They rode to the hospital in an uncomfortable silence, not speaking until they were in the waiting room where Dawn, Willow, Tara and Xander were waiting for her.
“She’s with the doctor now,” Dawn said, glaring at Riley as if he had interrupted her in the middle of something important. “Um...Giles is with her, and...” She let the ‘and’ lie there, hoping Buffy would understand who else was with her mother. Just then, the doors opened and Ben came into the waiting room, smiling and asking, “Are you Buffy? Your mother would like to see you.”
Buffy stared at the smiling man, who clearly had no recollection of seeing her hanging from chains in his apartment, and tried to catch her breath. She wanted desperately to see her mother and to hear what the doctors had to say, but there was no way that she was leaving Dawn in the same room with Glory’s human host. While she struggled for something to say, Ben began to quake and shiver, shaking so hard that if you hadn’t known what was happening, you might have wondered where he went and why there was a woman standing in his much-too-large scrubs.
“Well,” Glory said with delight. “Isn’t this a nice surprise? The Slayer and all her little playmates all in one place. Let me see, which one shall I kill first?”
She grabbed at Dawn, only to find Buffy’s fist buried in her stomach. She straightened slowly, glaring at the girl who had so recently escaped from her. “Now that wasn’t nice at all. And you know how it ended last time.” She hit Buffy, knocking her back against the wall and following up with a kick to her side. She was drawing her foot back for another kick when Spike and Giles came barreling through the swinging doors, followed closely by Joyce.
The vampire didn’t slow down, but allowed his momentum to carry him into the Hellgod’s back. He managed to knock her sufficiently off balance to allow Buffy time to get to her feet and hit Glory with a nearby chair. Shrugging the snarling vampire off, the god laughed as she backhanded Buffy away and turned her attention back to the group of humans shrinking back against the far wall. Spike threw himself upon her again, this time sinking his fangs into the side of her neck and hanging on like a bulldog as she twisted and turned in an effort to shake him off. Buffy had charged back, and was keeping Glory’s hands busy blocking punches and kicks that were meeting their targets more often than not.
Willow and Tara joined hands, and putting Dawn, Joyce and Anya behind them, they began a soft chant that brought up a shield of light between them and the struggle going on in front of them. Xander picked up the broken chair and used one leg to bang on Glory’s head, missing once and accidentally hitting Spike who was still clinging to the side of the hellgod’s neck.
“Sorry,” Xander muttered as the vampire’s snarls increased dramatically. Giles had moved behind Spike and with a knife that he produced from a strap on his ankle, he attempted to stab the furious god in something that might be a vulnerable organ. All of the combatants fell to the floor, rolling around in a screaming, snarling mass, with Xander still wielding his chair leg and attempting to do some sort of permanent damage to the powerful god. Suddenly, there was a furious, ear-piercing shriek as Glory began to shake and quiver, trembling until once again, the young doctor was lying in her place.
With a scream of his own, Spike rolled off, his chip having recognized the human blood in his mouth and fired off immediately. Xander stood over the dazed man, the chair leg still in his raised hand. Buffy was staring at the bloody human looking back at her with confused eyes, her rapid breathing more than audible to her watcher. She remained sitting on the man’s chest, all the fight gone out of her as she saw his bloody face and neck.
“Xander,” Giles spoke with authority, “would you please get everyone out of here? Now? Before the entire hospital security force descends on us?”
With a nod, Xander dropped his makeshift weapon and helped the moaning vampire to his feet. He put one arm under Spike’s and half-dragged, half-carried him to the door. Riley watched in bewilderment as Dawn rushed to Spike’s other side to support him, and the witches quickly opened the door and shepherded everyone through it and into a long hallway.
Buffy was still staring at Ben, her face the picture of anguish as she struggled to deal with what she knew needed to be done. Giles pulled her to her feet and pushed her towards Riley and the door.
“Will you please accompany Buffy, Riley?” he said calmly. “I will join everyone shortly.”
Still looking back at the man lying on the floor, Buffy allowed herself to be pulled out of the room. Once she was away from the sight of the man whose battered condition was a direct result of her assault on Glory’s body, she seemed to recover herself, and she focused on the people waiting in the hall. Her eyes went to the vampire, now standing on his own, although with a worried Dawn and Joyce hovering close by.
“Are you okay?” she asked, watching blood seep from his nose.
“I will be,” he said hoarsely. “Seems the chip really doesn’t like it when I have my teeth in someone.”
“That’s its job,” Riley said coldly. “You were trying to kill that man.”
“Uh, technically...” Willow began.
Ignoring her, the soldier turned to Xander. “Why didn’t you just leave him there? I would have taken care of him.” His glare at the vampire left no doubt as to what he meant by ‘take care of him’.
“He was hurt,” Xander explained. “And Giles said to get everyone out. Spike’s...well, he’s kinda one of us now. An honorary Scooby. He needed help, so I helped him. It’s what we do – we help each other.”
Before the conversation could turn into an argument, Giles emerged from the small waiting room. He met Spike’s intent eyes and nodded once, then began to usher the group towards the exit.
“I believe Joyce has all the information she needs; I suggest we retire to someplace more comfortable to discuss the events of the day.”
“Magic Box!” Willow said quickly. “We can send out for Pizza.”
“Sounds like a plan. Who’s riding with the G-man?”
“I’ll take Joyce and Dawn with me. If you will take Willow and Tara?”
“I have to get back to the university,” Riley said stiffly. He turned to Buffy, who was looking very uncomfortable. “I can drop you off on my way.” He pointedly ignored the vampire waiting quietly for Buffy to tell him what to do.
“Spike—” she began, only to be interrupted quickly.
“I can’t go out there yet, Slayer. I’ll take the sewers and meet you later.”
She chewed her lip, her indecision plain to both men. Riley spoke first.
“Or, I can just leave you here with this thing that seems to be as important to you as your friends and family.”
“Spike is one of my friends,” Buffy said, a warning edge in her voice. “I don’t know why you can’t accept that the way everyone else has.”
Riley sighed and took a different tack. “Buffy, I don’t know if it’s whatever makes you the Slayer...or just being around them so much...or what. But, there are people who can help you. Trained people, who can help you work through this thing you have with vampires. Who can help you see how...wrong...it is.”
Behind her, Spike was maintaining a barely heard growl, and without thinking, Buffy reached out to put a soothing hand on his arm.
“Why are you touching him?” The understanding tone that Riley had used just a second ago was gone; replaced by an icy calm. “Do you touch all your other friends?”
The very tired slayer stared at her boyfriend, the astonishment clear on her face. Then she shook her head and said quietly, “I told you, I can’t deal with this right now, Riley. I need to get to the Magic Box and see what my mom found out – and what Giles did with Glory. And,” she added, as she turned to walk away with Spike, “I do touch my other friends when I need to. Or when I want to. All of them. There’s no reason to treat Spike any differently. But there might be, if you keep behaving like such an ass.”
Without another word, she followed the vampire into the elevator that would take them to the basement and access to the tunnels that ran underneath Sunnydale.
When the doors had slid shut, hiding Riley’s angry face from them, Spike looked at Buffy from the corners of his eyes, asking, “What did you mean by that threat, Slayer? You’re going to let his jealousy change how you act around me?”
“I’m too tired to talk about his right now,” she sighed, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes. “With either one of you.” She opened one eye and saw the way his face was shutting down. “But, just so you know? I didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to touch you any more – if I need...or...or want to.” She quickly closed her eye again, but not before she saw the way his eyes lit up. She kept her eyes shut and her head against the wall until she heard the slight ‘thud’ that indicated they’d stopped. She followed Spike out of the elevator car and through the bowels of the hospital until he held an old door open for her.
It took only a few minutes at vampire/slayer speed to arrive in the basement of the Magic Box. Before they went up the stairs, Spike touched Buffy’s arm and asked, “So, where’s m’shirt, Slayer?”
She rolled her eyes. “I had to leave it at my house,” she answered. “Riley didn’t know it was your shirt I was wearing, and I decided that it might be a good idea to keep it that way...”
He nodded. “Reckon you’re right, love. Wouldn’t want the big git gettin’ the wrong idea, would we?”
“The idea’s already there, Spike. I just don’t want to feed his paranoia right now.”
“Can we feed it later?” he purred, moving close enough for his breath to stir the hair on her neck. “If he’s gonna be all jealous and stake-happy, I’d really like to think I’d earned it.” He ran his lips down the side of her neck and pulled her back against his chest.
Buffy giggled and squirmed within his semi-embrace, gasping, “Stop that! It’s not funny. I’m afraid he really will try to stake you.” She turned around and met his dancing eyes with her own serious expression. “You’ll be careful, won’t you?”
“I will if want me to, Buffy,” he replied, equally seriously. “But I’m not gonna hide from him. And,” he continued, “I’m not gonna hide the way I feel about you. Not from him, not from anybody.”
“Okay, see? That’s another one of those conversations I don’t want to have right now.” She tried to turn away from the eyes boring into hers, but he held her chin with his fingers long enough to brush his lips across hers.
“Nothin’ to talk about, love. It is what it is. Not askin’ you for anything. Not right now, anyway. Your watcher took care of the hell bint, now we jus’ need to get your mum’s health sorted and you can take the rest of the year off.”
Buffy gave a shaky laugh and let herself lean into him for a second. “I don’t think the Slayer gets time off, Spike,” she said almost sadly. “But thank you for not pushing me.”
“Wouldn’t do that to you, pet.” He followed her up the stairs, waiting until she was ready to open the door before saying, “But I still want my shirt back. Unwashed.”
They entered the Magic Box laughing together, then halted when they saw Dawn facing Riley in what was clearly a stand-off of some sort.
“Joyce,” the ex-soldier appealed to Buffy’s mother, “surely you can see that this is some sort of slayer-related psychosis? I know people who can help her. Why won’t you let me do that?”
“The only one with a psychosis here is you, Riley,” Dawn was almost screaming. “The rest of us are able to see Spike for what he is.”
“I see him for what he is,” the big man growled as he spotted Buffy and Spike. “An evil, soulless thing that has somehow convinced all of you that it’s safe to be around him. But I know that it’s only that chip that keeps his bloodlust in check.”
Her face tight, Joyce came up behind Dawn and gently pushed her away.
“Riley, I understand that you think you have Buffy’s best interests at heart, but I think there are some truths that you need to hear.” She took a deep breath. “Spike had no chip when he saved Buffy from being arrested and asked her to join him in defeating Angelus and saving the world. He sat in my living room and was a perfect gentleman. Some time later, he sat in my kitchen drinking hot chocolate and telling me how broken-hearted he was that Drusilla had left him. Again, perfect gentleman and not a trace of fangs.” She stopped and glared at him. “And just so you know, Dawn and I were alone in the house. Buffy wasn’t home when he arrived. His invitation has never been revoked. He could have killed us at any time.”
“And, as far as allowing you to take my daughter to a psychiatrist...” There was a gasp behind her as Buffy understood the full scope of the argument. Joyce bowed her head and said softly, “Her father and I did that to her once because we didn’t understand her calling or the things that she had to do. I will never allow it to happen again.”
“You wanted them to have me committed?” Had Riley known Buffy better, he would have realized that the calm quality of her voice was much more dangerous than a scream would have been. “Because I haven’t staked someone who can’t fight back? Someone who is always there for me if I need him? Because I don’t repay rescue from torture with the death of the rescuer? Does that make me crazy, Riley? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m saying that you spend an unhealthy amount of time with something you shouldn’t suffer to live. And it wouldn’t be the first time – you have a thing for vampires. If you won’t recognize that you have a problem and do something about it, then...I can’t...we’re through, Buffy. You’re not the girl I thought you were and I can’t stay with you. You need to choose – the vampire or me.”
He finished speaking and waited for her to tell him he was wrong, to beg him not to break up with her. Instead, she waited for the gasps from the other people in the room to fade before she said simply, “I’m sorry you feel that way, Riley.”
Without looking at him again, she walked over to the table and sat down, picking a piece of pizza out of the box and beginning to chew. There was dead silence while everyone absorbed what had just, so publicly, happened. Then Riley drew himself up and threw his parting shot.
“You are one cold bitch, you know that, Buffy? I guess that explains why you get off fucking the dead.”
Spike was already moving when Giles and Xander reacted and grabbed him before he could hurl himself at the eagerly waiting soldier. While Giles struggled to hold the snarling vampire, Xander pushed him back and said, “You’ll just get hurt again, Deadboy, Jr. Allow me.”
He turned and drew back his fist, only to have two Summers women fly past him.
“No,” Joyce said firmly. “Let me.” She walked up to the much taller man and slapped him across the face hard enough to rock him back on his heels.
“Get out,” she said coldly. “And don’t ever come near my daughter again.”
In case he wasn’t getting the message, Dawn walked around her mother and kicked Riley in the shins as hard as she could; smiling happily as she realized that she was wearing hard-toed boots rather than her usual sneakers.
With a final glare at the roomful of equally angry people, he whirled and limped from the building, slamming the door behind him as he did so.
With Riley gone, Giles let go of Spike; there was an embarrassed silence during which time no one knew where to look. Finally, in a strained voice, Buffy said, “Well, I’ve got to say, as Buffy relationships go, that one ended with a bang, didn’t it?” She thought for a second, then added, “Well, okay, maybe not as big a bang as when I blew up the school the night Angel left me, but still...points for public humiliation, right?”
“Nope!” She held up her hand. “We’re all just going to pretend this never happened. Pizza anyone? Mom? You want to tell me what the doctors said?”
Very slowly, they made their ways back to the table, everyone finding a chair until the only seat left was the one on Buffy’s right. Spike waited until everyone was settled before turning the chair around and straddling it. Joyce was on Buffy’s left, and she waiting until all the squirming and fidgeting was done before saying quietly, “I have a tumor in my brain. It appears to be benign, but it has to be removed immediately. Surgery is scheduled for the day after tomorrow.”
There was a lengthy silence, and then everyone began to speak at once. She allowed the platitudes and assurances of success to go on for a while, and then raised her hand for quiet. “I appreciate your good wishes and support – all of you. But right now, I think I’d like to go home with my daughters and spend some quality time with them before the operation.”
There was rapid agreement all around the table, and Giles immediately offered to drive the Summers women home. Joyce pointed out that they needed to go by Spike’s crypt first and collect their belongings, leading to a mass exodus as the others remembered that they also had things in the vampire’s crypt. As they all started out the door, Buffy hung back, saying, “I’ll walk back with Spike. We’ll meet you there.”
As the door closed behind the chattering Scoobies, she led the way to the stairs and descended to the basement and its access to the tunnels; then she gave way to the vampire, whose vision and knowledge of the underground byways could get them to Restfield more quickly than the others could by car.
They walked in silence, broken only by the occasional drip of water or the sound of something sloshing through the sewers in one of the side tunnels. In what seemed like no time, they were approaching the back of Spike’s lower level and could see by the light of a guttering candle that had not been extinguished when everyone left that afternoon.
“Tryin’ to bloody burn m’place down,” he growled, pinching the candle out and then quickly lighting two others.
“Technically, I don’t think dirt burns.” Buffy made an attempt at her usual humor after a pointed glance at the dirt floor and walls.
“I have stuff, Slayer. And stuff burns,” he responded indignantly.
When there was no reply, he touched her arm gently and asked, “Are you alright, love? ‘s been kind of a rough couple of days – even for a slayer.”
She shrugged, careful not to do it hard enough to dislodge the hand resting on her arm.
“Well, let’s see – got beat up, but we killed all the little creeps, so that one comes out even. We got rid of a Hellgod, my boyfriend broke up with me in front of my friends and family, and my mom’s been told that with a little brain surgery, she’ll be fine.” She shrugged again. “Two out of three. I can handle that.”
“You are an amazing woman, you know,” he said, taking a chance and pulling her in to a loose embrace. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like you.”
“Ah, that’s what they all say,” she mumbled. “Usually just before they dump me.”
“Then they’re all too bloody stupid to live,” he growled, tipping her chin up.
“Any man who would leave you is crazier than Dru ever was.”
“If this conversation is going where I think it is,” she looked up at him with a small smile, “do you think we could have it without any mention of anybody’s exes? Yours or mine?”
“I can do that, love,” he grinned, pulling her in more tightly and dipping his head towards hers.
“Good, cause I really don’t—” The first touch of his lips on hers stopped her words; the second one stopped her train of thought, and the third one had her sighing happily as she began to kiss him back. Any thoughts they may have had about exploring this new relationship any further were interrupted by the noisy arrival of her family and friends. With a rueful smile, she pulled away and gathered her mother and Dawn’s things, carrying them up the ladder with her.
Spike was standing where she’d left him, his face wearing a beatific smile when Dawn stuck her head down the hole and smirked at him.
“I knew it,” she crowed. “I told you so.”
He just laughed and waved at her. “Get out of here, Bit. Go home and take care of your mother.”
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