Sequel to Two Days; part of The Voicesverse
Rating: PG-13 (and one very bad word) Action/Adventure/Mystery
Pairing: Hell, yes, B/S!
Summary: A string of murders brings Spike back to Sunnydale, before the project is ready.
Distribution: "Reminders" and "Shepherd", as well as "Two Days" and previous chapters of "Wolf" are available at "Amare, Dare, Pardonare" http://www.geocities.com/cxyzjacobs/btvsfic/chrisindex.html and at Laura's site http://www.allaboutspike.com
You will no longer find any of my fic at Fanfiction.net.
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, maybe even 8, by now. Post- Voices/Reminders/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! firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Notes: Very huge-ish chappie this go round. You can almost count it as two. Hope it doesn't disappoint after the long wait...
Thanks be what has become a team of betas: Chris, who is always, always en Pointe; Kelly, who cut through to the real meat of this chapter, told me something I didn't know, and gave me a helluva beta; and Colleen, always my final word, who gave me a great side line and offered excellent input on the finer points of proper Pop Tart etiquette... Although Kelly is shocked at eating them right out of the package, I myself find they are good any way, anytime.
Trying to be objective, he looked it over. More like an apartment than a dorm room. He suspected she'd had it enlarged to her specifications when she'd chosen to live there, above the Initiative base.
The trim and molding in the rest of Lowell was white, but here, there was rich vibrant wood, wall and floor. Seemed very Old World and not particularly what he would have expected of the Hellbitch.
With a slight wrinkle to his nose, he looked closely at the color on the walls - where they weren't paneled in cherry. Un-life could really be ironic sometimes. He was going to be living on the UC Sunnydale campus, playing dorm mother to a bunch of newborn vampires in a flat that would've made him feel very much at home in 1880.
One change needed to be made soon. Thick blackout curtains, hastily hung by some inept workman, allowed a thread of light to enter the room on either side of the large window. Luckily, it was the only window. He'd never been a wanker about sunlight like some vampires he knew, but even he would rest easier with something a little more substantial between fiery death and him.
Must be getting old.
He walked around the large room, opening doors. If the small galley-style kitchen was any indication, it seemed Walsh had had very little interest in cooking - obviously, one thing they had in common, albeit for different reasons. The private bath featured a decent tub for soaking demon goo and potentially painful cuts and bruises away. The mirror was a moot point, of course. Hopefully, there'd be someone who might make use of it.
Spike's mind was racing. The flat was on the ground floor. Could he sneak her into his room? Not like they needed to make a habit of it at her house. Maybe if he didn't do it very often?
But if he did... well, there was the bed. The furniture, for the most part, looked as if it had been gathered haphazardly and rather hastily from several locations. On the other hand, the bed looked like it had always been there.
Hell, he'd slept on worse things than the leavings of Maggie Walsh, but he was damned if Buffy would.
Hadn't realized it would bother him so much. It was just a stripped-down room - one he'd thought of as fairly anonymous until he'd walked inside.
He'd seen Maggie Walsh once, when Fyarl-Giles had leapt from his old Citreon to chase the bitch into a high-heeled hobbled run. When he thought of Walsh, his mind conjured up the travesty that was 'Adam,' Walsh's demonic/human/cyborg version of Frankenstein. He winced. Absolutely had to do something about that bed.
He discovered a very large closet, the size of a small room, behind a crack in the cherry-paneled wall. The hinges were hidden. The room had probably served as a private office, as he'd already found a clothes closet. Wires coming out of the interior wall and going nowhere seemed to bear out his theory. The room was large enough for a bed and highboy, and might be a better use of the windowless space for a paranoid vampire. Once the door was completely closed, the doorway melted into the rest of the wall.
"This place isn't very secure for a super secret facility," Xander Harris said derisively. "I walked right in and puttered all over 'til I found you." He let out a whistle. "And if this is supposed to be the Fortress of Solitude, well... not very ice castley, is it?"
Caught unaware, Spike almost jumped, but instead wheeled around and shot daggers at Xander. "Bloody hell, Harris, nothin' secret up here. All that lot's downstairs, under about thirty feet of rock and soil."
"Nice." The man nodded in approval, as he walked around peering behind doors. "Roomy. Do all dorm rooms here look like this? Cause man!"
"No. But since you wouldn't have much of a frame of reference..." It looked like the Scooby was determined to kill him with kindness - a new tack for him. Spike refused to die without a fight.
"Just makin' conversation. I used to go to Buffy and Will's room." He looked in at the kitchen. "Better than my first place, that's for sure," he said over his shoulder.
"Your first place was your mum's basement," Spike said bitingly. "But yeah, better than my last place, too. And the one before that for certain... which, as I remember, was your mum's basement."
Xander walked over and fingered the heavy draperies. "One thing about that basement. It was short on windows. You can't be feelin' too good about this," he commented mildly, shooting a glance at Spike. "But if there's a blitz, you're all prepared."
"Not worried about the Blitz. Though I was there, and the explosions and random fires were a bit off-putting. But stray tendrils of sunlight? Well, this is the east side and all." He popped open the door to the small room and nodded to Xander. "Was thinkin' about bunkin' in here."
Frowning, Xander walked into the hidden study. "Little tight," he called out. He peeked around the door. "Your downstairs at the crypt was a lot bigger."
"Well, yeah, caves, you know. Large, while keeping that cozy, snug as an old shoe feeling," he said sarcastically.
The man walked back into the main room and approached the window again, squinting at it. "Shutters might be better here." He looked around the room. "Interior shutters. In cherry," he said, appraising the large double window.
"Yeah. But I'd need a cabinetmaker, right? Reckon they work 'days'..." Spike said ruefully.
Chuckling, Xander turned back. "Yeah, the unobstructed window thing could get a little sticky when you slip in for naptime," he said agreeably. "And you want to get in here as soon as you can, I guess." Xander's studied offhandedness made it clear that he wanted Spike settled in at Lowell, and fast. Obviously, Dawn had mentioned that the vampire had been stayed the night at Buffy's the night before.
Spike didn't take offense. He wasn't particularly comfortable with the idea of Dawn walking into her sister's room himself, even if he and Buffy were both asleep, rather than...awake. That pesky Victorian upbringing surfaced at the oddest times.
The carpenter was still staring at the wide window. "Hell, I could do it," he said slowly. "Take the measurements, commission the job, and install them when they're done." He glanced at Spike with an apologetic grin. "Really, I'd love to build 'em, got some great tools for this kind of stuff, but it takes time to do it right. Don't have a lot of that lately." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Could do it in a day, I think. After they're built."
"Carpentry work really seems to get your motor runnin', mate," Spike said cuttingly. "Remind me not to be around when you do it."
Xander's grin didn't fade. "Hey, whatever gets me through the night, right? Not like there's a lot of fun and frolic at my place at the moment. And I sure don't want Buffy in mourning over a helping of extra crispy Spike."
"Uh, that'd be pile of dust - nothin' extra crispy about it. Oh. And you're a real prince for bringin' it up, Harris," he said dryly. "A regular Little Lord Fautleroy. Still, you're on."
"Call me Bob the Builder, then. 'Can we build it? Yes, we...'" Xander's voice trailed off at Spike's blank stare. He cleared his throat. "Uh, so let's see the rest of this place. And if you think *this* is a turn on for me, you oughta see me around secret military installations."
"If I get too uncomfortable, I'll find you a private guide."
Grinning, Xander nodded. "Female, please. And a beating heart would be good."
Buffy was desperately trying not to doze off. Not that she was tired, of course, but this particular professor had a monotonous drone that would have sent her to Sleepytown even if she hadn't spent most of the night doing the horizontal (and vertical and diagonal) mambo.
Giving up on paying attention to the oh-so-boring lecture, she thought back to the information that Daniel had forwarded on Sunnydale's newest bad.
Nasty stuff. She had a flash of a Lifetime movie she'd caught once about Jeffrey Dahlmer. Yuck! Vampire killings made some kind of convoluted sense. When you're one with the bloodsucking undead, you eat or you waste away. But people doing those things to other people... well, now, *that* was evil!
Jonathan had pointed out something odd - or it had seemed odd to him. The killer's M.O. was a little different each time. Every murder had a new element, in addition to what had gone before. The writing on the wall was new, even if the blood-splashing wasn't. Jonathan had called it 'progressive killing.' Buffy didn't know if that was FBI profiling talk or Jonathan's own description - sometimes it was hard to tell. But it seemed ominous enough. Like the monster was working up to something.
There was so little human crime in Sunnydale that Buffy felt off-kilter. Disturbances were pretty much of demon origin, with a witch or warlock thrown in here and there to spice up the mix. She recalled the muggers she'd caught a couple of years ago. Remembered the feeling of surprise at interrupting a simple robbery. Then, Spike had interrupted her, and...
Anyone prowling around for nefarious purposes was pretty much vampire fodder after one go. Those who rolled into town for an easy mark soon ended up rolling off a gurney and into a drawer at the Sunnydale morgue. It was easily the busiest place in town - and that included the Bronze.
Of course, the demonic activity lately was almost nil. Maybe word had gotten out to the human baddies. Maybe she was in for a career change.
Jonathan had trolled around on the computer for a while earlier, and had found a girl who might have been the first victim. She'd been found barely alive about three weeks ago on the steps of her apartment building. Slashed at neck and wrists rather haphazardly, she probably would have lived if her neighbors had answered the buzzer she'd somehow managed to activate. The girl had dragged herself half a block to her building, leaving a blood trail to show her progress.
Strangely enough, it was clear to Buffy that no vampire had been attracted to the freely bleeding girl. Photographs showed the massive amount of dark blood pooled under and around her. The police report said that the edges were already dry when they arrived.
Buffy looked down at her notebook. Her pen was tracing over the letters she'd written there.
What had Spike said? Watchdog? Gates of hell? Some crazy killer into Satan, instead of alien abductions? She knew lots of serial killers believed in aliens. They'd said so in 'Silence of the Lambs.'
Okay, forget aliens. What if this guy was calling *himself* Cerberus? What if he thought he was the watcher at the Gates of Hell?
And what was he watching for, anyway?
"Oh, an empty house!" Dawn said sarcastically. "Big shock." She turned to Jonathan. "Where is everybody?" She'd been a little surprised that Jonathan had been waiting for her outside the school, driving Xander's car, but she hadn't asked until now.
Jonathan thought for a moment. "I guess they're not back yet. The Slayer had a class she couldn't miss. Spike asked Xander meet him at the old Initiative base." He shrugged. "Guess it's just us for awhile."
"Xander with Spike? That sounds all Hellmouth doomish to me," she commented as she put her schoolbag on the kitchen table. "Things must be really bad."
"Yeah, almost like 'dogs and cats living together.'" Jonathan chuckled at his own joke. Dawn didn't. "From Ghostbusters. You know, Peter Vinckman says..." The girl's eyes were blank. "Never mind," he said, a little embarrassed. "I think he was going over to check out the refit on the base. Professional curiosity. They're redoing that place top to bottom."
Dawn laughed. "Good! I hope somebody paints the walls. All that white gave my eyes a concussion!"
"May be." He turned his attention to the kitchen cabinets. "I'm starving. Are you starving?"
Dawn followed him to the cabinet and looked inside. "Mmm. Chocolate Pop Tarts." Jonathan reached up to get the box for her. It was too high. He stepped back, head down.
Solemnly, the girl easily palmed the box and handed it to him.
"Thanks," he muttered, looking down.
She waited for him to open the box, put her hand out for a foil-wrapped package, and waved it in the air. "Nothing like good old preservatives," she said in way of a toast.
Jonathan opened an identical package, slid out a single pastry, and bit into it. "I thought we might try to get in some practice today..." he said, as he chewed.
Her answer passed through the mass of pastry, as a hand went in front of her mouth to hide the evidence. "Where?" she mumbled.
Swallowing, Jonathan made sure his mouth was clear of food before he spoke again. "I thought we could work on the locks here."
Dawn shook her head, as she opened the refrigerator. "Sounds boring. I already know how to - oh, gross!" She turned to the man, hand going to her hip. "Look at this! Spike groceries," she explained, holding up a jar filled with thick red blood. "Which means no going half-asleep for juice anymore." She sighed. "And so it begins. You know," she began, "he might as well just move in! *Then*, he can have his own shelf. At least that way I'd know better than to run around the house in my bra and jeans ever again."
Jonathan choked a little on the bite he'd just taken. Between the mini Buffy-rant and the 'bra and jeans' remark, he was pretty much undone.
"Put your arm up! Quick!" Concerned, the teen rushed over and lifted one of his arms above his head. Obediently, Jonathan left it there, face reddening as the cough subsided. "Mom used to tell me to do that and it always worked." She looked into his teary eyes. "Better, right?" She sank down into a chair. "Isn't there another place we could practice? Practice on something harder than my house? Which I already have *so* nailed," she stated in a matter of fact voice.
Still coughing lightly, Jonathan nodded. "Maybe," he choked out. "Let me think about it. But first... homework."
"Only if you'll help," she said stubbornly.
"Sure. No problemo."
"So, what do you think?" Spike asked, as they wound up back in the 'Pit'.
Xander looked at him incredulously. "Does the phrase 'snail's pace' mean anything to you?"
With a triumphant nod, Spike smiled dangerously. "I knew it! Knew they were screwin' around!"
"Well, don't kill anybody, Chipless. You're not the first guy that ever got screwed on a construction job - maybe the first vampire ever... but hell, they may just need guidance," the man said sagely. "Who's doing the oversee on this? Looks like you need to have a talk with him."
Spike stared at him. "*I'm* handlin'..."
Shaking his head, the man interrupted. "No. I mean, on site. Which one of these guys is in charge on site?" he asked patiently, as if he were questioning a child.
Spike looked confused. "Well, different ones for different things."
"Oh. My. God." Xander rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "Spikey, you need help. You need somebody to ramrod this."
"I do?" he said innocently.
"Of course, you do. If I was working this job, I could have it out six ways to Sunday in two weeks."
"Two weeks?" Brightening perceptibly, the vampire smiled slyly. "You volunteerin' to ramrod, nimrod?"
Xander put up both hands and made the sign of the cross with his fingers. "And look at your blanched whitefish face every day? Don't think so."
The gesture didn't faze the vampire. "Pay you," Spike said persuasively. "US American dollars. Lots of 'em. Just to get this sodding hellhole ready." Spike settled his shoulders and smiled ingratiatingly. "You can be a consultant. Like me."
Recoiling, Xander took a deep breath and exploded. "Hey, so *not* you, bitey guy!" He reflected for a moment. "And who says I have time?"
"Christ, Harris, nobody's asking you to move in. Just pop in, put the fear of God - or the devil, don't care which - in 'em and pop out. Pop back in, do it again. Til it's done," he said decisively. "Wait. What am I thinking?" Spike shook his head, as if clearing it. "You couldn't take on a job this big..."
"Hey. Hey! I'll have you know I'm damn good at what I do!" Xander was stung by the implication. "And I can sure handle *this* little refit!"
"Prove it, whelp," Spike said flatly. "I'll put my money where your mouth is."
Xander stared into the vampire's eyes, answering the challenge without a word. As a slow smirk quirked the corner of Spike's mouth, the man realized he'd been had. "Hold on a minute, you bastard," he said slowly. "You're trying to..."
"Eh, eh, eh. Not nice to bite the hand that wants to feed the kitty," Spike taunted. "I can't do it and chase baddies, too, right? And you think I'm doin' a piss poor job, anyway."
The man saw the truth in that. Plus the fact that he could have loads of fun on the government dollar. "You're on." Xander cleared his throat. "With reservations, of course."
"Sorry," Spike said snarkily. "Full up. No room at the Inn." At the man's frustrated breath, he relented. "What?"
"Just a question. Are these vamps you've got comin'... well, I didn't ask, but I've been wonderin'."
"What, Harris? Just stop natterin' and ask!"
"Are they chipped? Like you were? Cause if they're not..."
Spike's face hardened. Turning without responding, he flagged down a workman. "Need my office. It ready?" he asked in a growl.
"Uh, I think so," the man stuttered stepping back at the glint in Spike's eyes. He looked back over his shoulder in the direction of the office complex area.
Spike looked at Xander with hard blue eyes. "Want to talk 'chip?'" he snarled. "Fine, then. Let's."
They would head to the old Initiative base after dark. The vampires, techs, and equipment cargo would make a caravan to the woods pretty obvious in the light of day.
Daniel was beginning to feel some trepidation about meeting with Spike, after basically cooling his heels in an airplane hanger for four hours. He had disobeyed an order - a pretty direct order - from a superior not-officer.
Would this get back to General Paxton? He would have come anyway, but yelling 'bullshit' at his not-boss might muddy the road of advancement. He didn't expect Shepherd to stay with the project vamps forever. And he'd planned to be ready to take over.
Of course, bottom line was, he'd been prepared to hitch-hike back to Sunnydale, just on the strength of the implied and very indirect threat to Dawn. But Madeleine's murder had tipped him over. Now it was personal.
Suddenly, he had begun thinking about his mom and dad, his older brother and younger sister. Wondering about what they were doing, how they were. Thank God they were in Seattle, and not in Sunnydale.
Daniel had liked Seattle. How the hell had he ended up living in this place anyway? Or more importantly, dying here?
Completely at loose ends with his laptop and papers all tucked away in cargo, he practiced going in and out of game face on command, feeling the surge of strength and power course through him. Quickly, he grew bored. It wouldn't take vamping out to kill the dirt bag that had bled Maddie.
Wouldn't even take a gun...
Lengthening his stride and picking up his pace just to stay abreast of Spike, Xander tried to figure out what had set the vampire off. It had been a simple question, after all. Pushing open a door, Spike nodded curtly at the man to precede him into the small room.
He took the only chair in the bare office. "Okay, what? And why are you going all evil undead about it?"
Mouth twisting in a sneer, Spike paced the almost empty room. "Cut off my balls, didn't they? Put 'em on the mantelpiece like ornamentals, right?" He slid Xander a cold look. "Well? Didn't they?"
"Okay, I can see where you might have some residual issues." Spreading his hands in truce, the man sat back. "But I really don't think you'd be with Buffy right now if you hadn't been chipped. Fact is," he said, unable to resist the jibe, "I think you'd be fertilizing roses somewhere by now."
"Says you," Spike shot back. "And m'not talkin' about stoppin' the killin'. Not being able to defend myself, even from a git like you... *that* was buggerin' hard to stomach. Takes a man down."
Xander let the 'man' remark lie, even though an ice pick of a comment was stabbing at his brain.
"When I started this thing, didn't know what I was gettin' into. Didn't think." He saw Xander's mouth open to comment. "I know, I know. It's a shortcomin' I've got," he said in exasperation. At Xander's knowing look, he blurted out, "Hey, I'm workin' on it, all right? But to answer your question, no, they weren't chipped when we found them. That's why Finn wanted me so badly, remember? For *my* chip. The chip that worked."
Spike put a hand behind his neck and twisted his head slightly to relieve the tension. "We get to Vale, and the whole authority thing starts stickin' in my craw first thing. Hated it with Angelus, and I hated it a damn sight worse with all those military types millin' around and pokin' their noses in."
Xander nodded in understanding. "When Uncle Sam says he wants 'you,' I don't think you're the 'you' he had in mind." He prodded Spike a little. "But you stayed."
"Bloody right, I did! Courage of my convictions, wrong-headed as they might have been at the time. Always was a stubborn git. Still, I was missing Buffy... even missin' you, whelp, which is a big indication of my mental state." He shook his head in remembrance. "Then, Paxton comes to me. Tells me they've got the chip ready."
Xander was confused. "But your chip..."
"Was splinters of plastic under the slayer's well-turned heel. Turns out it didn't matter. Finn got what he wanted before he started playin' games with my head. They'd run every kind of scan, found the frequencies, traced back this lone signal, and got everything they needed to reinvent the sodding wheel. And they did." He sighed. "Fought it, of course."
"Fought it?" Xander nearly came out of the chair. "Sweet Aunt Fannie, Spike, what the hell were you thinking? They're vampires! No matter how or why they were made!"
The vampire looked at him coolly. "What was I thinking? I wasn't. I blame massive head trauma for my temporary insanity. And numerous blows to the nose, a plastic stake in my chest, an axe inches from my head..."
Spike started pacing the small space, two steps, and turn. Two steps, turn. Xander was already dizzy by the time he spoke again. "Mate, I been through one too many games of Kick the Spike. In the last four years, I've had my nose broken more times than a sodding prizefighter!"
"Hey, hey! Now *that* was Buffy!"
"Anyway, they tell me they're doin' it - chippin' 'em, just like I was. Pitched a bloody fuss, I did. Like they cared." He stopped and glanced at Xander with an old-time Spike look. "Then, well, I got smart."
He fixed Xander with resentful blue eyes. "No reason *they* have to spend their un-lives as anybody's punchin' bag." He smirked at Xander. "Sussed it out and made a proposal. Damn good one, too." The vampire shrugged. "Didn't matter, of course. In the end, we had to resort to good old-fashioned blackmail."
"'We?' You and Buffy blackmailed the Department of Defense?"
Spike barked a laugh. "Not Buffy, you git. Couldn't bother the slayer with this. Wouldn't. And it needed finesse. They'd have quietly staked me, no one the wiser. So I called Rupert." Xander's mouth dropped open. "Gave him the names of the boys and their families, and he put together a press release - plus a list of where those releases would go. Some photos, a few medical reports sprinkled in... and presto, change of heart by the powers that be.
"Took four months on the inside, fighting hell for leather, and watching my own back the whole time, but I did it. They can restrain a human," he continued, ticking the points off on his fingers, "so long as there's no bodily harm. Can act in self-defense, too - long as it's non lethal."
Xander stared at Spike as he slowly shook his head. "I am so not believing this. You called Giles?"
"Havin' trouble keepin' up?" The vampire took in and let out a breath. "Who else? Needed a brain. I was way too close to do much of anything except wring my hands... and make idle threats."
"Oh, like you did when you were still chipped?" Xander interrupted.
"Well, I couldn't very well eat the entire chain of command, could I?" Spike said, amused. "That wouldn't have gone over at all.
"The Watcher knows his way around those ruddy hypocritical bureaucracies. *He* thought it was a bloody awful situation all round." Spike smiled fondly. "Old Rupert may be a judgmental pillock, but he's an *unbiased* judgmental pillock." He shook his head. "Inherited a sodding Watcher of my own for all my trouble - and a right bastard he is, too - but still in all, it was a fair barter."
Xander looked at his hands. The vampires were chipped - which was a relief. "So. Twenty-seven chipped vampires."
"Twenty-six," Spike corrected him. "Still an experiment of sorts, Harris. That's where the money comes from. So there's a control."
"Well. Yeah. You know, like in a lab? You do know labs, right?"
"Hold it." Xander ran through Spike's words in his head. "I get it now. Daniel isn't chipped."
"And therein, lies the rub, 'cause the boy's out for blood."
"Wouldn't you be?" Xander muttered.
"I'll stake him if I have to," Spike said in a matter of fact voice.
Xander laughed ruefully. "I don't think so."
"If I don't, they will. So you better stand with me on this."
"Get me a red pen and a calendar. You're asking for my help? Again?"
Spike let out a frustrated breath. "Yeah. Makes my skin crawl doin' it..."
"Hmm," Xander mused. "Me help you. Repeatedly." He looked at Spike wryly. "It's a novel concept. Not necessarily a valid one, but yeah, a concept." He nodded. "Fine. I'm in, crazy as it sounds."
"Insane's more like it. Now, how much money will it take to get you here?"
Xander gave Spike a measuring look. "To get this place up to snuff, or keep an eye on Daniel?" he asked pointedly.
Spike looked down uncomfortably. "Uh, both," he mumbled.
"Daniel's free of charge. But to deal with these guys, well, let's just say... a lot. I'm all up for screwing the Pentagon!"
"You and every other defense contractor in the United States..." Spike muttered.
Dawn was sitting on the sofa watching Oprah when Buffy got in.
"Hi," Buffy answered as she started up the steps.
"Dr. Phil is being so lame today. Way out of touch," the teenager commented.
The slayer stopped. "Wait a minute. No TV until homework's done, remember? No homework, no Oprah and no Dr. Phil."
"It's done," the teen said nonchalantly.
The slayer came back down the steps and put her hands on her hips. Dr. Phil was getting more and more agitated by a teenager in the audience. She got that. "Done," she echoed. Glancing at Dawn, she nodded toward the television. "A little more clarification before Dr. Phil's head explodes. 'Done' by you?"
"Jonathan helped," the girl answered, as her hand did a perfect swan dive into the bowl of popcorn in her lap.
"And you understand it." The half-question, half-statement was made in Mom-voice - a voice that dared Dawn to lie, because it would know if she did.
"Yep. Got it, your Slayerness." Giving up on Dr. Phil, Dawn muted the sound and turned to her sister. "Did you find out anything about the girl at school? Jenny?"
"A little," Buffy admitted. "Not enough, but a little." She stepped over Dawn's outstretched feet and sank down on the sofa beside her, staring absently at the wall. "I really need to see the body." Dawn flinched. "The autopsy report is inconclusive. That's what it says. Inconclusive." She shook her head. "I don't know if they're inept or covering up. I need to see the depth of the wounds. See if there's anything they missed that I'd get. Like the kind of wounds, I think. I think." Her eyes glazed over. "I think, therefore I..."
Buffy's eyes refocused. "I know." She turned to Dawn with a shrug. "Two hours with the Nutty Professor and I'm toast."
Nodding in sympathy, the girl offered Buffy some popcorn. "And the semester's barely started. I get that. And mentally, I'm sending you all kinds of study strength." She changed the subject abruptly. "How long is Spike staying *this* time? And am I going to wake up in the morning and find him here again?"
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Slipped that second one right in, didn't you?"
"Noticed that, huh? Well, guess what I noticed? Blood in the refrigerator. So I thought I should ask."
"Okay, would. 'Would' ask," Dawn clarified, pursing her lips.
"First question." Buffy ticked off the first one on one finger. "He's back. Period."
"Unless he has another mid-life crisis..." the girl muttered. For someone who wouldn't go when everyone wanted him to, he was certainly good at disappearing when it was finally okay to stick around. Just like every other man she knew.
Buffy ignored the remark. "The first group is here by now, with Daniel, I suspect, though Spike wasn't too happy about that. They start recognizance tomorrow night."
Dawn kept her face still and filed that away for 'later' reference. Even with that news, she wasn't going to let up. "Next..." She let the word hang in mid-air.
"Nope. My turn. Now, would it be so horrible? If you woke up and he was here?"
"Not horrible. Just..."
"I'd like to *know* when he's going to be here," she said stubbornly, chin thrust forward. "Cause I walked in on the two of you before he left for Vale, and it was a seven on the 'Yuck' meter. I mean, you always farmed me out when you were going to boink Riley, and..."
Buffy covered her face with her hand. "Did you have to go there?" she complained. "I mean that particular 'there?' And 'farmed you out?' That's..." Buffy abandoned the mom voice. "Okay, 'fair,' I guess. That's fair."
"Let's make this easy," Dawn said in a rational voice. "He's officially a boyfriend? Or, um, whatever?"
"Yep." The slayer took a deep breath and let it out. She'd been through these Dawn interrogations before, and they always made her feel trapped. Like the next sound out of her sister's mouth would be 'ah, ha!'
"Slaying and sometime bed partner," she said definitively, as Buffy cringed silently. "Not gonna change your mind after I get all attached, right?"
"First, can the bed partner remark. Second, despite his name, Spike is not a puppy. So as far as getting attached, knock yourself out. But remember, he could still get hit by a stake tomorrow."
"Okay, that's enough of the dog analogy thingy, cause I just got a flash of Lady and the Tramp."
"Well, relax," Buffy said soothingly. "Cause there are no puppies in the foreseeable future."
"Oh." Dawn got a wistful look on her face. "No puppies?"
"I don't know how this is going to go anymore than he does. But from where I'm standing, I look like the bigger relationship risk here. After all, I've chased off two other ones already, and him once. For the most part, his boyfriend history looks pretty solid." Buffy grimaced. "Except for that whole Harmony thing."
"Eww." Dawn shivered in remembrance. "Did you have to go there? I mean *that* 'there?' Cause again, ewww..."
Xander was shaking his head in wonder when he returned to the Summers house. Buffy looked up from dinner. "What?" she said, half-smile on her face at his bemused look.
He slung himself into a chair. "Your boyfriend," he said simply.
The slayer sighed. "What did he do this time?" she said as Xander stared at the food on her plate.
"Conned me into a contract," he said as he picked up a fork and snagged some of her salad.
"What?" Looking up with wide eyes, Buffy almost choked on her food.
His explanation came out in a rush. "Things are a mess over there, Buff. And he is absolutely clueless. It's taken all day for them to paint a wall. One wall!" He grinned wryly. "He hinted, I hooked myself on the bait, and suddenly, I'm a conned-tractor. Or cod-tractor as the case may be. Since I'm the one on the hook."
One corner of Buffy's mouth turned up. She covered it with her hand.
"Hey!" Xander's face reddened. "No laughing."
A sound mysteriously like a snort made its way around her hand. "Sorry," she apologized, eyes dancing with suppressed mirth.
"Not completely stupid," he proclaimed. "Getting paid here. Several round zeros on the left side of the decimal point for the Xanman," he crowed.
"Good." She nodded, then, looked down at her plate. "Hungry?"
"Yeah, but salad's not on my happy-happy joy-joy list of food goodness. Meat guy, remember?"
"Xander, everything you say lately sounds sexual..."
He grinned self-deprecatingly. "I guess that's what happens when you're between girlfriends and not getting any."
Daniel walked into Spike's new office, chin high and back stiff with anticipation. The older vampire was putting away files.
"Well, well. Fledge. See you didn't take my 'advice.'"
The younger vampire was silent.
"I should be kicking your undead ass back to Vale about now. Or stuffing you in a lockbox and onto a cargo carrier. But I'm not. Seem to think I can make your unlife right miserable without you going anywhere."
"Thanks," Daniel mumbled.
Shooting him a hard look, Spike made a very rude noise. "Don't thank me. You can thank the Slayer. M'Still throroughly brassed off, believe me. But instead of kickin' your ass, I'm gonna work it off you." He picked up the hard copy of a report and set it on a shelf. "Gonna run the first patrol tonight, instead of tomorrow. You need to pull maps and acquaint the boys with the layout." Spike narrowed his eyes. "We're headin' out in four hours. Little later than I'd like, but for tonight, it'll do. And the slayer's comin' with. That's all."
Daniel turned crisply and headed out the door, heaving a silent sigh of relief.
Uh, oh. The other shoe. He turned back, schooling his face to impassivity.
Spike looked him over, eyes intense. "I'm very sorry about your girl," the older vampire said softly. His voice regained a hint of steel, as his eyes pierced Daniel's. "But understand this. There'll be no private investigations of any kind. No withholding of information. And you'll do what I say from here on, or I'll ship you back to Vale - and Ralston - so fast your fangs rattle."
"We'll get him, but no goin' off half-cocked. Could bollix up things for everybody. Now... is that clear?"
"Sod it, Daniel, stop sayin' that! Feel like I'm in a bad war movie."
Dawn was heading out the front door as Spike raised a hand to knock on it. "Patrolling?" she said in a flip voice.
"Well, yeah. Gang's all here now." He smiled. "Thought it was time to get 'em out on the streets... or at least the paved byways of the Sunnyrest Cemetery."
"So. You sticking around this time, or what?" she asked curtly.
Spike looked at the girl questioningly.
"Oh, don't. Don't even try the headtilt on me. It might work on Buffy... and yeah, it used to work on me, but I'm onto you now."
"Headtilt? That's a form of communication now? A headtilt?"
"Don't go all innocent on me, Mister. I want to know what your intentions are."
He sighed. "What's this about, then?"
"Oh, maybe that your comings and goings around here are beginning to look a lot like a revolving door at Macy's?" she said snarkily.
"C'mon, Bit, do you really think that's fair?"
"I don't know. You tell me. Is it?"
Spike took a deep breath. "You know this is complicated, Little Bit. Has been from the get-go."
Dawn snarled at him. "All I know is, I'm sick and tired of watching Buffy mope around every time you leave. Every time you have one of your little mid-life crisis thingies."
Drawing himself to full height, he raised an eyebrow. "I do *not* have mid-life crises. Besides, I'm dead."
"Okay," she shrugged. "Mid-unlife crisis, then. All I know is, you men all seem to have 'em. Dad had one. Giles had one, and I guess Angel had one, too, which *so* fits my mid-un-life theory. Even Xander, who isn't even close to mid-life. Man equals mid-life..."
"Christ, stop saying that!"
"Okay, how's this? You needed to be your own person. Make your own place in the world," she said condescendingly.
"Bit..." he said through gritted teeth.
"Oh, and by the way, spending the night at Xander's tonight, so if you two are going to boink, you don't have to worry about me walking in on you." She watched in satisfaction as Spike's jaw dropped. "As if you ever do. Just take the house down if you want." With that, she slipped out the door and out to Xander's waiting car.
"Jesus!" Spike was almost shaking with anger and embarrassment.
"What's wrong?" Buffy called down the steps.
Spike raised his voice to carry up the stairs. "Your ever-frightening sister."
"Oh," she called down. "She got you, too?"
"'Got' me? It's gonna take years of analysis to..."
"She has abandonment issues. Obviously," Buffy said, as she bounced down the stairs. She was wearing a black turtleneck and corduroy pants, black watch cap pulled down over her ears, like every other coed on the Sunnydale campus. Spike forgot about Dawn and looked her over approvingly. "Fetching, love."
She made a face. "I wasn't going for a fashion statement here. More college uniform for the female masses. Besides, you've made me so nervous about DeLuca that I thought I'd dress down."
The vampire chuckled. "Like that cap's gonna hide that glorious hair. And black is rather flattering on you. I've always thought so."
"You'd think 'black' was flattering on a golden retriever," she said dryly. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you'd eaten Henry Ford."
"There's my girl. All full o' piss and vinegar. I was beginning to miss you."
She smiled. "Are we taking the truck? I'm so up for the truck."
"And it's black, too. Will wonders never cease?" He shook his head. "Going on foot. I'll leave it here and pick it up after." Looking around, he grabbed at a dark coat. "Taking this one?"
"Sure. Why not?" He held out the coat as she slipped an arm in. "Mmm. So polite."
"Hey, even when I was all evil, y'know?"
"Feeling all crampy here." A whine of complaint came through in the short statement.
"Oh, we crampin' your style, pet?" Spike grinned rakishly at her, as he translated from Buffy-speak. "Wondered how long you'd last. Patience has never been your strong suit, Slayer."
"Yada, yada. It's not like I'm bored or anything."
"Bollocks! You're bored to bloody tears..."
"Okay, I'm bored. And there's nothing around here. I need to get some private demon hunting in. I'm restless and getting wiggier by the minute. Are these guys gonna patrol with you every time from now on?"
"For now? Yeah." In the dim light, Spike saw the slayer's lower lip protrude slightly. "Oh, bugger. Now you're pouting."
"Shhh," she whispered. "I think they're listening."
Spike looked up as six backs stiffened noticeably. He sighed. Just great. First night out and already the rumor mills would be churning - as if they weren't already.
He felt pressure on his bicep and looked back at Buffy. She'd squeezed his arm to get his attention. "I'm out of here. Catch you later," she whispered. "Bye, guys," she said in the same low voice.
Six heads turned. Spike could have died (again), as the slayer giggled merrily. Then, she was gone.
Had to save the situation somehow. He turned on the mike to his headset and spoke into it. "Everyone sound off. Then, split up into sets of two, headset on all the time. Let's see what we can flush out." As the team members spoke quietly into the mouthpieces on their headsets, Spike slipped away into the darkness.
The older vampire let Daniel take over the patrol, only half-listening and offering information when necessary, as he headed toward the school and the crime scene there. He wanted to see the blood markings for himself.
It took a moment for the low voice to cut through his thoughts. "Oh, God..." Spike's ears sharpened at the reverent tone. He wasn't sure who it was. Then, he heard a growl.
"Jeffries, stand down!" That, definitely from Matthews. "So much blood..." Almost a whisper. Then, a stronger "Jeffries! Back off!"
Spike turned back toward the cemeteries at a run, hand to his earpiece. He heard Daniel calmly say, "Matthews, report. Coordinates?"
"'Bee niner seven.' It's a crypt."
Spike could hear feet pounding across the ground through the earpiece, even over the sound of his own. "Daniel, where is that?" he asked.
Daniel sounded a little uncertain. "I think it's your old..."
"What?" Oh, God, not Clem, he thought. Hadn't even been by there to visit him since he'd gotten back. And now...
Spike heard murmurs as the vampires began to converge on the spot. "Where's Shepherd?" A voice, he thought it was DeLuca's, gasped, then breathed out, "It's the Slayer..."
"Don't touch her!" Spike's bellow slammed through the headsets. The team winced as one at the sheer rawness in his voice. With a burst of speed, the vampire covered the last of the distance to the old cemetery, leaping errant headstones and finally taking a short cut through the trees. As he broke through the copse, the first thing he saw was moonlight playing in blonde hair. He stopped dead in his tracks and felt his stomach clench as he realized that she was facing out, hair blowing across her face in the night breeze. She was against the crypt door, and her feet weren't touching the ground. His stomach heaved.
Absently, he noticed that most of the team, including Daniel, had arrived. He didn't care. Most of them were fighting their own battles with the sharp smell of all that spilled human blood. Matthews seemed to be holding it together, but the quiet night was punctuated by snarls and growls from the others - especially Jeffries.
Daniel's shrill voice in his earpiece cut through the din. "It's not her!" The words punched into his brain, but didn't register. "Spike! It's not her, Spike!"
The assurance came too late. Spike was already beginning to gag, even as he ran toward the form.
She was wearing black, but no cap. And Spike knew the smell of Buffy's slayer blood. Still, he pushed breaths in and out, trying to keep from being sick. The shock kept his hand shaking long after he realized this girl wasn't Buffy. He reached out to push her hair away from her face.
Pretty girl. Light eyes. Taller than the slayer. And nailed to his old crypt door with something through her sternum. He pushed down the gag reflex and tried to concentrate. Knew he shouldn't move her, but it was too much, seeing her there with her blonde hair billowing and her blank eyes.
He looked back and realized that the six vampires were morphing from human to game face and back constantly. "Daniel, call a tech crew to take this girl back to base. Need a good... a good look at what's been done to her. No knife did this."
Daniel walked over slowly, green eyes dark as frozen seawater. "He did this, didn't he?"
Nodding, Spike took another deep breath and pushed it out before answering. "Looks like it." He squinted at the wall of the crypt. "Any words written anywhere?" he asked in a more rational tone.
Behind them, there was a low growl. Daniel's head came up and around, just as a half-morphed Matthews threw his weight against a fully vamped-out Jeffries. "We've got to get them out of here," the fledgling said urgently.
Spike looked over his shoulder and nodded. "Yeah. This is a right baptism of blood. Have the truck meet 'em at the gate. It's late enough to get by with it, I think."
Daniel spoke into the headset, organizing the pick up, calling for the techs, and sending the team back toward the front of the cemetery.
Stepping to the side, Spike looked at the bloodied wall and found one word.
"Oh, hell, we got ourselves a bloody scholar!" he said angrily. "This is just grand!" Daniel was relieved. At least Spike sounded normal. At least, his 'normal' for 'pissed off.'
Daniel turned back to him. "The truck is on its way. Techs are coming, too. But there's..."
Spike's strangled groan shocked the fledgling. The light had shone on the girl's jaw and the blood clotted hair. The similarity was too much for Spike. He shook his head, and turned off his mike, nodding at Daniel to do the same. "Help..." His voice caught and he swallowed, trying to steady himself. "...help me get her down," Spike said hoarsely. "I know I shouldn't, should wait for the techs, but..."
They reached under the girl's arms and pulled her body forward. She wouldn't budge. "She'll tear, if we pull any harder," Daniel said bluntly, setting his chin against the urge to bury his face in the fresh blood on her arm.
With something to do, a problem to solve, Spike seemed a little more in control. "Bloody hell, what is this, anyway?" Spike muttered disgustedly as he wrapped hard fingers around the thing holding the girl against the door. With a sharp jerk, she was free. Daniel caught her in his arms, vamping out briefly. The length of metal came away from her body and into Spike's grasp. He stared at it in disbelief as it fit comfortably - too comfortably - into his palm. "Oh, bloody Christ," the older vampire whispered in a sick voice.
Daniel laid the girl down with a low growl. He glanced at Spike in wonder. The vampire had never gone into gameface once - even in the midst of all the blood.
"What is it?" Daniel asked, features and voice returning to normal. The thing in Spike's hand was about twelve inches long and clotted with dark blood, tissue, and splinters of bone.
"It's a spike." The vampire said, as he looked at Daniel with wild eyes. "A fucking railroad spike!"
Continued in Chapter Six