All About Spike

Chapter: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12

Wolf
By Kimi

Sequel to Two Days; part of The Voicesverse

Chapter Six

He was running. Running at wind-rushing vampire speed, flying over headstones and through trees. Running like the devil was after him, and he had no idea where he was going, or even where he was anymore. He was running from himself.

DeLuca had been nearly the last to arrive at the old, vine-covered crypt, but he'd been the first to leave. The sight that greeted him on his arrival had shocked him - five vampires snarling and grunting, shifting from human to game face.

Then there was the girl. And above everything else, the rich smell of fresh blood. Lots of blood.

Her body was broken and bleeding. And he'd been devastated in the grief of recognition - a feeling that was immediately overwhelmed with a hunger that stuck sharp daggers into his gut. That scent had called out to him on a level so primal, so deep, that he was terrified.

'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,' his grandmother had said. And now he had seen it, heard it, and said it. Three words whispered into a forgotten microphone: 'It's the slayer.'

At Shepherd's answering cry, DeLuca's only thought was to escape. Didn't want to see, didn't want to hear, didn't want to say... Even, seeming eons later, as he heard Daniel's yelled assurances that the girl with her feet dangling in the air wasn't the slayer, his feet continued to slap the ground in a need to go far away.

When she had gone off on her own to hunt, DeLuca had covered his smile with a hand. He'd heard them talking, and what he had suspected the first time he saw them - deep in the bowels of the Initiative base, facing off army troops and the vampires that had been made there (himself included) - was pretty much fact.

Shepherd and Slayer were a 'thing.' A 'thing' that made no sense.

But he had seen them sparring in Vail. He saw it in every movement, every look. And if that wasn't enough, there was Shepherd's voice when he thought the slayer was dead, almost deafening him with its pain and anger.

Now DeLuca was running away - a monster, not a hero. A demon and a coward. Even if he fed on pig's blood instead of people, and helped the slayer, he was still a vampire, a nightmare, and a horror story.

And that was all he was.

He could hear the evidence of it, as his teammates snarled like predators over a dead animal, a sound that repulsed him even as it caused his gut to close in on itself in hunger.

Angrily, he grabbed at his headset and crumpled it with amazingly strong hands. He stopped running and threw it as far as he could. Looking around, he realized he was far from Sunnydale's cemeteries, standing on a sidewalk in a quiet residential neighborhood. A monster standing in a neighborhood where normal people - *living* people - lived.

DeLuca began to walk.

+

Spike stood up. "Will you wait with her?" he asked briskly. "Got to get to Buffy. Now."

"Sure, I will, but..."

"Not a serial killer, Daniel." He laughed shortly. "Not the usual brand, anyway. Probably not even human."

"But Spike..."

"The railroad spike. That's about me. The blonde girls - that's about her. And she doesn't know. She's out patrolling, and she doesn't know."

"Go," Daniel said quickly. "I'll wait."

"Thanks, Fledge." Without another word, the older vampire was gone.

Daniel backed away from the body. Without the distraction that Spike had provided, his proximity to the dead girl filled him with images he'd rather not see and feelings he'd prefer not to experience.

The other members of the team had been picked up a few minutes before. The techs had been caught unawares, though - something that needed to be dealt with later. He'd finally gotten the call that they were on their way, and Spike had made the decision to leave.

The spike was important. And by Shepherd's reaction, a lot more important than a simple nickname would suggest.

He blew out a breath. How had Spike gotten that nickname? He knew that the vampire had been the slayer's adversary in the past, but he hadn't thought beyond it, or even much about it. He knew nothing about Spike, not really. 'Shepherd,' yes, but not 'Spike.'

Right now, he wasn't sure he wanted to.

+

Clearing up the dishes was a mind-boggling chore. Sooner or later, she was gonna have to have Jonathan do some kind of scrying thing to find out how there were greasy saucepans in the sink, even when she fixed a salad for dinner. Very Hellmouthy.

Her night had picked up a little after she'd left Spike and the team. A couple of fledgling females had rolled across her path somewhere near the Bronze, dressed for partying. In retrospect, the slayer decided that the two had watched a little too much WWF when they were alive. Still, their little tag team show had been bordering on majorly entertaining, even a little challenging, until Buffy's favorite black turtleneck had gotten ripped. Then, it was business as usual.

She stood over the sink, struck by a sudden thought. There'd been an upsurge in female vamps recently. Cunning, too, and sharp as razors. In the absence of the usual demony badness, it kind of stood out.

Setting the clean-er saucepan in to soak longer, she stared at the murky, barely sudsy water. As nicely as the night had turned out, it was still missing something. She wasn't liking the whole new patrol thing already.

Jealous? Maybe a little, and nothing she couldn't deal with. She just liked Spike and her watching each other's back on patrol... It had taken years for her to admit it, and now the point was all mooty.

Plodding upstairs to wash off the dust in the tub, she wondered how Spike was making it, doubting he'd get away early enough to come by. She looked around absently, but didn't see her robe. Changing course, she dropped into her bedroom and caught the smell of cigarette smoke drifting in from the open window.

Was this some new broody thing Spike was going to start doing after Fang Patrol? It would be romantic if it wasn't so... well, okay, 'lame?' As in been there, done that! Stalking to the window a little miffed, she pushed it up the rest of the way and leaned out.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," she hissed in a whisper pitched for vampire hearing, "come on in and stop...!" She saw a flash of movement and then nothing.

"Fine!" she yelled. Must have gotten his feelings hurt when she bailed on him. She slammed the window closed on the smell of tobacco. "Be that way," she muttered, even more pissed.

Picking up her robe, she stamped out into the hall and headed in for a long, scalding bath.

+

Was he AWOL now? He'd left without orders. Just run off. Heroes didn't do that. They stood and fought. He ran a shaking hand across his forehead.

What had ever made him think he could be like them?

+

The truck wouldn't have done him any good anyway. And he had a pretty good idea of Buffy's usual slayer movements - or he *had*, anyway. Spike had rushed through the cemeteries, suspecting that she'd headed toward the Bronze.

He was almost running at this point, mind flipping through scenarios. Finally, as a last resort, he turned to Revello Drive.

The porch light was off, but he could see the front door. And the crumpled bundle against it.

No, no, no, no, his mind screamed. He stumbled once, and again, as he flew up the steps. He threw himself to his knees to carefully cradle the blonde head.

It wasn't her. It was someone else. And this time, a wooden stake was buried in her chest. His eyes traveled up and away to the gore-spattered wall.

ORPHEUS

He realized he was panting with the effort to calm himself. And shivering. Unconsciously, his hands left the girl and traveled up to wrap themselves around his body to keep it from shaking apart.

The front door flew open, as light flooded the porch. He looked up, eyes wide.

"What the..." Buffy's eyes were huge, as they took everything in.

Spike was up like a shot, catching the slayer by the shoulders as he roughly shoved her back inside, flipping off the light and closing the door on the scene outside.

In her surprise, she let him, the sight on her porch momentarily freezing her like a deer in headlights. Then, she was pulling away, trying to push past him to get back outside.

"Don't," he said, hands on her shoulders shifting into a more gentle grip. "Listen to me. That girl... she's got a stake in her chest."

Buffy's eyes left his to dart over his shoulder to the door as she tried to step toward it.

"Look at me, Buffy," he said, shaking her shoulders lightly to get her attention. "There's another one."

She let out a breath as her lids slid down over her green eyes. "Oh, God." Her eyes popped open. "Two? Out there?"

"No..." Spike said slowly. "The other one is at the crypt."

"What?"

"Hung her on the door. Used a railroad spike to do it. I thought..." He choked on the words. "Thought it was..." He couldn't finish, eyes swinging down to cover the tears that were pricking his eyes. "Girls are blonde," he said quietly. "Long blonde hair - just like you."

Her eyes softened as she realized why he was shaking. She opened her mouth to speak, but he wasn't done.

"Then, I got here, and..." He raised his eyes and looked into hers, apologetically. "Know you can handle yourself, love, not trying to take anything away from you. You're the slayer. But this isn't some run of the mill baddie in town for a quick rush of fun."

Just seeing him so visibly shaken and apologizing for it made her eyes water. "Oh, I'm so sorry," she whispered.

His mouth quirked at the corner. "Yeah," he said blinking. "Well. Me, too." He put a hand up and pushed her hair back from her face. "Can't do it, love. Can't lose you again."

"You're not," she assured him levelly, voice strong.

Reaching for his cell phone, he pushed out a calming breath. "Need to call Daniel," he explained in some semblance of a normal tone. "Get techs here before somebody sees..."

Pulling back, she looked him in the eye. "A spike? It was a spike?"

"Yeah," he said, watching for the signal to come up. After milliseconds, the phone was ready and on-line, digital and untappable. He glanced up to see her forehead furrowed in thought.

"A stake I get," she mused. "I'm the slayer, so that's a thing. But a railroad spike. That's..."

"Incredibly sick and depraved?" His voice was dry and very neutral.

She looked at him, eyes narrowing. "Well, *I* was gonna say obscure." She shook her head and returned to her explanation. "I mean, who knows about that?" Her eyes darkened. "I'm calling L.A."

Almost dropping the phone, his eyes flashed. "Why the bleedin' hell would you want...?" He almost stuttered. "You're callin' *Angel*?"

"God, I *hope* so!" she said solemnly as she walked to the hall table and started burrowing in the drawer, as he stared at her back. He tried to make sense of the sudden shift in her body language. Anger, yes. But something else, a little like fear.

"Oh." Spike felt stupid. "Angelus."

Buffy spun around, old brown address book in her hand. "Got it!" she said grimly. "And yeah, this kind of smells like him, don't you think?"

Spike hit 'dial.' "Yeah," he mumbled. As the base picked up, Spike curtly gave them an economical set of orders. Then, he deactivated the phone. As he looked up, he noticed Buffy was gazing at him with an annoyed look in her eyes.

"What?" he said, pissed that she'd caught on.

"You thought I was calling him because we needed his help?" Her eyes glinted. "I'll have you know that I haven't talked to Angel in two years. And I haven't gone running to him for *anything* since he left! Not a single Apocalypse. Of which there have been many!"

He looked down, a little embarrassed. "I just..."

"Well, get over it!" She glanced at the book, finding the number. "There." She spared him a dark look. "Stupid vampire," she muttered.

"Well, what does it prove anyway?" he interjected, a little wounded and looking to recover a little pride - or at least salve the hurt a little with some logic. "You've been fooled by Angelus before, pet." He was almost smug.

"Well, if he's at the Hyperion, he's not in Sunnydale, right?" she said in a superior tone.

Spike wanted to kick himself. "Right," he mumbled.

She stared at him, still half-pissed. "Right," she echoed, as she picked up the phone and started dialing. "Stupid vampire..."

+

Daniel rode with the techs to Revello Drive.

"Shepherd, can I talk to you?"

Nodding, Spike stepped off to the side as they finished cleaning the front wall of the house. Pictures had been taken, the girl had been whisked into a body bag, and they'd conducted something of a silent investigation, all with penlights and night vision goggles. No porch light allowed.

"DeLuca's missing," the fledgling said in a low voice.

Spike's eyes widened. "Oh, bloody hell."

"We've got a truck out looking for him. Can't get him on the headset. In fact, it looks like it's been damaged. Can't get a fix on the signal."

"Perfect," Spike said sarcastically.

"And by the way, where's yours? Did you drop it somewhere, cause..." Suddenly, Daniel's eyebrows went up, his eyes unfocused, and he pulled the microphone toward his mouth. Marveling at how comfortable the younger vampire was with the irritating thing, Spike waited.

"This is North," he said, acknowledging the hail from Dispatch. Frowning, he listened intently, then looked at Spike in satisfaction. "Got him. DeLuca. A few blocks away from here." Continuing to listen, Daniel absently watched Spike wait impatiently for information.

Finally, the fledgling nodded conclusively. "Just head back to Base, then. North out." Daniel let out a sigh as he spoke, "He's in bad shape. Not talking. They said it looks like some kind of shock."

Spike bit his lip. "The others?"

"Well, they were together the whole time, during and after. Seem to be coping. Quiet, thoughtful, but moving with a purpose."

"All right, go back with the techs. Get the shrink in with DeLuca for a 'debriefing.' Get him to talk - don't care how. Short of torture, of course."

Daniel gave him an appreciative look. Tonight had been hard to handle for everyone. But for DeLuca, whose adjustment ratings were so high...

"You need me, I'll be here. Bastard could come back. Want to be here if he bloody well does."

'*I* want to be here if he does,' Daniel thought. But he nodded sharply. "Right." Daniel turned to the crew. "Let's go."

Buffy stepped out on the porch. "I got him. Finally! And it *was* him I got," she said cryptically. "Not the other one."

Daniel saw Spike nod and wondered what the slayer was talking about. He moved toward the truck, leaving them alone.

Spike stepped back toward the door. So, no Angelus. Square one. "Figured it wouldn't be simple."

"Never is," She turned back toward the door, then stopped and turned. "Hey," she said with the characteristic Buffy change of subject that Spike sometimes found so infuriating. "Hot chocolate?"

+

He was laughing, arms limp against his sides, silently laughing as if he might never stop.

It had looked like the entertainment was over for the evening and he'd been fully prepared to slip back to the cave. But his curiosity had gotten the better of him. He was so glad it had. Wiping tears of laughter from his cheeks, marveling that even dead he could still laugh 'til he cried if the situation warranted it, he took another look.

His brother, the Slayer of Slayers, was pulling coffee mugs out of the cabinet in the kitchen, while his whore was standing over the stove stirring a saucepan.

Unbelievable! They were making hot chocolate! He hurried away from the window before he laughed out loud. The whole tableau was so rich with irony that he'd kill for a video camera.

Truly kill...

They weren't talking, of course. He would have been sorely disappointed if they had. What he'd shown them tonight was enough to strike even those two dumb as posts.

So far, he'd enjoyed the show very, very much. Watching the eunuchs snarl over a drained corpse, seeing his brother lose himself enough to stumble as he moved.

And to crown the night, there was the open invitation from the slayer to all comers. A 'come on down,' or 'in,' anyway, that would prove to be very convenient, if he could just decide how to exploit it to the fullest.

Mother would clap her hands and let him feed on her 'til he was sated when he told her what he'd done. How easily he had killed the slayer. He just hadn't determined how he wanted to do it yet. Might have used up his best move with that railroad spike.

He was also looking forward to playing with his brother's lap dogs. More brothers, although distinctly inferior. One of them snarled more than the others. Kicked up quite a fuss trying to get to that girl. Might be time to cut him out of the pack. Idly, he wondered where the rest of them were. Gabriel knew that there were more.

Amusing, that was the word. It was all so amusing and he'd been quite clever so far. He almost wished Mother were here.

Except she couldn't be trusted where He was concerned. Gabriel knew it. No matter what he laid at her feet, he could feel the disappointment in her. Because he wasn't Him. She hadn't been the same since they'd left Sunnydale. And she didn't have it in her to pretend.

She regaled him with stories about the two of them in Europe, about her sire and his sire. And always about her child. These invariably ended in a tirade about His betrayal.

Reaching the cave, Gabriel sat down in a corner, hard stone against his back and pulled his knees to his chest. He was sick of suffering along at second best and didn't have an eternity to get past it. It wasn't his style.

Someone else's turn to suffer.

+

They were sitting on the sofa, staring at the wall. Somehow, she'd ended up next to him. He concentrated on letting the smell of her shampoo lull him into a non-thinking state.

It wasn't working.

"So, what did he say?" Spike asked finally, as he sat up abruptly to set down the empty mug.

"What did 'who' say?"

"The L.A. poof extraordinaire," he said tiredly, barely getting up the strength for a good jab at his old enemy.

"About what?" Buffy asked as she picked up the mug and headed to the kitchen.

Spike watched her walk away. What did she think he meant? Christ, she was the most infuriating woman he'd ever met! Refusing to jump off the couch and go after her, he waited for her return, wearily leaning back against the cushions.

"You didn't tell him?" he asked, as she walked back in and sat down on the sofa, sinking into the couch.

"About those girls?" she asked, closing her eyes. "No. Don't want the Rescue Rangers showing up. Really not in the mood to entertain here." She sighed. "And obviously, this is about us, not them."

Silence hung heavy in the room. Buffy waited, opening one eye, to peer over at Spike. His eyes were closed. She let out a breath.

"Buffy?" he said softly.

She made a low sound in acknowledgment.

"He put this one on your doorstep. He's comin' for you."

She glanced over. His eyes were still closed. Her answer was a dismissive grunt. "I hope so. Come after me, fine, but leave the innocent bystanders out of it."

Slowly turning his head, he looked at her, frown line eating into his brow. "Gotta keep the Bit away from here. He's playing a game, love."

"Well, I'm playing for keeps," she said muttered. "And at least it isn't Angel, cause that could be badder."

He raised an eyebrow at the Buffyism. "Badder?"

"So who, then? Drusilla? She's loose."

The vampire made a dismissive sound of his own. "Not at all her style, pet. She'd have just rung the front bell, handed you the girl, and invited you for a tea party." He sighed. "Dru's not really one for sneakin' about. Too much effort."

For some reason, his words stung Buffy slightly. Maybe it was the amusement his voice held. Why couldn't it be Dru? "You look like you were hit by a runaway truck," she complained.

"Been a helluva night, pet. If my heart hadn't already quit beating, it would have stopped twice tonight." He sounded exhausted. M'knackered," he said, throwing his arm over the back of the couch and closing his eyes again with a sigh. "Don't think he's comin' back tonight. Just gonna rest a bit before I head to the Base."

He burrowed back against the sofa, putting his feet on the coffee table. Buffy watched him. In a few minutes, she quietly snuggled in under his arm and fell asleep.

+

Dawn wanted her curling iron. Dawn needed her curling iron. And Dawn had forgotten to take her curling iron to Xander's.

After several minutes of whining, he capitulated, agreeing to leave early and wait in the car while Dawn did something with her hair that she'd seen in a book.

The magazine was clutched in one hand, house key in the other as they pulled up outside the house. Dawn climbed out of the car, completely fixated on the curling iron, and leaned back in the partially rolled-down window. "Wait for me. Don't leave. You promised."

"Not in that big a hurry," Xander grinned. "I'll be right here."

Dawn wrenched open the front door and stomped up the stairs. Halfway up, she heard a bellow that almost made her fall backwards.

"Bloody hell, Nibblet!"

She looked over her shoulder guiltily to see a pissed-off, sleepy-eyed vampire cuddled up next to her sister. Okay, now he was *totally* invading her space! Sure, they were both dressed, but still... couldn't even run up the steps in her own house! And she was gonna be late for school, and Xander was pissy when he got impatient, and...

"For God's sake," she said loudly as she reached the bathroom. "Get a friggin' room!"

The sound of the slamming door echoed through the house, shaking the walls.

Spike felt Buffy's eyes on him. He slid her a look. Her eyes were as sarcastic as her voice. "Well, hello, Mr. Grumpy."

+

The vampire was muttering, slamming drawers, and moving paper. Loudly moving paper. The office seemed a little more like an office today. Or maybe it was because its inhabitant was having such a bad time of it.

Xander waggled his fingers in greeting. "Mornin', Sleeping Beauty."

Spike looked up with flashing eyes. "Sod off, Harris. Was a long night, and it's already a hell of a day."

"Yeah, well, Dawnie didn't look too happy either. Hear you aren't Mr. Charming in the mornings."

Spike ran a hand over his face. "Not all you heard, I reckon."

"Not near. In fact, it did my heart good to hear your good name villainized at 7 a.m. Set me up for the day," he said jovially.

"Not up to this, whelp," he snarled. "I should be in bed."

"Speaking of which... I made the switch." He grinned a little at his choice of words. And as much as he was loving the sight of a thoroughly chastised Spike, business was business, and the man was all up for avoiding a repetition of the morning's Dawn hysterics. "Value for your dollar with the Xanman."

The surprised look melted into a smirk. "That bugger's gone?" Spike sat back, recovering a bit of his trademark humor. "See? Got a gift for recognizin' personal strengths. When I had minions..."

Rolling his eyes, Xander walked in the room and sat down in the chair on the other side of the desk. "Please. Spare me the 'good old days' speech. Used to get enough of that with Anya. Stories that made my manhood shrink in terror."

Spike's eyes became unreadable as he looked at the man. "You seen her?"

"Not so much," he admitted. "She came by the other day to get some stuff. Well, *a* stuff. This serape-looking blanket I picked up the summer after senior year when I got stranded. No money, no car, just two hands, and an unending sink full of dishes at a greasy spoon." He leaned back in the chair, warming to the story.

"She hated it. The blanket, I mean. Or I thought she did. I used to find it hidden in the trash all the time, with this sweater I had from high school. But the other day, she comes by and wants it for her new place." He laughed, a twist of irony in it. "Women," he said spreading his hands in surrender. "Go figure."

Spike stared at him like he was an idiot.

"What?" Xander said. "You're looking at me like I'm an idiot."

"God, Harris, you are such a git! Do you ever listen to yourself?"

"Huh?"

Spike looked heavenward in supplication. No divine intervention there, so he barreled on. "Please. Have mercy upon all of us poor sods, which, unlike you, are actually cursed with awareness! Get a clue, whelp - before the next apocalypse, if possible!"

Xander's pissed off look warred with his curiosity. Curiosity won. "So... clue me."

"Club you, more like. To clue you would take more strength and patience than I've got. I'm only one vampire, you know." He pushed out an exasperated breath. "Did you ask her to stay for a cuppa? Put in a vid? Jump her bones?"

Recoiling slightly, the man shook his head. "Are you crazy? I've *been* Rejected!Guy! Hate it. So not going there again. Believe me, she's not interested."

Spike almost laughed in the man's face. "She comes and gets your favorite blankie, somethin' she always hated with a passion, and she's not interested?"

"Well, maybe it would look good in her... Wait. So you're saying...?" Xander stopped and looked at Spike curiously. "What *are* you saying?"

"Bloody hell," Spike said, frustrated beyond belief. "Figure it out for yourself!"

"Well, you're so special and intuitive, I thought you might..."

"No!" Spike slowly bent his head toward the desk and banged it once very deliberately. "God save me from lovesick Scoobies," he muttered.

"Fine!" Xander got up, already sick to death of being made fun of by, of all people, Spike. "I'll just get back to work."

The vampire glanced up. "Buffy's comin' in at two. Wants you here. Can you have Levinson get Little Bit and bring her on after school?"

"Sure. What's up?" Xander wanted a spoiler... any spoiler he could get.

"Later, Harris, when the gang's all here, and we know more."

"Well, okay, but got to say, not loving the suspense," the man said as he left the room.

"Harris, you're not gonna love any of it," Spike muttered under his breath. He wished they could leave the railroad spike out of it, but his own 'open and honest' policy ruled that out.

Spike stared at the wall, then started making notes on what they knew. There had to be a clue somewhere.

+

The slayer eased into consciousness with her Spidey senses tingling lightly and a restless niggle on the back of her neck. She'd only laid down for a minute to ease the tension in her back, and had drifted off into a very light, twitchy sleep.

Suddenly a loud and very irritating noise startled her into action as slayer reflexes took over. She reacted without even opening her eyes.

Buffy's arm slammed to the side, taking out the offending alarm clock in a mass of shattered plexi-glass, plastic, and small pieces of metal.

Her eyes flew open. Disgusted, she looked at the wreckage, blowing a strand of hair off her nose. "Not another one..." she muttered.

Clammy with sweat, breathing shallowly, and didn't even remember why. Mid-morning light flooded her bedroom. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to remember if she'd been dreaming. Breathing deeply, she attempted to focus and replay whatever had just happened in her head.

She failed miserably. What she did recall was the sight of that girl on her porch, the determined look on Spike's face, and the low mutters of the techs as they cleaned up after the murderer. She shook her head and sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the still-made bed.

She ticked the suspects off in her head. Which took a half a tick.

Not Angel - or Angelus. Not Dru. Did Spike have any other old cronies that hated his guts enough to take on a slayer?

At least five girls were dead. Tortured dead. Maybe more, if Jonathan's theory held up.

She got up and walked to the bathroom, turning on the water. Then, she went downstairs, padding along barefoot. The sofa cushions still carried the imprint of the night's two unconscious bodies. She smiled. Guessed the bloom was off the rose, if the two of them had lain all over each other and hadn't done anything but sleep.

It was almost a disturbing thought.

Almost.

Not quite. In fact, it was kind of comforting.

She put on some coffee and went back upstairs to get in the tub, still trying to wrap her mind around the events of the previous night. Going into her bedroom, she ransacked a drawer looking for panties. At the lean pickings there, Buffy suspected Dawn had raided her again. That kid really needed to learn to use the washing machine.

Finding one of her older, and not so attractive pairs, she made a sweeping turn to head back toward the bathroom. She stopped, slowly turning her head to look at the window again.

The closed window.

Her mouth dropped open. She'd forgotten. In all the excitement, she'd completely dismissed it from her mind. It was a small thing, compared to the dead girls who had been swept away under the cover of night, but it obviously hadn't been Spike outside her window last night smoking cigarettes.

Had it been the killer?

A stake. A railroad spike. So, it was something - or someone - that knew what she was - and what Spike had been.

Focus.

Angel knew. Drusilla knew. Scoobies past and present knew.

She made a squicky face. And Watchers knew. That woman Watcher had done her thesis on William the Bloody. Not just Giles had access to that oh-so-out-of-date information.

Cerberus. Watcher. Spike said it was a reach, but...

Still, when you were at a dead end, anything looked good. She climbed into the tub and let the too hot water turn her muscles to mush.

+

DeLuca smiled with relief when he saw her. A big wide smile. Buffy smiled back. She couldn't help it. Poor guy...

And when did vampires start being 'poor guys' in the slayer handbook, she thought.

A little voice answered. 'Fairly recently.'

These were the strangest bunch of demons she'd ever seen. Oh. Except for Clem, of course.

Obviously, the smile wasn't enough. DeLuca picked his way across the 'Pit,' which was now a warm light gold color. It looked like Xander had really gotten them on the stick. The walls were *done.*

"Hi," the boy said shyly. Buffy almost shook her head as she quickly substituted 'vampire' for 'boy', in her mind. "You okay?"

So sweet. Timid. Sensitive artist guy. Buffy went down the list of adjectives, then abruptly returned to the main one.

Vampire.

"I'm fine," she answered, meeting his dark eyes. Dark eyes like Xander, which was so not fair, cause dark eyes like that meant 'friend,' and this wasn't her friend.

She tilted her head, trying to salvage a moment to regroup. "Isn't it your bedtime? Cause daytime is like nighttime for you - or it's supposed to be, anyway."

"That's what Shepherd says," he answered honestly. "And I tried. I really did, but I can't sleep." He seemed to make a sudden decision. "Can I talk to you?"

She nodded solemnly, but inwardly, she was grimacing. He sounded serious, and his eyes were so wounded.

"We could sit there," he said, nodding at an empty workstation.

She followed him. "I'm here to meet Sp... Shepherd... for a meeting. But, okay." Keeping her voice neutral, she continued. "I've got a few minutes."

She sat down, eyes swinging to his face he pulled up a chair and started talking.

"All my life, I was... well, I didn't get to get out of the house much. I was sick. You know, ill. For a long, long time. Like always."

She nodded, a little surprised that she was having a heart-to-heart with a vampire. 'Well, okay. A vampire I'm not sleeping with,' she thought, qualifying her mental statement.

"I used to read. It was all I could do a lot of the time. And draw," he added, eyes seeming to see something that wasn't there. He focused on Buffy. "I could draw."

The slayer grinned in spite of herself. "Having been the object of your... drawing, yes, you can definitely draw."

"Thanks," he said warmly. The slight smile faded as he returned to the point of their conversation.

"Last night, when I saw that girl... well, I always wanted to be a hero. Like in books, or even in comics." He grinned sadly. "Who wouldn't want to be a super-hero? I mean, nobody. And now I have all this strength, almost as good as powers, and I can do good with it. I know I can! But last night, when I smelled that girl..."

He was becoming so upset, so confused, that somehow Buffy found her hand on his arm. "You're a vampire."

"I know. I know that." He stammered over the next words. "But I wanted to finish the job. I wanted to tear her to pieces!" His voice was strained and tight.

Buffy smiled sadly. "But you didn't."

"No. I ran. Ran off and left the girl. Left my teammates. Left Shepherd. I left them to deal and ran."

She sat there looking into his soft, pained eyes. "This is hard for you. I know that. This is hard for me, too," she said, returning his candor with some of her own.

"I've been slaying vampires since I was 'called.' That's eight years - almost every night - fighting 'you.' Everything that's inside me wants to dust you and every vampire here." She shook her head, ruefully. "Well, not so much now, but in Vail, it was all big stakage urges." He looked even more downtrodden than before. "But I'm fighting that. And I'm winning." She leaned forward and looked at him encouragingly. "Keep fighting."

"I always wanted to help people."

"Then, do it!" Her eyes changed. "What's your name? Your *first* name."

He looked down shyly. "Jimmy. I used to be Jimmy. Jimmy DeLuca."

The slayer put out her small hand. He stared at it a moment before he finally took it.

"Nice to meet you, Jimmy. My name is Buffy Summers."

+

Buffy stalked into Spike's office wearing her Resolve Face, and almost spitting in anger.

"You've got to stop this!"

He looked up, pleased expression melting into one of confusion. "Stop what?"

"Your little army. There's not..." She let out a disgusted breath. "DeLuca is a basket case and I bet the rest of them are just as screwed up!"

Spike got up. "Screwed up?" He looked at her, puzzled. "Of course, they're screwed up. They're demons."

Looking down, she fidgeted with her shirt. "I know it sounds crazy, but they're like... children!"

Spike shook his head. "Not children. Vampires. Last night, they got a hard look at just what that means. No sugar-coatin' it now. It's the be all and end all of what they are. Been preparing them..."

"Preparing?" she sputtered. Spike walked over and deliberately closed the office door.

"Yes! For months!" Spike lost the tenuous hold on his temper. "Getting them ready for last night! Didn't know when it was comin' - or the shape of it, but dammit, it had to bloody happen!" He ran out of steam. "And it's a relief."

Buffy took a deep breath, trying to comprehend what he was saying. "I'm trying to understand, but..."

"They step over the line, the chip fires," he said patiently. "Still, there are a hundred ways they could step wrong and the chip stays quiet as a mouse. You know that. Hell, you've seen me do most of 'em. Feeding on that dead girl wouldn't have given 'em the twinge of a headache. They didn't do it, though. None of 'em."

He stepped closer and put his hands on her shoulders. "But sooner or later, they'll do something to make that chip go off. And make no mistake, it will happen," he said intently. "It's inevitable."

"Inevitable..." she echoed.

"Of course," he said, surprised she didn't see it. "How they deal with it - that's what matters." He shrugged. "Some will. Some won't. But I've done what I could. And I'll keep doin' it."

She softened slightly, shoulders relaxing in his hands. "Did you know just what you were getting into with this? Cause you sound like you did."

"No," he admitted honestly. "I didn't. But I do now."



Continued in Chapter Seven

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