Title: So You Think You Can Dance...
Rating: (eventually) strong R, NC17 (I suck at making these decisions - sex is had, but it takes them a while)
Summary:
A future fic (no comics references to speak of) that takes place in an American city that contains a minor hellmouth and the accompanying assortment of vampires and demons. The Council has provided a fair-sized squad of slayers to live there and keep things under control. Buffy is visiting to see if she can help out with a problem that has arisen. While Buffy is clueless for a while, I suspect readers will figure things out pretty quickly. :)

 

Say you will, say you will, give me one more chance

At least give me time to change your mind

It always seems to heal the wounds

If I can get you to dance…

Fleetwood Mac

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

“What do you mean ‘There’s a new sheriff in town?’ You guys are the sheriff, remember?” Buffy put her hands on her hips and glared around the room, noting for the first time how beat up the Cleveland slayers were.  “Is this why you called me here?” She gestured at the sulky-looking girls, who were trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to hide their casts and bandages.

 

“I didn’t want to,” Vi said, “but I was outvoted.”

 

Buffy turned her gaze on the only experienced slayer she knew. “Want to bring me up to speed, then?”

 

Vi sighed. “Okay, I haven’t seen him yet, but there’s a vamp out there who’s been killing demons and beating up every slayer he comes across. He tells them.... Becky, tell her what he told you.”

 

Becky squirmed and tried to hide behind her hair as she mumbled, “He told me I was going to get myself killed... and to go back and tell my boss I shouldn’t be on my own yet.” She raised her eyes to Buffy’s. “But I swear, until I fought him, I’ve never had any trouble. I’ve dusted lots of vamps!”

 

Buffy frowned at her. “He didn’t try to kill you?”

 

Becky shook her head, her hair swinging back and forth in front of her face.  “No,” she whispered. “He just knocked me out. When I came to, he was sitting on me and growling.  He shook me and yelled at me, and then he told me to “get my arse home”.

 

Buffy gave a little start. “He said ‘arse’?”

 

Becky nodded. “Yeah, Vi had to tell me it meant ‘ass’. Didn’t matter, I got the message loud and clear.”

 

“You didn’t know—“ Buffy stopped, reminding herself that many of the girls looking at her so earnestly were only in their early teens.  If she looked at them through less judgmental eyes, she had to admit that they seemed very young to be facing death every night.  She sighed and shook her head.  “Okay, so he sent you home to lick your wounds.  What about the rest of you?”

 

An angry-looking older brunette in the back of the room raised her hand.  “The son-of-a-bitch broke my arm. I would have had him if he hadn’t done that. My stake was on its way to his heart when he blocked it.” She seemed thoroughly offended that the vamp in question hadn’t accepted his fate as she’d expected him to.  Buffy couldn’t resist an eye roll, which she noticed Vi duplicating.

 

“Uh, were you under the impression that vampires don’t fight back?”

 

There was a lot of muttering around the room, before one of the other girls with a cast on her arm spoke up.  “Most of the vamps we find are still shaking off the dirt. They’re pretty easy pickings. The only things we really have to worry about are demons, but they don’t usually bother us much.”

 

“Are they ‘bothering’ anyone else?” Buffy asked. “You know, like the people you’re supposed to be protecting?”   She glared around the room, then back at Vi who looked mortified.

 

“They’re really better than this, Buffy,” she said, adding her glare to Buffy’s. “I know they act silly sometimes, but they try hard. They’ve just never had to go up against anything as tough as this vamp.”

 

“Okay. So, we’ve got an older, more experienced vampire in the area and he’s kicking your butts, but also taking out demons.  What I don’t get is why he hasn’t killed any of you yet. Slayer blood is like chocolate vitamins to vampires. It gives them lots of energy and tastes good too.”

 

She leaned against the big table in the middle of the room. “How about we go around the room and each one of you who’s met this vamp tells me what happened. I want to know everything – what’s he look like, how does he fight, what are his weaknesses, his strengths, what did he say to you? Everything.  Let’s start with you.” She pointed to the dark-haired slayer who’d been so angry at being defeated.

 

The girl swallowed hard, then lifted her chin.  “He’s not real tall, but he’s strong and very fast.  He doesn’t... I didn’t notice any weaknesses,” she admitted. “It felt like he was just playing with me. Even when I had the stake out, now that I think about it. He was laughing at me.”

 

“And did he say anything to you before he let you go?”

 

“He said some stuff under his breath, but I don’t think he was talking to me. Something about sending children to do a woman’s job, and stuff like that.” She shrugged apologetically. “My arm hurt really bad, I really wasn’t paying any attention to what he was saying, I just wanted to get away before he killed me.”

 

“Which he didn’t do.”

 

“Well, no. But he followed me! He followed me almost all the way back here. I just kept running and I guess he couldn’t catch me.”

 

“Uh huh,” Buffy grunted in disbelief before turning to another girl. “How about you? What’s your story?”

 

“Uh, I don’t really have one,” she said meekly. “The only time I saw him was when he was fighting with a demon. I was by myself, so I decided it didn’t matter who won, I needed backup. I called Vi, but by the time anybody else got there, the demon was dead and he was gone.”

 

“Okay, so you watched him. You weren’t distracted by fighting or a broken arm. What did you notice? What can you add to what...”—she looked at the dark-haired girl questioningly, and the girl muttered her name— “Rita said?”

 

“Um... I dunno. Really fast? He was a lot smaller than the demon, but he was all over him. And strong. He tore the demon’s head off.”

 

“Fast and strong. We already know that. Kinda comes with the vamp package. How about what he looks like? Does he wear distinctive or out of style clothing? Something that might tell us how old he is? Anything that would stand out if you spotted him from a distance?  Did you get a chance to see his human face? Would you notice him in a crowd? What about hair color? Something unusual like red hair? Or... bleached blond?” She exchanged looks with Vi and shrugged. “It’s not like Billy Idol was the only one to copy Spike’s look; one of them could have got himself turned before he developed better fashion sense.”

 

“No. Regular clothes – jeans, T-shirt, maybe some kind of motorcycle boots? Curly brown hair, but not so curly you’d notice it right away. Not like he had a ‘fro or anything like that.”

 

“So ordinary-looking? And you didn’t see his human face?”

 

All the girls shook their heads.  “He looked like an ugly vamp. Like there was something wrong with his face.  I’m not sure I’d recognize him if he wasn’t in game face,” a girl wearing bandages on her hands said. “He seems pretty ordinary – not real big, not wearing old styles, except for the accent—”

 

“Accent?”

 

“Yeah, he’s Australian or something. He doesn’t sound American.”

 

“What hand does he lead with?” Blank stares greeted her.  “When you’re fighting, what hand does he lead with, and which hand does he hit with the hardest?” Buffy looked at Becky. “He hit you. Which hand did he use? Right or left?”

 

“I didn’t see it coming,” Becky admitted, hanging her head. “We were fighting and then I just... all of a sudden – wham! I was on the ground seeing stars.”

 

Buffy gave an exasperated sigh. “All right, ladies. Take your vitamins, get some rest and heal.  Nobody goes out by herself until we’ve dusted this demon. Got it?”  The girls shifted their eyes to Vi, the nominal leader of their group, but muttered their agreement to Buffy’s order.  Buffy turned to Vi and asked, “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”

 

Vi gestured with her head and led Buffy into a small office near the kitchen. She closed the door and sank into a chair.  “They really are better than this, Buffy.” She repeated her earlier statement. “It’s just that there hasn’t been much going on here since they arrived and this is the first time they’ve gone up against something they can’t handle easily.  I’ll work with them more,” she added.

 

“I’m not blaming you,” Buffy said with a reassuring smile. “We sent these girls out, thinking they were trained and ready to go.  This is good information to take back to the school. We’ll have to make some changes to our training techniques to prepare them better for what kinds of demons and vamps they might come across.”

 

“It’s too bad they can’t spar with one – or watch you spar with him.  You know, how Spike used to work with us? There’s really no substitute for practicing against a master vampire – even if he does have a soul that keeps him from beating you up too bad.”

 

Buffy gave a smile that managed to be sad and proud at the same time. “Yeah, having Spike around helped you girls a lot. Even before you got your powers, you at least knew how fast a vamp can be.” Buffy’s smiled faded. “And we can only hope they never have to face anything like a Turok-han.”

 

Vi shuddered in agreement.

 

“Okay. So we need a plan. I’m guessing you haven’t seen this guy yet?”

 

Vi shook her head. “Not yet. He’s always one jump ahead of me when I show up with help. He just fades away so fast I can’t even sense him after a few seconds.”

 

“Okay. We’ll give the girls some time to heal, and meanwhile you and I will patrol. If we get lucky, maybe we’ll find him and dust him before he has time to start accumulating minions.  These girls aren’t ready to take out any big nests. Some of them are going to have to build their confidence back up.”

 

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

 

“Do you feel that?”  Vi spun around in place, trying to pinpoint the faint tingles that meant ‘vampire’.

 

“I do.” Buffy narrowed her eyes and remained still, seeking the source of the vibes.  “Here we go,” she said unnecessarily as several newly risen vampires approached them. “None of these guys look like our big bad, though.”

 

Vi shook her head. “Nah, they look like ordinary, run-of-the-mill fledges to me. That’s pretty much all we run across anymore.”

 

“Can’t be all that’s out there,” Buffy said, settling into a fighting stance as the hungry vampires picked up speed. “Something is turning all these newbies you guys keep having to dust.  Something you haven’t seen yet.”

 

“Maybe it’s our mystery vamp,” Vi grunted, impaling the first to arrive on her stake. She kicked another away, following him to where she could get him into staking range.

 

“Maybe.” Buffy didn’t even sound like she was breathing hard as she took out the first two to reach her – staking one with each hand. She engaged the remaining one in a fight, tucking her stakes where she could reach them easily.  Enjoying the workout, she played with the tiring vampire until she realized that Vi was waiting for her.  Knocking him down and staking him quickly, she apologized.  “Sorry. It’s been a long time since I had a good workout.”

 

Tucking their stakes away, they continued to stroll through the warm night, catching each other up on their lives since Sunnydale’s collapse.

 

“I heard Spike came back,” Vi ventured. “How is that even possible? I saw that giant hole he made.”

 

Buffy shrugged her shoulders. “Something to do with the amulet. Angel didn’t let us know about it, and that stupid Andrew—” She sighed. “Anyway, he did come back somehow, but he never called anybody, and then Angel pissed off a whole bunch of evil guys and they all got killed fighting a demon army.” She shook her head. “We weren’t really sure about Angel when he took over Wolfram and Hart; we thought maybe he’d lost his soul again. Instead, he was trying to take down this heavy-duty evil from the inside – without bothering to let the Council know so we could send slayers to help with the fight.” Buffy’s voice deepened almost to a growl as she remembered how angry she’d been.  “Not only did we not get to help, but Spike was dust again before I even found out he’d come back.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Vi said softly. “That must have hurt – losing him twice.”

 

“I’m not sure which bothered me the most, that he didn’t come running to me as soon as he could, or that he let Angel get him killed again.”  Buffy sighed. “Either way, he was just as gone as if his dust had stayed at the bottom of that hole.”  She shook herself and said in a more normal voice, “It doesn’t matter. I’ve had plenty of time to get used to it. It did hurt, but I’m fine now. People die. Especially heroes. It’s what happens. Life goes on.”

 

“Uh huh,” Vi said dubiously. “Well, I don’t want to get used to that. I hope we can find this vamp before he does kill somebody I know.”

 

“We’ll find him,” Buffy said confidently. “If I have to, I’ll start patrolling alone. He won’t have any idea I’m not some newbie he can play with and make fun of. Not until it’s too late. I’ll get him.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

It was several nights, and many dead vampires and demons later before Buffy got the opportunity to go out alone. A bout of food poisoning had left half the girls, including Vi, moaning and throwing up. Of those who had not eaten the bad fish, almost all were still sporting casts or bandages, something Buffy found rather strange, but shrugged off.  Buffy played nursemaid for as long as she could stand it, then grabbing a sword and her stakes, she almost ran for the door, pulling a hoody over her head as she did.

 

“I’ll just do a quick patrol and be back in a jiffy,” she said, smothering her guilt.  “See you guys later.”

 

She jogged away from the building, not slowing down until she was sure no one could call her back to clean up more vomit. Not being very familiar with the city, she ended up sticking to the cemeteries she’d visited when patrolling with Vi. Said cemeteries being pretty much empty of anything worth stakes or swords.  She almost laughed with excitement when she walked around the corner of a large mausoleum to find several robed demons involved in some sort of ritual that required tying bleeding humans to a pole. 

 

“Is this a private party, or can anybody play?” Buffy sang out as she decapitated the closest celebrant. She used the edge of her sword to slash through the ropes holding the two victims, instructing them to “Run like your life depends on it” before whirling to meet the remaining large and very angry demons.  It took only a few minutes for them to realize that the smiling, quipping woman facing them down so cheerfully was not one of the novice slayers they’d become accustomed to ignoring unless the slayers were in a group.  They began edging away from the darting point of her sword, and when she had run it through the chest of the tallest demon in charge, the other two turned and ran in different directions.

 

“Damn!” Buffy stood for a half-second, not sure in which direction to go, then shrugged and took off down the path. “I guess one of them gets away no matter what,” she grumbled as she increased her speed.  “Hey you! Slow down. We have a date!” 

 

The demon threw off the robe that was hindering his progress, which drifted over Buffy’s head as he sped up and disappeared into a grove of trees.  By the time she’d slashed her way out of the smelly robe, the demon had vanished leaving Buffy to indulge in some creative swearing.  Once she’d run out of names to call the missing demon, guilt over having been away from her sick sister slayers for so long began to come back, and she started back in the direction of the gate. She pulled her hood back up over her head and wished she’d worn gloves to keep her hands warm.

 

Noises ahead sent her sprinting toward the sounds of combat, only to find the two people she’d released huddled together while a vampire and a smaller, but no less dangerous, demon fought over them.  Buffy shepherded the victims out of the cemetery, making sure they were in a well-lit area with plenty of traffic before she returned to slay the winner of the on-going combat. No sooner had she returned, than the vampire dispatched his opponent and turned to her with a toothy grin. “Time for a lesson, little girl,” he said with a throaty growl.

 

“You got that right, fangface,” she snapped back at him. She plunged the sword into the trunk of a tree for safekeeping and fell into a fighting stance, her hood still shadowing her face, but leaving her eyes clear.  As the girls had reported, the vampire was not big, but very fast and clearly an experienced fighter.  His face seemed not so much ugly as scarred in some way, giving him a slightly grotesque appearance. 

 

His confident grin faded as he waited for Buffy to make the first move. Instead, she just held herself balanced on the balls of her feet and waited for him.  He shrugged. “Have it your way, pet,” he said, snapping a jab to her face. Buffy easily slipped the punch and retaliated with her own one-two combination. She got him with the “one”, but the “two” landed on empty air as he gave her a taste of how quick his reflexes were.

 

They exchanged kicks and punches for several minutes, first one the aggressor, then the other, neither one gaining an advantage.  Buffy resigned herself to a lengthy fight, refusing to admit she was enjoying having an opponent that could match her.  She could see that the vampire was still wearing a smile, although it had gone from a cocky grin to one that seemed like pure joy.  The fight gradually began to be less about killing the opponent, and more about coming out the winner.  Buffy’s stake never left her belt, and the vampire never attempted to bite her, even when they briefly came together occasionally in hand-to-hand tests of strength.

 

It was during one of their hand-to-hand matches that Buffy’s hood fell off, allowing her blond hair to spill out. The vampire, who had temporarily pinned her to the ground, froze, his triumphant grin still in place, his eyes wide as he stared at her. The grin vanished.  “Bloody hell,” he breathed, rolling off and away from her. “Thought I was imaginin’ that scent...” He remained where he’d rolled, lying on his back with his arm over his eyes.

 

Buffy remained where she was, trying to tell herself it was all a coincidence, but there was no denying the recognition that had flared in those golden eyes.

 

“Spike?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

“What the fuck are you doing here? I thought you were in Europe somewhere.”

 

Buffy blinked at the anger in his voice. “I thought you were dust!” she snapped back. “Which one of us should be more surprised?” She sat up and glared down at his covered face.

 

He heaved a sigh and lifted his arm so as to meet her gaze, visibly flinching at the pain underlying her angry glare. He just stared at her, still wearing his vampire mien and unable or unwilling to respond. Buffy watched as his expression softened, but he didn’t go back to the human face she was more used to. Now that she knew who he was, she couldn’t believe she hadn’t recognized him sooner. Scars or no scars, his game face should have been as familiar to her as her own. And the way he fought....

 

“You’ve been beating up my slayers,” she said, forcing herself not to let her own eyes betray her mixed feelings.  “Did you think somebody wasn’t going to do something about it?”

 

“Come to sort me out then, have you?” The challenging look he gave her held less humor than she would have expected.  It reminded her more of the Spike she’d first met who’d been both a brilliant fighter and a too-confident-for-his-own-good enemy.

 

“Just be grateful you haven’t killed any of them... yet.”

 

“Not planning to kill anyone, Slayer. But those girls needed a wake-up call. They’re too cocky by half. Going out in groups and slaying newly risen vamps before they’re even all the way out of the dirt.” He snorted. “And pretending they don’t see what the demons are up to so they won’t have to take on something that might give them a run for their money. Somebody had to do something.”

 

“So you came here to teach my girls that some vamps fight back?” She scoffed, even as she let her face relax into a less antagonistic glare. She tried to ignore the little ball of hope that was growing in her chest – the one that said he was still on the right side. The ball froze when he shook his head.

 

“I’m here for the Hellmouth,” he said. He gestured at his face. “Need to do some healing after—need some healing. The extra energy is helping.”

 

“You get energy from the Hellmouth?” 

 

“Demon does. Why do you think there are so many of us here?  This one doesn’t have quite the same punch that Sunnydale’s did, but it still gets the job done.”

 

“So, you’re here for yourself, not to—”

 

“Not here for your girls, Buffy,” he said, his voice gentle. “Wouldn’t have paid them any mind if one of them hadn’t jumped me and shown how unprepared she was for something like me.”

 

“There’s no way to prepare them for something like you,” Buffy said, not even aware of the implied compliment.  “But you could have just talked to Vi about it. You didn’t have to keep beating them up.”

 

“It’s not that they’re not trained for it,” he said, ignoring her real question. “These girls... they aren’t as strong as you are.  Not even as strong as you were when I first met you. And not as fast either. They’re slayers, yeah, but they don’t have all the tools they need.  They need a different kind of trainin’. Something that takes into account their strengths and weaknesses.”

 

“You should have told somebody,” she repeated. “If you didn’t want to call me, you could have told Vi.  Hell, you could have sent an anonymous email if you didn’t want anybody to know you weren’t—” She broke off, overwhelmed by the emotions she’d been too angry to let herself feel.  She leapt to her feet, blinking back unwelcome tears. Taking a deep breath, she let it out and tried to calm herself.  When she felt she had her voice under control, she said, “Anyway, why don’t you come back with me so the girls can see who you are and—”

 

“No.”  He rose smoothly to his feet, but remained where he was, a good several feet away from Buffy who had turned to leave.

 

“No?”

 

“No. Not doing show-and-tell tonight. Or any night, most likely. It was a good fight, Buffy.  We should do it again sometime.”  Without another word, he turned and began to walk away, leaving Buffy to stare after him, too bewildered to call his name. When he’d disappeared into the darkness, she shook herself and began the walk back to the slayer group home.  She pulled her hood back up and told herself it was because the night was chilly – not that she was trying to hide her damp eyes.

 

She entered the building quietly and went directly to the room they’d managed to keep open as a guest bedroom, shedding her hood only after she was safely behind a closed door.  She threw herself onto the bed and tried to absorb the fact that Spike was not only alive – again or still, she wasn’t sure – but that he was not interested in spending any time with her unless they were fighting. 

 

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

 

By the next afternoon, things were almost back to normal. While some of the girls still looked pale and drawn, most of them had bounced back and were full of energy.  Buffy looked at the group with more aware eyes, wondering which ones might be a little stronger than others, which ones might be smarter or have more common sense and street savvy.  It didn’t occur to her to doubt Spike’s word. If he said the girls weren’t as strong and fast as they should be, then they weren’t; and it was her job to figure out how to work around those things and keep them safe while they did their job. She made a mental note to email the main school in England and ask Faith to start testing the girls there.

 

“So, what are you thinking?” Vi had walked up behind her while Buffy was surveying the girls sprawled around the big common room and arguing over whether to have pizza or Chinese food for dinner.

 

“I’m thinking we need to do some work,” Buffy said without explanation. She sat down in a chair and put her elbow on the table.  “Try to pin me,” she said. Vi blinked at her, but sat down obediently, “I’m pretty sure you’re stronger than I am, Buffy,” she said.

 

“I know. But I need to check something out.”  Buffy wiggled her fingers and Vi clasped their hands together. “On three.” The other girls looked at them curiously, watching as Vi and Buffy strained against each other until Buffy sighed and forced their house leader’s hand to the table with one swift movement.

 

“See? Told you.”

 

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I’m stronger. But you almost gave me a fight.” She frowned. “But maybe not as much of a fight as you should have. Bring one of the other girls up here. One you think might beat you.”

 

“So not gonna happen,” Vi said with the confidence of someone who had been a slayer for several years and fought against uber-vamps.  “Suzie, come on up here, please.”

 

A stocky redhead approached them. “Yeah? What, you want to arm wrestle me?” She giggled and looked at the other girls. “I always win those contests.”

 

“With the other girls you do,” Vi said. “Let’s see how you do against me.”

 

“Pfft,” Suzie said, shrugging. “You’re just older and taller, not stronger.” She sat down, smiling confidently and taking Vi’s hand in hers. Her confident smile changed abruptly when, without seeming to try very hard, Vi pinned her hand to the table.  “I wasn’t ready. Let’s do it again – left handed.”

 

Vi shrugged and changed hands, only to pin Suzie even more quickly.  “What the hell?”

 

“Thanks, Suzie,” Buffy said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m sorry we embarrassed you, but I had to know.”

 

“Know what?”  All the attention was now on the two older slayers.

 

“Hit me,” Buffy said, hands hanging at her sides.  Suzie was just embarrassed and angry enough to take the senior slayer up on the invitation, and her hand lashed out almost too fast for the eye to follow. Buffy’s block was too fast for the eye to follow, and the now really embarrassed girl was left holding an arm sore from where Buffy had blocked the punch with a flick of her wrist.

 

There was a lot of babbling as the girls all tried to make sense of what they’d seen and explain it away. Buffy waited for the babble to die down, letting them vent while she and Vi had a quiet conversation.

 

“Okay, are you going to explain? How did you know?”

 

Buffy gave a small, sad smile. “There’s a reason you haven’t seen the new vamp in town. And it’s not just because you’d be able to give him a fight.”

 

“You mean I’d be able to dust him,” Vi said, frowning at Buffy’s choice of words.

 

Buffy shook her head. “No, Vi, you probably wouldn’t. But the reason he was avoiding you is because you know him.” Buffy waited for Vi to process what she was saying.

 

“But I don’t know any vamps. The only one I’ve ever met that wasn’t on the end of my stake was Spike. But he’s....” She stared at Buffy’s face, noticing for the first time the haunted look in her eyes. “Oh. My. God.”

 

“Yeah. Kinda my reaction, only more with the ‘Where the hell have you been? Why didn’t I know you weren’t dead?’ and less with the God stuff.”

 

“Spike is who’s been beating my girls up and telling them they suck?”

 

“Yep. Not on purpose at first, but once the first one tried to fight him, he started looking for them. He told me they aren’t strong enough or fast enough.  But I don’t know why that would be. And I don’t know if they’ve always been like that and we just missed it at the school, or if something’s going on here that’s sapping their slayer powers.”

 

“But I’ve got all mine,” Vi protested. “If it was something here, wouldn’t I be affected too?”

 

Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know if you are or not. Being older and trained for longer, maybe you’re just that much stronger than your girls are.”

 

“Still, it seems if something was weakening them I’d have felt it too. I was away for a while, but I’ve been back for a couple of weeks.”

 

“You’d think so.” Buffy frowned. “But if you’re not affected, then that means we’re sending girls out as slayers who probably can’t do it without getting killed.  I’ll need to talk to Faith and Willow and ask them to run a check on all the girls there. If they’re all okay, then it’s definitely something going on here.”

 

Vi looked over at the girls for whom she was responsible.  “I guess I’m lucky I haven’t gotten anybody killed.  I’m glad Spike was here.” She looked at Buffy. “Is he going to come by tonight? Explain to the girls why he was able to beat them so easily?”

 

Buffy bit her lip. “I don’t think so.”

 

Vi opened her mouth to ask why, then shut it when she saw the expression on Buffy’s face.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

The conference call with Faith and Willow didn’t go as well as Buffy might have liked. She made a snap decision not to tell them about Spike until she’d spoken with him again. The thought that he might not want to talk to her was unacceptable, so she refused to think it. She stammered out a half-baked explanation of having “accidentally” wrestled with one of the girls and found her to be weaker than she should be.   She could hear the suspicion in Faith’s voice. Fortunately, her drawled, “You wouldn’t be lying to us now, would you, B?” was enough to get Buffy’s back up, and she easily summoned the righteous indignation needed to defend herself.

 

“What would I be lying about? I’m giving you important information here. These girls are all slower and weaker than they should be. You need to find out if that’s what we’re sending out to fight evil, or if I need to be looking for something locally that could be sapping their strength. Just get on it.” 

 

She stared at the phone after she’d hung up, guilt washing over her.  She tried to tell herself that she was keeping the news about Spike from them because she needed to know more about how he’d survived when Angel and everyone else connected with him hadn’t, but a little voice kept insisting she just didn’t want to admit to them that Spike was once again undead, and once again hadn’t bothered to tell her he wasn’t dust.  She told the little voice to shut up and went downstairs to meet Vi and the small group of girls she’d chosen to take out that night.

 

“Okay,” Buffy said, looking over Vi’s choices, “here’s the deal. We’re going to patrol as usual, but only in pairs. If you spot any demons or the vamp we’re looking for, you call for back up. You got that?”  She held up her radio, making sure each girl had one.  “Stakes and swords. Stakes don’t do much against demons unless you can stab them in the eye or something. But that’s a last resort. Use all your weapons.”

 

“So, we can’t fight the vamp if we find him?  I owe him,” Rita said, her arm now healed enough that she could go out with just an ace bandage protecting it.

 

“You very literally can’t fight him. I mean, you can, obviously, but you’re going to lose again.  I don’t think he broke your arm on purpose, he was just defending himself and didn’t know—” Buffy stopped, horrified. “Oh my God. I wonder if you’re weaker in other ways? Maybe you can’t take a punch or a kick?”  She exchanged looks with Vi. “Okay, new plan. You don’t engage with anything unless Vi and I are there to step in if we need to. All right? Everybody’s got that?”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The grumbling from behind was beginning to get on Buffy’s nerves by the time they came upon a Fyarl demon holding onto a leashed dog and roaring at the tearful owner tugging on the other end of the leash.  So far, she and Vi had been the only ones to stake anything – in spite of it being obvious that the few vamps they’d encountered were so newly risen they hadn’t engaged their brains much past “must have blood”, and the other girls were not happy at being treated as if they couldn’t handle themselves.

 

“Give that dumb woman credit,” Vi said, “she’s willing to fight for her dog.”

 

“Yeah. Balls but no brains.  Okay, ladies, let’s see what you can do...” Buffy gestured at the demon, now dividing his attention between the dog and the group of eager girls surrounding him.  With a roar, he threw the dog back at its owner and spun around looking for a way out of the circle of sword wielding slayers.

 

Buffy left Vi to watch the proceedings while she checked to make sure the dog and owner were okay. Assured that the woman and her dog were shaken but not harmed, Buffy escorted them to edge of the cemetery and waved away her thanks.  As she returned to the girls, she felt a tingle on her neck, but a quick scan of the area didn’t show her any vamps and she turned her attention to the Fyarl.  His clawed hands were raised defensively, but he looked like he would much rather leave than take on slayers with swords.

 

However, when one of the girls tried to stab him and he was able to block it and wrest her sword away with no trouble, his attitude changed. He grabbed the disarmed girl and held her over his head, ready to smash her to the ground.  The other slayers looked at Vi and Buffy; their fear for their friend obvious. 

 

“He’s going to kill her!”

 

“No he isn’t,” Buffy said calmly. “Because if he does, I will chop him into tiny little pieces... slowly.”  She approached the glaring demon and cocked her head at him. “And I’m pretty sure he knows it, don’t you, big guy?”  She held the easily confused demon’s gaze, letting her relaxed and unafraid posture speak for itself. Her sword dangled from her hand in a way only someone very confident of her ability to put it into play quickly would be likely to hold it. With an unintelligible snarled curse, he threw the hapless slayer at Buffy and snorted mucus in their direction. 

 

Buffy caught the girl with one arm and sidestepped the toxic snot. She allowed the slayer whose fall had now been broken, to drop to the ground while she buried her sword in the Fyarl’s chest.  He roared and tried to pull it out, but Vi had circled behind him. She swung her weapon at his neck, severing his head.

 

“Is he dead?”  The girls gathered around the headless body, avoiding the rapidly hardening pile of mucus.

 

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know. Unless one of you has something pointy made out of silver, we can’t make sure.  I don’t know how he’ll do without his head, but....” She yanked her sword from his chest and wiped it on the grass. “I don’t think he’s going to be stealing pet dogs anytime soon.”  Just to be sure, she kicked the head as hard as she could, blinking in surprise when a few seconds after it had disappeared into the darkness, it came sailing back.

 

“What the hell?” They all looked from the still-headless and very dead-appearing demon to the head, now rolling to a halt.

 

“Let me,” Rita said. “I could send a soccer ball the length of the field even before I was called.”

 

The other girls scoffed, but stood back when Buffy stepped away and pointed to the very abused-looking head.  “Go for it.”

 

Rita took a couple of running steps and met the head squarely, sending it arching into a small pond some distance on the other side of the road.   “Let’s see somebody kick it back from there,” she said, smiling as she accepted the congratulations of her friends.

 

“Thought about it,” came a new voice. “But didn’t fancy getting my clothes wet, and you bints aren’t old enough to see me naked.”

 

The girls whirled around, hands going to their stakes.

 

“It’s him!  Get him!”

 

“No!”  Buffy’s command slowed them down enough for her to get between the slayers and Spike, now strolling up with a complete lack of concern. When Vi quickly joined Buffy, clearly protecting the vampire and slayers from each other, the girls stopped and milled around in confusion.  “We can take him,” they argued. “There are eight of us.”

 

Buffy shook her head, giving Spike a warning glance over her shoulder.  He stopped and bared his teeth at the unhappy slayers. “You sure about that, luv?” he said to the girl who’d spoken.

 

“You can’t beat eight slayers!” Rita protested. “Even if some of us aren’t as strong as we’re supposed to be.” She pointed at Buffy. “There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s awesome.”

 

“Always has been,” he agreed softly, giving Buffy a small smile that she returned before she could help herself.

 

“There wouldn’t be eight of you,” Vi said. “Buffy and I aren’t going to help you stake Spike, so forget it.”

 

Rita flinched. “You know him?”

 

Vi didn’t respond to Rita, just turned to look at Spike.  “You’ve been hurting my girls,” she said, hands on hips. “Maybe I should stake you.”

 

He grinned at her, his scarred face and fangs making it more scary than friendly.

 

“Look at you, all grown up and acting liking a real slayer.”

 

“They’re real slayers, too.” Vi defended her girls who were still muttering threats.

 

“That they are, luv,” he said. “Never said they weren’t, just needed to let them know that their tools weren’t all there before they got themselves killed.  Didn’t mean to hurt anyone too badly – I expect that’s something else you should look into.” He gestured at Rita’s arm.  “That arm shouldn’t have broken just cause I blocked her. Yours wouldn’t have... or Buffy’s.”

 

“We’re looking into it,” Buffy interrupted. “I’ve told Willow and Faith to check out all the girls at the school and see if it’s everybody, or just these girls.”

 

“So you told them about me?” He raised a heavily-scarred eyebrow.

 

“Uh... actually, I didn’t.... I may have kept that part to myself for right now.” Buffy’s gaze challenged him to make something of it, but he just nodded.

 

“Prob’ly for the best,” he said without explanation.  As Vi shepherded the girls down the road toward the gate out of the cemetery, Spike walked up to Buffy and cocked his head. “So, Slayer. Now what?”

 

Buffy shrugged. “Now what, what?  I’m going to go back to the house. You’re welcome to come with. If you want to...”

 

“Don’t think that’s a very good idea, luv,” he said after a short pause. “Not till we’ve talked more.” He brushed his hand against her shoulder and turned back the way he’d come.

 

“It’s pretty hard to talk to somebody who keeps walking away!” Buffy yelled at his rapidly-disappearing back. He just raised a hand in acknowledgement and kept going, leaving her glaring after him.  She pulled her radio from her pocket and called Vi.

 

“I’ll be home later,” she said. “I have vampire butt to kick first.”  Without waiting for a reply, she shut the radio off, put it back in her pocket, and sprinted after Spike.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

She knew he could hear her pounding after him, but he never changed his pace. He didn’t slow down so she could catch up but continued to stride purposefully and briskly.

 

At least he isn’t running away....

 

When she’d caught up with him, she walked along without speaking until she couldn’t stand it any longer.

 

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

 

“Sorry, pet. Am I not being sufficiently obedient?”

 

“Obedie— I just meant why are you being so... so... unfriendly?”

 

He turned his head to look at her.  “You think I’m being unfriendly?”

 

You don’t? You keep walking away from me. You won’t come back to the house to talk there. You’re being all sarcastic and....” She shook her head and lowered her voice, allowing some of the emotion she was fighting to bleed through. “Spike, I thought you were dead. Twice. Twice I... I grieved... for you.  And now you’re not dead. But I didn’t know. And you won’t talk to me, and you act like we’re just... just....” To her dismay, she felt tears prickling her eyes. She took a deep breath and waited until her voice was under control before increasing her pace to catch up with him again.

 

“It’s been a long time. I know that. And if you don’t... It’s okay. I mean I know we’re not... not.... But dammit! Don’t act like we never were!  You don’t have to.... You don’t love me any more. I can see that. But don’t act like we’re strangers. Like I’ve got no right to ask you where you’ve been... or to... to want to talk to you.”  When there was no reply, she added a soft “Please?” and stopped walking. She held her breath while he took several more steps before halting. He stood with his back to her, the tension in his shoulders very visible in the tight tee shirt he was wearing.

 

When his shoulders slumped and his head dropped, she released her breath with an audible sigh. She watched as he turned and began to walk back to her, moving as if being dragged against his will.  When he reached her, he stopped and ran his still amber eyes over her face before raising one hand to brush against her cheek in what felt almost like a caress. Then he dropped his hand and shook his head.

 

“I don’t think not loving you is possible, Buffy,” he said with a sad smile. “It’s been part of me for too bloody long.”  She started to smile back, encouraged by his use of her name, but the smile faded as he shook his head.  “But I’m not the man for you. Not what you want. Would have been better if I’d just stayed dead to you – for both of us, I suspect.”

 

“Don’t tell me what I want,” she growled. “And if you’re planning to tell me you stayed away from me for my own good—” His abrupt response interrupted her intended threat to dismember him one body part at a time.

 

“It’s gone, love.”

 

“What? What’s gone? You just told me you still lov— Oh.” She couldn’t help the sudden intake of breath or the way her eyes widened.  “Your soul?  You lost it?”

 

He nodded. “Turns out the amulet – handy as it turned out to be for keeping me in this world – had a limit to the number of times it could bring me back before it had to leave something behind. One of those times, it didn’t bring the soul with.” He touched his own face. “Creature that did this to me managed to destroy the amulet in the process. Can’t even wear it around my neck for insurance now. It’s gone, and the soul’s gone. Forever, I expect.”

 

“Well... that’s... but you didn’t have it before. Not when we.... It’s okay. I trust you...” In spite of her words, she knew the doubt was clearly visible on her face. He snorted a short laugh.

 

“No you don’t, love. Appreciate the words, but we both know you don’t. Not really. Not a hundred percent.  Nor should you,” he added, sending her shocked eyes flying up to his.  “I’ve been feeding, Buffy.  For a good long while now. Not on the innocent, and I rarely kill, but I’m getting my sustenance straight from the tap again. Don’t think I’m ready to give that up.”

 

She couldn’t control her flinch, or the way she shrank back from him.  She tried to recover, but it was too late. He’d already seen her reaction.  Nodding his head and giving her another one of those sad smiles that looked so odd when he was wearing his fangs, he said, “That’s what I thought.  You see now why I stayed away? I’d never hurt you or yours, and I’ll keep fightin’ the good fight, but I’m not the chip-broken, souled up vamp you were used to. That’s not who I am anymore, love.”

 

Buffy just stared at him, making no attempt to hide the tears filling her eyes.  “But... your soul. You fought for it. You earned it. You could—”

 

“Fought for my soul, Buffy. That’s gone. Destroyed with the amulet. Wouldn’t go askin’ for someone else’s soul even if I wanted to. Don’t know what I’d get next time around.” He brushed his hand through her hair, watching it slide across his fingers. “We’re done, love, you and I. Had our time. And a glorious time it was, now and again.

 

“But I’m soulless, unchipped, feeding, and right happy about it most of the time. You don’t want that in your life, and I don’t want to spend mine tryin’ to hide what I am from you. Love you as much as I ever did, but I’m my own man now, not your personal pet vampire.” They stared at each other, both sets of eyes shiny with tears they were too proud to shed. “Give me your phone,” he said abruptly, breaking the tension.

 

Buffy pulled out her phone and handed it to him, watching impassively as he entered a number.  He handed it back to her, closing her hand around it and keeping it covered with his own, much larger, hand for a moment. 

 

“If you ever need me for anything, the number’s in there. Don’t be afraid to use it.” He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it before letting her go. “I’m sorry you had to find me like this, Buffy.  Never meant for you to know. You take care of those girls, yeah?”

 

He turned, so quickly she could almost visualize his old duster whirling around him, and was gone before she could speak.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Instead of going straight back to the slayer house, Buffy wandered around the city, mulling over what she’d learned. The missing soul explained the harder edges Spike had shown both her and the other slayers.  She had to admit she was just as glad she wasn’t going to have to explain him to them—especially to Vi who had only known him as the quiet, guilt-ridden, souled vampire living in Buffy’s basement. But for him to say he’d been feeding.... “I rarely kill” was hardly a ringing endorsement of his willingness to stay on the side of good. 

 

By the time she’d worked her way back to the house, she had almost accepted that he’d probably done the right thing by staying away.  There was no way she could justify the presence of a vampire in her life. One with no soul, who “only rarely” killed his prey. She straightened her shoulders and went back inside to talk to Vi and her squad.

 

~~~~~~

 

“Hi, Will, what do we know?” Buffy settled back against her pillows and smiled to hear her old friend’s voice.

 

“Hi, Buffy. Not much right now. We know that all the girls here are fine, but Faith’s gone to check out a squad in Iceland. They’ve lost two girls already and they aren’t sure why. Since we don’t know what’s going on, or if it’s just affecting new slayers, you’ll need to be careful. You and Vi both. Just ‘cause you’re stronger than the other girls right now, doesn’t mean you can’t be affected by whatever it is.”

 

“Huh. I hadn’t really thought about that. Since Vi is mostly okay, I just figured... yeah, okay. We’ll watch for any signs of weakness. Funny thing is, though, none of these girls felt weak or knew that she was losing it. They just thought Spi—” Buffy choked off her words, but Willow had known her too long.

 

“Spike? Spike is alive? And there?”

 

“Well, no... and yes. He’s just as dead as he ever was, just not as dusty as we thought. Turns out that amulet kept bringing him back. He’s kinda... mangled... from whatever he took on the last time, but he’s not dead.”

 

“What’s he doing there? Was he looking for you? How did he know where you were? When did he—” Buffy broke into Willows rapid questioning.

 

“No, he didn’t come looking for me. He’s here because the Hellmouth feeds his demon and it’s helping him heal. He didn’t know I was here....” Buffy paused, then said softly, “He didn’t want to see me. Didn’t want me to see him. He... he doesn’t want to be around me.”

 

“Oh. Oh Buffy! I’m... well I’m sorry, I guess, but it’s not like you haven’t thought he was dead and gone all this time. I mean, you’re okay with it, aren’t you?”

 

“I will be,” Buffy said firmly. “I was just a little surprised at first, but it’s all good. He’s right, we had our time and—” Buffy’s voice faltered.  “He’s right,” she repeated. “It’s for the best that we just go our separate ways again.”

 

“That doesn’t sound much like either one of you,” Willow said, the sympathy in her voice palpable. There was silence as she waited for Buffy to clear her throat and explain.

 

“His soul’s gone, Will. Gone and destroyed with the amulet. And he’s feeding. Still fighting demons, and he watched out for the slayers – after he beat some of them up to show them they needed help – but he’s feeding. He says he hasn’t killed anybody... or hardly ever, whatever the hell that means. But he’s a real vampire again. Maybe one that plays on our side most of the time, but still....”

 

“Oh goddess... I’m so sorry, Buffy.”

 

“I’m sorry too. I’m sorry for Spike who worked so hard to win that soul, and was so proud of it. And I’m sorry that he thinks it’s okay to feed as long as he doesn’t kill anybody. And I’m sorry that he doesn’t love me enough to give that up.” She stopped. “I didn’t mean to say that part out loud,” she mumbled.

 

“Maybe not, but you’d still be thinking it, wouldn’t you?” Willow’s voice was gentle. “If you can’t tell me, who can you tell?”

 

Buffy sighed. “I know. But it’s so not the point now. The important thing is to find out what’s happening to these girls... and fix it. Dwelling on Buffy’s usual sucky love life isn’t really what we need to be doing.”

 

“Right. Well if Faith finds out anything in Iceland, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, be careful. If it’s something there in Cleveland, it’s got to be either magic of some sort, or something the girls are getting somehow. Poison or something. Either way, there’s probably somebody or something doing it.”

 

“Yep. I just need to find it and kill it. No problem. How hard can it be?”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Three weeks later, Buffy was discovering how hard it could be. They’d eliminated the obvious things – the pizza place, the Starbucks, even the grocery store where they bought juice and milk and cereal. Buffy could find no trace of demonic activity anywhere the girls all got stuff to eat or drink.  The device Willow had given her years before, that could detect magic in large doses, was not indicating anything magical going on in or around the house beyond the normal wards against demons that all slayer group homes were given.

 

 

The first break came when the radio squawked and Rita gasped for help. Buffy sprinted to the other side of the cemetery to find that Rita was doing her best to protect Vi, who was on the ground and barely conscious.  The vampire facing Rita was laughing as he feinted at her just to watch her stumble when she tried to dodge.  He glanced up and frowned at Buffy.  “Wait your turn there, blondie. There’s plenty of me to go around.”

 

“There’s going to be even more of you to go around when your dust starts blowing away,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. 

 

“You’re pretty sassy for somebody who used to be a slayer,” he growled, back-handing Rita to the ground and turning to face Buffy.  His attempt to hit her failed as Buffy easily slipped his punch and provided her own retaliatory jabs that knocked him back several steps.

 

“Change of plans,” she muttered, making a mental note that he should have fallen down at the second hard jab. She attacked full-on and had him on the ground moaning in a very short amount of time – if not as short an amount as she’d expected.  She sat on him, her stake pushing into his chest hard enough to draw blood.  “Now then, you’re going to tell me why my girls are losing their powers, and why you expected me to be too.  Bad assumption, by the way,” she added as he attempted to throw her off; she pushed harder on the stake with one hand while punching him with the other.

 

When he came to, she was still perched on top of him, still digging the stake into his flesh. Rita and a recovered Vi were standing on either side of him, stakes at the ready.

 

“Let’s try again, huh?  What do you know about what’s happening to the slayers here?”

 

“You’re just going to stake me anyway,” he growled. “Why should I tell you?”

 

“Because if you don’t, we’ll take you back to the house and chain you up while all the girls who’ve been hurt recently take turns making you really sorry you didn’t.”  Buffy gave him a mega-watt smile that didn’t reach her eyes and waited for him to get her meaning.  His eyes flickered to Rita and Vi, both of whom seemed ready to start making him pay right then and there.

 

“It wasn’t me!” he blurted. “I’m not doing it.  It’s this... creepy human guy. He has stuff that can make vamps weak too. And demons. He used it to get a few of us to work for him turning new vamps, and then he started giving it to the slayers. He said we’d have all the slayer blood we could drink pretty soon.” Buffy’s growl and the extra pressure she unconsciously put on the stake had him searching for more information to give her.

“He likes us to turn young girls!” he threw in quickly.  Buffy ignored that seemingly irrelevant factoid.

 

“How is he giving it to the slayers? Or to the vamps and demons, for that matter. What is he doing, giving it out in candy?”

 

The vampire shook his head.  “I don’t know,” he said, repeating it when Buffy’s expression darkened. “I don’t! I just got weaker and weaker, and one night this human threw me into a van and took me to a room with a lot of other weak vamps.  He never told us how he did it; he just said he wouldn’t reverse it unless we went to work for him. After a couple of weeks, everybody said yes. Well, except for Jake. He said no. I don’t know what happened to him....”

 

“Where do I find this ‘creepy human guy’? And I can’t begin to tell you how weird it is to hear a vamp call somebody ‘creepy’.” Buffy leaned a little harder on the stake, smiling when the vampire hissed in pain.

 

“He’s got a building over by the park.  I think he owns it or something. It’s got a name... the something Towers. He lives in the penthouse, but only a few of the girls have seen that – the rest of us live in the basement and meet with him in his lab down there.” He looked at Buffy’s impatient face and said quickly, “You can get in through the parking garage. He uses some of the vamps as security, and he’s got a couple of demons as guards, but that’s it.”

 

“Interesting that he isn’t worried you’ll turn on him....” Buffy said almost to herself. “He must be pretty sure of himself....”

 

“He’s a pretty scary guy... for a human.”

 

“You’re sure he’s human? Not some old vamp or some kind of demon?”

 

“Nah. The girls vouched for it... the ones that came back. He’s human, just scary.”

 

“Girls? Came back? From where—” Buffy suddenly remembered that he’d mentioned the guy living in the penthouse. “Oh. Ewwww!”

 

“That’s what they said.”

 

Buffy didn’t even look down when she pushed the stake the rest of the way through the vampire’s chest. She gave a little grunt as he turned to dust and she dropped to the ground.  She stood up and looked around, a shiver going down her back.

 

“Let’s go. Call everybody in. We need to decide how we’re going to take this guy down. A human that’s too kinky for a female vamp is not somebody we want running loose. Even if he wasn’t trying to get us all killed.”

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

Buffy left Vi to bring the slayers up to speed on what they’d learned.  The girls most interested in research and puzzle solving went right to work trying to figure out how the drug, whatever it was, was getting to all of them – apparently even Vi. Buffy hadn’t mentioned her doubts about her own strength, but she knew how to test it.  She took out her phone and stared at it, then clicked on the number and waited for it to ring.

 

“Buffy? What’s wrong?” There was no “Hello”, no “how are you?” just her name and a question. Going along with his apparent preference for a business-only relationship, Buffy said shortly, “You need to fight me. Tonight, if possible.”

 

There was silence, then: “Is this a fight I’m going to win more easily than I should?”

 

“I hope not, but.... I just need to know, okay?”

 

“Alright, love. Meet me outside in twenty minutes.”

 

“Outside? Here?”

 

“Got a big backyard, don’t you?”

 

“Yeah. Okay. Twenty minutes.”

 

She closed her phone and stared at it, then sighed and went downstairs to tell Vi what she was going to do.  She found her sitting in the office, holding an ice pack to her jaw.

 

“He hit you pretty hard, huh?”

 

Vi grimaced. “He did, but it shouldn’t have knocked me out. I guess whatever’s going on is getting to me now.  You’re going to be all we have left.”

 

“Maybe....”

 

Vi looked at her sharply. “What do you mean ‘maybe’?”

 

“I mean I didn’t feel just right tonight either. Stronger than you, but not quite me.  I... I called Spike. He’s coming by to spar with me and tell me if I imagined it or if I’m losing my powers too.”

 

“Here? He’s coming here?”

 

“Well, he’s coming to the backyard. I’m going to meet him outside.”

 

“You want me to keep the girls in here?”

 

“I think so. I’d rather they didn’t know I’m worried. They’ve lost enough confidence as it is with their powers fading more all the time. Some of them are pretty much back to being normal girls.  We need to find this guy before we’re all like that.”

 

“Okay. I’ll try to keep them inside and away from the windows.”

 

Buffy left the office and turned toward the kitchen, waiting until it was empty before slipping out the backdoor.  She paused on the small deck, extending her senses, but not feeling anything; so Spike’s arrival took her by surprise. She jumped when he landed lightly on the deck beside her.

 

“Didn’t you know I was here?” She could hear the frown in his voice although his face was hidden, the light from the window showing only his silhouette.

 

Buffy started to say something about not having expected him to come from the roof, then sighed and shook her head. “No. I didn’t feel you, not even a little tickle on the back of my neck.”

 

“How about now?” He stepped closer to her, not quite touching but close enough for her the catch the scent that said “Spike” and to feel his body near hers. Any trace of vampire tingles were being overwhelmed by her unexpected reaction to his proximity, and she stepped back.

 

“N... no. Not in a slayer way.”

 

“What other way is there?” He sounded genuinely confused as he also stepped back a pace.

 

“Nothing. No other way. Never mind.  Let’s do this, huh?”

 

“Any time you’re ready, pet.  You know fightin’ with you is one of my favorite things to do...” He jumped over the small railing, landing lightly on his feet; Buffy was just a half-step behind him.  Turning as he landed, he threw a quick jab at her face, which she dodged fairly easily. He bounced away when she tried to follow up, luring her away from the deck and out to where they had more room.

 

They hadn’t been sparring long before it became obvious to both of them that Spike could have ended the fight at almost any point. He was just a fraction of a second faster, his punches just an important little bit harder than hers, and when he tackled her to the ground, she was unable to throw him off. Only when she smashed her forehead into his face, did he roll off, cursing and holding his bloody nose.

 

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I couldn’t think of any other way to get you off.”

 

He shook his head. “ ‘S alright, love. You did what you needed to do. Was the smart thing to do. That’s why you’re the world’s oldest slayer, and those other bints are afraid to leave the house.”

 

Buffy sat up and rested her arms on her knees.  “They’re afraid because they’ve all pretty much reverted to normal humans.” Feeling a need to defend Vi’s squad, she added, “And they aren’t really afraid – not all of them, anyway. It’s just that they’ve lost a lot of confidence.  I... we don’t let them go out much. And never alone.  I can’t let them get killed.”

 

“And how are you plannin’ to stop that from happening? Case you didn’t notice, Slayer, I had you dead to rights way more often than makes me comfortable.”

 

“I know you did,” she said with a sigh. “But it’s you. You know me. You know my moves and you’re a really good fighter and may—”

 

“Don’t even try going there, Buffy. Refusing to admit what’s happening isn’t going to keep you alive.  Accept it and deal with it until we can figure out what’s going on.”

 

Buffy didn’t call him on his easy assumption that he was now involved; she just nodded.

 

“I know a little bit more than I did before. I know whoever’s doing it is a human, and he’s got drugs that work on anything or anybody – not just slayers. He’s got a gang of vamps he sends out to turn people for him, and a couple of demons for bodyguards.  And I kinda know where his lair is.” She swore silently at not having gotten an actual address from the vamp before she’d staked him. “And I know that he’s... sleazy and gross and—” She stopped and shrugged. “I guess that part’s not important, what’s important is that we know he’s somehow getting these drugs into us and he needs to be stopped before he starts feeding slayers to vamps and demons.”

 

“That’s his plan?”

 

“Well, that’s what he’s been promising them. That they’ll have all the slayer blood they want...” Buffy shuddered. “I almost hope that’s all he wants from us.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Spike’s growl echoed in the dark yard as he took out a handkerchief and wiped the blood off his face.

 

“Nothing... just, he apparently takes some of the really young vamp girls up to his penthouse, and they don’t always come down. The ones that do, don’t want to go back.”

 

“Takes a lot to freak out a vampire – young or not.” Spike’s growl had grown into a full-fledged snarl.

 

“That’s what I told the girls. Whatever this guy is, whatever he’s doing... He needs to be stopped... now.”

 

Spike rose to his feet and held out his hand to Buffy.  She took it and allowed him to pull her to her feet, not releasing his hand until he let go.  They stood, facing each other uncertainly until Buffy finally asked, “Will you come in and meet the girls? Let them see that you’re not a boogieman, and that you’re on our side?”

 

To her surprise, he agreed right away.  “Alright, slayer. Let’s see what my little army’s going to look like.”

 

Your army?”

 

“He’s not gonna be looking out for badass old vamps, is he? And I don’t seem to be affected by whatever he did to the local ones, so that makes me the leader.” At Buffy’s indignant huff, he laughed. “Always subject to your wishes, Slayer. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”

 

“The hell you didn’t,” she muttered, opening the kitchen door and standing inside. She looked at him, tilting her head on the side to study his expression, which he had kept carefully neutral.

 

“If you want me to stay outside, I will,” he said finally. “Girls could gather in here or—”

 

“Come in, Spike,” she interrupted. “I trust you.”

 

“Well that just goes to show the drug is making your brain weak,” he said, smothering a smile as he stepped past her and into the kitchen. “You can’t know that.”

 

“I know you,” she replied. “I know you, Spike.”

 

She stopped him before he could go any farther, wetting a paper towel and wiping off some blood he’d missed. She pointed to his hands and he quickly rinsed them.

 

“What’s the matter, Slayer? Don’t you want them to know you bloodied me?”

 

“I just don’t want you to scare them any more than you already have,” she snapped. “And could you lose the wrinklies?” Without waiting to see if he complied, she led him past Vi’s office and into the main room where there was a growing silence as the girls looked up and saw what Buffy had brought into their home. She remained close enough that there could be no doubt that she had brought him in willingly.

 

From the bewildered looks on some faces, Buffy could tell they didn’t know for sure who was standing behind her. She turned her head, to find that Spike had gone back to his human mien, which, while not quite what it used to be, had only a few fading scars left to mar his face.

 

“You’re healing,” she blurted, blushing when he raised an eyebrow at her.

 

“Told you I would. Didn’t you notice before this?”

 

Buffy shook her head and mumbled about it being dark outside and game faces, blushing more when he whispered in her ear, “Should think you’d recognize me in the dark, Slayer. Maybe you need your memory refreshed.”

 

She stiffened. “My memory’s just fine, thank you.”

 

“Didn’t mean it like that, Buffy.” He dropped his teasing tone. “I just meant maybe you needed to... Bloody hell.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what I meant. Sorry, pet. Time and place – this isn’t it. Forget it.”

 

“Damn right it isn’t,” she hissed before turning to smile at the stone-faced slayers.  “Okay, girls. For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, this is Spike. He’s the vampire that discovered you didn’t have your powers and told me about it. So stop glaring at him and say ‘thank you’. Or, you know, just stop glaring at him.”

 

“Ladies,” Spike said, inclining his head just a little. “I’m glad to see you’re all still here and without holes in your necks.”

 

The uncomfortable silence was broken when Vi came up to Spike and held out her hand. “It’s good to see you again, Spike,” she said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “If you teach these girls the way you did us back in the day, it won’t matter if they have their powers or not.”

 

There was some grumbling and muttering, but they’d all heard enough about the vampire in Buffy’s basement – the one who had died to save the world – to be curious about him. When Buffy caught some of the older girls giggling as they checked out the body in the tight tee shirt, she almost wished Spike still had his duster. Especially when she caught him flexing his biceps as he bent over the map they’d been studying.  His smirk when she pinched him told her he knew what the girls were looking at and that she’d caught him preening for them.

 

“Show off,” she whispered. “Behave yourself.”

 

“Not my fault I’m irresistible, is it?” he whispered back. “Let them have their fun, pet. They’ll listen better if they aren’t worrying about whether I’m going to kill them or whatnot.”

 

“It’s the ‘whatnot’ I’m worried about,” she grumbled, but smiled and stepped away as she let him work his charm on the young slayers now competing for his attention.  She stood back with Vi and watched with a combination of admiration and annoyance as Spike managed to get them all involved in strategizing about how to locate the bad guy’s lair.

 

“I didn’t know Spike could be so... so....” Vi waved her hand around helplessly. “He was never like that when we were in Sunnydale.”

“He’s a different vamp without his soul,” Buffy said with a nod, forgetting she hadn’t told Vi that little detail. “More fun, but—” She froze, peering at Vi from the corner of her eyes.

“Is that why you wouldn’t let him come back here with you? Because he didn’t have his soul?” Vi seemed more curious than worried, and Buffy relaxed a little, shaking her head.

“No. It was his idea. He didn’t want... and he was right. I can’t have him in my life with no soul. The only reason he’s here now is because we need his muscle.”

The minute the words left her mouth, Buffy wanted to choke them back. She’d forgotten about Spike’s vampire hearing, but the way he stiffened and turned to stare at her made it very clear that he’d heard what she said. Buffy tried to put every bit of regret she was feeling into her eyes, but his face shut down and he went back to the young slayers without looking at her again.

It wasn’t until he was ready to leave that he spoke to her, keeping his eyes on Vi as he suggested they give him some time to hang out around the park and try to figure out which building was housing both a vamp nest and a particularly nasty human. Vi agreed immediately and Buffy nodded reluctantly.

“I could go with you,” she offered. “I’m not totally weak yet.”

“I’ll be less conspicuous by myself,” he said, still not looking her in the eye.  “Tonight’s getting on, so it may take till tomorrow evening, but I shouldn’t have any trouble finding out where the vamps are going in and out.  Can’t be that many buildings with ‘tower’ in the name, either. You keep working from this end, trying to find out how you’re getting that stuff. It’s not like he can be injecting anybody, it’s got to be getting in through food or drink, or something...”

Buffy nodded. It was impossible to argue with his logic, even though she wanted desperately to have some time alone with him to take back her words.  It was very obvious that he had no intention of giving her that time, and she quit trying.

“Okay. You’ll keep me—us posted, right? Let us know what you’re finding out. And... be careful. He’s got stuff that works on vampires too.”

“Been taking care of myself for a long time, Slayer.”  Without anything else in the way of a good-bye, he let himself out the backdoor and disappeared into the night.

 

Chapter Five

With nothing to match themselves against except each other, Buffy and Vi had no way to know for sure if they were continuing to get weaker.  It was Rita, who seemed to be emerging as a natural strategist and leader, who suggested they pick something heavy and try to lift it every day. They settled on the refrigerator, which by that time only Buffy and Vi could lift, but with some difficulty on Vi’s part. By the following day, only Buffy could get it off the floor.

“Well, that’s that,” she sighed. “We’re going to have to come up with new ways to slay until we can find this guy and get him to reverse whatever he’s doing to us.”

The other girls, none of whom had even heard about the obsolete Cruciamentum that Buffy had survived, stared at her.  “But we can’t!  We can’t do anything now!”

“The hell you can’t,” Buffy said, glaring around the room.  “You are still highly trained martial artists, skilled with various weapons, and you all still have your brains. You’re just going to have to use them more than usual.”  She shook her head. “Now, let’s go for a training run while the sun is still out.  You’re going to have to work harder on your fitness. No sense letting these toned bodies deteriorate.”

Ignoring the accompanying groans, Buffy held the door open and waited for everyone to file out.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Several hours later, the boredom and waiting were driving Buffy crazy.  The girls had been online and located what they were sure were the only two buildings that could possibly be the one described. Buffy debated calling Spike to tell him, but decided he was probably sleeping and she would wait for him to report in.

For lack of anything better to do, she began to prowl around the big old house in which the Cleveland slayers were living. Although owned by the Council, a local real estate company handled all the day-to-day responsibilities for them just as if it was a rental.  On a sudden impulse, Buffy grabbed Vi, who had been napping in her room and insisted she look through all the paperwork on the house to see if she could find out anything about the rental company that seemed unusual or suspicious. She put another, more tech-savvy girl onto exploring the house’s history, former owners, and anything else that might tell them who might have had access to it.

Beginning on the top floor, Buffy and the two girls she’d coerced into helping her – “Easily bored and restless. All signs of a good slayer,” she assured them – began to go over the house looking for any anomalies. Using small flashlights to illuminate the dark corners, they began in the attic and examined every wall, floorboard, pipe, wire and piece of furniture.  Thinking that anything affecting everyone in the house had to be something they all had access to, they skipped the girls’ individual rooms for the time being, concentrating on the bathrooms, kitchen and sitting rooms.

By the time the reached the basement, the girls were growing bored with the search.

“We’re not going to find anything here. We’d know if anybody came in the house, wouldn’t we? It’s got wards and things.”

“You wouldn’t think twice about it if it was a repairman or somebody like that,” Buffy argued. “Now keep looking. Anything that looks weird, you let me know.”

“Uh, Buffy?  Does weird include a funny-looking pipe into the hot water heater?” 

Buffy whirled and looked where Rachel was pointing to a spot on the back of the hot water heater.  Her experiences with bursting pipes back in Sunnydale, as well as the need for constant hot water engendered by having a dozen or more potentials living there, had given Buffy a rough idea of how plumbing works. She stared at the hot water heater, noting where the water entered it from the main pipe into the basement, where the pipe carrying the hot water went out and fed into the pipes leading to the kitchen and the bathrooms.  Along with those ordinary pieces of the plumbing, there was a clear plastic piece of tubing that seemed to be cemented into the hot water heater’s tank about a foot off the floor. There was a reservoir at the top of the tubing half-full of some sort of dark viscous liquid that was oozing, very slowly, but steadily, into the water-filled tube that led to the tank. Sited between the tank and the cinderblock basement wall, the apparatus had been hard to see until they started looking into every corner.

“Hot water,” Buffy breathed. “Of course that’s it. We all use it every day. For a lot of things, including cooking.”

“What can we do?  If we pull it out, we’re going to have a hole in the hot water tank!”

“Yeah, flooded basement, not fun. But we’ve got to cut it off somehow.”

Amy, normally shy and reserved, cleared her throat.  “If we cut the part at the top off, and stuff something in the tube, maybe the water won’t all flood out.”

“Amy, you’re a genius!” Buffy ran to get some socks from the dirty laundry piled near the washer.  She ran back, smiling to see that Amy had taken out her knife and begun sawing at the neck of the reservoir.  As soon as she’d severed it from the tube, Buffy began stuffing socks into the opening, surprised when water didn’t come gushing out immediately. She watched, frowning, as the socks gradually absorbed the water in the tube.

“Maybe,” Amy said, holding the container of drug carefully upside down so as not to spill it, “just blocking it will be good enough until we can get a plumber in here to fix it.”

They watched for several more minutes, but the water remained in the tube and the socks appeared to be absorbing it too slowly to cause a problem. Dusting her hands with satisfaction, Buffy turned off the water supply to the hot water heater and led the way upstairs, pausing to turn on the hot water tap in the laundry sink and leave it running. Catching on quickly, Rachel ran up to the kitchen and turned the hot water on there while Buffy sprinted past her and began to hit the bathrooms.

“What are you doing? The council’s going to go nuts at this water bill!” Vi said.

“Not as nuts as they will when we have to have a whole new hot water system installed ... by some plumber not hired by the rental agents.”

As soon as all the water faucets had been opened and the hot water was rushing out as quickly as the tank could send it, Buffy called everyone together and they all stared at the foul-looking substance that had been dripping into their water.

“Is that it? That’s what’s been making us sick?”

“Not sick, just weak. And yes, if that’s not it, I’ll—Don’t touch it!” Buffy’s disbelieving shout came too late to prevent a girl from brushing her finger against the lip of the container. Almost immediately, she gasped and collapsed to the floor, unable to even push herself up on her hands and knees.  “Or, touch it and prove that we found it,” Vi said with disgust. “What the hell were you thinking, Evie?”

Two girls carried Evie to the kitchen and, turning off the hot water, washed the girl’s finger in cold water and soap until she was able to stand by herself.  As soon as she nodded that she was okay, they began running the hot water again before helping Evie back to a chair in the sitting room.

“Okay, well, thanks to Evie, we now know that’s how the drug was dispensed, and since it seems to be absorbed through the skin, I’d guess the cleanest of you are the ones who lost their powers first. I don’t know how long it will take that tank to empty out and be flushed, so no one uses any hot water for a while.  We also don’t know how long it’s going to take to get it out of our systems, so let’s be careful, ‘k? We can use the fridge to help us keep track of how we’re doing.”

“What if it’s permanent?” Rita voiced what they were all thinking.

“I doubt it is.” Buffy tried to instill confidence in her voice “If it was supposed to be permanent, it wouldn’t have been set up to keep dripping like that. There was more than half left in the container, and you guys have been losing your powers for months. We’ll all be fine, it’s just going to take a while to wear off.  When I had my Cruciamentum—”

“Your what?”

“Uh. Okay, see the old Council... they had some weird ideas about slayers and they...”

“And they had it set up so they could rid themselves of any that were too stupid, inept, or just too bloody independent to suit them.”  Spike’s voice preceded him into the room. “Tell them about it, Slayer. There’s time for them to hear a good story.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, but leaving Vi to fill Spike in on what they’d found, she told the gathered slayers about the Cruciamentum test and how she’d passed it.

“And, so you see,” she concluded, “if you don’t have your strength, you have to use your brains and creativity to beat the bad guy. They end up just as dusty, either way.”

She left the girls to mutter among themselves about what they would have done to their watchers and the council if anyone had tried that on them, and joined Spike and Vi who were exchanging information.

“Good to know you found the source. I located the building and even got the wanker’s name out of one of his less-than-satisfied girl friends.” He jerked his head at Vi’s computer. “Turns out Robert Smith owns a lot of property, and also the company that handles this place for the Council.” He finally met Buffy’s gaze for the first time since he’d come in. “I reckon they trusted him because he used to be a watcher.”

“A watcher?”

“That’s what he claims. Says that’s how he had the right drugs to neutralize the vamps and demons, and to weaken the slayers.  Seems like he’s been promising them slayer blood on tap as soon as you’re all weak enough to start capturing and caging up.”

“How... where did you get all this information?”

 Spike shrugged. “Ran into one of his former playmates tryin’ to decide if she wanted to go back to the nest or cut and run to another city. Gave her a sympathetic ear and some dosh to use for bus fare.”

“You let a vamp go? Why didn’t you stake her?”

He narrowed his eyes at Buffy. “Because she gave me what I needed and all she wanted was to get out of town and away from the human wanker that made her what she is.”

The change in Spike’s attitude and his willingness to act in ways he knew she wouldn’t approve of was a harsh reminder of his soulless state. Buffy glared back at him, her nostrils flaring. Vi’s eyes shifted back and forth between them, clearly wondering if she was going to have to step between to prevent bloodshed or dust.  Buffy forced herself to relax, letting her shoulders sag in defeat.

“Right,” she said softly. “I forgot for a few minutes.”

“Don’t forget it, Slayer. I never do.” Neither of them felt it was necessary to mention what it was that she’d forgotten.

“So!” Vi broke in with enthusiasm. “We know who he is, we know where he is, we know what he was using on us... what’s left? Let’s go get him!”

“I need to call Willow and tell her what’s going on.” Buffy looked at her watch. “She should still be up.”

Leaving Spike and Vi to continue comparing notes and letting the other girls in on what they knew, she went up to her room and put in the call to the new Watchers and Slayers Council.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

“That’s the story, so far. He claims to be an ex-watcher, and that’s where he got his drugs. Or the formulas for them, anyway – I’m not clear on that. The point is, his plan is to make us all so weak that he and his vamp minions can round us up and keep us as blood banks.”

“All right,” Willow said briskly, “so you need me to find out more about this guy, and then... what? Do you want me to send Faith with a squad of healthy slayers? I’ll have to ask some of the older watchers if they know how long it will take those drugs to wear off.”

“We’re going to take him down now,” Buffy said. “I can’t afford to wait for him to actually capture somebody.  From what the female vamps seem to be saying about him, being used as a blood bank could be the least of what we’d have to worry about.”

“But—”

“It’ll be all right, Will. My powers aren’t completely gone yet... and we’ve got Spike for backup. It’s just a question of being smarter than the sleazebag is.”

“Okay. Well, you check in as soon as you’re all home safe, okay?  I won’t stop worrying until I hear from you. And if it hasn’t happened within twenty-four hours, I’ll be on the Council’s plane with a whole squad of vengeful slayers. You hear me, missy?”

Buffy’s smile was warm and genuine as she gave a nod Willow couldn’t see. “I hear you, witchy-woman.  I’ll call you as soon as we’ve made the ex-watcher an ex-big bad.”

 

CHAPTER SIX

When Buffy got downstairs, she was surprised to find Spike glaring at the young slayers and berating them.  She looked a question at Vi, who shrugged and whispered, “Some of them said we can’t go after this guy until the drugs wear off, and Spike went nuts. It’s kinda fun to watch, actually.”

“Do you silly bints know what the Master was? How about Kalistos? Or what a Turok-han is? Or, better yet, how about Kralik. Have you heard of Kralik? Or even Angelus?” 

Rita raised her hand slowly. “Uh, aren’t those all like famous really bad vamps?”

“Give the lady a prize.  Yeah, that’s what they were. Till they met that little girl there.” He pointed at Buffy who frowned at being referred to as a “little girl”, but blushed anyway at the admiration in his gaze.  “Now they’re just piles of dust. And let’s be clear about this – when Buffy took out Kralik, she didn’t have her powers. None of ‘em. All she had was her training and her brain.  So I don’t want to hear a bloody word about how you lot can’t take out a few lazy vampires and one evil human man. Not. One. Bloody. Word.” 

As he ranted at them, he’d gone into game face and even the ones who’d been whispering to each other about how hot he was suddenly shrank back in the face of his anger. As quickly as it had come on, it was gone, and his now relatively unscarred and handsome face was looking back at them with genuine warmth.

“Okay. So that’s settled. Let’s talk about what you can do, not what you can’t. Can you out arm-wrestle a vamp? No. Can you kick him in the dangly bits and make him stop long enough to be staked? Hell yeah. Can you fill one of these overgrown water pistols with holy water and make him wish he’d never been born?”  He waved a Super Soaker around for emphasis. “Well? Can you do that?”

“Hell yes! Janie shouted, shrinking back when everyone turned to look at her. “Well, we can,” she muttered, turning red.  Her blush increased when Spike blew her a kiss.

“Too bloody right, you can,” he said. “Well said, luv.” He gave Buffy a look, asking for approval before continuing. At her nod, he sent his gaze around the room until he’d made eye contact with every girl there.

“Now, here’s something else you can do. You can spend the daylight hours tomorrow getting ready for this, and be there, in position, when the sun goes down. You can whittle the odds down as soon as they start coming out.”  He smiled at them. “I can’t tell you that I know exactly how many of them there are, but I can tell you that a goodly number of them have no interest in fighting for this wanker. Especially the girls. They were promised easy kills and slayers they can keep around to drink from. Slayers with holy water, stakes, crossbows, and all the same fighting skills they learned when Buffy was training them aren’t part of that package.  Most of ‘em are going to run as soon as they catch on.”

“What about the demon bodyguards?”

“You let the Slayer and me worry about them.  But if something goes wrong, just remember, they hurt and bleed too. Go ahead and shoot them with crossbow bolts. And they won’t be too crazy about holy water in their eyes either.”

He left them to think and talk over what he’d said, walking back to Vi and Buffy. “Was I right that you don’t want to wait any longer than we need to, to rid the world of this wanker?”

Buffy and Vi exchanged glances. Buffy could hear the rumble building in Spike’s throat when she didn’t agree immediately. Before he could explode, she nodded her head.

“You’re right. But if we can take him alive, I think Willow and the rest of the Council might want to have a talk with him...”

“Unless the new Council of Wankers—” “And slayers,” Buffy put in. “—is just as flexible about ethics as the old one was...”

“You might be surprised at how flexible we’ve learned to be in the past few years,” Buffy said with a wry smile. “I’m not saying don’t kill him, I’m saying if we don’t have to do it, we might learn important stuff from him. Like how many other disgruntled former watchers are out there, for starters.”

“Good point, pet,” he surprised her by agreeing. “Wasn’t thinkin’.”

“Never was your strong point,” she said with a small smile, hoping that his willingness to talk to her meant he was willing to forgive her words the night before.

“Blood can only be so many places at once,” he agreed with a smirk. “You know mine doesn’t always rush to my head.”

“So I’ve heard,” she said, adding in a whisper, “not to that head, anyway.”

His rich laugh had all eyes on him for a few seconds, and the way he and Buffy were smiling at each other crushed any vague hopes the older girls may have been holding about the sexy vampire. Vi also saw the way their eyes locked and she quickly walked over to talk with her squad, leaving Spike and Buffy still gazing as each other with more warmth than they’d yet shown.

“I’m sorry,” Buffy blurted out. “Last night – what you heard me say. I didn’t mean I didn’t want you here, I meant—”

“Knew what you meant, love,” he said, brushing her hand with his. “It hurt. Won’t deny it, but when I’d had time to think about it, I knew you didn’t mean... what my insecurity always makes me think you mean.”

“Come with me,” she ordered, turning and heading for the office. He frowned, but followed her into the small room, watching as she closed and locked the door.

“What’s up?”

“I’m never, ever going into a fight again thinking ‘We can talk this out when everything is over’. Never!” she repeated fiercely.

He understood her immediately and nodded. “Had to learn that lesson the hard way myself,” he said with a sad smile. “But I thought we had our talk already?”

“No. No we didn’t. We had you deciding you knew what I wanted – or wouldn’t want – and getting all martyry and walking away.  I tried to tell myself you were right. That I couldn’t have somebody like you in my life, but—” Buffy took a deep breath.

His raised eyebrow gave a tacit “but?”

“But, you aren’t just ‘somebody like you’; you’re you. You’re my... you’re Spike. And there’s no other vampire like you anywhere. And I... I can get along without you. I know that. I’ve been doing it for years. But... I don’t think I want to. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, and I know we have a lot to talk about, and you probably have a life already somewhere else, and I know I have no right to—”

Spike’s lips swallowed the rest of her words. He held his mouth on hers in the softest of kisses until she sighed into it and melted against him. With that encouragement, he quickly deepened the kiss, his subvocal growl bringing an answering whimper from Buffy. When they finally pulled their lips away, he gazed at her with affectionate lust.

“You’ve got every right, love. I know that and so do you. Man tells you he still loves you, you’ve got a right to expect—”

The conversation was interrupted when someone knocked on the door and yelled, “What are you doing in there?”

Laughing with embarrassment, they broke apart and Spike yanked open the door, remaining behind it, hiding the bulge in his jeans from curious adolescent eyes.

“We’re just talkin’ strategy here, pet. Did you want to join us?”

“Oh!” The slayer, one of the ones who had entertained her own ideas about Spike, took in Buffy’s slightly disheveled look and Spike’s twinkling eyes and blushed to her hairline. “I’m sorry. I was just making a joke, I didn’t mean to— I’m sorry!” She turned and fled back to the sitting room.

Buffy giggled and peered down the hall after her. “Well, you’ve ruined her night. Better watch your back tomorrow.”

“Could have been worse. I could have opened the door and stood there with the front of my pants stickin’ out.”

Buffy eyed his crotch. “That’s going to go away, isn’t it? We can’t stay in here forever.”

“No worries, love,” he said as he unzipped his jeans and rearranged himself. “Got right good at hiding these when I first fell in love with you. Not to mention all the other times I was around you but not allowed to touch.”

“I’m pretty sure that was TMI. Now I’m going to spend the rest of the night wondering how often you were hiding something like that from me.”

“I can think of more interesting ways to spend the night....” When she shook her head at him, he sighed and nodded. “Right you are, love. No setting a bad example by taking the vampire to bed.” He stroked the side of her face, then gestured for her to precede him out the door. “All you need to know about way back then is I spent more of my time like that than was comfortable, going all the way back to when you were just a particularly pretty thorn in my side. You’d have staked me for sure if you’d had a clue. Was in my best interest to learn how to hide the effect you tend to have on me.”

She snorted, but she was wearing a smile she hoped he couldn’t see as they left the room. “You know, there was more exaggeration than truth in your little speech about those dusty vamps.”

“You know that, and I know that, Slayer. Those girls don’t. They’ll follow you anywhere now.”

Conversation in the sitting room came to a complete halt when Buffy and Spike entered the room. His chuckle told Buffy he’d probably heard whatever the girls had been talking about before their entry, but she didn’t ask. She just suggested they all get a good night’s sleep so they could spend the next day lining up their weapons, practicing using them without their normal strength, and getting into place.

Without argument, the girls all said goodnight and went to their rooms, giving Spike sideways looks as they walked by. He winked at Rita, causing her to cough and run up the stairs. Vi paused and asked, “If it wasn’t my house to run, this would be none of my business, but it is; so are you staying here tonight?”

Spike shook his head. “I think that’d be too much of a distraction. The girls don’t need to be trying to sleep, wondering if there’s a vampire prowling around the house. Or tiptoeing around in the morning tryin’ to come up with reasons to peek into Buffy’s room, far as that goes.... I’ll meet you at the target building tomorrow as soon as the sun goes down.” He cocked his head at Vi. “You’re a smart slayer, experienced and savvy. You’ve fought the First Evil’s minions. Take your girls, let them find out how little of what they are is because they were given superpowers.”

“Okay. I think we can handle a nest of vamps if we’ve got the right weapons. And we’ve got Buffy.”

“And you’ve got Buffy,” he agreed, putting an arm around her shoulder. “Bad guy is as good as done.”

Vi smiled. “Yes he is.  Good night, Spike, Buffy.”

They watched her go up the stairs, standing where she’d left them. Spike now had both arms around Buffy, holding her against his chest. “You need to get some sleep, love,” he murmured into her ear. “Need to get your strength back to what it should be. And you’ll have things to do tomorrow while I’m snoozing.”

She rested her head against him, closing her eyes and savoring the feeling of being held by arms she’d thought were long gone. “Where do you... where will you stay?”

“Got a room in the basement of a nice demon family’s home. Not all that far from the target building – other side of the park from it actually. I’ll be there as soon as the sun is down. Don’t start without me.”

“Did you or did you not just give a speech about how slayers don’t need their powers to slay?”

“I did. And I meant every word of it. Just the same, humor me, yeah? Don’t go in without your muscle.”

Buffy winced and turned around in his arms to look at him. “You know I didn’t mean....”

He smiled at her worried expression and rested his forehead against hers. “Just stating a fact now, Buffy. Till that drug wears off, backup muscle is what you need. I’ve never had a problem being that for you, and I never will. Just a little touchy about that being all I am.”

“You’re not, you know. You weren’t really, even then....”

“Know that now, love.” He straightened up and held her in a tight hug.  When he relaxed his arms, he kissed her upturned mouth and moved away from her.  “You need to get some sleep. Go on up there to your lonely little bed and I’ll go back to my lonely little bed and we’ll both—”

“And we’ll both get more sleep that way than we would if we stayed together. I know. It’s just... I just found you, you know? Now I’m afraid to let you out of my sight again.”

“Not going far, Buffy. And not for long. I promise you that. Once we’ve sorted out this situation, we’ll....”

“Don’t say it! Don’t say what we’re going to do when this is over. It’s too much like.... Just don’t, ‘k?”

“Alright. See you later tonight. Go to sleep.” With a wave, he let himself out the kitchen door, locking it behind him. Buffy waited a few minutes, then sighed and turned off the lights, checked the front door, and went up to her room.

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

The slayers spent a productive day buying more Super Soakers, filling them from jugs of holy water donated by an understanding priest, and working on their beheading and staking skills – learning what they could and couldn’t do with their weapons and only normal strength. Buffy prowled around, watching carefully for any sign that the girls would really be in danger, but she was pleased to see that their training was able to take over in spite of their worries.

Sunset still came fairly late on this summer evening, so the slayers took their time getting to the vicinity of the building they’d established was the one harboring the vampires.  It was Rita who suggested that with the boss big bad being human, they probably shouldn’t just stroll up in the daylight, crossbows in hand. “We don’t know what he does in the daytime. He might be coming home from work, or looking out his windows or something.”

“Good thought, Rita.” Buffy nodded and gave the girl a smile. “Let’s just hang out here in the park. Janie, will you and Rachel be lookouts for us? You can lurk in the bushes there at the edge of the street and let us know as soon as the first vamp comes out. Once we start killing his minions, he’s going to know we’re here anyway.”

The girls lounged around, some basking in what was left of the sun, others double-checking their equipment.  Just as the gathering twilight had Buffy on her feet and peering anxiously into the park, Janie appeared and waved them over.

“The first one just came out,” she whispered. “I think we got him before anybody noticed he went poof.”

“Let’s go, slayers. We’ve got evil to fight.”

Moving silently and swiftly, they were soon in positions near the garage entrance where they began picking off vampires as they emerged. They’d taken down at least five when the others figured out what was going on and ran back inside.  Vi and Buffy looked at each other and shrugged.

“Ok, girls, just like we practiced – first ones in use the Super Soakers to distract any vamp that wants to be a hero. The rest of you – crossbows when you can, stakes and holy water up close. Watch each other’s backs – don’t forget you’re not as strong or fast, but don’t dwell on it either. Don’t chase anybody that runs. Let ‘em go. We’ll get them sooner or later.” Taking Buffy’s smile and nod as permission, Vi ordered, “Let’s go.”

“Let’s show them what a slayer is,” Buffy added as they all began trotting toward the open garage door.  Shouts and screams from inside the garage made it clear that the holy-water-filled water guns were doing their job. As vampires with obvious burns and smoking skin began to run outside, Buffy and Vi staked them with calm efficiency.  When there were no longer any vampires trying to escape, the two older slayers ran into the dark garage. Whether it had no lights, or someone had thought to turn them out, Buffy didn’t know, but it did make it more difficult to see how many vamps were left.

She was pleased to see that one of the slayers had thought ahead, producing flashlights and a lantern to provide some light for the girls now moving through the garage and staking or beheading any vamps they found hiding behind cars. Buffy smiled her satisfaction at Vi, saying, “I’m going to go find that so-called watcher. When Spike shows up, tell him I’m upstairs.” Throwing a quick glance back at the entrance, just in case Spike was there, she shrugged and headed for the elevator, pausing only briefly to disembowel the demon guarding the door that said “penthouse”.  He clutched his stomach and gave her a reproachful look as she pushed him aside.

“Hey, you can’t go up there!” he said with an offended growl. “You’re supposed to be weak and puny now.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve never been very good at doing what I was supposed to,” Buffy said, pointing at the bleeding demon and nodding to Rita.  “Your boss must have not been paying attention in class that day.”

She waited only long enough to make sure Rita wasn’t going to have any trouble removing the demon’s head, then stepped into the elevator and pushed PH. As it traveled smoothly up, she noticed that the designated lift had no running numbers to indicate what floor it was on or passing. Impulsively, she pushed the button for one floor below the penthouse, jumping out there and letting the car go on its way. She ran to the stairwell, peered in, saw no one, and ran up to the next floor. Opening the door just a crack, she could see a small group of vampires waiting for the elevator doors to open.

“Looking for something, guys?” she said while they cursed at the empty car. As one, they turned and started toward her.

“Remember, she only looks dangerous. She’s just a normal human right now,” the one in the lead assured his men.

“A normal human with a stake and a sword,” Buffy pointed out. She saw no point in letting them know that she had not been in the house long enough to be as affected as the other girls. Even with what she had left of her strength and speed, though, taking on four vamps in a small area was a bit daunting. Letting none of her wish that she’d waited for Spike to show on her face, she greeted them with a slashing attack that put one of the vampires out of the fight with a missing arm.

She had no time to stake him, though, as the other three pressed their attack. Still expecting her to be weak and slow, they assured themselves that she’d just gotten lucky and surrounded her as best they could.  When the elevator door slid shut and it could be heard dropping to the bottom level, Buffy smiled.

“What’s so funny, bitch? That elevator isn’t bringing back anything but more of us.”

“Uh, guys? I don’t really think there are any more of you by now.”

They paused momentarily, then growled and leapt for her. “She’s lying. Let’s get her!”

Buffy was able to run her sword through one vamp’s chest, causing him to retreat and stare at the blood coming out. But the other two were already on her, leaving no room for her to wield the sword and no time to get to her stakes.  When the elevator door opened again and they both turned to look, Buffy was able to reach her stake and run it through one vamp’s back before they could look from the again empty elevator to her.

With only one uninjured opponent left, and knowing Spike must be on his way, Buffy relaxed enough do some quipping while she waited for the remaining vamp to get within staking distance.

“Come on,” she said. “I thought you wanted to fight? There’s only one of me.”

“It would seem that’s one too many.” A cold voice came from the now-open door to the only apartment on that floor and Buffy turned to find a pudgy, balding man holding a very real looking gun pointed at her chest.  “I don’t know how you managed to not be affected by my drugs, but it doesn’t matter. You aren’t bullet proof.  Get in here.”

He gestured with the gun and Buffy walked slowly toward the open door. She heard the door to the stairwell open and tried to slow down even more, but the man grabbed her arm and threw her into the apartment. He frowned at the strange vampire coming out of the stairs.

“I don’t know you. Are you new? What are you doing here?”

“Came to help take out the trash,” Spike said, staking the one-armed vamp as he passed him.

“You’re not one of mine.” The man stepped inside the apartment, keeping his gun pointed at Buffy. “Take care of him,” he said to the remaining minion, then slammed the door and locked it.

“Well, what have we here?” he said, looking Buffy up and down. “You’re a little old for my taste, but I can make allowances, considering how much trouble you’ve caused me. It’s going to take a long time to replace all those minions.”

“You don’t have time,” Buffy said, remaining poised to move the instant his attention wandered. “And did you just call me old?” Her indignant glare in the face of his obvious threat, made him blink. But he kept the gun firmly pointed at her chest.

“You aren’t one of the regular girls here. I’ve seen them all at one time or another. Who are you and what are you doing here? And why didn’t the drugs affect you?”

“Aren’t you just full of questions,” Buffy said. “Let me think – who am I?  Hi, I’m Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? Maybe you’ve heard of me?”  She waited while he processed that information, narrowing his eyes.

“Okay, so you’re the infamous ‘Buffy’. That doesn’t explain how you fought off four vampires by yourself when you should be too weak and slow to take care of one.”

“Well, technically, Spike took care of one of them—oops! better make that two,” she said as the door was kicked in and Spike stood in the doorway in full gameface. There was no sign of the vamp that had been told to “take care of him”.

The ex-watcher had moved across the room away from both Buffy and the door. “He can’t help you. He can’t get in here unless I invite him. I don’t know what you’re doing with your own vampire minion, but he’s not getting in here.”

“Are you sure?” Buffy looked at Spike. “Does it have to be the human owner, or just one of the humans in the house?”

Spike shrugged. “Not sure, love. Know I’ve talked my way into plenty of homes in my time. Can’t say I ever stopped to ask any of them if they lived there, though.”

Buffy made a face. “Thanks for reminding me of that.”

“It’s what I am, Buffy.”

Ignoring the angry man with the gun, they stared at each other for a long minute before a whimper from another room interrupted their silent discussion.

“What was that?” Buffy whirled and started toward the sound, surprised when Smith didn’t call her back.

“That was my latest toy,” he said with a nasty-looking leer. “But too old or not, I think I’ll give you the pleasure next time.”

Buffy peered into the room to see a slight, naked girl in vamp face tied to a bed covered in bloody sheets. Buffy shuddered as a quick glance showed her some of the implements that had been used on the trembling vampire.

“Stake me,” she whispered. “Please stake me.”

With tears prickling her eyes, Buffy walked over and held her stake over the girl’s chest.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather I just cut you loose and let you take it out of his hide?”

The girl shook her head, fading back to the face of a fourteen-year-old girl. “I don’t want to be like this. And I don’t have a family to go home to, even if they’d take me back. And I don’t want him anywhere near me again.” Wide, frightened eyes flew to a spot behind Buffy’s shoulder just in time for her to duck the butt of the pistol Smith was bringing down. Instead of hitting her on the head, it only hit her shoulder, causing the stake to fall to the floor from her nerveless fingers.

As she fell, Buffy saw the syringe Smith had grabbed from somewhere, and she yelled, “Come in, Spike. Now would be good!”

“I know my vampire stuff. He can’t come in on your say-so, it has to be my—” Smith’s words choked off as Spike wrapped a hand around his throat and Buffy dove for the hand holding the gun. Using her good arm, she wrestled it away from the gurgling man and threw it across the room.

“Guess you don’t know your vampire stuff as well as you should. Probably why you were fired – you were fired, weren’t you?” Buffy kept talking, rubbing her shoulder and not really expecting an answer. “The question now is what do we do with you? I’m not sure the police are going to be big on arresting somebody for torturing vampires – even if they are underage girls. I offered to give you to your little friend here, but she didn’t want you.... I dunno, Spike, what should we do with him?” She yanked the syringe away and threw it on the floor, crushing it with her boot.

The girl on the bed was looking back and forth between Buffy and Spike, who was still holding her tormentor by the throat and shaking him from time to time. 

“Are you a slayer? Really? Cause he told us you were all going to be really weak and easy to kill.”

“Yeah, well, what sleazeball here didn’t know, is that there’s more to being a slayer than just the physical enhancements.  It isn’t just what we do, it’s what we are. And we’re still slayers no matter how weak or helpless we may seem to be.”

“Arm’s getting’ tired, love,” Spike said. She knew it wasn’t true, but it did bring them back to what to do with their captive.

“Damn! Why couldn’t he have just tried something where we’d have to kill him to stop him? That would have been so easy.”

“Bad guys are killed trying to escape all the time,” Spike said helpfully. He lowered the man to the floor, snarling at him when he seemed to be moving toward the girl cringing away from him.

“Touch her again, and I’ll kill you,” Buffy warned.

“She’s just a vampire,” Smith said. “You were going to stake her anyway.” He shifted his gaze to Spike. “Whatever this bitch is paying you, I can double it.  Or I can get you plenty of willing women, if that’s what she’s using.” He gestured to the still-restrained girl. “You can have whatever you want.”

“What I want,” said Spike, as the child-like vampire cowered on the bed, “is for Minnie Mouse here to act like a proper vampire and tear your throat out.”

“She won’t,” Smith said with confidence. “I’ve broken her. She’s harmless now.”

“Well that’s a bloody shame.” Spike watched as Buffy, making a moue of distaste, used one of the bloody scalpels near the bed to slice through the restraints on the vamp girl’s arms and legs.  Even after she was released, the girl didn’t move except to rub at her raw wrists. If she was embarrassed to be naked in front of Spike and Buffy, she was still too terrified to worry about it. Buffy quietly asked the girl her name as Spike went around the room until he found some clothes on the floor of a small closet. He threw them at the girl, saying, “ Come on, pet. Cover up. He’s done with you, no sense letting him get a free look.”

From the corner of her eye, Buffy caught the movement as Smith tried to dive for the pistol she’d thrown away. With unerring accuracy, she threw her stake, hitting his hand and almost pinning it to the floor. Ignoring his pained curses, she walked over, picked up the gun and emptied it. “That was really stupid,” she said, throwing the bullets at his face. She looked at the gun, shrugged and put it in her pocket. At Spike’s incredulous look, she said, “You never know. I’ve had to learn a lot of new stuff these past few years.”

“You constantly surprise me, Slayer,” he said, draping his arm around her shoulders.

“Hold that thought.”

“Do you suppose the Council of Wankers will want him back?”

Buffy shook her head. “He’s got to be from the old Council. Willow might want to pick his brain about stuff, I guess, though. Let’s tie him up and take him back to the house. I’ll call them from there.” She yanked out her stake, leaving Smith holding his hand and whimpering.

After carefully checking Smith’s pockets for any more syringes or weapons, Buffy wrapped a clumsy bandage around his hand and tied his arms together behind his back. They marched him to the elevator, leaving Amy, the young vampire victim, standing in the hallway and staring after them.  She was obviously about to cry, and Buffy stopped with a sigh.

“Do you have someplace to go?”  The girl shook her head.

“How long have you been a vamp, luv?” Spike asked gently.

“I... I don’t know. Maybe a week? I’ve been in that room almost the whole time.”

“Brilliant!” Spike growled. “She’ll be dust by midnight.”

“Well what are we going to do with her? I can’t take her back with me. She’d be afraid all the time – and with good reason. One of those girls might decide to kill her just for being her.”

“There was a time when you would’ve done that too, Slayer.” He smiled at her with what looked suspiciously like pride. “Tell you what, let me take her to my place. They’re a right nice family, and they’ve got a girl her age. They might be willing to take her in and help her learn her place in the world.” He turned a hard eye on the girl. “You know, you slip up, and one of the local slayers is going to make you history.”

Amy nodded, looking at Buffy nervously. “I’ve never bitten anybody, not for real. He didn’t even feed me very often – just a cupful of something once in a while.”

Buffy nodded her head and beckoned the girl into the elevator with them. “All right. I’ll let Spike take you to a safe place.” When the girl looked apprehensively at Spike, who was snarling at Smith for trying to catch Amy’s eye, Buffy added, “You can trust him. He can’t help himself when it comes to taking care of girls your age. It’s just what he does. You’ll be fine.”

 

The swift drop to the ground floor was over before the tension in the small car could boil over. The door opened to a group of slayers, Rita in front, just ready to step on.

“Oh,” she said, seeming disappointed. “You’re both okay.”

“We’re fine, but thanks for the concern.” Spike shoved Smith out before him. “Here’s the wanker that was trying to make you livestock. Buffy wants to take him back to the house until she can find out what the Council wants to do with him.  Any volunteers to be his escort?” The wide-eyed man shrank back as he was surrounded by heavily armed and angry teen-aged girls.

Amy cowered behind Buffy, her eyes wide as she realized she was looking at the whole local team of slayers – all armed and clearly feeling murderous. Without volition, her eyes turned golden and her fangs started to elongate.  It was Janie who took time for a curious glance and yelled, “Buffy! Behind you!”

“Easy there, pet. The poor bint’s just terrified of you. She’s not the enemy. Was just his latest victim.”

“She’s a vampire!” Janie practically spat the word as Amy whimpered and huddled behind Buffy.

“So’m I, slayer.  Not plannin’ to murder me, are you?” Spike’s voice was dangerously calm as he let his face change.

“I... what? No... no of course not, but...”

“But what? I’m a vamp. Hell of a lot older and more dangerous than this poor little thing. Don’t think she’s even as old as you are.”

“But you’re... you don’t... Buffy and Vi said you’re safe to be around.”

“I’m only safe because I want to be. Amy here wants to be safe too, so I’m taking her where she can learn to be a vampire and find her way in the world without killing. You ever catch her doing otherwise, she’s all yours, but I’m giving her a chance.”

He stared down the girls glaring at him until they all looked away. How much of that willingness to accept his word was due to respect for what they knew he could do to them, how much to their respect for Buffy, and how much was just a temporary retreat until they got their powers back was anybody’s guess, but it did take their attention off Amy and back to the real villain.

“How are we going to get him home like this?” Rita pointed to his obviously tied hands and the bloody bandage on one hand. “We’ll get arrested.”

“Somebody can run home and get the van – we’ll wait here.” When one of the younger girls went to leave, Vi cleared her throat. “That would be somebody actually old enough to drive. And at least two of you should go. Nobody goes anywhere alone until this asshole’s drugs have worn off.”  She turned her gaze upon the man in question. “Maybe we can practice punching him until we can see that we’re getting stronger....”

There was loud enthusiasm for the plan, and Smith cringed back toward Buffy.

“Can’t we talk about this?” he whispered to Buffy. “I have information you could use. I know things.”

“I’m sure you do,” Buffy said with a shrug. “And I’m also sure you’re going to sing like a bird... eventually. Sit down.” She shoved him onto a bench against the wall, ignoring his wince. “Don’t take your eyes off him,” she instructed as she turned to follow Spike and Amy outside. “If he does anything you don’t like the look of, kill him.”

Without responding to the questions being fired at her, she walked to the garage entrance where Spike was standing with Amy and pointing across the park.

“Don’t be too long. We need to talk.”

“Heard you tell them to kill that berk if he tries anything, pet. Don’t know what we’ve got left to talk about.”

“They won’t do it... probably. Vi won’t let them.  And if they did have to, it would be because he was trying to escape or something. Nobody would be killing him because they got hungry.”

“So that’s what it is,” he said, his expression turning non-committal. “Guess we do have some chatting to do then.” He turned away, gesturing for Amy to come with him.  As they headed across the street and into the park, he said over his shoulder. “I’ll try to come by the house after I get the baby vamp settled in. Could be late though...”

“I’ll wait up.”

“Probably shouldn’t do that. Don’t know how long I’ll be.”

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

It took time to get Smith safely back to the house, properly shackled and (reluctantly) given first aid for his hand. The point of Buffy’s stake had actually gone in between the tendons, so she didn’t think there was going to be lasting damage.

“Not that I care if there is,” she muttered at him when he complained about having been crippled. “I don’t think you get how close you are to being dead.  And I’ve got no idea if the Council is going to find you useful or not.”  He paled at the reminder that his fate was in the hands of a renewed version of the organization that had fired him for taking an inappropriate interest in their young charges.

“Slayers don’t kill humans,” he said, his voice not as confident as his words. “A Council of watchers and slayers wouldn’t do that.”

Buffy just stared at him, then began ticking off on her fingers: “One – these girls weren’t all carefully groomed potentials. They come from a lot of different backgrounds. Some of them are carrying around a lot of anger. Two – many of them have fought the First Evil and his minions. They had to toughen up early. Three – one of the heads of the new Council is a witch who has already killed at least one human.”

“Is that it?”  He tried to sneer.  “That’s all you’ve got? A bunch of little girls who might reject their training and a witch?”

“Well, there’s Four and Five, but I didn’t think I needed to mention them....”

He glared at her and pulled on his shackles, subsiding when he realized he was thoroughly and professionally chained up.  “Still not hearing anything scary.  Once your precious Council realizes how useful I can be, they’ll probably put me in charge. Your four and five will be worthless.”

Buffy nodded. “Maybe. But since they’re the ones who will get a shot at you first, I’d be more worried if I were you.”

He sneered again and sat against the wall, cradling his wounded hand. “So, what are these scary reasons Four and Five?”

“Four would be Spike. You’ve met already, but you may be more familiar with him as William the Bloody.” She smiled when his face paled again. “And he’s not my ‘minion’; he’s his own man—er vampire. He does what he wants. If I were you, I’d be hoping he eats while he’s gone. He might come back hungry.” Summoning up Andrew’s voice, she added, “You won’t like him when he’s hungry.”

She walked toward the stairs, throwing over her shoulder, “And Five? That’s your escort, who’ll be here tomorrow. You might recognize her name too. Faith Lahane? Speaking of slayers who rejected their training....”

With a flip of her hand, Buffy went up the stairs, slamming the door shut behind her. She paused at the top of the steps, taking deep breaths and trying to calm down. It had taken every ounce of self-control she had not to smash his face into the wall until she had wiped the sneer off.

“You okay?” Vi frowned in concern as Buffy visibly got herself under control.

“Yeah. I just... five minutes with that guy is enough to make me feel like I need a shower.” She shuddered. “To think he was a watcher at one time.” She shuddered again.  “I had no idea how special Giles was until I started meeting other watchers.”

Vi nodded. “I guess things are really different now. We’re more on our own. I think I like that.”

Buffy smiled. “And you should. It’s nice to have Willow and everybody for backup, but all things considered, you should be very glad you’re not being told what to do by a bunch of tweedy English guys who would wet their pants if they saw a real vampire.”

Vi laughed, then asked, “Speaking of real vampires, when is Spike coming back?”

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know. He said not to wait up, but... I think I’ll take a shower and just hang out down here till he shows.  You and the other girls can go to bed; I’ll keep an eye on our guest.”

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

 

When the other girls began to stir in the morning, Buffy was still sitting outside on the deck, waiting for a vampire she knew wouldn’t be able to come now that the sun was up.  She didn’t speak to anyone, except to give instructions to feed Smith, but not to unchain him no matter what he said.

“What if he has to... you know...”

Buffy shrugged. “Leave a bucket for him. I don’t want him loose until Faith gets here. I’m going to take a nap. Wake me when she calls from the airport.” Without another word to anyone, Buffy went to her room and curled up on her bed. Sleep was elusive as she went over and over Spike’s words when he’d left her the night before.

“ ‘I’ll try to come by’? What the hell does he mean try? There’s no try. There’s I’ll come by later, Buffy, or...” She sighed and stared through the darkness at the invisible ceiling. “Or there’s ‘Don’t wait up for me’. Which sounds a lot like ‘I’m not really planning to come by, but I don’t want to get into a fight about it right now.’ Crap!”

She tossed and turned, refusing to let herself consider that now his wounds were healed, there was no need for him to remain in Cleveland. He could just disappear again, and go back to his life of the past several years in which he “rarely” killed anybody he drank from and didn’t have to worry about it if or when he did. Eventually she gave up and got dressed to go downstairs to wait for Faith’s arrival.

Instead of calling when the Council plane had landed, Faith took a cab and showed up at the front door a little after noon.  Buffy and Vi had agreed to bring Smith upstairs to await his escort back to England, keeping him shackled, but no longer chained to the floor of the basement. He was sitting, somewhat uncomfortably, in a wooden chair when Faith walked in, announcing herself with a “So where’s this asshole that thinks it’s cool to hurt little girls?” He visibly shrank back as her gaze found him and her eyes narrowed.

She sauntered toward him, playing her bad girl persona to the hilt as she looked him over, her lip curled in contempt, for a full minute before dismissing him with a sneer. “Thought you might be bigger,” she said, turning away and addressing Buffy. “So, where’s William the Blondie? Still abed?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy said stiffly. “He doesn’t live here.”

Faith noted the dark circles under Buffy’s eyes and nodded, changing the subject again. “What’s the almost oldest slayer in the world got to do to get a meal around here?  I’ve been on that freakin’ plane all night. I’m hungry.”

Only Vi, who was used to Faith’s attitude wasn’t taken back by her arrival. She walked up and gave the dark-haired slayer a quick hug, saying, “Kitchen’s this way. Let’s see what we can find for you.”

“Don’t leave without me,” Faith said to Smith, smacking him on the head as she walked by. Buffy had to turn away to smother a laugh as the man’s eyes went wide with fear. When her phone rang and she saw Spike’s number on it, she signaled one of the other girls to stay in the room with their captive and sprinted into the office.

As she pulled the door closed behind her, she was saying, “Spike? Where are you? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Slayer. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because you... I waited....” She exhaled and tried to calm her voice. “No reason, I guess. I just thought you might come back.”

“His voice got softer. “I told you not to wait up, love.”

“As if!” she said, angry now that she knew he’d not planned to come back to the house.

Ignoring her attempt to deny she’d waited up for him, he continued, “It was coming on toward morning, Buffy. If I’d come there, I’d have been stuck all day. And if we couldn’t.... It just didn’t seem like the right time to have that talk we need to have.”

“Fine. It’s not like I care if you’re here or not.” Before he could react to her obvious lie, she rushed on. “But Faith asked about you. She’s here to take sleazeball back to the Council. Willow wants to see if he’ll tell them anything useful about other ex-watchers and how he got the drugs.”

“Tell dark, dangerous and delicious I said hello, and that I’m countin’ on her to make that wanker sorry before he ever gets to Red and whatever she’s got planned for him.”

Biting back the jealousy his request sparked, she tried to keep her tone short and business like.  “So, I guess when I told him he had to worry about you and Faith, I was wrong. It’s just her.”

“You told him he had to worry about me?”

“Well, in a I-threatened-him-with-how-you-might-come-back-hungry-last-night kinda way. It’s no biggie. I’m sure Faith can scare him enough for both of you.”

“You told him you were going to let me eat him?”

“I told him you were your own man, and I... I don’t tell you what to do. So, I might have kind of implied that if you were hungry....” She looked up as the door opened and Faith peered in. “Doesn’t matter now I guess. I’ve gotta go, Faith just came in.”

“The hell it doesn’t matter! Make up your bloody mind, Slayer. I thought we left mixed signals behind a long time ago. What do you want from me?”

“I don’t know!” she blurted. “I’ve gotta go. Bye.”

She threw the phone down on the desk and glared at it.

“That didn’t sound like you and sex-on-a-stick are having that romantic reunion that Willow thinks you are.” Faith sat on the desk and took another bite out of her sandwich.

Buffy just rolled her eyes.  “Should I be disturbed that you and Spike refer to each other as sexy?”

Faith grinned and shrugged. “We’re just trying to keep you on your toes and focused,” she said with perhaps more honesty than was necessary. “I know you, B. You’ll toss a good thing right away if it doesn’t meet your standards of perfection. Just trying to keep you from making a mistake that you’ll regret.”  When Buffy raised a dubious eyebrow, she laughed. “And that the rest of us will pay for when you become the bitch from hell because you’re unhappy.”

“You worried me there for a minute. I thought you might be going soft in your old age.”

“Not gonna happen.” Faith tossed the crust of her sandwich into the wastebasket and stood up.  “Let’s get the slime out of here so you can get prettied up and go find your man and tell him you want him.”

“I don’t think he’ll believe me,” Buffy sighed.

“Then you’ll just have to prove it to him, won’t you?”  Faith left the office with a twitch of her hips. The two slayers entered the general meeting room and walked over to Smith, who looked them both up and down.

“Aren’t you quite the pair. Not quite salt and pepper, but close enough. Both a little too old for my taste, but—” Faith’s hand across his face brought an end to both his words and his attitude. He shrank back in his chair, glaring at her.

“News flash, scum of the scum, she’s the good slayer – in spite of not caring if her men have a pulse – I’m the bad slayer. And you’re all mine now. Every last little part... I’m guessing it is a little part? That’s been my experience with perverts. They always have little peckers.” She leered at him and pulled a knife from her boot. “At least they do when I get done with them...”

She stood up and turned away from Smith, who looked like he might be sick any minute. “Okay, ladies, who’s going drive me and my new bestie here back to the airport?” She had volunteers almost immediately, and in no time they were half-walking, half-carrying Smith out the side door and into the van.  Buffy shuddered as she watched the door close on the man who’d planned to use slayers as food for his minions and playthings for himself. 

“Good riddance,” she muttered as Faith climbed into the passenger seat. “If he falls out of the plane over the ocean....”

Faith grinned at her. “You probably don’t really mean that, but it shows you’re starting to lose that stick up your ass.  Might be a good time to go find your honey and tell him you aren’t as hard to please as you used to be.”

“I don’t know how to talk to him anymore,” Buffy admitted. “I think I’m going to be flirty and friendly – and then we end up yelling at each other. No wonder he thinks I’m sending mixed signals.”

“Think about it, B. You’ve got to remember how to get his attention. It hasn’t been that many years.”  Faith winked at her and closed the door, leaving Buffy standing in the driveway with a thoughtful look on her face.

 

CHAPTER NINE

Hours later, bathed, fed and carefully dressed and made up, Buffy announced that she was going out for a patrol. Turning down any offers of help, she said, “I’m hoping I won’t be doing it alone.  Don’t wait up for me.”

Thinking she might be lucky enough to catch Spike just as he was coming out for the evening, she strolled towards the park, cutting across to the other side from where Smith had lived. Huh, wonder what’s going to happen to that building now? Maybe the Council can make him just ‘disappear’ and give it to them. She quickened her step so as to be on the other side before it got completely dark.

She reached the far side of the park and stared up and down the broad street helplessly. Crap! I don’t have any idea where he might be. “Across the park” really isn’t very helpful. There’s another whole half a city here. Buffy sighed, accepting that her idea to catch Spike as he emerged for the night wasn’t going to be very useful. Snapping her fingers in inspiration, she pulled out her phone and dialed his number, frowning when it rang and rang.  When no voice mail came on, and the phone wasn’t answered, she sighed and ended the call.  So much for that plan

With nothing else to do, and no idea which of the intersecting streets Spike’s basement apartment might be located, she wandered down the sidewalk, letting her well-honed slayer senses automatically scan her surroundings while she mulled over her options. She could just wander around all night, hoping to find Spike somewhere. Probably not a good idea in a city this size.  She could go back to the cemetery she’d originally found him in and hope he was looking for her. Not likely. He knows how to find me if he wants to. She took her phone out and looked at it in case she’d missed a call, but there was nothing there.

She’d walked the entire length of the park when she stopped to survey her surroundings. The street continued ahead, now with buildings on both sides – many of them shuttered and covered in graffiti. Buffy wasn’t accustomed to feeling fear in the sense that most women would recognize it. She’d feared for her life many times, but was usually too busy fighting her way out of the situation to dwell on it. She’d had moments of gut-wrenching fear when someone she loved was in danger. She’d feared for her mother when she had the brain tumor.

But Buffy hadn’t felt that uncomfortable, I-probably-shouldn’t-be-here, nervousness familiar to most normal women since she was in her early teens. Now, finding herself in what was clearly not one of Cleveland’s best neighborhoods, and knowing that not only did she possibly not have her normal super strength, but that anything she faced would probably be human and therefore someone she would have to be careful when fighting.... Shit! Why don’t I just hold up a sign – stupid suburban girl here. Come and get me!

Mentally calling Spike every name she could think of, she started back toward the other end of the multi-block-long park side street.  She did pretty well for the first several blocks, the grim expression on her face and the look in her eyes discouraging anyone who might have thought her easy prey.  Without having any idea who or what she was, most of the human predators backed away and went looking for someone more vulnerable-seeming.

She was just approaching mid-block when, emboldened by their size difference and with numbers on his side, a tall, thuggish teenager smirked at his friends and stepped in front of her. He frowned, putting a hand on her arm when she just gave him an irritated look and tried to go around him.

“What’s your hurry, baby? I want to talk to you.”

“Uh, no. You really, really don’t,” Buffy said, giving him her best slayer stare. “I’m not in a very good mood.”

“Well, let’s see what I can do to brighten that mood. Bet I can make you smile.” He put his arms around her and lifted her off the ground, laughing when she struggled briefly. He didn’t read the sudden cessation of her struggling for what it really was, thinking he’d cowed her into compliance with no trouble.

“That’s better, baby. Now, we’ll just step in here and have ourselves a good time. If you’re nice to me, who knows? Maybe I’ll be nice to you.” He carried her into the alley where his friends were watching, and set her down, keeping his grip on her.

As soon as Buffy’s feet touched the ground, she threw her arms up, easily breaking his hold.  Hoping to get away without having to do any real damage, she kicked him in the knee, wincing when she heard a “crack” as he screamed and fell to the ground. Guess my strength’s back already.

“Sorry,” she muttered as she walked past him.  “I really didn’t mean to do that. Not,” she added, pausing to glare down at him, “that it’s okay for you to treat women like that. If I wasn’t in a hurry to find my vampire and kick his ass, I’d stay here and make sure you learned a lesson.”

“Think he’s got the picture, Slayer.” Spike’s familiar voice floated down just ahead of his graceful drop into the alley.  “But you may have to explain things to his mates here.”

Instead of standing beside her, he leaned against the wall and took out a cigarette, watching with mild interest as the boy’s two companions stared back and forth between Buffy and their now-moaning friend.

“Don’t just stand there!” he screamed. “Kill that fucking bitch!”

Spike shook his head. “Tsk. Language! Kids these days.”

At their injured friend’s urging, the two remaining boys ran at Buffy, only to find she’d moved too quickly for them to follow. They turned around to find her, hands on hips, glaring at Spike.

“Where the hell have you been? I waited up all night.”

“Told you not to,” he said, glaring back. “And what the bloody hell were you doing down in this part of town by yourself?”

“Looking for you, you asshole!”

Thinking to take advantage of Buffy’s obvious distraction, the boys tried to get close enough to grab her arms. Without even looking at him, she punched the first one hard enough to send him stumbling back to fall over his downed friend. One flash of Spike’s true face was all it took for the remaining boy to decide he didn’t want any part of the girl or her scary boyfriend. He sprinted to the alley entrance, shouting back that he would send help for his friends.

“Not yours to order around anymore, Buffy,” Spike growled, dropping his cigarette and standing up straight. “Thought you got that message.”

“Yeah? Well I’ve got a message for you,” she growled back.  “I’ve about had it with trying to figure out how to talk to you without you getting all huffy and stomping off to brood.”

“I do NOT brood!” He kicked away his cigarette and stepped into her space. “And if you’ve had it with me, why the hell were you looking for me?”

“Because you didn’t show last night and I need to talk to you.” Buffy punctuated her reply by shoving him against the wall.

He snarled, pushed her back, and followed as she jumped back into a fighting stance. He stopped when he saw her raised fists and the stubborn expression on her face. He threw his hands in the air and whirled to kick a trash can. The two boys on the ground were moaning in fear, sure that the monster was going to remember them as soon as he killed the girl who seemed not to be at all concerned about the danger.

“I told you not to wait up!” he repeated, keeping his back to her.

Buffy grabbed his arm and pulled him around to face her.

“You weren’t going to come tonight either, were you?”

“I was thinking about it.” He shook off her hand. “Now I’m rethinking the idea.”

“Well re-re-think it! I’m getting tired of chasing you!”

“Then why the bloody hell don’t you just leave me be?”

Buffy’s face went white, then red.

“Is that really what you want?” she asked, her voice as steady as she could make it. “ ‘Cause I can definitely make that happen. All you have to do is say so.”

His shoulders slumped. “Been saying that since the first night, haven’t I?  I know we both wanted it, Buffy, but every time I think we’ve got round the elephant you don’t want to admit is in the room, he stomps on me.” He shook his head and met her gaze with sorrow that was palpable.  “I’m sorry, love. I truly am. But I’m just not the vamp you remember. You may think you have... feelings—”

“Love,” Buffy interrupted. “I have feelings for my favorite blouse. I love you. Even when you’re being a stupid jackass who needs his ass kicked.”

“And there you go,” he growled, the soft look vanishing from his face. “Thinking I’m going to take that from you and just smile and nod. If you think my arse needs kickin’, Slayer, why don’t you just give it a try?” He went back into game face and snarled in her direction.

“I thought you’d never ask,” she replied, snapping a quick jab at his face that split his lip.

With a roar, he attacked, forcing her farther down the alley and away from the boys, who took advantage of Spike’s distraction to scuttle out onto the somewhat safer street. The one Buffy had kicked hobbled off, clinging to his friend who looked like he’d much rather be running than helping somebody else walk.

If the would-be rapists had been brave enough to hang around and watch, they would have seen two very fast, powerful people seemingly trying to kill each other.  Spike wasn’t pulling any punches this time, as he had when he’d thought she was just another newbie slayer; and Buffy, although she felt fine, wasn’t sure enough of her recovered strength not to put everything she had into the fight. Brick dust flew every time one of them threw the other into the walls of the narrow alley.  Snarls and profanity-laced gasps accompanied the action as neither one seemed willing to relax and enjoy the fight as they normally would have.

When the alley looked like a bomb had exploded in it, and even Spike’s arms were getting tired, they ended up glaring at each other from opposite walls – both leaning heavily against the support.  Buffy was panting, and she tore her gaze away from his to focus on catching her breath. Spike just shut his eyes and leaned his head against the wall, his posture exhausted. 

“As our dances go, Slayer, this one isn’t going to make my top five.”

“It really wasn’t as much fun as I thought it might be,” Buffy admitted, leaning her own head against her wall. She frowned and glanced at him. “You have a list of favorites?”

“You don’t?” He sounded so aggrieved, Buffy struggled for an honest answer that wouldn’t give away how much alike they really were.

“Well, any time I kicked your ass has to be a pretty good memory....” she started. When he straightened up and appeared ready to start fighting again or leave, she hastened on. “What are your top five?”

“In backwards order... the fight where you dropped an organ on me – not that part, mind you, but up to that point. Got you to admit you’d rather be fighting me than some other vamp, didn’t I?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Awesome. I cripple you and it becomes a fond memory... for you.”

“I said up to that part,” he growled. “Then there was the time I had the Gem. Fighting you in the sunlight. That was brilliant.”

“Till I took your cheater away and you went scampering off into the bushes.”

“Yeah. Had to run my bloody big mouth...” He looked at her from the corners of his eyes. “Admit it, I had you up to that point.”

Buffy waved a dismissive hand. “You were holding your own.”

He smiled and went on. “Well, there was the time you were all bespelled and couldn’t fight back... until you could. Still not sure why I didn’t get staked when you came to and found me droolin’ on your neck...”

“Because you ran away after I punched you a few times,” she snorted.

“It was a strategic retreat,” he replied, shrugging.

  “You remember it your way, I’ll remember it mine.” She gazed at him, her eyebrows raised. “Have we really had that many ‘dances’? Seems to me, most of the time I was just beating on you....”

“I’m a vampire, love. Those were fun too. If you don’t want to count all the times you just punched me for no good reason, then we’re left with the first time I fought you and realized I’d found a slayer worthy of the name... and then there’s my very favorite ‘dance’.” He leered at her expectantly, frowning when she just stared at him with a blank face.  “Seriously? You don’t know what I’m talking about? It’s top of the list!”

“I’m trying to remember all the times we fought about something... I don’t know... give me a hint.” She kept her face expressionless, knowing full well what he was referring to, but unwilling to give him the satisfaction.

“I bloody well will not give you a hint,” he said, going into game face. “How can you not— That’s it, Slayer. We’re done here. Go back to your baby slayers.  If I had to keep fighting you now, I’d probably kill you.”

“You mean, you’d try.” Buffy glared back at him, before letting her shoulders slump as she turned away. “But, fine. I’m not chasing you any more. I gave it my best shot, but you obviously didn’t get it. Or you’ve decided you like things too much the way they they’ve been the past several years. I don’t know, and right now, I don’t care.  Have a nice life, Spike.”

 

She walked out of the alley, shoving her way through the few people who had gathered to watch the fight. No one made any attempt to stop or touch her. If the knowledge that she’d just battled a vampire to a standstill hadn’t convinced them to leave her alone, one look at her face would have done it.

Spike was left to kick through the debris their fight had left, trying to get a grip on his temper and his heart. “What the fuck does she mean, ‘get it’? What’s to get? We had a knock down, drag out fight, and neither one of us was enjoyin’ it—” He froze, then began swearing in English, Italian and several demon languages. A sound from the alley entrance brought his head around, and all of the onlookers shrank back at the sight of his furious demon. With no way of knowing that he was furious at himself, not them, they all scrambled to be the first to get away. 

When he was alone again, he stopped swearing at himself and sank down to sit leaning against the wall. He stared at the wall opposite where he could see the dent he’d made when Buffy had jumped over an attempt to kick her legs out from under her.

“She did everything she could to goad me into a fight that should have ended in shagging, and I fucked it up. Girl’s got enough pride for any ten less-worthy bints, and I let her tell me she loves me and do what she could to show me, and I didn’t even— No wonder she thinks we’re done. Never gave her a sign that I still love her enough to keep fighting her until we’ve got nothing left but each other. Told her to go away and leave me alone.” He thumped his head against the wall behind him until it hurt too much to continue. “I am the biggest wanker on the face of the earth.”

 

CHAPTER TEN

Buffy’s anger carried her to within a few blocks of the slayer residence.  When she felt the anger being replaced by a less-familiar sense of loss, she changed direction and entered the small old cemetery attached to a long-shuttered church. The old church and it’s abandoned graveyard were too close to the slayer house for any vampires to have tried to live there, and Buffy was perfectly comfortable that no one was going to find her slumped on a stone bench and sniffling quietly. 

She allowed her sorrow and emotion to flow over and out of her. One of the things she’d learned over the years (with some help from a Coven-based counselor) was not to bottle things up — not unless it was temporarily necessary for world-saving purposes. Under other circumstances, if there were good reasons for the emotion, she’d learned to express it, accept it, and move on. If finding out the man you love is alive and doesn’t love you enough to be with you isn’t a good reason to cry, I don’t know what is.

She let herself cry out her disappointment until the quiet sobs tapered off of their own accord. She took a couple of deep, shuddering breaths to bring herself out of her fog of misery, only to feel the tingles that told her there was a vampire around. They were faint, so he obviously wasn’t close, but she sighed and got to her feet.

“So much for Buffy wallowing time. At least I can kill this one,” she muttered as she checked for the stake she’d never taken out of it’s resting place while fighting Spike.

She walked in the general direction of the tingles, her steps slowing as she got closer and the tingles got stronger. Instead of the snarling she was expecting to hear, the sound of sobbing drifted to her.

“Hey! It was my turn to cry,” Buffy said, loud enough for any vamp nearby to hear her. “What the hell is your problem?  Other than you’re about to get stake—Amy?”

Buffy walked around corner of a small monument to find the vampire they’d rescued the night before huddled in a miserable ball and hugging the grave marker.  She looked up with a tear-streaked face and flinched when she recognized Buffy.

“I wasn’t hurting anybody,” she said quickly. “I just wanted to... to be with my family.” She gestured at the still-new graves surrounding the marker.

Buffy exhaled a sigh and sat down beside her.  “You shouldn’t be out here by yourself. Don’t you like it where Spike lives?”

Amy shrugged. “They’re nice enough, I guess, but they aren’t my family. She isn’t my mom.” Amy stroked the ground in front of her, not looking up as she asked in a small voice, “If you staked me now, what would happen?”

“You’d turn to dust.”

“Just like that? Clothes and all?”

“Clothes and all,” Buffy confirmed. “But I’m not going to do that. I told Spike I wouldn’t slay you as long as you weren’t feeding.”

Ignoring that, Amy continued, “Then, I’d just be dust right here, right? Part of the dirt with my mom and dad and little brother?” She chewed her lip for a second. “Would it hurt?”

“I have no idea,” Buffy said. “I got stabbed with my own stake once and it hurt like hell – but I’m not a vamp and I didn’t go poof. I had to walk all the way home with a bleeding hole in my side. I think whatever happens to vampires happens too fast for it to hurt much.”

“Then I want you to do it,” Amy said, sitting up straight and sticking her little breasts out. “I want to be buried with my family.”

“Amy....” Buffy shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m arguing with a vampire that I don’t want to stake her. That’s a first.... Well, maybe not a first. There was that time Spike was—but I wouldn’t stake him either. I’m not a... a... an executioner. I don’t have any reason to slay you.”

Amy went into game face. “How about now? I could try to kill you.”

“And I’d kick your ass for it. Don’t be stupid.” She sighed as she watched Amy’s face fade back to a miserable girl’s. She looked so much younger than the baby slayers, even though some of them were probably not much older. “Look, I know you’re hurting now. Your family’s dead – I know how that feels, I lost my mom – and you have to learn how to live on your own in a way you never could have imagined... but it will get better. I promise. Living is hard. Even when you’re technically dead, it can be hard. But someday—”

Without warning, Amy leaped at her, teeth bared.  They tumbled to the grass, the new vampire not even close to strong enough to give Buffy a problem.  She held Amy off with one hand and got to her feet, pulling the snarling vampire with her. As soon as she was standing, Buffy took the girl’s shoulders in both hands and began to shake her.

“I’m NOT going to kill you, so just behave yourself. Do you hear me?”

When she stopped shaking Amy, who was once again crying, Buffy let her drop to the ground.  She glared down at her until the girl stopped crying and glared back at her.

“What kind of a slayer are you?” she growled, looking very much like a typical sullen fourteen-year-old. “You suck at it.”

“If I, or any of the other slayers, catch you killing people, you’ll find out what kind I am,” Buffy said with a sigh. “But I’m not going to do it just because you’re feeling sorry for yourself.”

“But I just attacked you!” she protested. “I did try to kill somebody.”

“You attacked me. You weren’t going to kill me and we both knew it. It doesn’t count.” Buffy began to pace around, trying to avoid stepping on the graves belonging to Amy’s family. “Look, I know your life sucks right now. Your family’s dead... hell, you’re dead. You were raped and tortured by a very bad man – who’s probably regretting it about now if I know Faith – and now you have to learn to live as a harmless vamp.  But you’re still here. You still have a life – or a death – to live. Give it a chance, huh?”

“I’m hungry,” Amy said with a gleam in her eye that hadn’t been there before. She stared at Buffy’s neck. “Really hungry.”

“Then get your arse back to the house and eat the dinner Mrs. Gar’luk fixed for you.”

Neither of them had noticed Spike’s arrival and Buffy and Amy both whipped their heads around to stare at him.

Ignoring Buffy, he yanked Amy to her feet and shook her with one hand. “You do what the Slayer tells you, or I’ll dust you myself,” he snarled. “Are we clear?”

Pulling her arm away, she did her best not to seem terrified of the older vampire still growling at her. “What is it with you two and shaking people?” she huffed, edging away.  When Spike moved toward her, she scampered back. “I’m going! I’m going.” 

She began to walk quickly back in the direction they’d all come from, while Spike and Buffy stood, identical cold stares watching her progress.

“I’m goin’ to follow her for a bit. Make sure she’s going where she should be.” He slid his gaze to the side, saying with studied nonchalance, “Do you want—would you be willing to come along?”

Buffy gaped at him, unable to come up with anything more coherent than, “Huh?”

Avoiding her disbelieving gaze, he mumbled, “Want to apologize for being such a git. Thought maybe I’d do it over something to eat or drink... if you’re not too—”

“We just tried to pummel each other to death, and now you want to go out for a drink? In spite of her disbelief and anger, she found herself walking beside him as he trailed Amy down the street. “One, or possibly both, of us has to be certifiable.”

A snort was Spike’s only response.

“I think she knows we’re here,” Buffy whispered after a while.

“Don’t care. She needs to know she’s being watched. Her demon isn’t very strong – I’m guessing most vamps with really strong demons wouldn’t have gone along with that ugly wanker’s scheme. Be too proud to play pimp for a human, even if he was promising slayer blood. She was probably turned by somebody that barely got the job done.”  He picked up his pace as she began to move faster. “But we’re gonna keep an eye on her, just in case.”

Amy broke into a jog as she neared the house Spike was living in.  When she’d reached the front door, she opened it, then turned around to scream at Spike and Buffy. “I’m here, okay? Leave me alone!” Slamming the door behind her, she disappeared into the house. Within a minute, a smiling green demon peered out and waved at Spike, making an “okay” sign with her fingers.  Spike waved back and let out a sigh.

“Something like that makes me miss the Bit in ways I haven’t in years.”

“You miss her teen-aged temper tantrums?”

He shrugged. “It used to be entertaining. Didn’t have that much to amuse me when you were busy sittin’ up on a cloud chatting up big, bulky, manly souls.”

Buffy shook her head. “Only you could make Heaven sound like Beach Week.”

“You were having a better time than we were.”

Buffy didn’t reply. She’d long since quit mourning the loss of what she now referred to as “my preview of Heaven” and she was more understanding of the pain she’d left behind when she chose to save the world by leaving it.

“Where are we going?”

He stopped and sighed. “Don’t know,” he admitted. “Aside from knowing I have a lot of groveling to do, I hadn’t got much past telling myself I’m a stupid git who doesn’t deserve another chance to work this out.”

“So, you think there could be something to work out?”

“Always knew that, Buffy. I just didn’t—don’t see you willing to give. And I—”

“If you tell me one more time you’re not the vamp I knew, I swear, I’m going to—”

“Please don’t. My arms are still too tired to hit you back.”

She sighed. “Well, given that I’m not sure I can get mine much higher than my waist, I’d guess you’re pretty safe.”

“So, drink?”

“Drink,” she agreed.

 

It took only a few minutes to reach the small neighborhood bar Spike had in mind.  He walked directly to a booth in the back, one that was close to the old-fashioned jukebox providing the background music. He raised an eyebrow at Buffy when the waitress, in spite of gasping at their battered faces and torn clothes, greeted him by name and asked for their order.

“Just bring me a Diet Coke... with rum in it. Lots of rum.”

Spike snorted and asked for his usual, causing Buffy to look back and forth between him and the smiling waitress.  When their drinks came back, Spike received two glasses, one containing something very dark. She narrowed her eyes at it, but he just lifted his glass and waited for her to raise hers.

“To us.”

Buffy tapped her glass to his and drank, but muttered, “There’s an ‘us’?”

He sighed and drained his entire glassful of blood before he answered her.

“There’s always gonna be an us, Buffy. Think we both know that by now. The question is, can we be ‘us’ together, or do we need to do it apart so we don’t end up killin’ each other?”

“I thought we came here so you could apologize? Sounds to me like another round of you saying you don’t think we can do it.” She stared into her glass, moving it around in little circles. “If you don’t want me enough to try it, just say so, Spike. I’m a big girl. I won’t like it, but I’ll survive.”

He reached across the table and put his hand over hers, stilling it. “Want you more than you can ever imagine,” he said, taking both her hands and squeezing them until she raised her head and met his eyes. “Don’t ever doubt that. Staying away from you all these years was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Got used to it, yeah, but I never learned to be happy about it.”  He stared at her as if willing her to believe him. “An’ every time I walked away from you these past weeks, felt like I was leaving a part of me behind. There’s a reason Hilda there knows what my ‘usual’ is. I’d leave you and come straight here to drink myself unconscious. Same as I did most nights while I was making myself stay half a world away. ”

He released her hands and picked up his other glass, taking a big swallow before leaning back with a sigh.  “I’m hoping tonight won’t end that way. I think the bar might be running low on Jack.”

Buffy sipped her own drink, staring at the man she’d thought was out of her life forever. “I thought I was over you.” She dropped her gaze to the table again and spoke softly, as if musing to herself. “I mean, not ‘over you’ like some romantic, I’ve-moved-on kinda thing, but I grieved for you, you know? It hurt for a long time – that you’d come back and then died again before I had a chance to tell you I wasn’t lying. But, gone is gone, and I got better. I had to. I accepted you were gone and learned to live my life without you. Never exactly stopped missing you, but I—” She raised her head again. “I sure as hell never expected to see you again.”

“So, you’re saying....”

“I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m still trying to get used to the idea that you’ve been alive all this time and never tried to see me. I thought if we just... It was dumb, I guess.  It didn’t work, and I don’t really want us to be those people again anyway.”

“Those people?”

Buffy waved her hand in the air. “You know what I mean. Needing to hurt each other before we— I don’t really want us to be like that, but I thought if I... if we....”

“Know what you were thinking, Buffy,” he said, his voice soft. “Didn’t get it when I needed to, but it only took me a few minutes after you walked away to suss out what you’d been doing.... and what a stupid wanker I was for not having realized it.”  In the background, a new song began to play and Spike broke into a grin, then a rich laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Buffy gathered herself, preparing to be offended.

“Not laughing at you, love. Listen.”

She frowned. “I don’t get it – what has some old hippie—”

“Just give it a listen.”

 

Say you will, say you will, give me one more chance

At least give me time to change your mind

It always seems to heal the wounds

If I can get you to dance…

 

 

A reluctant smile twitched at the corners of her mouth.

 

“Remind you of anybody you know?” He nudged her foot with his boot, smiling when she broke into a reluctant laugh. They listened in companionable silence until the song ended, sipping their drinks and exchanging small smiles.

 

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think somebody was watching us back in the day.”

 

Spike snorted. “I doubt it meant quite the same thing to the bint who wrote it as it does to us.  A bit eerie how it came to be on while we were sitting here, innit?”

 

Buffy narrowed her eyes at him.  “Yeah, it is, now that you mention it....” She turned to stare at the waitress, smiling at them from behind the bar. “Or just sneaky.”

 

“No idea what you’re talking about,” he said, giving her his best innocent blink.  “I’ve been sitting right here the whole time.”

 

Buffy kicked him under the table, then laughed and picked up her drink again.  “Good thing for you I’m still tired from our last ‘dance’, or you’d be begging me to let you up off the floor.”

 

Spike’s eyes darkened. “Don’t think I’ve ever begged you to let me off the floor, love. Wouldn’t start now. You get me down, you’d best be prepared to be down there with me.”

 

Buffy flushed and quickly brought her glass to her lips, swallowing hard. When she finally looked up, Spike had leaned back, disappointment clearly visible. “But I guess that isn’t what you meant.”

 

“I don’t know what I meant,” she admitted with a sigh. “When I started that fight, I just thought you’d... and then we’d... and we could talk... after. But I guess that wasn’t such a good idea, huh?”

 

“It was brilliant, love. I’m just getting a little slow on the uptake in my old age, is all. Knew I wasn’t going to kill you, but I thought we were really fighting, not like—”

 

“Not like the ‘dance’ that’s top of your list,” she said, smiling at him. “I can’t believe you didn’t know I was just giving you a hard time when I said I didn’t know what you were talking about.”

 

“Me neither. Did I mention what a stupid git I am?”

 

“You did. But feel free to keep reminding me.”

 

“Don’t push your luck, Slayer.”

 

“No? What would you like me to push, then? Your buttons? I think I remember where they are.”

 

He laughed. “I think you remembered them better than I did.  Can push whatever you like, love. I’d be happy to offer some suggestions....” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.

 

“Are we flirting?”

 

He tilted his head and studied her frowning face. “Do you want to be?”

 

Buffy sighed and shook her head, more in confusion than denial. “I just don’t want us to fight anymore. Can’t we behave like normal people?”

 

Spike stared at her until she dropped her eyes and shrugged. “Okay, like normal people with superpowers, short tempers and violent streaks.”

 

“Neither one of which knows how to stay dead.  Come on, love. We’re not normal. Never have been, never will be.”

 

“So we’re doomed to keep trying to kill each other? Instead of....”

 

“Instead of what?  Settling down in a cute little cottage with a white picket fence?” He snorted his disbelief.

 

“No....” Buffy drew her answer out. “No picket fence. I’m afraid you’d come home drunk some night and stake yourself on it. I was leaning more toward—”

 

He slammed his empty glass down, sending the startled waitress an apologetic smile before leaning forward to growl.  Buffy leaned toward him and glared back. “You used to have a sense of humor.”

 

“I used to not care if you were jerking me around, long as you were talking to me.”

 

“I’m not jerking you around! You’re the one who started talking about cottages and fences and... stuff. I was just trying to be a little... flirty.”

 

“You were?” At her disgusted nod, he gestured for two more drinks and leaned back in his seat. “Flirty it is then. I can do that.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

Several drinks later, Buffy was leaning across the table and wagging her finger in Spike’s face.

 

“I think you’re better at this flirting thing than I am. You must be cheating!”

 

He laughed and touched the tip of her nose. “Been practicing it longer, love.  And I’m not as drunk as you are.”

 

“I’m not drunk!” She frowned and assessed her condition. “Am I? Oh God, I am. I’m drunk. This isn’t good.”

 

Spike continued to grin as she got more distressed.

 

“It’s not funny! I can’t go back to the house like this. I’ll be setting a bad example for the girls.”

 

Growing serious, he leaned in and cupped her cheek. “Maybe you shouldn’t go back there tonight, then.” He stroked her cheek with his thumb, smiling when she leaned into his hand.

 

“Well where would I—” She sat up and blinked at him. “Oh ho, I see what you’re doing. You got me drunk and now you’re trying to seduce me, you... you... seducer guy!”

 

“Is it working?”

 

“It might be. The drunk part is definitely working....” She stared at him with slightly glassy eyes.

 

“Bloody hell. Should have switched you to plain Coke at least one drink ago.” He shook his head in disgust and stood up, dropping some bills on the table.  “Come on, love. Let’s find you somewhere to sleep it off.” He held out his hand to help her up.

 

“I thought you wanted to seduce me?” she complained as she stumbled into him.

 

“Did. Still do. But I seem to be a bit rusty on judging when alcohol has lowered inhibitions and when it’s goin’ to interfere with the activity.”

 

When she stumbled again as they left the building, he growled and picked her up, striding down the street and flashing his fangs at any of the few remaining pedestrians who looked like they might protest his carrying off a seemingly unconscious woman.

 

“Where’re we going?” she mumbled into his chest, breathing in the familiar scent and resting her head against him with a happy sigh.

 

“Where you can sleep it off without embarrassing yourself as a role model,” he replied.  There was no reply, and he continued toward his apartment. As he reached the building in which he lived, he glanced up to see that all the lights were out in the main part of the house. Using his private entrance, he walked down the steps to his door and nudged it open.

 

He dumped Buffy onto an old over-stuffed chair, and went into the bedroom to frown at his unmade bed. Deciding she was probably too drunk to notice, he kicked his dirty clothes into a corner and fluffed the pillow before returning to the other room. He stood, arms folded, watching her sleep and marveling at how this deadly fighter could appear so soft and vulnerable when she was relaxed.  The fact that she felt so relaxed and safe in his home made him shake his head.

 

‘We’re a pair, aren’t we, love,” he whispered as he picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. He put her down gently and removed her shoes and socks.  After a moment’s indecision, he pulled her leather jacket off and loosened the snap on her pants. He bit his lip, remembering how much she hated being confined when she slept, and slipped a hand behind her back to unsnap her bra.  Deciding he’d done all he could without earning an accusation of taking advantage of her condition, he pulled the covers up to her shoulders. He dropped a kiss on her forehead before leaving the room and settling on the lumpy couch that had come with the apartment.

 

 

 

There was no sunlight in the basement apartment to alert anyone that morning had arrived, but when Buffy’s bladder insisted that she get up and do something about it, she glanced at the glow of the clock and groaned. She stared around the very spare room – bed, dresser, nightstand and lamp – and had to think for a few seconds before she figured out where she was.  She got up and waited for the room to stop spinning before trying to guess which door might be the closet and which one the bathroom.

 

“It’s the one near the bureau, Slayer.” Spike’s voice drifted in from the living room.

 

Without answering him, she made her way to the correct door and opened it, turning on the light and sighing with relief when she noticed the toilet paper roll. Torn between wondering why he would have toilet paper unless he was accustomed to having human (female human?) visitors, and just being grateful that he did, she quickly took care of her complaining bladder. 

 

She washed her hands and splashed cold water on her face until she felt almost like herself again. Until she peered at herself in the mirror.

 

“Bloodshot eyes, messy hair, and morning breath. Awesome,” she muttered. She spotted Spike’s toothbrush and toothpaste and grabbed them. She hesitated for only a second, wondering if there was dried blood on the brush, then shrugged, deciding she didn’t care.  When she had finished brushing her teeth and had raked her fingers through her hair, she went to the door and opened it to find Spike standing on the other side. He’d apparently turned on the lamp while he waited for her, and was silhouetted against the light.

 

“Mornin’, sunshine,” he said, brushing a hand over her head. “How do you feel?”

 

“About as bad as I look,” she said, leaning into him and resting her head on his bare chest. She felt it shake under her cheek as he chuckled at her.

 

“You look pretty good to me,” he said, resting his chin on her head and sliding his arms around her.  She snorted and straightened up, tilting her head back to meet his amused eyes.

 

“Do me a favor?  Find some other way to seduce me, please? I don’t think I like the after effects of this one.”

 

“Yeah. Didn’t work out quite like I wanted anyway,” he agreed. “Kinda planned to wake up next to you... preferably naked.”

 

Buffy squirmed a little, noticing for the first time that her bra wasn’t fastened. “Did you start to get me naked and then chicken out?” she asked, more with curiosity than anger.

 

“What? No. I just was trying to make you comfortable without—”

 

“It’s okay. I was just kidding. Insecure much?”  She turned around, asking, “Hook it back up for me?”

 

He slipped his hands under her shirt and felt around for the ends with the hooks, which had slid around almost all the way to the front. When his fingers touched the skin over her ribs, Buffy gasped, bringing an answering sigh from Spike.  He stopped fumbling for the bra and just rested his palms against her sides, while they both began to breathe more heavily.

 

When he shifted his hands and began to rub the bottom of her breasts with his thumbs, she allowed a small whimper to escape her throat. Encouraged by the familiar sound, he moved his hands up to cup her breasts and begin to play with her nipples.

 

“On the other hand,” she said, her voice shaky, “maybe you should just take it the rest of the way off.”

 

“Your wish is my command,” he said, dropping a kiss on the side of her neck before pulling both her shirt and bra up and over her head. She turned in his arms, putting her hands behind his back and pulling him into a fierce hug, which he returned with no hesitation.  “I love you, Buffy,” he murmured into her hair. “Need you to know that.”

 

She nodded, her cheek rubbing against his bare chest as she did so. “I believe you. Are you going to believe me?”

 

She lifted her head again, meeting his gaze with a mixture of trepidation and determination. He sighed and brushed his lips across hers. “I do. Although, if I’m being truthful, I’d have to admit to being a bit gobsmacked that you were willing to work this hard to make me believe it.” 

 

Buffy gave him a small smile, then nipped gently on the skin of his neck. “'K, then. If that’s settled, I think there was some discussion about being naked? And in bed?”

 

Spike’s laugh was sheer joy as he picked her up and walked backwards the short distance to the bed. He dropped onto it, lying still with Buffy on top of him for a few seconds.  Then he sat up and deposited her on the floor between his knees and began to kiss his way around her belly while he opened her pants and pushed them down her legs. She obligingly stepped out of them, lifting first one foot, then the other, grabbing his hair when his mouth trailed down and he began to remind her of one of the things she’d missed most when she’d thought he was dead.

 

When her legs tried to give out, he fell back again, bringing her with him to kneel, her knees on either side of his head as she let him bring her to a quick, whimpering release.

 

“You have no idea how I’ve missed those little sounds you make,” he said, grinning up at her flushed face. He eased her off to the side, smiling at her happy expression.

 

“You have no idea how much I’ve missed making them for you,” she countered, blushing but meeting his eyes with as much honesty as she could put into her gaze. She reached for his zipper, pulling it down and taking his cock in her hand. He groaned and pushed into her hand, trying to kick his jeans off without losing contact. 

 

“And there’s that sound you make when I touch you. I missed that too.” Buffy lowered herself until she was lying beside him, her hand stroking him in ways she hadn’t realized she remembered so well. 

 

“You’re killing me here, love,” he groaned again, pushing his hips up trying to match the rhythm she had set up.

 

“You’re already dead.”

 

“Then I’m goin’ to spontaneously combust if you don’t—ah!” Buffy replaced her hand with her mouth, smiling around him when he almost screamed.  “Oh, Jesus, Buffy. Sweetheart... love of my love... missed you so much. Missed this... Got to stop, love. I can’t—”

 

Buffy shook her head, adding a new sensation to the ones she was already creating and sending him arching off the bed, swearing in several languages.  Buffy took a grip on the bottom of his cock and squeezed it just enough to keep him from coming.  She smiled around his cock as he begged and pleaded with her, giving a little yelp of surprise when he suddenly pushed her away, threw himself over and pinned her to the bed. Her legs had automatically opened and wrapped around his back, allowing him to slide into her in one smooth movement. He forced himself to remain still as he took deep, soothing breaths, trying to regain his composure while Buffy sucked on his neck and hummed her happiness.

 

“Knew someday I’d regret teaching you that little trick,” he gasped when he could speak again. “Bloody hell, Buffy. It’s like we never stopped...” He began moving his hips, murmuring into her ear as he moved. “Wouldn’t have interrupted your fun, love, but I really want to be in you when I come the first time.  Never expected to feel you around me again. Want to wallow in it a bit.” 

 

“That’s okay. This position makes me very happy,” she whispered, her arms and legs wrapped around him almost too tightly. “I love feeling you inside me, filling me up and pressing me into the bed.”  She blushed, having just said more to him in the way of appreciation than she had during their entire four-month physical affair. 

 

His response sounded suspiciously like a smothered sob as his hips began to churn harder, bringing them both to the brink in a very short period of time.  As Buffy arched up into him and clenched her muscles, he shouted her name and continued to piston his hips long past the point where he had anything left to spend. Eventually, Buffy allowed her legs to fall apart and her grip on his back turned to gentle stroking.

 

“That settles it then,” he mumbled into her neck. “It’s back to the bagged stuff for me.”

 

“I haven’t asked you to do that....” In spite of her words, Buffy couldn’t control the relief in her voice.

 

“Don’t need to ask me, love.” He raised his head to look into her eyes.  “Got no intention of ever doin’ anything that might make you want to send me away.”

 

“Right now I’m having a hard time thinking of anything you could possibly do that would make me give this up,” she said, blushing, but holding his heated gaze.  “You’re... okay, I was going to say ‘amazing’, but then you’ll get all full of yourself and—”

 

We’re amazing, Buffy. You and me, together. It’s us, love.”

 

“Well, yay us, then.” Buffy smiled up at him. Her smile grew wider as she felt him growing hard again, and she wriggled her hips under him. “Are we about to be amazing again?”

 

“Think we might just stay here being amazing for the rest of the week,” he replied. “I can’t think of anyplace I need to be.” He rolled over onto his back, bringing Buffy with him so that she was lying on top. “Your turn to drive, Slayer.”

 

“So it is,” she said, sitting up and squeezing him until his eyes rolled back in his head. “Better fasten your seatbelt.”

 

Two hours later, they were lying side-by-side, and Buffy was panting heavily.  Spike turned his head and dropped a kiss on her shoulder. “Don’t know about you, pet, but I think I might be all amazed out for a while.”

 

Without looking at him, Buffy nodded her agreement. “Yeah, I’m not feeling all that amazing right now.”  She rolled her head over to smile at him. “On the plus side, I think my hangover is completely gone.  Now I’m hungry.”

 

“Soon’s I can move, I’ll get dressed and take you out for an all-you-can-eat breakfast. Got to keep your strength up.”

 

“You’re getting old. What ever happened to ‘five hours straight’?”

 

“You know as well as I do that was just a question of both of us being too stubborn to say when.” He smirked at her. “Like to think I’m more mature than that now.”

 

“Like I said... old.” Buffy giggled at his growl and sat up. “But I am hungry, and I should probably get back and let Vi know that I’m not dead.”

 

“Was she expecting you back?” He raised an eyebrow at her, his eyes questioning what she’d told the other slayers.

 

“Probably not,” she admitted. “I did tell her I was going out to find you. I think I said not to wait up. But still....” She rolled her eyes to the clock. “It’s almost noon.”

 

“Fuck! Forgot about that. Guess I’m going to owe you that big breakfast, love. I can’t get around in the daylight here quite like I could in Sunnyhell.”  He ran a hand up her arm. “Or, you could just stay here with me for the rest of the day....”

 

Buffy’s stomach gurgled just then and they both laughed. She brushed her lips across his and stood up.

 

“I think that’s my cue to get dressed and get out of here.”  She paused in the act of putting on her jeans.  “Am I going to see you tonight?”

 

“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” he said, sitting up and resting his arms on his knees. He watched her dress, shaking his head as she pulled her tee shirt back on and picked up her jacket.  “Seems a shame to cover up all that lovely skin.”

 

Buffy smiled at him as she shrugged the jacket on.  She ran her eyes over his naked body, deliberately lingering at his semi-erect cock and licked her lips.  “Speaking of skin....” When he looked like he was about to leap off the bed and grab her, she backed up, shaking her finger at him.  “Uh, uh, old man. You just stay here and build your strength back up. I’ll see you later.”

 

He growled and sprawled back on the bed, grinning when he heard her heartrate go up. “Off you go then, love.  I’ll pick you up this evening and make up for not buying you breakfast by taking you someplace really nice for dinner.”

 

She blew a kiss, then stopped on her way out of the bedroom. “How do I get home from here?”

 

He got up and walked toward her, perfectly comfortable in his nudity. “When you go out the door and up the steps, take a right to the corner. You’ll be on the street that runs past the park. Just go left and you’ll be on your way back to the slayer part of town.”  He put his arms around her, pulling her against his body and nuzzling her ear.  “Could just stay here, though,” he coaxed. “I could order take out.”

 

Buffy gave his cock a little squeeze, then pushed him away. “You promised me a nice dinner,” she said. “I’m going to go back to the house, take a shower, a nap and get all dressed up.” She frowned. “Or maybe not all dressed up. I didn’t bring much besides my slaying clothes with me.”

 

“You’ll be beautiful no matter what you wear, love.” He ran a hand over her face. “We can get a good meal without dressing like a couple of toffs.”

 

“I’m not sure that sounds like something I want to dress as...” she said with a puzzled line between her eyebrows.  “Is that British for jerks?”

 

 He laughed and kissed her nose. “All those years living in Merrie Olde, and you still don’t know the language? Go on with you, Slayer. Get some food and rest. I’ll see you later.”

 

“Later,” she echoed, opening the door just far enough to make sure the sunlight wasn’t going to come in and turn her date for the evening to ashes. “I’ll see you later.”

 

“Count on it, Buffy.”  He closed the door behind her, and she went up the stairs to the street.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

 

“Good afternoon,” Vi said, grinning at Buffy’s still-disheveled appearance. “I take it you found Spike?”

 

“I did.”  She sighed and smiled at Vi. “It was a little... intense, for awhile. And then there was the drinking, and.... Yeah, if I look like I feel....”

 

“So – Nap? Lunch? Shower?”

 

“All of the above?”  Buffy shook her head. “Forget that. Actually, I stopped on the way home and grabbed some food. I was starving. So I think I’m just going with shower and nap for now.”

 

It was four hours later when Buffy woke up and stretched, feeling pleasant aches in places she hadn’t felt those aches in many, many years. “I guess this is what’s meant by ‘hurts so good’,” she murmured with a small smile. She was still smiling to herself when her phone rang. She caught it on the second ring, giggling softly.

 

“Something you’d like to share with the class, Slayer?”

 

“I just feel happy,” she said, laughing again. “But if you’re real good, I might tell you why later.”

 

“Can only hope it’s the same reason I woke up with a smile on my face,” he replied, his voice full of the affection he’d been afraid to show her years ago.

 

“I’m pretty sure it’s related,” she said, giggling again. “But I’m not going to tell you what I was thinking that made me laugh. Not now, anyway.”

 

“Alright, love, I can wait.  Do you still want to go out?”

 

“You mean like on a real date? I don’t think we’ve ever done that, have we?” There was a long silence, but before Spike could spoil the mood, Buffy hastened on. “And that was mostly my fault. I know that. I wasn’t complaining. I wasn’t. It’s just that we never did, and....” She trailed off, not sure how to say that she was well aware that he would have taken her anywhere she wanted to go if she’d been willing to permit it.  “I’m looking forward to it, William,” she finished softly.

 

“Then I’ll be there as soon as the sun goes down, and we’ll make up for lost time. Dinner, dancing....” At Buffy’s giggle, he growled. “Didn’t mean that this time.”

 

“I know you didn’t, but, come on, did you think my mind wasn’t going to go there?”

 

“Fair enough, love. Go get pretty; I’ll pick you up as soon as I can get there.”

 

“Take your time. I don’t want to go out with pile of ashes.”

 

“See you soon, Buffy.”

 

“’K”

 

 

 

Buffy searched through her closet, looking for something that said “date with my lover” rather than “won’t show demon guts”. She finally came up with a simple, flared skirt and a red silk blouse that she’d thrown in her suitcase just in case. “Just in case” what, she wasn’t sure, but she was grateful that she’d done it.  She hadn’t brought very dressy shoes with her, though, so ended up with flat sandals with some bling on them.

 

“Wow, you look great,” Vi greeted her when she came downstairs. “Where are you guys going?”

 

“I don’t know. Spike just said he’d take me out to dinner someplace nice. Of course, he’s a vampire, so his idea of nice might be.... Nah, I know better. He didn’t spend all of the past hundred and whatever years hanging out at places like Willy’s.”

 

“I’m sure he knows lots of nice places,” Vi said supportively. “But just in case, do you want me to give you some names?”

 

Buffy thought for a second, then shrugged. “No. If I’m going to trust him in my life, I think I should trust him to pick a nice place for dinner. We’re good.”

 

 

 

 

Spike knocked on the front door thirty minutes after the sun started to drop behind the tall buildings. He smiled at Rita, who let him in, but his eyes went immediately to Buffy.

She refused to acknowledge the little inward sigh of relief when he walked in wearing dark twill pants and a dress shirt.

 

“You look gorgeous, pet. Ready to go? I’ve got a cab waiting.” Grabbing her purse and a sweater, Buffy waved her good-byes and followed him out the door to the waiting taxi.  

 

The drive to the restaurant didn’t take long, but Buffy was glad for the ride. It seemed like something “normal” people might do. Spike held her hand while she gazed at the passing scenery. The driver took them past the lake front, a part of the city Buffy hadn’t seen yet.

 

“Pretty,” Buffy said. “Who knew?”

 

Spike laughed. “Think that needs to be put into the new Slayer Handbook, pet?”

 

“What? That Cleveland has pretty parts?”

 

“That slayers should take the time to enjoy the places they get sent.  After they’ve taken care of the evil things and whatnot, of course.”

 

Buffy nodded. “I’ve been trying to do that, actually,” she admitted. “I always add a day or two to make sure things are going to be okay after I leave, and then I use those days to be a tourist.”  She peered at him. “This trip was a little different. I had other things to do with my extra time.”

 

He stared back at her, making no reply until they were out of the cab and on the way to their table in the restaurant. As they followed the maitre’de to the table Spike had reserved earlier, he said without inflection, “So, does that mean you’ve used up your extra time and you’re leaving soon?”

 

She shrugged and smiled at the man who was pulling her chair out, waiting until he had left them to respond. “Not right away,” she said. “But I do have to go back.  It’s not like I don’t have a job.” She stared at him anxiously, wondering if this was going to be anther problem. She relaxed when he nodded, smiling when the bottle of wine he’d pre-ordered was placed on the table.

 

“Right. Well then, let’s enjoy your free time.” After the opening, sniffing, tasting ritual, he waved the wine steward away and poured Buffy’s wine himself.  “To us, Buffy.”

 

Her response this time, “To us,” brought another smile to his face, one she had seen only rarely in their days in Sunnydale. She smiled back at him. “We are us, aren’t we? That’s what Giles was so worried about when he—” She shuddered at that long-suppressed memory, and he put a hand over hers.

 

“It’s alright, love. Knew he was only thinking about you.  He was being a bleeding idiot, but his heart was in the right place.”

 

“You’re a lot more forgiving than I am. I held that against him for years.”

 

“Because you loved me.” His face wore a look of happy bemusement. “Still can’t get used to that.”

 

“Because I love you. I never stopped, I just thought you were gone forever, and I should try to move on. And I did. And when I did, then I could forgive Giles for almost making you gone even sooner.”

 

“Wasn’t going to leave you, love. Wasn’t going to let that sadistic bastard kill me, and I didn’t kill him because I knew you wouldn’t let me stay around if I did.”

 

“I think I’ve mellowed since then. In fact, I think I started mellowing as soon as I saw that horrible room.” She stared at the table. “You know, I never said anything to you, but I told Robin if he ever tried that again, I’d let you kill him.” She brought her gaze up to his. “And I might have helped you do it.”

 

He reached for her hand again, then shook his head and smiled up at the waiter. “Give us a few more minutes, mate. Please?”

 

When the man had retired to a discrete distance, Spike looked back at Buffy. “Want to ask you a question, love, but I don’t want you to answer it right away. Think about it while you enjoy your...” he glanced down at the menu he was holding “... ridiculously expensive food, and give me your answer later. Alright?” He waited for Buffy’s nod, before continuing, “Did you love me before I got the soul, or did that make the difference?”

 

“I—”

 

He held up his hand. “Uh uh, Slayer. Order your food, eat it, and then answer my question.”

 

Buffy studied the menu, flinching when she saw the prices. “Can we afford this?” She was still frowning at the menu and completely missed the way his face lit up at her use of the pronoun.

 

“Don’t worry about it, love. You’re worth every penny. And yes, we can afford it.”

 

 

~~~~~~~~

 

 

They left the restaurant and began walking down the street, holding hands as if they had been together for years. As they walked along, Spike asked,  “Are you hoping if you wait long enough, I’ll forget my question?

 

Buffy gave a guilty start. “No. Not exactly... You did say I should eat my dinner first!”

 

“I did. And you have.... It’s probably half-way to being digested by now,” he added in a low mutter. Raising his voice a bit, he said, “Just wanted you to have time to think about it. Didn’t mean you had to wait until you’d come up with a speech.”

 

Buffy stopped and turned to face him.  Other pedestrians flowed around them as they stared at each other. “I’m guessing you want an honest answer?”

 

“Be my first choice,” he said, his tone sarcastic but his face blank of expression.

 

She took a deep breath, letting it out in a sigh. “Okay, then. Here goes... The soul didn’t make me love you. It showed me how much you love me, and how... different... you are from any other vampire in the world.  But you were right... back in the bad times? When I was using you?  I did love you. But I didn’t want to, so I just refused to even consider the possibility. The closest I could get was to admit I wanted your body, and that I didn’t want anyone else to have you. What the soul did was allow me to admit to myself that I loved you. It was okay, once you had the soul.”

 

She reached up to touch his cheek.  “You probably didn’t hear any of those conversations, but I think everybody in that house who knew us pretty much thought I was in love with you – and that I had been the year before when I was sleeping with you.  Everybody except me. I still thought....” Her hand dropped. “I don’t know what I thought. I just know I should never have waited until you were dying to tell you.”