Title: It's a Crummy World

Prompt: Crying

Summary: What might have happened after Spike found Buffy crying on the back porch and sat down beside her? How might that have changed the rest of that time period? (Note: goes, obviously, somewhat AU immediately, so events may run together more than they did in canon.)

 

It's a Crummy World

 

Crying. The Slayer was crying.  Not that he thought she couldn't, or hadn't – hell, he knew sheĠd shed plenty of tears over the poof's worthless soul – but he'd never seen it.  All she'd ever shown him was her slayer face. Stoic, controlled, only the occasional disgusted twist of her mouth, or angry flash of her eyes to hint at the emotions being held so tightly in check.

 

Now, here she was. Sitting on her back porch, face in hands, not even noticing that a master vampire – an armed master vampire! – was approaching her back yard.  Not until he stopped a few feet away did she glance up, making no attempt to hide her wet cheeks.

 

"What do you want?" Her voice was dull, flat, not a trace of irritation or fear.

 

"What's wrong?" 

 

"I don't want to talk about it."

 

"Is there something I can do?" 

 

He slipped into place beside her on the top step, leaning the shotgun against the side of the deck and searching his brain for the proper response to a woman's tears. It was Buffy. The Slayer. It's not like he could make it all better by bringing her babies to eat.  He lifted his hand and gave a few tentative pats to her bowed back.  There was no response as he dropped the hand back to his side and dropped his own head to stare into the yard.

 

Buffy turned her head slowly to peer at him from damp, suspicious eyes.

 

"Why would you want to do anything?"

 

"Dunno," he muttered. "'s not like I should give a shit what happens to you after...." He clenched his fists as the reason he'd come there, shotgun in hand, returned to him.

 

Buffy's eyes widened; she remembered how she'd left him sprawled in the alley behind the Bronze.  He could tell when memory of her cruel words hit her, and she had the grace to blush.  She frowned at the shotgun, now leaning against the porch, and back at his confused face. Sad realization flared in her eyes before they went dull again.

 

"I'm sorry, Spike."  She shook her head and dropped it back into her hands. "That's all you'll get from me tonight.  I can't deal with...  I'm too worried about my mom to think about anything else." Her shoulders began to shake again.  "Just leave me alone, Spike.  Please."

 

"If that's what you want, luv," he said, raising his hand again, then dropping it without touching her.  "If there's nothing I can do to help."  He started to get up, then sat down again as her words sank in.  "Too worried about your mum? Is something wrong with Joyce?"

 

Her glare told him she had forgotten his affection for her mother, and his assurances that chip or no chip, he would never touch her.  He stared back at Buffy, waiting for her to remember how many times she'd caught him having cocoa or tea in Joyce's kitchen.  Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him, assessing the honest concern in his gaze before her face relaxed and she nodded.

 

"I forgot you and Mom are... " She peered at him again, biting her lip. "...friends?"

 

"I'd like to think so," he said with a shrug. When she didn't say anything else, he nudged her arm with his elbow.  "So, what's going on, Slayer?"

 

She took a deep shuddering breath and for a moment he thought she was going to cry again.  Instead, she stared at the ground, saying, "Nothing you can do anything about, Spike.  Or me, either. If I thought we could fight it...." Her eyes flew up to his. "All the super-strength in the world isn't going to—"

 

"For the love of—" He stopped and took a deep breath. "Just tell me what's wrong, Buffy. Not saying I can fix it, just... I can't know that till I know what's going on, can I?"

 

"The headaches... you know about the headaches?" He nodded, but she didn't see it as she went on, once again staring at the ground.  "They... the 'nothing' they told her it was – turns out it might not be nothing. It might be a... a something. So, she's going to the hospital tonight so they can start all their tests again in the morning."

 

Spike raised his head and watched as the light in Joyce's bedroom went off and he heard her footsteps on the stairs. "How's she gettin' there? You're not lettin' her go alone, are you?"

 

"No, of course not. We'll call a cab...."

 

Spike snorted. "Someday, luv, you're going to have to learn to drive."

 

"Someday," she shrugged. "But not tonight.  I don't want her driving herself there, though, so—"

 

He stood up. "I'll drive," he said quietly. "I'll get her there safely and get you home again too."

 

Buffy stood up and faced him, running her eyes all over his face as if she could read his mind by memorizing his features.

 

"I don't understand... You wanted to... and I... " She glanced at the shotgun again. "Don't you hate me?"

 

He growled. "Don't flatter yourself, pet. Not the first woman to turn me down. Prob'ly won't be the last.  I'm doing this because it's your mum. She's a nice lady, always treats me like a man. I like Joyce. And the nibblet. Don't want to see anything bad happen to either one of them."

 

He turned his back on her and stomped to the door, holding it open and looking back over his shoulder.  "You coming in?"

 

Buffy walked slowly up the steps, ducking under his arm with a mumbled "thank you" as she preceded him into the kitchen.   He followed her into the living room, nodding a hello to Joyce at her startled, "Spike. It's... It's nice to see you, but I'm afraid I..."

 

"Not here for tea and sympathy, Joyce," he said gruffly. "Gonna help the Slayer get you to the hospital, is all."

 

Joyce gave Buffy a questioning glance, smiling when she saw her daughter roll her eyes and nod.

 

"Thank you, Spike. That's very sweet of you – isn't it, Buffy?"

 

"Yeah, yeah. He's a prince," Buffy muttered, sending Spike a grateful look anyway.

 

Without further discussion, Spike picked up Joyce's overnight bag, grabbed the car keys from the hall table and opened the front door.  "Ladies?"

 

The ride to the hospital was quiet, each one lost in his or her own thoughts. Spike sent occasional glances to Joyce, sitting in the passenger seat.  Her face was tense, as he imagined it should be when facing tests that could change her life forever.  He could just see Buffy's frowning face in the rearview mirror, her eyes unfocused, her lower lip being gnawed on by small, perfect teeth.  With an effort, he yanked his gaze off her face and back onto the road.

 

He drove up to the hospital's emergency entrance and watched Buffy jump out and reach back for Joyce's overnight bag. Joyce turned to Spike, grimacing at his worried expression.

 

"Buffy's worried enough for all of us," she said with a mother's wisdom.  "I need for you to be strong for her... no matter what. Promise me, Spike. That you'll be strong for my girls."

 

A muscle twitched in Spike's jaw, the only sign that he was disturbed by her words.

 

"You're going to be fine," he almost snarled.

 

"I certainly hope so," she replied calmly. "But promise me anyway."

 

He stared at her, his entire heart bared. "You know you didn't need to ask. Couldn't do anything else."

 

"I know that," she responded, brushing her fingers over his cheek before turning to step out of the door Buffy was holding open. "But Buffy doesn't."

 

"Buffy doesn't what?"

 

"I'll tell you later. After I get checked in." She put her hand to her head briefly. "I'm a little tired."

 

Casting a quick look back at Spike, who waved her on, Buffy took Joyce's elbow and walked her into the check-in area.  As soon as Joyce was sitting down and providing her information, Buffy set the bag down beside her and ran back outside to where Spike was leaning against the driver's door, smoking and curling his lip at the security guard trying to get him to move the big SUV. 

 

He was just about to vamp out when Buffy walked up to him and punched him on the arm.

 

"We don't annoy the nice man whose job it is to keep the road clear for the ambulances," she said with less real anger than he would have expected.

 

"You spoil all my fun," he grumbled, flicking the butt away. "I was just about to make him piss himself."

 

"As entertaining as I'm sure that could have been, why don't you just park the car and come inside? "

 

He blinked at her. "You want me to come in?"

 

She hesitated. "Well... not if you don't want to. I just thought... " She looked at his wide eyes and said with complete honesty, "I don't want to be alone here. I don't like hospitals.  It won't be long," she hurried on, misunderstanding his hesitation and oblivious to the joy spreading across his face. "I have to get home by morning. Dawn's at Janice's, but she's coming home early, and I—"

 

"It's fine, Buffy," he said gently. "I just didn't want to intrude...."

 

"Oh. Okay, then. I'll just be...." She gestured toward the doors.

 

"Go on, luv. Go be with your mum. I'll be right along."

 

He watched her walk back into the hospital, her head down until she got to the door, where she stopped, took a deep breath, and squared her shoulders, lifting her chin. He didn't have to see her face to see the smile she'd plastered on before entering.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

By the time he'd parked the car and joined them in the registration area, Joyce was just being placed in a wheel chair to be whisked off to her room for the rest of the night.  Buffy hugged her fiercely, apologizing when Joyce winced at the effect of slayer strength on her ribs.  She smiled her forgiveness and glanced at Spike.

 

"I was just telling Buffy that all I'm going to be doing for the next few hours is sleeping, so it makes more sense for her to go home and be there when Dawn gets home in the morning, so they can both be here for the test results.  You'll see that she gets home all right, won't you, Spike?"

 

He watched with amusement as Buffy tried not to roll her eyes at the implication that she wouldn't have been more than capable of seeing herself home safely, knowing that it wasn't her physical safety that Joyce was worried about.

 

"Whatever she wants, Joyce," Spike said quietly. "Whatever she needs."

 

Buffy sent a puzzled look back and forth between her mother and the vampire she thought she knew, and obviously didn't.  She shrugged and turned back to Joyce.

 

"Okay, Mom. If you're sure.  I guess that's a good idea. I just don't want you to be alone..."

 

"I'll be sleeping, Buffy," she said gently. "Probably better than I would if I was home in my own bed.  I'll see you in the morning, all right?"

 

Buffy gave Joyce another hug, before stepping away so that the waiting orderly could take her to her room.  She stood rigidly, watching until her mother had disappeared into an elevator, then slumped back against Spike, who had stepped up behind her in silent support.  She remained leaning against him for a few seconds, her head resting on his chest while his arms hovered at his sides. He was unsure if they would be welcome around her.  Before he could decide, she realized what she was doing and straightened up.

 

"Sorry," she mumbled. "I forgot—"

 

"Forgot who I was?" he said lightly, realizing immediately what she'd forgotten.

 

She flushed and shrugged.  Their eyes locked, allowing her to see the pain behind his mild words and allowing him to see the dawning awareness in hers.  "Let's go," she said abruptly, wrenching her eyes away and heading for the automatic doors. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The ride home began in a comfortable silence, broken when Buffy blurted, "A shotgun? You were going to shoot me?"

 

"I dunno," he sighed. "Was bloody brassed off at you, and...." He sighed again and risked a glance from the corner of his eyes. "Doubt I would have done it," he admitted. "Even if you hadn't been...."

 

"Falling apart?" she finished for him, giving him a wry smile.

 

"I was gonna say, 'upset', and rightfully so."

 

He was already pulling into the driveway when she nudged him with her foot, saying, "If I'd know it was that easy to keep you from killing me, I'd have started crying years ago."

 

He snorted. "Wouldn't have worked as well then, pet. Trust me."

 

"But it does now," she said softly.

 

"It does," he agreed, turning the car off and handing her the keys.  "Come on. Promised your mum I'd see you safely home."

 

"I am safely home!" she said, waving her hand at the house.

 

"Not till you're inside," he said. "You never know what evil thing might be lurking between here and the front door."

 

"Aside from you, you mean."

 

"Aside from me." 

 

Buffy put the key into the lock and stood indecisively for a second. When she felt Spike begin to turn away, she said without looking at him, "Do you want to come in? I could make cocoa."

 

"You need to get some sleep, luv."

 

Buffy turned around in time to catch the wistful expression on his face.  "I won't be able to sleep.  It's only a few hours till daylight." She hesitated. "I could use the company."

 

Neither of them mentioned that she had a boyfriend she could have called. Spike just nodded and followed her through the now-open door. She closed and locked it, waving her hand at the living room.

 

"Find us something to watch while I make the cocoa," she said, shrugging out of her jacket and heading for the kitchen.

 

 Spike went into the living room and picked up the remote, scrolling through the channels until he found an old movie about Robin Hood.  He glanced up when Buffy was back sooner than he'd expected, holding two mugs.  She handed one to him, apologizing as she did so.

 

"I don't know how to make it from scratch like Mom does. This is just the quickie stuff. But I did put little marshmallows in yours."

 

"It's fine, Buffy. Better than fine," he added, his eyes never leaving her face. She blushed and sat down, close to but not touching him.

 

"So, what are we watching?"

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

When Dawn walked in at seven a.m., she found Buffy sleeping soundly, her head on Spike's shoulder, his hand resting lightly on the one that had fallen onto his leg, and his own head against the back of the couch, eyes shut.  Dawn studied the peaceful scene for a minute, then grinned to herself and slammed the door.

 

"Riley! Hey, how are you? Sure, come on in. Buffy's right here... on the couch... with—" Dawn giggled with delight when both heads snapped up and Buffy rolled off the couch onto the floor, staring around wildly.

 

Spike just snarled at her, his senses telling him immediately that there was no other human in or near the house.

 

"Very bloody funny," he growled, sitting up and stretching his arms over his head.

 

"It wouldn't have been funny if Riley was actually here," Dawn pointed out, staring at her blushing sister. "You'd be a larger than normal dust bunny by now."

 

"We just fell asleep," Buffy muttered, embarrassed now by her guilty reaction. 

 

"Yeah, I got that. The question is, why were you asleep on the couch... with Spike? No offense," she said quickly when the vampire glared at her. "But..."

 

Buffy sighed and stood up. She exchanged looks with Spike, who nodded at her encouragingly.  "Dawn, I've got something to tell you..."

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Only a half hour later, they were showered and changed and prepared to leave.

Buffy glanced around the living room and kitchen, disappointed when she saw that Spike had left.  Only when they went out the front door did she see why.

 

Parked behind her mother's SUV was Spike's old car, all the windows painted black on the inside and only a slit for him to look out.

 

"You've got to be kidding me," she said, shaking her head.  "You can't possibly drive that thing."

 

"Been getting around in this car for more years than you've been alive," he growled through the barely open window, offended on behalf of his car.  "Get in."

 

"Spike..."

 

"It's safe enough, luv. I promise you. Wouldn't have brought it here if I didn't know that.  Anyway," he pointed out, "it's only 7:30 in the morning, on a weekend. Nobody else is going to be on the road yet."

 

Dawn was already climbing into the back seat, staring around in wonder at the assortment of bottles on the floor. Buffy shook her head again, but got into the passenger side.  She was surprised to find it was fairly clean, only an empty pack of cigarettes on the floor to mar the neatness.

 

Spike pulled the car up in front of the main hospital entrance and waited for the girls to get out. Dawn threw a "Thanks, Spike" over her shoulder as she headed for the entrance, while Buffy lingered by the open door. 

 

"Go on, luv," he said. "Just let me know what's what, yeah?"

 

"How am I going to do that? Do you have a phone in the crypt to go with all the unicorns?"

 

He rolled his eyes, trying to tell himself he had not detected jealousy in her voice.  "The unicorns are gone," he said without explanation.  "And I'll check in with you tonight.  Maybe sit with your mum a while if she's still here."

 

Buffy bit her lip. "I wish... " She shook her head and started over. "Thank you. For last night and this morning."

 

"You're welcome, luv.  I'll be back."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy had called all the Scoobies to tell them about the CAT scan results and phoned Riley, skillfully deflecting his questions about why she hadn't called him immediately, before the lack of sleep caught up with her. She was dozing quietly by Joyce's bedside, her hand clinging to her mother's even in her sleep, when her friends began to arrive.

 

Only Giles was allowed into the room, his lie about being Buffy's uncle allowing him to circumvent the only-one-visitor-at -a-time rule.  Buffy filled him in while Joyce was signing the papers authorizing the surgery planned in a couple of days. There was discussion about whether or not she should remain in the hospital until the surgery, but she was rather insistent that she could wait just fine in her own house.  After chatting with Buffy about both the impending surgery and some possible odd behaviors she could expect from her mother, the doctor agreed to allow Giles to take them all back to Revello Drive.

 

Riley's visible pouting had Buffy agreeing to ride with him and to follow Giles as he drove Dawn and Joyce home.  Xander and Willow expressed their concern to Joyce, then left, assuring Buffy that they were available for anything the Summers family might need.  Riley's disappointment when Buffy reacted with wide eyes and a shocked expression to his suggestion that he come back to stay the night, required still more of her time.  She worked to soothe his injured feelings, telling him that she and Dawn just wanted some alone time with their mother before the surgery and that she really appreciated his desire to help.  She couldn't help contrasting Riley's insistence on being present to Spike's low-key willingness to do whatever she asked.

 

"Why are you making this so difficult?" she finally asked, fighting to keep the anger out of her voice.

 

"Because I'm your boyfriend and you're acting like I'm some intruder here.  You'd think I was Spike or somebody, the way you're pushing me away."

 

"Spike has better sense than to aggravate me when I'm stressed about my mother," she snapped before thinking.

 

"How do you know that, Buffy?" Riley asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. "You have no idea how he'd react to. Other than to do what he could to rattle you, I imagine."

 

"Spike likes my mother," Buffy said stiffly. "They're friends. He wouldn't do anything to interfere with what she wants... or what Dawn and I want."

 

"Your mother is not friends with a vampire who is only walking around because you refuse to stake him.  Where do you get that?"

 

"From her," Buffy replied, gritting her teeth. "And from him, for that matter. TheyÉ like each other. Always have, even after the incident with the axe."

 

Riley frowned, then decided it was more important to pursue Buffy's clear misunderstanding than it was to get an explanation for "the incident with the axe".

 

"Buffy," he said gently, striving for patience. "Please tell me you haven't allowed your mother to interpret Spike's current inability to hurt her as some sort of affection? You and I both know that he'd kill her in a heartbeat if he wasn't chipped."

 

Buffy cocked her head and stared at him, then shrugged. "My mom and Spike were friends before he got chipped... and long before I had any idea he was dropping in on her for tea and cocoa." She shook her head.  "I'm sorry, Riley. I forget sometimes that you really don't know very much about our lives before you came to Sunnydale. That's probably my fault.  I just never thought about mentioning Spike and—"

 

"You didn't think to mention that your mother had given a dangerous vampire access to your home?"

 

"Um... actually, that would have been me... years ago when he and I had to... You know, this is just going to get too complicated to go into right now.  All you need to know is that Spike has had access to my house for years and he's never harmed anyone here."

 

Riley stared at her. "Sometimes I feel like I don't know you at all...."

 

"Heh." Buffy smiled weakly. "Sometimes I'm not sure I know me either."

 

"Maybe if we spent more time together..."

 

"I'm sure you're right, Riley. As soon as all this stuff with my mom is over, we'll definitely spend more time together. I promise.  Maybe we'll go away for a weekend or... something."

 

"As soon as the stuff with your mom is over," he echoed.  "The stuff that you don't need me around for."

 

"Riley, I need for you to understand what I need.  And right now, that's to have some time with my mother and my sister."

 

"So, you won't be patrolling tonight, I guess?"

 

Buffy shook her head. "I'm not sure yet.  I might go out later. If Mom's asleep and... I might."

 

"How's your side?"

 

"Oh, pretty much like new. Little red mark.  Go, slayer healing," she added when he stared at her dubiously.  "Here, see?" She lifted her shirt and showed him the angry scar that was all that was left of the wound he'd doctored two days ago.

 

"You heal faster than a vampire," he said, not noticing her narrowed eyes. "It's interesting. I'm surprised Maggie didn't want to study you when she had the chance."

 

"Is that how you studied Spike?" she asked, keeping her voice casual.

 

"Well, to an extent. He escaped before we could run all the experiments we needed to, but, yeah, we already knew the average healing time for a vamp. He just confirmed it. There was so much more we could have learned, though... He was so much stronger than most of the vamps we captured. That's why Maggie chose him for the chip. He would have made a great— Well, that's all academic, isn't it?"

 

Buffy walked to the door and opened it, waiting for him to get the hint. "Riley? You know how you said you really don't know me?"  He nodded, moving with obvious reluctance toward the door.  "I'm not sure how well I know you sometimes, either."

 

He frowned in confusion, but nodded. "All the more reason for us to spend more time together, then."

 

"Yeah. All the more reason."

 

"Well, okay then," he said, leaning down to kiss her unresponsive mouth. "I'll call you tomorrow. If your mother's okay with it, maybe we can catch some lunch or something."

 

"Sure. Call me."

 

 

Part II

 

 

Buffy and Dawn spent the rest of the day alternating between hovering over Joyce and arguing over which one was going to stay up all night with her. Finally, Buffy came up with a solution.

 

"Okay, I'll go out patrolling for little while – not long, but I didn't get anything covered last night, so..."

 

"And I'll stay with Mom until you get home. Got it."

 

They both turned their heads as the phone rang, Buffy diving for it before it could ring again and wake Joyce who was napping.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Afternoon, luv. Just seein' what's going on. Hospital said Joyce was released?"

 

"Hi, Spike.  Well sort of. She's home for a few days. Then she has to go back and..."

 

"And...?"

 

Buffy exhaled with a sigh. "How about you meet up with me on patrol and I'll fill you in?"

 

"Could patrol for you if you'd like," he offered.  "Case you want to spend more time with your Mum."

 

Buffy smiled at the contrast between Spike's concrete offer of assistance, and willingness to do whatever she needed most, and Riley's assumption that the only way he could help was to be there.

 

"Thanks, but I need to get out for a while. I need to work off some energy.  I'm not planning to be gone long. But I didn't go out at all last night, so who knows what I missed."

 

"Didn't miss much," he said without explanation.  "Where do you want me to meet you?"

 

"Let's hit Shady Acres.  There were some funerals there this week."

 

"Alright. 'bout eight?"

 

"Yeah. That's good. See ya."

 

"See you, Slayer."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

After assuring Joyce that she wouldn't be gone long, warning an eye-rolling Dawn not to let anyone in, and hiding her usual assortment of stakes, Buffy left to do a quick patrol for fledglings.

 

She had just dispatched her third newly-risen vamp when she felt familiar tingles behind her.  She turned to find Spike leaning on a tombstone and smiling with admiration.

 

"Thought you might want some help with that one, but I should have known better.  Nice work, pet."

 

Buffy nodded. "Thanks. Yeah, he was a little more of a challenge than most newbies.  I think he must have been some kind of martial arts guy before he was turned."

 

"Or one of your boytoy's buddies," Spike said.  "Like that one...." He nodded toward a large vamp striding toward them, his uniform still stained with blood and his gaze intent on Buffy.

 

"Take off, Hostile Seventeen," he snarled. "This one's mine."

 

"She's the Slayer, you know," Spike said without moving. "You might want to give that a bit of thought."

 

"I know what she's supposed to be. Didn't believe in the Slayer then, and I don't believe it now."

 

"Your funeral." Spike shrugged and put a cigarette in his mouth.  "Have at it, then."

 

"If you two are finished bonding, I'm on a timetable here," Buffy said, tapping her foot impatiently.

 

"We're finished," the vamp snarled. "And so are you." He leapt at Buffy, planning to use his weight to bring her down. With a shrug, she side-stepped his body and held out a stake, smiling at his expression as he crumbled to dust around it.

 

Spike shook his head. "They don't make 'em like they used to," he muttered. "Thought he'd at least give you a workout."

 

"I'm good," Buffy said, tucking the stake away and walking up to him. "I should think about getting home now so Dawn can go to bed."

 

Spike nodded and began strolling beside her. "So, you going to tell me what happened today?"

 

Buffy bit her lip, then took a deep breath. In short, blunt sentences she filled him in on what the CAT scan had shown and what the doctors were planning to do about it.  When she had finished, they walked along in silence for several minutes before Spike whirled and punched his fist into a nearby tree, splitting both the bark and his knuckles.

 

"Feel better?" Buffy asked, smothering an urge to grab his hand and look at it.

 

"A bit."

 

"Hitting bad guys works better," Buffy offered, giving him a small smile. "At least it did for me."

 

"Duly noted, pet," he said, smiling back at her. "I'll see what I can find. As long as I won't be stepping on your toes."

 

Buffy nodded. "Knock yourself out. I'm not feeling possessive about the slaying right now."

 

They had reached the corner of Revello Drive and Spike stopped. "Guess I'd best get back to where I belong," he said, touching her arm to get her attention.

 

"You're not coming in?" Buffy blinked in surprise, her eyes puzzled and hurt.

 

"Not cause I don't want to, luv," he said softly, sliding his hand down her arm. "But don't want to cause you any more heartache than you've already got."  When she continued to stare at him without comprehension, he tugged on her fingers and pulled her toward him, taking her shoulders and turning her around. He waited, hands resting lightly on her shoulders until he knew that Buffy had spotted Riley's car in the driveway.

 

"That stubborn jerk!" she muttered. "And I told Dawn not to let anybody in!"

 

"He's not in the house. He's in the car. Can hear his heartbeat," he added, seeing Buffy's frown.

 

"It would serve him right if I snuck in the back door and left him sitting out there all night," she said.

 

"You didn't know he was coming?"

 

"I told him not to. I told him we wanted to be alone with our mom."

 

"Oh." He dropped his hands and started to move away. "I'm sorry, pet. Didn't mean to intrude—"

 

"You're not intruding. I invited you. I told him to stay away."  Buffy's expression was pure Slayer and Spike tried to hide his smile.

 

"You'd think a military man would know an order when he hears one," he smirked, then softened his look.  "Point is, pet, you've got enough on your plate without rattling his cage by seeing me with you.  I'll be back later." He shuffled his feet and looked down at the ground. "Could take the late shift for you.  So's you can get some sleep before tomorrow."

 

"Okay." She started to walk away then turned. "Spike?" He was already some distance away, but whirled at his name.  "Why would it rattle Riley's cage to see you with me?"

 

He tilted his head and studied her face for a moment. "He's not quite as dumb as you might think, Buffy."  Without more comment, he faded into the shadows and was soon invisible. When his signature had faded as well, Buffy sighed and continued toward her home.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Hours later, after she had sent Riley away, and Dawn had gone to bed, Buffy sat in a rocking chair in Joyce's room.  She had dozed off by the time Spike slipped in through the back door, locking it behind him.  He felt a brief moment of unaccustomed guilt at having picked the lock, but shook it off, telling himself that it was only due to his concern for the sleeping humans in the house.

 

He was standing at the bottom of the stairs, uncertain about what to do next, when he heard one of the heartbeats speed up and knew that Buffy had sensed his presence.  She soon appeared at the top of the stairs blinking sleepily and trying to comb out her hair with her fingers.

 

"Hi," she whispered. "I wasn't sure if you were coming back or not."

 

"Said I would," he replied, moving silently up to stand on the step below her.

 

She stepped back a pace, but he didn't move.

 

"How'd it go with the hall monitor?" he asked, keeping his voice low. "Did you explain about following orders?"

 

Buffy snorted. "Yeah, I think he got it this time." She paused and met his eyes, now on a level with hers. "You were right, though. It wouldn't have gone well if he'd seen you. I don't know what that's about, but—"

 

Spike raised his hand and touched her cheek lightly. "Yes, you do, Slayer. You might not want to admit it right now, but you know exactly what it's about."

 

She shut her eyes briefly, then opened them again. "Spike, I don't... I can't deal with...."

 

"Don't mean for you to, love. But not going to hide it, either. All you need to know right now is that I'm available if or when you need me. Won't force myself on you, or get in your way, but when this is all over and your mum is better...."

 

"Later."

 

"Later," he agreed.  "Now, why don't you catch some sleep in a real bed, and I'll just be out here in the hall."

 

"How can you watch over—"

 

"Vampire, pet. Can hear your mum's heartbeat, her breathing, and even smell her from out here. Can watch over her without being in the room or close enough to frighten her."

 

"She's not afraid of you."

 

He nodded. "Never given her any reason to be... well, after that first time, anyway."

 

They shared a brief smile over Spike's first meeting with her mother; Buffy sighed and moved toward her bedroom.  "You'll wake me if there's any—"

 

"I will. Count on it."

 

"Night, Spike."

 

"Sleep well, Slayer."

 

He settled down with his back against the wall and listened to the steady heartbeats of the Summers women.

 

 

~~~~~~~~

 

The long wait for Joyce's surgery to be over was relieved just a little by the presence of the people closest to her.  Buffy glanced around the small waiting room and reminded herself how lucky she was to have Giles, Willow and Xander in her life.  Even Anya and Tara were now a firm part of the group and kept an anxious vigil with her. Dawn was working off her nervousness by jabbering at Riley about school and her classes. 

 

Buffy had relented and spent some time with him after Joyce went back to the hospital, and he now seemed more willing to accept her need to remain strong for Dawn. Although, he had narrowed his eyes with suspicion when she assured him that patrol was "covered" the night before.  That Spike had slipped into the hospital to leave a tattered bouquet of flowers at Joyce's bedside and to report to Buffy that he'd hit all the major cemeteries and one small one, seemed like information best not shared with Riley.

 

Buffy leapt to her feet when the surgeon entered the room, his eyes searching for her. Riley went to stand beside her, only to find Giles already there, his hand resting lightly on Buffy's rigid shoulder.

 

"I think we got it all," the doctor announced without preamble.  "She came through beautifully and I anticipate a full recovery."  He smiled as Buffy sagged with relief. "Your mother is young and strong. There's no reason for her not to be completely recovered in record time."

 

"Can I see her now?"

 

He shook his head. "She's still in recovery. She's awake, but not really aware of her surroundings yet.  And she'll be on some heavy-duty pain killers for a day or so.  I suggest you return this evening. She should be back in her room and able to talk to you by then."

 

Buffy felt in her pocket for the cheap cell phone Spike had given her the night before.  When she'd protested, he assured her he'd come by it honestly – "If you call taking it off some demon I was about to kill, honestly."  She pulled it out and gave the doctor the number, telling him that she would keep the phone with her all day.  He wrote it down, assured her again that her mother was going to be fine, and went back through the swinging doors. Buffy quickly slipped the phone back into her pocket, wishing briefly that Spike had found one for himself so that she could tell him the happy outcome.  

 

When the good news had been shared and everyone had hugged and cried with relief, Riley said he needed to go back to work.  "Unless you want me to hang out this afternoon..."

 

"No, that's fine. I think Dawn and I are just going to go home and crash for a while.  It's been a long day and I don't want to look like I spent it worrying when I come back to see Mom this evening."

 

"All right," he replied. "I'll come back later this evening then. I'm guessing you'll be here?"

 

She nodded. "Yes, I'll be here as long as they let me stay.  I know he said she's going to be fine, but I won't believe it until I see it for myself."

 

He hugged her and brushed a kiss over her head.  "You know I'm here for you," he said.  "All you have to do is ask."

 

"I know that, Riley. And I appreciate it, I really do.  I'm sorry I've been such a bitch lately..."

 

"You're worried. I'm not stupid, Buffy. I understand that. I just don't understand why you don't want to lean on me.  Where I'm from, a girl like you would—"

 

"Riley, where you're from, there are no girls like me.  If that's what you're looking for—"

 

"I didn't mean it that way," he said quickly. "I love you just the way you are, I just... You know what?  We can talk about this some other time." He kissed her, holding the kiss until she responded, then stepped away. "Let's go."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Spike was pacing the crypt, muttered curses against sunlight interspersed with frustrated growls.  Vowing to find another cell phone if he had to search every vampire or demon he killed, he continued striding back and forth.  The sound of his outer door opening brought his head up, and he grabbed a nearby axe, throwing it away when he sensed who was outside. He ran to the door, unbolting the inner one and throwing it open.

 

"Buffy?"

 

She slipped into the crypt, letting him shut the door against the bright sunshine. He stared at her face, trying to read her mind, sighing in relief when she broke into a grin.

 

"She's going to be fine.  They got it all and they said she's going to be just fine. Isn't that wonderful?"

 

"It is. More than wonderful – it's bloody brilliant!"  They stared at each other, both grinning until he lifted her into a hug, twirling around until she was laughing and gasping, "Stop! You're making me dizzy."

 

He stopped twirling and allowed her feet to slide down to the floor, not releasing her until she had stopped swaying. They stood, bodies barely touching and Spike's arms loosely around her waist.  Buffy's hands still rested on his shoulders.

 

"I... I'm okay now.  You can let go."  She stared up at him, her lips parted. Her tongue darted out to lick them nervously.

 

"Don't want to," he said, inclining his head toward hers. "Don't ever want to..."

 

She didn't recoil this time, but her face fell into a worried frown.  "Spike...."

 

He stopped himself. "Right. Promised you, didn't I?  Sorry, pet."  He removed his arms but didn't step back. 

 

Buffy touched his cheek, then slid her hands down to rest on his chest.  She stroked her thumbs across his tee-shirt, enjoying the hard muscles under it and not noticing the effect it was having on Spike.

 

"Not fair, Slayer," he said hoarsely. "I may be dead, but I'm a long way from buried."

 

"I'm sorry," she whispered, letting her hands drop back to her side, but remaining inside his personal space.  "I didn't mean to...." She stopped and shook her head. "I don't know what's wrong with me.  I've got a perfectly good, normal, human boyfriend. Why do I want to kiss a vampire?"

 

Spike's face lit up at her unintentional confession. "Because you're developing better taste in men?" he said hopefully, putting his arms around her again.

 

"Oh, God. I said that out loud, didn't I?" She peered up at him, making no attempt to break out of his loose embrace. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to pretend you never heard it?" He raised one amused eyebrow and waited for her to sigh her acceptance.  "I didn't really think so."

 

"There're not many things I wouldn't do for you, Buffy. But pretending I didn't hear you say you want to kiss me? That's got to be top of the list."

 

"This is just making things so complicated...." she breathed, raising her face to meet his.  He murmured his agreement through lips that were already moving over hers in a way that was instantly familiar, even though it had been over a year since Willow's spell.  Buffy's arms came up around his neck and he pulled her closer, holding her against him when her knees seemed to weaken.

 

"Could kiss you forever," he whispered when he let her stop to take a quick breath.  "I want to just keep kissing you until we get too tired to stand up."

 

"Really?" she said, unable to control her giggle.  "That's all you want? Could've fooled me."  In spite of her good-natured giggle, she pulled away from him until she could no longer feel the proof of his lie against her hip.

 

"I'm sorry, love," he said, completely unembarrassed as he stepped back and adjusted himself. "Don't think I've got any control over that." He managed not to mention that all his senses were telling him that she'd been just as affected as he was; although Buffy's blush said she knew he could tell.

 

"I guess I should get back. Giles will be bringing Dawn home and I said I'd be there. I... I didn't tell anybody that I was coming here first, but I knew you'd want to know."

 

"I appreciate it, pet.  Was about to wear through the floor waiting for the bloody sun to go down."

 

She smiled and moved toward the door.  "Okay. I'm going.  I... I guess you'll come to visit Mom tonight?"

 

He nodded, moving with her. "I'll wait till they've settled down for the night, and I'll sneak in real quiet-like. If she's asleep, I won't bother her. Just need to see for myself that she's alright."

 

"You thought I would lie to you?" Buffy's lip came out in an exaggerated pout, which caught his eye – just as she'd intended.

 

"Gonna get that lip...." His snap missed as she giggled and jumped out of reach.

 

"No more lip stuff," she said, shaking her finger at him.  "I've got to leave."

 

"Not without kissing me good-bye you aren't," he purred, leaping after her.  They darted around the large stone room in a playful imitation of hunting scenes Spike had played out a thousand times.  He was so happy to hear Buffy giggle and to see her enjoying herself that he didn't try very hard to catch her.  When she stopped by the door, trying to catch her breath in between giggles, he finally grabbed her and swooped in for a lingering kiss.  As soon as she had begun responding the way he wanted, he released her and stepped back.  "Right then, Slayer. Off you go."

 

Buffy's flushed face and rapid breathing were harder to resist than he'd expected and he was just reaching for her again when she opened the door and stepped into the sunlight.  He got as close as he could to the deadly rays and watched as she walked away, her steps lighter than they'd been in days.  As soon as he couldn't see her anymore, he closed the door without latching it and walked to his refrigerator for some blood.  The sound of the door opening had him turning, a smile on his face and Buffy's name on his lips.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy had made it as far as the gate when she caught movement from the corner of her eye and turned to see who else was walking in the cemetery.  Expecting to see someone carrying flowers to a loved one's grave, she clapped a hand over her mouth to smother an exclamation when she saw Riley marching in determined fashion in the direction of Spike's crypt.

 

She frowned and began to follow him, dodging behind trees and the larger headstones.  When he kicked open the door without stopping, she picked up her pace, arriving just in time to see him bury a stake in Spike's chest. Her frightened scream brought Riley's head around, and he hesitated before pushing even harder on the stake.

 

Buffy covered the space between the door and the pillar against which Riley had Spike pinned in one leap, knocking the big man away. Her eyes met Spike's, hers full of anguish and horror, his puzzled, but relieved. He yanked the stake out with a grunt of pain, turning it over and over in his hand.  Riley watched him staring at the bloody stake, finally saying, "It's plastic. It just looks like wood."

 

"Not that I'm not happy the Slayer isn't sweeping me up with a broom, but what's the bloody point, wanker?"

 

"Torture," Buffy said flatly. "Make the victim think he's going to die. You could just keep doing that over and over until he went crazy."

 

Spike growled. "Sounds like something Angelus would think of."  He grabbed a nearby bottle of whiskey and began swallowing.

 

Riley looked briefly uncomfortable, then shrugged. "It was just something left over from the experiments."

 

"And your reason for stabbing Spike with it?"

 

"I was just sending a message," Riley said, glaring at Spike. "It could just as easily have been real. Something for you to remember, Hostile Seventeen."

 

"A message? About what?"  Buffy stared at him with her mouth open, flushing when she remembered what she and Spike had been doing just before he came in.

 

Riley didn't see her red face, he just continued to stare coldly at Spike, saying, "He knows what. Don't you, Spike?"

 

Buffy looked back and forth between the stoic vampire and the angry man.  "Me? This is about me?"

 

"He wants you, Buffy. I don't know why you can't see that. It's obvious. In his twisted mind, if he can't kill you, he'll find some other way to have you."

 

Buffy frowned briefly and hesitated, then her eyes met Spike's and she shook off her momentary suspicion.

 

"I don't think so, Riley."

 

"Then you're blind," Riley snapped. "Anyone with two eyes can see how much he wants you. "

 

"Oh, I believe he wants me," Buffy said, causing Spike to cough over his laugh – then curse as the rapid movement pulled on the gaping hole in his chest.  "I just don't think there's any relationship between that and the fact that he used to want to kill me."

 

"Well, of course there is. Why else would he want you?"

 

Buffy gaped at her about-to-be-ex boyfriend, not sure how to respond to his obvious disbelief. She wavered between hurt feelings and slowly growing anger.  As she started to speak, Spike interrupted.

 

"I've got this, Slayer," he said, rising from the chair where he'd been guzzling all the alcohol he could find in an attempt to dull the pain.  He walked up beside Buffy, bottle in hand and glared at Riley.  "Why else would I want her, you stupid git?  How about because she's beautiful, good, kind, brave, funny, sexy, loving, loyal, protective of her family, and an all around amazing woman?" He took another swig from the bottle and grimaced as his arm dropped back to his side. "Oh yeah, and she's the Slayer. She kills things. My kind of woman."

 

"You left out thrifty and reverent," Buffy whispered, helping him back to his chair.

 

"And thrifty and reverent," he added, his words beginning to slur.  He looked up at Buffy with sad eyes.  "Hurts, pet," he said plaintively.

 

"I know. We'll fix it in just a minute.  Have another drink."  He happily complied and Buffy turned her attention back to Riley.

 

"You need to leave now.  He left out a couple of important traits." Buffy picked up the plastic stake and began twirling it.

 

"What traits?" Riley blustered, edging toward the door and away from the pointed object Buffy was holding.

 

"My short temper and need to punish anyone who hurts my friends or family."  She threw the stake with unerring accuracy, embedding it in the wood of the door, inches from Riley's face.  "You'd better hope nothing else happens to Spike, Riley. In fact, if you were smart, you'd become his guardian angel, 'cause just so you know – If he disappears I'm not going to waste time wondering where he went, I'm just going to come looking for you."

 

When Riley had beat a hasty retreat and the door had been slammed and locked behind him, Buffy ran back to Spike and fell to her knees in front of him.

 

"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I had no idea he..."

 

"'s alright, love. I'm not dust, and I'll heal in a few days.  Could begin now if you bring me some blood from the fridge."

 

Buffy bit her lip and stood up. "I'll be right back."

 

She pulled a bag of O Neg out of the back of the refrigerator, making a mental note to scold Spike for drinking human blood, even if it did have a clear expiration date on it.  She poured it into a large Ball jar, and then glanced over her shoulder. Spike was resting with his eyes shut, one hand on the hole in his chest. Buffy grabbed a sharp knife from the table and ran it across her palm.  The wound began to close almost immediately, but she dripped as much blood as she could coax from it into the glass, using the knife to stir it into the older, colder blood already there.

 

She walked back and crouched beside the chair again, nudging Spike into taking the glass.

 

"Here. This should help," she said.  His eyes narrowed as the scent of her blood reached his nose.

 

"What did you do?" he growled, lifting the glass to his face and sniffing it.

 

"I just added a few vitamins to your drink," she said. "And don't think I didn't notice that it wasn't pig blood I was doctoring up."

 

Without responding with anything but a guilty shrug, he put the glass to his mouth and drank until it was gone.  With a sigh, he dropped his arm and let the heavy glass drop into Buffy's waiting hands.  Eyes closed, he leaned his head back again and just basked in the powerful blood now permeating his body.

 

Buffy carried the glass back to the "kitchen", returning quickly to his side.

 

"How do you feel?"

 

"Like somebody just fed me Slayer blood," he said, opening his eyes. His expression was completely unguarded as he stared at her. "You know I love you, don't you?"

 

Buffy nodded. "I know," she said softly.  "I... Spike... I..."

 

"Shh, pet. Know you're not for the likes of me.  I am beneath you.  But I'm gonna be yours till I'm dust.  You're jus' going to have to get used to walking on me."

 

"I don't want to walk on you," she said, touching his leg when he grimaced in pain that had nothing to do with his wound.  "I didn't mean it like that.  I meant I want you beside me." She bit her lip and edged closer to him, rising to her knees so as to be closer to his face. Spike's legs fell open and she moved between them, kneeling right in front of him.  "I can't promise you that I... that I will love you.  I'm still getting used to the idea that I want to kiss you."  When he tried to speak, she held up her hand.  "But I can tell you that when I saw that stake go into your chest..." She shook her head.  "I don't ever want to feel like that again."

 

Spike leaned forward and rested his head against hers.

 

"I'll take whatever crumbs you want to give me, Buffy. Just being allowed to touch you, to hold you... it's more than I ever hoped for."

 

"I think we left crumbs behind when I told you I wanted to kiss you," she said, blushing.  "I just don't know if we can make a loaf out of them yet."

 

"I've got all the time in the world." He brushed his lips across hers, then winced and sat back in the chair.

 

"Heal first, make bread later," she said firmly, standing up and leaning down to kiss him.

 

"Later," he echoed.  "Gonna hold you to that, Slayer."

 

"I'm counting on it." She smiled and touched his cheek softly.  "I'll be back to check on you later tonight. 'k?"

 

Spike turned his head and kissed her palm, smiling when he heard her heart speed up. "I'll be waiting."

 

The End