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Normal Is Just a Word by slaymesoftly
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Chapter Eighteen

As soon as Spike had awakened, drunk some of the blood – cold and straight from the bag, uncaring that Buffy was watching him guzzle the life-giving elixir – and had allowed her to tend to his visible wounds, he'd insisted on going back to the basement. She distracted him temporarily by filling him in on the happenings while he'd been gone. He nodded.

"Well, that explains all the extra activity around here," he said. "Was wondering when you'd opened a school for wayward girls."

"Yeah, well. Since they're all in danger from those same creeps that took you, and since it's my job to keep them safe, I guess Giles figured my house was the best place for them." She paused, looking at him with something like shame. "Not that being here did you much good...."

"Not your fault," he said gruffly. "I'm just sorry it used me to raise that monster. Made me crazy for a while, wondering if it..."

"It's a dusty monster now. And it was a good lesson for the girls. Even big, bad, ugly monsters can go poof..." She stood up. "But the best way to keep you from being used like that again—"

"Too much light up here for me," he interrupted, not meeting her gaze. "And all the... distractions..." His gesture encompassed the house and the potentials living in it.

"They don't come in my room," she said stubbornly, hands on hips and glare firmly fixed. "You need care, and this is the best place for it. Besides, the girls train in the basement – they'd be bugging you all the time."

He snorted and shook his head. "Doubt that." He finally looked at her. "They're terrified of me, Buffy. Can hear the way their heartbeats accelerate when they go past the door, can smell the fear on them."

"They'll get over it," she insisted. "They have to get used to vampires."

"Not in their own home, they don't," he said, his voice firm but gentle. "I need to be where I belong, love. In the cellar – not in your bed."

"Is this about that? Being in my bed? Cause, really? I'm so past caring what anybody thinks, and I—"

"Don't belong here, Buffy. You know it, I know it, and they know it. 's not right. Even baby slayers can figure out that much. I appreciate what you've done, love, more than you can imagine, but it's time for me to go back down where I belong."

"Fine. Have it your way. Go sulk in the basement."

He gave her just the barest hint of a flirty smirk. "Didn't say I wouldn't like to have a visitor now and then. Got to be times you'd like to get away from them too."

"Oh, you have no idea!" Buffy broke into a reluctant smile. "Okay, then. Let's get you downstairs and settled in again." Her expression hardened. "But no chains this time. You need to be able to fight."

"No chains," he agreed. "Not unless we need them." The reminder that they still hadn't solved the problem of his trigger was enough to keep them both quiet as they went down the stairs and through the kitchen.



Spike's screams sent Buffy rushing to the stairs to where he was writhing against the wall.

"Is it the chip again? " she asked – unnecessarily, as she could see that he was clutching his head. He was incapable of answering, so she ended up just holding him while he screamed until it stopped. His nose was bleeding and he seemed to be unconscious for several seconds before shuddering and opening bloodshot eyes. It was far and away the worst episode she'd seen since it had begun malfunctioning.

"Are you all right?" Buffy stroked his head, frowning in fear at the way his eyes had sunk into his skull.

"Just peachy," he replied shortly, his breath still erratic. "Wasn't bad at first, but then..."

"Oh God." She peered at him intently. "It's killing you." Without waiting for an answer, she stood up, walked to the hall table and searched the drawer for a number she'd never expected to use.


"That was an extremely foolish thing to have done, Buffy. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am." Giles's face was set into stern lines of displeasure.

"It was a judgment call. I had to decide right then – replace it or remove it, and I acted on instinct. I told you, I don't want him muzzled anymore." She stared at his face and said pleadingly, "It'll be all right, Giles. You've seen him. He's got a soul now."

Although she insisted to herself and to Spike that she had complete confidence in him, she would have liked to know that Giles agreed with her decision to free him from the artificial restraint of the chip. However, his attitude seemed to be the same as when she'd first returned from the Initiative complex, unchipped and still-woozy vampire in tow. Giles continued to argue.

"He's also being controlled by the First Evil. Or have you forgotten the people he killed?"

"I haven't forgotten them," she said shortly. "But I also haven't forgotten that he's the only one here besides me who's got a snowball's chance in hell if the First sends another one of those monsters up here. I can't have him incapacitated at a crucial time by a device he doesn't need anymore. "

Giles shook his head. Although he'd been absent for much of the previous year's events, he had picked up enough about Buffy's temporary retreat into a fantasy world to know that her feelings for the vampire were much deeper than he would have ever expected.

"I believe you are allowing your... affection for an imaginary man to cloud your judgment when it comes to Spike. He is not the idealized boyfriend that you created when you were not in your right mind."

"I don't need this from you. You weren't here. You don't know..." She took a deep breath. "This has nothing to do with... Will..." She stumbled a bit over the name she hadn't said aloud for so long, missing Giles' frown. "It has to do with Spike and what having him watching my back means to my ability to do my job."

"You don't need him," Giles insisted. "You've proven you can—"

"It's done," she said, her exhaustion plain. "Get over it."


From the time Spike's chip was removed, he'd begun to recover some of his swagger; and by the time Buffy unshackled him after the Prokaryote stone fiasco, he was almost back to his pre-souled, smirking self. Knowing she was going to need the Spike who would fight anything, Buffy couldn't help but be glad to see his true nature emerge from the beaten-down, insecure man he'd become since earning his soul back.

"You know," she'd said to him evening, "the fact that you could and would do something like that more than proves that you didn't need to."

"Now you tell me," he growled, flashing his fangs at her in a fruitless attempt to appear seriously angry.

"Don't get me wrong," she went on, tapping him on his wrinkled forehead and smiling. "I'm so proud of you for doing it, and so..." She stopped and took a deep breath. "So very honored that you would do something like that for me... You are an amazing man."

He shook his head. "The only thing I had going for me was falling in love with an amazing woman. She made me want to be a better man."

"Does anybody mind if I interrupt before I barf?" Dawn's sarcastic voice startled them into jumping apart, even though they hadn't been doing anything but talking.

"Good sneaking, Nibblet. Learnt that from me, did you?"

"Among other things..." She giggled as Spike began to frantically signal her with his eyes, causing Buffy to glare at them with mock suspicion.

"So, what's up?"

"Robin needs Spike to go help him with something. Some more weapons or something like that..."

Buffy raised her eyebrows, but Spike shrugged. "Sure. Guess providing some muscle is the least I can do right now."

"I'll go with—"

Dawn interrupted her. "No, you can't. Giles needs you for something. He said to get you too."

"'s alright, pet. I'll just go do the heavy lifting and be back soon. We should probably plan to do a patrol tonight..."

For some reason she couldn't explain, Buffy had a strong urge to kiss him good-bye and tell him to be careful. Shaking off the dread that had sent a chill through her, she nodded and followed Dawn out of the room. "Okay. I'll see you in a little while."


Buffy stared down at Robin Wood's crumpled body, watching dispassionately as he moved and groaned.

"If you ever try to hurt him again, I'll..."

"You'll what? Let him kill me?" he wheezed. "Have you forgotten your mission?"

"I was going to say, I'll probably kill you myself. You might want to keep that in mind."

She turned and walked away, knowing Giles was probably rushing to the house to find out what had happened. She hoped he choked on the knowledge that Spike was still alive – and that he hadn't killed the man who attacked him. She shuddered as she tried to shake off the vision of that room – a room that had been designed for one purpose, and one purpose only.

She made no attempt to go find Spike. He'd come back when he was ready; when he'd gotten his anger under control. In the meantime, she had plans to make.


The first meeting between Spike and Faith hadn't been auspicious; although once the damsel in distress had shown herself to be a vampire, things had warmed up quickly. "I should have known it would go downhill from there," Buffy muttered as Faith walked past her and sashayed up the stairs, her hips swaying.

Buffy stared at Spike and at the now-empty space beside him where Faith had been sitting so comfortably. As hard as she tried to smother her instinctive jealousy, memories of Faith and Angel, Faith, in her body, and Riley made it impossible. And the way Spike was rubbing a guilty hand over the back of his neck and not meeting her eyes wasn't helping.

She was called away to talk to the new potential before either of them could say or do anything to make it better. Buffy figured it was just one more sucky thing in this very sucky and getting suckier year.


"It's good to be away from the hormone bombs, again," Spike said, nudging her arm. "This is much nicer company."

"Really?" Her voice sounded tired and defeated, causing him to spin around and frown with concern. She continued as if she hadn't seen him react. "You could have stayed home and played 'you show me yours, I'll show you mine' with Faith, instead of coming out here to—"

"Bloody hell, Buffy. You don't seriously think I..."

"Why not? You've got a thing for slayers; she's got a thing for sleeping with my boyfriends. You're made for each other." Buffy shrugged, her expression as neutral as she could make it.

"Why not?" He threw his hands in the air and gave the closest thing to a real snarl that she'd heard from him since he'd come back with his soul. "Have you forgotten who it's all about? If you think I'd seriously... I don't know whether to laugh or bite you."

He strode ahead of her, his coat flapping behind him. Buffy stared after him, wondering if she should let him go or try to apologize. She shrugged and decided she had enough to worry about and Spike would just have to get over his hurt feelings by himself. She turned to go another way, planning to make a quick patrol in the hope she would come across the newest First Evil minion. However, she hadn't gone a hundred yards before Spike was prowling beside her, his hands in his pockets and his head down.

"I would never, you know," he said softly. "Promised myself I'd never hurt you. Wouldn't have done even without the soul, but now..."

"I know." She sighed. "I'm sorry. I just... I wanted to talk to you, and she... and then you.... I was just feeling a little vulnerable, I guess." She turned her head to look at him. "I was afraid I might be losing my... I don't know what to call you. Best friend? Biggest supporter? Best warrior?" She shook her head. "I don't know what I'd do without you on my side."

"You called me your 'boyfriend'," he said quietly. "Are you demoting me already?"

"I did? I did, didn't I?" She looked at him from the corner of her eye; he was keeping his gaze on the ground, but she could read the tension in his face. She stopped him with a hand on his arm, moving it up to cup his cheek when he turned to face her. "Can we just postpone this conversation until we've kicked the First Evil's butt back to hell? I know that's not really fair, and I... but all I can think about right now is keeping these girls safe and—"

"It's fine, love." He turned his head to kiss her palm, then let her drop her hand. "You've got enough on your plate. I'm yours. You can call me whatever you like –I'll be here no matter what."

"I think I'll call you... William," she said softly. "If that's okay with you."

"'s my name, isn't it?"


"I've got him – go!" Spike's voice, as he took Xander's weight off her shoulder, sent her hustling to catch up with the others. She listened to be sure that he and the man he'd thrown over his shoulder were right behind her, turning occasionally to check on them. Spike put Xander in the car, murmuring sympathetically as he prepared to take him and the injured potentials directly to the hospital, leaving Buffy to shepherd the rest of the potentials to safety. She suffered a brief moment of hysteria as she acknowledged that the majority of her "army" consisted of girls not even old enough to drive. And now, one of the few adults left had lost an eye. She blinked back her tears and straightened her shoulders as she followed the rest of their vanquished raiding party back to the house.


She really shouldn't have been surprised by the revolt that broke out. Even her own sister seemed to have turned against her, spending much of her time hovering over Xander and being glared at by Anya. Spike was away again, this time on a mission that Giles had assured her, meeting her cold, suspicious gaze as steadily as he could, would bring no harm to the vampire, but possibly important information to her.

As she walked numbly through the deserted town, she shook her head sadly at her own stupidity in calling a meeting without her strongest supporter there.

He sent Spike away so he couldn't stop what Giles knew was going to happen. So he couldn't interfere when I was kicked out of my own house. Why didn't I see that coming? It's exactly what he did with me when Robin was going to kill Spike. Every time he tries to separate us, it means one of us is about to be shafted...

She bit her lip in worry, then decided that Andrew was too in love with his vision of Spike to be of any danger to him. Chances were the trip would just be a wild goose chase that meant nothing. Spike would return, find out what had happened, and....

And what, Buffy? He's only one man – vampire. A pretty amazing one, but he's not going to be able to save this situation. You're on your own... again.

She walked through the open door, calmly ordering the owner to get out of the house and out of the town before making herself at home. She lay on the bed, eyes open, but unfocused as she thought about all she'd given up to come back to Sunnydale.

I wonder what would have happened to everyone if I'd just stayed in my dream world? Would they all be dead? Would Spike still be here, or would he have died in agony when the chip malfunctioned? Would the First Evil have been able to become so powerful if I wasn't here? Would Xander still have his eye?

"Ah, there you are."

His voice brought her gaze over to him. And there he was. The vampire who wouldn't leave. The one who had wormed his way into her heart to such an extent that, in another world and time, she'd wanted to marry him. Here he was to remind her of all he was... and all he wasn't.
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