Note - Thanks to my beta, t_geyer, for her unending patience, perseverance and support. Thanks also to always_jbj who keeps arguing that she doesn't merit a co-writing credit, but without whom I would never have got the basic plotline worked out.
To Buffy's surprise her first instinct wasn't to grab the nearest piece of wood she could find and put an end to this. It was to deal with her feelings of anger and betrayal. "You knew!" she accused her mom. Pieces slotted into place, the vodka, Spike's disappearing act. "You've known for days! He could have been out there killing people by the dozen and you didn't tell me."
"Don't take that tone with me, young lady," her mom warned. Unlike Buffy she wasn't shouting but her tone was threatening. "You may be the slayer, but I am still your mother and when it comes to judging character I have a lot more experience than you do. Spike convinced me that he wouldn't be taking up his old lifestyle-."
"And you believed him? Yeah, great judge of character!" Buffy scoffed as much at herself as at her mother. Damn! Damn! Damn! It had been so good to feel like someone had her back. She should have known. When it came right down to it she was always alone. Spike might claim he was there to help, but without the chip she couldn't trust him. "I can't believe you let him in the house with Dawn."
"He would never have known that the chip had stopped working if he hadn't been trying to protect Dawn in the first place. And you know what? I'm glad it isn't. I'm glad he didn't end up in agony because he was trying to look after your little sister."
"Don't you get it? He could have killed that guy, had you for seconds and then tossed a coin for whether to just eat Dawn or drag her off to make some deal with Glory-."
"Stop it!" The words came out in a high pitched scream and Dawn ran through between her mom and her big sister to pull a wooden spatula from Giles' hand and kick him hard enough on the shin to leave him balancing on one leg while he tried to rub the other before she took position in front of Spike and turned to face her sister. "You don't get it, Buffy! He could have done those things and he chose not to. Spike is my friend and mom's friend and I feel safe when he's here."
Behind her Spike seemed almost to choke on his cigarette. "Take that back!" he sputtered.
Dawn ignored him and carried on regardless. "I want him here and if you try to chain him up or lay a finger on him then I'll... I'll burn Mister Gordo." She turned and pinned her gaze on the watcher who had finally stopped hopping. "And your books might have a few accidents as well."
Buffy rolled her eyes. This was so not happening... Against all her instincts, there was a certain logic to what her sister said. Spike hadn't gone straight out on a killing spree. Not that night, or the next or the one after that. He hadn't even punched Xander tonight and he had been obnoxious as all hell. She'd have to get Willow to check for missing persons reports, assaults... Just because the trail of bodies wasn't front page news didn't mean that he hadn't been snacking, but...
"Buffy!" Giles snapped, cutting into her thoughts. "As your watcher, I command you to stake him."
"Yeah," Spike snorted between draws on his cigarette. "Because that always works so well... When are you going to learn she has a mind of her own? You want an attack dog? Go buy yourself a Rottweiler."
"I insist-," Giles began again, but Buffy already knew she had to follow her instinct. Her mother and her sister's lives might depend on it.
"Shut up, Spike! And stop making our house stinky," Buffy rejoined in a half-hearted tone. She had all she could cope with from her mom, her watcher and her sister without him getting in on the act. Marching over, she grabbed Spike by the sleeve of his shiny brown leather jacket. Avoiding Dawn, who was obviously trying to keep her body between Buffy and the jar where Giles had found his spatula, she dragged him out onto the back porch.
"Okay, Spike, this is how it is... You're on indefinite probation. I find out you've been feeding from humans - you get staked. I find out you're mugging people in alleys - you get staked. You do anything to betray my mom or Dawn's trust - you get staked... right after I chain you up and torture you for a month or two."
Damn again. She was trying to be tough and there was that smile, the warm sincere smile that made his eyes look all glowy. No, Buffy... so not going there. Evil, bloodsucking fiend, remember?
"Got it. That all?" His voice was soft, soothing... even though it shouldn't be.
"Look, I don't get this," she admitted. "I don't understand what you're still doing here when you could be off... wherever."
"I made a promise," he answered, still in that gentle tone.
"You promised me I'd never have to see you or Dru again. Look how that turned out," she observed with a hint of amusement, but the strange thing was that she believed him. "But what I was trying to say is I don't get why you're doing this and I'm probably going to spend tomorrow afternoon half-petrified because you'll be here and calling myself all sorts of idiot... but having you around makes mom and Dawnie feel better... and, well, I know the easy option would have been to just get in the car and keep going. No Glory, no one threatening to kill you, no Xander..."
"Are you trying to say than-."
"No-o-o!" Buffy cut him off before he could get any further with that idea. "When I know you're not going to make me pay for being a total lamebrain by slaughtering my mom and the brat, then, maybe..."
"Well, look at it this way," Spike suggested. "When I sneak in and murder them in their sleep, you'll have the consolation of knowing it was her own fault for threatening the pig."
Buffy's eyes narrowed. How did Spike know that Mr. Gordo was a pig? "You, stay out here until you finish that cigarette!" And what other embarrassing stories had her mom been sharing with the vampire. "Mo-o-om!" she shouted as she pushed the door back open.
Buffy walked into the English department with Tara and Willow at her side. "Of course Giles was all watchery and 'when he kills us all I'll say I told you so' but it's not like he could really do it himself..." She gave a shrug.
"But Spike is all about the killing and the maiming," Willow said sounding amazed. "And he's just not going to do it any more?"
"I don't know," Buffy answered with a resigned sigh. "He says not. I really don't know but mom trusts him. Dawn thinks he's her knight in rather tarnished armour and I just don't see if he was going to do the rampage of death thing why he wouldn't have done it already. I think maybe mom knows more but she isn't saying."
Tara gave her own sigh as they paused in front of the vending machine and she began rummaging to find her purse. "Poor Mister Giles. It must be really painful for him. I mean with what Willow said about that teacher he was dating."
"I feel like it's pulling me in half," Buffy admitted. "I know Giles thinks he's right and he feels betrayed. I know that the very fact my mom and Dawn trust him the way they do just means there's all the more reason I should kill him. He's got an invite to the house. He could take them apart before they even knew what was happening... but he's had plenty of chances and he hasn't and I just don't think he would. Even back before the chip I don't think he would have hurt them... Problem is I'm not so sure about the general population."
"What about Xander?" Willow asked, passing Tara a quarter for the vending machine.
"Good point. I figure if he didn't do anything after the way Xander was acting last night..."
"I meant have you told Xander?" Willow asked as Tara retrieved her snack from the drawer at the bottom of the machine and they resumed their amble in the direction of class, passing an arrangement of armchairs and sofas where some people were filling in time.
Buffy grimaced. "Thought I'd leave that to The Magic Box elves." Suddenly she did a double-take as she saw the headlines on the front page of the newspaper someone was reading. "You're done with this?" she demanded as she snatched it from his hands, ignoring his protests.
She carried her spoils over to where the two witches were waiting before she flattened it out, the headlines plain for them all to see. "Six found murdered on train at Sunnydale Station," she read aloud.
"Glory?" Tara asked timidly, not sure which answer she wanted.
Buffy shook her head. "Unconfirmed reports of severe trauma to the throats of one or more of the victims." She lowered the paper and tossed it back in the general direction of the guy she had taken it from. "Survey says ... vampire." God, she was such an idiot.
The debate continued even as the girls sat at the back of their lecture. "It wouldn't make sense," Tara whispered from behind the cover of her text book, trying to comfort Buffy. "If he did it, all he had to do was let you think the chip was still working and he'd have been off the hook."
Buffy shook her head. "Mom might have kept quiet up till now, but even she'd have to tell me once she heard about this. Then, he'd really be screwed."
"But would he tell your mom if he was going to do this?" the blonde asked.
"Spike's not exactly known for his planning abilities," Buffy demurred, picturing the disappointed look on Giles' face.
"He would have to know that he was screwed whether he told you or not," Willow suggested. "He has to know there's no way he could stay in Sunnydale after that... And if the bodies were on the train rather than at the station, then wouldn't whoever did it have to be on the train before it arrived? Not that he couldn't have driven to Ventura or something and then got on a train and come back here, but it seems like a lot more trouble than just picking a quiet bar or somewhere? And isn't six people a lot for one vamp? Maybe it's a gang."
Buffy felt a faint glimmer of hope. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn't Spike. She really hoped Willow was right because she so didn't want another six deaths on her conscience. She was still going to have to call Giles at lunchtime, though... and that was one conversation she didn't want to have.
"Giles?" Buffy double-checked even though Anya had said she was passing the phone over.
"Buffy," Giles' replied, his voice sounding as cold and proper as when he had first arrived in Sunnydale with that foot-long stick firmly in place. "I assume you're calling about this morning's headlines."
"Well, yeah. Just thought I'd let you know I plan to check it out after school. Willow thinks it must have been a vampire or maybe a gang of vampires who arrived on the train... so, well, we were thinking not Spike..." she offered nervously, waiting for the explosion.
"Well, of course, he didn't do it personally!" Giles answered emphatically.
"Huh?" Okay, Cave Buffy fifteen, Articulate Buffy love.
"He did set up the perfect alibi..." Giles began, giving an exasperated sigh when he got no response. "Haven't you read the full article?"
"Well, no, just enough to know it was vampires."
"Buffy, at the time that train arrived Spike was in your mother's living room with both you and I for witnesses. Almost too convenient I think. Did you even stop to consider that now he's back to his normal self Spike might have summoned some of his old minions? He used to be master of this town. Why on earth would you assume that he would settle for less now?"
The crypt was empty and Buffy didn't need three guesses to work out where that meant Spike would be. She had almost gone home first, but she'd been hoping that she might get away with having this scene out of her mother's sight. It didn't help that she couldn't keep straight in her head from one minute to the next whether she believed Spike was involved. Giles made sense, not that Spike couldn't have had minions out hunting for him from the beginning, but without the power to turn them himself, it wasn't as if they were a sustainable resource, and getting others to do the turning was risky as the newbies might follow their sires' lead rather than his.
The thing was a part of her just didn't want to believe it was him. She would have sworn when she looked into those eyes that he was telling the truth. He said he had made a promise. He had seemed so sincere, but... If the bodies had turned up a couple of months from now... Maybe even a couple of weeks, but within days of his chip stopping working...
She knew it was selfish, but she hoped Giles was wrong. She wouldn't say it to any of their faces but, apart maybe from Will, the rest of the Scoobies were just extra bodies that she had to try to protect from Glory. Was it so wrong that she wanted to believe he had her back? Even if she couldn't quite erase the doubts that prevented her from doing that.
She took the drive rather than the path to the front door. They would be in the kitchen and if she was going to do this she had to do it quick. He had to believe that she was willing to stake him... even if she didn't quite believe it herself, not without more evidence.
Her mom had barely registered that the back door was open before she grabbed Spike by the throat and threw him over the island, toppling the stool he'd been sitting on and sending one of her mom's favourite mugs crashing to the floor. With her free hand she tugged a stake from her waistband and pressed its tip against his chest.
"What the hell's this in aid of?" Spike bitched, as she'd pretty much expected him to do. Strike out and he would strike back. "Forget your Midol, slayer?"
"Don't tell me you missed vampapalooza on the news?" Buffy shifted closer to get a more comfortable grip at his neck, and only then realised that she was pressing herself between his thighs. "Giles thinks you're setting yourself up as Master of Sunnydale again. He thinks that, now you can kill again, you've been summoning your minions to you and that's why all the people on the train died. I need you to convince me that it's just coincidence that days after your chip stops working we have a vamp massacre."
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