Sequel to Two Days; part of The Voicesverse
Rating: PG-13 Action/Adventure/Mystery
Pairing: Hell, yes, B/S!
Summary: Spike prepares the Vale Project vampires for their return to Sunnydale and the old Initiative facility.
Okay, since it has taken so long to post a new part, I think maybe a real summary is in order. If you are confused about which fic this is, you might want to relook the first two parts of Wolf... oh, hell, read all of 'em. At Chris' site or at Laura's.
A very capsulated summary: Buffy went to Colorado, to review the Spike's Vale Project, and the plans for its relocation to Sunnydale, although she used it more as a vacation, much to Spike's chagrin. During her trip, she meets a few of the Fang Gang, and becomes the new object of DeLuca's lurid comic book art...
In the meantime, Dawn has continued her 'harmless' email correspondence with vampire fledgling Daniel. Xander is keeping an eye out for her while Buffy is gone. Jonathan and Dawn are covertly working on her powers as Key, by practicing her control on locks of all kinds. Which could get to be a problem, as Dawn is progressing away from the whole MasterLock genre.
Chapter Three opens with Buffy's return to Sunnydale...
"Reminders" and "Shepherd", as well as "Two Days" are available at "Amare, Dare, Pardonare" http://www.geocities.com/cxyzjacobs/btvsfic/chrisindex.html and at Laura's site http://www.allaboutspike.com
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, maybe even 8, by now. Post-Shepherd/Two Days.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time... except Daniel and DeLuca. Hah! Take that, Joss!
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! email@example.com
Author's Notes: It's so good to be back in the Kimiverse! Loving Season 7, but gee...
Xander laughed and hugged her. Mostly to keep her still for thirty seconds. "A little longer than that. And planes get late. It's not the airtime; it's the runway time. That's what does it. At least, in my oh-so-limited experience."
"What?" Dawn said, heading to the window. "She's already here? Just sitting out there?"
He shook his head as he approached the window. "Nah. Not this runway. That runway. Maybe. Or the yeti-yuppie got her on the return."
Dawn looked at his reflection in the glass and made a face.
"Why does nobody think that's funny but me?" he said, pretending to be hurt.
Dawn turned back to him. "Well, I'm bored with waiting. And I want to know all about Vale. *And* I want a t-shirt. I so need a t-shirt!"
Spreading his hands in a shrug, Xander commented apologetically, "Well, this was a working trip, kid. No mall. Maybe the airport gift shop, though, so hey! You could be sleeping in 50/50 cotton/poly as early as tonight!"
Ignoring him, Dawn looked around the claim area. "Oh, my God," she said as she looked down the corridor.
The blonde slayer was burdened with two large, very battered, and very full shopping bags - one from Gap, the other from Banana Republic, and a flat black case on a shoulder strap. Dawn screamed and ran to meet her.
The slayer set down the bags, which proceeded to fall over and spill their contents all over the shiny tile, as she captured her sister in a tight hug.
"Ribs," Dawn panted. "I have... ribs!"
Buffy laughed, glowing in relaxation. "Sorry, 'Bit'," she said in an atrocious British accent.
Grinning, Dawn hugged her again. "How is he anyway?"
"Cantankerous. Sweet. Borderline bitchy. Same as always," Buffy answered wickedly, as Dawn dived for the contents of the bags.
Xander joined them, looking at the bags in dismay. "Buffy, did you even go *see* the Fang Gang?"
"Fang Gang?" she said with an upraised brow. "Xander, that's so lame..." Her face broke into a wide smile. "And sure. Did it all. Worked with Spike. Had dinner. Went to a demon bar. Got in a brawl. Ruined my skirt. Had a hangover. Worked some more. Had a fight with Spike. Went shopping. Had dinner. Went to bed. Got up. Flew home."
"A well-rounded trip," he said nodding. "Especially the 'fight with Spike' part."
"That's how I got the shopping trip. Finally found out what that soul is good for."
"Spike took you shopping?" Xander was flabbergasted. "What? You pick it out, he steals it?"
Buffy gave Xander a superior look. "He has money. He gets paid."
"Whoa. What? He gets paid? For what, vamp-sitting?" Xander had somehow fallen out of the loop and he didn't like it.
Dawn popped up with a handful of white cotton. "You got me a t-shirt?"
Laughing, Buffy reached down and scooped up the contents of the Gap sack. "And everything in here. See, all the jeans are 'longs.' Which is like, so not me, right?"
"Oh, wow!" Dawn clutched the bulging sack tightly to her chest. "Janice is gonna sh..." She turned beet red. "Uh, be really impressed at what a great sister I have."
"Oh-kay! Enough of the 'floor' show," Xander admonished with an eye roll at the crouching slayer, as she stuffed her own goodies back into her bag. "Let's get your stuff and blow this place before somebody blows it up. You still have a suitcase?"
Nodding, she came up from her position on the floor.
"Well, I'll get that. Wouldn't want to lose a limb trying to get that sack away!" he said sarcastically. Shaking his head, he walked toward the conveyor. "Gets paid," he muttered resentfully. "Justice is blind. And deaf. And..."
Daniel was still smarting from the tongue-lashing Spike had given him after the Slayer had left Vale. Daniel hadn't seen anything wrong with DeLuca's depiction of the slayer as superhero - and obviously, neither had Buffy, since she'd taken the color ink 'cover' home with her, carefully protected in a mail roll the fledgling had unearthed in the office supply room. Of course, telling Spike so might not have been the most diplomatic thing he'd ever done.
It seemed Spike was very persistent in his depiction of DeLuca's behavior as 'stalking,' and wouldn't be persuaded otherwise. Daniel thought the older vampire was overreacting, but certainly didn't have much information about the 'stalker' mentality.
Daniel had managed to sit in on Spike's meeting with the artist/fledgling, and had been quite surprised by the older vampire's careful handling of the situation. Still, Spike had been quite firm in his insistence that the 'cartoons,' as he referred to all of DeLuca's drawings, would no longer be posted for public consumption.
First, Spike had asked DeLuca what he thought about their upcoming move, and their mission in Sunnydale. The fledgling had nearly fallen all over himself as he expressed his excitement, and the thrill of being able to help the slayer in such a worthwhile endeavor. Daniel almost bled for the young man, as he saw the jaws of the trap begin to close.
Spike explained tightly that the drawings were undermining the mission, making it seem more like a fantasy than the truly deadly business it was. At the look on DeLuca's face, Daniel had a flash of the next adjustment ratings and the sharp decline he'd see in the young vampire's numbers.
Next, the older vampire made it very clear that the slayer was the pivot point of the upcoming Sunnydale project, and that she was not to be turned into a 'character' in a comic book. That he'd known the slayer for many years, had fought the slayer more than once, and that respect for her and her abilities was integral to DeLuca's participation in the mission.
In other words, can it, suck it up, and don't step out of line, or you're out. When the boom was lowered, Daniel was surprised at how brilliantly it had been done. DeLuca was appropriately apologetic, and left with his balls still in the appropriate place - instead of tied around his neck.
"Well, it was pretty much all a surprise. First, no more DeSoto. He's got this Big Bad black SUV with incredibly heavily tinted windows. And he knows which malls have windows and skylights - which is pretty much all of 'em. We went at dusk. Had a big day at work."
"Wait," Dawn said, waving her hands from the front seat. "You went shopping *with* Spike?"
"With? That's a strong word, with. Makes it sound all togethery, which it was *not*!" She sighed. "He sat in a restaurant and had extra spicy buffalo wings and beer for two hours."
Dawn nodded wisely and turned back around to face the street. "Best place for him."
"No duh. He hates the mall."
"Ahem," Xander said as he caught Buffy's eye in the rearview mirror. "The reason for your visit? Did any of that part happen?"
Buffy reddened. She couldn't believe he was saying it in front of Dawn.
"Hello? Information? Data?" he prodded her, not much liking the look of that blush. "Researchy stuff of any kind? Or just a new wardrobe courtesy of the blond cockroach?" Which I would like to take out to the yard and burn, he thought. Wardrobe and cockroach...
"Oh. Oh! Of course I did!" She wrinkled her nose. "We did lots of researchy stuff," she said hastily. She held up the slim case. "I even have a case with a laptop and files and everything. See? Leather." She frowned. "And *reports*. And keeping the case, Dawnie, so don't even think about it!"
Xander's eyes darted back to the rearview mirror to catch Buffy's sarcastic grin, but there wasn't one. She was pulling papers from the bag. "There's lots of stuff here," she finished as she zipped it back up. "Like a care package."
The man was not going to sound surprised. Not now, not ever. New subject. "So. Dawn tells me you kicked Spike's ass."
The teenager froze. Buffy laughed. "Who told you, Dawnie? Did Spike call?"
She nodded and turned to Xander. "Yes, I did. In a training session. And I can't take full credit on the ass kicking. Spike kinda let me."
The man waited.
"He's got this whacked out thing in his head. That I need to look like the boogey monster for all vamps and evil things." She chewed her lower lip. "As if I couldn't take any of them, and him, in a Sunnydale second, anyway," she grumbled.
Nodding, Xander turned onto the main drag. "I never thought I'd say this, especially about anything *he* did, but that was smart."
"Oh. And no one can know," she interjected.
"About Spike, and me about... well, you know, about me and Spike," she said, shooting a look at Dawn.
"More points to the blond bloodsucker. Any reason?"
"Well, just didn't want anyone getting the wrong idea about looking for a girlfriend whose heart is beating," she said uncomfortably.
Dawn stiffened in the front seat, unnoticed.
Xander slapped his forehead. "More genius from the Soul Man! I might just have to stake his hand."
Buffy leaned forward, putting her hands on the seat between Xander and Dawn. "Stake?" she asked dangerously.
"What? Did I say 'stake?' I meant 'shake'. You know, 'shake his hand,'" he said innocently, eyes sparkling. "No, really. I did."
Buffy sat back and settled into the seat. A loud yawn followed.
Dawn turned. "Didn't get any sleep?" she asked slyly.
"Are you kidding?" she grumbled absently. Eyes flying open, the slayer looked quickly at her sister and into Xander's eyes in the rearview. "Uh. Got lots of sleep. Slept all night. Sleeping Buffy. Just like the fairy tale. But not, of course, cause that would mean..." She yawned again, and grimaced. "Must be the airplane ride. Making me yawn. Cause I am so rested up from all that sleep."
"Right," Xander said resentfully. "Of course. And how's the whole team player thing workin' out for him? You know? Captain Peroxide? William the Broody?"
She snorted. "Team player? Spike? He runs that place like... I don't know. Annoying, snarking at everybody, never taking 'no' for an answer. He sounds just like..." Buffy cast around for a good comparison.
"Spike?" Dawn spoke up helpfully.
Buffy seized on the comparison. "Exactly."
Laughing sardonically, Xander shook his head. "So. Great. Commander Not-So-Evil-Anymore is makin' the world safe for... Uh, what's he doin' this for again?"
"I am so killing you..."
"Oooh, I'm shaking here," he said in a falsetto voice.
"Xander," she squealed, lightly hitting his shoulder with a laugh.
"Ow." He glanced up in the mirror. "I'll just sleep so much better knowing... well, knowing..." He paused dramatically.
"What?" Dawn said curiously.
"Well, that Spikey's in charge!"
Spike breezed in from his 'morning' workout with Third Team. It was a little past six p.m. He had begun making a conscious effort to restructure everyone's internal clocks, vampire and human alike, in preparation for the beginning of the real mission. He'd decided they'd be running a skeleton crew in the daytime, mostly to handle requests for information that came in from the late night patrols.
Third's inclusion into the daily workout regimen meant that they would be going out in the field regularly now. In fact, he and Daniel were taking them out tonight - and to one of the older Vale cemeteries, if anyone could actually call them 'old.' In Europe, it would be like some upstart housing project.
Chuckling, Spike took in Daniel's huge yawn. "Tired, Fledge?"
"Didn't rest today. I think the two a.m. to noon thing was working better for me."
"Maybe for you, here. But it won't work for you on the Hellmouth. Slayer's pretty much wrapped up patrol by one a.m., unless there's some particular nasty she's dealin' with. Wouldn't do to miss the action. Sleepin' sunrise to four makes a bit more sense."
Spike continued to be shocked by the lack of vampiric circadian rhythms that his group of Initiative-made fledglings had. They were mostly 'morning' vamps. Which was bloody ridiculous!
"You rest a lot less than that," Daniel said accusingly.
"Yeah, well. When you're old, you need less. Besides, I've had this alarm clock for years now. Got me used to bein' up at odd hours."
"When the door slams open and hits the wall. That's my alarm clock," Spike said wickedly. "Never know when it's gonna go off."
"Not very large on the knocking thing, is she?" Daniel was grinning at the older vampire.
"Never was. And her mum was such a lady, too." He smiled at a private memory. "Still. Kind of gotten used to it over the years. She tried knocking when I first got back from Africa, but it didn't last long. Just as well. At least I know when it's her." He shrugged, self-deprecatingly. "Oh, well. What are you working on?"
Daniel looked down at the computer disgustedly. "Room assignments. Odd request here."
"Well, you know how we worked up the quarters' assignments? Two to a room, according to compatibility ratings?"
"Yeah?" Spike walked over and sat down in his chair and leaned back, as he waited for the rest.
"Got a 'rooming' request today."
"Who?" Spike seemed unperturbed, which was enough to drive Daniel crazy.
"Matthews and Jeffries. I mean, I realize we stuck 'em together when Jeffries ratings were so low, but they really aren't very simpatico. Not according to the compatibility ratings..."
Smirking, Spike reached over and picked up the hard copies of the latest fitness ratings.
"What? You're smirking."
"So? Can't a former Big Bad smirk?"
"Not if I think I'm the object of that smirk."
"Look, Daniel, those kind of tests only guide so far. Not a bible or anythin'."
"But look! Right here, it shows..."
"Fledge." The older vampire interrupted Daniel's explanation. "There'll probably be more requests like this. So don't get your knickers in a twist." Without anything further, Spike got up and headed out the door. "Just realized I'm starvin'. Back in a bit. Need to make a little announcement, too, while I'm at it."
Dropping Dawn off at school in time for fourth period, Xander headed for Buffy's house.
"Okay, Buff. Now talk."
The slayer looked at the man curiously.
"This... place. Vampire Central. Tell me about it."
She sighed impatiently. "Give me two hours, okay? Time to unwind, bask in post-vacationy goodness." She looked at him resentfully. "You're as bad as he is."
"Yeek!" Xander squealed like a girl. "No comparisons, please. Not to *him*!" Xander stared at the street for a moment, as he pulled up to the stop sign to turn onto Revello Drive. "But..."
"Again with the 'but!'" she grumbled under her breath. "Why is there always a 'but'. Why not just an 'okay, Buffy, whatever you say...'"
"What? What is that?" He waved a finger at her, as he briefly took his eyes off the road. "Grumbling, mumbling, muttering - I *don't* have vampire hearing! I *don't* get what you're saying! Spit it out. Crisply. Enunciation is of the good here!" With a huff, he pulled the car over to the side of the street and slammed the gear shift into 'park.'
She turned in her seat to face him.
"Slayer's don't get weekends off. We get 'hours.' Sometimes not even that, cause like hey! Earthquake in California? Possible apocalypse. Crazy people saying cryptic things? Sure enough apocalypse: dimensional portals, open Hellmouth, yada, yada, yada.
"I took the weekend off. Well, kind of, anyway. I got drunk. I got in a bar brawl. I got sick. I got the cold shoulder from my Significant Undead Other over it, and had to watch him sulk and be bad moody over it. Then, had a fight with him. Just once, I wanted to be Normal!Girl, well, maybe not exactly normal, cause sure, my boyfriend's been dead for about a hundred years and some change, but girl, yeah. Not Dawn's replacement Mom, not a Scoobie, not the Slayer. Just a girl on a mission. A Cyndi Lauper mission. I. Just. Wanted. To. Have. Fun!"
Xander ran his hands through his hair. "Yeah, but..."
"Not a lot to ask, except obviously it is. Dead guy boyfriend is wound so tight, I felt like saluting Mr. 'I-Am-So-Not-Army.' And then you start in. My dirty clothes are still in the suitcase, and you want to know all the business stuff. When I'm trying to pretend I had a real vacation!"
Xander stared at her a moment, and quietly pulled the car back on the street. He flailed briefly for a comment, stung that he'd been so unfeeling.
"So. Tell me about that hangover," he said lamely.
Spike walked into his office with a smile on his face. His fledgling assistant looked up in chagrin.
"There's more of them!" Daniel looked at him suspiciously. "What did you do?"
"Speeded things up a bit. Not a lot of time here. Need to get this stuff in order."
"But they're requests for 'roomies!'" Daniel waved a stack of papers.
"Been expectin' more of it," he commented, not perturbed in the least. His voice held some degree of satisfaction. "Hopin' for it, really."
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Expected it?"
"Well, yeah, you silly git. Let's see what you've got."
Handing the handwritten papers to Spike, he grew more and more astonished as Spike flipped through, nodding at each one.
"What? We're going to honor them? This is the army, not an apartment complex!"
"Bloody hell, yes, we're gonna honor 'em. Saves me the worry."
Daniel's eyebrows went up. "What are you talking about?"
"They're pairin' off. Not enough of it, yet, but it's a start. Fourteen of twenty-six - "
"Seven," Daniel automatically corrected him.
"Twenty-seven then. Seven sets couplin' up. Not bad at all."
"Are you talking about relationships?" Daniel asked incredulously.
Rolling his eyes, the older vampire laughed derisively at his assistant's naiveté. "Little out of the loop, are you? Do I have to quote Shakespeare? Love sonnet? A little Poe might be more fitting? Do you know the story of the Sacred Band of Sparta?"
Daniel closed his mouth with a snap and stared.
Spike looked back down at the pages. "Relief for me, actually." He chuckled slyly. "Hope it is for them, too." He looked at the pages again. "No surprises, really. Knew about Matthews and Jeffries, of course. Jones and Bryant." Spike's eyes narrowed. "Hmmm. Now that's a bit of a hummer."
"DeLuca... and Beasley."
"Why? Because DeLuca does soft-porn drawings of the Slayer?" Daniel's voice carried thinly veiled sarcasm. "Which is your description of his work, not mine, by the way."
"Look, Fledge, all of our boys were terminal - even you, though you didn't know it when you were turned by those bleeding butchers the Initiative called doctors. And several of them had AIDS, remember. Now, none of our boys got it from needles. Army wouldn't want dopers."
"But what about 'don't ask, don't tell,'" Daniel quizzed him.
"Bullocks! You've heard of the Sacred Band, right? Fought in pairs. Fierce. Unbeatable. Five hundred strong. Nary a one turned tail and ran when Alexander foxed 'em. Stood strong, pair by pair. Fought with honor, by honoring their love, friendships. When they counted after, not a one was missing. All died together, rather than tarnish the dream. Damn strong argument there."
Spike returned to the subject. "Besides, our boys' sexual orientation was already set when they got sick, right? And DeLuca wasn't one of those."
Daniel looked down. "Oh."
Smiling, Spike handed him back the sheets of paper. "Make it so, Number One," he said with a laugh. "Match up the rest by compatibility, common interests..."
Daniel stared at the pages in his hand.
"Lay it out. I'll approve it. Should have expected the numbers to be high. Still, nice surprise. Won't spend *all* my time patrolling the Bronze."
Buffy sat down with Xander at the kitchen table, ceremoniously unzipping the leather case. She pulled out a stack of papers and laid them to the side. Then, she flipped open the laptop.
Whistling in appreciation, the man leaned over to take a closer look at the slayer's new toy. "Wow, my tax dollars at work!"
Giving him a chiding glance, she booted up the portable computer.
"Oops!" She grabbed a long cord and quickly plugged it into the phone jack across the room. Attaching a black box to the other end, she strung out a second cord from box to laptop.
"Well, I'm impressed," Xander said.
Buffy tossed him a glance. "Don't be," she grumbled. "He made me practice."
The low guffaw earned Xander another sharp glance. "Don't say it. Nothing. Nada," she warned.
The man spread his hands in apologetic silence, as another chuckle choked through his control.
Finally, able to speak with a straight face, he pointed to the box. "What is that thing, anyway?"
"Some security thing," she shrugged. "They're pretty paranoid."
"That's them and me both," Xander said gratefully.
A girlish grin spread over her face, as she settled back into the chair. "Email first. See if there's any late breaking."
"Or maybe just internet porn notes from your vampire boyfriend..." Xander groused as he began thumbing through a bound report.
"Maybe," Buffy said distractedly, as she tried to remember how to access her email.
Frowning, Xander tried to decipher what he was seeing. "What is this? The staff?" He shook his head. Slowly, his eyes widened as he realized what he was seeing. "Holy G.I. Joe! These are fitness reports! On vampires!"
"Fit for what?" Buffy asked absently, almost there on the mail accessing.
"Not sure," Xander said, as he continued to look at the graphs. "But this stuff would be way classified if it was for regular troops. Eyes only stuff." He looked up. "Feelin' a little like James Bond here."
"But with a look of Austin Powers," Jonathan said as he strolled into the kitchen. "Got any fudgesicles?" he asked the slayer.
Buffy shrugged as she fought tooth and nail with the stubborn email password program.
Looking up at Jonathan as he guiltily closed the report, he narrowed his eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for Dawn. We're gonna... go get ice cream."
Buffy looked up, email forgotten. "Is this a friend thing, or a hitting-on-my-sister thing? Cause, buddy, you're only one step away from delinquency in my book."
Hurt, Jonathan unwrapped a fudgesicle. "Hey, I'm reformed. And Dawn's just a kid."
"Not big on the convincy thing here. More."
"We're just gonna get ice cream. Dawn's my friend," he countered, turning bright red.
"Uh huh..." Buffy said suspiciously.
The front door slammed. "Buffy! Buffy!"
The teen sounded like she was near hysteria. "In here!" Buffy said in alarm, getting up from the chair with lightening reflexes. She rounded the doorway, frightened by the shaking in her sister's voice. "What? What is it?"
Dawn ran into her, full-pelt. "Buffy, it's awful." She tried to catch her breath. "One of the senior girls. She's dead. It's all over school!"
Burying her head in Buffy shoulder, she shuddered. "Jenny Wiseman. I didn't really know her, but she was pretty in this California girl way. She even seemed nice!"
The slayer guided her to a chair, as Xander and Jonathan looked on in concern. "How? How did she die?" Buffy asked, sitting down next to her, and giving her full-attention.
"Somebody killed her. There was blood everywhere. Just like those other two girls."
Buffy's eyes flew to Xander. "They didn't catch him yet," she said heavily.
"Nope. It's bad enough that this is the Hellmouth. Now the serial killers have moved in."
"There was blood?" she asked Dawn.
"Everywhere. They said lots. He painted things with it. On the walls near the new gym."
Jonathan, fudgesicle forgotten and dripping to the floor, stepped forward. "Things?"
Nodding, Dawn sniffled.
"Magical things? Symbols? Or just words?"
Dawn shook her head. "I didn't see it."
"Not a vampire, then," Buffy said as her eyes shifted to the wall. "Not wasting blood like that. Still, it could be a demon..."
"Or a serial killer," Xander said stubbornly.
"Or some sick black wizard," added Jonathan.
"They *were* saying it was a coyote - or a wolf." Dawn said slowly.
Buffy snorted derisively. "*They* would."
"Of course, now there's the whole painting thing, so I would say, so not a coyote." Dawn was slowly recovering, putting her thoughts into problem-solving mode. She shivered. "I'm going upstairs."
Buffy patted her hand. "Do that. Xander and Jonathan and I are going to talk about this."
Nodding, Dawn picked up her backpack automatically, and headed to the door. "Can you stop him?" she said softly.
"We can try. And that's saying a lot." She looked at Dawn reassuringly. "Get some rest."
As the sounds of heavy feet receded, Buffy turned and gathered the two men up in a fierce look. "Dawn doesn't go to school unescorted. She doesn't come home without someone with her. I need to see that body. Jonathan, you need to find a way to see the writing. Xander can get you around the school. He knows where everything is. But nobody leaves Dawn, understand? She's with one of us all the time!"
"Damn, I wish Willow was here," Xander said. "We'd already be looking at police reports."
Jonathan pursed his lips. "Yeah, Rosenberg is a queen hacker."
"There's another way to get it," Buffy said quietly. She left the room to use the phone in the hallway.
Jonathan looked at Xander questioningly.
"She's calling our not-so-local-anymore bloodsucker. Got government connections, you know."
"Yeah," Jonathan breathed. "How was that?" he asked curiously.
"Well, let's just say there's no impending break up. And that's plenty enough."
Spike rolled into the office. "I'm out of here. Slayer needs me. Dawn's shook. Got a serial killer in Sunnyhell."
"What?" Daniel looked shocked.
"Look, here's what you do. Make a few calls and forward the police report, complete with pictures, on Jenny Wiseman's murder, to the Slayer's email. They're flying me in by chopper. Made a big excuse about needing to look at the paint for the walls and the housing. Don't want any big involvement yet. No flags. Just use some clout, or hack in, but get those reports to the slayer."
"You seeing her tonight?"
"No. Gonna do some looking around on my own. Doesn't know I'm coming, so don't be spillin' it."
"Right." Daniel's jaw set. "What about Dawn?"
"Girl was a schoolmate, not a friend. Still, the school grounds. Too close for comfort. Slayer's put the Nibblet on a short leash. No unaccompanied anythin'."
Daniel looked grim. "Keep it that way."
Looking up in curiosity, Spike stopped stashing files in his duffle. "What?"
"Just make sure she's... okay. Okay?"
"This is the Bit, Fledge. Nothing's gonna get her," he said slowly. "Daniel...?"
Daniel shook his head. "Just get there, all right. And don't leave me in the dark here."
"I won't," the older vampire said assured him. "Take over the classes. And you've got patrol with Third tonight. Keep it short and sweet."
Spike mumbled as he headed out the door. "Hate it when you say that..."
"Are you wiggin' out on me?"
"Me? Do I look like I am? Cause I am not wiggy."
"I needed to wait until things settled down. Dawn's asleep upstairs, and Jonathan's picking up some stuff to do a detection spell, if you two can get close enough to the crime scene." Buffy leaned forward and looked at Xander solemnly. "Spike sent this stuff so that you'd know he was absolutely serious about being a team. And because *we* are on a Need to Know basis."
"We?" he echoed.
"He wants your support, Xand. Says this can't work unless we're all on a level playing field. His words."
"How rugby of him," the man commented sarcastically.
"I think this can work. But I need you with me on this. Not fighting it every step of the way. Spike knows it, too."
"Well, pardon me for being all skeptical."
"There's the project. There's the Scoobs. Or what's left of us anyway. Spike remembers how it went with Riley and the Initiative. How we worked at cross-purposes instead of together. He doesn't want that."
Xander looked down at his hands, slowly digesting Buffy's words. Deep down, he was flattered that Spike recognized that Xander was a part of this and wanted his approval.
"I dunno, Buffster. God knows you need the help, but..."
"Yeah," she said tiredly. "I do. It's just us now. And I'm... tired." At Xander's concerned look, she smiled. "Oh, not tired enough to throw myself into a portal. Just bone tired. I could use the help."
"Willow's coming back. And we've got Jonathan..."
A wry laugh broke from deep in Buffy's chest. It was a painful sound that tore at Xander's heart.
"Xander, we need help. We need muscle. And frankly, we need his brain. There's no Giles here anymore. And if I can't tell you the truth..."
Sighing, he looked down at his hands. "But, jeez, a buncha vampires?"
She laughed. "Hellmouthy, isn't it? Fair is foul and foul is fair."
Candidly, Xander spoke. "Look. This thing with you and Spike, that's between you and Spike, I guess. And watch me gritting my teeth here. But as far as Spike - and I never said this, okay? Spike's... all right. It's the rest of it that I don't trust."
Her eyes crinkled in a slow smile. "But... you do trust *him*?"
Xander thought long and hard. Finally, he looked up. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do. Dammit."
Nodding solemnly, Buffy reached out and put a hand over Xander's. "Well, that's a start."
Continued in Chapter Four