Spike slipped quietly through the darkness surrounding the abandoned hotel, his senses on full alert for any sign of council members. He was confident of his ability to handle himself against humans, but also more than aware that the expertise required for handling a vampire of Kralik’s size and reputation meant that the personnel on this particular visit were probably hardened and experienced demon hunters and not to be under-estimated. The silence he sensed from the old rickety building was ominous; at this point he should have been able to hear heartbeats from the humans and been able to assess not only how many of them were in the building, but where they were positioned.
Using all the stealth he’d learned through the years, he crept into the open building, moving silently from room to room until he had determined that it was empty of any form of life – human or demonic. He studied the room in the basement, taking in the broken restraints in the closet in which they had obviously been holding the insane vampire. His stomach clenched in fear as he realized why he couldn’t sense anyone in the building. A quick search, using his heightened sense of smell, and he found the bodies of the Council workers where Kralik had hidden them in a furnace room.
Whirling, he ran from the building and jumped into his old DeSoto, pulling away from the dark building before the door was even shut. He drove as quickly as he could towards Buffy’s house, grateful that the time he had spent stalking and studying her the previous year had given him a good understanding of Sunnydale’s streets. Flinging open the door before the car had quit shuddering to a stop, he ran towards the house, intent on preventing Kralik from carrying out his mission to remove the Slayer. Completing forgetting that he had never been inside Buffy’s home, he yanked open the front door only to bounce off the mystical barrier designed to keep creatures such as him outside.
He snarled with frustration, even as hope blossomed when he realized that Kralik would also have been barred from entering the home uninvited. He glanced at the driveway, noticing for the first time that the Watcher’s car was parked neatly behind Joyce’s SUV. He jumped off the porch, circling the house to see if he could find someone to let him in. Again, he could hear no heartbeats from inside and a cold dread settled in his chest as he worked his way towards the backyard.
Relief when he finally picked up several rapid heartbeats turned to fear as he rounded the corner just in time to see Buffy launch herself, stake in hand, at the laughing monster holding her mother by the neck. With a satisfied growl, the large vampire tossed Joyce’s limp body at the advancing watcher and grabbed Buffy in mid-air. Her weakened body was no match for the vampire, and the slayer was pulled against his chest immediately, her throat within easy reach of his teeth.
Spike’s shout was lost in the roar of the angered creature when his attempt to bite Buffy was thwarted by the mystical barrier surrounding her scarred throat. With an outraged snarl, Kralik shook the Slayer and demanded, “What kind of a vampire claims a Slayer instead of killing her?”
“The kind that is going to remove your head.”
Spike’s voice was calm and deadly, his primary goal being to get Buffy away from the much bigger vampire before he could snap Buffy’s neck with his angry shaking.
“William the Bloody.” The surprised vamp looked Spike up and down, clearly recognizing the well-known Slayer of Slayers.
“Kralik, the pile o’ dust,” Spike answered grimly, moving closer to the other vampire and his feebly struggling captive.
“This is yours?” Kralik held Buffy at arms’ length and looked from her to the advancing master vampire. Spike was in game face, his eyes almost glowing with anger, his fangs and claws fully exposed.
“She is,” he answered with a snarl. “It would be in your best interest to put her down…carefully.”
“Why?” the insane vampire asked with a sneer. “If you’re going to try to kill me, I might as well take her with me. What difference will it make?”
“It’ll make the difference between my dustin’ you quickly and findin’ out how well you can handle years of torture,” Spike said mildly.
“You talk big for a demon that wants to save a human instead of eating her,” Kralik replied. He appeared to be readying himself for Spike’s attack, but then suddenly threw Buffy at the advancing master vampire and whirled to run.
Without even looking at the Slayer he caught easily, Spike set her on her feet and leaped after the other vamp, catching him before he reached the end of the yard. The two vampires went down in a snarling, snapping tangle as the larger one tried to use his size and weight to make up for the difference between himself and the much older, stronger and more experienced fighter. Although Kralik had been feared for his insanity and cruelty, he much preferred to prey on weak human women and he rarely, if ever, fought with other demons.
Spike, on the other hand, had spent his entire unlife searching for opportunities to prove himself against worthy opponents and he had well over one hundred years of experience upon which to draw as he fought with the desperate killer. Only the fact that the larger vamp kept him on the ground and wrestling, rather than allowing Spike to use his superior agility and speed as he would have if on his feet, prevented Spike from quickly crippling the other demon. He needed every bit of his greater strength to keep the other vampire from pinning him to the ground and using his meaty fists on him.
A sudden cry from Joyce distracted him for just a scant second, but it was enough to allow the other vampire to push Spike’s face into the grass and grab his hair. The blond had no time to worry about his vulnerable position, as the other vampire’s hand disappeared from where it had taken hold of his chin, dissolving into dust that drifted past his face. He rolled over to find Buffy standing above him, the stake she had used to kill Kralik still clenched in her fist.
With a quiet, “Thank you, love,” he rose easily to his feet and stepped towards her only to be shocked by the angry expression on her face and her flinch away from him.
“Why are you here?” she asked angrily, giving no sign that she was glad to see him.
Spike gestured helplessly at the dust floating away on a small breeze and at her.
“Should think it would be obvious, Slayer.” He tried to keep from his voice the anger and pain her apparent rejection was causing.
“So, there was no other reason?” Behind her cold tone and immobile face he could see the hurt feelings she tried to hide as she braced herself to hear that he hadn’t come back for her. His anger vanished in a rush of understanding.
“I’m still a vampire, pet,” he answered softly. “And you’re still the Slayer – in spite of the best efforts of the bloody Council,” he added with a pointed glare at her watcher.
“So, you’re not staying then? You didn’t come back to…Were you even going to let me know you were here?” Her voice trembled in spite of herself and she could hear Giles as he demanded to know ”What the bloody hell” was going on.
“Shut up, Rupert,” Joyce said firmly. “And come into the house with me.”
The watcher tried to protest, but one look at the angry woman’s face and he surrendered, lending her his arm for support as her limp reminded him that she had just suffered some painful, if minor, injuries from her encounter with Kralik. The two adults entered the kitchen and closed the door firmly behind them, leaving Spike and Buffy staring at each other from several feet apart. Identical expressions of heartbreak and yearning chased themselves across both faces and it was several minutes before Buffy’s shoulders slumped and she sat down heavily on the top step of the back porch.
Moving slowly and tentatively, the vampire approached the steps and lowered himself to sit beside her, close to, but not touching, the trembling girl.
“You weren’t going to let me know you were here, were you?” She wrapped her arms around her body tightly as though trying to hold herself together. He reached a hand towards her shoulder and then thought better of it when she seemed to flinch again.
His heart ached as he shook his head slowly. “I didn’t want you to see me. Thought I’d get in and out before you knew I was here. I got held up and got here later than I’d planned to and didn’t have time to take care of things before your watcher started stealing your strength. And then that ugly git escaped before I could kill him...”
“Why didn’t you want me to see you?” she asked in a dull, subdued voice. “Didn’t you want to see me?”
He touched her cheek, turning her face towards him and willing her to read the feelings he was reluctant to express verbally; needing her to understand that it had nothing to do with his not loving her and everything to do with not wanting to cause her more pain.
“I didn’t want to do that to you, love.” His face softened as he saw the tears gathering in her eyes. “Didn’t want to make it hard for you. I know my leavin’ like I did last time hurt you – I didn’t want to …to start … I didn’t want to do it again. Your mum said you were getting’ on with your life – getting’ ready to graduate from high school, go to college an’ all. You didn’t need a monster coming back to muck that up for you.”
“And you didn’t think it would hurt me to find out you’d been here and couldn’t be bothered to say ‘Hi’?” she grumbled at him, anger replacing her hurt feelings as she recognized the truth in his words.
“It wouldn’t be ‘Hi’ we’d be wantin’ to say to each other, pet. You know that. And it would jus’ make the leavin’ that much harder to do.”
“Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you, vampire?” she sniffed with annoyance. “For all you know, I’ve forgotten all about you and moved on. I have boyfriends now. Lots of boyfriends. It’s not like I couldn’t say ‘Hi’ to an old friend and be just fine with it.”
She peered sideways at him to see if he believed her brave words; words which were completely contradicted by her previous behavior. To her surprise, the sad, resigned expression on his face seemed to indicate that he did believe her and she gaped at him as he answered quietly.
“That would be my hope, pet. An’ if that’s really the case, I’m glad to hear it. Been a long time since I was in my teens; I’ve forgotten how quickly hearts mend at that age. Guess it would have been just me that would have had trouble with it then.”
“If you believe that, then you’re dumber than you look,” she huffed indignantly, getting to her feet. She ignored his angry growl and stomped towards the kitchen door saying, “Get up and come in the house. You and Giles have some serious ‘splainin’ to do.”
“I should be leavin’,” he said quietly, standing up but not moving towards the door. “I’ve done what I came here to do. The rest is between you and your watcher.”
He watched her indignation fade as his words sank in. The transition from angry slayer to devastated young woman was clearly visible on her face and in her body language; she seemed suddenly smaller and more frail, her shoulders slumping and her face crumbling before him.
“Don’t you want to spend any time with me at all?” she whispered. “Is it that hard to pretend you’re glad to see me?”
Spike was on the porch and had his arms around her before Buffy had finished speaking, holding her quaking body against him and murmuring his apologies against her hair. He could feel the tears in his own eyes as he gave in to the sheer joy of allowing her to once again fill his senses. For long minutes they remained together, the vampire clutching the Slayer tightly, the girl sobbing with relief as he repeated over and over how glad he was to see her, how much he’d missed being with her every day, what a total “wanker” he was for allowing her to think he didn’t want to see her, to hold her, to kiss her, to taste her… It was when he realized what he had - in his desire to reassure her of his feelings, - said that he stopped murmuring to her and tried to put some distance between them.
Distance that Buffy, weakened as she was, was still able to prevent. Her hands dug into his sides fiercely as she refused to allow him to pull away. The silent battle ended with the vampire’s sigh of resignation and his complete capitulation as he put his arms around her again. Not until she felt him give in and cocoon her within his powerful embrace did she relax her grip on the skin over his ribs. With a gasp of relief, she loosened her hold, cringing slightly as she realized that she had been holding on with her fingernails and had undoubtedly left gouges in the vampire’s flesh. She slid her arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest, nuzzling into the familiar-smelling tee shirt and reacquainting herself with the scent and feel of him.
Finally, raising her head to look at him soberly, she whispered, “Will you come inside with me? Just for a while? I don’t want you to leave yet.”
“Whatever you want, love,” he replied with a mental groan. “Not really all that crazy about leavin’ you yet, either, truth be told.” He grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him before she turned away. “But you DO understand it’s gonna happen, right? I will be leavin’ again.”
“I’m not going to think about that right now,” she said, tossing her head and letting her silky hair brush his face. “We’re just going to go inside and sit together and hold hands and watch Giles wig out. I’ll worry about when you’re going to leave later.” She pulled him with her, remembering at the last second to add, “Come in, Spike,” as she opened the door and crossed the threshold.
“After you, Scarlett,” he agreed wryly, following her into the bright kitchen to face her mother and the man who had almost sent her to her death.
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