“Ow!” Buffy winced, pulling away “Hey!”
Spike rolled his eyes as he placed the antiseptic on the small cut above the Slayer’s eye. The girl could withstand the army of hell without so much as a twinge but antiseptic? He’d found her Achilles heel.
She sat up on his kitchen counter, with him between her legs. It wasn’t nearly as filthy as it sounded. His mind was focused solely on cleaning her wounds and looking over her bruises. He didn’t notice the softness of her skin or the way her hair stuck to her neck lightly with sweat from the fight.
“Should you be doing that?” Xander asked carefully.
Besides, they weren’t alone. So there’d be none of that sexual tension here. In fact, they were far from alone. Harris was leaning defensively again the fridge; arms folded and eye watching them closely. Willow and Mya stood behind the Slayer and the vampire, also watchful and concerned for the bruised Buffy.
Buffy didn’t seem too concerned for herself, however. She sat there merrily spooning ice cream into her mouth and batting away his hands when he got too antiseptic happy.
Spike didn’t look at Xander when he spoke. “What’d you mean?”
“Cleaning the blood,” he replied. “Might make you hungry.”
Spike almost told him that it wasn’t Buffy’s blood that made him hungry but refrained from doing so. After all, there were children in the room. Instead he took a breath and answered calmly.
“I just ate.”
Xander remained sceptical for a moment then straightened up. “I can’t believe The Council. Don’t those guys ever learn? Beating up your own people doesn’t tend to encourage a happy workforce.”
Spike shrugged. “The Council is old fashioned. They need empirical evidence of loyalty, of strength and skill.”
“It was a piece of cake,” Buffy swallowed a mouthful of Rocky Road. “Even though nobody bothered to tell me someone had formed a Slayer Club.”
Willow smiled sheepishly. “Sorry.”
“I’ll deal. Must’ve been a pretty big spell, Will.”
She shrugged. “In a way, yeah. Once I had the Scythe it wasn’t really about me or my power though, it was about the Slayer’s.”
Buffy nodded. “Where is this Scythe now?”
“We think Faith pawned it to get a new tattoo,” Willow said brightly.
“Good to know we look after the sources of our primal power,” Buffy glibly said.
Spike cupped her chin and tilted her head up to look at her neck. It was swollen and bruised and generally looked painful as hell. She’d taken a heavy hit and he wished he’d gotten there sooner. Tailing Cain had proven harder than he’d imagined. The kid was swathed in so many protection spells – not to mention the insanely fast ride – that it had taken a while.
Buffy shifted on the counter, letting him look. “So…The Council controls all the Slayers still?”
“No,” Willow shook her head. “Cain has a tiny fraction of them. To keep things in Sunnydale…quiet.”
“So the rest of them are just, what; running around?”
“Not exactly,” Xander grinned. “We look after them.”
Buffy blinked. “You guys?”
“Hey, don’t make that sound so shocking,” he protested. “We’re not like a formal organisation or anything but we’ve got outposts, we’ve got safe houses. A few schools dotted about. People who train them and look out for them. It’s how I met Sarah.”
Willow smiled. “Seduced her with his carpentry skills.”
“I made her a bow and arrows,” Xander beamed proudly.
Mya grinned. “Aww, a gift of deadly weaponry. Nobody ever gives me sharp pointy objects.”
“It’s the way to a Slayer’s heart,” he explained sagely.
Buffy smiled softly. “One of them. So, who trains the girls? I mean it was hard enough with the Potentials but hundreds of Slayers? Is it hundreds?”
“Thousands,” Spike murmured. “At last count.”
Her eyes widened.
“I do,” Willow told her. “And Faith. Giles and Angel did for a little while, before…”
“And dad,” Mya piped up.
Buffy turned her eyes down to look at Spike who was still examining the bruising around her neck. “Ah, Spike in a room full of Slayers. His dream come true.”
“Was only ever interested in one Slayer,” Spike responded matter-of-factly, tilting her head back down and releasing his hold on her.
The whole room was silent for a moment but he didn’t much care as he stepped away and began replacing the creams and plasters into the First Aid kit. The moment passed and Willow and Mya began fussing with Buffy, making sure she was okay and trying to steal some ice cream.
Xander stood apart from the girls, watching them fondly for a little while. Then he looked at Spike for long enough that it made the vampire look up to acknowledge him. He walked past him and out the patio doors. Spike understood. He sighed and put the kit away before following Harris out into the rapidly darkening garden, closing the sliding doors behind him.
They stood on the back lawn side by side, neither of them looking at the other. The silence lasted a few seconds before Xander spoke.
“If she’s convicted, get her out of here,” he said lowly.
Spike glanced at the boy. He still thought of him as a boy, sometimes. The years had roughened him, given him deep wrinkles around the eyes. The eye patch cut the symmetry of his face harshly and grey hairs were beginning to show in his long and unruly hair but Spike still saw the stupid and foolhardy boy from Sunnydale.
Xander had never trusted Spike entirely and Spike understood that. It must have taken some considerable effort for him to ask that of the vampire. Buffy was one of his best friends and a girl Spike was sure Xander had always held a torch for. To ask him to protect her was a big thing for Harris. Never mind that he would protect her anyway, with or without the request from the boy. Xander didn’t need to know that.
“I will,” was all Spike said.
Xander turned to meet his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something else but they were interrupted.
“Hey,” Buffy called gently.
They both turned to face her. Leaning against the now open sliding doors, she looked worried. Like maybe they were about to start a wrestling match and not the kind involving oil.
Spike rolled his eyes at her. “Nothin’s up. Just watching the sun set with my honey-bunch.”
He started back up to the house.
As he moved to get around her she placed a hand on his chest to stop him, then she looked over his shoulder at Xander and then back at him. She still looked worried.
She tilted her head. “Were you talking about me?”
“Self-involved much, Buff?” Xander grinned. “I was just warning the vamp to keep his hands to himself, is all.”
Spike nodded. “He doesn’t like me grabbing his arse. Or so he says.”
The Slayer didn’t look amused as she spoke to her friend. “I don’t need you to do the big brother routine, Xand. I’ll see who I want to see. Spike or not.”
“That’s fine, I’d just prefer not,” he said.
Spike would have preferred not to have been in the middle of this conversation but nobody seemed to care what he preferred. Xander’s cover up for their real conversation was working a bit too well. Buffy gave him a hard look and Spike cleared his throat, drawing her attention.
“We have bigger problems,” he reminded her. “The trial. It’s the day after tomorrow, Buffy.”
She sighed. “I’m aware of that, Spike. What do you want me to do? Norman’s doing all he can, I’ve been to see Cain. Now it’s up to the jury to decide. Is…is there a jury?”
“No jury. It’ll be a small hearing with a member of H.U prosecuting and Norman defending you. Cain will sit at your table as a representative of The Council and your defence. There will be an independent judge and he or she will decide your sentence,” Spike explained to her.
Buffy looked a little wary. “So my life is in the hands of one guy in a wig?”
“There’s no wig…but yeah,”
Xander stepped up beside him. “Are we allowed to be there?”
Spike looked at him. “She needs character witnesses, so yes. There might be other members of H.U or The Council too. You know the types – bored suits who need a bit of entertainment.”
The Slayer swallowed and nodded. “What’d you say, Xand? Wanna defend my character?”
“Any day,” he said simply.
She smiled and glanced back into the living room. “Will?”
“Of course, Buffy.”
Buffy nodded. “Thank you. Both of you.”
She stepped aside and let Xander pass but when Spike tried to follow she stopped him again and moved outside, sliding the door closed behind her. He took a step back and waited for her to say whatever it was she had in mind.
“Willow once told me that three is a magic number,” Buffy began, looking at the ground as if slightly embarrassed. “It’s important to the balance of things. Bad things happen in threes; things come back to you threefold, there are three Robocop movies…”
Spike tilted his head and frowned.
“…I guess what I’m trying to say is…everybody needs three people who’ll vouch for them. I’ve got Willow and Xander, I’m kind of in need of a third,” she looked directly at him then. “Will you…I mean, I know I haven’t exactly treated you right in the past, which is an understatement of a huge nature, but –”
“Buffy.” He interrupted.
She paused. “Yeah?”
“You know I will.”
She seemed to visibly relax. “I hoped you’d say that. I just…I know things are weird between us at the moment.”
“Things are always weird between us, love,” he reminded her. “But this is much more important than sex or the past or any of it.”
“More important than sex?” Buffy questioned, wryly.
He half-smiled. “Sort of.”
She left it at that and turned to go back inside, the movement pulling a wince from her. She rubbed a hand across the slope of her neck; the bruising there had already begun to turn that ugly yellowish colour. She’d be right as rain soon enough but at the moment she still hurt. Spike hated to see her that way and gave half a thought to slapping Travers across the room the next time he saw him. He doubted it would have gone down well at the trial.
“You should get some rest,” he proclaimed. “I’ll give you a lift back to Faith’s.”
Buffy stepped up into the doorway. “Can I use your shower first? I’m gross and stinky. I really don’t feel like using Faith’s shared bathroom and being spied on by the pervert from No. 67.”
He imagined Xander inside carefully constructing a voodoo doll of him and smiled.
“Yeah. Of course.”
+ + +
Buffy stood in the shower – which was on the optimum temperature setting – and decided that at least the future had good bathing facilities. She must have been in there for at least twenty minutes just trying to soothe her aching bones. The stiffness in her neck had vanished completely and she felt almost as good as new.
She could hear muffled voices from down the hall and she guessed it was time to get out of the shower. Buffy sighed and turned the miracle machine off before towelling herself dry and redressing in her clothes. It kind of defeated the logic of washing but at least she felt a little better.
The Slayer took a while combing her hair with what she guessed must have been Mya’s comb. She knew why she was procrastinating. She didn’t want to go back to Faith’s. The other Slayer hadn’t been too bad to live with as it turned out but the apartment was a mess and sharing a mattress with the other woman wasn’t really a good time either.
Buffy placed the comb back where she had found it and took a deep breath, looking at herself in the mirror. She supposed she should feel lucky. Even Faith’s place was likely to be better than prison. It was odd to think she might be in prison in a few days time. Or dead.
Her mind flashed to Angel. She imagined him sitting in his cell. Buffy wanted to get him out of there so damn bad but she’d have to get herself out of trouble first. Banishing those thoughts from her mind she left the bathroom and walked slowly down the hall to the living room.
Spike was slumped on the couch watching television. He seemed to be alone and Buffy guessed the voices she had heard were Xander and Willow leaving, Mya was also suspiciously absent.
Not that she minded, really. Sure things were awkward between them but like he had pointed out earlier – they always were. Buffy watched him for a moment longer. His eyes were fixed on the screen, his limbs loose and relaxed. The blue shirt he wore was rumpled and the top button was undone, tie hanging around his neck untied. He looked exhausted. She felt exhausted. They were old fogies.
“I know how to clear a room,” Buffy announced herself, stepping into the room.
Spike looked up and away quickly. “I think you’ll find that’s my talent.”
She inched further in slowly. “Xander didn’t say anything did he…?”
He grunted. “No.”
“Even now he’s trying to…I don’t know, be my guardian or something? It’s weird and not at all civil,” Buffy declared, dropping into the armchair.
“Thinks he knows best,” Spike said simply. “Maybe he does. He’s the one who sees everything, after all.”
She frowned. “Huh?”
She pulled herself into an upright sitting position and braced herself for what she was about to say. “I’m sorry.”
He blinked at the screen. “For what?”
“For just messing stuff up for you,” Buffy chewed on her lip. “I mean, I get what you said the other night. About us being the past. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard for me to get that it’s been years for you. For me it was less than a year since we were…involved like that. And even less time since I last saw you. I guess I just need to catch up. Stop pretending like you haven’t changed. Like everything hasn’t changed.”
Spike locked eyes with her. “I didn’t mean –”
“Spike, it’s cool.” She shifted in her seat. “It could be a good thing. A clean slate or whatever. Now that there are so many Slayers and not that much need for them. Assuming I don’t get taken to the kink.”
“Clink,” he corrected her. “Buffy I…it might have been years for me since I last saw you but I wanted to see you every day. It’s not like I forgot you. Not once.”
She smiled softly. “You moved on. You got married. Had a kid. I’m happy for you. Happy that you found that. I never could have imagined you as a family man but now that I see it…I see it’s perfect for you. It’s what you were meant to be.”
Spike shrugged, looking pensive. “What are you saying?”
“That I don’t want to hold you back,” she said and then looked surprised at herself as though she had finally voiced something she hadn’t known quite how to word before.
Spike started to say something then stopped, took a moment and spoke. “You’re right. I have changed. And one thing I am now? Is not a man who will be held back.”
Buffy considered that. “So, what does that mean?”
“I decide what I want to do,” he replied, turning back to the TV. “No one dictates to me anymore, Buffy. Not even you.”
“Okay, what do you want to do?”
A wry smile pulled at the corner of his mouth but he didn’t say anything. Buffy watched him carefully. This Spike was so much more cryptic than he used to be. Or, at least very private. He seemed to keep what he was feeling to himself when Buffy really could have done with knowing. She guessed it was her own fault. Karma or whatever.
Nodding, mostly to herself, she stood. “I guess I better get back. Norman’s coming by later to go over things.”
“Oh, right.” Spike stood. “I’ll give you a ride.”
Buffy’s laughed as she made her way to the door. “Don’t make promises you won’t keep.”
He followed closely behind. “Keep sayin’ things like that and you might give me the wrong idea.”
“Which would be what?” She opened the door, letting the muted sunshine in.
Spike grabbed up a blanket and threw it up over his head. “Let’s go.” He stepped outside.
Well, of course. This was un-sharey Spike. Of course he wouldn’t tell her. She sighed and followed after him. They got in the car and pulled away in silence but it wasn’t long before Spike was prattling on about the trial yet again. He had to realise how nervous the whole thing made her and going on and on about it wasn’t helping. She just stared out of the window and watched the town go by for the most part. Buffy could feel Spike’s anger at her apathy but if he was going to be close guarded about his emotions then she could be too. It was childish, she knew, but she had never announced herself as being particularly mature.
“So, you’ve got nothin’ to add I take it?” He muttered.
Buffy glanced at him. “Not really. I mean…there’s no way I can prove to those guys that I’m a good person. I don’t even really know if I am.”
“I’m serious, Spike. I mean – I fight demons but…is that a good thing now? Vampires have rights. That makes me a bad person,” she shrugged. “And then there are the other things. The things that make people good. Family. Friends. Boyfriends. I suck at all of those. You know that.”
He shook his head. “I was never your boyfriend, love. As for family and friends, I’d say you have a pretty good lot.”
“Had,” she corrected him, looking out of the window again to cover the way her face fell. “Dawn and Mom are dead…I don’t even know about dad. Giles is gone and Willow and Xander have outgrown me. I look at them and they’re still Xander and Willow but…more, you know? More than me.”
He opened his mouth to protest but she continued.
“And I never treated any of them right, anyway. All I did was get them all nearly killed. A lot.” Buffy took a deep breath and blinked several times to clear her eyes. “People are better off not knowing me.”
“Bollocks,” he said firmly.
“It’s true and you know it.”
“Right,” he shook his head. “You know, you annoy the hell out of me Summers.”
Buffy looked at him then, scowling. “Thanks.”
“You didn’t nearly get them killed. You saved them. All the damn time. Without you they’d be dead a hundred times over. That or worse – living mundane little lives, working at Pizza Hut and wearing braces at the age of 50.” Spike snorted again and took a sharp left.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Whatever, Spike.”
“Your mum doted on you,” Spike said pointed at her briefly. “You think she’d have been better off not knowing you? You think Dawn would have been? She’d be either a blob of energy or dead at the hands of Glory.”
“She’s dead anyway!” Buffy yelled suddenly.
Spike blinked, voice lowering. “But she had a good life.”
“Yeah,” Buffy laughed bitterly. “Getting kidnapped at least two or three times a week and hating her sister for ignoring her. Cutting herself. God. She didn’t even know who she was.”
He looked out the windscreen. “She figured it out.”
“And then she died.”
“That’s the thing about humans.” Spike replied. “But she was loved and she loved. She missed you every day. I can tell you she was proud to have you as a sister. Then there’s Willow and Xander - they have got to be the two luckiest geeks in the world to have met you. Giles? He got the daughter he never had. As for your terrible taste in boyfriends…well, that part is true.”
Buffy choked up a laugh, this one genuine, but had to look away as her eyes started to get watery again. “Yeah, I mean look at you.”
“Ah, I was never your boyfriend remember,” he smiled.
She almost smiled herself. “Maybe it’s all true what you said. Maybe it isn’t. But that judge isn’t going to know either way.”
“We’ll tell them.”
She shook her head. “People don’t always believe what they’re told.”
Spike turned to her and raised his eyebrows, eyes widening. “Then we’ll show them.”
“That I have terrible taste in boyfriends?”
“No, that you changed people for the better. That you’re one of the good guys…” Spike’s eyes were lighting up.
Buffy frowned. “And how in hell are you going to do that?”
“You’ll see. It’ll either work tremendously or sink like a lead balloon filled with elephant dung.” He pulled out front of Faith’s building and threw on his blanket in one move. “I’ll walk you to your door.”
She got out of the car. “So, you’re not going to tell me?”
“About elephant dung?” They walked into the apartment building.
“No, I’m an expert in that subject,” she climbed the stairs. “I meant your decidedly shoddy plan.”
He followed after her, watching the view. “It’s not shoddy. Just risky.”
“Just like the old days.”
Buffy turned the corner of her hall, tired and still aching from the beatings the other Slayer’s had instilled on her. Maybe she really was getting old. Or maybe she was just sick and tired of getting the crap beating out of her. Either way she needed sleep and lots of it.
As they reached the apartment Buffy’s heart sank.
Scrawled across the door was one word written in a deep red.
Buffy didn’t look at Spike as she spoke. “Yeah, I’m one of the good guys all right.”
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