not jealous,”she muttered, for lack of anything else to argue against.
“Right, so you won’t mind if I take Lydia back to the crypt and show her around then?”
Buffy’s “What?”was so loud everyone turned around to stare at them. Lowering her voice, she said, “That was a joke, right?”
“Fraid not, pet. But her bodyguards will be coming with us. Actually, they’ll take her there while I go through the sewers.”
He blinked at her.
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “Okay, that was jealous girlfriend talking. I’m sorry. You’re right. We told you to be nice to her and make her like you…. I just didn’t know she was going to be so…so…”She waved her hands around, helpless to know what to call someone who was not obviously attractive only because of the way she dressed.
“And you think Im insecure,”he said with a smile only she could see. “Seriously, love. You can’t possibly be worried that I might be interested in somebody else. Never mind somebody who wraps herself up in tweed and blushes if a bloke winks at her.”
“You winked at her?  You’ve been flirting?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “I flirted with you when we were trying to kill each other, Buffy. It’s what I do. I flirt with birds. All of them. Young, old, pretty, not-so-pretty…. C’mon, love. This isn’t new.”
Buffy pouted. “It’s new that you’re doing it with somebody who—”
“Who would grab her pearls and scream for her bodyguards if I made a serious move on her?”
Buffy cocked her head at him, her fake pout gone. She stared at him without answering, then just shook her head.  “You might be a good flirt, but you know absolutely nothing about women.”With that cryptic response, she walked back to the front of the store where she eyed Lydia in a way that had George stepping up beside her. Buffy shrugged and went to sit down.
“So, Giles,”she said. “What do you know about online courses or daytime night school?”
He blinked at her in surprise, then smiled. “Online courses –absolutely nothing. But if you wish to pursue your education…”He stopped and frowned at her. “Does this mean you no longer plan to attend university?”
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “I don’t think it’s practical.  I squeaked through the fall semester, but this one…Let’s face it, every spring I’m going to be missing classes while I try to stop an apocalypse. I just got lucky this year and we got rid of Glory early, but if Spike hadn’t seen her change and told you about the spell….Yeah, I’d be lucky to make one class a week. And then there’s Mom…. I’ve already missed too much to catch up.”
She put her chin on her hands and rested her elbows on the table. “I think it makes more sense to work on college stuff when and how I can. Assuming I can find enough time to get a degree in anything, maybe I can do it before something else gets lucky and I—”
Spike’s snarled “Over my dusty body”brought everyone’s attention to him, with both Lydia and Nigel narrowing their eyes at him. George, on the other hand, wore just a trace of a smile –one he immediately dropped when Spike caught his eye. They exchanged a long look, then short nods as everyone else frowned at their silent communication.
Spike turned his attention back to Buffy. “Do we have a plan for tonight, Slayer, or just regular patrol?”
“Regular patrol, I guess. Do you want to meet me back here?”
“Can. Or I can meet you at your house. I promised the Bit I’d help her with some homework.”
While everyone gaped at him, he turned to go down the stairs. “It’ll take me about fifteen minutes to get back to my crypt from here. I’ll leave the door open.” He vanished down the stairs, leaving all the humans staring after him.
Chapter Nineteen




Buffy remained where she was, fidgeting but conquering the urge to plunge down the stairs and catch up with Spike before he’d gone very far. Vowing to trust him, and knowing Lydia’s bodyguards wouldn’t be far away, she took a deep breath and sat back to find Giles watching her with approval.


“You’re growing up,” he said with a smile. “Your self-control is admirable.”


As the watchers left the shop to go to Spike’s, Anya said, “Men can’t be trusted. You should have followed Spike.”


“Thank you for that insight, Anya,” Giles said with a glare.


“I wasn’t a vengeance demon for a thousand years for nothing,” she said. “I know what I’m talking about.”


It took only a second for Buffy to realize that Anya was speaking as if it was common knowledge that Spike and Buffy were together. She turned panicked eyes to Giles, who sighed and nodded.


“I’m fairly certain the only one who hasn’t noticed is Xander. And he is probably willfully refusing to see it. As long as no one says anything in front of the Council members—” he sent Anya a pointed look. “—I think it will be all right.  With a bit of luck, Lydia will run out of questions for Spike to answer and her companions will be able to talk her into leaving.”


“I don’t think so,” Anya volunteered cheerfully. “Spike is quite attractive for a vampire, and she seems very interested in him.”


“On that note…” Buffy stood up. “I’m going to see my adviser at Sunnydale U and see what he suggests for somebody who can’t always make classes and who… works nights.  Maybe they have some stuff I can do online on my own time.”  She shrugged. “Or maybe he’ll just tell me to apply for work at the Doublemeat Palace like all the rest of the losers.” 


Giles watched her leave with a frown on his face. Anya was quiet for a few minutes, then said, “You know, Spike is pretty old.  Not old like me, but old.”


Giles waited.  


“Don’t you understand?”


“Obviously not.”


“If he hasn’t squirreled away a lot of money in the past 100 years, I’ll be very surprised and disappointed in him. As long as he is Buffy’s boyfriend, there’s no reason for her to worry about money. He should give it to her.”


It took Giles a full minute to stop his open-mouthed staring. “I’m not sure where to begin to address the appalling assumptions there.”


“What assumptions? He is old, and he isn’t stupid. I’m sure he can get his hands on money, and Buffy is his girlfriend, so he should be giving it to her.” 


“Oh dear lord,” was the only reply.




Buffy’s visit to campus brought mixed emotions. Seeing all the other young people walking around with friends, talking, laughing, studying together, gave her a jealous pang she didn’t want to acknowledge.  On the other hand, she was very sure none of them had boyfriends who’d been honing their lovemaking skills for well over a hundred years. 


“Point to Spike,” she muttered as she passed another couple, holding hands as they basked in the sun. “I’ll be they don’t know as many ways to kill something as I do either… point to me? Okay, maybe not, but still, skills are skills, and I have them.”


“You have what?” Willow’s voice made Buffy jump.


“Skills. I have skills,” she said, smiling at Willow and Tara. “Whatcha doing?”


“We were just about to get some lunch. Are you interested?”


“Sure. Sounds like fun.”


As they walked toward to the student cafeteria, Willow asked, “What are you doing here? I thought you’d decided to skip the rest of the semester?”


“I did. I am. I just came to talk to my advisor and see if we can figure out some way for me to keep going, just in some way that doesn’t require me to be actually, you know, here for classes… or awake during them.”


“That’s a great idea! What did he say?”


“Uh…. I don’t know? I mean how do you explain that the reason you can’t be in class is because you’re up all night staking vampires, or you’re going to miss most of the spring semesters because there will probably be an apocalypse?” Buffy sighed. “Some things just don’t translate well into excuses that won’t freak people out.”


Tara gave her a sympathetic nod. “It must be very difficult,” she said. “Trying to fit into the normal world, when you know how very not-normal so much of it is. I really admire you, Buffy. You give up so much, for so little thanks. No one even knows how hard you work to keep them alive.”


Buffy blushed while Willow looked at her with new respect. “I never thought of it that way,” she said. “I just always thought – oh lucky Buffy, she’s so pretty and she has superpowers. I never thought about all the things you don’t have.”


“Like a life?” Buffy said, with wry grin. She shook her head. “It’s not so bad. Superpowers are pretty cool.  It’s just sometimes….” She shook herself. “Well, I’ve tried normal and it never works out for me. I just need to learn to enjoy my not-normal life.”


Tara and Willow exchanged glances before Willow spoke. “I’m guessing Spike’ll be a big help with that.  Helping you enjoy your non-normal life, I mean.”


“We’re not fooling anybody, are we?” Reminded of what Giles had told her earlier, Buffy had just a trace of a blush.


“Well, not very well. I think most of us probably knew it before you did. Spike doesn’t hide his feelings very well when he thinks we aren’t looking at him. And when you refused to stake him to keep Riley from being jealous…” 


Buffy flinched a little, remembering that no one but Giles knew about the missing chip. She wondered if Willow would feel differently if she knew Spike could kill again.


“Well, so much for that secret. But you guys know we can’t let the Council in on it, right? They need to think he’s helping us because he likes the violence and he’s learning to like people – in other ways than as something to eat.”


“So, how’s the groupie going to take it if she figures it out?”


Buffy made a face. “If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll just get her tweedy little butt back to England.”  Buffy attacked her hamburger, asking between mouthfuls, “So, how did it go after we left last night? Giles says they cleared Dawn to consider herself a normal kid?”


Willow and Tara exchanged looks. 




“Nothing. Nothing Dawnish. Their mage talked to her, held her hand for a while, ran some kind of a wand around, frowned a lot, and then said he couldn’t find anything magical about her. He sounded kind of disappointed,” Willow said with a giggle.


“So, what was non-Dawnish?”


Willow looked at Tara again and took her hand.  “Oh, nothing important. He talked to me about magic and the hellmouth and ‘dark forces’ and a bunch of stuff like that.  He… he tried to say I should come back with them for ‘training’. I think he and Giles almost got into a fight because he said Giles was letting me become too powerful. Like he could stop me!”  


Tara’s troubled face as she pulled her hand away told Buffy there was probably more to the story, but Willow just put on a perky smile and said, “So, no biggie. He asked me to come with them, I said no, he and Giles yelled at each other for a while, and then they stomped out. Good riddance to them!”


“Well, yeah,” Buffy agreed slowly. “I mean, you’ve got Giles, and you’ve got Tara, and you’re all genius-girl, so what could they possibly teach you?”


“Exactly!”  Willow’s comment just managed to smother Tara’s own “Humility?”, but Buffy’s better hearing caught it and she met Tara’s eyes for a startled second. Vowing to talk to Giles about what else had occurred after she left the meeting, she excused herself to go run some errands.





After her unscheduled lunchtime visit with Willow and Tara, and a less than satisfactory visit to her advisor, who was visible annoyed at all her “It’s complicated” responses to his questions, Buffy found herself wandering toward Restfield. Telling herself she wasn’t checking up on Spike, just making sure he was coming to help Dawn later, she had a smile on her face as she approached the crypt.


The smile faded quickly when she saw George and Nigel leaning against the outside wall and soaking up the afternoon sun. The door to the crypt was open, but there was no way they could see in from where they were sitting. 


“What are you doing out here?” she demanded. “Shouldn’t you be inside guarding Lydia?”


Nigel narrowed his eyes at her as he stood up. “Is she in danger?” he asked as he moved toward the door. “Is there something we should know about William the Bloody? Why are you concerned that we’re out here?” 


George, on the other hand, just sighed and rose to his feet.  “I’m sure she’s in no danger, Nigel.” He gave Buffy a pointed look. “Not from the vampire, anyway.”


Buffy could feel her face redden as she hurried to get to the door before Nigel did. “No, she’s not in danger from Spike. But you guys probably shouldn’t have taken his word for that.”


She stepped through the open door, pausing to let her eyes adjust to the gloom.  She found Spike, already rising to his feet from a chair near the sofa. A sofa upon which Lydia had made herself comfortable in front of the old TV. She was leaning on a pillow in very un-watcherly fashion, but paying more attention to Spike than Passions.


“Slayer! Wasn’t expecting to see you here this early.”


“Obviously not,” she spit out before turning on Lydia. “What are you learning about Spike from a television set?”


“Well, it’s actually quite interesting that he is so passionate about a soap opera with supernatural themes. I’m studying the show in order to understand what about it would appeal to a vampire.” She smiled at Buffy as if she’d been explaining things to a small child.


Before Buffy could answer, Spike got between her and Lydia as subtly as he could. He didn’t get a chance to speak before Nigel approached and shut off the television set, but he did manage to touch Buffy’s arm in warning. She shook him off with a “Take your hands off me” that made him flinch.


“Really, Lydia, this does not seem to be a good use of your time. If you’ve finished your questions for today, we should return to the hotel so you can write up today’s report.” Nigel waited for her to get up, the picture of disappointed colleague.


George nodded. “We should leave Miss Summers and Mr Bloody to discuss their plans for this evening’s patrol. Perhaps they will allow us to join them again?”


Spike gave him a grateful look and nodded. “Sure. Could be fun. Who knows what evil we’ll find lurking in Sunnyhell tonight? That’s a good idea, isn’t it, Slayer?”


A pouting Lydia was on her feet and already moving toward her escorts, giving Nigel a dirty look, but obediently preparing to go with them.  Buffy didn’t respond to his question except to mutter to Nigel, “Sure. The more the merrier. I’m sure no vamps will hear us coming.”


With Lydia peering coyly over her shoulder to wave good-bye to Spike, the three watchers eventually made it out the door, which Buffy slammed shut behind them so hard it vibrated.





“Feel better now?” Spike asked as he walked to the door and slid the bar into place. 


“No. Yes. I don’t know.”


He put his arms around her, whispering, “As chuffed as I am to think you’re jealous of another woman, I can think of better things to do with the rest of the afternoon….”


Buffy leaned in to him. “I’m behaving like a… a… something self-absorbed and stupid, aren’t I?”


“You’re behaving like somebody who doesn’t like to share her toys. Comes of being an only child until recently.”


“You think you’re a toy?” She leaned away and frowned up at him.


He shrugged. “Don’t know, do I? Are you so worried about the watcher bint because you care what I do? Or because you don’t trust me when I tell you I wouldn’t? Or just because you can’t have my tight little body any time you want it while she’s here?”


Buffy sighed and freed herself from his loose embrace. Turning away, she said, “I don’t know either.”  She looked back at him. “But, as good at it as you are, I think it’s safe to say I don’t want her to stay away from you just because I’m starving for sex.”


“I’m not sure how to take that.”


She sighed again and sank down onto the couch, dropping her head on the pillow. “I’m not sure how I meant it. I mean, I do… like… what you do and how you do it.” She hid her blushing face for a second. “But if that’s all it is, why would I care if you do it with somebody else?  I mean, we don’t have to… just to have fun.  And when we go out to kill things together… we were doing that before we….” She paused and looked up at him. “I like being with you. I like it when we fight together, and even when we fight with each other, and when we just talk…. I think we’re friends, and… and I don’t want anything to take that away from me.”


“Ah, Buffy, love.” He dropped to his knees in front of her so they were at eye level. “When I tell you I love you, I’m not telling you I crave your delectable little body, or that I just want to shag you until we can’t walk.  Although I do. Both of those things.  But I love everything about you. I love fighting with you – and against you. I love the way you never quit. The way you love your family and friends… if all I ever was to you, was one of those friends, I’d love you just as much as I do now. Nothing is going to take that away from you. Least of all some mousy little watcher what can’t see the good man right under her nose.”


“I think you should kiss me now,” she said. “I think you should kiss me a lot.”


“Mmmmm. See? We even think alike….” he said as he leaned in to do as she asked. “Lots of kissing, coming right up.”





“What time do you think it is?” Buffy drew lazy circles on Spike’s bare chest.


He sighed and turned to face her, kissing her shoulder before responding.


“Time for us to get dressed and go. Bit’ll have been home long enough to be wondering where her homework help is. And your mum is probably wondering where you are.”


Buffy huffed, but sat up, smiling as his admiring ogle.  “She practically shoved me out the door this morning. I think we were smothering her.”


“Knowing your mum might die can lead to that sort of attention,” he said, his face clouding momentarily. He ignored her questioning look.  “But be that as it may, it is time for both her daughters to be home eatin’ supper with her.” 


“I guess so. I wonder where my clothes are?”


He waved his hand around. “Oh, here and there. We’ll find them. No worries.”


He stood up, completely comfortable in his nudity, and walked around the room picking up discarded pieces of clothing. “Wonder how that got over here?” he muttered as he found his tee-shirt hanging from a candelabra.  He tossed Buffy’s shirt to her, and pocketed her underwear as he pulled on his jeans. He retrieved her bra from the bar on the door and her jeans from the floor on the other side of the couch.  While Buffy put on her bra and blouse, she searched on the floor around her for her panties, finally glaring at him and holding out her hand.




With a laugh, he took them out of his pocket and tossed them to her. “I don’t wear underwear, don’t see why you need to.”


“Because I’m not gross,” she sniffed as she finished dressing. 


Both dressed, shoes and boots on, they stood staring at each other. 


“I guess I better get going. See you at my house.”


He nodded and pulled her in for a soft kiss and to nuzzle her neck. “I’ll be right behind you, pet. Just… underground.”  He picked up the ragged blanket she’d given him. 


She walked to the door and lifted the bar while Spike remained out of reach of the sun’s dying rays. They both looked at the gathering dusk.


“If I wait a few minutes, we can walk together. You won’t have to use the sewers.”


He nodded and threw the blanket on a chair. “It’s not like me not to be able to tell when it’s gettin’ dark. You must have shagged it out of me.”


“Maybe you just spend so much time around humans we’re rubbing off on you.”


“Bite your tongue!” 


She stuck it out at him, then darted out before he could grab her.  Laughing, they ran through the cemetery, Spike allowing her to remain in the lead until they reached her house. As they approached the walk, he put on a burst of speed and caught her, scooping her up and carrying her up the front steps. She was still giggling at him when the door opened.


“You guys are disgusting,” Dawn said, holding the door. “Can’t you act your age?”

Chapter Twenty
 AN - 10/9/5  I hope to have this completely posted by Sunday night, so there will be at least one chapter a day for the next several days. 
While Buffy put the dishes in the dishwasher, and Joyce put the leftovers away, Spike and Dawn took over the dining room table to work on her Latin homework.

Buffy leaned in the doorway of the kitchen and watched them as they joked and bantered their way through the lesson.
She felt Joyce come up behind her and looked back over her shoulder. “He really does like Dawn, doesn’t he? I don’t think it would matter if I was around or not, Spike would still be taking care of you and Dawn.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather he did it while you are around,”Joyce said as she stroked Buffy’s hair. “But yes, I have a feeling he would. He’s not your average vampire, is he?”
“Not even close,”Buffy agreed. “Not even close.”She knew Spike had heard them by the small smile on his face as he showed Dawn where to find the word she was looking for.
Having agreed to meet Nigel and George at the Magic Box, Buffy and Spike strolled in that direction, shoulders brushing as they ambled through town.
“How long do you think they’re going to stay?”Buffy said, her tone more casual than it usually was when she mentioned Lydia.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. There really isn’t much of my history I haven’t told her; only the things I don’t want her to know.  Could keep telling stories about Angelus and the tart for a bit longer, I guess. And some things about me and Dru back in the day….”He shrugged again. “The more I tell her stories of the evil I’ve done, the more it seems like she wants to hear.”
“I told you. She’s a groupie. Like some star-struck teenager who doesn’t care what kind of a jerk her idol is, as long as she can be around him.”
“I reckon…. hey! Did you just call me a jerk?”
“Jerk, evil bloodsucker, kinda the same thing aren’t they?”
He barely smothered his growl in time to follow her through the door to the Magic Box.  Buffy was still giggling as the entered, but stopped when she saw Lydia had accompanied Nigel and George.  But the pleasant afterglow from their earlier lovemaking was enough to shake her automatic reaction and she just waved to all three watchers.
“What’s up, Giles? Anything special we should know about?”
Looking surprisingly nervous, Giles said, “Actually, yes. Two things. Separate things. In opposite parts of Sunnydale.”
She wrinkled her brow. “Okay, so we’ve got some ground to cover. What’s the big deal?”
She was surprised when Nigel answered for him. “Due to the geographical spread of the areas of concern, as well as our interest in watching you when you are on your own, we were thinking about splitting up.”When she didn’t respond, except to raise her eyebrows at Giles, Nigel continued. “George…and possibly Lydia….”His expression made it pretty obvious what he thought of that idea, but it was clear he’d lost whatever argument preceded their plans.  “They will go with Mr. Bloody, and I will accompany you.  We leave it up to you to decide which of you should handle which situation…although we will be happy to provide—”
“You’ll leave it to me to decide? That’s big of you.”Biting back what she really wanted to say, she turned to Giles. “So, what am I deciding between?”
“There is a new club down by the docks that appears to be one that welcomes both humans and demons. The humans, however, do not always emerge in the same condition they went in.”
“I take you don’t mean they go in sober and come out drunk?”
He shook his head. “No. They come out with no memory of what went on, and with multiple wounds and bruises.”
“And the other one?”She exchanged looks with Spike, but he shook his head that he’d never heard of the place.
“The other seems to be a left-over from Glory’s presence. There is a small group of her minions camping out in the woods at the foot of the hills. They have been attacking hikers and stealing their food.”
Buffy frowned. “That sounds like something I could take care of during the day. Why send me out there tonight?”
“They are now keeping the people they rob, and are selling them to the highest bidder –which they expect to be hungry vampires. The auction is tonight, according to my sources.”
Buffy and Spike exchanged looks again. “I’ll take the club, Slayer. I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on.”
“Okay.”She looked at Nigel. “Can you handle a sword?”  He gave a short nod.
“Well, let’s get our weapons then.”Buffy led the way to the training room and pointed to the swords on the wall.  “Take your pick. You’ll need to cut off their heads to kill the scabby little creatures, but you can slow them down by cutting off body parts.” 
He almost smiled as he chose three swords –one long, and two short. Buffy raised her eyebrows, but he calmly picked out a double scabbard belt and fastened it around his waist, putting one short sword in each holder.  Buffy began putting stakes in various hidden holsters around her body before choosing a sword of her own.
George and Spike stood in the door watching them. “What do we need?”George asked.
“If it’s what I think it is, you won’t be allowed in with a visible weapon.  And I already have mine,”Spike said, flashing his fangs.
“What about me?”They both turned to stare at Lydia. Spike glanced up at George, whose face was a study in frustration and anger.  The big man shrugged, muttering, “She’s the boss.”
Spike rolled his eyes, but asked her, “Do you have a gun?”  When she nodded, he said, “Bring it,”and turned back to Buffy.
“We’re all set, Slayer.”He smiled at her. “Like old times, pet. You’ll be fighting evil somewhere, and I’ll be kicking ass in a demon bar.”
“Or you’ll be getting your ass kicked,”she said, smiling back.
“Or that. But I’ve got George here to back me up.” 
Buffy met George’s steady gaze for a second, then, satisfied with what she saw there, she nodded. She ran her eyes over Lydia, but said nothing except, “Don’t get one of them hurt trying to rescue you.”
Lydia raised her chin and glared. “I am a trained watcher, you know.”
Buffy shrugged. “So is Giles, but he spends a lot of time unconscious.”
Spike’s snicker didn’t go unnoticed by the embarrassed watcher, and his glare promised eventual retribution for both Spike and Buffy.
“All right, then. Let’s go. Meet back here?”
As they approached the bar, Spike touched George on the arm. “Let them have your gun, keep your knife and stake if they don’t search you. And don’t drink what they give you. We’ll switch glasses.”
“How do you know I have a knife?”  Spike just grinned at him and George shook his head, trying to hide his smile.
“You know what’s going on here, don’t you?”Lydia said in her usual hero-worshipping tones.
“Think so. Clubs like this are pretty common in big cities.  George is going to be invited or more likely be pushed to fight one of the demons, and the spectators will bet on it.  Might be a few vamps there too, but they’ll probably be gamblin’not participating.”
They went to the door and entered, only to be met by a slender blue demon that clearly knew who Spike was.
“Spike! Didn’t expect to see you here. You can’t fight, you know. It’s all demon vs human, and you—”
“And I can’t fight the humans and I can’t fight the demons ‘cause I am one. True. But I brought a friend who wants to check out the action. We won’t get in the way.”
The other demon looked George up and down, and up again. “Whoa. There’s gonna be a lot of money on this one.”He smiled at George apologetically. “Sorry, big guy, but you need to hand over your weapons.”
George shrugged and took a gun out a shoulder holster, handing it over without more than a “Want that back.”
“Absolutely. You have Bugsy’s word. I’ll make it my own personal—”
“Quit talking and find us a place to sit,”Spike said, touching Lydia’s elbow to steer her toward and empty booth. “Or better yet, get us something to drink.”
As they sat down and waited for Bugsy to bring them drinks, the murmur of conversation that had quieted when they walked it, started back up with enthusiasm.
“Now what?”
“Now we wait until somebody volunteers to challenge you, and the betting is done. Then you have to fight him –probably there in the middle where there aren’t any tables.”
George frowned. “Seems pretty simple.”
“Could be. Could be you’ll be up against something you’ll wish you had your gun for. Don’t be afraid to use the knife. Demons don’t fight fair either.”
“And what will you be doing?”
“Cheering you on,”Spike said with a grin. “Until either you start to lose, or he cheats. That’s my excuse to join the fight.”
“I don't understand.”Lydia frowned, but scooted closer to Spike. “How is that going to shut the club down?”
Spike shrugged. “Probably won’t. But they’ll know they aren’t flying under the radar anymore and if the owner’s smart, he’ll clear out.”
Spike sipped the doctored drink he’d managed to switch with his Jack Daniels and made a face.
“Nothing. It can’t hurt me, but I can taste the drug they use to make humans forget what they saw or did. Nasty stuff.”  He watched as a muscular demon that could have almost passed for human except for his color and his tail stood up and walked to their booth.  “Show time.”
“I don’t like your looks,”the deomon said to George, who eyed him up and down.
“Not crazy about yours either, Kermit.”The demon’s expression said it wasn’t the first time he’d been compared to a frog. He reached in to grab George by the shirt, only to find his arm held in a tight grip.  “I know you weren’t going to touch me without permission,”George growled as he stood up. He was easily as tall as the demon, and almost as broad.
Afraid the fight would begin right at the table, Spike shielded an excited Lydia with his body.  George, however, was very aware that Lydia was too close for her own safety, and he shoved his opponent away from the booth, following him into the middle of the room.
Spike watched with great interest as George began to demonstrate that not only was he familiar with bar fights, but he was also a skilled boxer.
“Your boy has hidden depths,”he said to Lydia with admiration. He ignored her insistence that George was not her anything, but noticed she was watching with interest as he more than held his own against the steadily angrier demon.
The crowd was shouting now, bets and money flying back and forth as the two large foes did their best to pummel each other into submission.  When a smaller green demon began to work his way around behind George, Spike stood up.
“Time to go to work,”he said, pushing Lydia into the corner. “Stay here and keep that gun handy.”
He waited until the other demon had actually tried to trip George before grabbing it by its tail and throwing it across the bar to shatter the mirror. Immediately, someone with money on the demon, leapt at Spike and the real fight was on. 
As Spike had expected, the few humans in the place ran out as soon as the free-for-all began, as did many of the less violence-prone smaller demons. The vampires also began edging toward the exits, pausing when they saw Lydia sitting by herself. A wooden chair thrown by Spike with great accuracy and his snarled warning was enough to send them on their way. Lydia lowered her cross and went back to watching the fight.
While Spike was holding his own, the numbers were beginning to tell on him and he shouted to George, who was still pounding on his former opponent, “Little help?”
George responded by knocking his opponent unconscious and then moving to pull another off Spike’s back. Between the two of them, they had soon driven off or incapacitated everyone in the place.  Except the extremely angry owner standing behind the bar with a shotgun.
“Take your minions and get the hell out of here, Spike,”he said. “And don’t come back.”
Gesturing for Lydia and George to go to the door, Spike said, “Might have known you’d be behind this. If and when I come back, I’ll have the Slayer with me.”
“She’s not bulletproof,”the man said, as he lowered his shotgun. “Do her a favour and keep her away.”
“Got a better idea,”Spike said as he almost flew across the space between them, his speed unexpected by anyone used to mostly fledglings. He grabbed the man by the throat and began to shake him.  As he found himself holding on to something not even remotely human, Spike breathed a sigh of relief that George and Lydia hadn’t just seen him attack a human being. He began banging what he hoped was the creature’s head on the bar, waiting until the body stopped writhing before he let go. A bleary orange eye stared up at him balefully as he snarled, “Don’t ever threaten to harm the Slayer.”
Confident the badly injured demon wasn’t going to get up soon, he joined a wide-eyed Lydia and George, pausing to retrieve George’s gun from behind the bar.
“Let’s go see how the Slayer and Nigel did.”
As Buffy and Nigel approached the area where the auction was to take place, they could hear the murmur of the crowd, including the high-pitched voices of Glory’s former minions.
“What are these creatures?”Nigel asked.
Buffy shrugged. “We don’t know exactly. Not human, but not really like anything else we’ve seen before. Ugly, annoying, whiney, but in large numbers they can be hard to fight. You really need a sword or something to take their scabby little heads off.”
“Does Mr Bloody use a sword?”
“Spike? He uses whatever he needs. It’s what makes him such a good fighter. He’d rather go fists and fangs, but he’s a pretty decent hand with weapons too.”
“He is not a normal vampire, is he?”
Buffy laughed. “That’s kinda what my mom said earlier tonight while he was helping Dawn with her Latin.”
“It’s quite difficult to fathom William the Bloody, part of the Scourge of Europe, childe of Drusilla the Insane, grandchilde of Angelus….”He shook his head. “Helping a human child with her studies –and Latin, at that.”
“Giles says he thinks Spike had a pretty good education when he was human. Even if he does like to pretend he’s always been such a bad boy.”
“I believe that to be true, although he has apparently been quite cagey about what he shares with Lydia. Sticking mostly to correcting his history with Angelus and company.”
“He’s not going to tell her anything he doesn’t want her to know,”Buffy said as she pulled her sword from its scabbard on her back.  “We’re here. If you find a place to protect your back, I think you’ll be okay with the little uglies.  I’ll take care of their fangy customers.”
They peered through the foliage for a minute, noting where the humans were being held, as well as the location of any weapons.  When a vamp on the edge of the group of bidders raised his head and sniffed, turning in their direction, Buffy muttered a curse. “Damn vamp senses,”she said. “Let’s go.”
Without waiting to see what Nigel was going to do, Buffy burst out of the shrubs and began to remove heads, making no distinction between minions and vampires. Nigel followed her out and went after the minions guarding the prisoners. He quickly removed heads on three of them before being beset by two others who’d suddenly realized they were being attacked. He had no trouble disposing of them before their companions could come to the rescue, and he appeared quite calm and confident as he met their charge.
Seeing that Nigel had the minions under control, Buffy had narrowed her focus to the vampires, talking to them as she slashed her way into the small crowd. “What’s wrong with you? Too lazy to hunt for your food? What kind of vampires are you anyway?” 
It was soon obvious that many of them were the kind of vampires who chose not confront an armed slayer, and they faded back into the woods to try their luck closer to civilization. The others surrounded Buffy, but found that allowed her to spin and whirl and keep them guessing as to which one was going to suffer damage next.
In a short space of time, Buffy was alone in the middle of the clearing, only dust around her. She walked over to the prisoners, keeping one eye on Nigel who was down to a single minion and seemed to be doing fine.  She noted that he hadn’t even had to pull his two smaller swords out of their scabbards. As she slashed through the captives’bonds, she said, “Just hang tight for a minute and we’ll walk you back out.”
One man pointed to their left. “I don’t know how you got here, but there’s a road only a few hundred yards in that direction.”
“Good to know. But just in case those vamps that ran off didn’t go far, you wait for us, ‘k?”
Nigel whacked the head off his remaining opponent and joined Buffy. The expression on his face was the closest to being pleased that Buffy had yet to see. In the light of the torches around the clearing, his eyes almost gleamed. She narrowed her eyes at him.
“I’ve seen that look on Spike. You were having fun, weren’t you?”
He coughed, then shrugged. “A little,”he admitted. “One does sometimes tire of desk work.”
“Wouldn’t know,”Buffy said, suddenly serious. “Slayers don’t get to retire to desk work.”Without waiting for a response, she pointed to the man who’d said he knew where the road was. “You, get us out of here.”
Nigel stared after her as they marched off through the woods, his expression thoughtful.
“Catch up, Nigel,”she called back to him. “Some of those vamps are probably hanging around hoping for leftovers.”
No sooner had she spoken, then two vampires stepped out of the darkness and between him and the rest of the party. Cursing himself for having put his long sword away, he pulled a cross from his pocket and managed to hit one in the face with it.  The other vampire burst into a cloud of dust as Buffy lowered her throwing arm.
“Damn, that was one of my favorite stakes,”she said, stalking toward the now retreating vampire holding his burned face. “That really pisses me off.”As she caught up to the fleeing vampire, she grabbed him by the arm and began to pound on him. “That. Was. My. Favorite. Stake.”She pulled one of her other stakes out and plunged it into his chest. She watched his dust float away with a satisfied smile.
“Let’s go,”she said as if nothing had happened. “Those might not be the only two we have to take care of.”
Nigel took out one of his short swords out and followed her as she jogged to catch up to the people they’d saved.
Chapter Twenty-one
Both groups arrived at the Magic Box at the same time.  Giles watched in bemusement as Buffy and Spike tried to check each other for injury without actually seeming to be doing so, while George and Nigel waited to discuss the night’s activities until Lydia had wound down and stopped raving about how Spike had taken on an entire room full of vamps and demons.  When Buffy snorted at her hero-worshipping, Lydia whirled on her, sneering.
“He did clean out the whole bar. George helped a little bit, but you have no idea how powerful he is, or how grateful you should be that he helps you all the time.”
While Nigel rolled his eyes, Spike gave Lydia a much less kind and flirtatious response than any he’d given her to this point.
“Buffy could have cleaned out that whole place by herself,”he said curtly, using her name, rather than “the slayer”for the first time in front of Lydia. “Seen her do it.”
While Buffy gave him a smile of thanks, Lydia flinched as if he’d hit her. “But you help her,”she said weakly. “That’s why she’s lived so long, isn’t it? Because she had Angelus and now you?”
Spike turned a furious glare on Giles. “What kind of bollocks have you been feeding these people?”
Surprisingly, it was Nigel who stepped forward and tentatively touched Spike’s rigid arm.
“We all know better,”he said in a low voice. “As I’m sure you have figured out, Ms Chalmers’ideas are heavily influenced by her interest in you. Trust me, there is no one on the Council who is unaware of Ms Summer’s abilities and history. And after tonight, I will have my own observations to add.”
Spike relaxed and gave him a short nod. “Sorry,”he said. “I’m a bit touchy about how the Council has treated her.”
“Understood.”Nigel gave a tight smile. “You appear to be each other’s primary supporters. An interesting relationship for a vampire and a slayer.”
“Not like everybody else, are we?”Spike said, trying to end the conversation before it became necessary to outright lie about Buffy and his feelings for her.
“No. No you are not. And neither is Ms Summers.”
Before the conversation could go any more downhill, Giles stepped in.  “If someone who was actually a participant in the night’s adventures would be so kind as to give me a report…” 
Buffy gave him a thankful smile and spoke up:  “Sorry, Giles. Ours is easy –we came, we saw, we kicked butt and walked the survivors back to civilization. Nigel got…”She cocked an eyebrow at him and he held up five fingers, twice.  “He got ten of the little scabby guys, I got a few of them and a bunch of stupid vampires.”
“Stupid vampires?”
“Well, yeah. The smart ones took off when they saw me. It’s enough to give a girl a complex.”  Her grin showed exactly how not bothered she was by the fact the vampires were afraid of her.
“Right. Of course they did.”He almost rolled his eyes at her posturing, but seeing her happy and making jokes after the drama of the past several weeks was too rewarding.  He turned his attention to Nigel. “I don’t suppose you have anything more specific than ‘a bunch of vampires’?”
Nigel gave a small smile. “I do, actually, but it can wait.”He gazed at Giles for a few seconds. “May I ask why, given your retired status, you continue to keep records on Ms Summers?”
Retired. What an amusing way to put it,”Giles said with a grimace. “The habits of a lifetime, I suppose. I observe and record. The fact that I have no official status, and that Buffy is not even technically the current slayer—”
Surprised exclamations from all three watchers had Giles and Buffy exchanging silent messages.  When Giles raised his eyebrows in question, she thought for a second, then shrugged. “Why not? It’s not like it’s any kind of secret from their bosses.”
Giles met Nigel’s frown with a small smile. “I suggest we meet tomorrow morning to go over a few things you apparently don’t know about Buffy and Sunnydale.”
That settled for the time being, he turned to Spike. “Based on your appearance, it would appear that you wreaked some havoc upon the establishment in question?”
Spike looked down at his ripped and bloody clothing and grinned. “It was a bit of alright,”he said. “Don’t expect they’ll be opening again anytime soon, right, George?”
The big man tried to hide his grin as he nodded his head. “It was a very successful mission,”he managed to say seriously before the grin widened. “We make a good team.”
“One of the better bar fights I’ve been in recently,”Spike agreed. “You don’t hog all the action like the Slayer does.”
“’s true, pet. You know it is. Does the word ‘mine!’ring a bell?”
“Yes, it does, Pot.”
“Touché, Kettle.”
That settled, they started to sit down together before remembering who else was in the room. With a sigh, Spike went to the back of the room to lean against the shelves of books.  Lydia immediately walked back to join him while Nigel and George sat down at the table with Buffy and Giles.
“If this was a Scooby meeting, we’d be ordering pizza about now,”Buffy said.
“Scooby meeting?”
“Yeah, you know, Scooby Doo, big dog, blond girl, smart redhead, goofy regular guy…Never mind. You had to be there. I just meant if my friends were all here, we’d be eating by now.”
“Oh. Well…I could eat.”George glanced at Nigel who shook his head.
“We should get back to the hotel and do our own write ups of tonight’s events.  I’m hoping Ms Chalmers –Lydia –  can wrap up her interviews with Spike tomorrow and we can return to our normal activities soon.”
Buffy looked back to where Spike had gone back to flirting with Lydia, apparently trying to make up for snapping at her about Buffy. She rolled her eyes, but managed not to say what she was thinking about Lydia’s IQ.
“I should get home,”she said. “My mother is still recovering and I don’t like to be gone all day and all night.”
“Of course you should,”Nigel said. “And we should return to our hotel.”  He glanced at Giles who was smothering a yawn. “Do you always wait up here for your—Ms Summers to return from her evening patrols?”
Giles shook his head. “No, she normally only reports in when something unusual has happened. And she comes to my home, not here. But tonight was a bit different with having two missions to accomplish and two different sets of…accomplishers.”
“So the vampire doesn’t usually report to you?”
“Spike doesn’t report to anyone,”Giles snorted. “But he does often accompany Buffy on patrol, and comes with her if she feels it necessary or if he has any insights to offer. Any visits to my home on his own generally involve helping himself to my scotch, not providing information.”  Spike sent a rude British gesture at Giles without even pausing in his flirting with Lydia.
“And yet, he came to you with information about Glorificus and her host.”
“He did. It was important information to have and very useful to us.”
“One has to wonder why he has been so helpful….”
“I believe he answered that for you the first night you were here,”Giles said curtly. “If you want more detail, why not ask him again?”
Buffy made a fist on the table. “Is there something you’re trying to say, Nigel?”
Nigel met her glare and shook his head. “No. Not at all. I’m just trying to be clear on why this vampire—harmless to humans and fond of her family or not—is risking his own life to help a slayer.”
Buffy looked at Spike who shook his head and said something to Lydia, then pushed away from the shelves and joined them at the table, taking the vacant chair next to Buffy. Visibly pouting, Lydia sat herself onto the only remaining empty chair and crossed her arms over her chest.
Spike met Nigel’s curious gaze and said simply, “Buffy’s family, including her, is important to me. Her mum has always been kind to me…well, except for the axe incident, but she had bloody good reason for that….”He shook himself back to the present. “Joyce has always treated me as a person, even when she probably shouldn’t have. And the Bit reminds me of my own…. Never mind. Point is, I don’t want anything to happen to any of them if I can do something to prevent it.”
Buffy, Giles, and Spike sat on their side of the table and stared at the people on the other side. Neither group spoke until Nigel stood up.  “Well, as we’ve already said, it’s late, and we should all go to our respective homes for the night. We can continue this discussion tomorrow while Mr. Bl-Spike is sleeping.”
Lydia stood up also, smiling at Spike as she said. “Yes. We all need our sleep. I’ll see you again tomorrow, William.”
He winked at her, but made no comment as they said their goodnights and filed out.
“Should we walk them back?”Buffy didn’t sound very inclined to do it, but asked Giles anyway.
“I think not. It seems both Nigel and George acquit themselves competently tonight. I’m sure they will be able to make their way back to their hotel safely.”
“They’ll be fine,”Spike said. “Don’t know about Nigel, but I’d let George watch my back anytime.”
“Nigel’s no slouch. I let him take the short swords with him, so between George’s stakes and those, Lydia should be perfectly safe.”
“Speaking of safe…”Spike cocked his head at Giles. “Need an escort Rupert?”
“Only to my car,”he replied. “It’s parked in the alley.”
“Right then. Let’s go.”Spike stood up and offered Buffy his hand. Without looking to see Giles’s reaction, she took it and let him pull her up. They waited while Giles locked up and turned out the lights, standing together at the rear of the store.  As soon as he joined them, they stepped into the alley and used their senses to check it for possible danger.
“Something’s here,”Buffy said, making no attempt to be quiet. “I can feel vamp vibes and they aren’t from you.”She pulled out a stake and moved away from the doorway. As she did, a shadow broke away from another store’s loading dock and bolted down the alley, disappearing into the deeper shadows until even Spike could no longer hear the footsteps.
“Well, that was disappointing,”Spike said. “What a wanker.”
“Why does everybody run away from me?”Buffy asked with mock sincerity.
“Because they don’t know you like I do, love,”Spike said, putting an arm around her.
“I’m not sure how to take that.”  She poked him and watched as Giles unlocked his car and got in –after carefully checking the back seat.  They stood, side-by-side, as he pulled away after wishing them a good evening.
“Kinda past evening, isn’t it?”
Spike nodded. “More like almost tomorrow,”he agreed.  “Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
Buffy hesitated. “When I said I had to go home…I kinda lied. Mom isn’t really expecting me till the morning.”
“Is that so?”He pulled her close and began to nibble on her neck. “Whatever will you do with the rest of the night?”
“I was hoping you might have some idea where I could…sleep.”
“Can’t promise how much sleep you’ll get, but I do know where there’s a comfy bed….”
As Spike dropped the bar across the door, he said, “I’m not sure we’re fooling anybody any more. George knows for sure, and Nigel isn’t stupid.”
“No,”she sighed. “I don’t think anybody’s out of the loop –except your damn groupie. She doesn’t get it.”
Spike smiled at her. “I think she’s trying to pretend it isn’t true. As long as nobody says it out loud, she can tell herself she’s got a chance.”
“She’s got a chance she’ll be punched out,”Buffy said, but she was smiling as she said it.
“That’s all she’s got a chance for,”he said, pulling her into an embrace. “That’s all she’ll ever have a chance for. Got my girl and I’m not interested in any other bints.”
“Ummm,”she murmured, running her hands under his shirt. “Good thing. I think your girl’s kind of the jealous type.”
“Got that message,”he agreed, shrugging off his tee-shirt and pulling her sweater over her head. “This is pretty…. let’s take it off,”he said, sucking on one lace-covered nipple. Buffy giggled and slipped out of the bra that he’d already unhooked.  
They fell onto the couch, kissing and touching as though they hadn’t been alone in days, rather than only several hours.  Spike worked his way down Buffy’s body, pushing her jeans down as he followed them with his mouth and tongue. When he couldn’t move any farther, he paused and shifted to kneel on the floor. Buffy opened her eyes and raised her head. “You stopped.”
“Just for a second, love. I promise. I’m thinking we should take it downstairs.”
“Later,”she said firmly, wriggling her hips. “You were just getting to the interesting part.”
He pulled her around so that her legs were on either side of his shoulders. “They’re all interesting parts, pet, but I’m guessin’you were talking about this one…right…here.”
Buffy’s shrieked agreement and the way she began moving her hips were the answers he was looking for and he smiled as he went to work, using his hand to hold her still. It didn’t take long for her to whimper her way to boneless satisfaction, and he lowered her gently to the couch before leaning back to take off his boots.
“You still have your pants on,”she said, gesturing weakly. “Why is that?”She peered over the edge of the couch.  “Lie down and let me fix that for you.”
She rolled off, landing on his outstretched arm and reaching for his zipper. “Let’s see if I can remember where we left off the other night….”
Chapter Twenty-two
“What time do you think it is?”  Buffy absently traced her finger around Spike’s nipple, smiling when it popped up.  She kissed the little peak and then reached across him to do the same to the other one. He opened one eye to peer at her.
“Don’t start something you don’t plan to finish, there, Slayer. It’s close to daylight, so early morning?”
“I wasn’t really trying to start anything.”She yawned and stretched, groaning in pleasure at the minor aches she felt.  “I was just having fun with you.”She sat up, smiling at his automatic ogle when the sheet slid down to her lap.  “I should probably go home and get dressed. Not in that order.”
“Or,”he said, pulling her down on top of him. “You could just plan to spend the day here with me and we could go back to sleep.”
“Sleep? Is that what you want?”She giggled as she let her legs drop open. “I think at least one body part isn’t interested in sleeping.”
“That part doesn’t recognize the difference between night and day,”he purred, pulling her closer. “When you’re around, it’s always awake.”
“I really should go….”
“Nobody will be up yet at your house. And didn’t you say Mum wasn’t expecting you home?”
“Yeah,”she wriggled against him, letting him slide easily into her. “That was definitely the vibe I got. I don’t think she was happy about it, but she kinda expected it.”
“Brilliant woman, your mum,”he said as they began moving together, their bodies already familiar with when and how to move for the best result. “We definitely have time to make it a good morning.”
He rolled her over, smiling at the way she wrapped her arms and legs around him as if they’d been making love for years. In what seemed only moments, she was clutching him and crying out as they came to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.
“Wow”Buffy relaxed, but kept her arms and legs around him, letting her legs slide down to wrap around his so they were pressed together head to toe. “Was that a quickie?”
She felt his chest vibrate under her cheek as he chuckled.
“Was. I can be quick when I have to…I can be slow, too…”
Feeling him begin to swell within her, Buffy unwrapped her legs, rolled to the side, and began pushing herself away.
“Oh no, you don’t. I need to go home, take a shower…maybe a nap…”
He laughed and let her up. “Okay, love. You could join me in the shower here, but it’s only cold water.”
She shivered and pulled the covers around her.  “No thanks!”
“If you think you’ll be here often enough to need it to be warmer, I’ll work on it this week. Maybe get a space heater too.”He stood up.  “Be right back.”
Buffy watched as he walked a short distance into the tunnel, admiring the way the muscles in his butt flexed with each step.  She heard the sound of running water, and then he was back, drying off with a small towel. She laughed at the wet curls on his head, earning herself an insincere glare. 
“My clothes are all upstairs, aren’t they?”she grumbled as she threw off the sheets and stood up. 
“So are mine. I’ll get them.”  Carrying the towel and rubbing his wet hair, he went up the ladder and began searching for their clothes.
“What the—?”  He glanced at the door which was being knocked on quite vigorously. “Who’s here at this hour of the morning…. and why the bloody hell are they expecting to walk right in?”he added as he saw the door being pushed against the bar holding it closed.
 “It might be Dawn. Maybe something happened to Mom. Throw my clothes down!”Buffy ran to the bottom of the ladder and held up her hands.
“Here you are, pet.”He tossed her jeans, shirt, and bra down the steps, but held her underwear to his nose until she said, “And my panties, you pervert!” before laughing and dropping them to her.
Meanwhile, whoever was at the door was continuing to pound, and he growled as he pulled on his own jeans.
“Keep your knickers on!”
Without fastening the top button, he strode to the door, towel in hand, chest and feet bare and wet hair curling over his forehead.  The pounding hadn’t let up and he was snarling as he pulled the door open.
“This better be bloody important, Bit—Lydia? What are you doing here at this hour?”
She didn’t answer immediately, giving him time to notice that her hair was loosely brushed and hanging down her back, her usually buttoned to the top blouse was open far enough for him to see that she wasn’t wearing a bra, and her normally covered legs were bare beneath her skirt. She shivered as she stared at him, whether from the sight of half-naked Spike or the morning chill, he wasn’t sure.
“What are you doing here? Is something wrong? Where are George and Nigel?”He peered outside, realizing that the morning was more advanced than he’d guessed, and seeing no sign of her bodyguards.
“I got out before they were up,”she said proudly.  “Aren’t you doing to ask me in?”
As she spoke, Spike heard another heartbeat and saw Nigel coming toward them from behind a near-by tombstone. The watcher shook his head and mouthed “I’m sorry”as he came closer to the crypt.
“Spike? Aren’t you going to ask me in? It’s chilly out here.”
“Really not a good idea just now, pet.  If you’re cold, why don’t you go back and get the rest of your clothes?”
“Why isn’t it a good idea? You’re obviously awake and—”
“I’m not dressed for company, luv. Really think you should just—”He beckoned Nigel to come closer.
“Nonsense. I’m a grown woman, and as well as we know each other, I’m certainly all right with seeing you undressed….”
Lydia, who hadn’t taken her eyes off his bare chest and abdomen, never noticed his gesture, nor that he was looking past her.  She pushed the door open and walked in past him. When she went to close the door, Spike grabbed it, holding it open. “No, let’s let some of this fresh morning air in here. Clean out the cobwebs, so to speak.”He made eye contact with Nigel, the panic on his face more than clear. Nigel jogged up to the crypt and stood in the doorway.
“Lydia. This is inappropriate behaviour. Come out this instant.”
She whirled around, dismay on her face. “What are you doing here?”
“Trying to keep you from making a fool of yourself,”he said curtly. “Now let’s go.”
“No. William has invited me in, so I’m just going to visit for a while. You can go.”
“He did not invite you. You have pushed your way into his home at what is an ungodly hour for a vampire. Please remember who you are.”
Lydia ignored him, approaching Spike without taking her eyes off his bare chest. “You don’t mind that I'm here, do you, William? We can continue our conversation from yesterday—”One hand reached tentatively toward the skin she couldn’t seem to look away from, and Spike grabbed her wrist.
“Spike, did I leave my—What the hell is she doing here?”
Buffy emerged from the bedroom level to find the two watchers and Spike frozen in place. As she came all the way up into the room, she took a long, hard look at Lydia, noting the barely hidden breasts and long hair. Telling herself there was no way Spike had been expecting Lydia at his door this early, Buffy took a deep breath and calmed her urge to kill somebody.
“Where are my socks and boots?”she said as casually as she could manage through gritted teeth. “Oh, here they are. Where we left them.”Satisfied she’d made her point, Buffy picked up her things and sat down to put them on.
“What is she doing here?”Lydia’s question echoed Buffy’s as she glared at the barefoot slayer.  “Oh my God. Did she stay here last night? How incredibly inconsiderate of her.”Her eyes fell upon Spike’s tee-shirt on the arm of the sofa. “She made you sleep up here so she could use your bed? How typical of her behaviour around you.”Spike had dropped her wrist as soon as she stopped trying to touch him, and he stepped back a safer distance.
Torn between indignation at Lydia’s refusal to believe what she was seeing, and dismay that Nigel was watching the scene with much less delusional eyes, Buffy began to put on her socks. She ignored Lydia’s babbling until she had her boots on, then glared at Spike –who had yet to speak –picked up his tee-shirt, walked over to him, and threw it at his face.
“Get your clothes on and fix this!”she ordered, before putting her chin in the air and stalking past both watchers and out the door into the sunshine, leaving Spike holding his shirt as he stared after her.
Nigel moved forward and tried to take Lydia’s arm. “We need to leave. This does not concern us.”
“It most certainly does concern us. That…woman…is a slayer. And clearly she is using her position and William’s inability to fight back to coerce him into doing her bidding. Making him drive her friends and family around, risk his own life fighting against his own kind, and now kicking him out of his own bed…”
“She didn’t kick me out.”Spike had pulled on his shirt and finished fastening his pants.
Lydia’s mouth opened and closed as she shook Nigel’s hand off her arm. “You mean you…she…Oh my God. It’s worse than I thought. She’s using sexual favors to bribe you to help her. Or, worse yet, she’s forcing you to—”
Spike looked helplessly at Nigel, who shrugged and made hand-washing motions.  Spike sighed deeply and took Lydia by the shoulders, being sure to hold her out at arm’s length as her eyes went back to his now-covered chest. He shook her gently until she raised them to meet his steady gaze.
“I help her because I’m in love with her,”he said, slowly and distinctly. “Have been for longer than I care to admit. We hid our relationship—”He rolled his eyes when Nigel coughed vigorously. “Prob’ly could’ve done a better job of it, now that I think on it…”He growled and continued, “Be that as it may, we tried to hide it because Rupert thinks the Council needs to get used to the idea of me as a trusted friend and co-fighter against evil, before they learn that the Slayer –Buffy –has another vampire in her life…romantically speaking.”
“But you…me…we…”She pulled her shirt collar around her neck as reality began to set in and her years of observation training began to overcome the willing denial she’d had in place since arriving in Sunnydale.
“I flirt with you, Lydia. And I call you ‘pet’and ‘luv’because that’s what I do with pretty birds. It’s who I am around women. Nobody takes me seriously. And I spend time with you because that’s why you’re here and I’m trying to help. But I’m a one-woman man and always have been. You know my history. I was with Dru for well over a hundred years.”He shook his head and released her shoulders. “She knew I was in love with Buffy before I did. It’s why she left me.” 
Lydia’s expression went from shocked and crushed to that of a watcher making mental note of new facts and back again almost too quickly for them to be sure they’d seen it. But Spike was confident she’d just added that new information to her final report.
She pulled away from his hands, still clutching the neckline of her blouse.  Without another word, she whirled and bolted past Nigel and out into the bright sun.
Spike and Nigel made eye contact again. “Well that…. didn’t exactly go well, but it could have been much worse, I suppose.”
“Could’ve. Think we should all be grateful that Buffy doesn’t kill or harm humans. That’s the only thing that’s held her in check this week.”He gave Nigel a tight smile. “She doesn’t share well.”
Nigel sighed and nodded. “That actually explains quite a bit of her behaviour this week.”
“She’s been a bit stressed,”Spike agreed. “Coming on top of almost dying, her mum’s surgery, the big lump she’d been seeing rejecting her slayer side and leaving town—”
“Wait –she’d been seeing someone else? But you said you…”
“Said Id been in love with her for years. Didn’t say she reciprocated. She had no idea how I felt about her until the staking. And then there was her mum, and Glory…near-death experiences can bring you closer together pretty quickly, and the Slayer and I have had more than our share lately.”
“That’s why the Council knew nothing about this.”
Spike nodded. “There was nothing to know until a week or so ago. And we’ve been too busy since then to be making big announcements about it. Still sorting it out ourselves, truth be told. It’s a bit of unexplored territory, innit? Unsouled vamp and slayer?”
Nigel smiled and shook his head.  “I guess it is.  I’ll just be getting back to the hotel then. I imagine Lydia will be willing to leave, now that her illusions about her relationship with William the Bloody have been destroyed.”
“It was Rupert’s idea that I be…nicer…than I might have been. He thought it important that she like me. Didn’t mean to hurt her,”Spike said. “I hope she knows that.”
“She’ll figure it out eventually. She came here already prepared to be enamored of you, but the flirting didn’t help…and it didn’t make George very happy…”Nigel raised an eyebrow and Spike nodded.
“I know.  I think we reached an understanding. He seems a very patient man. Sooner or later, she’ll see what’s right under her nose.”
“I’d like to think so. They are good people with the potential to produce more watchers with brains and skills.”He cleared his throat as if wishing he could take back that little piece of information about the Council’s interest in its employees, then moved on. “Anyway, what’s done is done. It was her own foolishness that made her so susceptible to the flattery of a potentially deadly vampire. An important lesson learned, I hope.”
Spike studied Nigel for a moment. “Something tells me you aren’t just here as extra muscle.”
“I’ve no idea what you mean,”Nigel said, his face impassive, although his yes almost had a twinkle. “I’m merely the bodyguard you both recognized as the one you needed to worry about first.”
“And I suspect we were more right than we knew,”Spike responded, reminding himself to share his new suspicions with Buffy and Giles.
“Well, I’ll just be going, and let you go back to your…sleep.”
“I’m up now. May as well check in at casa Summers and see if I’m still welcome there.”
Nigel raised his eyebrows and pointed to the bright sunlight outside.
Spike laughed, and sat down to put on his boots.  “Next trip, remind me to take you on a tour of Sunnydale’s tunnel and sewer system. I can go pretty much wherever I need to as long as I have something to cover my head, a close-by manhole, or an easily opened basement.”
Nigel nodded and studied Spike in turn. “Something tells me it’s a very good thing you are on our side.”
Spike looked up, saying with perfect seriousness, “I’m on her side. Never forget that. Haven’t lost my taste for human blood or the chase. But have too much reason not to indulge it now.”
“And a chip in your head.”
“And that.”Spike smiled at him, doing his best to appear harmless in front of this man he was just beginning to realize they may have underestimated.
The meeting in the Magic Box later in the morning was relatively short. Giles filled the three curious watchers in on Buffy’s short demise years ago, and the fact that it had sent the slayer succession line in another direction. Nigel nodded that he’d known some of it, but he had no idea that Faith was incarcerated only a few hours away.
“I’d assumed she was a glitch of some sort, and had been killed fairly early, sending the line back to Buffy, where it belongs.”
“I’m quite sure Travers knows exactly where Faith is, but as long as Buffy continues to do the job of the Slayer and keeps the hellmouth from ending the world every spring, they have no reason to see that Faith—”
He paused and looked at the three sets of eyes watching him. Lydia and George’s showed only curiosity about his next words, but Nigel’s held a warning. Giles met his gaze, then nodded, changing in midstream. “…. they have no reason to try to arrange her release. She did, in fact, commit murder and deserves to suffer the consequences.”
“So the line will not go on if something happens to Buffy?”  George seemed to be trying to absorb the idea that Buffy was a slayer, but not the one intended to be active.”
“I must assume not. If that happens, Faith then becomes the only active slayer on the planet.”
“Which, to some extent, makes it even odder that you are still keeping records on Buffy’s activities,”Lydia said dismissively. “She’s not the current slayer, so why keep records?”
Giles did his best not to lose his temper as he struggled to answer her implication.
“It is even more important that I keep records of a slayer who has died once, and yet continues to serve –preventing, at last count, four separate apocalypses. In addition to her normal evening patrols where she turns uncounted numbers of vampires to dust and sends countless demons to wherever it is that demons go when they’ve been beheaded. I believe it is worth recording these things.”
“She’s been the Slayer for quite some time, has she not?”Nigel said thoughtfully. “She may well be on her way to setting the record for longevity.”
“That would be my sincere hope,”Giles said.
“And Spike’s”George added softly.
“Yes. I believe that to be so. With a master vampire of Spike’s experience and skill watching her back, I’m hoping she will continue to survive her nightly duties for a long time to come.”
“Wasn’t she somewhat involved with another old vampire when she was younger? Angelus, if I remember correctly?”
“She was,”Giles said shortly. “Angel, as he now calls himself, had been cursed with a soul many years ago. After almost a century of existing on the edges of society, feeding on animals and being generally useless, Angel was persuaded to move to Sunnydale to assist Buffy when she arrived. He was of some help to her from time to time –more in the nature of providing information than anything else –but they unfortunately developed a romantic relationship. Totally inappropriate, of course, with her being so young, but apparently fairly typical of Angel when he was human. There were…circumstances…that caused the soul to be lost. A loophole in the original curse, as it were. It was a trying time for everyone…”He shut his eyes and clenched his jaw momentarily. “Angelus had planned to end the world by opening a portal for Acathla.  To our surprise, Spike, whom Buffy thought she’d killed in a fire only to find he was crippled instead, came to her offering to help stop Angelus.”
At the surprised murmurs, he nodded. “Yes. Although they were enemies at the time, and had fought each other to a draw more than once, they worked together in this instance. Spike’s primary motivation was to tear his sire away from her devotion to Angelus, as well as to save the world he enjoys from destruction. To make a long story short, with Spike’s assistance, Buffy was able to prevent Acathla from opening –at great personal cost to herself, I might add –and Angel was lost.  The Powers That Be apparently felt he could still be useful here on earth, and returned him, soul intact, from the hell dimension to which he’d been taken by Acathla.
“He and Buffy were unable to recreate quite the same relationship they had before he lost his soul, and he chose to move to Los Angeles and continue his quest for redemption there. The whole situation did not end well, and caused Buffy much heartache.”
“Then, why on earth is she taking up with another vampire? And one related to the one that hurt her so badly? Won’t this go just as poorly for her?”
Giles gave a grim smile. “As Spike will be the first to tell you, over and over if necessary, he is nothing like his grandsire. He has no soul to lose, and he has incredible self control when it comes to his demon. As I understand it from a short conversation with one of the Initiative’s people, Spike was the first vampire they tried the chip on that could actually control his need to feed. The chip prevented others from harming humans, but left them writhing helplessly from its reaction to their desire to do so. Spike was able to control his demon well enough not to set the chip off unless he was actually trying to harm somebody.”
“This is information that should be in my paper!”Lydia said. When they all stared at her, she flushed. “Well, it would have been pointless to come here to interview William if I weren’t planning a follow-up to my thesis.”Very reluctantly, she asked Giles, “Unless, of course, you have already—”
“I have kept extensive records on William the Bloody since he first arrived in Sunnydale. However, they, and my records on Buffy’s nightly activities, are my own personal journals that will only be seen in the event of my death. If then. Feel free to use whatever information you have obtained during your visit.”
“Excellent! Are we ready to go then?”  She beamed at Nigel and George, already on her feet, and as quickly as that, the visit was over.  Giles promised to give Nigel’s and George’s regards to Spike and Buffy as he watched them follow Lydia out of the shop.
When Spike, smoking and swearing, burst through the kitchen door, no one seemed surprised to see him. 
“Thanks for leaving that door unlocked, Joyce,”he said, smiling at her. “Not sure how my blanket would have held up if I’d had to be out there any longer.”
“Buffy unlocked it,”Joyce said. “She seemed to think you might be needing it.”
He looked at Buffy, who was studying her plate of pancakes.
“She did, did she?”he said, moving closer to her. She still ignored his presence, pretending to be very interested in the designs she was making in her syrup. “Does that mean I’m forgiven for…”He remembered where they were and who was listening. “For that thing that happened that wasn’t remotely my fault and that I had no control over?”
She peeked up at him, then stared back at her pancakes. “So did you find a way to control it?”
“Think so. Nigel seems to think it’s all sorted now.”
“And he’s okay with it?”
“Seems to be.”
“So we can stop pretending?”
“Don’t think we were foolin’anybody, pet. Lydia was fooling herself, but even she’s up to speed now. That’s everybody, ‘cept maybe Harris. He lives in the same river Ms Chalmers swims in.”
Buffy snickered. “I’m pretty sure Anya will straighten him out, if she hasn’t already.”
“So, we’re alright then?”
She sighed. “We’re fine. I know you didn’t have anything to do with that…. situation. I just had to get out of there before I broke my rule about killing humans.”
“What are we missing?”Joyce’s question was on the heels of Dawn’s “What don’t we know?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”Buffy put her bowl in the sink. “Do we still have any blood in the freezer?”As she spoke, she went to look and pulled out a container of pig blood. Without asking Spike if he was hungry, she put it in the microwave and turned it on.
“So, what’s the plan for today?”Joyce was helping Dawn with her backpack and walking her to the door.
“I’m going to school. You probably don’t want to know what they’re going to do,”Dawn said, laughing and bolting out the door before Buffy could get to her.
Joyce smiled at Buffy’s flaming face, and Spike’s sudden interest in getting his blood from the microwave, then heaved a sigh.
“If I can speak seriously for just a moment,”she began, noticing how they each stiffened. She shook her head. “I have no intention of telling you what to do, I just want to know that you’ve both given this…whatever it turns out to be…as much thought as possible. I’m no longer as naïve about Buffy’s calling as I was when I was sure she was throwing her life away with Angel—“She smiled at Spike’s automatic growl.  “And I do understand that a normal life is probably not possible for her. At least not one that involves marrying a normal human man and having normal grandchildren for me. And, even as my heart breaks for her, the advantages of having someone in her life who understands it and can help her survive long enough to live it, is not something I’m foolish enough to reject. I just want to know that she is in this for the right reasons.”
Joyce turned her gaze on Spike. “I know you love her. I’ve been able to see that for a long time. But I don’t know if—”
“Mom!”  Spike touched Buffy’s arm to stop her complaint. “Let her talk, love. You need to think about what she’s saying.”
“She’s saying I’m only with you because it’s easier than having a human man in my life and because you can fight with me.”
“A fair thought, Buffy. But, unlike your mum…”He smiled at Joyce. “I don’t think you have to love me back, not just yet. Don’t really expect it. I’m a monster. You, the Bit, and Joyce treat me like a man, but I know what I am. And it isn’t something The Chosen One should be in love with. I’ve made my peace with that. You don’t have to love me for us to be together.”
“What if I do?”Buffy said softly, once more staring at the counter in front of her. 
Joyce tiptoed from the kitchen as Spike asked, “Do what? Want us to be together? Was kind of hopin’that’s where we are now.”
“No.”Buffy raised her eyes to his. “What if I do love you?”
He grew very still. “You don’t have to say that.”
“But what if I do? Why are you so sure….”
In a position that was becoming familiar to them both, he dropped to the floor in front of her, his head tilted back so he could look up at her face. He took her hands in his as he spoke.
“I’m sure because it took me a long time to get here –even allowing for my not realizing it right away, it still took a good while. I didn’t fall in love with you the first time I saw you.”He gave a small grin. “Lust, maybe. Can’t deny that, but loving you took some time. Time I had to watch you, to learn who Buffy Summers is and why she should be loved.”
He paused and stood up, pulling her to her feet.  “There’s nothing about our history until just recently that’s given you any reason to have feelings for me that aren’t due to a spell gone wrong. If you think you could…someday…I would do my best to see you never regret it.  But I don’t expect you to suddenly decide you love me just because I love you.”He gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Trust me when I tell you, if you never do, you won’t be the first woman in my life to feel that way.”
Buffy’s lip came out in a pout. “What if I want to love you?”
“Wantin’and doin’aren’t the same thing. Don’t worry about it. Give it time. You’ll either fall in love or you won’t.”He wiggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated leer. “Either way, I’ll be around to remind of what you’ll be missing if you don’t.”  He whispered in her ear. “Could remind you now, if we can find some privacy…”
She giggled and pushed him away. “Behave. We’re in my mother’s kitchen.”She raised an arch eyebrow.  “Anyway, there are some parts of you I’m already pretty crazy about…you don’t need to keep reminding me.”
“It’s not exactly hard work, you know. Reminding you all the time….”
“Well…. maybe we should plan for you to remind me every day. I’ll let you know when you’ve done it often enough that I’m sure I’ll remember what I won’t have if you go away.”
“Ready when you are,”he said. “Just say when.”
Buffy laughed and shook her head.  “Drink your breakfast.  I’m going to get changed and help Mom with the house a little bit.”She hesitated. “You could stay here, or sleep downstairs, or….”
He set his now-empty mug down and shook his head. Taking her hands in his and bringing them to his lips, he said, “Or I could take myself out of here and let you and your mum have some time together.”
Buffy nodded and squeezed his hands. “Have I told you how much I appreciate it that you don’t try to smother me?”
He chuckled. “Not stupid, pet. And I got to watch how you react to that sort of treatment right up close. I know better. Want to be with you all the time, make no mistake about that, but only if and when you want me there.”
“Who are you and what have you done with Spike? Blond guy, about your size, used to live to make my life miserable?”
“If I was willing to admit it, I’d probably say a lot of that was me behaving like a kid who pulls the girl’s pigtails because he doesn’t know how to get her attention any other way.”
“If you were willing to admit it?”
“Which I’m not. Nope. No attention getting here. Just trying to bag another slayer.”
“By driving her crazy?”
“Hey! When they pulled my fangs, I had to do something, didn’t I?”
They stood in the kitchen, smiling at each other until Joyce came back in to ask, “If you’ve settled things, do you think we could start on the cleaning?”
“That’s my cue to take my manly self elsewhere. Good job that your daughter is super strong and you don’t need me to hang around for the heavy lifting.”Spike picked up his mug and set it in the sink, filling it with water before putting the blanket over his head.  “I’ll catch up with you tonight, Buffy.  Scooby meeting?”
“I guess so. Probably around 7:30? So we can get a patrol in?”
“Got it. Take it easy today, Joyce. Make her do all the work.”He waved at them and was out the door and out of sight before Buffy could respond.
“Isn’t that dangerous? Running around in the daytime?”
Buffy shrugged. “It is, but he’s been doing it for a long time, so I guess he knows his limits. I’m not worried.”
Joyce gave a small smile. “But you would be if you didn’t think he’d be fine.”
Buffy sighed. “I’d be terrified,”she admitted, then raised her eyes to Joyce’s. “Do you think that means I love him?”
“Only you can answer that question, honey. But it says he’s become very important to you. And that’s a good start.”
“It is, isn’t it?”Buffy smiled and stretched. “Okay, let me at that vacuum cleaner.”
The End.