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?”
“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? I 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.”
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