Spike’s subtle eye roll and smirk when Buffy’s first act when she came out of her room was to look for him made her flush. He was leaning against the wall right outside the open door to his room, clearly waiting for her to emerge.
“Didn’t trust me?”
She shrugged. “If you promise me you won’t leave before we can have a talk, I wouldn’t have to worry that you won’t be here when I need you.”
“No, what? No I won’t have to worry, or no, you won’t promise.”
“Both. Come on. Let’s get some breakfast and round up the troops.”
More glares, this time less much less obvious, greeted their arrival in the kitchen together. When Jessie mumbled something to the girl next to her, Spike said, “Something you’d like to share with the class, Jess? Cause if it isn’t something you want us all to hear, it’s probably best kept to yourself, yeah?”
The offending slayer and her friend quickly took their food with them and left the kitchen. Rachel gave Buffy an apologetic smile, saying, “Do you want me to talk to her? There’s really not much excuse for her behavior since you got here.”
Buffy shrugged. “She’ll get over it. Spike should’ve known better than to get too flirty with these younger girls. Older women usually know when he’s just being… him.”
“What makes you think I flirted with that… I don’t treat her any different than I do anybody else.”
“Exactly. You flirt with everybody. Don’t pretend you don’t. She was probably too afraid of Faith to act like that before, but I’ll bet she thought she was going to get somewhere with you after Faith got killed. Then I showed up.” She grimaced at him. “Moving me into your bedroom when I got hurt probably really rattled her cage.”
Spike snorted. “If she was afraid of Faith – who had no reason to care who I flirted with, I’d like to remind you – then she should be wetting her knickers when you walk in the room.”
“She doesn’t know me,” Buffy said.
“Well, someone should tell her you don’t share your toys before she says something where you can hear it.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “You’re not my ‘toy’, Spike. And I’m not worried about a silly little girl and her delusions.”
“You’re not? Why the bloody hell not?” He looked offended. Neither of them noticed that Rachel had left the room.
She shrugged. “If you didn’t go for Faith, and you’re a one-woman man who still wants my body, then she doesn’t have a chance. And I’m not going to waste time and energy worrying about her.”
He stared at her until she blushed and looked away. “Not that you couldn’t if you wanted. I mean we’re not....”
He tipped her chin up so he could meet her eyes. “I am a one-woman man. And that hasn’t changed since you became the one. Don’t know that it ever will, to be honest. Not while I know you’re alive.” He took his finger off her chin and let his hand drop to his side. “Which doesn’t mean I’ve been a monk all these years, or that I plan to be a monk after we’re done here. But I’d never give you a reason to be off your game in a fight. That’s another one of those things I learned the hard way.”
“But you won’t promise not to leave.”
“Not going to talk about that now.”
“You don’t think it’s going to throw me ‘off my game’ if I’m wondering the whole time that when the fight’s over I’m going to look up and you won’t be anywhere around?”
“I promise you I will be right beside you the whole time. And we’ll walk back here together and have that talk. Is that good enough for you?”
“I guess it’ll have to do.”
“Buffy,” he sighed. “I’m not trying to make this harder. I promise. It’s just that I know—”
“You know nothing.” She turned her back and walked toward the kitchen exit. “But we’ve got a battle to fight and slayers to organize, so let’s go.”
Hours later, when everyone was dressed, fed, and eager to go, Rachel and Buffy (and Spike, whose presence was enough for “his girls” to settle down and listen) called them all together in lobby to discuss the plans.
“There’s no reason to think we can’t get close to the hellmouth in the daylight. If we run into any stray demons that don’t have sunlight afflictions, take them out if you can, but don’t get lured into chasing one. Our strength is in our numbers.”
“And in the big guns just walking in the door,” Spike added as Graham and his men entered the lobby.
“And our friends with big guns,” Buffy said, smiling at the small group of soldiers in battle gear. “You guys need to hear this too.”
When Graham had joined her, exchanging a stiff nod of recognition with Spike, she looked out at the faces and shook her head. “This is way too much like last time,” she muttered before raising her voice.
“Okay, everybody, here’s what you really need to know. The First Evil is behind this. We don’t know if he’s behind it from a position of strength, or if this is some last attempt to make himself a home here. But if he has any tricks left, the biggest one is going to be that he can mimic anyone who has died. Anyone who has been dead for any length of time.”
She looked around, seeing disbelief on all the soldiers, as well as a few of the slayers too young to have heard the tales of life in Sunnydale that last awful year.
“And just so you know – that’s going to include me….” She waited for the shocked murmurs to die down. “… and Spike.” At their disbelieving expressions she rolled her eyes. “Hands up every slayer here who doesn’t know that a vampire is an animated corpse?” The murmurs died down but from the back one girl said, “But Spike is—”
“Spike is a walking deadman,” he said before Buffy could speak. “No more, no less. If you’ll remember, they let you take me from the hospital because they thought you were taking my dead body home for burial. If any of you see me anywhere but within touchin’ distance of Buffy, it’s not me. Don’t look at it. Don’t talk to it. And for the bloody love of God, don’t do anything it says. Do you bints have that?”
Into the sullen silence, Buffy added, “That same thing goes for me. If I suddenly appear in front of you, instead of wherever you last saw me, and without Spike at my side, chances are that isn’t me either. Don’t do what it says. Same thing if you think Faith just came back from the dead to help out. It will look like her, it will talk like her, but it won’t be her. It won’t be her, it won’t be your recently deceased grandmother, or anybody else common sense tells you is dead and gone.”
She smiled at Graham’s men in what was meant to be a reassuring manner.
“Ditto for you guys. I’m hoping your part will be done before the First gets his act in gear, but just be aware. My girls are going to keep the regular vampires and demons off you while you incinerate the Turok-hans, but if you suddenly hear or see somebody you know is dead telling you to start shooting at the girls… or me or Spike… before Graham has told you to pull back, please don’t do it.”
“When do you want me to give that signal, Buffy?” Graham frowned at her, choosing not to follow up on her comment about being dead.
“If the flame throwers work as well as we hope they will, Spike and I will carry the explosives with us and when we think we can fight our way to the opening, I’ll give you a signal to have your men stop shooting and get some distance. You’ll still have slayers around – and I’m assuming your guys can hold their own against ordinary vamps?”
He nodded. “I only brought men with some experience. They all have tasers and stakes.” He looked around the lobby. “Have you used the launcher I gave you yet?”
“Nope. It’s right over there by the door. Figured you might want it back just in case.”
“Okay. I think that’s it. Willow’s going to give us a cloaking spell that should get us almost all the way to the tunnel. We go down from there.”
“Yeah, the actual hellmouth is under a parking garage, but there’s a tunnel leading into it. That’s why we think if we can surprise them, they might all be trapped in that tunnel and your flame throwers can take them out. If it turns out they can’t reach that far, then we’ll bring out the rockets.”
“Uh… Buffy? They might take out the supports of the parking structure too.”
“Oh. Well. If that happens, then the hellmouth will be under it too, so….”
“I’m not saying it will happen, just that firing rockets into an area under a heavy building might not work out quite as you hope. If your plan is for you… and Spike… to go in there to set off the explosives….”
Buffy nodded. “Won’t be the first time we had a hellmouth caving in around our heads. It’ll be all right.” She shrugged. “Or it won’t.” Graham blinked at her matter-of-fact approach to possible death, then looked around at the other slayers lining up to go out.
“You really aren’t like other girls, are you?” He waved his hand toward the room. “All of you.”
Buffy gave a sad laugh. “No. We’re not. These girls get a much better chance at at living into their late 20s or 30s than I had at their age, but they all know their chances of having grandchildren are pretty slim.”
“And yet, here you are.”
“Did you miss the part about how I’ve been dead? Long enough for the First to use me as one of his trouble-making decoys? It’s a long story, but let’s just say I’ve had a little help defying the odds.” She glanced up as Spike returned from having a last chat with “his girls”. “A lot of help, sometimes,” she added, smiling at him.
“Help with what, love?” he asked as he came up next to her.
“Living past my expiration date.”
“Yeah. That. Are we ready to go?”
“Troops are. Chompin’ at the bit, so to speak.”
Buffy looked at Graham. “Let’s go then. Tell your guys to avoid hitting anything solid as much as possible. ‘K?”
When it turned out the flame throwers worked even better than rockets against the not ordinary, but just as flammable, ubervamps, those became the weapons of choice.
Which meant the men wielding them had to approach much closer than originally planned, putting more pressure of the slayers to keep their sides and flanks protected from the demons of all sorts screaming out of the tunnel. Willow and a few girls deemed still too weak or injured to fight, acted as field medics – Willow throwing a protective shield around the girls as they dashed to reach any slayers who were down, pulling them back to the relative safety behind the lines and triaging them in one of the vans.
“Stay with me,” Buffy said, as she dashed from one side of the battlefield to the other, using her scythe as needed to clean her path.
“Got your back,” Spike growled, decapitating a demon that was reaching for her with venom-dripping claws. “Think it might be time, Slayer.” He gestured in front of them where the flame throwers were becoming weaker. Fortunately, between them and the hellmouth entrance, there were few Turok-hans to be seen, but large piles of ash where they’d been.
They ran to Graham and the men behind the flame throwers. “I think we’re ready to give it a shot,” Buffy said. “Those things worked like a charm. Now it’s time to shove what’s left of these ugly guys back into the hell they came from and bury them.”
Spike took the offered explosives from Graham, raising his eyebrows at their small size.
“Don’t worry. They’ll do the job. I know they look like ordinary grenades, but they aren’t. Just pull the pins, toss them in and use that super speed to get the hell out of there.”
Spike nodded dubiously and gave one to Buffy. “Just in case,” he said, “soon’s you see the Slayer is clear, send a couple of those rockets in there. Nothing like burying a hellmouth under a lot of concrete to tie up any loose ends.”
“If you don’t see both of us, you don’t fire,” Buffy said, giving Spike a glare. “I told you, you’re not going down with this one.”
“What if we don’t see either one of you, but there are still vamps coming out?”
“Then knock it down,” Buffy said. “Don’t worry about us.”
When they’d thrown the explosives into the gaping maw of hell, Buffy had a bad moment wondering if she’d been too quick to suggest they knock down the building. Not only were there still Turok-hans emerging from the hole, but the slayers who were supposed to be backing Buffy and Spike up had disappeared, leaving howling ubervamps climbing out behind them and large numbers of ordinary vampires between them and the exit. She resigned herself to having to fight their way out, and began to jog toward the exit.
“Let’s go. We don’t want to be here when those things go off—”
“Right behind you, love. Keep moving.”
No sooner had he spoken, then the ground heaved beneath their feet knocking them down. Ears ringing, they scrambled up quickly to see that the attacking vampires had been knocked down also. Behind them, the remaining Turok-han were clawing their way out of the crater left by the explosion.
Grabbing Buffy’s hand, Spike began running, using the still prone vampires as stepping stones. With speed she hadn’t realized she had, Buffy was barely able to keep up as Spike, using the boost Willow had given him before leaving the hotel, did a good imitation of her run across the roofs of Sunnydale so long ago. It wasn’t until they were almost out that he began to flag and Buffy remembered what Willow had said about the power boost and what could happen when it wore off.
“Come on, Spike! You can do this. Keeping running. You can fall down once we’re out of here.” Mentally cursing the slayers who had been supposed to protect their escape route, Buffy found herself now clutching his hand and pulling him along. When he collapsed, she barely slowed down to pull his arm over her shoulder while she kept moving toward the exit from which she knew rocket fire could come at any time.
When the first rocket whistled over their heads, she felt a genuine shiver of fear. Even with the increased strength that seemed to have come with advanced slayer age, Buffy was struggling to support his dead weight. When she realized he wasn’t moving his feet at all, she paused long enough to balance him on her shoulder. Thanking the PTB that he wasn’t Angel’s size, she staggered forward, expecting any second that another rocket would join the first one in shaking the walls of the tunnel.
The remaining Turok-han behind them had taken advantage of Buffy’s pause to catch up and she had to drop Spike long enough to turn around and take its head off. With a moan, she saw two more vamps advancing on them, one of them holding a stake, clearly meant for Spike – now lying helpless on the ground. Buffy was standing over him, scythe at the ready, when they disappeared in a cloud of dust.
She sighed in relief as a small group of the slayers she’d brought with her came forward and picked Spike up. While two of them carried him out of the tunnel, past the men with the rocket launchers who were waiting impatiently, the others fell in beside Buffy and used crossbows to thin the ranks of the other vamps still standing between them and safety.
As soon as they were safely past the rocket launchers, Graham gave the signal and rockets whooshed their way into the tunnel, to explode far enough in that they could hear, but not see it. The men were retreating as they fired, following everyone else out and away from the parking structure that was now making ominous cracking noises.
Crowding into the vans and trucks, the small army of soldiers and slayers beat a hasty retreat from the area. Stopping at what felt like a safe distance, they watched as the parking garage seemed to collapse in on itself, leaving such a big cloud of dust that they could no longer see it.
“Is he all right?”
Buffy turned to glare at Jessie, who was staring at Spike with worried eyes.
“He’s fine. Just tired,” Buffy said, Willow having assured her that Spike was just passed out from the spell’s after effects.
“He didn’t look tired when he told us to leave,” the girl said. “He was fine then.”
“Leave? When would Spike have told you to leave? He was with me the whole time.”
“No he wasn’t. He came to see how we were doing and he told me I was doing great and then he… he…” Her face crumpled. “Oh my God…”
Buffy turned her back and ignored the whimpering girl for the rest of the ride. She rolled her eyes when Rachel, having been filled in by the other girls who said Jessie’d told them Spike wanted them to pull back, said, “I’ll handle this. I’m so sorry, Buffy. After you and Spike both told them not to listen to—”
Buffy sighed. “The First can be very convincing,” she said as they walked behind the girls carrying Spike to his room. “It fooled me once or twice too – and I knew Spike a hell of a lot better than Jessie does.” She shook her head. “But dammit! She almost got us killed. If the other girls hadn’t told Graham to stop firing and come after us….”
“She’s going to be on kitchen duty for the rest of her life,” Rachel said. “And whatever else I can think of that might help her keep her mind on her work and not how sexy she thinks your vampire is.”
Buffy snorted. “I told him he was flirting too much. I’ll bet you anything all the First had to do was wink at her and tell her how pretty he thought she was, and she would have believed him if he’d asked her to jump into the hellmouth.”
“I can’t believe you’re being so calm about this,” Rachel said. “I’d want to kill her!”
“Oh I do. Trust me. When you talk to her, tell her to stay out of my sight for the rest of the time we’re here.” She paused at the door to Spike’s room when he was lying on the bed, still unconscious, while Willow did a magical scan to be sure he was okay. “Besides, when Spike wakes up and finds out what happened – she’s going to want to kill herself when he gets through with her.”
Rachel frowned. “He isn’t going to hurt her, is he? I mean, she deserves it, I guess, but—”
“No. He won’t hurt her… not physically.”
“Oh. Well okay then. I guess technically, he’s the one who should decide her punishment, he’s the….” She paused. “Is he going to leave when you do? The girls think he’s the boss here. They’re so used to listening to him and—”
“Rachel, you’ve done a great job here with Faith gone and Spike unconscious for three days – you did great. As far as I'm concerned, you’re the senior slayer now. I’ll have Giles make the change in your title and paycheck.” She paused. “I’m hoping when I leave here, Spike will be coming with me. Either way, he won’t be staying here. That’s not his pattern.”
“He can’t very well go back to being a myth,” Rachel snorted. “I’ll rat him out in a heartbeat.”
“No. He can’t do that. But he can disappear again if he wants to.”
“I suppose he can. We just got so used to him being around and helping Faith run things…. I guess it really wasn’t all that long ago. It just seems like he’s been here forever with all the stuff that was going on.”
“You’ll do fine without him. I promise.”
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