The evening was uneventful until they got to Shady Rest and ran into a mixed group of vampires and demons working on some sort of ritual. Suddenly, Buffy and Spike were in the midst of a melee, while George and Nigel pushed Lydia behind them, using crosses and crossbows to ward off the occasional stray vampire that thought the humans looked like easier prey.
While the watchers had been impressed by what they saw when Spike and Buffy were sparring with each other, watching them working together in perfect synchronicity to clear out a group of demons and their vampire guards was an eye-opening experience. Watching them do it with such joy and abandon was more than a little disturbing.
As the last demon fell to the ground and began to dissolve, Buffy and Spike exchanged high fives, barely remembering at the last second that a congratulatory kiss was not a good idea. They shared rueful smiles before turning back in time to see George drive a stake through a vampire’s chest with complete confidence and professionalism.
Lydia seemed surprisingly unruffled by the violence she’d just witnessed, obviously having complete confidence in her guardians, even as she ignored them to gaze at Spike with worshipful eyes.
“You were wonderful,”she breathed.
While he preened, Buffy snorted and turned to George and Nigel, who’d managed to keep Lydia perfectly safe from any group members that thought the humans were standing between them and escape from the deadly couple decimating their companions.
“Not your first rodeo, huh?”she said with admiration in her voice.
“No.”Nigel’s terse response softened as he added, “But I must say, I was quite grateful that we had you…and William…in front of us. That was…. quite impressive.”
“Call me Spike,”he said, joining Buffy. “I’d call that a good night’s work, wouldn’t you, Slayer?”
“Yep. I’m done. I need to get home to see how Mom is. I think Giles was going to drive Dawn home and pick up Tara, but just in case…”
“Just in case, we’d best grab my baby and get going.”
“Baby?”Lydia’s eyes went wide.
“His car,”Buffy said, making a face. “His very old, smelly, loud car.”
“Which has been carrying you and yours around for several days, Summers”he growled.
“Uh…you aren’t going to leave us here, are you?”Lydia looked around the dark graveyard.
“Oh, no. We’ll walk you back to your hotel and then we’ll go get the car. Which one is it?”Buffy strode toward the gate without looking back. Spike shrugged and stretched his legs to stay even as the humans jogged to catch up.
After leaving Lydia and her friends at the hotel, Buffy and Spike hastened to the Magic Box to pick up his car. The shop was locked up and dark, so Buffy assumed Giles had taken Dawn home and that they could safely leave.
Spike pulled into the driveway behind Joyce’s SUV and shut off the engine.
“Home again, home again,”he said, reaching across the seat to run his fingers through her hair. Buffy leaned into his touch, but shook her head when he tried to pull her closer.
“I need to get inside and make sure everybody’s okay. You can come in if you wanna, but—”
“But I’ll be leaving in the same condition I’m in now?”He put her hand on the bulge along his leg.
“You are such a pig!”In spite of her words, she gave him a squeeze before reaching for the door handle.
“You’re going to leave me like this?”
“You’re a big boy. You’ll deal.”
He sighed. “I’d hoped my days and nights of dealing with it by myself while I dream about you were over.”
“If that was meant to be romantic or flattering, it didn’t quite make it. Just so you know…”She climbed out of the car and walked around to the driver’s side, offering her mouth for a goodnight kiss.
“I’ll work on the romantic and flattering,”he murmured against her lips as he deepened the kiss.
“See that you do,”she gasped, finally pulling away before she followed her lips and tongue right through the window and on to his lap. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll be in my crypt…all by myself…alone…in my bed…”
She laughed. “You’d better be there alone.”
He laughed along with her. “I think Lydia’s shadow isn’t going to let her be alone with me.”
“You picked up on that too, huh?”
He nodded. “Poor sod is completely gone on her. And she has no idea.”
“That can happen….”Buffy blew him a kiss as she backed toward the house. “She’ll figure it out eventually. Maybe he’ll save her life or something.”
“Maybe so. Sleep well, love.”
Buffy woke up to find her mother sitting in the kitchen and having a cup of coffee.
“Mom! This is not resting!”
“I’ve been resting for two full days. I’m bored. It’s not like I’m going back to work yet, but there’s no reason why I can’t sit in my own kitchen and drink instant coffee. Or watch TV in my own living room.”
“But nothing. I’m not doing anything strenuous. You or Dawn can do the laundry, dishes, vacuuming –but I can certainly cook a simple meal, fix myself something to drink, and watch TV. Maybe with clothes on. Do I need to get dressed, or will Spike not be here till later?”
Buffy decided not to comment on Joyce’s assumption that she would be seeing Spike in the evening, just said, “I think you can stay comfy today. I don’t know what’s going on tonight. It depends on what those Council jerks do. I guess most of them are leaving today, but Spike’s groupie is staying.”
Buffy sighed. “I thought Dawn told you about it when she got home last night. There’s a watcher, a woman, who did her thesis on him and she wanted to meet him.”
“And has she?”
“Oh yeah. She practically slobbered all over him. He’ll have her wrapped around his finger by the time she leaves. Which, mission accomplished, I guess if he does. As long as he’s got somebody on his side over there, Giles thinks it will help if and when they—”Buffy stopped, not sure what her mother knew about Spike’s chip. As usual, mom’s intuition was all Joyce needed.
“If and when they find out his chip is not working?”
Buffy sighed. “Yeah, that. But it isn’t just not working. Glory dug it right out of his skull. It was pretty gory.”
“That must have been painful for Spike!”
“Well, we were a little busy getting our butts kicked at the time, so he had to suck it up and get back in game.” She glanced around the kitchen. “Did Dawn go to school today?”
Joyce nodded, then winced. “Ow. Note to self –stop making gestures with my head.” At Buffy’s frown of concern, she smiled. “It’s fine. Just pulls on the stiches a little, that’s all. Inside my head doesn’t hurt at all. And yes, Dawn went to school. There was no reason for her not to. I expect to be back at the gallery by the end of the week. Part-time, at least.”
“Please don’t rush it, Mom. We can handle everything here –and maybe Spike and I…okay, maybe not Spike…but me. I can help at the gallery.”
Joyce laughed. “You’d be surprised how helpful Spike could be. Not just with the heavy lifting, which he’s helped me with before, but he’s actually quite knowledgeable about art and artists. Even the modern ones.”
“Spike? My Spike? And I didn’t mean that quite—”
“I know how you meant it. And I think you’ll find that much of his rough exterior is a persona he adopted for some reason.”
“Yeah, I’m figuring that out. It’s kinda mind-boggling, you know?”
Joyce just smiled and sipped her coffee.
Finally accepting her mother’s assurances that she was going to be just fine and would not do anything more strenuous than carry her coffee cup into the living room, Buffy left the house to check in with her advisor at Sunnydale U. She was pretty sure the semester was a lost cause. And possibly the whole year.
“I guess slayers just weren’t meant to have real lives,”she muttered. “There’s always night school –oh wait, I’m busy at night.”
She was still muttering when she stopped in to the Magic Box to check on the status of the Council visitors. She was surprised to find Nigel and George sitting at table reading a newspaper. A glance toward the training room told her why.
Lydia sat on a chair, legs crossed and notepad on her lap as she stared up at Spike with rapt attention. His attention, on the other hand, which had been focused on whatever story he was telling her, shifted immediately to the doorway and Buffy. Lydia’s expression lost its happy enthusiasm and became one of forced welcome as she saw what had drawn his attention away from her.
“Miss Summers. How are you today? I didn’t expect to see you so early in the day.”
“I’ll bet you didn’t,”Buffy said, forcing a smile. “I’m a little surprised to see Spike here so early in the day. He’s usually sound asleep around now.”
“Oh, William has been explaining to me that he requires very little sleep when he’s healthy. And he got to bed well before dawn, so he was wide awake when Rupert took me to his crypt to talk to him.”
The look Buffy shot “Rupert”didn’t bode well for his future health, but he just shrugged and, with a grim smile, reminded Buffy that “Miss Chalmers is here to interview William and get to know him. The sooner she can collect all her data, the sooner she and her two companions will be on their way home.”
“Of course,”Buffy said through her teeth. “I’d almost forgotten that.”She turned her patently fake smile on Spike. “Have you been giving her what she needs, William?”
“Doin’my best, Slayer.”He refused to meet her gaze.
“I’m sure you are.”She turned her back on them and focused on the two watchers. “Where are your buddies-in-nosiness?”
Nigel sighed. “Miss Summers, contrary to what you seem to believe, we are not here to make your life harder, only to learn more about it so that we may be of assistance in the future.”
She didn’t even try to hide her scoffing “Right. Of course you are.”Buffy transferred her attention to Giles. “So what’s the sitch with Dawn? Are they satisfied she’s just a normal teenage hormone bomb?”
Grateful to have some good news, he responded quickly. “Yes. They talked to her a bit more last night, ran some tests for latent power, and concluded that she is no danger to herself or anyone else. They are probably already on their way back to England as we speak. Only Miss Chalmers and her…companions…are remaining here somewhat longer.”
“Define ‘somewhat longer’,”Buffy demanded, looking back and forth between Giles and Nigel.
They both looked uncomfortable, but neither one spoke. At last, George spoke up. “Lydia–Miss Chalmers will tell us when she is ready to leave. This is quite an opportunity for her. Very rarely does a watcher have an opportunity to meet an old vampire in person, let alone be permitted to interview him.” He finished as if reciting from memory something Lydia had clearly told him.
As he finished speaking, Spike and Lydia emerged from the training room. He was grinning and she was flushed and appeared flustered. Again, her happy expression faded when Spike went directly to Buffy and pulled her to the back of the shop for a private conversation.
“Do you think you can stop glaring at me long enough to let me explain?”
“What’s to explain? Giles showed her where you live, so now she can show up whenever she wants to, and she obviously thinks you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, so…”
He rolled his eyes and growled. “That was the idea, wasn’t it? Get her so besotted that she’ll fight for me if and when the Council decides I’m no longer an asset to their Chosen One?”
“I’m not their ‘Chosen One’,”Buffy said. “They tried to get rid of me.”
“Didn’t work, did it? And now they have some idea exactly how much you are not a run-of-the-mill slayer. You’re bloody amazing…. when you aren’t acting like a jealous girlfriend…. and now they think I’m almost a worthy evil-fighting partner. I’d say we’re doing pretty well so far.”
“I’m not jealous,”she muttered, for lack of anything else to argue against.
“Right, so you won’t mind if I take Lydia back to the crypt and show her around then?”
Buffy’s “What?”was so loud everyone turned around to stare at them. Lowering her voice, she said, “That was a joke, right?”
“Fraid not, pet. But her bodyguards will be coming with us. Actually, they’ll take her there while I go through the sewers.”
He blinked at her.
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “Okay, that was jealous girlfriend talking. I’m sorry. You’re right. We told you to be nice to her and make her like you…. I just didn’t know she was going to be so…so…”She waved her hands around, helpless to know what to call someone who was not obviously attractive only because of the way she dressed.
“And you think I’m insecure,”he said with a smile only she could see. “Seriously, love. You can’t possibly be worried that I might be interested in somebody else. Never mind somebody who wraps herself up in tweed and blushes if a bloke winks at her.”
“You winked at her? You’ve been flirting?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “I flirted with you when we were trying to kill each other, Buffy. It’s what I do. I flirt with birds. All of them. Young, old, pretty, not-so-pretty…. C’mon, love. This isn’t new.”
Buffy pouted. “It’s new that you’re doing it with somebody who—”
“Who would grab her pearls and scream for her bodyguards if I made a serious move on her?”
Buffy cocked her head at him, her fake pout gone. She stared at him without answering, then just shook her head. “You might be a good flirt, but you know absolutely nothing about women.”With that cryptic response, she walked back to the front of the store where she eyed Lydia in a way that had George stepping up beside her. Buffy shrugged and went to sit down.
“So, Giles,”she said. “What do you know about online courses or daytime night school?”
He blinked at her in surprise, then smiled. “Online courses –absolutely nothing. But if you wish to pursue your education…”He stopped and frowned at her. “Does this mean you no longer plan to attend university?”
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “I don’t think it’s practical. I squeaked through the fall semester, but this one…Let’s face it, every spring I’m going to be missing classes while I try to stop an apocalypse. I just got lucky this year and we got rid of Glory early, but if Spike hadn’t seen her change and told you about the spell….Yeah, I’d be lucky to make one class a week. And then there’s Mom…. I’ve already missed too much to catch up.”
She put her chin on her hands and rested her elbows on the table. “I think it makes more sense to work on college stuff when and how I can. Assuming I can find enough time to get a degree in anything, maybe I can do it before something else gets lucky and I—”
Spike’s snarled “Over my dusty body”brought everyone’s attention to him, with both Lydia and Nigel narrowing their eyes at him. George, on the other hand, wore just a trace of a smile –one he immediately dropped when Spike caught his eye. They exchanged a long look, then short nods as everyone else frowned at their silent communication.
Spike turned his attention back to Buffy. “Do we have a plan for tonight, Slayer, or just regular patrol?”
“Regular patrol, I guess. Do you want to meet me back here?”
“Can. Or I can meet you at your house. I promised the Bit I’d help her with some homework.”
While everyone gaped at him, he turned to go down the stairs. “It’ll take me about fifteen minutes to get back to my crypt from here. I’ll leave the door open.” He vanished down the stairs, leaving all the humans staring after him.
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