After reassuring Joyce that she looked worse than she actually was, and telling Dawn that Spike was also somewhat the worse for wear but undusty, Buffy sank into a chair.
“Do we want to know what happened?”
“Ben-Glory-minions-Glory-Ben again-Glory again-big fight-very badly injured Ben – I dunno. Giles told Spike to get me out of there and weleft.”
“Where is he?” Dawn glared at Buffy as if she might have been lying about Spike’s survival.
“He lookspretty bad. I told him to go get some blood and clean up. He’ll come by the house later.”
“So, we can go home? Is Glory gone?”Dawn's shaking voice gave away how very much she wanted to hear that she was safe. Buffy noticed the tight grip she had on Joyce's hand and gave a reassuring smile.
“I don’t knowfor sure, but I think we're safe--at least for now.” Buffy said, and changed the subject. “When can you come home, Mom?”
Joyce blinked at the abrupt change, but responded with a smileof her own. “The doctor says I’m doing really well, and I can probably go home tomorrow as long as I continue to improve.”
“Speaking of going home…. do we have to walk?”
“Well unless Giles—”
“Unless Giles what?” he said as he walked into the room.
“Unless Giles shows up to drive us home,” Buffy said, searching his face for some clue as to what had happened after she left.
“I believe I can handle that chore for you.” He looked around the room, then frowned at Buffy. “Where is….”
“I didn’t stake him,” she said, giving a surprised blink at the relief on his face. “But he looks like crap, and I didn’t want him to scare Mom and Dawn, so I sent him to clean up.”
“While you yourself lookperfectly---”
“I’ve already heard about how I look from the other snarky Brit, thanks." She narrowed her eyes in warning and Giles took the hint, stopping in mid-sentence.
Joyce was frowning at Buffy as though just noticing the blood on her clothes and the bruises on her arms and face. “You do look somewhat more… abused… than usual, Buffy. What happened out there when you found Ben?”
Buffy waved her hand around. “Oh, you know, the usual. Scabby little minions and me with no sword. There were chains and a hellgod who wanted to take me home with her… no biggie. Just a little harder on my wardrobe than usual.”
Joyce's expression showed she well aware that she was not hearing important details. With a sigh of resignation, she spoke, the concern in her voice evident. “Well, Dawn and I have had a nice visit while you and Spike were off… doing whatever you were doing. So I think you should go home now and get yourself cleaned up. I'll call you in the morning after I’ve seen the doctor and he tells me when I can go home for sure.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Buffy gave Joyce a quick hug and kiss, taking care not to get any blood on her, then she and Dawn followed Giles to the elevators.
As soon as the door closed, Dawn rounded on Buffy. “Why did you say you didn’t stake Spike? And why did Giles think you might have? Where is he?”
“He’s fine. And I didn’t stake him because Ben turned back into Glory before Spike could kill him. And the second time he was going to kill him, Giles stepped in, so no stakeage necessary.”
“You would have staked him for killing Glory’s secret identity? What’s wrong with you?”
“I didn’t say I would have done it, but I couldn’t just stand by and watch him kill somebodyhuman, even if we did know the somebody was—”
“Was harboring a threat to the entire world,” Giles finished in a dry voice.
“Yeah. That.” Buffy glared at both of them. “How am I the one who feels like a bad guy here?”
“Because Spike was trying to do the smart thing and you wouldn’t let him?” Dawn said with complete seriousness and rolling eyes.
Buffy glared at her, then turned to Giles, saying as casually as she could, “So, Giles, is Glory not with us anymore?”
“It would appear that the poor doctor, who’d come out to see what was going on, was seriously injured by a strange woman who had just violently attacked a young blond couple and then him. He succumbed to his injuries at the scene.”
Buffy stared at him. “And the police are buying that?”
“It’s Sunnydale,” Giles replied.
She bit her lip. “Did I—we—kill him by beating up Glory?”
Giles sighed. “It’s possible Ben had brain damage from your punches to Glory's head, it’s possible Spike, in his attempt to rip out a vital organ, caused serious internal bleeding. It’s also possible he choked on his own blood shortly after you left. We will probably never know… and that would be for the best.”
Buffy nodded, but was silent all the way home, knowing that one of the three of them had ended Ben’s life in an effort to save Dawn’s.
Giles turned down Buffy’s half-hearted invitation to come in while she ordered pizza, saying he wanted to get home and prepare his “statement” for the Council.
“Are you still reporting to them?”
He shook his head. “Not as such, no. But we did request their assistance in this instance and I should reassure them that the situation has been handled and there will be no opening of a portal to a hell dimension this millennium.”
“Uh… Giles. What do they know about Spike?”
“They know of his chipped status, and that he has on occasion been of some assistance to us. I will of course, tell them of his usefulness to us with Glory, including his suggestion that we do a removal spell.” He looked at Buffy out of the corner of his eye. “Is there anything more I need to share?”
Buffy sighed. “You know, don’t you?”
“That Spike has apparently developed… feelings… for you and your family that are, at best, unusual for a vampire, and almost unheard of for one of Spike’s former prowess and lifestyle? Yes. I’ve been aware of his growing regard for you for some time.”
“Why aren’t you freaking out like you did about Angel?”
Giles shrugged. “You are somewhat older and one hopes wiser now. I expect you to make better decisions about the men in your life. In this case, I’ve had an opportunity to get to know Spike in a way I never had with Angel. It is surprisingly reassuring to know that his affection for you is not dependent on having a soul that could be easily lost.”
“So, you don’t care if I… not that I am! But I might… I mean, it’s okay if I start dating Spike?”
He sighed deeply. “I cannot say I find the idea something to celebrate. All my training tells me that it would lead to nothing but ruin. However, I know better than to think I can instruct you in matters of the heart. And to be truthful, I think I prefer Spike’s company to that arrogant young man you’ve been seeing.” He patted Buffy’s hand. “Although I am sure Riley is not going to see it that way. Spike may be in some danger from that quarter.”
Buffy nodded. “I know, but I’m not sure Spike is going to take it seriously now that—” Buffy froze, realizing that Giles hadn’t arrived until they were fighting Glory and wouldn’t have known about the bloody removal of Spike’s chip. She looked at his face, which gave nothing away, and waited to see if he’d noticed her slip.
The silence stretched out until Dawn got bored with the lack of conversation and jumped out to let herself into the house. Finally Giles gave another sigh.
“Shall I wait then to see if you tell me yourself about Spike’s lack of restraint, or just admit that I saw both the gaping hole in the back of his skull and the equally gaping hole in Ben’s neck?”
“I would have told you,” she muttered. “Eventually.”
“I’m assuming by that you mean that you trust Spike not to go on a killing spree once he has recovered a bit?”
“Don’t you?” she challenged.
“Oddly enough, I do. Although I do think it should not be among the informative bits I share with the Council. I suspect they will not see it that way.”
“Well, they don’t know him like we do.”
“Quite right. Although, there is a Miss Chalmers there – researcher, not a field watcher – who did her thesis on William the Bloody and who would like nothing better than a chance to meet him in person….”
“Spike has a groupie? A watcher groupie?”
“An admirer of sorts, I presume. Very foolish of her to become so enamored of a dangerous vampire, but she could be a very useful ally.”
“You want to pimp Spike out to the Watchers Council????” Buffy’s voice had risen to ear piercing levels.
Giles flinched. “I would not have put it so crudely, but….”
"How would you put it?"
"I do not believe that it would be a bad idea to have someone within the council who was interested in keeping Spike alive - so to speak."
"Just so that's all she's interested in," Buffy muttered.
Giles appeared to be fighting an urge to roll his eyes, but said, "I intend to invite her to visit Sunnydale to meet William the Bloody in person. I am hoping he will be able to convince her to support his presence here as well as his newly realized desire to assist you in your duties."
"Is that Giles speak for don't let her know why he's helping me?"
"I'll think about it. Does Spike know about this idea?”
"No, but I have no reason to believe he would object to it."
Buffy narrowed her eyes at that. "So, if I start dating Spike, I have to pretend I'm not so his groupie won't get upset? Not seeing the upside to this, Giles."
"The upside could be a supportive voice on the council, if, or more likely when, they find out about Spike’s chipless state."
"Fine. She's probably all old and tweedy anyway. He won't like her."
Giles started to speak, then obviously thought better of it.
"If that's settled then, I'll just be getting home." He paused. "You do understand that you - and Spike - may well have saved the world from a most unpleasant fate, do you not? While you may feel that you have violated a slayer's prime directive, that is not the case at all. Ben was well aware of Glory, to the point of setting you up for her. A victim, yes, but hardly an innocent one."
"If you say so." Buffy didn't sound convinced, but didn't argue. "Goodnight, Giles." She got out of the car without looking back.
Much later, when she had showered and dressed in clean clothes, she was sitting in the kitchen, eating ice cream with Dawn when she felt familiar tingles on her neck. As Dawn stood up to rinse her bowl, Buffy said, "Let Spike in please."
Dawn blinked in surprise but unlocked the kitchen door to let the equally surprised vampire in.
"Buffy knew it was gonna be you," she explained, going back to her seat.
"Did she now?" He raised an eyebrow at Buffy and walked closer. "How'd you know that, Slayer?"
"We don't get a lot of vampires at the back door," she responded, grinning at his disappointed expression.
"Right, I suppose not."
Buffy let him mope for few seconds, then laughed. "Stop pouting, Spike, I can always tell it's you…. Ever since that spell of Willow's."
"I knew that," he muttered. "Just thought you were trying to deny it is all."
Suddenly he raised his head, listening. "You expecting other company?"
Buffy shook her head and picked up a sword. "Leftover minions?"
Spike shrugged and followed her to the door. "Was hoping the little wankers had all dissolved or something equally obliging."
They went onto porch, telling Dawn to lock the door behind them as they did so. Rather than scabby minions, they found Riley and two other soldiers - all holding stakes.
"Riley? What are you doing here?"
"A better question would be what is Spike doing here? Shouldn't the no longer harmless hostile be dust by now, Slayer?"
Buffy leaned her sword against the house and sighed. "That song's getting old, Riley. You and Spike just helped me win a fight against a hellgod. Why do you want to dust him?"
"Because you haven't. We're going to do what you won't. Put him down like rabid animal he is."
Buffy glanced at Spike. "Have you been foaming at the mouth again?"
"Bloody hell, and I here I thought I'd wiped my chin."
They exchanged small smiles, then Buffy stepped in front of him and down into the yard.
"Go home, Riley. You can't kill Spike. I won't let you."
Spike followed her to the grass, saying, "Let 'em try, pet." Although he looked much better than he had earlier, he still wore the signs of battle, including the still oozing holes in his skull.
Buffy frowned at him. "Are you okay? Cause, no offense, but you still look like crap."
"I'm fine on the inside," he said, ignoring the men spreading out around him to respond to Buffy 's concern. "Let's see how they do without nets and tasers."
Buffy glanced back at Riley and the two men he 'd brought with him. "Guys? This is really dumb."
Behind her Spike was in a fighting stance, his amber gaze focused on Riley. "Bring it, farm boy. Not gonna be the same pushover now that I don't have your little equalizer in my head anymore.
"We don't need anything but these. You're not all that, Spike." Riley sneered as he advanced, gesturing to his men to continue flanking Spike.
Buffy rolled her eyes and mumbled, “Testosterone overload. Both of you.”She sighed and shook her head. "Actually, he kinda is all that, Riley," she said. "But it's your funeral—”She stopped and whirled on Spike. "I didn't mean that literally."
"Not stupid, pet,"
" 'K then. Have fun, just don't kill anybody." She moved back to the porch and sat down on the top step.
The men accompanying Riley seemed taken back at both Buffy's sudden willingness to let the vampire fight them, and her casual assumption that he could kill them if he wanted to. They looked at Riley for guidance, but he had already leaped at Spike, stake raised. Buffy's eyes widened in momentary fear and she rose to her feet, but sank back down when Spike easily dodged the intended blow. Before Riley could recover, Spike had hold of his wrist and was squeezing while he bent the arm behind the larger man's back.
He snarled a warning at the only one of the other soldiers who appeared to be thinking about launching his own attack. With Buffy seeming unconcerned about Riley's safety, but obviously poised to intervene if necessary, the man thought better of it and raised his hands as he backed away.
Although Riley was clearly in pain, he cursed at Spike and refused to drop the stake until it fell from his incapacitated hand. Spike kicked it away and released Riley, jumping just out of reach and waiting to see what his next move would be. To Spike's disappointment and Buffy's relief, Riley backed away and drew himself up to his full height.
"I'm very disappointed in you, Buffy. I'll give you what's left of tonight to decide whether keeping Spike alive is more important to you than I am. If you don't come to your senses by morning, I'm going to accept a position with a new unit hunting demons in South America. It's your choice, the vampire or me. I won't make you stake him since you think you owe him for saving your life, but you need to let me do it, or you've lost me forever. I can't be with a woman who doesn't put me first."
Buffy stared at him, her expression sad but resigned. "Riley, I really like you. I do. But I'm the Slayer. The world comes first. And it always will... the world and my family and my friends. All of my friends. They understand that. Why can't you?"
"I'm not one of your Scoobies, Buffy. I'm your boyfriend. I should be more important to you than a couple of wannabe witches, a crazy woman who thinks she's a demon--"
"Ex-demon," Buffy interrupted.
Riley rolled his eyes. "Ex-demon, the man who's dating her, and a vampire with the hots for you. None of them should be more important to you than I am. Not if you really love me." He paused, waiting, but Buffy just sat there, staring at him sadly. "Although, now that I think about it, you've never told me you love me.... Guess that should have been my first clue." He glared at Spike. "That and the way you've always protected him."
"I'm sorry, Riley. I just can't be what you want me to be. I wish I could, but I can't."
As the obviously personal and painful conversation had gone on, both Riley's companions and Spike had moved away to give them some privacy. Although Spike could hear every word.
"You can hear them, can't you?" the braver one asked.
"Can," he responded, taking out his cigarettes and shaking one out of the pack. "Don't think it's going well for your mate. He might be in need of some liquid comfort later on."
"Did you really lose the chip?" he asked, seeming to think he and Spike were bonding.
In response, Spike turned so they could see the healing, but still jagged rip in his skull. When they'd had time to look, he leaned against a tree and watched Buffy and Riley.
"Would you have killed us if we tried to back Finn up?"
"Promised the Slayer I wouldn't, didn't I?" he said with a shrug as he watched a grim-looking Riley marching toward them. He turned and gave them a toothy grin. "But accidents can happen. Best remember that, mates." He moved away from the tree and balanced on his toes as he waited for Riley to reach them.
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