Here is my Seasonal Spuffy offering for this round.  It's pretty ordinary and kind of retro for me. I've been playing mostly in various possible futures lately, but this is a Season Five AU fic that follows a non-canon encounter between Spike and Buffy that leads to the events in this fic.  Thanks are owed Eowyn who read the beginning of it a long time ago when it was just a bunny and smacked me around until I cleaned up the most egregious of the canon issues (Not all of them, I'm sure. Don't blame her - she tried!) And more thanks to my two wonderful betas - Always_jbj and Just_Sue - who had to read the whole thing and catch my other errors and inevitable typos.  Any further mistakes are probably due to my incessant fiddling and not at all their fault.

 

Disclaimer: Joss's characters, my twist on his Season V

Summary: a sequel to my little pwp - How Can Something So Cold Make Me So Hot? in which Buffy found to her surprise that Spike knew just how to cool down her sunburn. All you really need to know about that ficlet is that Ms De Nile and Mr Big Bad found themselves willing to use any excuse to give in to urges neither one really knew they had. I don't think it's necessary to read that first, but it's short and smutty so if that's your thing...

 

When the Ice Has Melted

 

 

Bugger!  I had her there – for just a second, she was all mine.  I know she felt something…

 

 

Spike lay on the already cooling stone and stared at the ceiling, idly noting all the cobwebs as he mulled over what had just happened.

 

I don’t care how much she hurt, or how good that ice felt, there’s no way the Slayer – Buffy – would have let me touch her like that if she didn’t want me to.  She’s gonna deny it now – know that, don’t I?  But I was there. I felt it.  She was there with me for just a minute.  And she didn’t stake me after…

 

 

 

Chapter One (1/9)

 

Buffy stood in front of the bathroom mirror and peered at her back.  Yesterday’s painful sunburn was only a memory, replaced by a rich golden tan that she knew would fade almost as quickly. 

 

Who knew being a slayer meant that your body was going to consider a suntan as something to be healed?  Somebody should really speak to the Council about that.  It wasn’t fair.

 

She continued muttering to herself about the injustice of having to spend so many of her waking hours in the dark and then not being able to keep a good tan for more than a day or so.  No one appreciated how hard it was to find the time needed to keep her sun-kissed complexion. 

 

I guess someday, when I don’t have wrinkles, I’ll appreciate it.  Assuming, of course, that I live long enough to worry about wrinkles.

 

As long as she kept her attention on her skin and the unfairness of living in southern California but having to work to maintain a good tan, she didn’t have to remember the incredibly sexy vampire and the inventive way he’d cooled her off the night before.  Resolutely refusing to think about him, or the way her body had responded to his skillful attention, she dressed in clothes that were much more modest than what she’d worn the night before, and went downstairs to eat.

 

Dawn eyed her sweatshirt and the long, stretchy workout pants and blinked in surprise.

 

“Last night you went out almost naked, today you look like a nun – if nuns wore workout clothes and Sunnydale U sweatshirts.  What’s the matter, did the vamps spend more time ogling than fighting?”

 

Dawn’s happy snort at her own humor faded as she saw her sister’s face pale.

 

“Oh my god! Buffy?  Did something…bad…happen last night?  I thought you said you only saw two vamps and that you dusted them?”

 

“No, no. Nothing bad.  I just felt kind of…exposed, so I’m over compensating, I guess.”

 

“So, you didn’t have any trouble with anything then?”

 

“No, of course not.  What gives a cranky sunburned slayer trouble?”

 

“Riiiight…” Dawn’s voice clearly indicated her disbelief, but she dropped the subject and went back to her cereal.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Fortunately, Joyce had already left for the gallery before Buffy left the house, and she hadn't had to face those oh-so-perceptive “mom” eyes. She wore her baggy clothing all day, ignoring the funny looks she got when she attended her only class. When she joined Riley for lunch off campus, Buffy felt she was sufficiently removed from the activities of the night before that she could talk to him without stuttering.

 

“Isn’t it a little warm for that outfit?” he asked with a bemused smile.

 

“I got a bad sunburn yesterday,” Buffy explained quickly. “I’m trying to keep the sun off my skin until it’s all better.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry.  That’s a shame.  So, I guess you’re too sore for…”

 

“For…?” Buffy blinked at him in genuine confusion.

 

“Well, I don’t have to work this afternoon, and you don’t have any classes, so I thought maybe we’d…”

 

“You…we… Right!  You’re free for the rest of the day, and I’m free and…we’re both free.”

 

He nodded slowly.  “Are you all right, Buffy? You didn’t patrol last night did you?”

 

“Well, yeah, I patrolled a little bit. I mean that’s what I do, isn’t it? Patrol. Can’t let a little sunburn stop me from doing away with evilness.”

 

Riley made a face.  “And yet, Spike is still walking around.”

 

 “Spike?  What’s Spike got to do with anything?” Buffy knew her suddenly high pitched voice was giving away her nervousness, but she couldn’t seem to control it.  “I mean, if I had seen him, what would it matter?”

 

Riley’s eyes narrowed as he watched her carefully.  “I didn’t say you’d seen him last night. I said he was still walking around, in spite of living in the same town as ‘The Slayer’.”  He made air quotes around her title, causing her own narrowed eyes as she waited for him to continue.

 

“It doesn’t matter – not really. Except that everybody, including your mother and sister, is way too comfortable around him to suit me, and I would have thought--  No one seems to care anymore that he’s a bloodsucker. Even Xander talks about him like he’s some distant relative that he got stuck with.”

 

“Xander was stuck with Spike for a while. They were…roomies… until Spike got the crypt. I guess they bonded or something. I mean, they argue and say rude things to each other, but I think they’d miss it if they didn’t have each other to insult. It’s a guy thing.”

 

“Bonded. With a vampire.”

 

“Heh,” Buffy gave a weak laugh. “Well, you know, we’ve had more time to get to know… You know what?” she interrupted herself cheerfully.  “Let’s talk about something else. Spike is just so…so…not interesting.”

 

“Except that, according to you, if you wanted a guy with super powers, you’d be dating Spike. Isn’t that what you said?  Sounds pretty interesting to me.”

 

“Oh my god, Riley!” Guilt lent emphasis to Buffy’s protestations.  “I just pulled his name out of my butt. I was trying to save your life, remember?  Cause you had this stupid idea that I wouldn’t want you anymore if you didn’t have all your enhancements.”

 

Riley nodded.  “Right. And yet, here I am, all unenhanced and you just get more and more distant and less and less interested in spending time with me.”

 

Buffy paled.  Resolutely forcing memories of last night’s inventive and oh-so-satisfying sex from her mind, she smiled gamely.  “Sunburn, remember?  But, you know, Slayer healing and all that. I should be fine in a day…or two.  Why don’t we just make it a date? For…um…Thursday night?  Thursday night we’ll go out and then we’ll go back to your place and have…um…do stuff.”

 

“Do stuff?  I was thinking we might make love,” he said slowly, his eyes clouded with suspicion.

 

“Right! Make love. That’s the expression I was looking for.  Isn’t it funny how something can just be right on the tip of your tongue and you just can’t spit it out?”  She beamed at him, wearing her best "I’m a blonde” smile and waited for him to relax.  “So, Thursday, right? Is that okay?”

 

“I guess it’ll have to be,” he agreed. “But today is only Monday. I thought you said you’d be healed in a day or two?”

 

“Just trying to be safe,” she said quickly.  She was becoming such a good liar. It was amazing, really. “You know, just in case. I don’t want to be too sore to participate.”

 

“Right. Well that makes sense, I guess.  How about if I help you patrol tonight? It’s been awhile since we did that together, too.”

 

“Patrol?”

 

“Yes. If you aren’t at a hundred percent because of that sunburn, you could probably use somebody to watch your back, right?”

 

“Oh. Yes. Right.  Good…good idea.  You’ll watch my back and I’ll just…patrol.”

 

“You were planning to, weren’t you? If you did it last night, l wouldn’t expect you to skip it tonight.”

 

“No. I mean, yes. Of course I’m planning to patrol. Just like I did last night when I was still doing an imitation of a Buffy lamp.”

 

“Were you all right?”  His genuine concern snapped her out of her memories of the previous night’s patrol.  “Were you able to slay?”

 

“What?  Oh, yeah. It was okay. Kind of ouchie, but they dusted anyway.”

 

“See? You need me. I can do the staking and keep you from being ouchie.”

 

“Heh.” 

 

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

 

Insisting that she’d covered Restfield the previous evening, Buffy managed to steer Riley away from anywhere Spike might be lurking.  They went through several of the newer, smaller cemeteries on the other side of town, dusting two fledglings just as they were digging themselves out.  Buffy stood back and let Riley do the honors, watching carefully just in case he was overestimating his current abilities.  However, even without his enhancements, he was a big, strapping man and his stake went through the vamps’ chests with no problem.

 

“Don’t think I didn’t notice you watching me,” he said as they walked back to his SUV.  “Did you think I couldn’t do it?”

 

“Of course I knew you could do it,” she protested.  “It’s not like I haven’t seen you stake any vampires since… I assumed you could; I was really just…admiring your technique.”

 

“I don’t want you treating me like I’m helpless,” he growled, ignoring the weak compliment.  “Like I’m something you have to protect.  That’s not your job.”

 

“Actually,” she said quietly, “that is my job, Riley. You know this. I’m here to protect. You, my friends, total strangers. Anyone who’s in danger. I was Chosen to keep people safe.”

 

“That’s a bit grandiose, don’t you think?” he scoffed.  “You’re a vampire slayer. An interesting job description, but hardly a sacred calling.”

 

Buffy shook her head. It was an ongoing argument between them – Riley’s post-Initiative view of the creatures she fought as just some sort of particularly repulsive animals; and, by extension, his insistence that whatever the Council of Watchers used to provide their slayers with the power necessary to fight vampires and demons, it had to have a scientific explanation.  Nothing he’d seen or heard about from her or Giles had convinced him differently.

 

While Buffy stared at him with her mouth open, she felt tingles on the back of her neck. She was already slipping her stake into her hand when she recognized the tingles for what they were and relaxed.  She glared in their direction, hoping Spike would get the message to remain out of sight.

 

“Dumbass!” she muttered as the unmistakable bright blond head appeared, heading in their direction.

 

“I beg your pardon?” 

 

“Oh, not you, Riley. Sorry! I meant him.” She pointed towards the vampire now walking towards them with that rolling strut that he used when he wanted to be intimidating.

 

Buffy put her hands on her hips and glared as Spike strode up to them.

 

“See you brought your own help tonight, Slayer,” he said, giving Riley an insolent stare.

 

“Yes. I have help, thank you,” she said through gritted teeth.  “Why don’t you go back and see what you can find to kill in your own cemetery?”

 

“It wasn’t as much fun there tonight as it was last night,” he replied with a smirk. “I thought maybe I could find something more to do out here.” 

 

“Buffy?  What does he mean ‘brought your own help tonight’? And what’s with the ‘thank you’?  Did you go to him for help last night?”

 

“No, Riley. I didn’t ‘go to him’ for help. He just happened to be there when I was fighting some vamps.  You know Spike, he just can’t resist getting into somebody else’s fight…”

 

The look she sent Spike was suddenly less angry and more pleading – ruining completely his plan to drop innuendos until the dense soldier figured out that something had happened between his girl friend and the vampire he hated.  At Buffy’s silent entreaty, he folded and nodded to her before turning to leave.

 

“Good to know you’ve got someone to watch your back tonight, Slayer,” he said as he moved away.  “Take care of that sunburn.”

 

In a few seconds, he had disappeared into the shadows as though he’d never been there.

 

“You didn’t tell me you’d seen Spike last night,” Riley said through tight lips, still staring into the direction that the vampire had taken.

 

“It wasn’t relevant,” Buffy sighed.  “And I knew you’d just get all…weird…if I told you he helped me out.”

 

“So, you lied to me?”

 

“By omission, I guess. I just didn’t want to deal with this.”

 

“With ‘this’?”

 

“Your overreaction any time I mention Spike.”

 

“Spike. That would be the monster with superpowers that you’d be dating if that’s what you wanted.”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes and blew out an explosive breath.

 

“And there you are.  Making a big deal out of—” She stopped, her inability to continue to lie and her guilt at knowing she was lying – more than he could imagine – preventing her from continuing.  “I’m sorry,” she said softly.  “I just thought it would be better not to mention that I ran into Spike. I didn’t mean to lie to you.”

 

He nodded, then pulled her into a clumsy hug as he leaned against the car.  “I’m sorry, too,” he said.  “I know I’m a bit defensive now.  And I really don’t understand why he’s still walking around.  Isn’t that your job? Slaying vampires?”

 

“Not vampires that are currently harmless, who help me protect my family, and who have even helped me save the world,” she said shortly.  Riley’s one-note speech was really getting old.

 

As if recognizing that he’d pushed about as far as it would be wise to go, Riley dropped the subject, instead whispering in her ear about how eager he was for it to be Thursday.  When he tried to slide his hands under her shirt, she flinched involuntarily. 

 

“Oh, I’m sorry! I forgot all about the sunburn. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

 

“It’s okay,” she mumbled, embarrassed at his misinterpretation of what had happened, but not inclined to correct him.

 

Not that she was sure why she had flinched from his touch on her bare skin – only that his hand was warm and unwelcome.  With a minimum of touching, she managed to get him to say goodnight and to stop insisting on driving her home “safely”. She wasn’t sure why she no longer wanted to spend all her time with her boyfriend, but she didn’t want him around while she tried to figure it out. Buffy responded to his lengthy goodnight kiss with as much enthusiasm as she could, then quickly disengaged herself and started walking away before he could restart the argument.

 

“Goodnight, Riley,” she said, waving and walking faster. 

 

“Call me when you get home,” he called after her, miming a phone call when she turned to answer him. 

 

 

Chapter Two (2/9)

 

 

She nodded and continued walking.  She was a full two blocks away before the vampire who had been keeping pace with her emerged from the trees and fell into step at her left.

 

“I’m sorry, pet,” he said with apparent sincerity.

 

“You oughta be,” she muttered.  “I spent most of my lunch time today convincing him that you…and then you show up and tell him you were there last night.  Now he thinks I was lying to him.”

 

“Were you?”

 

“Whose side are you on?”

 

His full laugh brought a small smile to her face.  “Didn’t know I had to choose one, but if I do, you know it’s yours. Not that tin soldier’s.”

 

“Well, if you’re on my side, you’ll stop doing things that annoy my boyfriend.” 

 

“Why? Annoying the big git is one of the few pleasures left to me, innit? Why would you ask me to give that up?”

 

“Because that ‘big git’ could still dust you.  You can’t fight him, and he’s still strong and he still knows how to use a stake.”

 

“Worried about me, are you?”  His voice was softer and uncomfortably reminiscent of the heated whispers of the night before.

 

“As if!”

 

“Right. No problem then.”

 

“Spike…”

 

“Alright, luv. I’ll be careful.  I was just windin’ you up.”

 

Her sigh of relief didn’t go unnoticed and he studied her out of the corner of his eye.

 

 “I’m not a fashion expert, but I think I preferred last night’s ensemble to this one.”

 

Buffy blushed and tugged on her sweatshirt, but refused to look at him or acknowledge the leering laughter in his voice.

 

“That for my benefit?” he asked.  “Cause if so, I’ve got to tell you that covering the goodies isn’t gonna keep me from wanting them.  Not now that--”

 

“Don’t.”

 

“Buffy—”

 

“I said ‘Don’t’. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it.”

 

“Can’t do that, pet.  I can try to keep my mouth shut, but not think about it? Not possible.  Can’t think about anything else.”

 

“Well try!”

 

“Are you tryin’?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“An’ how’s that working out for you?”

 

“Just fine,” she said stiffly. “I’ve completely forgotten about it.”

 

“Is that so?”  He pivoted in front of her, causing her to run into his chest. Before she could back up, he caught her arms and dipped his head to nuzzle her neck.  “Prove it.”  His lips fastened on hers, refusing to let her ignore them and their softness.  When she surrendered with a small whimper in the back of her throat, he sent his tongue out to meet hers.

 

They kissed until Buffy’s knees began to give out and the vampire was holding her to his body with a grip that her mind refused to stop comparing to Riley’s only human arms.  Summoning every scrap of will power she had, Buffy straightened her legs and pushed on his chest until he let her go.

 

“Buff—”

 

“No.”

 

Forcing her recalcitrant knees to cooperate, Buffy stepped out of reach and began backing away.   She avoided looking into Spike’s face, grateful for the darkness that made it hard to see the expression on it, as she continued to back away, shaking her head silently.

 

She heard Spike give an explosive sigh; then he said in a more normal voice, “Alright, Slayer.  Not gonna beg for it.  Come on, then, I’ll walk you home. “

 

“If I didn’t need Riley take me home, what makes you think I need you to do it?”

 

“Because, unlike the enormous Boy Scout, I know you don’t need me to see you home.  I’m doing it because I want to spend a little more time with you, not because I think you can’t take care of yourself.”

 

“Oh.”

 

At a loss for any more articulate reply, and unwilling to remind Spike that Riley wanted to spend time with her just as much as he did, Buffy resumed her interrupted walk, taking side streets and strolling through small parks instead of taking the most direct route.  She took great care not to walk close enough to Spike to accidentally brush against him as he paced beside her, providing encouraging commentary when she had to stop and stake two newly turned vampires lurking in one of the parks. 

 

Confident that the stakings justified her decision to take the long way home, Buffy pointed in the direction of Revello Drive and began to walk more briskly. They were silent, each lost in their own thoughts as they hurried through the dimly lit streets.  As they approached her own block, Buffy felt Spike drop back and she turned a questioning look on him.

 

“Am I going too fast for you?”

 

“I think you have company, love.  Looks like a goodnight kiss is out of the question.”

 

“I wasn’t planning a goodnight kiss!” she huffed.

 

“Well, I was,” he said, touching her gently in the small of her back.  “But guess somebody else had the same thought.  Goodnight, Slayer.”

 

Without another word, he melted away into the shadows, leaving a puzzled but relieved Buffy to continue alone.  As she neared her house, she saw Riley’s car and realized why Spike had decided not to come all the way with her. 

 

“Vampire has more sense than my boyfriend does,” she muttered, wondering if she could stomp right past Riley’s car without acknowledging his presence. 

 

Which she might have, if the man in question hadn’t stepped out and called her by name.  With a sigh, she stopped and turned towards the car, making no attempt to appear glad to see him.

 

“What is it, Riley?  Is there something wrong?”

 

“You mean other than it took you about four times as long to get here as it should have?” he muttered. “I waited for you to call me, and when you didn’t, I went looking for you.”

 

“Excuse me?  Were you timing me?”

 

“No,” he sighed, tossing something into the car. “I wasn’t timing you, I just know how long it should take to get here and I expected you to call me a good thirty or forty minutes ago.  I was worried about you, Buffy,” he finished softly.

 

Biting back the comment she wanted to make about how her nighttime activities didn’t always allow her to keep to a schedule, she edged closer to the car and peered in to see what Riley had dropped inside. She caught a glimpse of night vision goggles before Riley stepped between her and the car.

 

“Were you spying on me too?”

 

Unaware of his own motions, Riley flinched back from the small woman glaring at him from the sidewalk.

 

“No. I always have those with me. I just used them to look down the street. I thought I saw something following you—”

 

“And what did you see?”

 

“Nothing,” he admitted.  “Whatever it was, it must have realized you were the Slayer and changed its mind.”

 

“Probably a good decision,” she said. “I’m not really in the mood for having my progress towards my bed interrupted.”  She put her hands on her hips. “Which brings us back to – what are you doing here?”

 

“I… I just thought…I wanted to be sure that you…  Why do I have to explain why I might be worried about you? You’re my girlfriend. You know, the girl who’s supposed to enjoy my company?”

 

Even as her conscience told her that she was being a bitch and unreasonable, Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes.

 

“Riley…I’m the Slayer.  I could walk to the store for milk and end up taking two days if I run into a... a mini-apocalypse or something.  I know you mean well.  And I understand that you worry, and I think it’s sweet. I do. But I can’t live my life trying to remember not to do things that are going to make you worry.  I would have called you as soon as I got in. I swear.”

 

“So, taking so long to get home had nothing to do with Spike?  You didn’t stop to see him on the way home?”

 

Buffy stared at him, only the knowledge that to deny it would be only technically the truth kept her mouth shut. Instead, she tried to reason with him.

 

“Riley, about Spike…” She sighed and rubbed her upper arms.  “The thing is…”

 

“The thing is, you’ve been spending more time around him than you do me. You can’t possibly need his help that often.”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes and carefully avoided responding to his blatant jealousy.

 

“What I was going to say,” she said through tightly clenched teeth, “is that with this Glory skank looking for her long lost key all over the place, I need the extra backup.  She’d never think to look in Spike’s crypt for my mom or Dawn, and if she does, he’s probably strong enough to stall her until they can get away.”

 

“And you trust him to do that for you?  Are you crazy? He’s a vampire! He can’t be trusted. That chip is the only thing keeping him from tearing their throats out.”

 

Buffy shrugged and shook her head.  “Spike’s never lied to me or broken a promise. And he’s never tried to hurt my mom or sister – even though I never had his invitation revoked.  I don’t think he’d hurt them, chip or no chip.”

 

“He kills slayers! Isn’t that what you told me? That he’s known as ‘the slayer of slayers’? And yet you trust him to protect your family.” His voice dripped disbelief.

 

Buffy squirmed uncomfortably.  “Well, yeah, he does… he has… killed two slayers. But he likes to do it in a fair fight.  He’s not going to come at me through my family like An—"She coughed. “Another vampire might.”

 

“Have you forgotten that when he thought he had the chip out, he tried to bite you?”

 

Buffy flushed as she remembered how it felt to have Spike’s body pinning her the floor while his fangs grazed her throat. 

 

“That would have been a fair fight.  I never said he didn’t want to fight me anymore.  I said he wouldn’t come at me through my family. He…he likes my mom and Dawn.  And they like him.  It’s got nothing to do with Slayer/vampire stuff.”

 

“I think he wants you. That’s why he’s helping. If he can't have you one way, he'll have you another. That’s why he isn’t trying to find ways to kill you. I can’t believe you can’t see it.”

 

“Riley—“ Buffy bit her lip and tried not think about how she’d reacted earlier to Spike’s kiss.  “This…this helping isn’t anything but another truce between us.  He gets an outlet for his violence, and I get backup muscle.  It’s nothing but a business arrangement.”  

 

“Well, I don’t like it. Business or not, I’m just as capable of helping you as he is.”

 

Buffy opened and shut her mouth, shook her head in disbelief, turned wordlessly and walked to her front door.  She opened the door and slammed it behind her without acknowledging Riley’s presence again.  She gave her sleepy mother an apologetic wave as Joyce peered out to see what had made the loud noise.

 

“Sorry, Mom,” she whispered.  “How do you feel?”

 

“I feel fine, Buffy. I told you, the headaches are gone.  Is that Riley’s car out there?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Did he bring you home? That was nice of him.”

 

“He did not bring me home – he was spying on me to see how long I was going to take to get home from where I told him goodnight.” 

 

“Oh.  Why would he do that?”

 

“Because he’s an insecure jerk?  I don’t know, but if he keeps it up I may just make sure he does see something he doesn’t want to.”  Buffy’s voice trailed off to an angry mutter as she joined her mother at the top of the stairs.

 

“Meaning that he might have seen something?” Joyce said, giving Buffy a shrewd look.  “What might have he seen?  Spike?”  With a laugh, Joyce turned away from her speechless daughter and went into her bedroom.

 

  “Goodnight, Buffy,” her voice floated back as the door closed on the still-frozen slayer.

 

 

Chapter Three (3/9)

 

Wearing more normal clothes than the baggy sweats of the night before, Buffy left to patrol the following evening, telling her laughing mother that if Riley parked in front of the house again she should call the police on him.

 

“You don’t mean that, Buffy,” Joyce said with an understanding smile.

 

“The hell I don’t,” Buffy muttered, stuffing her stakes into pockets and her waistband.  She pulled her hair into a business-like ponytail and grabbed a light jacket.  “Don’t wait up.”

 

“All right. Goodnight, honey.  Say ‘hi’ to Spike for me, please.” At Buffy’s thunderous look, she amended, “If you see him of course.”

 

“You think you’re smart, don’t you?” Buffy said, trying not to return her mother’s smile. 

 

“I think I’m more than capable of reading a vampire’s face – at least one that I’ve known as long as I’ve know Spike.  He’s interested in you, and if you’re giving him any sort of encouragement…”

 

I wonder if having sex with him in his crypt could be considered encouragement?

 

Aloud, she said, “It’s complicated, Mom.  I need him right now.  For some reason, Riley doesn’t get that.  That Spike is the only one, other than me, who is strong enough to slow Glory down.”

 

“Well, if that’s all it is, I think you need to be very clear about it with Spike. I like him, and I really would hate to see him get hurt.”

 

“Oh, me too, Mom.  That’s why I want to keep Riley away from him, and–”

 

“Buffy,” her mother said gently, “I meant hurt by you.  If he thinks he has a reason to hope for…more than your gratitude.”

 

Buffy had no response to that.  Worrying about hurting the feelings of a vampire was just not something that had ever been on her radar. She nodded ambiguously and waved her hand as she went out the door.

 

She sent a quick glance up and down the street, wondering if Riley would be stubborn enough to show up again.  When she saw no sign of him, she began to walk in the direction of Restfield cemetery, telling herself that she hadn’t been there for two nights and if she happened to see Spike, and if he wanted to offer some extra muscle in case she ran into Glory or her minions…

 

Two fledglings and a small demon that ran off later, she was sure the area was clear and she still hadn’t seen Spike.  Not that she was really looking for him. Or actually wanted to see him. Or had any intention of repeating the huge mistake of a few nights ago…

 

Shaking off the disappointment that she refused to acknowledge, she left Restfield and headed for the next cemetery on her rounds for the evening.  Unlike Riley’s former comrades, she didn’t follow a regular route when she patrolled, preferring to mix it up so that fledglings lucky enough to have had someone planning to wait for them to rise would find nothing but dust when they finally crawled out of their graves. 

 

The unmistakable sounds of conflict coming from the far end of Sunset Hills sent her running in that direction, stake in hand.  She skidded to a stop when she saw what had been making the noise.  Spike was on the ground, holding his head and moaning while Riley stood over him and snarled, “Don’t think you’re fooling me, Spike.  Buffy might think you’re just helping her out of the kindness of your heart, but I know better.  If you want to stay undead, I suggest you find somebody else’s girlfriend to ‘help’.  Buffy doesn’t need you.”

 

He followed up his tirade with a well-placed kick to Spike’s side, one that would surely have broken ribs and perhaps even been fatal to a human.

 

“Buffy does need him,” she said into the brief silence.  “And even if she didn’t, that would be no excuse for you to beat up on somebody who can’t fight back.”

 

Riley looked up, surprise and guilt fighting with the anger still visible on his face.

 

“This isn’t a ‘somebody’, Buffy, it’s a something. And the sooner you and your Scoobies realize that…”

 

“Go home, Riley,” she said quietly.  “And let me worry about what my friends and I realize.”

 

“But, he… he attacked me!” Riley blustered.  “He just came out of nowhere and...”

 

“And deliberately set off that chip so that he’d be on his knees and helpless when you retaliated?  Try again, Riley. Even Spike isn’t that impulsive.”

 

“So, you’re choosing him over me, huh? I was right.”

 

“I’m choosing to stop you from hurting him.  If that means I’m choosing Spike’s welfare over your need to boost your ego by beating him up, then, yeah, I guess I am.”

 

“Fine,” he snorted. “Take care of your pet vampire and send your boyfriend away.  But don’t expect me to take this kind of crap forever, Buffy.”

 

Speechless, Buffy just gaped at the oblivious man.  Was he just threatening to break up with her?  Did he have no idea how close she was to dumping him right on the spot?

 

A wet cough from Spike brought Buffy’s attention back to him and she gave a little cry as she noticed the dark stain on his mouth.  She’d been a slayer long enough to recognize blood when she saw it, no matter how dark the night.  She knelt down beside him, and gently forced him to lie down so that she could go over his body.  The jagged edges of several broken ribs protruded through the skin and it didn’t take a medical degree to figure out that the other ends had probably punctured his lungs.

 

“Good thing you don’t have to breathe,” she muttered. “A human would probably be dead by now.”

 

She rolled him over carefully and ran her hands over his back, wincing when she felt the spasming muscle where Riley’s booted foot had connected with his back, just missing his spine.

 

“Do you think you can stand? I don’t think I can carry you without hurting you more.”

 

“Give us a minute, pet, and I’ll try.” He gasped.  “I think I can. He hadn’t got to my legs yet.”  He stopped speaking and Buffy remembered that his lungs were probably full of pieces of broken rib.

 

“Yet?  You mean that wasn’t the first kick?”

 

He shook his head dumbly. Using her arm as his support, he pulled himself to a sitting position, wincing with pain as he did so.  He paused there; then with a small nod he allowed her to help him get to his feet.  He stood for a minute, swaying slightly before he straightened up.  They began walking slowly towards the gate, Buffy doing her best to support him without putting pressure on any of his broken or bruised areas. 

 

Just as they reached the gate, they heard raised voices.  Buffy left Spike propped against a tree and went to investigate, finding Xander and Riley deep in conversation.  She bit her lip, shrugged, and slipped behind a stone gatepost to listen.

 

“I’m telling you, Xander, he’s not chipped anymore.  He attacked me. I barely got away." Riley waved his arms around for emphasis.  "And I know he’s looking for Buffy.  We have to stop him before he gets to her; she trusts him too much and…”

 

“Yeah, I get all that, big guy, but killing Buffy?  I just don’t see it happening – and not just because she can kick his ass.”

 

“He’s a dangerous killer!”

 

“Who’s never killed anybody Buffy cares about.  I just don’t see it, man.  I don’t feel right about staking him without talking to her first.”

 

“Are you going to make me do this myself?”

 

“Well…yeah…good point. You’re the big Army guy. Why do you need me?”

 

“He trusts you.  He’ll let you get close…he wouldn’t do that with me. He’d run away or something.”

 

Xander frowned.

 

“See, there’s another thing. I just can’t picture Spike running away from anybody if his chip isn’t working – especially, you. No offense, but he’s got reason to hate you.”  He stopped talking and gave an embarrassed shrug.

 

“Are you crazy? Do you hear yourself?  This is Hostile Seventeen we’re talking about – Spike, William the Bloody.  He’d kill me in a heartbeat.”

 

“Maybe…” Xander seemed dubious. “I don’t know, man.  I just think I’d better talk to Buffy first.”

 

“We don’t have time.  He should be back in his crypt pretty soon.  We need to do it now. Trust me, Buffy will thank you.”

 

“Trust me, she won’t.”

 

Both men spun around at the sound of the Slayer’s voice.  Without taking her eyes off Riley, she gestured behind her.

 

“Xander, will you go get Spike, please? He’s just back there.  He’ll need some help,” she added as he walked past her without question.

 

“Buffy…” Riley thought frantically, trying to figure out how much Buffy might have heard.

 

“Don’t talk to me.  I can barely look at you right now. I definitely don’t want to talk to you.”  Suddenly the angry slayer was gone and a bewildered girl was in her place.  Her eyes blinking back tears, she whispered, “How could I have so misjudged you?  I thought you were…”

 

She shook her head as Xander and Spike made their way slowly out the gate and over to Xander’s truck, turning her back on Riley and hurrying to help Xander get Spike into the bed of the pickup.  With the aid of a street lamp, Buffy could now see that Spike’s face was a mass of bruises, indicating that Riley had been working on him for some time before she interrupted the one-sided fight.  She shot one final glare over her shoulder, and then climbed up beside the injured vampire.

 

“Take us to my house, please, Xander,” she said, sliding behind Spike and putting his head on her lap.

 

He raised his eyebrows, but nodded and closed the tailgate, walking around to the driver’s side.  Before opening the door, he sent Riley a puzzled, disappointed look, then got in and drove off leaving the ex-Initiative soldier standing on the sidewalk.

 

Xander drove slowly and carefully, occasionally peering in his rearview mirror to see Buffy leaning over, apparently talking to Spike.  As much as he thought he disliked the vampire, he found himself feeling slightly sick about what it seemed Riley had done to him.  Obviously Riley had lied about the chip not working; had that been the case, the ex-commando would be drained and dead now.  Or, at a minimum, as he remembered what he’d told Riley about Spike’s unwillingness to kill anyone Buffy cared about, it wouldn’t have been the vampire with the bruises and broken bones.

 

When they got to Buffy’s house, they repeated their motions in reverse – sliding Spike from the truck bed and doing their best to support him without pressing against any of his broken ribs.  He stood unsteadily beside Xander while Buffy opened the door and waved them in.  Joyce, who had just been on her way upstairs to bed, took one look at the battered vampire and pointed to the living room.

 

“Put him on the couch,” she said.  “I’ll get the first aid kit.” 

 

As the mother of the Slayer, Joyce’s first aid kit was a little more elaborate than one might normally find in a suburban kitchen.  In addition to the usual gauze, bandages and ointments, it had splints, athletic tape - even a small suturing kit.

 

She handed Buffy the kit and went back to the kitchen for hot water and towels, returning with a basin of water and some clean dishcloths.  While Xander watched, unconsciously flexing his fists as Spike’s injuries became more visible, Buffy carefully cut off his tee shirt, exposing the jagged bones pushing through the pale skin in several places. 

 

After seeing blood every time Spike’s attempts to talk turned into wet coughs, Buffy shushed him sternly.  Joyce moved to his head and took one hand in hers, allowing him to squeeze when Buffy’s attempts to push the ribs back into place caused him more pain than he could hide.  She stopped in frustration, unable to keep them flattened down long enough to get tape around his chest. Finally, Xander stepped timidly forward.

 

“Just let me…” He nudged Joyce to one side and gently pulled both of Spike’s hands over his head, stretching out the battered chest and allowing the ribs to slide back into place.  “Sorry, Spike,” he mumbled when the involuntary gasp that accompanied his motions escaped the vampire’s mouth.

 

With Spike stretched out so that he was flat from hip to shoulder, Buffy could more easily move the ribs back into place.  She picked up the tape, then sighed.

 

“He’s going to have to sit up, Xan,” she said with an apologetic look at Spike.  He gave her a short nod and braced himself as all three humans helped him get upright, Xander still holding his arms up so that Buffy could wrap his ribs in layers of soft gauze and tape.  When she was done, they lowered him to a horizontal position again and she went to work cleaning up the cuts and bruises on his face.

 

The whole time she worked on him, she kept her eyes turned away from his – unwilling to see the dawning emotion she could almost feel pouring off him.  Joyce and Xander had stepped back, their help no longer needed as Buffy quickly washed off the blood and placed cold packs on his cheek and head.  Still without speaking or looking directly into Spike’s eyes, Buffy stood up and carried the bloody water and cloths to the kitchen. 

 

In the living room, Spike had closed his eyes; without any chest movement to give it away, Joyce and Xander had no idea if he was awake and conscious, or completely out of it.

 

“He looks dead,” Joyce whispered.

 

“Um, yeah, kinda the description of a vampire. Living dead? Ringing any horror movie bells?”

 

She flushed and nodded.  “I knew that,” she insisted. “It’s just that Spike is always so…so vibrant.”

 

“Yeah, he is surprisingly quiet for somebody who lives to annoy,” Xander agreed, grinning when he noticed Spike’s irritated twitch.

 

“Do you think he’s going to be all right?”

 

“Oh yeah.  Buffy’ll get him the blood of some poor pig and he’ll be fine in a day or so. Vamps heal really fast – even harmless, ineffectual, weak ones…”

 

“I can hear you, you know,” Spike managed to get out before coughing again.

 

“I know,” Xander said with great satisfaction. “But you can’t do anything about it without coughing and making Buffy yell at you.  It’s kind of a win-win for me.”

 

Just as he’d predicted, Buffy came back in the room just in time to hear Spike coughing up more blood as he attempted verbal retaliation.  While Buffy scolded and grumbled, Xander grinned at the glaring vampire, making rude gestures behind Buffy’s back until Joyce stopped him.

 

“Xander! I’m ashamed of you. Taking advantage of Spike’s condition like that!”

 

Doing his best to appear sorry, Xander apologized.  “Sorry, Mrs Summers. It isn’t that often I get a chance to pick on the evil undead there without having to listen to him talk back.”  He stretched and started towards the door.  “But now that he’s all safe and sound here, I guess I’d better get home before Anya sends out a search party.”

 

“Thanks, Xan,” Buffy said, walking to the door with him and giving him a brief hug. “I don’t know what I would have done without you and your truck.”

 

“No problem, Buffy.  I’m just …I don’t get Riley. That’s not like him.”

 

“I wouldn’t have thought so either,” Buffy said, sadness flickering across her face.  “But it’s not just what he did to Spike, it’s what he was trying to get you to do. The way he lied, and…” She shook herself.  “I guess I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Right now I need to get some blood into Spike.”

 

He nodded.  “See ya, Buffy, so long Mrs Summers.”  He hesitated, then called out, “Try not to run into any more fists, fangface.”

 

By the time Buffy had closed the door on Xander, Joyce had already been to the kitchen and back with a mug of warmed pigs blood.  Buffy took it from her hand, bending the straw so that Spike could reach it without sitting up again.

 

“Go to bed, Mom. I’ll take care of this.  You need your sleep.”

 

“All right, honey. If you’re sure…”

 

“We’ll be fine.  You’ll be amazed when you get up tomorrow to see how recovered Spike is. I promise.  Go on. Go to bed.”

 

With a grateful nod, and a pat to the top of Spike’s head, Joyce walked out and climbed the stairs to her bedroom, too tired to worry about what she had just learned about Buffy’s boyfriend and his capacity for cruelty and violence.

 

 

 

Chapter Four (4/9)

 

Buffy held the cup close to Spike’s mouth, guiding the straw through his lips and watching while he pulled deep draughts of blood into his depleted body.  She had a flashback to the year before when he had first come to them with his chip and she had teased him unmercifully while feeding him in a similar fashion.  Their relationship had certainly changed since then.  A quick glance at his face told her that he was remembering the same thing.  He dropped his head back onto the small pillow under it and attempted a smile.

 

“Jus’ like old times, eh, pet?” he managed to say before Buffy shushed him again.

 

“Be quiet.  The less you move around and talk, the faster you’ll heal.”

 

He gave a very small nod, barely moving his head, then, ignoring her instructions he said, “Don’t know why you’re doing this, Slayer, but I appreciate it.  You could’ve just taken me back to my crypt and…”

 

“I wouldn’t do that to you,” she mumbled, still not meeting his gaze. “This is my fault.”

 

“Don’t be stupid,” he said shortly. “Not a one of these bruises bears the mark of your little fists or feet. The big git is just using me to make himself feel better about bein’ normal again.”

 

“That’s not true and you know it.  He did it because of me…because he thinks you…that I…” She stopped and blushed.  “And he doesn’t even know about…” She sighed.  “I guess I should have just gone ahead and slept with him last night – then he wouldn’t be so—”

 

A bloodcurdling snarl burst from the vampire’s throat, bringing on another bout of coughing, this time without blood.  Buffy shrank back in surprise, until she saw the expression on his face.  She blushed again.

 

“I didn’t mean that like it sounded. I’m not going to…to…”

 

“You’re not going to shag that big git just to protect me,” he growled out around his coughs.  “I’ll let him kill me first.”

 

“He almost did,” she reminded him, pushing him back down and lightly resting her hand on his shoulder.  “But that’s not what I meant.  I just meant that if I hadn’t turned him down and told him I was still too sore, he never would have known that I saw you and he wouldn’t have had anything to get all jealous and insecure about.”

 

“Why didn’t you, then? I know you weren’t too sore by last night.” His eyes were full of something that looked uncomfortably like hope.

 

“I didn’t want to,” she responded shortly.  “And that’s all you need to know. This is my business. Mine and Riley’s. Not yours.”

 

“Buffy…”

 

“No. We’re not discussing this. I told you. You need to stop thinking about it. It was just one of those…it was just a...thing.  A…a…moment of weakness brought on by too much sun.  That’s it.  I got too much sun and it affected my brain. But I’m all better now,” she finished cheerily, refusing to look at him.

 

“I’m not,” he said flatly.  “Not sure I ever will be.”

 

“Sure you will.” She deliberately chose to misunderstand.  “By this time tomorrow, you’ll be way better.  I’ll get you some of the good stuff from Willy’s tomorrow and you—”

 

“Not what I meant and you know it, Slayer.”  Already his voice was stronger and he was no longer coughing with every intake of air.

 

“Why are you making this so hard?” she moaned, sliding onto the floor and banging her head against the couch with a plaintive,  “Can’t we just forget about it?”

 

“Is that really what you want to do, love?”  He brought one hand across to stroke her head awkwardly.  “Do you really want to forget it?   Was it that bad?”

 

Buffy turned her head and took an annoyed bite of his shoulder, getting a moan instead of the expected wince.  Before she could say anything, he purred, “Little word of advice, pet. If you want to punish a vampire? Biting him probably isn’t the best way to do it.”  When she just huffed and sat up, he continued, “Is that your answer?”

 

“It might be,” she grumbled. 

 

When there was no reply, she dropped her head back onto the couch cushion.  Once again, his hand began to stroke her head and she allowed herself several minutes to just enjoy the soothing motion.

 

“It wasn’t bad,” she mumbled finally, keeping her face carefully buried in the front of the couch.  “If I thought it was bad, this would be a lot easier.”

 

“What would be easier?”

 

“Telling you it’s never going to happen again.”

 

The hand stopped, then started up again, more slowly this time.

 

“Never ‘s a long time, Buffy,” he said without inflection.

 

“Spike, I’m not…I don’t …and if he found out…I’m trying to protect you, you stupid vampire!”

 

“Don’t want protection; want you.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Make me,” he whispered, tugging on her chin until she rose to her knees and looked him in the eye for the first time since they’d locked glances in the cemetery.

 

Buffy whimpered, staring back at him, her mouth only a few inches from his swollen lips. Spike’s hand on the back of her neck tried to pull her closer, but she shook her head and sat back on her heels.

 

“You’re not going to let this be easy, are you?”

 

“Not even gonna try to make it easy, pet.  If you want me out of your life, you’re gonna have to stake me.”

 

“I don’t want you out of my life – and I cannot believe I just said that—” She shook her head again and sighed.  “Yes, I can.  I don’t want you out of my life. And not just because I need you for help sometimes. I…my mom likes you, and Dawn has a stupid crush on you, and…sometimes… I like you.”

 

“I like you, too, luv.  But not sure I can do the back-up muscle, undead hanger-on thing if that’s what you’re saying you want. Not now. Now that I know how it feels to have you—”

 

“You have to!” she exploded at him.  “I can’t keep lying to Riley about you.”

 

“So…” He kept his voice deliberately light, but she had no trouble hearing the underlying anger and pain. “This little bit of payback wasn’t a deal-breaker for you, eh, Slayer?  What’s the plan, then?  A bit of yelling, couple of days with no shagging and then all is well in paradise?”

 

She stared at him, accepting the justified sense of betrayal that she could plainly read on his face and in his eyes.  She allowed her own sorrow and regret to show for a minute, then turned away.  Without saying anything, she picked up the mug and carried it to the kitchen, washing it out carefully before putting it on the side to drain.  She remained standing at the sink, lost in thoughts of the close-to-normal life she could have with Riley, versus the risks of getting into a relationship with another vampire.  A noise from the living room brought her head around and she rushed back to find Spike struggling to stand up.

 

“You idiot!” she snapped, catching him just before he collapsed.  Her sudden grab to keep him from falling pulled on his ribs and he fell against her with a moan.

 

“Oh god, I’m sorry!  I didn’t mean to grab you there.  Did they move?” 

 

Holding him up with one arm, she frantically felt along his taped sides. Spike shook his head, taking shallow panting breaths that made it obvious how painful it still was to breathe and speak.

 

“Don’t talk,” she ordered, helping him lower himself to the couch. “I don’t know what you were thinking, trying to get up like that.  You’d think you—”

 

“Was thinking I’d get out of your hair before your boytoy shows up and jumps to any more conclusions that might result in my dusty demise.”  His voice came out in gasps and whispers; he refused to stop trying to speak, in spite of Buffy’s frantic shushing motions.  “Or does anything else that might interfere with your little delusion that you could ever be content with a normal human.”

 

Eyes wide, Buffy stared at him. 

 

“What else would I be content with?”

 

 “Do you think it’s a coincidence that your first boyfriend was a vampire, Slayer? Or that you let another vampire make love to you while you were supposed to belong to a human man?”

 

“What are you saying?” she whispered, shaking her head ‘no’ even as he continued his painful speech.

 

“I’m saying, Buffy, that you’re not an ordinary girl.  Human, yeah, but more than.  Whatever’s in you, gives you all that power and killing instinct, it’s not meant for mere mortals.  Takes somebody who can match you.  Meet you on your own level.  Somebody who appreciates what you are and loves you for it…not in spite of it.”

 

Her head whirling, Buffy tried to deny what he was saying – telling herself it was just a coincidence that Angel had been a vampire; that Riley had been a physically enhanced demon-killing commando when she met him; that Spike had always appealed to her on a very basic level – even when he’d been trying to kill her.  His voice had trailed off, leaving just the sounds of his occasional shallow panting, while Buffy tried to analyze what he’d said.

 

Wait! Had he just said he loved her?  She raised her eyes, but his were shut, his lips pressed together tightly as he fought off the waves of pain from his already knitting bones.  She shrugged and got to her feet, walking to the kitchen in a stupor and getting out a package of frozen peas.  Still lost in thought, she returned to the couch and carefully slid the peas under his back, feeling around with her fingers until she found the spot where Riley’s foot had left the huge bruise and damaged muscle.

 

Spike’s eyes remained shut and he didn’t speak again while she took off his boots and lifted his legs onto the couch.  She covered him with a throw and carefully checked the drapes to be sure that the morning sun would not catch him with its rays.  At a loss for what else she could do to make him more comfortable, she trailed her fingers across the top of his head and whispered, “Good night, Spike.”

 

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

 

She rose early the next morning, joining her mother in the kitchen after checking to see that Spike was still on the couch and bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to the corpse that she had to keep reminding herself he actually was.  She’d fiddled with the drapes for a second, but when he didn’t stir, she went into the kitchen and poured herself some coffee.

 

“How’s the patient?” Joyce asked. 

 

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know, he’s still asleep, I guess.  I’ll warm up some blood for him before I go to class.  Are you going in again today?”

 

“Yes, of course I am.  The doctors assured me that I’m fine now, and I’m stronger every day. No excuses not to go to work.”

 

“Just take it easy, okay?  One patient at a time is all Nurse Buffy can handle.”

 

Joyce smiled fondly at her oldest daughter. 

 

“I’ll be careful, honey.  I’m already planning to have a nap in my office if I get tired during the day.  But I really can’t run a business from my bedroom.  I need to be there.”

 

“I know. It’s okay. I just worry about you.”

 

“Welcome to my world,” Joyce said with a wry smile as she stood up and carried her plate to the sink.  “One daughter’s the Slayer, and the other is…Good morning, Dawn.”

 

“Why is Spike on the couch? And why does his face look like dogfood?”

 

“Ewwww, Dawn!”

 

“Spike was injured last night,” Joyce said while Buffy made faces about her sister’s description of Spike’s battered face.  “Buffy and Xander brought him back here for a little nursing care before he goes back to his crypt.” 

 

She looked at Buffy for verification that she would not want Dawn to know who had done the damage to the youngest Summers’ favorite vampire.  Buffy nodded her thanks and went to get the last of the blood out of the refrigerator.

 

“Should I get more of that on my way home?” Joyce asked.

 

Buffy bit her lip, then nodded.  “I guess so.  Even if he goes home tonight, it’s good to have some here when we need it.”

 

As they waited for the microwave to ding, Dawn went through the motions of getting her cereal out.  She finally could stand it no longer.

 

“So, what was it?  Was it Glory? One of her scabby minions? What did that to him, and did you slay it?”

 

“I’m handling it,” Buffy responded noncommittally, pouring the blood into Spike’s mug and finding a new straw.  She didn’t respond to Dawn’s indignant, “You’re handling it?”but carried the mug of warm blood into the living room where she found Spike peering at her through barely open eyes.

 

“Hi,” she said softly.  “How do you feel this morning?”

 

“Bit better,” he responded, wincing as he sat up under his own power.  He shifted into game face involuntarily as the scent of warm blood filled his nostrils.  “That for me?”

 

“I can't think of anybody else in this house with such disgusting eating habits,” Buffy said, handing him the mug.

 

“Is that any way to talk to your patient?”

 

When she didn’t respond, he took the straw between his lips and licked it off, then titled the mug up and gulped down the blood without pausing. Buffy watched him with interest, her head tilted to one side.

 

“I’ll bet you win a lot of chugalug contests –with the whole no need to breathe thing going for you.”

 

“Been know to make a bit of dosh like that,” he agreed with a smile. He licked his lips and leered at her.  “There are other things I can do better than most – what with not needing to breathe while I—”

 

“Dawn!” Buffy interrupted as her sister came into the room.  “Look, Spike, Dawn’s coming to see how you feel. Look, Dawn, Spike's awake and feeling better.”

 

“You look like crap,” Dawn said bluntly, giving her sister a suspicious frown.  “What happened to you?”

 

He gave Buffy a glance and when he saw the silent plea in her eyes, he sighed in resignation.

 

“Not really sure, Nibblet.  Guess I was knocked out.  Just a good thing for me that your sis and Harris came along.”

 

“You are such a lousy liar,” Dawn said, rolling her eyes.  “But I have to get to school. I’ll worm it out of you later.”

 

She flounced upstairs, leaving Buffy and Spike to enjoy an uncomfortable silence.

 

“I tried, pet.”

 

“I know. It’s not your fault you’re such a lousy liar.  You’d think somebody who spent his life being evil would be better at it.”

 

“You’d think someone who is Heaven’s Chosen One wouldn’t have to do so much of it,” he retaliated.

 

“I don’t want her to know that Riley did this.  At least not right now.” She gave him a small smile. “Thanks for lying for me.”

 

“Any time, Slayer.”

 

There was another uncomfortable silence while Buffy remembered his words from the night before and Spike waited for some sign from her that he should leave.  Fortunately, Dawn came clattering back downstairs, grabbed her books and ran out the door with a “See you guys later”.

 

Buffy went back to the kitchen to hover until Joyce sternly ordered her to go back into the living room and “take care of the injured person”.  Reminding Buffy that the doctors had told her she was completely well, Joyce picked up her purse and keys, letting herself out the back door with a wave.  Buffy watched out the window as her mother got in the big SUV and backed it out of the driveway.

 

 As soon as she could no longer see the car, she began to put the morning dishes in the dishwasher.  She puttered around the kitchen, cleaning surfaces that she normally didn’t even notice, even sweeping the floor with a broom.  It wasn't until she was reaching for the mop that she admitted to herself she was just avoiding Spike and the questions he was raising in her mind.  With a sigh, she put the cleaning tools away and poured herself a cup of coffee to take into the other room with her.

 

 

Chapter Five (5/9)

 

Buffy sank into the chair next to the couch, sipping her coffee and frowning into the cup.  After a few deep swallows, she leaned her head back on the chair and kicked her fuzzy slippers off so as to curl her feet under her. 

 

“Tired, love?”

 

“A little.  I’d go back to bed but I’ve got a class later this morning and I probably should try to actually show up for it.”

 

“You know, when I was a lad, not showing up for lessons could get you a good caning.”

 

She rolled her head towards him.

 

“Bet you got a lot of those, huh?”

 

His expression darkened a bit.  “Got my share,” he said tersely, then changed the subject.  “Think you could get this tape off me, pet?  The ribs are knitting and it’s starting to itch.”

 

She eyed him dubiously. “Are you sure? Wouldn’t it be better to keep them wrapped?”

 

He shook his head. “You got them back into place. All I need to do is not fall on a rock or something and they’ll be fine by tonight.”

 

“Okay.  Stand up, then.”  She let him steady himself on her shoulder until he was on his feet and not swaying, then she reached for the end of the tape.

 

“How do you want it?”

 

“Any way you want to give it to me.”

 

She flushed, saying sternly,  “Do you want me to pull it off fast and hard, or slow and steady?”

 

“Hmmmmm. Do I want it fast and hard, or slow and steady…might need to think about that for a while. They both have some appeal.  What about you, Slayer? Which would you prefer?”

 

Instead of answering him, she took the end of the tape and pulled it hard, smiling innocently at his pained hiss.  As soon as she had the tape free of his skin, pulling hard lost its appeal as the gauze padding protected him from her vengeful tugging.  She unwound it as quickly and steadily as she could, pausing when she reached the top and realized it was once again sticking to skin.

 

“Just do it, pet,” he said when she hesitated. 

 

Buffy glanced up at him, then, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth, she began to pull, slowly and carefully.  Spike remained stoically silent as she peeled off the last layer of tape and dropped the sticky mess into a wastebasket.  She cast a critical eye over his pale torso, pleased to see that the only sign of the jagged rib edges were the already closed wounds and some bruising.  She ran her hands over them, searching for any sign of unhealed pieces or improperly healed bones.

 

As she felt around his chest and back, her touch became less businesslike and more tender, her hands lingering on his skin and stroking it softly.  It wasn’t until she heard him purring that she realized what she was doing and dropped her hand quickly.

 

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

 

“For what?  I was enjoying that.”

 

“I know you were; but I didn’t mean to send…to make you…to…”

 

“…to write checks you aren’t willing to cash?”

 

She snorted.  “I guess that’s as good an explanation as any.”

 

He tipped her chin up, forcing her to meet his eyes.  “Buffy, don’t ever apologize for touching me.  I didn’t take it for more than it was, and even if I had, wouldn’t object when you set me straight.”

 

“Okay, this is just getting too weird.  Where’s the disgusting piggy vampire I know and lo—I know so well?”

 

She looked away and busied herself rechecking the ribs she already knew were aligned and only slightly painful.  She stiffened when Spike slid his hands around her in a loose embrace.

 

“He’s not far, love. You can believe that. All I’m saying is, I don’t want you to be afraid to be near me - or to touch me if you want to - just because you know I’ll always be wanting more.” 

 

Buffy raised her head and glanced at him apprehensively.  “Really?”

 

“Really.  Do you think I didn’t notice your little slip there?  I know that ‘…know and love…’ is just an expression. I’m not stupid, Slayer. You’d never love a monster.  I just don’t want you bein’ afraid to relax around me because you think I might take advantage of it.”

 

“But you…we…”

 

“But I already did.”  He nodded. “And I’m not going to apologize for it.  It was a bloody revelation…and something I’ll never regret.  The big git could beat me up every night if it meant I’d get—”

 

“Spike…”

 

“Right. Off topic.  Alright, I did take advantage of you…once.  But that was before…” He shook his head in frustration and started over, his arms unconsciously tightening around her just a bit.  “Would never do anything to hurt you, Buffy. Wouldn’t try to take what you didn’t want to give.”

 

“Oh, okay then.” She tried to tell herself she wasn’t as disappointed as she knew she sounded, even as her body softened into his embrace.   His cool breath on her ear sent a shiver down her spine while other parts of her body reacted to memories of what he could do with that breath.

 

“Doesn’t mean I’m giving up, love,” he murmured while he ran his lips down her neck.  “I’m not going to push you, but I’m not going away, either.  I’ll be here when you change your mind.”

 

“What makes you think—” The lips that had been on her neck were suddenly on her mouth and she reacted immediately, falling into another kiss that seemed to go on forever and to reach all the way down to her toes.  She wondered briefly if toes really did curl when you got turned on, but resisted the urge to break the kiss long enough to look down at her bare feet.

 

Before she could forget her determination not to repeat the events of a few nights ago, and before Spike could act on his obvious inability to give her the space he’d just promised, the phone sent them jumping apart.

 

While Spike looked embarrassed at having been startled by something so mundane as a ringing telephone, Buffy stared at it with mingled gratitude and dismay. Moving quickly, before Spike could reach for her again, she grabbed the receiver and blurted “Hello?” While she waited for a reply, she pushed her feet back into her slippers and straightened her flannel pajama top.

 

Her mother’s worried voice came over the wire and at her first words, Buffy held the phone out so that Spike could hear.

 

“Buffy? Are you listening?  Is Spike still there?”

 

“Yes, Mom. I’m listening. We’re listening.  You said Riley came by the gallery already this morning?”

 

“Yes.  He was waiting here when I arrived. He was quite agitated and kept insisting that I must tell him where Spike was.”

 

“What did you say?” Buffy tried to shush Spike’s growls as she waited for an answer.

 

“I was pretty curt with him, I’m afraid.  I told him I was terribly disappointed in what he’d done to Spike and that he would not be welcome in our home anymore.”

 

“Go, Mom!”  Buffy’s voice was echoed by Spike’s quiet “Thank you, Joyce.”

 

“You’re welcome, Spike.  The thing is, he probably figured out that the only way I would know what he’d done was if I’d seen you, so I think he’s probably on his way there now.”

 

“Okay, Mom. Thanks for the heads-up.  We’ll take care of it.”

 

“Buffy, please don’t forget that Spike cannot defend himself. He’s helpless against Riley.”

 

“I said ‘we’, Mom.  There’s no chip in my head.”

 

“All right, honey.  Just so you don’t leave them alone together.”

 

“I wasn’t planning to.  But I might put Spike in the basement for a few days, if that’s all right with you?”

 

“Of course. That’s fine.  I think there’s an old camp cot down there somewhere and you know where the clean sheets are.”  Joyce’s voice hesitated.  “But there’s nothing to keep Riley out of the house, is there? It’s not like he’s a vampire and we can—”

 

“I’m going to reason with him.  I’m pretty sure, by the time I’m done, he’ll understand that he isn’t welcome here – and that it’s not in his best interest to come around. If I have to, I’ll call the police.”

 

“All right, honey. If you're sure. Tell Spike I should be home around six.”

 

“Okay.” Buffy paused, then softly, “Thanks, Mom.”

 

“I like Spike almost as much as you do,” her mother said, with a smile in her voice.  “I’m not planning to let anything happen to him.”

 

“Neither am I,” Buffy replied, a trace of steel in her still soft voice.  “See you later.”

 

She hung up and turned to face Spike who had moved away and was watching her with an inscrutable look on his face.  They faced each other, neither willing to make the first move.  Finally, Buffy sighed and moved towards the kitchen.

 

“So much for going to class today,” she said with another sigh.  “Let’s go downstairs and see what we can do about fixing it up for you.”

 

She had already opened the basement door and was partway down the stairs before she realized that he wasn’t behind her.  She turned around and went back to the top stair, peering around the corner for him.

 

“Spike? Where are you?”

 

When he didn’t answer, she retraced her steps to find him sitting on the couch, his arms crossed and a stubborn pout on his face.

 

“What?” 

 

“I’m not hiding behind the skirts of a couple of women,” he growled.  When Buffy drew herself up and opened her mouth, he added quickly, “Even if one of them is the Slayer.”

 

“Spike.” Buffy rolled her eyes to Heaven in a silent plea for patience.  “Mom is right, you can’t defend yourself.”  She pointed to the wad of tape and gauze in the wastebasket.  “You’re not hiding behind my skirts, you’re just …just making a strategic decision to lay low.”

 

“Ha, bloody, ha, Slayer.  You’re asking me to hide in your mother’s basement while you guard the door.  What does that sound like to you?”

 

“Like the smart thing to do?  Oh, wait. I forgot who I was talking to.  Of course you think it’s a bad idea.  Because it makes sense, and heaven forbid you should do the sensible thing!”

 

They glared at each other for a long minute, startled out of what looked like it could be a lengthy standoff by a knock on the front door.  Buffy’s eyes flew to the door, then back to the vampire.

 

“Get your ass down those stairs or I’ll throw you down and retape your ribs later,” she hissed, yanking him to his feet and ignoring his pained yelp.  She waited until he’d disappeared into the kitchen and she heard the basement door close before walking to the door where Riley was still knocking vigorously.  She pulled it open and stood, arms folded, blocking the entrance.

 

“What do you want, Riley? I told you I didn’t want to see you for a while.”

 

“I just wanted to be sure that Spike wasn’t playing on your mother’s lack of common sense to hide here,” he mumbled. 

 

Coming to the Summers’ home so early in the morning was beginning to seem like less of a good idea as, in spite of her pajamas and fuzzy slippers, he came face to face with the Slayer he had once watched take out his whole team of crack commandoes.  Buffy’s fuzz-clad toe was tapping impatiently.

 

“Why would you think Spike was here?”

 

“He’s not in his crypt,” Riley said before he’d thought it through, “And your mother was obviously trying to hide something from me this morning.”

 

“You’ve been to Spike’s crypt? And you’ve talked to my mother already this morning?  What the hell, Riley?”

 

“Well,” he said stiffly, “you’re clearly not in your right mind when it comes to that vampire, and I don’t know what Xander’s problem is, but someone has to try to fix this situation.”

 

“What situation would that be?” she asked with deceptive calmness.  “The one that has you thinking that the Slayer’s job to protect innocent victims ends with the ones that have heartbeats and human faces?” 

 

She thought about Spike’s poker buddy, Clem and his relatively harmless friends, and shuddered to remember how many of them had been picked up by the Initiative and then discarded as worthless when experiments showed them to be less than useful as weapons.

 

“I didn’t think you’d be so interested in protecting this vampire once you knew he had the hots for you,” Riley sneered.  “Or, maybe that’s why you’re so willing to take his side against me.  Is that it? Your first vampire boyfriend wasn’t a big enough mistake, you want to try it again?”

 

“That’s enough, Riley,” she said through clenched teeth.  Her hands were balled into fists at her side.  “This has nothing to do with Angel, or vampires, or how Spike does or does not feel about me.  It’s about fairness and the way you’re letting your insecurity about losing your enhancements affect your thinking.”

 

When he gaped at her, she smirked and said, “Did you think I didn’t pay any attention in class last year?  I know stuff.” She let that sink in, then added, “This vendetta you’ve got against Spike has got to stop.  I’m not going to let you dust him, and I’m not going to let you use him as a punching bag to make yourself feel superior.”

 

While Riley continued to stare at the pajama-clad girl blocking his entrance to the house, she added, “And you stay away from my mother and her home, or I’ll put you in a hospital.  Is that clear?”

 

“That’s the same thing you said to me last year when I was going to shoot your vampire ex.  Kind of a theme with you, isn’t it?”

 

“We’re talking about my mother, here, Riley.  You know, the one who was hospitalized recently?  If I find out you’ve so much as made her nervous, I’ll kill you.  How’s that for a new theme?”  She stared at him coldly, her threat all the more chilling for the complete calmness with which she uttered it.

 

He nodded. “It figures that someone who calls herself  ‘The Slayer’ would eventually get around to promising to kill me.  It’s nice to know where I stand in your life.”

 

“You think you should come before my mother?”

 

“That’s just a smokescreen. Don’t think I can’t see through it.  This is all about Hostile Seventeen and the way he manipulates you and your family.”

 

“No, Riley,” she said with surprising gentleness.  “It isn’t about that. It’s about you and your unwillingness to give up the Initiative’s black and white view of the sentient beings they tortured and killed, your anger at Spike for getting away and remaining undusty, and your anger at the world for taking away the physical enhancements that were killing you.  I’m sorry that being normal has caused you such pain.  You’re a good-looking, very bright and athletic guy.  I wish you could see that and stop obsessing over what you aren’t anymore.”

 

“What I’m not anymore, is willing to play second-fiddle to a vampire that you, yourself, told me you’d be dating if you wanted someone with superpowers. Admit it, Buffy. You have a thing for vampires.”

 

Buffy flashed back to Spike’s speech the night before and took a deep breath.

 

“Maybe I do,” she admitted slowly, more to herself than to him as her thoughts churned. “I don’t know what it is that gives me my Slayer powers. A slayer’s whole short life is spent fighting evil – all kinds of evil, so I don’t think it’s a demon.  But, maybe there’s a good version of a demon inside me that gives me powers, just like a vamp gets when he’s been turned.  Maybe what’s inside me can see the person inside the demon and respond to that.”

 

They stared at each other, Buffy shocked at what she’d just revealed, Riley nodding as though he’d just been vindicated.

 

“You know, Buffy, there are places where humans can go to get bitten by vamps. Maybe I should check them out and see what the appeal is… Or maybe I should just get myself turned.  Would that do it for you?”

 

“Riley…” She stopped, unable to respond to his threat at first.  “Please don’t think that. Don’t even say it as a joke.  You know if you got turned, I’d have to stake you.”

 

“Doubt it,” he said cheerfully.  “Then I’d be just like them.  You’d be throwing yourself at me every night if I was a vampire.”

 

“Riley, this is not funny.  Getting turned isn’t something to joke about.  It happens in this town. All the time.  You have no idea how often I’ve had to stake somebody I went to high school with, or who used to be a good friend.  It hurts. But I do it.”

 

“And yet, Angel is living it up in LA, and I’ll bet you Spike is hiding somewhere in this house.”

 

Buffy stared at him, her eyes filled with fear that was gradually replaced by chilly resolve.

 

“I sent Angel to hell on the point of a sword, Riley.  I was only seventeen, and it broke my heart, but I did it. Those Powers that you don’t believe in brought him back. I thought I’d killed him.”

 

Riley blinked.  “Really? You did?  I didn’t know that.”

 

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” she said with a sigh.  “And probably never will.”

 

“That sounds like a brush-off.”

 

“It’s just stating a fact,” she said with a sad little smile.  “We’re not working out; you and me.  I’m not sure what’s gone wrong, but I have a skanky new big bad who can kick my butt, a mother recovering from brain surgery, a kid sister who--” She stopped, suddenly remembering that for whatever reason, she hadn’t yet told Riley about Dawn’s Keyness.  She was quietly grateful for that as he repeated his threat to become a vampire and return to claim his rightful place at her side. 

 

“Don’t think that, Riley,” she urged.  “No matter how you feel about me, or how angry you are that we aren’t together, please don’t go out and get yourself turned into something I will have to slay.  I’m sorry I can’t be what you want me to be – but turning yourself into a vamp isn’t the answer. I’m begging you…”

 

“Save it,” he said, spinning around and heading down the driveway.

 

 

Chapter Six  (6/9)

 

 Buffy waited until he’d pulled out of the driveway and been out of sight for several minutes before she closed the door and carefully locked it.  On her way to the basement, she also checked the rarely-ever locked kitchen door, smiling when she saw that her mother had obviously already had that thought.  A sound from the basement brought her attention back to the vampire she’d ordered down there and she mentally prepared herself for an argument with another stubborn man.

 

She walked down the stairs, halting close to the bottom when she saw Spike standing there to meet her.

 

“You heard?” she asked unnecessarily.  He nodded and ran his knuckles down her cheek.

 

“I’m sorry, pet,” he said as sincerely as he could.

 

She shrugged and leaned into his hand briefly.

 

“Ah, it’s just Buffy’s normal love life. Easy come, easy go.  It’s like I would have told him if he’d let me finish, I just don’t have time for a lot of relationship crap right now. I’ve got too much else to worry about.”

 

“Don’t have to worry about it by yourself,” he said quietly.  “You could share the burden.  Not just with me,” he hastened to add when she started to protest.  “You’ve got your watcher, your friends, people who care about you.”

 

“The Slayer is alone, Spike. That’s how it always is.” She automatically parroted what Merrick had told her so long ago.

 

“Not you,” he disagreed firmly. “You’ve got family, friends, it’s what makes you so strong and special. Those ties are what’s keeping you in this world.  Use them. Let them help you.  Let us help you, Buffy.  Let me help.”

 

“You could start helping by staying undusty – even if that means you have to hide in the basement for awhile.”

 

“I heard him, you know.  He knows I’m here.”

 

“He thinks he knows you’re here.  He doesn’t really know it.  And if he tries to come in, he’s going to find out just how much I was holding back when we sparred last year.”

 

“You can’t stay here all the time just to protect me, Slayer.  's not right. You’ve got classes to go to and friends to see.  I’ll find some place to hunker down for a while until the enormous hall monitor stops worrying about me.”

 

Buffy eyed him dubiously. 

 

“Where would you go?”

 

“Got a bit of dosh left from my last poker game.  I’ll just get a room in a motel or something.  Somewhere he’s not likely to see me – on the demon side of town.”

 

The reminder that there was a part of Sunnydale in which enough harmless demons lived that it actually had a name, reminded Buffy of Riley’s threat. She stared at Spike speculatively.

 

“Do you know of any places where people go to get sucked on?  Where somebody could get turned if he wanted to?”

 

Spike looked uncomfortable for a minute, then shrugged.

 

“Yeah, Slayer. I know of them.  Full of vamps too lazy or cowardly to hunt for themselves. Whores, most of them.”

 

“Why didn’t you do that when you first got chipped?  Instead of starving until you had to come to me for help?”

 

“Not a whore,” he said shortly. “I’m a lot of things – most of them evil  – but I have some pride.”

 

“People pay for it?  What’s wrong with them?”  She shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself.  “I can’t imagine it.”

 

“Can feel right good, luv. Done right by somebody who knows what she’s doing it can be bloody addictive for some blokes. Even some women…want to live out their Drac fantasies or something. ”

 

“Not helping the ooky image, Spike.”

 

“Sorry, luv, but it’s the truth. People don’t always have to pay for it…unless they’re getting something a little extra with the bite.  It’s an even exchange – the vamp gets the blood and the human gets…whatever he or she is there to get.  It doesn’t hurt much.”

 

“I’ve been bitten. It hurts like hell!” she insisted.

 

His face darkened at the reminder of who had put the marks on her neck.

 

“Those wankers weren’t trying to give you pleasure. Old Batface was trying to kill you, and the poof was too busy trying to save himself to give any thought to you. If I…” He stopped and started again.  “It can be done so that it doesn’t hurt. Trust me on this.”

 

Buffy’s automatic disagreement never left her mouth as she remembered that she’d slept right through Dracula’s first bite.

 

“So, Riley could go out and get himself bitten without being killed?”

 

“He could.”

 

“Wonderful. Now I have to worry that he’s letting some vamp ho munch on him. Like I don’t have enough drama in my life now.”

 

She looked around the dark room, searching for the old cot she knew was folded up somewhere.  She spotted it and walked to the shelf, tugging on it unsuccessfully until a pale hand reached over her shoulder and halted her efforts.

 

“Leave it, pet.  Like you just said, you’ve got enough drama in your life.  I’ll be fine by the time it gets dark and I’ll get out of your mum’s house soon’s I can.”

 

Buffy sighed. “I don’t want to keep having this argument, Spike.  I can keep you safe here. Out there, anything could happen to you.”

 

He studied her exasperated face for a minute, then stepped even closer, trapping her between the shelves and his body.

 

“Just answer me one question, Slayer.  Why are you suddenly so worried about me?  Are you afraid to lose your back-up muscle?  Or is there some other reason why my well-being is so important?”

 

His face was carefully blank, only the wary hope in his eyes giving any indication of how important her answer would be.  Buffy squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.

 

“Don’t do this, Spike. Not now.  I meant it when I said I didn’t have time for relationship stuff.  I need to know…I need to know that I can count on you for backup when I need it.  To know that you can help me protect Dawn and my mom.  Don’t complicate it.  Please,” she added softly, touching his cheek lightly before ducking under his arm and moving away.

 

She ignored the soft growl from behind her, moving towards the stairs.  Without turning around she said, “You have to stay here until dark anyway, whether I’m here to protect you or not. You might as well pull that thing out and get some more rest.  I’ll bring you another mug of blood before I leave for class.”

 

 

 

After a quick shower and change of clothes, Buffy gathered her things for school and set them by the front door.  She was just warming Spike’s blood when the basement door opened and he peered into the sunny kitchen.  Moving cautiously around the rays of sunlight, he edged his way towards the safely shaded hallway.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“It’s boring down there. I want to watch the telly,” he pouted.

 

Buffy didn’t answer, just handed him his mug of warmed blood and walked past him.  She picked up her things and watched him settle in on the couch.

 

“Don’t get blood on the furniture,” she said, finally.

 

“Wouldn’t do that to your mum,” he said between sips of blood.  “Go on, Slayer. Go get an education.  I’ll be fine.”

 

Buffy lingered a minute longer, then opened the door.  As it swung shut behind her, she heard his soft, “Don’t waste time worrying about me.”

 

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

 

After class, where she was pleased to find that she was not as behind as she had expected, she assured the professor that her mother was now fine and that she would be a more regular student from now on.  Her mentally crossed fingers were invisible as she smiled brightly and tried to put Glory and her search for the key out of her mind.

 

Lunch with Willow and Tara was short, although she did fill them in quickly on the change in Riley’s status.

 

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Willow said loyally.  “Men are such poopheads.” 

 

Tara seemed as concerned about Spike as she was about Buffy’s lack of a man in her life.

 

“Is he going to be all right?” she asked softly.

 

Buffy blinked her surprise, then smiled.  So, someone else besides her mom and Dawn liked Spike.

 

“He’ll be okay.  Vampires heal really fast if they get enough blood and rest. Which reminds me, I have to stop by the butcher on the way home. I think we’re out of the stuff Mom was keeping around for him.”

 

“What are you doing to do about Riley?” Tara continued her concerned questions, leading Willow to ask with a small smile, “Should I be getting jealous of all this concern for Spike?”

 

“Oh no!” Tara blushed and stammered.  “N…no, of course not. It’s just…he’s always been nice to me, and now he’s helping Buffy and…”

 

While Buffy and Willow giggled at her embarrassment, Tara let her voice trail off.

 

“You were kidding me, weren’t you?” she said, blushing again.

 

“We were. But only because you are so adorable,” Willow said, kissing Tara’s cheek.  “I know you wouldn’t be interested in Spike – even if you did like men.”

 

Tara cocked her head at Willow. 

 

“Why wouldn’t I?  Not that I am,” she hastened to add, “but, he’s sweet and good looking and super strong; and, okay, the drinking blood thing is kind of a turn-off, but…”

 

Buffy and Willow exchanged looks. 

 

“Okay, I’ll give you the super-strong, and the good-looking,” Buffy ignored Willow's surprised twitch.  “But, sweet?  How would you know he can be swee—  I mean, why would you think that?”

 

“I think it’s pretty obvious,” Tara said seriously.  “I mean, I’m sure I don’t get to see it as often you do, but—“

 

“Why would Buffy get to see it?”  Willow looked back and forth between Tara and Buffy, wondering what she was missing. The pink color in Buffy’s face heightened as Tara continued on.

 

“Well, it’s so obvious how he feels about her.  Of course she would get to see his sweet side more than we do.” She looked at Buffy for confirmation, only to find her staring back in dismay.

 

“It’s obvious?” she squeaked.  “How come I never noticed it until—how come I’m just finding out about it?”

 

“You’ve been busy,” Tara soothed quickly.  “I’m sure you’ve had too much to worry about recently to notice, but, yes, it’s been pretty obvious for a while now.”

 

Willow looked thoughtful.  “Now that you mention it, he has been all with the helpful lately. Watching out for Dawn and your mother, helping you patrol...  Ohmygod! No wonder Riley wants to kill him!”

 

“Thanks for that reminder,” Buffy groaned, then sat up straight. “Oh! I didn’t tell you the worst of it.”  She quickly filled them in on Riley’s threat to get himself turned or to at least start going to places that he could get bitten.  “So, you need to be really careful if he comes to your apartment.  Don’t invite him in. Just in case.  And watch out for him at night. Try not to let him get you alone.”

 

“Do you really think he might do that? Get turned just to…to what? What does he think you’ll do?”

 

Buffy sighed. “He thinks when he’s turned that he’s not going to see me as a snack.  That he’ll still want to be my boyfriend, and that I’ll be more interested in him if he’s a vampire.”  She shook her head.  “I tried to tell him that I stake people I used to know all the time, and that if I could send Angel to hell, he didn’t have a chance, but I don’t think he believed me.  I just hope he gets over this before he does something really stupid.”

 

“He’s got that Y chromosome going for him.  I think ‘stupid’ is pretty much a given,” Willow said, leading to understanding nods from the other two women.

 

Lunch ended with Buffy reminding them again to be careful for a while, and suggesting they all meet at the Magic Box in the late afternoon to bring Giles and Xander up to date.

 

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

 

She jogged home after her afternoon classes, reminding herself once again about how foolish it was that she’d never learned to drive.  She turned into her driveway to see Joyce’s SUV already there, and fear clenched her heart as she hurried into the house.  She was grateful to find that her key was needed to open the front door, and even more grateful to find her mother sitting on the couch with Spike and watching Passions.

 

Neither of them did much besides glance up and wave absently, before going back to paying rapt attention to the activities on the small screen.  Shaking her head, Buffy went into the kitchen and began putting away the packages of blood that she’d picked up on the way home.  She was just closing the freezer door when she felt Spike come up behind her.

 

“Do you want some now?” she asked, turning around to find him only inches away. 

 

He grinned at her, and whispered, “l’d love some, pet, but your mum’s just in the next room…”

 

“Pig!”

 

“Oink,” he replied happily, reaching around her to remove one of the containers of blood.  “Need a bit more of this, if you don’t mind.  Pig’s blood doesn’t quite get the job done like the good stuff.”

 

As he leaned in to take the package out, his face was right in front of her chest. His mouth just barely brushed her nipple when he pulled back, evoking a surprised gasp and a punch to his arm.

 

“Oops?”

 

“You did that on purpose!” she hissed.  “Don’t pretend you didn’t.  I can’t believe Tara thinks you’re sweet!”

 

“She thinks I’m what?”  Forgetting to tease Buffy, he indignantly pulled himself erect.  “I’m an evil vampire,” he insisted. “The dozy bint can’t go around saying things like that about me!”

 

“Yeah, that’s what I told her. I told her you weren’t sweet.”

 

“Thanks, luv, I—What do you mean, that’s what you told her?”

 

Buffy giggled as his expression flashed between indignation and dismay.  She surprised them both by leaning up to place a quick kiss on his cheek.  Before he could react, she moved away from the refrigerator and out of reach. 

 

“Spike, the commercial is over,” Joyce called from the living room.

 

“Be right there,” he called back, taking his mug off the dish drainer.

 

Buffy took it and the container of pig’s blood from him, saying, “Go back to your stupid soap opera.  I’ll fix this.  And then we’re going to the Magic Box. I want you there when I tell them all about Riley.”

 

He nodded and went back to join Joyce in front of the TV, while Buffy poured out the blood and set it in the microwave.  She watched it twirl around, her mind filled with memories of picnics on the lawn, nights spent patrolling together, and parties on the campus of Sunnydale University. Memories of a time when she thought Riley was the one normal man in the world who could accept who she was and give her something close to a normal life.

 

And here she was, “cooking” dinner for another vampire instead of for a human boyfriend.  She sighed and took the cup out, carrying it carefully into the living room and handing it to Spike.  Seemingly without intent, her mother moved over so that there was room for Buffy to sit between them.  With a resigned roll of her eyes, Buffy sat down and tried to figure out what was happening on the bizarre show that her mother and Spike were so fond of.

 

 

Chapter Seven  (7/9)

 

Hours later, after Buffy had changed clothes and eaten dinner, she waited impatiently for Spike to put on his boots and coat.  When he finally joined her at the door, Joyce offered to drive them to the Magic Box, mentioning that the sun wasn’t quite down yet.

 

“No thanks, Mom,” she said with a smile. “We’ll be all right.  Spike’s an expert on running around in the sun like an idiot.”

 

Lifting his lip at Buffy in a mostly-real snarl, he addressed himself to Joyce.

 

“Isn’t it some kind of law in this bloody country that every teenager has to learn to drive the minute they’re old enough?  What’s wrong with your daughter?”

 

“There is nothing wrong with me,” Buffy huffed. “I just don’t like mechanical things.  And they don’t like me….” she added in a much softer voice.  “Anyway, it’ll be dark in a few minutes. You’ll be fine.”

 

Still bickering, they waved good-bye to Joyce and started out the door. At the last second, Buffy remembered they hadn’t warned Joyce about Riley, and whirled around to tell her not to let him in.  When Joyce asked why it would matter as long as Spike wasn’t there, Buffy exchanged looks with Spike then said, “He…it’s possible…”

 

“The stupid git is thinkin’ about getting himself turned,” Spike growled over Buffy’s stammering.  “Don’t care how normal he looks to you, just don’t invite him in.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy and Spike walked in comfortable silence, their powerful strides eating up the distance between Revello Drive and the Magic Box.  Buffy kept an eye on him, asking eventually, “How do you feel? Do you want to slow down?”

 

“I’m fine, Slayer,” he said, hiding the smile he couldn’t control when he heard the concern in her voice.  “I’ll stop by Willy’s later and get some O Neg. Between that and another good rest, I should be back to my old obnoxious self by tomorrow.”

 

“Back to your old self, huh?” she said.  “Well I’m not sure I want you to be that much better!”

 

“Are you really sure you don’t?”  His lifted his eyebrows and wriggled them theatrically while he leered.

 

“You are such an ass.”

 

“’s why you love me,” he grinned, holding the door open for her.

 

“I don’t… Just shut up!”  She flew through the doorway, her face flaming only to find everyone staring at them with various expressions of shock on their faces.  Too late, she realized that she’d allowed Spike to open and hold the door for her as if he were a man rather than an annoying vampire.

 

“Hi, guys, “ she said weakly.  “Thanks for coming.  I just thought it would be easier to tell everybody at one time instead of trying to catch everybody before…”

 

“Before…?”  Giles gazed at her with curiosity, then over her shoulder with barely concealed hostility.  Spike smirked back at him and jumped up on the counter to watch.

 

“Looking better, fangface,” Xander said into the silence.  “Has the Buffster been keeping you safe from those big bad humans?”

 

Spike gave Xander the expected glare, somewhat muted by his memory of how the boy had helped Buffy care for him.  He muttered a face-saving something about what he’d do when the chip was out and turned away from Xander’s laughing, “You’re welcome”.

 

“What humans? What is Xander talking about?”  Giles stared at the two new arrivals, a frown creasing his brow.

 

“You didn’t tell him?” Buffy looked at Xander in surprise.

 

“I just told him Spike got beat up and that he was recovering at your house.” He shrugged in embarrassment.  “We weren’t sure exactly what to say about who did it, and I don’t really know how or why it happened, so…”

 

“It happened because Riley’s a poophead,” Willow muttered.

 

“Thank you, Willow, that was quite informative.” Giles rolled his eyes like a teenager.

 

“Sarcasm is never pretty, Giles,” Willow said primly, giving him her best offended sniff.

 

Ignoring her, Giles looked at Spike, noticing for the first time the fading bruises on the vampire’s face.  He waited for an explanation from the vampire, but when it wasn’t forthcoming, turned his attention to Buffy.

 

“Buffy?”

 

“Here’s the sitch, Giles. Riley and I have been having some…relationship issues…lately, and he decided to take out his anger about it on Spike.  I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t found them when I did.”

 

“And why would he take it out on Spike?”  The older man’s shrewd look told her he was going to be no easier to fool than her mother was.

 

“Because he can’t fight back,” Tara said quietly.  “And because without his enhancements, Riley’s ego seems to need a little boosting.”

 

“He’s jealous,” Buffy said flatly, determined to get that out of the way before the discussion went any further.  “I said something about dating Spike when I was trying to convince Riley to come in and get that chip out, and he just took it and ran with it.”

 

“You said something about dating Spike?”  Xander was suddenly paying much closer attention to the conversation.

 

“It just popped out.  He – Riley – was afraid I wouldn’t want him any more once he was normal, and I said if I wanted somebody with superpowers, I’d be dating Spike.”

 

“So, you were, like, just saying that.  You didn’t mean you actually wanted to date Spike, right?”

 

Buffy blushed, avoiding Spike’s intent gaze.

 

“I’m telling you the same thing I told Riley – I have too many other things to worry about now.  Dating isn’t on my list.”

 

Hoping she’d been vague enough to deflect suspicion, she continued quickly.

 

“So that’s why we had to have a meeting.”

 

“We’re having a meeting because you and Riley are on the outs? Or because he beat up Spike?”  Giles still looked confused.

 

“Oh, no!  We’re having a meeting because Riley came to the house this morning looking for Spike and he said…” She looked at Spike for assistance again and he jumped off the counter to stand behind her.

 

“The wanker is thinking about hitting the vamp bite houses and getting himself turned.”

 

“Dear lord,” Giles muttered.  “What could he be thinking?”

 

“Seems he thinks the Slayer has a thing for vampires and that she’ll fall at his feet.”

 

“Oh dear.  Buffy, I’m so sor--” Giles’ expression changed, as did his intended words. “…so bloody angry at that oaf, I would volunteer to be the one to stake him for you. I am sorry, Buffy.”

 

Buffy waved her hand dismissively.  “He thinks I won’t stake him.  He’s wrong.  The bottom line is that you all need to be careful when you’re out at night, and don’t go near him.  And don’t let him in your house or room.  If he can’t get in under his own power, you’ll know what happened.  Call me right away.”

 

She turned toward her friends.  “I’m going to try to prevent it, if I can.”

 

“How?”

 

“For starters, I’m going to burn down all those…places…where people go to get sucked.”

 

“How will you find them? I doubt anyone is going to share that information with the Slayer.”

 

“Spike’s going to show me.”

 

“He is?”

 

“I am?”

 

Buffy put her hands on her hips and glared at him.  “You know where they are, don’t you?”

 

“Most of ‘em,” he admitted grudgingly.  “But those poor vamps working there aren’t hurtin’ anybody.  No more than they want to be hurt…”

 

“It’s disgusting. And dangerous.  They have to go.” 

 

Spike and Giles exchanged a look, then the watcher said softly, “Buffy, you do realize that Riley can get himself turned almost anywhere? He could go to Willy’s, or just hang around the cemeteries until he finds a vamp to drain him.”

 

“He could,” she admitted reluctantly. “But if he thinks there’s something…I mean Spike says…and he could probably trust a…maybe he wouldn’t…” She looked at Spike, saying meekly, “Help?”

 

“What the Slayer is trying so eloquently to say is that there can be a sexual component to a vamp bite.  It feels good – or it can, if done right.  And the soldier-boy obviously already knows that – has heard about it, at least.  Don’t see him taking his chances on some random vamp that wants to tear his throat out when he can have it done all gentle-like and get himself off at the same time.”

 

Buffy’s flaming face told him he might have been a bit too graphic in his description, but his apologetic shrug wasn’t seen by anyone except Giles.  Anya was busy reminiscing about vampires she’d known back in her demon days, Xander was struggling not to appear curious, and Willow and Tara were looking appropriately shocked.

 

“Buffy…” Giles began, not sure what he intended to say.

 

“Giles, it doesn’t matter whether they’re intentionally hurting anybody or not. The point is, they could.  Who knows how many of the vampires I stake every night came from some vamp-ho who didn’t know when to stop?  Besides, maybe if it isn’t easy for him, Riley will think twice about it.”

 

“He might think twice about it once he cools down,” Xander volunteered, still reluctant to give up on his only male friend in spite of the surprising changes in Riley’s behavior. 

 

Buffy looked at him in surprise.

 

“Xander, he was lying to you to get you to do something you knew was wrong. How can you defend him after that?”

 

“Well, I didn’t know it was wrong, did I?  I mean, if Deadboy, Jr there got the chip out…”

 

“You’d be the first to know, Harris,” Spike said with a grin that just exposed the tips of his fangs.

 

“See!  It could have been true!”  Xander glared back at the unrepentant vampire.

 

“I heard what you said to that wanker,” Spike said, allowing his grin to fade.  “You already knew it wasn’t true before Buffy got there.”

 

Xander sighed and shrugged.  “Yeah, all right. I guess I did.  But I could have been wrong about you.  You are still evil, aren’t you?”  He gave Spike a confused frown.

 

“Sometimes, I guess I am,” Spike answered with a sideways look at Buffy.  “But there’s nobody in this room isn’t safe from me, chip or no chip.”

 

“You do understand that, as reassuring as that may be, it is not quite what’s needed to allay our fears?” Giles asked dryly.

 

“Bloody hell,” the vampire muttered.  He turned on Buffy accusingly.  “What do I have to do for these gits?”

 

“You could start by not calling them stupid British names,” she said with mock severity, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at him. 

 

The soft look on his face when he gazed at the obviously not really angry slayer, and her own twitching lips when he grinned had everyone except Tara blinking their eyes in shocked comprehension. 

 

“Oh, dear lord,” Giles muttered, turning away so as not to see the undeniable silent communication going on between Buffy and another – this time, soulless – vampire.

 

Xander continued to gape at them, long after everyone else had shrugged and gone back to discussing what to do about Riley.  When he felt he had regained control of his mouth, he said, “What? How? When? Why didn’t I know this?”

 

“Know what?” Buffy asked, oblivious to the new found knowledge in everyone’s eyes.

 

“You and Deadboy, Jr, there.  That’s what.  No wonder Riley tried to kill him…no offense,” he added, with a shrug in Spike’s direction.

 

“None taken,” Spike sighed, jumping back up onto the counter.  “And there’s nothing to know.  Slayer’s got more important things to worry about right now than…” He stopped, unwilling to say any more without permission from Buffy.

 

“Buffy has a hellgod, a hormonal key, a mother recovering from brain surgery and an ex-boyfriend who wants to be a vampire.  She has no time in her life for anything else. So get it out of your minds.  We have other things to concentrate on.” 

 

Buffy held her ground, refusing to acknowledge the rolled eyes and sidelong glances at Spike.  She turned to glare at him, asking, “Are you going to help me find these places or not?”

 

With a sigh, he jumped off the counter and stood beside her.

 

“I’ll help you, pet, if you’ll do me one favor.”

 

She gazed back at him noncommittally.

 

“I want you to let two of the girls go.  Let me get them out first, yeah?”

 

“What?  Are you crazy?  Why would I do that?” Her eyes narrowed jealously. “What are they to you?”

 

Spike took her arm and tried to move her out of hearing range, but Buffy planted her feet and refused to move with him.  She tapped her foot as she waited for him to answer her question.

 

With a frustrated growl, he said, “They’re sweet girls that Dru turned years ago when she and Angelus were running around town.  They kept them alive for a while and…” He shrugged his shoulders.  “I owe them,” he said simply. “They’ve never hurt a fly, they’re just trying to survive without killing people and I’m not gonna be the one that leads the Slayer to them.”

 

“You want me to spare some of your ex-girlfriends?”  Buffy’s voice climbed into a range that made Spike wince and cover his ears.

 

“They’re not ex-anythings,” he growled.  “They just aren’t dangerous to anybody and I promised them I’d keep them safe.  I keep my promises.”

 

Buffy’s nostrils flared, unreasonable anger making her temporarily mute, while Spike stared back at her, his face set in a stony mask and his eyes hard.  Just as the Scoobies were wondering if there was going to be Spike dust floating around the shop, Giles stepped forward.

 

“This is quite interesting information,” he said to Spike.  “I should like to interview these…young women, if you could guarantee my safety.”

 

“Just said they’d never hurt anyone, didn’t I?” Spike grumbled, flashing the watcher a grateful look never the less.

 

“This is quite unprecedented.  There is little or nothing in the Watcher files to indicate that is even possible.”

 

“Council of Wankers doesn’t know everything,” Spike said mildly, relaxing his stance a little now that it was clear Buffy’s watcher was not going to allow her to stake the girls.

 

“Exactly. Which is why it is so important that I interview them.  Buffy,” he turned to his shocked slayer, “please do not harm Spike’s…friends. I should like very much to speak with them.”

 

Buffy’s mouth opened and closed several times before she gave up and spun around to head for the door.

 

“Come on, Spike,” she snarled.  “We’ve got places to go, vamps to stake…”

 

 

Chapter Eight  (8/9)

 

They walked in silence for several blocks, Buffy almost stomping down the street and refusing to acknowledge Spike’s presence until she realized he was no longer pacing along beside her.

 

“What?”

 

She stopped and turned to find him standing still, hands in pockets and disgusted look on his face.  He shook his head and pointed to the front stoop of an abandoned building.  For a town its size, Sunnydale seemed to have a large number of buildings that served no purpose but to act as a buffer between the human areas of town and that small area near the dump that was almost exclusively demon.

 

“Why?” she demanded, placing her hands on her hips and jutting her lower lip out.

 

“Because,” he said, sitting down and pulling out his cigarettes, “I think we need to chat this out before we get where you’re so determined to go.”

 

“Nothing to ‘chat’ about,” she said, sitting next to him with exaggerated disdain. “There are places where vamps bite people; I’m the Slayer, I stop vamps from biting people. Ergo, I should take those places down.”

 

“And the silent treatment you’re giving me is in no way related to the fact that two of those girls are my friends?”

 

“Two of those vampires are your friends,” she growled.

 

“And that’s a problem because…?”

 

Buffy struggled to come up with a reasonable response, then gave up. Her shoulders slumped and her lengthy exhale sounded almost like a groan.

 

“I sound jealous, don’t I?”

 

“A bit,” he said, smothering a smile. “Are you?”

 

She glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes.

 

“Would you like that? If I was?”

 

He shook his head even as he said, “Would feed my ego a bit, got to admit.” 

 

“Your ego doesn’t need feeding,” she said, the corners of her mouth quirking up.

 

“You might be surprised, Slayer,” he said mildly. “But that’s not the point. The point is, these two girls have never hurt anyone – not on purpose. Angelus and Dru may have provided them with a first meal when they rose, but after that...”

 

“How do you know so much about them?”

 

“Remember when you put me in that wheelchair?  Those months I spent depending on my grandsire and my bug-shagging crazy sire to remember to feed me?”

 

Buffy nodded, giving him an apologetic shrug, which he acknowledged with a dismissive shrug of his own, and a pat on her hand.

 

“Like I said earlier, they kept the girls around for a while before they turned them. Angelus…” He fixed his gaze on Buffy. “Don’t think you want to hear about what it was like to be a captive of your ex when he’s not all souled up,” he said.

 

She nodded and gave him a grateful smile. “Just give me the important parts.”

 

“Right. Well, the girls were kept chained, but with room to move around a bit. Made it more fun for—Never mind.  Anyway, it’s not like I had a lot to do then once Dru’s ‘daddy’ was back, so I talked to the girls; we got to know each other a little. Angelus even let me feed off them once in a while – once they stopped cryin’ every time he came in the room, he lost interest in them himself.  And I…I made it good for them.”

 

“Good?”

 

“Doesn’t have to hurt, pet. Remember?”

 

“So, evil, unchipped you didn’t drain them and didn’t even make it hurt?”

 

“Was no point in losing my only source of fresh blood by using it all up at one time.  And since I couldn’t chase them around the room without getting tangled in the chains, it was in my best interest to make them willing to come to me.”

 

“So this was all about feeding you, not about helping them.”

 

He gave her a flat stare. “I’m a vampire, Buffy. And at that time I was unchipped, starving, and miserable. Too bloody right it was about me.”

 

She moved away just enough for him to notice, not enough to actually have been said to recoil.  Spike’s breath came out in an explosive sigh.

 

“Not going to pretend, love. You know what I am…was. Can’t change it –  not sure I would if I could.  What I was is part of what I am now.  Know I’ve changed since then, but-—”

 

Buffy interrupted him. “So, what has all this got to do with me not staking these two vamp hos?”

 

His jaw tightened, a muscle flexing in his cheek, then he said, “After they were turned, they came back to be minions.  But they didn’t want to kill – told Angelus they knew they didn’t have to kill to drink, and they wouldn’t do it.  Thought the old poof was going to spontaneously combust,” he said with a grin.

 

“He threw them out, told them they could come crawling back when they were ready to act like ‘real vampires’. But I’d already told them who to talk to about working in a bite house, so they were alright.”

 

“Okay…”Buffy said dubiously, “but why do you feel like you owe them? Seems to me that they owe you.”

 

“Oh, well, they were grateful for my help with Angleus and they used to sneak back in when he was busy trying to end the world and bring me blood from Willy’s.  They pretty much kept me from starvin’ to death – probably the only reason I was able to walk by the time I found you, truth be told. Those regular meals kept me going.”

Buffy was silent while she digested this new information about vampires and their relative evilness. Her eyes flew to Spike’s and she opened her mouth to speak.  He cut her off before she got more than, “Have I ever--”

 

“Don’t,” he said with more force than he meant to.  “Don’t ever let yourself worry about stuff like that.  The vamps that don’t want to kill know enough to stay away from you.  You see it, you stake it.  That’s the bottom line, Slayer. Any hesitation on your part, and you’re dead.”

 

“But, what if…”

 

“No ‘buts’. No ‘what ifs’. You’ve learned to recognize the demons that don’t feed on humans, that’s good enough.  If I thought telling you about those girls would slow you down when you’re doing your job, I’d let you kill them.”

 

There was genuine fear in his face and voice; once again, Buffy was reminded of what he’d almost said to her the night before.  She studied his anxious eyes, searching them for any sign of duplicity, but all she could see was his very real concern that he may have been responsible for endangering her.

 

She sighed and nodded her head.

 

“Don’t worry,” she said with a wry smile, “I think Giles has me too thoroughly brainwashed. I can’t imagine stopping to worry about a vamp’s possible good qualities while he’s trying to kill me.”

 

“Promise me?”

 

“Cross my heart and hope to…ok, not die, but something less drastic.”

 

He exhaled with relief and leaned back on his elbows. He smiled at her, feeling that familiar warmth go through him when she smiled back.

 

“So, are we alright, then?  You’re not going to stake my friends in a fit of jealousy?”

 

“Depends on how pretty they are,” she said, tossing her hair playfully.

 

“Not as pretty as you are, pet.  I can guarantee you that,” he said, running one hand up her cheek, withdrawing it before she could object.

 

Buffy blushed, but managed to stammer out, “Well, I guess that’s okay, then.  Let’s go find them.”

 

This time their walk was more leisurely and Buffy let their shoulders brush occasionally.  From the corner of her eye, she could see Spike’s fingers twitching and she guessed he was fighting the urge to take her hand while they walked.  Fortunately, before she had to decide if holding hands with William the Bloody was something she was willing to do in public, they arrived at the first of the bite houses.  Buffy studied the innocuous-seeming building for some sign that it was the home of Evil, but all she saw was a somewhat decrepit apartment building, or perhaps an old hotel.

 

“This is it, pet. Just bear in mind, these vamps aren’t trying to hurt anybody, they’re just doing what they need to survive.”

 

“Spike, they are biting people! They’re feeding. On people. They don’t have to do that. I’m sure the butchers’ have enough pigs blood to go around.”

 

“They probably do,” he admitted. “It’s not like I’m the only vamp in Sunnydale that drinks that swill – I’m just the only one that has to. The others choose to drink it if they aren’t getting enough of what they need.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah,” he said, making a disgusted noise. “Oh. I told you before, Slayer. None of these vamps are trying to hurt anybody. You’re not going to be able to stop people from getting bit if that’s their thing.  You’ll just be putting them in more danger by sending them out to bars to hook up with vamps that may or may not be lyin’ when they say they won’t kill them.”

 

“Spike – it’s wrong!”

 

“Tell me something, Slayer.” His use of her title lent weight to his angry words.  “If you didn’t think your ex might show up here, would you still be as set on shutting them down?”

 

“Of course, I would!  It’s just as wrong for anybody else to be here as it is for Riley.”

 

“Didn’t know managing other people’s personal lives was one of those things Slayers were charged with doing,” Spike said mildly.  “I would have thought fighting real evil would be enough to keep you busy.”

 

“You don’t think Riley would be evil if he got himself turned?” 

 

“Oh, don’t doubt it, pet.  But all you really need to do is stop that from happening.  No reason to do in a lot of innocent bystanders in the process.”

 

“Spike, there is nothing “innocent” about these vampires – or about their customers for that matter.  Nothing.”

 

“Alright. I’ll give you not innocent; but not intentionally evil, either. Nobody’s doin’ this that doesn’t want to be here doin’ it.  Vamps or humans.  It may be seedy and kinky, but--”

 

“Icky. The word you’re looking for is “icky”

 

“I’m bloody well sure “icky” is not the word I’m looking for,” he growled.

 

They glared at each other for several minutes, only startled out of the stand-off when a man came out of the house and scuttled off in the direction of downtown.  A woman emerged a moment later, freezing when she saw Spike and Buffy.

 

“Spike?”

 

“Gina. How are you, luv?”

 

The vampire’s eyes flew back and forth between Spike and Buffy.  Her brow furrowed and she began to edge back towards the door.

 

“Isn’t that--” she began, her expression becoming more frightened as she noticed the stake Buffy was juggling conspicuously.

 

“It is, but she isn’t going to hurt you,” he soothed, stepping between Buffy and the dark-haired vampire.  “Can you get Dixie for us?  Slayer wants to talk to you.”

 

“Dixie…she’s busy with a…Oh my god!”  Something about the vampire’s horrified expression clicked and Buffy jumped around Spike, grabbing Gina by the arm. 

 

“She’s busy with what? Who? Who is she busy with?”

 

“She didn’t mean…he asked…but we don’t…” She appealed to Spike for help as Buffy charged up the steps and into the building, shouting Riley’s name.

 

“Stay here,” he said.  “We’ll be right back.  What floor are they on?” he added as he ran up the steps, following the sound of screaming and breaking furniture.

 

“Se…second. They’re on the second floor…” She was speaking to empty space, Spike having already burst into the building.  He shoved his way through the crowd of frightened vampires and confused customers trying to get out, hitting the stairs right behind Buffy.  She had paused at the top, her eyes darting right and left as she tried to figure out which room to look in.  Spike touched her arm gently and pointed right.

 

“His scent goes that way, Slayer,” he said.

 

Without response, Buffy turned right and started down the hall, pausing before each door to let Spike listen and sniff.  Doors began opening as the sounds from downstairs interrupted the activities going on – sometimes slamming shut immediately when the inhabitant spotted the stake in Buffy’s hand.  A young vampire whose handsome face looked uncomfortably familiar burst out of one room, an equally young, frightened girl clinging to his arm.  The blood on his mouth and the girl’s disheveled appearance were all Buffy needed to raise her stake.

 

Immediately, the girl threw herself in front of the vampire, crying, “No! Don’t stake him.  You can’t stake him!”

 

Grabbing the girl and shoving her behind him, the boy trembled but stood his ground, shielding her with his body. Buffy frowned in confusion, hesitating just long enough for Spike to grab her arm.

 

“Leave them be, Slayer,” he said, the plea in his voice doing as much to stay her hand as his powerful hand on hers.  “Can’t you see they’re just kids?”

 

She’s a kid,” Buffy said, gesturing to the girl who was fighting to get out from behind the boy and protect him from Buffy.  “He’s not a kid anymore, and he never will be – or he always will be – whatever.  He’s feeding off her and who knows what else he’s doing to her…”

 

“I love him!” the girl sobbed hysterically. “He isn’t hurting me. He wouldn’t hurt me.  We’re in love.”

 

Buffy stared, mouth open, as the two youngsters, neither one more than a couple of years younger than she was, stood, trembling in fear, their arms wrapped around each other tightly.  When the boy spoke, Buffy realized why he looked familiar. He was the younger brother of one of her own Sunnydale High classmates. 

 

“You…he…you can’t be in love. He’s a vampire! He can’t love you. He has no soul.”  Her slight hesitation told Spike she’d heard his soft growl as he took his hand off her arm.

 

“I can too love her,” the boy snarled at her.  “I loved her before…this…” he gestured at himself, “and I still love her.  I will always love her.  We’re going to be married as soon as we’re old enough.”

 

“Married?”

 

The girl blushed and hid her head in his chest.  When neither one of them said anything else, Spike frowned and stepped closer. The young vampire growled at him, but Spike was uncharacteristically polite as he said, “Jus’ want to give a listen. Won’t hurt her. I promise.”

 

Without waiting for the boy’s reluctant permission, Spike stepped closer to them and leaned down until his head was near the girl’s abdomen.  He listened for a minute, then smiled and stood up straight.

 

“Congratulations,” he said, pulling Buffy away.  “Now get out of the building. Find yourselves someplace else, yeah?”

 

Nodding vigorously, they ran down the hall to the stairs, holding hands the entire time.

 

“What the hell was that?” Buffy hissed, continuing her march down the hallway.  By now, many of the doors were open, their occupants having taken advantage of the conversation going on at one end of the long hall to sneak out the other.  After several more dead ends, Spike held his hand up and listened closely outside the next to last door, inhaling deeply, then nodding.

 

“Promise me you won’t harm Dixie,” he said.  “She’s as much his victim as he is hers.”

 

“No promises, if she’s turned him,” Buffy said, her face set into hard lines.

 

With an exasperated sigh, he nodded, knowing from the sounds coming from the room that Riley was still very much alive.  He offered to open the door for Buffy, but she raised one foot and kicked it in herself.  She shrugged when he muttered in her ear, “I was just going to turn the doorknob, Slayer.”

 

When she saw the couple inside the room, she almost wished she had let Spike go in first.  Riley glanced up from his position between Dixie’s legs, blood trickling from his neck where she’d been sucking on it.   His expression went from shock to anger in only a moment’s time.

 

“What’s he doing here?” he demanded, as if his being caught with his pants down and a vampire’s fangs in his neck was somehow Spike’s fault.  He sat up, tucking himself away and picking up a nearby towel to wipe the blood off his neck.  The vampire – Dixie – remained frozen in terror.  She knew exactly who Buffy was, having been warned many times to stay away from areas where she might run into the Slayer.  She also knew exactly who Riley was – having listened to Spike complaining about the Initiative soldier many times.

 

 “Pull your skirt down and get out of here,” Spike growled at her.  “Go downstairs and wait with Gina.” 

 

He could see that Dixie was too sure that she’d be dust if she moved to follow his orders, even though he’d used a voice he rarely bothered with – one that should have caused such a much younger vamp to jump to obey.  He touched Buffy’s rigid back lightly, and said, “Slayer?”

 

“Leave,” Buffy gritted out, never taking her eyes off Riley.  “You too, Spike. Get out of here.”

 

“Buf- Slayer…”

 

“Out. Now.”

 

Shooting the soldier a warning glare, Spike left through the open door and walked down the hall, pounding on the closed doors and saying loud enough for vamp hearing, “Slayer’s in the building, and she’s not happy.  Get out while you can.”

 

 

Chapter Nine  (9/9)

 

The few vampires that hadn’t left as soon as Buffy was past their rooms, bolted for the stairs, dragging their confused companions behind them.  Spike followed in a leisurely fashion, his ears attuned to the room he’d just left and the loud conversation going on there.

 

“Are you crazy?”  Buffy’s shriek didn’t require vampire hearing to understand, although Riley’s responding mutter would have been inaudible to anyone else.

 

“Just spending some time with someone who actually wants what I have to give,” he said, standing up straighter and doing his best to seem offended.

 

“You’re out here getting sucked on. By one of those creatures you keep telling me are evil animals.”  She stopped and stared at Riley’s abashed face.  “Are you really trying to get yourself turned?  Do you really think that’s going to change anything between us?”

 

“Yes! No!  I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  What am I supposed to think when the girl I thought was in love with me spends more time with a vampire than she does with me?”

 

“Riley…” Buffy’s voice dropped lower, and Spike strained to hear what she was going to say.  “I’m…I’m not like other girls.  I can’t be.  I probably never was, I just didn’t notice how much different I was until I was called.  I’m sorry that you got caught up in my attempt to be a normal college student with a normal love life.  I guess I should have known better. Spike tried to tell me--”

 

“And we’re back to Spike.” Riley’s voice was flat and hard.  “Let me guess, he told you that you could never be happy with a human – and you just went for it.”

 

“Well…yeah, he did, actually.  But I was thinking more about some things he said years ago – when we were still enemies who hated each other.  Spike’s never let me hide from what I am, no matter how hard I might be trying to. He’s always known what a slayer is – or should be – and he has always called me on it when I’m doing something ‘unnatural’.”  She shook her head and turned away.  “My life has been different from most slayers’, I have family, friends, good fashion sense – but underneath it all, I am what I am.”

 

“And that is?”

 

Buffy shrugged. “A killer.  I’m someone who kills evil, but sentient beings.” She raised her eyes to Riley’s.  “And I’m very good at it.  Don’t ever forget that, Riley.”

 

She turned and walked towards the door.

 

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”

 

Buffy responded without turning around to look at him. “I made myself clear this morning, Riley.  If you keep doing this, you’re putting yourself in danger of being turned. You’re a big boy. It’s your decision.”

 

Buffy opened the door and walked out, leaving it open behind her. She walked down the now empty hall without glancing into the rooms she passed, ignoring the few humans still getting dressed and trying to figure out what was going on.

 

Spike was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs, turning silently to follow her out the door and down the steps to where Gina and Dixie were cowering against a dumpster.  Buffy walked up to them, saying through tight lips, “My Watcher wants to talk to you.  You’ll find him at the Magic Box,” then she spun around and strode off down the street in the opposite direction.

 

Spike looked back and forth between Buffy’s rapidly disappearing back and the two puzzled girls. He gave a deep sigh then said quickly, “Go to the Magic Box and talk to the man.  He’s fair enough – for a Council wanker.  Convince him that you’re harmless and tell him whatever he needs to hear about how you get by.  He won’t hurt you.”

 

He gave them a reassuring smile and pointed towards what passed for a downtown in Sunnydale.  “Go on with you.  You’ll be alright.”

 

As soon as the girl vampires had left, Spike squared his shoulders and took off after Buffy, using the lingering scent on the air to follow her until he was once more close enough to see her.  He sprinted the last hundred yards, catching up with her in time to match her steps as she marched steadily into the demon section of Sunnydale.

 

After another minute of silent walking he ventured, “Are you alright? Didn’t kill the big git, did you?”

 

“No, of course I didn’t kill him.  And don’t pretend you weren’t listening. I know you heard me.”

 

He nodded.  “I did.” 

 

They walked on until the buildings started to become more familiar and Spike realized that Buffy had walked through the demon area and was now heading back towards the outskirts of it.  Heading, in fact, directly towards Willy’s.  Without discussion, they approached the seedy bar and went in, Spike once again holding the door for the Slayer.

 

Willy’s face paled as he saw them enter, and several of his patrons slipped out the back door leaving their unfinished drinks on the bar.  However, instead of threatening him for information, Buffy just walked to a booth, glared at the small demon sitting in it until he jumped up with a  “Have a seat, Slayer.”  She slid onto the padded bench and said, “Bring me a drink, Willy.”

 

“Uh…” the hovering bartender stammered. “Could you be a little more specific, Sla- er, Miss Summers?”

 

“Bring us a bottle of Jack,” Spike said, sliding into the opposite seat. “The good Jack; and clean glasses.”

 

Willy scampered off to follow Spike’s instructions, leaving the vampire staring at Buffy’s impassive face.

 

“Gonna talk to me, pet?”

 

“Don’t feel like talking,” she muttered, staring at her hands twisting together on the damp tabletop.  She thought back to the night Spike had told her that she made death with her hands every day.  Her eyes flew to his. “I am a killer.  I never really felt like one until tonight when I saw how scared of me they all were – and until I admitted it to Riley.  The Council can call us “slayers” if they want to, but we’re trained killers.  That’s what we are.”

 

Spike cautiously put one hand on top of hers, gently pressing it down to still the twisting and wringing.

 

“You’re The Slayer, love.  The Chosen One. The one who stands between all that’s good and all that isn’t.  You kill because that’s the only way to rid the world of the kind of evil you were born to destroy.”  He watched her expression anxiously, not liking at all what he was hearing in her voice.

 

"Is that why you like me?" she blurted suddenly.  "Because I'm a killer, just like you?  That's what you told me, isn't it?  That I'm like you?"

 

He winced visibly and withdrew his hand, running it over his face to give himself time to think.

 

"You're nothing like me," he finally said, his voice quiet and controlled. "I know it, and you know it.  If I said that..." Her glare stopped him.  "When I said that, I was trying to get...I was...." He shrugged and gazed at her with an expression that, had he not been a soulless vampire, she would have called 'shame'.  "Was looking to make you weak, Buffy. I wanted you, and knew you wouldn't allow yourself to be with a soulless creature... even if you....  I was just blowin' smoke in your eyes, hoping you'd not see me clearly."

 

"I think I see you pretty clearly," she said enigmatically.

 

"Then you understand why I was trying to bring you down to my level," he said, slumping back in the bench.

 

There was no answer as Willy returned with a new bottle of Jack Daniels and two relatively clean glasses.  He set them down on the table and scuttled back to the bar, hoping it wouldn't turn out that the Slayer was as mean a drunk as her companion could be.

 

The bar remained fairly empty as each new prospective customer came in, ordered, and then noticed who was sitting in the back booth.  Even the slime-covered demon who spotted Spike and swaggered over to harass him about his gambling debts paled when he saw who the vampire's companion was.  He took one look at Buffy tossing back shots, and immediately began to apologize for bothering them.  He left quickly, not noticing Buffy's giggle of amusement or Spike's angry glare that the demon hadn't been afraid of him, but quailed at the sight of the Slayer.

 

"Laugh it up," he muttered.  "Next time I see that git, I'll show him which one of us he really needs to worry about."

 

"Nice to know that Riley isn't the only one with masculinity issues about dating the Slayer," Buffy said, giggling again as Spike's face became thunderous.

 

He growled under his breath and glowered for a full minute before shaking his head and breaking out in a reluctant smile.  "Touché, pet," he said, nudging her foot with his toe.  "It is a mite hard on the old ego when the nasties are more afraid of a slip of a girl than they are of the Big Bad."

 

"So," she said, suddenly serious and not meeting his eyes as she drew circles on table with a finger she'd dipped in her drink.  "Are you going to go running off to get sucked by vamp ho's now, too?"

 

He put one hand over hers and stopped her aimless circles.

 

"I hope you meant that to be funny," he said, waiting for her to look up and meet his eyes.  " 'cause if you didn't..."

 

"I'm sorry," she sighed.  She cast an accusing eye at the amber liquid in her glass.  "I thought this stuff would make me feel better," she complained.  "Isn't that why you drink it?" She downed another shot, following it with the usual full-body shudder.  "It can't be for the taste!"

 

Spike chuckled and swallowed his own glassful, smacking his lips and rolling his eyes.

 

"I like the taste," he said, pouring more into his glass and raising his eyebrow in question.  He laughed when Buffy put a hand over her own glass and gave him a horrified "no!".

 

"There's no point in drinking it if it isn't going to make me feel better," she grumbled.  "It's like forcing down medicine that isn't working."

 

"I think it's working," he said.  "You've apologized. To me. Clearly indicates that you're well on your way to being drunk on your delectable arse."

 

"I think I'm about to be sick to my delectable stomach," she said in a suddenly small voice.  "Does this place even have a ladies room?"  She stared around frantically until Spike pointed to the hall right behind their booth.

 

"Right there, pet. Can't guarantee how clean it is, but---"

 

Buffy leapt to her feet and ran down the hall, shoving the door open as she reached the first restroom.  Snarling "get out!" at the very male demon relieving himself at a urinal, she just made it to the first stall before her stomach rejected the alcohol she'd been forcing into it.

 

After several minutes of retching until she was sure the lining of her stomach was going to come up through her throat, she finally lost the need to bend over and staggered to the sink.  Ignoring the fact that it obviously hadn't been cleaned in a very long time, she ran the cold water over her hands and splashed it on her face until she felt almost normal.  She shuddered as she scooped up a mouthful of water and rinsed the foul taste from her mouth.  She was still leaning over the sink and scrubbing at her face and mouth with a paper towel when Spike came in the door.

 

"You alright, pet?"

 

"I'm drunk, sick, embarrassed and standing in the men's room of a demon bar.  Yeah, I'm just peachy."

 

He put a tentative hand on her back and said, "Come on. Let me take you home.  You'll feel better tomorrow."

 

When Buffy cocked a disbelieving eye at him, he amended, "Or not. But by the afternoon, for sure."

 

"I don't want to go back out there," she mumbled.

 

"No problem, Slayer. We'll sneak out the back and no one will ever know that you can't hold your liquor."

 

With uncharacteristic meekness, she allowed Spike to usher her out into the hallway and turn her away from the main room, shielding her with his body.  They made their way to the back door without seeing anything but a small, fish-like demon that scampered away when he saw Spike's fangs.  The cool night air was refreshing and Buffy was soon feeling more like herself.

 

The long walk back to Revello Drive was slower than it could have been, with Buffy stopping to yawn every once in while and actually leaning up against a tree once and trying to nap.  Although his face couldn't hide his amusement, Spike eventually scooped her up and began striding towards her home.

 

"Wha-- what are you doing?"

 

"Getting you back to your own little bed before I have to fight off half the demons in Sunnydale.  You think you can just take naps out here and none of them are going to notice?"

 

"Oh," she said, loosely draping her arms around his neck.  " 'k, then."  Her head dropped onto his chest and she began to snore softly.  Shaking his head, Spike marveled at how soft and vulnerable one of the earth's deadliest creatures could seem when she was asleep. 

 

He was all the way to the front door when he realized that he had no way to get inside the house with a sleeping girl in his arms.  Growling at himself, he debated kicking on the door until he woke Joyce up versus carrying Buffy to his crypt to sleep it off there.  He was relieved of his dilemma when the door opened on Joyce's frowning face.

 

"What happened?" 

 

"It's okay, Joyce. She's not hurt, just a little...under the weather."

 

Joyce sniffed and made a face.  "She's drunk, you mean." She fastened a hard eye on Spike.  "Did you take my daughter out and get her drunk?"

 

Spike swallowed audibly, but bravely held onto his snoring burden.

 

"It was her idea," he said meekly.  "I didn't know she was planning to get pissed."

 

Joyce glared at him long enough that he began to look around anxiously in case she had a weapon handy.  Finally, she relaxed her shoulders and sighed.

 

"Fine. So what happened?"

 

"Don't think that's my tale to tell," Spike said softly as he followed Joyce's gesture and started up the stairs with his burden.

 

"Does this have anything to do with that stupid soldier?"

 

"A bit," he allowed, then shrugged. "Has more to do with her callin' I think. It's taken quite a toll on her life in the past few years."

 

"I'm sure it has," Joyce said as she followed him into Buffy's room and watched him lay her daughter on the bed.  His hand lingered, brushing lightly across Buffy's face before he remembered that he wasn't alone and stood up quickly.   Joyce continued, "I don't know how these girls don't go insane from living like this for so long."

 

"Most of 'em don't live this long," Spike said, meeting her frightened eyes.  "They're lucky if they last a year or more. Buffy's an exception, Joyce. She's different. Special."

 

"How long can she keep being an exception?" Joyce's voice was almost a moan as she accepted the truth of his words.  It was something she knew instinctively, but had forced herself not to dwell on.

 

"As long as I'm alive to keep it that way," Spike said as he edged away from the bed, his reluctance to leave Buffy there alone visible in every line of his body.

 

"Thank you for that, Spike," Joyce said, maneuvering him out the door.  "Let me get Buffy cleaned up and tucked in and I'll join you downstairs.  There's blood in the refrigerator if you're hungry."

 

Taking the hint, Spike went downstairs and shrugged out of his coat, leaving it on a chair in the living room as he passed through on his way to the kitchen. He took out the container of pig blood and poured a mug for himself while he waited for Joyce to come back.  When she walked in, he was just taking the warmed blood from the microwave and she waved him to a seat at the counter.

 

Sitting across from him, she sighed and put her head in her hands. He was instantly alert.

 

"Head hurts?" he asked, mug of blood forgotten as he rushed around the counter.

 

"No," she smiled at his concerned face. "The head is fine.  I'm just too tired to sleep, I guess. And finding out that my daughter's...job...is driving her to drink didn't help."

 

Reassured, he went back to his stool and began to sip his blood. 

 

"I don't think it's going to happen often," he said.  "It's been a bit of a rough patch for her lately, and catching her-—" He broke off, reminding himself that it was Buffy's place to decide how much her mother needed to know about the night.

 

"So, did Riley get himself turned?" Joyce asked shrewdly.

 

"Nah. The big git is still human. But not for long if he keeps it up. Slayer can tell you about it."

 

Joyce nodded.  "Well, I should try to get some more sleep. I just happened to have come down for some warm milk when I heard you on the porch."   She started to leave the room, then hesitated.  "Thank you, Spike," she said softly. "For taking care of my daughter and- and- caring for her."

 

"My pleasure," he mumbled, getting as close as a vampire could to blushing.

 

"Are you staying here tonight?"

 

He shook his head. "Don't think so. There's no sense doing anything that might bring the soldiers around.  I'll camp out for the day somewhere in Demontown. Tell Buffy I'll catch up with her tomorrow night, yeah?"

 

"Okay. Be careful, Spike. I'm depending on you to protect my girls."

 

Joyce waved her goodnight and left the vampire sitting in the kitchen finishing up his evening meal. 

 

"Till the end of the world, Joyce," he vowed, downing the rest of his blood. "Till the end of the world."

 

The End