Silence ruled the dining room of the Summers house as everyone contemplated the implications of Spike being able to kill human Ben and not be brain-damaged by the chip.
"Again I ask, how were you able to kill Ben Wilkinson?" Giles was most insistent. "Much as I find myself grateful that you did so, I do have to ask and demand an answer."
"Did it herself really," Spike hedged.
"Who did and what did she do?" Buffy was still confused.
"Glory. Signed her own death warrant," Spike really, really hoped he could vague everything up sufficiently to keep his secret.
"And just how did she do this helpful act?" Giles pressed.
"While she was using me as her own personal cat toy, she sort of made it possible for me to off her alter ego," Spike admitted.
"Cat toy?" Anne was aghast at the picture Spike's words painted. "I thought you said your injuries were minor, in spite of the discoloration and swelling."
Spike had hoped for such a reaction, even if his alarming his mother was the unfortunate side effect. By turning the conversation a bit, he
might manage to get out of the Summers house undusted.
"Now, don't fret, dearest, I'm healing nicely now, remember?" Spike glanced at the set faces around the table and made a valiant attempt
to scoot out of the crossfire. "Maybe we could talk privately and I'll explain it all to you so you can stop worrying."
"Maybe you'd be better explaining it to US so WE can stop worrying," Buffy said sternly.
"Indeed. There is a kettle of fish on the table that must be addressed," Giles said with a voice of steel.
"Surely this can wait until my son and I speak privately," Anne requested. "I daresay William will be happy to answer all of your questions in good time. Meanwhile, a mother needs to be reassured of her son's well-being."
Spike gave up any hope of keeping his chipless state a secret beyond this night and sighed. "Look, I'll explain it all after I get Mum up
to speed. Not going anywhere."
"Perhaps we can retire to the parlor," Anne suggested and rose from the table, Spike close at heel.
The group sat in silence after the Pratt duo had left the room.
"So does this mean Spike can kill humans or just that he could kill Ben?" Xander asked the question on all their minds.
"I don't know. Will, maybe you could look up some kind of truth spell, if we have to use it," Buffy suggested.
Willow nodded in agreement.
Dawn stood up and huffed indignantly. "Spike just saved my life and all your asses and you're talking about him like he's the enemy!
What's wrong with you guys? He came right here, so he's not hiding anything or running away. You really need to give him a break for a
change. No wonder he's afraid to just come out and tell us what happened. You guys have got him tried and convicted and he hasn't
even done anything wrong!"
"He's a demon, Dawnie, not a saint. We've got lots of reasons to be nervous," Xander reminded her.
"I was a demon and even though I'm human now, I'm no saint," Anya pointed out. "Do I make you nervous?"
"Only when you start talking about our sex life," Xander answered quickly.
"No, really, listen to yourselves! Dawn's right. You are a bunch of bigots!" Anya rose from the table and began to clear the table taking
out her nervous energy on the china and cuttlery. "If anyone else here had just gotten rid of Glory you'd be all 'ooh, my hero', but because Spike's a demon you assume the worst. Would you rather Glory still be around? I'm glad he did whatever he did to that Ben person. Now we don't have to worry about the end of the world or people we love getting killed."
"I'd think YOU," Dawn said directly to Willow, "would be glad Glory's dead after what she did to Tara!"
The tension around the table was palpable until Dawn and Anya headed for the kitchen to take their frustrations out on the dishes.
Anya noticed Dawn growing progressively quiet as they finished washing the last of the dishes. "What's the matter, Dawnie?"
Dawn shifted from foot to foot while she tried to figure out how to explain her unease to Xander's girlfriend. "I was just thinking…with Glory gone, what am I? Am I a demon thing too…or Buffy's bratty little sister…or what? And if I'm a demon, does that mean they won't want me around either?"
Anya stared at Dawn intently before answering. "You certainly seem like Buffy's bratty little sister to me. I'm sure they will all just treat you like that. They're happy to ignore anything that makes them uncomfortable."
"But what AM I?" Dawn whined.
"Well, right now you're Buffy's whiny little sister, and may I say that is a highly unattractive trait, missy. Many humans can handle normal bratty behavior or whiny behavior but rarely both in one person. You really should choose one and stick with that."
"Yeah, like you're one to give advice on how to act," Dawn pouted.
"See! Bratty suits you much better," Anya stated cheerfully. "I'd go with that one."
Both girls grew quiet, lost in their own thoughts as they put away the clean dishes.
"What do you think they'll do about Spike being able to kill Ben?" Dawn looked worried to think of the expected reaction. "I won't let them dust him. I swear I'll hide all of Buffy's stakes if I have to."
"Maybe Buffy's obvious sexual attraction to Spike will cause her to give him the benefit of the doubt," Anya suggested.
Dawn sputtered, eyes wide, at the images Anya's comment had conjured. "What?!?!?! What sexual attraction are you talking about? Buffy's always talking about Spike like he's bad and awful, and she's always hitting him too."
"Dawnie, don't immature little girls still pick on the boys they secretly like? They did in my time."
"Well, yeah," Dawn admitted, brightening. "You mean Buffy's mean to Spike because she LIKES him?"
"That would be my guess," Anya answered. "You can feel the suppressed sexual tension between those two for a mile. Oh yes, Spike's not the only one with a crush."
"That'd be great!" Dawn began to cheer up completely at the thought. "Mrs. Pratt will be staying here so it won't be so awful with Mom
gone. Buffy and Spike can get together." Dawn turned excited eyes on Anya. "I'll have a family! A real family!"
Spike completed filling his mother in on the reason her friends were concerned by his ability to kill the human doctor.
He was touched at his mother’s concern over the pain the chip had inflicted since the Initiative had inserted it in his brain.
Anne was the only one to ever ask what else might have been done to Spike in that laboratory, but Spike didn't wish to further rattle his mother with those details. "That's a story best left for another day.
Spike felt a bit guilty for further worrying his mother. She was healing nicely but still not completely out of the woods. He feared losing her yet if he wasn’t careful.
Trying to difuse the alarm his condition and history had raised, Spike changed the subject to his mother’s new look.
"I have managed to forget all my manners, mother, my apologies!" Spike touched a gentle finger to his mother’s modern hairdo and smiled fondly. "You fit the century well! Probably a good thing this chip is gone. I may need to show a bit of the demon to keep the suitors at bay," he teased.
Anne grinned, her eyes a bit too bright for Spike’s liking. "Do you really think so, son? I admit to enjoying the idea that I am not yet ready to be put to pasture."
"Never say such a thing!" Spike reassured her. "Any man would be blessed beyond measure to have your regard."
Bits of the conversation in the dining room were filtering into the parlor and Spike knew it was only a matter of time before his delay tactic would cease to work. "I suppose I've delayed the inevitable long enough. If I don't get in there and just tell them, there will be no peace in this house."
"Fear not, son," Anne said with a look of fierceness he couldn't remember ever seeing before. "I won't let a one of them harm you.
You are a good boy…a good man, rather. They will just have to see that."
"Haven't always been, Mother. That's the problem." Spike was thinking of his history with his soon-to-be inquisitors and wishing his bravado had taken a different course than continual threats about what he would do without the chip. "Time to pay the piper."
Dawn flinched as Spike described how Glory's fingers had pried the chip from his skull. Anne paled too, even though she had heard this
part already. Mrs. Pratt reached for the young girl’s hand and squeezed it in sympathy.
"Didn't know she'd relieved me of it at first, but once I figured it out I knew I could use it to my advantage," Spike confided. "Knew I could
get to her when she was in the fragile human form and take her out once and for all."
"And how did you do that, Spike?" Buffy's voice had a hard edge. Her heart turned to ice as she began to fear she would have to soon
dust another vampire that had come to mean something to her. How was she going to continue to have Spike's mom around if she had to dust him? How could she handle never having his annoying presence in her life? Why did she always have to make the hard choices? "Did you drain him?"
"What?!" Spike barked, "Not drinkin' from the tap, not even after I found out I could. What part of 'I can change, I can be a good man' did you not get, Slayer?" Spike turned pleading eyes on his beloved, hoping for understanding at last. "Made my choice a long time ago to go my own path, didn't I?"
"The chip rather forced that path though, and now that it has gone you will be well able to make good on all those threats," Giles pointed
"Oh, please!" Spike snorted in disgust. "If I wanted you lot dead, a head full of chips wouldn't have stopped me!"
"And how do you figure that, Mr. 'I'm gonna drain you drier than the Sahara if I get half a chance'," Xander taunted, using one of Spike's past refrains.
"Lots of ways, you nit," Spike nearly snarled. "Bloody Angelus never laid a hand on the lot of you." He stopped to look at a stricken Giles
and amended, "Okay, maybe Giles and his bird, but not the rest of you. Coulda done everything HE pulled, with or without a chip. Left a mess
behind him, he did. I nearly managed that with that walkin’ rag doll, Adam. You THINK I couldn't have destroyed the great Scooby fightin’
"Psychological warfare. Very effective," Willow agreed solemnly. She narrowed her eyes at Spike and noted with a chill in her voice, "You
always were perceptive too. Seemed to know what made us tick. Speaking of ticks, you knew our tics too. That's without the k. That last part. I'm babbling. Shutting up now."
Everyone was looking at Willow, trying to process just what her outburst meant and if it were at all relevant. Spike, as usual, seemed
to fully understand her and merely smiled and let out a small chuckle.
"Yeah, Red's right, could have you at each other’s throats if I'd wanted to. Did it the once and changed my mind in the end. Too easy," Spike muttered. "Coulda gone physical too, for that matter. Soon as I learned I could kill demons I could have intimidated a few into doing the dirty work for me. They coulda even made kills so I could eat the natives if I had wanted to go that way. Point is, I didn't."
Giles was struck with a memory of pre-chip Spike and pointed out, "It wouldn't be the first time you hired others to do your wet work. I
remember well the hit you took out on Buffy with the Order of Taraka." Giles glared at Spike in remembered fury.
"Called the wankers off too, now didn't I?" Spike had a near plea in his voice. He really wanted them to understand that the point wasn't
what he HAD done in the past. He was a vampire, evil deeds were to be expected. The important parts were the things he DIDN'T do, by
choice, even while actively evil. If they couldn't see it by now, it would only be a matter of time before one of them showed up on his
doorstep stake in hand and he'd have to kill or be killed. Spike would rather go to the other side of the world than have that happen to any of them. "What, you think they just stop when they fail?
Didn't want the Slayer dead, wanted her off my back so I could get Dru healed. They were a bloody diversion and then they were unnecessary. Paid 'em off, end of story."
"Oh, dear," Anne remarked, "You do have a good deal of water under the bridge to try to account for with these people. I wish they hadn’t known
your tendency to put up your fists in the face of fear and your unfortunate sharp tongue, for that matter."
Spike looked sheepish and spoke quietly, "You've been doing a good job of stripping off my protective gear, Mum. Not sure if I'm happy about that, even if I know you mean well." He took any sting from his words by leaning down and kissing her on the brow and whispered, "I love you."
"I know," Anne replied and patted Spike's hand gently. "I love you too, my precious son."
Xander didn't want the matter to just drop, too much was at stake, or rather too much might need staking. "Really, Spike, how many times
did you say you couldn't wait to get the chip out so you could kill all of us? Now the chip is out and you expect us to all just forget the threats and invite you out for pizza and beer?"
"Don't remember you ever inviting me, whelp. How about all the times you threatened to stake me even when I DID have the chip? Am I supposed to watch my back for the rest of your life just because you threatened me? I said I'd drain you when you pushed me too far, ran your mouth too much.
"Lots of ways to kill that don't trigger one of those bug zappers. Coulda set a fire or used poison. Worked just fine on Dr. Ben/Glory,
didn't it?" Spike challenged. "I didn't have the chip then, true, but killed Benny boy just as well with or without. Coulda done you that way, slipped something in one of your drinks if I'd wanted you dead that bad."
"Sounds like you gave it plenty of thought," Xander noted.
"Sure, evil, remember?" Spike retorted in reflex. "Thought about lots of things I could still do while you were all calling me impotent and useless."
"And flacid, don’t forget flacid," suggested Anya quickly.
"Still, you have to admit the threat needs to be addressed," Giles reminded Spike, doing his best to ignore Anya’s outburst..
"That's what I'm doin, isn't it?" Spike asked in exasperation. "Tryin’ anyway. Look, Watcher, remember when you went all demony?"
Giles nodded, not sure where the conversation was going at this point.
"I'd just found out I could kill demons, right? Just moved out of your less than welcoming accommodations, no more chains in the bathtub
or ropes on chairs." Giles had the grace to look abashed as Anne looked at him with reproach. "I even said I could kill you before I knew it was you in that Fyral skin. Coulda just done it then if I'd wanted you dead. You were a demon and fair game. Slayer wouldn't even have known a thing. Point is, I didn't. If you remember, I helped you find that soddin’ mate of yours with the wicked wit AND helped you lose the bloody Initiative SWAT team. Was my perfect opportunity if I'd really wanted you dead."
"It's not like you did it from the goodness of your heart, Spike," Giles reminded him. "I seem to recall you held out for substantial pay for that help."
Spike rolled his eyes and didn't mention Giles demanding that same money back to remove the Initiative homing device from his shoulder
just a week later. "Fella has to keep up his image. Can't just throw in with the good guys. Altruism does not equal evil, you know."
Buffy had been listening with interest to the entire exchange in silence until now. Her look showed her astonishment at yet another side of Spike she had never suspected. "Wow, making with the big words there, Spike. Gotta say that doesn't exactly scream Big Bad either."
Spike let out a snort and faced the Slayer. "Yeah, I'm not as stupid as you lot think I am." Spike smirked and tossed a taunt right back
at her. "Just like you, missy. It's a great way to throw off the easily blinded. Make 'em think you're not the brightest bulb in the chandelier and they underestimate you. Also keeps you from getting sucked into endless hours of boring research duty when you'd rather be out killin’ something."
Buffy laughed at his insight. "Nailed!" She crossed her arms in front of her and tried to look serious, but her eyes danced with mirth. "You do realize that Giles is even now planning on how to tap into your unexpected skills. The research table awaits. Learn to love it, Spikey."
Willow had been thinking back to pre-chip Spike too and all her old fears surfaced. "But you did try to kill us, Spike. Not just the whole, 'first I'll kill you, then I'll kill Buffy.' The night you
escaped from the Initiative…I still have nightmares of that bottle in my face."
"Give over, Red!" Spike rolled his eyes, completely annoyed. 'Did these kids memorize every word I ever said, everything I ever did?' he thought. "I was drunk. 'Sides, I didn't even draw blood."
"You drew plenty of blood from me," Xander reminded him.
Spike shrugged. "Yes, I hit you over the head. I was a drunk, evil vampire; be glad I didn't just kill you outright. I needed Willow, not you, you pillock! Point is, I didn't. Carried your unconscious carcass to the factory and put you on a nice comfy bed to bleed without even takin’ a lick."
"You didn't kill me because you needed me alive to make Willow do your evil will," Xander charged.
"Please. Coulda had her scared even more if I'd just killed you, right?" Spike could see Xander try to process that thought. "Never planned to kill either of you and you knew it then, I'd guess. Was hurtin’, wanted it to stop." Spike looked pointedly at Willow and reminded her of that urge, "You know how that feels though, don't you, Red….even without enough whiskey to float a liner." She looked down in shame at the memory.
"I was drunk enough to consider using magic and you know how jumpy spells make me." Spike gave a half shrug as he let go of the anger
and resumed his debate points. "Yeah, I tried to scare you. Held a broken bottle to your face. Didn't even nick your skin though, did I?
Didn't even lock you two in when I went for that spell book either, or dog-boy and the cheerleader couldn't have come riding to the rescue. Killin’ the two of you wasn't on my to-do list, face it."
"So…," Giles broke into the conversation in an attempt to bring it back to the topic at hand. "You're trying to say that you have no desire to kill or bite any of us now that you are chipless?"
"I'm trying to say I haven't wanted to do either in a long time, even before the bloody chip," Spike replied with a clenched jaw.
"So you're all talk, all pretend evil? Bogus Bitey Boy the not-so-Big Bad?" Xander said sarcastically and with a suspicious burst of
Spike looked at the boy with a flash of the old Spike, the one they had met first and feared. "NO. Yes." He ran a frustrated hand
through his hair as he tried to figure out what he meant to say. "I'm tryin’ to say that I've changed."
Spike looked from face to face before continuing. "I'm trying to say that my demon may cry out for human blood, but I can't just see people as food any more. I'm trying to say that a spot of violence against a demon or a vamp is a lot more challenging than against a puny human,
even several at one time. I'm trying to say that I'd never hurt any of you and that means not hurtin’ any human ‘cause that would just
disappoint you." He looked directly at Buffy as he said the last.
"I see a young girl and don't see dinner; I see Dawn. I look at a mature person and see Joyce, or Mum, or Giles. I look at the loud, annoying co-eds and see you lot. They're all safe," Spike said with a lump in his throat. He'd never thought it out before, but now that he'd said it he knew for certain he'd never drink from the tap
again, at least not just to feed and definitely not to kill.
"What about young men? Do you see me?" Xander asked, trying not to show that he had been affected by Spike's impassioned speech.
"Hope not or I'll fall off the wagon," Spike teased. "Yeah, as much as you piss me off, you grow on a person…or a vamp. You're safe, so are they." Spike had to add, "Course just ‘cause I wouldn't drain you doesn't mean I wouldn't knock you into next year if your mouth starts runnin’ off with your constant insults and lame jokes though. I may not be the Big Bad any more, but that doesn't mean I'm a saint."
Anne decided to jump in before more old wounds were opened. "Well, if you have all decided to keep your pointed wooden objects to yourself
for the time being and give William the benefit of the doubt, I suggest we all get a bit of rest. It's been a terribly long day and tired minds tend to be more prone to argument."
Spike moved to his mother's side and leaned over to kiss her cheek gently. "Hope you'll understand if I stay somewhere else for a while.
Least ‘til the dust that settles isn't likely to be mine."
"Of course, son, just don't stay away for long, or go far away. I need you; we all need each other actually." She spoke again only for his ears, "Buffy needs you even if she isn't quite ready to admit it to herself yet."
"'M off then," He rolled his eyes at the brief flash of alarm that crossed over the Watcher's face. "Not gonna go lookin’ for some all-night buffet, Giles. Know you're getting along in years, but
thought your hearin' was a bit better than that."
Buffy sat silent as she watched her vampire walk out of the house without a backward glance.
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