Buffy whirled, stake in hand, and was out the door right behind Faith. Waiting for them was a larger than normal group of vampires, not all of them obvious fledglings. Spike waited until the two slayers had carried the fight away from the door, then stepped out to watch the melee. Although very different, Buffy and Faith worked well together, thinning the numbers in front of them with relative ease.
Spike narrowed his eyes in suspicion, as he realized the fight was drawing the girls farther away from the safety of the building. No sooner had Giles shouted, “Look behind you!” than Spike was throwing himself between a large, unfamiliar demon and the two very busy slayers.
“I’ve got it,” he snarled. “You ladies keep throwing out the riffraff.”
Despite his confident words, Spike was hard pressed not to get killed as the demon proved to be both very strong and surprisingly agile. Spike’s usual ability to deal with larger opponents by being quicker and more nimble was just barely keeping him from being seriously injured. Fortunately, the demon’s focus was on the two slayers, and it was treating Spike as more of an annoyance than a serious threat.
In a brief respite from being pummeled, Spike heard Giles’s voice and gave a quick glance to find a sword arcing toward him, hilt first. With a “Ta, mate!” he turned back to the fight just in time to slash the back of the demon’s support leg as it was reaching toward an oblivious Faith with a heavily clawed arm. With a roar, it turned back to Spike and raised the long arm to smack him down. He swung the sword as the claws neared his head, then rolled away. When he sprang to his feet, he saw that Buffy and Faith had dusted all the vamps and turned their attentions on the now one-armed demon.
“Buffy, catch!” He tossed her his sword and ran to the door where Giles was already holding two more weapons. Faith grabbed the pike, leaving Spike to take an extra sword. He went back to the fight, but waited as the two armed slayers used their weapons to slowly dismantle the snarling monster. When it fell to its knees, Faith’s pike protruding from its back, Buffy used her sword to take off the head.
The three of them stood there watching, weapons at the ready, as it began to dissolve into a foul-smelling liquid that oozed across the street and into the gutter.
“You do know how to make an entrance, Slayer number two,” Spike said. “Not sure I like your friends though.”
“I told them it was a private party, but you know vamps, can’t take a hint when they aren’t wanted.” She stared at Spike coldly as she spoke, causing Giles to speak up from the doorway.
“I suggest you all come inside where it is relatively safe before you take the time to thank Spike for distracting the demon until the two of you were able to concentrate on it.”
Buffy and Spike both sent Giles a surprised look, but obediently followed directions and entered the apartment. Faith stood outside, confusion on her face as she obviously struggled with what to do. Giles stepped back from the door, saying, “Please close it behind you, Faith, so we can talk about what we’ve learned today.”
With no one staring at her in a way that would make her feel obligated to be defiant, she shrugged and walked in, closing the door behind her. “Sure. No sense allowing any more riff-raff in that we have to.”
Spike’s expression remained stoic, but he could see Buffy was having a hard time keeping her temper. “Easy, love,” he rumbled in her ear. “No reason for us to expect her to be glad to see me. Let the watcher handle it.”
Giles seemed to sense the tension and he nodded in Spike’s direction as he spoke directly to Faith. “Just so we’re all clear on this—that vampire attack was clearly designed to draw you both out where the demon could attack you. It’s quite apparent from the difficulty Spike was having before being armed, that you would not have fared well challenging that monster with nothing but your stakes. And in your case, Faith, Spike’s attack on the demon is the only reason you’re not currently suffering from what might well have been a killing blow. You and Buffy weren’t even aware of its arrival, nor were you free to defend yourselves from it had you noticed.” He sighed and turned to his desk.
“I believe tonight’s organized attack indicates the importance of having as many experienced fighters as we can in the upcoming battle.”
“There’s a battle?”
Giles nodded. “Between Willow’s computer skills and the Council’s many sources of information, we’ve learned that there is definitely an ascension being planned for a particular date in the late spring. We’re still gathering information, but it seems clear that a large amount of blood and death will be required for a successful ascension. Hence the steady arrival of the older vampires and demons. And the, so far unsuccessful, attempts to kill Buffy and Faith.”
“Awesome. So some jerky demon we don’t know wants to get even jerkier and we have to handle all his recruits.”
“Something like that. However, with three of you, I’m hoping it won’t be as onerous as it could be.”
“Three of us?” Faith stared hard at Spike. “Are you counting the, last time I checked, old vampire over there? How do we know he isn’t with the bad guys?”
Buffy shut down Xander’s anticipated agreement with a hard look, then turned her glare on Faith.
“Because we know him. We’ve—I’ve—known him longer than I’ve known you. And I trust him.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Why? Because you’re banging him? That didn’t go so well last time you gave it up for an old vamp… or so I’ve heard,” she added with a smirk.
“I’m not… we’re not—” Spike’s hand on her arm stopped Buffy in mid-stutter.
“It’s none of her business what we are or are not, Slayer. She’s just baiting you. Remember what I told you about her? Why she’s the way she is?”
Buffy frowned, trying to remember what he’d said about Faith, who was now glaring at him with narrowed eyes that managed to seem angry and worried at the same time. Suddenly Buffy remembered he’d said Faith was afraid. She behaved the way she did out of fear.
“What’s he talking about?” Faith clutched her stake, glaring at Spike who looked relaxed, but Buffy could feel the tension in his body and knew he was ready if Faith attacked.
Forcing herself to seem unbothered, Buffy shrugged. “It’s nothing. No big deal, just stuff he thinks he knows cause he’s so old.” She deliberately turned her back on Faith, placing her own body between Spike and the other slayer.
Giles interrupted the tense moment by saying, “While Spike is still soulless and, one must assume, evil, I’m quite convinced that he is on Buffy’s side, no matter who or what her opponents may be.” Before Faith could react to that subtle reminder of Spike’s record for killing slayers, he continued. “And, by extension, he can undoubtedly be considered an ally by her friends. I trust him to assist all of us in the battle against evil.”
Faith moved as far away from Spike as she could and sat down next to Xander. “I don’t see why I should trust him,” she muttered.
“Because I didn’t kill you when I could have,” Spike said quietly, his mild tone belied by the cold stare he leveled at hers. “Buffy and the watcher would never have known about it. An’ I’d appreciate it if you’d remember that the next time you’re feeling like I’m not trustworthy.”
Faith glared at him, but didn’t say anything else while there were murmurs of surprise from everyone except Buffy.
“So, you two had already met?” Giles looked back and forth between Spike and Faith, his need to get the meeting on track at war with his watcher’s need to know more.
Spike just nodded, leaving it to Faith to decide what to say. Her nostrils flared as she took a deep breath, then she slumped against the back of the couch.
“You might say that,” she said, refusing to look at Spike.
Giles sent a questioning look at Spike, but the vampire shook his head and didn’t add to Faith’s comment. Giles’s returning nod made it clear he was planning to return to the subject when Faith wasn’t around. Spike shrugged and said, “So, don’t we have a battle plan to make?”
“Do we know who the demon is? The one who is planning the ascension?”
“Well, all signs point to the Mayor’s office being the center of activity. If we had some way to get information on what’s going on there….”
“Maybe I can help with that,” Spike said. “I’ve kept a low profile since I got back in town, but I can start hitting some demon bars and see what I can learn.”
“That’s too dangerous!” Buffy said, not quite drowning out Giles’s “An excellent idea.”
Spike put a reassuring hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “Should be safe enough. I don’t think it was widely-known that you and I were living in the same house last year, or that I helped you. You probably dusted any vamps that might have seen us out and about together back then. And I haven’t been back long enough for anyone to see us yet. Everybody will just think I’ve come back for the ascension.”
“You see! He’s probably one of them. He’s just using Buffy to find out what we know about—” Xander broke off when Willow poked him in the arm.
Buffy’s indignant reply got no farther than “That’s the stupidest—” before Giles broke in.
“Spike could be an important source of information for us,” Giles said firmly. “If he is careful, there should be no danger of the demon community finding out about his… relationship… with Buffy.”
“Clem knows,” Buffy said. “What if he isn’t the only one?”
Spike shrugged. “Clem’s a good mate, and not evil. I’d be surprised if he even knows or talks to anybody connected to what’s coming. It might be worth asking him, though.”
“I should do that,” Buffy said firmly. “If he doesn’t see you, he can’t accidentally tell anybody about us.”
“He already knows about us, love. At least, he knows how I feel about you. He’s not going to believe I’m part of a plot against you, so he may as well tell me what he knows and then he can stay away from me. Don't want to put him in danger if and when I have to go public with whose side I’m on.”
“Okay. We’ll talk to him together.” She glared at Giles. “I still don’t like it, though.”
“I didn’t live this long by being careless, Slayer,” Spike growled. “It’ll be fine.”
“Buffy, this is a situation in which Spike can be quite useful to us, and with minimal danger to himself. I do not understand your reluctance to use his offer of assistance.”
Buffy looked back and forth between Spike and Giles, then sighed in resignation. “Okay. Fine. He can pretend he’s still evil, and maybe he can find out which demon in the mayor’s office it is.”
“I’ll keep poking around online,” Willow said. “Maybe I can get more information that way.”
Spike took out his phone and dialed Clem, moving back to the door where he could speak privately. After a few minutes of quiet conversation, he nodded and closed the phone.
“We’re on, Slayer. He’ll meet us in ten minutes.”
“And then what?” Faith’s narrowed eyes and harsh tone indicated her lack of conviction in Spike’s usefulness.
“And then, dependin’ on what he tells us, Buffy will come back here to share, and I’ll hit a few demon bars to see what else I can learn.”
“And if he doesn’t have any additional information to provide?” Giles’s question, while in a kinder tone, was as pointed as was Faith’s.
“Then I reckon Buffy’ll just do her normal patrol, and when I know she’s safely home, I’ll see what I can find out on my own. We’ll call you if that’s what’s gonna happen, so you’ll know not to expect her back.”
“I guess we’re done for the night, then,” Xander said, standing up to stretch. “Looks like we get to sleep early tonight.”
Oz stood up also, holding his hand out to Willow. “I can drop you off on my way to take Willow home,” he said. “Can I drop you somewhere, Faith?”
“You can drop me at the Bronze,” she said with a glare in Spike’s direction. “Maybe I can find some vamps there that I’m allowed to stake.”
As she and Spike opened the door to leave, Buffy shot Giles a look, at which he said, “I will work on it.” She nodded and ducked under Spike’s arm, leaving him to pull the door closed.
“What was that cryptic bit of slayer-watcher code about?”
“He’s going to try to talk some sense into Faith so she backs off and leaves you alone,” Buffy said.
“Think that’ll work?” Spike sounded more curious than concerned, and Buffy muttered under breath. “What’s that, love?”
“I said, if it doesn’t, then I’m going to ‘talk’ to her. Again.”
He draped an arm over her shoulders and gave a squeeze. “Much as I appreciate the thought, Buffy, I don’t want to create any more problems for you with her than you already have. Just leave her be for a while.” He released her shoulders and bumped her with his hip. “Feel free to keep an eye on my back, though. Just in case.”
“Way ahead of you there,” she sighed. “I’m almost afraid to let you out of my sight.”
“If I’m going to be any use to you, I’ll have to be out of your sight a good bit. Don’t want anyone knowing I’m working with you until I’ve done as much as I can to help you take down this over-ambitious demon. What or whoever he is.”
“Well I don’t like it.”
Her lip came out in the beginning of a pout, but before she could distract him, Spike pointed ahead of them.
“Is what it is, love. Look, there’s Clem now. Try to look harmless.”
“Clem already knows I’m harmless... okay, maybe not harmless, exactly, but he knows I wouldn’t hurt him.”
“He does. But just as your little Scooby friends and the other slayer have an instinctive reaction to me, any demon, no matter how non-evil and friendly, is going to have that same reaction to you.”
Putting on her best I-don’t-want-to-kill-you smile, Buffy said, “Hi, Clem. How are you?”
Looking very nervous, he seemed to be smiling through his wrinkles as he said, “Hello, Slayer. Can we get somewhere nobody could see us?” He kept sending anxious glances up and down the street.
As they followed him into the cemetery and the shelter of a space between the stone wall and a large crypt, Buffy said, “Yeah. I guess you’ll lose some demon-cred if anybody sees you talking to me, huh?”
“If the wrong people see it,” he agreed. “I can’t defend myself as well as Spike can, so I have to worry more than he does.”
“We don’t want anybody seeing Spike with me either,” Buffy said quickly. “You haven’t told anybody about us, have you?”
“No. No. Of course not. I don’t think anyone even knows he’s back yet.”
“Enough chit chat,” Spike growled. “What do you know about this ascension that’s being planned in the mayor’s office?”
Clem shrugged. “Not much. Seems like the old man is planning to make it a big deal, and he’s bringing in vamps and demons for the big event.” He glanced at Buffy almost apologetically. “I heard there was a whole gang of new vamps in town looking for you and the other slayer.”
“They found us,” Buffy said with a shrug. “He’s gonna have to do better than that. They’re gone and so is their demon bodyguard.”
“Whoa!” Clem gawked at Buffy in open admiration.
“That’s my girl,” Spike said.
“Um, we had a little help.”
She smiled up at him and they almost forgot about Clem’s presence for a second. When he cleared his throat, Spike shook himself and focused his attention back on his friend.
“So, you think it’s the old man himself who’s planning to move up the food chain?”
“Oh yeah. He’s been in his human form for a long time and he’s tired of it. Apparently he was just waiting until his current wife died to move on.”
“Don’t suppose you know when he’s planning to do this?”
“Late May? There was something about having a lot of humans all in one place that would make it work,”
“Graduation,” Buffy said flatly. “That explains why Snyder’s so nervous about it. He must be one of the mayor’s minions.”
Spike growled his agreement. “Would explain why he’s always had it in for you, wouldn’t it?”
“That sniveling weasel!” She kicked a rock into the wall. “I should let you eat him!”
“Say the word, Slayer.”
She sighed. “But he’s human. I guess?” She looked at Clem and Spike for confirmation. They both nodded. “Well, rats. That sucks.” She poked Spike, who was still looking hopeful. “Guess than means you don’t get to… suck, I mean.”
“I got it.” He shook head and turned his attention back to Clem. “Anything else we should know?”
Clem shook his own head, saying, “Nothing I can think of. If I hear of anything else, I’ll give you a call.”
“Ta, mate. We appreciate it. Saves a bit of leg work, it does.”
“Yes, thanks, Clem. You’ve been a big help.”
“Well, if that’s it, then, I’ll just be heading home. You two kids have fun.” With a wave, he vanished into the darkness, moving surprisingly quickly for something his size and build.
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