Beta'd by the incomparable BarbC (rahirah)!
The judge glanced at Buffy, tapped the papers before her with her forefinger, and then looked at the plaintiff's attorney with raised eyebrows. The attorney nodded. The judge shrugged and turned again to Buffy, who stood with her head bowed.
It was stifling in the courtroom. The old radiators gave off too much heat for the Southern California afternoon, no doubt pumping away because it was technically still winter. Sunlight fought its way through the dusty, Mission-Revival windows, making the room marginally less murky. As the judge began to speak, Buffy raised her eyes to the bench.
“Ms. Summers, I understand that there were mitigating circumstances, but since no one was able to produce the woman you say caused the damage to the examination room, the court has no option but to find for the plaintiff, Sunnydale Memorial Hospital.”
Buffy nodded and made a visible effort to stand straighter, though her shoulders still drooped.
“However, the court is pleased to convey that, in lieu of a monetary settlement, the plaintiff requests restitution in the form of community service.” Buffy blinked. “I trust this will conclude the matter satisfactorily for all parties.”
“Y-yes, your honor,” said Buffy.
“Thank you, your honor,” said the plaintiff's attorney.
“You are hereby ordered to report to the plaintiff's community outreach department tomorrow to begin your service. This service shall not exceed twenty hours in a week, nor last longer than ten weeks.”
The judge banged her gavel and rose to her feet. The bailiff cried, “All rise!” and everyone rose to their feet as the judge swept out.
Spike opened the little gate from the observation area stepped through to shake hands with Buffy's attorney, who looked a little shell-shocked. Buffy remembered her manners and gave the man's hand a careful shake as well. The opposing attorney nodded pleasantly in their direction.
“Well, pet, didn't go too badly,” said Spike. “Your mum will be pleased.”
Buffy shook her head. “I guess. I just...I mean, it's one more thing. Mom's still recuperating from her surgery, Dawn's still freaking out, I've got slaying, mid-terms, and,” she lowered her voice “we're not sure that Glory woman isn't coming back.” She resumed her normal tone. “On top of all that, now I have to wear an orange jumpsuit.” She sighed.
Spike bumped her shoulder with his. “Buck up, Slayer. Triumphing over disasters is what you do. Even fashion disasters.”
Buffy wrinkled her nose. Spike took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his elbow.
“C'mon. Best report back to Joyce and put her mind at ease.”
They stepped out into the clear Sunnydale afternoon, Spike's many rings glinting in the sun.
Buffy showed up at the hospital, as ordered. She told the receptionist her name and was told to wait. She'd barely found a two-seasons-behind fashion magazine and sat down when she heard her name. A woman stood at an open office door, beckoning to her. The woman had not-quite-tamed curly hair and a wide smile. She began talking even before Buffy reached her.
“Ms. Summers, I'm Rhonda Rodriguez, the community coordinator here at Sunnydale Memorial. We're glad to have you on board.” She ushered Buffy into the office, waving her into a chair before bustling behind the desk. She moved a few stacks of papers and folders to the side and flipped open a red binder before sitting down. “Please call me Rhonda. May I call you Buffy?”
Buffy shrugged. “Sure.”
“Okay then. Buffy, with your help, I'm confident that this —” she tapped the binder for emphasis “— is going to be the most successful Sunnydale Community Spring Blood Drive we've ever had.” Her smile was practically blinding.
“Blood drive?” repeated Buffy. She usually tried to be upbeat when dealing with the mundane population, but this particular assignment made it look suspiciously like somebody was in on her not-so-secret identity.
“Yes.” Rhonda checked her notes. “Now, I know you've only been in town since last year, but here in Sunnydale, we find that our constant need for blood donations tends to spike in the springtime.”
“Gee, I wonder why,” said Buffy, just managing to not roll her eyes.
Rhonda gave her a sharp look. “AND we have reason to believe that you are just as motivated as any other citizen to Keep Sunnydale Sanguinated.”
“Is that your slogan?” asked Buffy, fascinated.
“Maybe.” She looked bashful for a moment. “We're floating a few options before launch. It's on the short list.”
“Okay. Look, I'm on board and fully ready to do whatever you need. It's just, I'm not sure how much help I'll be. I'm not pre-med or anything. What can I do?”
“Oh, lots of things! You can pass out flyers, help people fill out the donation forms, or hand out juice and cookies after the donations.” Rhonda started her spiel with enthusiasm, but by the end she was very obviously not looking at Buffy and was moving papers around her desk for no apparent reason.
Buffy crossed her arms. “That sounds great. But what are you really planning to have me do?”
Rhonda sighed. “Buffy, we are in desperate need of blood donations that actually make it back to the hospital. You get what I'm saying?”
“Loud and clear.”
“If we understand correctly, your particular skill set might help us with that.”
Buffy uncrossed her arms. “You've got the right girl for the job.”
Rhonda exhaled with relief. “Great! Today you'll go through the volunteer orientation. Starting tomorrow, we'd like for you to help staff our bloodmobile, starting before dusk and until the day's delivery is complete. Deal?”
They shook on it.
“I have a suggestion,” said Buffy.
“I'm all ears,” said Rhonda.
It was UC Sunnydale day for the bloodmobile. Buffy marched back and forth across the quad, wearing a sandwich board with a red cross painted on it and exhorting passing students to “Keep Sunnydale Salinated!”
Willow and Tara exchanged smiles and observed for a moment. When Buffy got to the edge of the quad closest to them, they hurried over to her. Willow held out a frosty mochaccino.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! This is much thirstier work than slaying,” said Buffy, seizing the cup. She gave the straw a mighty suck and sighed with contentment. “Are you going to give blood?”
Tara nodded. Willow added, “They told me I'm underweight, so I'm just the moral support this time.”
“Huh. They told me the same thing,” said Buffy. “Oh well, one more reason to have plenty of these babies.” She wiggled the cup in her hand, beaming.
“How's the take going?” asked Willow.
“Good! The Ultimate Frisbee team came through and donated about an hour ago. That took us over the daily average. It's kinda cool to be on this side of the world saving game for a change. I don't know why I never really thought about it before.”
“Most people don't,” said Tara. “I only started because my mom needed donations when she was sick. We were different blood types, but once I saw the need, I wanted to help.”
Willow squeezed Tara's hand. “You're a good person.”
Tara smiled at her. “How do you know I'm not just in it for the cookies?”
Willow smiled goofily back at her. Then she shook herself and said, “Time to do the deed.”
They walked off hand-in-hand to the bloodmobile. Buffy finished her coffee and started marching again. Dusk was approaching, so she decided on five more minutes of marching before she settled into guard duty. She'd already discovered that sitting inside the bloodmobile for extended periods was not a Buffy happy time. That whole law enforcement track they'd tried to send her down in high school? Not going to happen if she ever had to do stake-outs. At least, not sitting-in-cars stake-outs. She needed to be in motion. She could only think of one non-moving vehicle in which she'd ever had fun: Spike's big old black behemoth. There was usually plenty of action to be had when she found herself there, though. Yowza. Down girl. We're taking it slow, Buffy reminded herself.
She blinked and noticed the sun had lowered a few inches in the time she'd been daydreaming. She called out one more “Keep Sunnydale Salivated” and walked over to the bloodmobile. She took off the sandwich board, stepped in, and slipped the sign into the storage closet.
The last customers of the day were in various stages of donation. Willow waved at her from next to Tara, who was finishing up with her pint. A technician was monitoring another girl who looked like she was halfway through. A couple was getting ready to leave, eyeing the cookies.
There was a rap on the door. Spike stuck his head in and glanced around.
“You lot about done with the bloodletting? Be full dark in half a crack.” He dumped a duffle onto a bench by the door. It clanked.
“Twenty more minutes,” said the tech.
Buffy hopped down to greet him. “Twenty minutes,” she repeated.
“Well then, might as well keep watch from out here, eh, pet?” He looked her over. “No orange jumpsuit, I see.”
“Nope. Fortunately for me, white lab coats go with everything.” She twirled for him.
“Very nice. Say, doc, think you can help me with this problem I've got?”
She nodded. “That depends. Can you tell me more?” Buffy tapped her lips with a forefinger.
“It's a stiffness that I get when I come to see you,” he said with an earnest expression.
She rolled her eyes, then tried to look concerned. “I see. Is it painful?”
“Wouldn't say so, no.”
“I prescribe an evening of rest and relaxation. I'm off in an hour. I could monitor your progress, personally.”
“Golly, doc, how can I ever repay you?”
“I'm sure we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement,” said Buffy, running a finger down the center of his tee-clad chest.
Spike growled. “Minx.”
“You started it.” Buffy pouted up at him.
He considered this. “Did, didn't I? Well, I'm a bad man, then, and deserve to be punished.”
“Hoo boy, for somebody who's 'taking it slow' you sure do run through the naughty scenarios in double time,” said Buffy, crossing her arms and sticking out her chin. “I'm questioning your commitment to these so-called 'rules of courtship'. Which I'm also starting to think you just made up to keep Buffy distracted.”
“Distracted from, say, the little gargoyle lurking by the blood wagon?” Spike asked.
His demeanor changed instantly from flirty boyfriend to focused predator. Buffy spun to see a warty, lank-haired little demon dressed in brown burlap robes. It did indeed appear to be lurking. She took a step toward it. Its eyes widened and it darted behind the fender. She gave chase. After only a minute of circling the bloodmobile, the greasy thing ran right into Spike and bounced off into an inelegant sprawl.
“I die for the Great Glorificus!” it cheeped.
“Oh no you don't,” said Buffy, seizing it by the front of its robes and hauling it upright. Its toes barely brushed the ground. “This person you're so eager to sacrifice yourself for, might she go by some other name? Like Glory, maybe?”
“The most Effervescent One goes by many names, but the unbeliever shall speak them not.”
“Why's that, then?” asked Spike, wearing his full fangs and bumpies. “What's so special about what's-her-lumps?”
The creature gasped. “You dare! Infidel! Mean and unworthy! Her Major Hotness will barely notice as she grinds you to paste beneath her dainty heel.”
“Jeez, you sound like you worship her or something,” said Buffy. Her brow crinkled. “Hey, you really do worship her, don't you?”
“With every molecule of my slime and sinew.” The little demon quivered.
“Oooookay. Spike, what do you make of this?” She hefted the thing a little higher, displaying it for his inspection.
“Definite fanatic. Dressed in monk-wear. Eager to play the martyr,” Spike looked at it closely. “Could be a crackpot cultist. Could also be a real acolyte of something with more juice than our average Hellmouth vacationer.”
“She's got juice, alright. You think Glory might be a...god? An honest to goodness deity? Can she do that?” Buffy absently set the little monster on its feet. She patted its head, then grimaced and wiped her hand on her jeans. Before it could scurry off, she grabbed the back of its robe.
“Could be. I've never run across one, but word is they're around,” said Spike. “Maybe a demi-god?”
“Blasphemer! Heretic! There is no one better, smoother, or more sensational than Glorificus!”
“We get it. She really rates with you. You can pipe down, now. I'm thinking.” Buffy tapped her foot and looked into the middle distance.
The technician poked her head out of the bloodmobile. “We're all set.” Her brow creased when she saw Scurvy straining against Buffy's hold on its garments. Then she shrugged and disappeared inside.
Buffy looked down at the thing. “Looks like you're coming with us, whatever-your-name-is.”
“Scurvy, your not-entirely-powerless one.”
“You can call me Buffy,” she said with a sigh.
She hauled Scurvy up the stairs and tied it to a chair with some blood pressure cuffs. Spike whistled cheerfully as he settled into the driver's seat. The technician buckled in. Willow and Tara took up positions at the rear, peeking out the small windows in the back.
Buffy went up front to sit behind Spike, who started up the engine and grinned as he pulled out of the quad and pointed them in the direction of the hospital.
Though she wouldn't say it out loud, she was sure that they would deliver the blood successfully tonight.
It was the other umpteen nights that she wasn't so sure about.
Spike pulled the bloodmobile up to the loading dock behind the Sunnydale Memorial Hospital. Word hadn't got around that the buffet was closed, so a few sorry specimens converged on them from the dark corners of the parking lot. Before they could reach the dock, Buffy leapt off the roof of the bloodmobile, whirling her sword so that she removed the head of one vampire and an ear from another with her first swing. The bloodmobile door burst open, and a fire-breathing dragon spilled down the steps and out. The vampires scattered at speed, but not before Spike, who had flanked them when Buffy made her appearance, managed to stake two more, including the one who was cradling his bloody ear-stump as he tried to flee.
The dragon faded away into the tarmac, tendrils of colored mist marking where it had been. Willow and Tara peeked out of the bloodmobile door.
“Very impressive, guys,” said Buffy. “It was only a little see-through. Totally convinced those vamps.”
“It lasted twenty-seven seconds that time,” said Willow, showing Tara a stopwatch.
“It's almost too good for the likes of these wastrels,” said Spike. “Might want to save that trick for the higher class of bad guy. Keep your powder dry, all that.”
“They didn't use any powder, Spike. Just those herbs and things.”
Tara smiled. “He means that we want to keep the surprise fresh for when we really need it.”
“Oh. That's a good point.”
The girls trooped back into the bloodmobile. Spike kept watch. Buffy untied their hostage. They helped the bloodmobile technician carry the day's donations inside. Buffy brought up the rear, holding Glory's minion by the scruff of the neck.
Rhonda the blood drive coordinator was looking at her watch with a creased brow when Spike barreled in through the double doors. She started at the noise, but broke out in another of her wide smiles when she saw Buffy. Her smile faltered for a moment when she saw Scurvy, but then she bustled over while the tech supervised the hand off to a grateful staff.
“I knew you could do it!” she said.
“With a little help from my friends,” added Buffy. “Not this guy, though.” She shook Scurvy a little and it sniffed.
Rhonda nodded. “Thank you. Oh, yes! I have t-shirts for all of you,” she said. She dug into the large tote slung over her shoulder and pulled out some rolled up white shirts and handed them around. She tried to press one into Spike's hand, but he shook his head and began to rummage through his pockets for a cigarette.
“He's allergic to white,” said Buffy.
“Of course,” said Rhonda, as if that was such common thing that they kept Epi-pens on hand for sufferers. “How about a water bottle?” She beamed up at Spike, holding out a plastic bottle with white crosses printed all over a red background.
Spike looked at Buffy, who shrugged.
“Much obliged,” he said, gingerly taking the bottle by its cross-free cap. Rhonda relaxed. She passed the rejected shirt to Scurvy, without seeming to notice what she was doing. It clasped the shirt to its chest and stood rooted to the spot.
Willow unfurled her shirt and Buffy noticed that it was covered in red crosses. She raised a brow. Why hadn't she thought of that? Vamp-proof athletic wear was an idea whose time had come. It had the words “I Helped Keep Sunnydale Sanguinated” splashed across the front in arterial red.
“You'll be back tomorrow, won't you?” asked Rhonda.
“Sure will,” said Buffy. “I don't think you'll have as many problems with drop off after tonight. But there are still undesirable elements out there.” She looked down at Scurvy, but it was behaving. It stroked the t-shirt and said nothing.
She wondered what to do with the little demon. Try to get more info about Glory, obviously. But how? She didn't want to hurt it — it was tiny, pathetic, and not that strong. Spike probably would take over the “interrogation”, if she asked, but he might feel really bad about it. Then he wouldn't be in the mood to let Buffy help him with that stiffness he'd mentioned.
She sighed. A Slayer's work was never done, darn it.
They headed for the front exit, the witches chattering about possible variations on the dragon glamor. Once Rhonda was out of sight, Spike handed the water bottle to Scurvy, who clutched it to its chest along with the t-shirt as Buffy towed it along with them. They could decide what to do with it while they were going through the drive-up window at the Doublemeat Palace. While contemplating the chocolate shake in her near future, she bumped into someone coming out of the staff lounge.
“Oh. Hey, Buffy, isn't it?” said the man, who Buffy remembered had tried to help her when her mom was admitted a few weeks earlier.
“Right! And you are...” Dan, or Bob, or Len or some guy name like that.
“Right! I didn't recognize you without your stethoscope.”
“I'm just getting off duty. How's your mom?”
“She's doing better. Entire days go by with her fully clothed and gainfully employed.”
“That's great.” He noticed Scurvy and jerked in surprise. His lip curled for a moment before his expression smoothed over. He looked away from the little creature.
Scurvy glanced up from stroking its new possessions and bowed slightly to the doctor. “Sir,” it said, attention already back on the shirt. Then it froze and its eyes widened.
Buffy and Spike both noticed the odd exchange. It looked like the little creature was acquainted with young Dr. Kildare. Buffy shrugged. It was probably nothing. This town was weird that way.
Spike, however, must've thought it was something. Demonic radar, or smell-o-vision, probably.
“You two know each other?” he asked.
“Uh, not really,” said Ben, not looking at Scurvy. “Should we?”
Scurvy looked affronted. It focused on the ceiling and recited, “I serve none but the stunning and groovy Glorificus.”
“Right,” said Spike.
Tara looked at the doctor in that not-looking way that Buffy associated with her brand of “third eye” mojo, then shook her head and turned her attention once more to Willow.
Buffy heard her name being called from down the corridor. She turned and saw Dawn hurrying toward them.
“Dawnie! What are you doing here?”
Dawn gave the group a little wave. “Hi, everybody. Mom decided we should pick you up after your exhausting community service and all go for pizza. The pizza part was my idea.” She beamed.
“Mom? Where is she?”
“She's waiting in the car. She said she felt a little tired.”
“And she sent you in here by yourself?” She lowered her voice. “With Glory on the loose? That's not like her. Let's go. Right now.”
Dawn's forehead wrinkled. “You think she's...”
“It's probably nothing, Dawnie.” Buffy's something's-wrong-o-meter was pinging like crazy. “Uh, Ben, I know you're off-duty, but would you mind coming with, just to check?”
“Sure, Buffy. Glad to.”
“Okay, Dawn, lead the way. Spike, would you mind taking charge of our pal, here?”
He nodded and took hold of the Scurvy's arm, none too gently. Dawn took off back the way she'd come, Buffy at her side, the rest following. Joyce's Jeep was parked blessedly close to the entrance. Joyce sat in the reclined driver's seat, eyes closed, one hand held to her temple. Buffy knocked on the window.
Joyce blinked at Buffy. Her mouth opened and closed, but she didn't say anything. Her eyes closed again.
Buffy ripped open the car door and shook Joyce. Her head lolled to one side.
Ben tapped her shoulder. “Buffy. Let me take a look.”
Buffy stepped to the side, wringing her hands. Ben pulled a penlight out of his pocket and held open the lids of one of Joyce's eyes, then the other, shining the light in each. He held his fingers against her throat for a few moments. He turned, face grave.
“She needs to be admitted. I'll go get a gurney and some orderlies.” He left, running.
Buffy immediately went back to her mother's side, carefully taking one of Joyce's hands in hers. Dawn, vibrating with anxiety, crowded in next to her. Buffy slipped one arm around her sister.
“Is she...?” Dawn whispered.
Spike spoke from behind them. “She's alive. Breathing's shallow, but she's breathing. Pulse is thready, but her heart's beating.”
Buffy let out a long breath. “Hang in there, Mom. Help is on the way. We're here with you.”
Joyce's eyes fluttered and one side of her mouth twitched — it could be an attempt at a smile. Buffy squeezed her hand, very very gently.
Buffy sent Willow and Tara home after they got word that Joyce was stable enough to undergo some tests.
Spike, who'd disappeared someplace with Scurvy, returned to the waiting area a few minutes after the witches had gone. Scurvy carried a bulging plastic shopping bag, and was now dressed in the volunteer tee, a hoodie, and some scrub pants, rolled up at the cuffs. The demon kept touching the garments with an astonished expression on its face.
“Who's this?” asked Dawn.
“Hostage, of sorts. Says its name is Scurvy.” answered Spike. “One of Glory's minions, we think.”
Dawn looked at the creature. “It's cute.”
Spike and Scurvy both did a double-take at that. Buffy smiled.
“Well, it is. Like a pug or something,” Dawn explained. “Or Clem.”
“You're very kind, young human,” said Scurvy. “Do you serve the violent-but-generous one?”
Dawn looked confused. “Serve who?”
“Means your sis, Dawn.”
“Generous one? That's rich!” Dawn rolled her eyes. Buffy sighed.
“Oi, show the girl what you've got.”
Scurvy blinked and then dug around in the bag, producing a bright stuffed animal and presenting it to Dawn with a deep bow.
“A gift to provide comfort while you await tidings,” it said.
“Ohhhh,” crooned Dawn, hugging it to her chest. “Thanks.”
Spike nudged the demon, who nodded and dove back into the bag. It held out a deck of cards.
“Would the young human like to instruct unworthy Scurvy in the way of the entertainment known as Hearts?” it asked.
“Sure,” said Dawn, hopping out of her chair and sitting cross-legged on the floor and patting the space beside Buffy's feet. Scurvy studied her posture and attempted to mimic it. Soon, Dawn was explaining the rules of the game while Scurvy listened, occasionally rubbing a bit of fabric from its new clothes between its fingers.
Spike dropped into the seat next to Buffy.
“What's the what?” she asked, nodding toward Scurvy.
“Got a hunch. The little sod seems a bit more malleable than at first blush. Might be able to catch more flies with honey with this one.”
“Why would we want to catch flies with it?” asked Buffy.
“'Flies' in this scenario being information, sweetheart. Which you know very well,” he said, catching her grin.
“Worth a try, I guess,” she agreed. “It does seem kinda suggestible. Just don't let it out of your sight.”
“Don't plan to.”
A half hour later, a woman in scrubs came out to talk with them.
“Ms. Summers, your mother was in the right place at the right time. The CAT scan we performed showed a relatively minor event, but also caught a much larger aneurysm on an artery in her brain that will require immediate surgery to repair. As with any surgery, there are some risks, but we are confident that she will pull through. We're not seeing a return of her recent malignancy.”
“Oh, thank god,” said Buffy. “When is the surgery?”
“We're prepping her right now. I've got some paperwork for you, which shouldn't take long. You can have five minutes with her before she goes in. Come on back.”
“Thank you, doctor. Dawn?”
Dawn scrambled to her feet and trotted after Buffy, card game forgotten.
“Well, Scurvy, alone at last,” said Spike.
Scurvy blinked up at him.
“Want some coffee?”
Scurvy nodded and followed Spike out of the waiting room, fingering its hoodie and clutching the bag of swag and old robes.
“I have always wanted to sample the rich and nectarous caramel frappucino.” said Scurvy. “I never thought that I... It is a libation fit for a god! Or so I am told.”
“Fit for any fourteen-year-old with five bucks, too,” said Spike, handing a bill to the cashier.
When their drink order was announced, Scurvy reached a tentative hand out toward the plastic cup with “Furby” scrawled down the side, but snatched it back and looked at Spike from the corner of its eye, hunching its shoulder.
“Go on. Won't drink itself,” said Spike, picking up his black coffee and walking over to a table in the back. He sprawled in one chair and pushed another away from the table with his foot in nonchalant invitation. Scurvy took the frappucino with both hands, and hurried over. It hopped up into the empty chair. Its sandaled feet swung back and forth as it regarded its coffee concoction with awe.
Spike sighed. This could take all night.
“Not a fan of Dr. Ben, I take it?” he asked.
Scurvy nearly fumbled the frappucino. “I uttered no such thing!”
“Just said you didn't serve him,” agreed Spike. “But it was more the way you said it made me think there's no love lost.”
Scurvy mumbled into its frappucino. A few phrases stood out to Spike, such as “jumped up” and “not in the same league” and “no sense of fraternal loyalty”.
“Lost me,” said Spike, sniffing with apparent disinterest. “Don't see why you'd trouble yourself with a doctor, anyhow. Not like his sort would be bothered to help your sort out, would he? Probably just run screaming if you were to need patching up, let's say.”
“Patching?” squeaked Scurvy.
“Just speaking hypothetically, here.” Spike sipped his coffee. “He ever give you so much as a band-aid?”
“No. Brother Ben does not give aid of any kind to the faithful servants of the splendiferous Glorificus. He's ungrateful in the extreme.” Scurvy frowned and then finally sucked in a mouthful of his frappucino. Its eyes bulged out and it clapped a warty hand to its brow.
Dawn chose that moment to poke her head in. She trotted over and looked at the cringing Scurvy and his enormous frappucino.
Tears welling in its eyes, it nodded.
“Sorry. That sucks.” Turning to Spike, she said, “Buffy's about done. She says we should get dinner. Like she'll eat anything anyway. Are you coming?”
Spike didn't like mysteries unless he was causing them. Buffy knew that much. So, while Dawn and Scurvy played an enthusiastic game of Go Fish, she tried to help him puzzle it out.
“They don't like each other, so why would he be a 'brother'?” she asked quietly, dipping one of the last fries in the paper ketchup cup.
“Know he's not a fellow acolyte. Doesn't feel right. There's something queer about the fellow.”
Buffy raised a brow.
“Don't start. I know you know what I mean, Slayer. Just not sure what to do about it.”
“How about we get Willow to do her magical computer-fu and see where he lives?”
Spike smiled at her. “Not a bad start, Slayer.”
They quickly sketched out a plan, and headed back to the hospital. Spike made sure Dawn and Scurvy were occupied while Buffy charmed the doctor's last name out of the admitting desk and called Willow. She came back with a slip of paper, but held it out of his reach.
“Nuh uh. I don't think you should go alone,” she said. “This is the neighborhood where I killed that snake guy Glory sent.”
“Well, you can't come with me,” he said, gesturing at Dawn and the minion. “You've got to stay here. Keep watch.” She felt her brow creasing. “One poxy human shouldn't present a problem. Besides, I've got my insurance policy.” He held up his hand, displaying a formidable collection of rings. One, she knew, was the Gem of Amara, protector of vampires.
“Neither sun, nor stakes, nor blessed water shall stay the vampire who possesses it from his rounds,” she recited. “I still don't like it.”
“I'll be careful.”
“Hmmph. I've seen what you call careful,” she said.
“Okay, I'll be sneaky, then.”
“That's more believable.” She checked the clock on the wall of the waiting room. “Call me in two hours or I'm coming after you.”
She handed over the paper with the address. Then she leaned in and gave him a kiss. Just a short one. He smiled down at her and ran a thumb over her lips. He waved at Dawn and Scurvy and left the waiting room in a swirl of black leather.
“Show off,” murmured Buffy, loud enough that she knew he'd hear her.
Spike knew that physicians these days brought in the dosh, but this elegant apartment building didn't seem like a young intern's usual habitat. It was... Well, the word was tacky. Gilt mirrors and shining marble adorned every surface — everything was as costly and cold as possible. It figured that Dr. Ben's flat would be at the very top. Spike left the golden elevator untouched and took the stairs, two at a time. When he got to the top, he looked around for surveillance cameras, but didn't see any. Ben's door stood at the far end of the hall, with no place to loiter inconspicuously between it and the stairwell.
The door to one of the adjoining apartments opened and Spike ducked back. He peered around the opening to see a brown-robed, sandaled minion balancing a stack of shoe boxes while discreetly knocking on Ben's door. The door opened, revealing another minion.
“What took you so long? She's been waiting five minutes! Woe betide you!” it hissed.
The shoe box minion scurried inside, the door closing behind it.
Spike sniffed the air and had his confirmation. There was no doubt who “she” was. Glory's expensive perfume filled his nose. He'd scented it a few times, after her attacks, but never this strong. Had he really tracked Glory to her lair? Just like that? Well, Willow had done the tracking, but the point was that Ben led straight to Glory, it seemed. He hadn't thought to get so lucky on just a hunch that something was hinky.
It didn't seem like the demon-god — or whatever she was — was likely to flee anytime soon. She had cushy digs, minions on tap, all that a brassy demon-god could need. If he didn't disturb the status quo, he and Buffy could work out a plan of attack at their leisure. They'd do it smart, this time. Not be surprised like back at the hospital on her birthday.
He turned to leave, but found a brace of minions blocking his retreat. The cosh hit his temple before he could ...
He came to hanging from the ceiling of a posh, over-upholstered lounge. He shook his head, and was immediately sorry. Seemed the Gem protected against all sorts of vampire-specific dangers, but being knocked over the head was apparently not in the brochure. He ought to ask for a refund. He felt a giggle coming on at the thought.
Spike surmised that his brains must still be scrambled. He became aware of voices behind him.
“Your lithe and loveliness, this is the vampire that assists the Slayer. Perhaps he has some knowledge of the Key?”
“Do you really think so? Vampires aren't usually so useful, Murk. Even their brains are useless. What's so special about this one?”
“I could not say, terrific and toned one. I only know that the Slayer has not dusted him, though she has had ample opportunity.”
“Let's take a look at you, Mr. Special.”
Glory stepped in front of him, her usual deranged smile firmly in place. She twirled a stake, which he was sure was from a pocket of his duster. She surveyed him like the side of beef he currently resembled.
“You don't look all that special. Except...ew!” She stepped back in disgust. “Is that a soul in there? Really? How can you stand it? It must be horrible.”
She stepped up again and patted his cheek sympathetically. He flinched.
“There, there. I can help you. I can take the pain away.”
She reared back and stabbed his heart with the stake with a quick motion, in and out. He would have screamed from the pain, but it hurt so much he couldn't make a sound, though his mouth was stretched wide open. A moment later, it didn't hurt at all.
He glanced down at his chest just as Glory tore the fabric of his punctured tee shirt aside. It was unmarked.
“Huh. You don't see that every day. Maybe you are special, after all. Let's see.”
Glory held the point of the stake to his chest and pushed it in, slower this time. He once again felt the razor's edge of indescribable torment, felt like he was dying over and over, until she withdrew the stake again and examined his unblemished pectoral. She looked at the stake, gave it a little shake and thrust it into his chest once more. She rammed it home with an extra thump on the end from the heel of her hand, then held it there. The agony of his heart unraveling and then knitting back together thousands of times in a second was beyond excruciating. She finally withdrew the stake and patted his chest as if she couldn't believe her eyes.
“How're you doing that?” she demanded. He shrugged, as best he could while dangling from the ceiling. The awful pain was gone, but the echo of it zinged around his body and his sore head. He didn't trust himself to speak.
She tossed the stake away. “I think I'll take a look inside and see what's so special about you.”
She poked a finger into his skull, and this time he had no trouble giving voice to his pain.
Buffy was pacing. It wasn't helping, but she couldn't seem to stop. It had been hours since her mom had gone in for surgery, and an hour since Spike had gone to check up on their flimsy lead. Scurvy had fallen asleep in one of the waiting room chairs and Dawn was listlessly petting her new stuffed animal, eyelids at half mast.
Something was wrong.
She couldn't shake it. When the surgeon came out, Buffy felt her dread deepen, and cold sweat tricked down her back.
“How is she?” she burst out, before the woman was even halfway across the room.
The surgeon smiled and looked Buffy in the eye. “She's fine. She made it through with flying colors, and she's already come out of anesthesia. It looks like she'll make a full recovery. We're transferring her to a room, but you won't be able to visit until morning. I recommend you get some rest yourself.”
“That's great, doctor. Thank you.”
As the surgeon walked away, Buffy sagged with relief and found Dawn was already by her side. She flung an arm around her.
“Didja hear that, Dawnie? Can't keep a good mom down for long.” Dawn smiled weakly. “Let's go home. We'll come back in the morning, okay?”
While Dawn gathered up her things, Buffy realized that the feeling of impending doom had not gone away. She checked the clock. One hour and fifteen minutes since Spike had left. By the time they got home, it would be two hours. She decided to take pre-emptive action. She pulled out her phone.
“Hey Will? Mom's fine, but they're kicking us out until tomorrow. I know it's late, but do you think you could stay with Dawn tonight? There's a slaying thing... Okay, great! We'll pick you up in twenty-five minutes.”
She turned to see Dawn gently shaking Scurvy's shoulder. It started and then beamed up at her. Buffy shook her head. This hostage business was not going how she'd expected.
Buffy gave the chains wrapped around the furnace another tug. Scurvy sat on the camp cot, its feet swinging. It seemed unbothered by the manacles on each wrist. One hand patted the blankets, the other held a plain pillow to its chest.
Dawn clomped down the stairs and set down a big plastic jug of water and some snacks on the rickety TV tray next to the cot.
“Can you reach?” she asked. Scurvy nodded. She yawned widely. “See you in the morning. Sleep tight.”
“Night, Dawnie.” Buffy watched her sister clomp back up the stairs. “Are you gonna be okay?” she asked Scurvy. “You shouldn't get cold down here next to the furnace. You can lie down and stuff, right?”
It didn't answer. She looked back to see Scurvy staring at the TV tray with wide eyes.
“Is it true? Are those...Mint Milanos?”
Buffy looked at the package of cookies.
“Um, yes? Is that a problem?”
It reached a trembling hand toward the package. “I never dreamed...”
“Okay. Look, I've gotta go get Spike. Have fun.” She winced. She was really going about this hostage situation all wrong. Have fun. Geez. She headed up the stairs.
“Spike didn't call did he?” she asked while she dug through the weapons chest in the living room.
“Nada from Spike,” said Willow.
He'd been gone almost two and a half hours now. Not good.
“You've got the address, right? In case there's a problem?”
“Yep. Oh, weapons! Tara had some ideas about that.”
Buffy looked up from her rummaging.
Tara nodded and joined her by the chest.
“After the fight in the hospital, I did a sort of magical scan of your arsenal. There's some stuff in here with some extra juice. It might be helpful. Like this.” She held up a glowing yellow sphere the size of a grapefruit.
“That's the thingie that poor dead monk left for me when he told me how to find the key. It sure didn't do him much good.”
Tara shrugged. Buffy sighed, loaded up a few choice weapons, and went to find her vampire.
He'd had better nights. In fact, he was attempting to catalog the best ones at the moment. Put them in order. There was that one time he'd talked Angel into... He felt a sharp smack across his cheek.
He blinked at Glory.
“Rude,” she said. “I'm trying to figure you out, and you're not helping, Soul Boy.”
“Thought you bints liked a man to leave a little mystery in the relationship,” said Spike, trying not to slur his words. “Read all about it in Cosmo.”
“We don't have a relationship!” snarled Glory, stamping her foot.
He looked up at the chains from which he dangled.
“Hope you don't think I'd play these sorts of games with just anyone. I'm not that kind of guy.”
She growled at him. He laughed, high and manic. An odd gurgling sound issued from his chest. The gem was healing him, but slower than he'd like and faster than Glory could understand.
She stepped back. He braced himself for another round of literal poke and punch.
Scurvy cradled the unopened package of Mint Milanos to its chest. Not much time had passed since the Slayer's departure, but the house had quieted almost immediately. It looked at the ceiling, then nodded. It held its manacles before it and closed its eyes. Its arms blurred for a moment with an intense vibration, and the manacles fell noiselessly onto the cot.
Scurvy hopped from the cot onto the concrete floor. It found its plastic shopping bag of clothes and lovingly laid the package of Mint Milanos on top of the other items there: clothes, water bottle, playing cards. It grabbed the handles and crept up the basement stairs and out of the house.
Buffy stopped near the top of the fancy apartment building's stairway. A couple of the monkish minions were going in a door down the hall.
“The hell?” she muttered.
She was about to follow when she heard a loud cry from behind another door. It opened, and the sound got louder, before dying away into a groan. Another minion, carrying a tall stack of colorful boxes, came out. It tried to close the door with its foot, but after a couple of fruitless attempts it shrugged and walked away, leaving the door ajar. When the little demon was gone, Buffy approached the door.
She preferred a direct attack, but painful experience had taught her to be cautious when Glory was in the mix.
“You know, I think I'm going about this all wrong,” she heard Glory say. “I have two questions for you. One: why aren't you dusting like a garden variety vampire? Two: where's my key?” She sighed. “I've spent too much time wondering why you're different, when answer to that is simple: who cares?” At that, the awful cry began again.
Buffy felt the blood run from her face. Glory was here. Right here and the bitch had Spike. Was hurting Spike. There wasn't any more time. She unsheathed her blessed sword and resettled her bag across her chest, bandolier style. Tara thought these things might help, and she wasn't going to leave behind anything that might give her an edge.
She burst into the room, sword at the ready. A couple of minions looked up in surprise from the Victoria's Secret bags they were sorting through. Spike was strung up on one side of the room, Glory before him. When Glory turned toward the disturbance there was a squelching sound and she shook her fingers with distaste. Buffy forced herself to ignore Spike, and focused entirely on Glory.
“Oh goody! I was hoping you'd stop by. I'm getting nowhere with the second string over here,” Glory said, pointing over her shoulder at Spike with her thumb. “Best to go straight to the source, right Slayer? Just us girls?” She walked straight at Buffy, paying no attention to the sword.
Buffy swung. The sword bounced off Glory's arm.
“Hey! That stings!”
Buffy slashed at her neck. Glory threw up a hand, blocking. A puff of her hair flew into the air, and a thin red line appeared on her palm.
“Did you just mess with my hair?” Glory asked, incredulous. “I wanted to do this the nice way, but forget it!”
She rushed forward and grabbed Buffy neck in one hand, while backing her across the room. Buffy's back hit a wall, and the sword was knocked from her grip.
“Where's my key?” Glory hissed into Buffy's face. Buffy kicked out, to no avail.
“She can't answer you if her throat's crushed,” said Spike in a flat tone from where he hung across the room.
“Fine,” said Glory. The pressure reduced marginally.
“Is this it?” croaked Buffy. She felt around in her bag until her fingers closed around the Dagon Sphere. Glory looked down. Buffy thrust the sphere into Glory's chest with all her might. Glory let go of her neck with a cry. The sphere clung to her body. She tried to bat it away, but could not control her body. She began to shake and then fell to the floor, spasming. Buffy bent to pick up the fallen sword.
When she turned back, Glory was gone.
A very disheveled Ben lay on the floor, wearing a kimono. He blinked up at Buffy.
“Oh my god! Are you okay?” asked Buffy. “Did she hurt you?”
He shook his head. Satisfied, Buffy ran to Spike. He was a mess. There were wounds all over his chest, arms, face, and scalp. The ones she could see were scabbing over, but still looked like a whole lot of no fun. A few bones didn't look right, either.
“Oh, baby. When I catch that woman, she's going to be a lot more than sorry,” said Buffy. “I'll get you down from there as soon as I find a chair.”
Even with his swollen face, his brows were extremely mobile. They climbed right up to his bloodied hairline.
“Don't worry about me, pet. Finish the job.”
“I would, but she's gone. I'm so sorry, Spike.” She dragged a bench over and climbed up to get at the chains suspending him.
“Buffy. You saw the hell-bitch turn into the doctor, right?”
“I'm just glad she didn't hurt anybody else. Even Ben seems okay. I wonder how she found him?”
“Buffy,” Spike said, sounding exhausted.
Buffy broke the chains and jumped down to catch Spike before he collapsed.
He was draped heavily over her shoulder. He spoke to her quietly. “Buffy. I'm going to say this one more time. Ben is Glory. They are one and the same. Identical cousins. Do you get it?”
She looked up at him and ghosted her palm down his face, careful not to touch anything that might be sore. “I'll help Ben once I'm sure you're going to be okay.” Spike sighed.
Ben was struggling to sit against the wall. Buffy noticed that there were a lot more minions in the room than there had been. They didn't look friendly. They were starting to crowd around Ben, but they were looking at Spike. Spike attempted to stand on his own, but gave up and sat on the bench. Buffy sat beside him.
From the door, a high voice rang out.
“Friends! Faithful servitors! Observe. I have brought a remarkable gift for the humble attendants of the most glistening one.” Scurvy stood in the doorway, dressed in its new clothes, brandishing its shopping bag. The other minions turned to look.
“My chaining skills are not what I thought,” said Buffy.
“Slayer. Lend me your sword,” said Spike. She passed it to him.
“Behold! I bestow the unimaginable. I freely give to you the Mint Milanos!” Scurvy held the cookie package aloft. The minions made a sound of awe. One of them walked hesitantly up to Scurvy who handed it a half of a cookie. It took the cookie with exquisite care. It looked at Scurvy, who smiled and nodded. Finally, it took the smallest possible bite. Its eyes grew large and a smile spread across its scabby face.
“It is a miracle!” it cried.
The rest of the minions crowded around Scurvy. Buffy thought it was sort of cute. She would have told Spike, but he was no longer beside her. He was all the way across the room, leaning on her sword like a cane. Ben looked up as Spike halted beside him. Spike lifted the sword. Ben began to scramble away. Before Buffy understood what was happening, Spike swung the sword. She vaulted from her seat, but was unable to do anything but watch the scene play out as if in slow motion.
The sword swung true. It went through Ben's neck, completely severing it, stuck in the wall and vibrated there. Ben's head tumbled one way and Spike tumbled the other. The minions fell silent. They looked at the body of the doctor and then at their cookies. Shock and guilt were etched across every spotty face, except for Scurvy's.
Buffy skidded to Ben's side, but it was far too late. Even while she was moving across the room, her understanding of the situation changed.
She turned to Spike, who was huddled and trembling on the floor. She laid a hand on his shoulder. He flinched.
“Ben was Glory,” she said. He nodded.
“You were the only one who could see it,” she said. He shrugged.
“I'm sorry,” she said. He turned tear-filled eyes to her.
“Swore I'd protect them,” he whispered.
“You did,” she said. “Let's get you home.”
It took awhile. Scurvy wanted all the minions to know from where the Mint Milano bounty had come. It insisted that Buffy was more golden, gleaming, and a few other flowery words than anyone else, who remained nameless.
Finally, she set them the task of cleaning up the apartment and disposing of the body. They were weirdly unsurprised at that last request. She promised she'd be back at some undefined “later” to figure out the next moves. Scurvy and one of its pals helped to get Spike to Joyce's Jeep. They pulled up to Spike's place a little before sunrise. She got him settled, supplied with blood, and finally he drifted off to sleep.
She left a note and promised to be back soon, after she'd taken care of things with her mom.
The day went by in a unreal haze. Partly it was sleep deprivation, partly it was the sudden lack of threats to her family. She hardly knew how to act. She and Dawn visited Joyce, who did seem to be doing quite well. The hospital wanted to keep her for another day or two, though, so other than bringing her magazines and hanging out making fun of daytime TV, there wasn't much that needed doing. While she was there, Buffy checked in with Rhonda, who agreed that she definitely shouldn't do another bloodmobile shift until her mom was home.
She didn't get around to telling anyone that the Glory threat was over. She still needed to get used to the idea. It was going to be hard to explain to people that her boyfriend had saved the day, through, well, she supposed the kindest word was assassination.
She asked Willow and Tara if they could pull Dawn duty one more night, with bonus Chinese takeout. They were happy to oblige and at last Buffy was free to go tend to her fella.
He was a wreck. Not so much physically. The Gem of Amara had done its work and he'd mostly healed up. But he could barely look at her. He sat and stared at the big family painting hanging over his mantle. She poured him a whiskey the way he liked it. He thanked her but it went untouched.
Finally she crawled into his lap and held his head so that he couldn't look away.
“I'm worried about you.”
He scoffed. “Needn't worry. I'm a tough old thing. Don't trouble yourself.”
“It's not trouble. It's...I'm proud of you. I know it hurt, but you did it to save us — us Summers' — from something truly terrible.”
“Yeah?” his eyes searched hers. She guessed he was looking for any sign that she didn't really mean it.
“Yeah. And there's something else. I love you.”
He looked at her with shining eyes. She could see that he wanted to believe her.
“You're my man. Full stop. Buffy's guy. Accept no substitutes.”
He almost smiled and shook his head. “Don't deserve you, pet.”
“It's not about deserving, silly. It's about being good together. It's about how you make me feel.”
He tightened his arms around her waist. “How's that then?”
“Now you're just fishing.” She tried to look stern.
His smile grew more genuine. “Might be.” He sobered. “Didn't think I could ever be this lucky, after the things I've done. You're ... nobody could begin to match you, Buffy.”
She nodded solemnly. “You are correct. One more thing. Ready?”
“I think we've taken it slow long enough. Don't you?”
He blinked. She smiled, slow and sweet as she could.
“Bloody hell,” he breathed. She leaned down to press her lips to his. He kissed her back, desperately. She rolled her hips against his.
He abruptly stood, cradling her in his arms, and carried her to his bedroom, never breaking the kiss.
“Wow,” said Buffy.
“Wow doesn't begin to cover it, love,” said Spike.
“Double wow?” she tried.
“Think we'd need to go an order of magnitude greater than that.” Spike gathered her close and stroked her hair, a rumbling coming from his chest that was more comforting and contented sounding than a growl. She'd heard him growl, and not that long ago, either. This wasn't that.
“You even sound happy,” she said.
“Am. Don't remember when I felt this free. Got my girl here with me, and I don't need a damn thing more.”
“Hmmmm,” said Buffy, snuggling deeper into his arms. “Not until breakfast, anyway.”
“Even then. Having you for breakfast, sweetheart. If I can wait that long. You'd make a glorious midnight snack.”
Buffy giggled. Something was pinging at the back of her mind, but she felt so taffy-like that it was hard to zero in on anything specific. She let her mind drift and it finally ran aground on the word “glorious”.
She didn't want to say anything. He'd been distraught and they'd finally managed to chase away his horror at what he'd had to do. But that was just temporary. He'd have to face it once the afterglow wore off, and he should know he wasn't alone in this. She sat up and took his hand in hers.
“Spike, I'm sorry to bring this up, but you can talk to me about stuff. I know it must be awful to live with doing ... what you did. But you had good reasons, and you saved Dawn, so I'll never be anything but grateful.”
The rumbling stopped.
“You mean offing the good doctor? Had to happen, sweetheart. It won't trouble me none.”
“Okay. But you were so upset, before.”
“That was before. Can't think now why it should've bothered me in the least. Meanwhile, I've got a hot li'l Slayer in my bed that needs a proper seeing-to.”
He dove under the covers, planting sloppy kisses everywhere he could reach, while Buffy wriggled and gasped with laughter. She took hold of his hair and hauled him up to face her, smiling widely.
“You already saw to me, you beast!”
“Just beginning, sweet. God! I should have known that nothing would be better than bedding the Slayer.”
Buffy stopped laughing. “The Slayer?”
“You, Buffy. You.” He took her face in his hands. “You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. Can't get enough of you.” He kissed her softly, until she relaxed.
“Never get enough,” he reiterated. The kiss became ardent.
As Buffy sank into the sensation, she couldn't help but think that everything had changed.
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