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.
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