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Together Again by slaymesoftly
Chapter Three
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True to his word, by the wee hours of the following morning, Spike was on his feet and greeting the slayers as they returned from that night’s patrol. He was still gaunt-looking, but no longer clutched his side and seemed to be steady on his feet.
Buffy and her scythe had accounted for two Turok-hans, but she’d been unable to get close to the hellmouth. The slayers she brought with her had spread out with their local counterparts and made short work of any normal vamps or demons they encountered. By previous agreement, they only concentrated on clearing a path to the hellmouth, rather than going throughout the city. She acknowledged Spike with a nod then addressed the slayers.
“Good work, girls.  There might be enough of us now to begin taking back parts of the city.  Everybody get something to eat and some rest. We’ll work out a strategy before we go out again tonight.” She turned to go to the kitchen and find something to eat herself when she saw that Spike was watching her.
“Hey. You’re looking better.” 
He nodded, his expression less than welcoming.  “Told you I would be.”
“Well, don’t rush it. Give yourself at least one more night before you jump back into the fray.”
He surprised her by letting out a low growl.
“Nothing. Just… looks like General Buffy’s in charge again. I’ll just be in my room.” He turned and vanished down the hall.
Buffy frowned and asked Rachel, “What flew up his butt?”
She looked uncomfortable, then sighed. “I think… maybe….” Rachel shook her head. “Spike and Faith were pretty tight. They did all the planning and they did it together and just kind of asked us for input once they decided. And now that she’s gone… It’s been just him. We kind of depended on him to tell us what to do as soon as he regained consciousness and could focus. But he struggles with it sometimes.  Maybe he thinks you’re taking over his job?”
Buffy frowned, pushing down the bolt of jealousy at hearing how close Spike and Faith had been in favor of evaluating his attitude since she arrived.
“He asked us to come,” she said, glaring toward his closed door and raising her voice. “And he’s hurt. If he wants to be part of the strategy session, he needs to say so. If he’s going to stay in his room and pout — I guess I’ll just leave him to brood….”
Spike’s door flew open and he snarled, “I heard that!”
Buffy couldn’t resist a small smile at his predictability. “You were meant to. Do we need to talk?” She looked around the now-empty lobby, nodding at Rachel when she mouthed a silent “I’ll be in the kitchen”, then back at Spike.  “Do we?” she repeated.
He emerged from his room and limped to an overstuffed chair pushed up against a wall. He dropped into it and sighed.
“I reckon we do,” he admitted. He looked up at her from under his lashes. “I’m sorry. Actin’ like a spoiled brat, aren’t I?”
Without answering his obviously rhetorical question, she sat in the nearest empty chair. “So, what’s wrong?  Is Rachel right? Do you think I’m trying to take away your job?”
He shook his head. “You’re welcome to my ‘job’, Slayer. Never wanted to be responsible for so many little girls. It was easy when Faith was here. She was the boss and they all knew it. Now they expect me to tell them what to do… and that makes them my responsibility. I don’t like sending them out to fight when I can’t be with them to keep them safe.”
“Okay. Well, in the first place, these girls are slayers. And yes, they probably aren’t as… independent… as Faith and I had to be. There’s no reason they should be. They’ve always been part of a group and had others to depend on….”
She grew thoughtful. “That might be something we’re doing wrong in training. They fight well in groups, and follow orders, but they don’t learn to think for themselves.”
“Told you years ago, Buffy, that part of what makes you so good is the creativity and unpredictability you bring to the fight.  It’s what makes you special. I don’t think you can teach that.”
She blushed at his matter-of-fact compliment, but continued, “Maybe not, but if we give them more chances to be on their own, with no one to depend on but themselves….” She exhaled sharply.  “Well, that’s a worry for another day. Right now, you need to stop worrying about being responsible for them, and just assume they can take care of themselves. It’s what they are.  And in the second place… you’re more than welcome to take part in any strategy or planning. I never said you shouldn’t be there. You just got all huffy and walked away before I could hand you your engraved invitation.”
“Said I was sorry,” he growled, slumping back in the chair.
“You did. And look… I know I said we weren’t going to have a…. I don’t even know what kind of a conversation to call it—personal I guess—until this was over. But, we need to be able to work together. It won’t be like whatever you and Faith had—” Buffy’s tightened lips didn’t go unnoticed and Spike grinned, then quickly lost it when she glared at him.
“Those pretty hazel eyes are looking a little green right now, luv,” he said, using a pet name for the first time. Buffy relaxed a fraction, even though she heard the difference between his generic “luv” and the “love” she’d been used to hearing from him. “Turned out Slayer number two and I worked well together. Two of a kind, in some ways…. not alike at all in others. But neither one of us was stupid enough to start something you might object to. She wasn’t suicidal – her words, not mine – and I’m just as much a one-woman man as I’ve ever been. It was a working relationship and that’s all it was. Mutual respect and all that, but nothing else.”
“If you’d stopped talking at ‘not starting something I might object to’, I might have believed you. Now it just sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself and me.”
“Just tryin’ to get that issue out of the way so we can work out our situation.” She couldn’t tell from his stoic expression if he was confirming her guess or not, but he didn’t meet her eyes.
“And what is our situation? You’re here. I’m here. We have other slayers, Turok-han butt to kick, and a hellmouth to close.  Been there, done that. We know what to do.”  She stared at him. “You don’t think I’m going to expect you to set fire to yourself to do it this time, do you?”
He snorted and shook his head. “Not worried about that this time. Don’t have the right equipment for it.”
“No gaudy jewelry?”
He shook his head, wincing as he did so. “Not the equipment I’m talking about.  I need for you to know….” He hesitated. “Was hoping we could put this off until I’d made sure you knew you could trust me….”
“Why wouldn’t I trust you?”
“Because somewhere along the way – between popping in and out of that amulet a couple of times – the soul went walkabout. That precious little spark that’s so important to you is gone.”
Buffy flinched, then put her hand on his arm. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry, Spike. You worked hard for that soul.”
He shrugged, then picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I’m okay without it. Made me a bit too wimpy, to tell the truth. My demon’s a lot happier now. But it matters to you. You know that, and I know that.” He put her hand back down on her own leg, giving it a little pat before shifting as far away as he could get without leaving his chair.
“And now you think I won’t trust you,” she said without expression. “As if all those years before it, when I trusted you, don’t matter anymore.”
“You trusted me because of the chip. It’s gone. No chip. No soul. There’s just me.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow at him. “Who’s been running around the country helping slayers and who’s been living here with them without helping yourself to the blood that would heal you overnight….”
“We’re not talking about other slayers just now. We’re talking about you.”
“Do they know?” Buffy tried to ignore the implication.
“Faith did. She didn’t much care. She’d seen too much of the big poof’’s on again/off again shenanigans to put much stock in a soul. The other girls don’t know. All they know about William the Bloody is what they’ve been taught in Slayer School.”
“We teach them about souls,” Buffy said, squeezing her eyes shut. “We use you and Angel as examples.”
“And that’s why they don’t know,” he said, rising to his feet.  “We’ll be fine, Buffy. We know how to work together – soul or no soul. It won’t be important until the job is done. You need to go eat and get some sleep. I’ll see you tonight for planning.”
She brought her head forward and watched him as he walked to his room without looking back. When he’d disappeared behind his closed door, she dropped her head back again, her mind whirling.  After several minutes of trying to cope with the idea of working beside soulless Spike, remembering his status as soulless and evil the first time they formed a truce to work together, as well as how he’d cared for Dawn while she was dead, Buffy shut down that line of thought and got up to take care of her body’s need for food and sleep.
The younger slayers trickled into the small meeting room designated for meetings, glancing at the end of the table where Buffy, Willow, and Rachel were sitting, with Spike leaning against the wall behind them.  One of the original Cleveland girls frowned and glared at them.
“Is there a problem, Jessie?” Rachel asked, her expression making it clear she understood what the problem was.
“Spike’s our leader. Why isn’t he sitting down? Isn’t he part of this?”
Buffy nudged Rachel before she could respond, saying, “Let me.” She stared at the defiant girl, noting the warmth of her gaze every time her eyes went to Spike, and sighed. She glanced over her shoulder to glare at him, knowing he was smothering a smile when he ducked his head. She rolled her eyes, then turned her attention back to Jessie and the other girls, some now lined up behind her in solidarity.
“He isn’t sitting down because he didn’t want to,” Buffy said. “He is very much a part of this, and I’ll be depending on his knowledge and experience with this hellmouth the entire time I’m here. Was that all?” 
Jessie looked somewhat abashed and shrugged her shoulders. “Yeah. I guess so. I just wanted to be sure you weren’t kicking him out or something.”
“I’m not. Any more questions?”
Her back-ups having quietly found seats around the room, Jessie mumbled her agreement and found a seat herself.
Beside Buffy, Rachel addressed the room. “Does anybody else want to express an opinion about the help we asked for and got?”  Her glare made it obvious it wasn’t in anyone’s best interest to air any negative opinions. There was some muttering and squirming, but no one mentioned anything.
“Okay then. Let’s look at our options.” 
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