Sequel to Two Days; part of The Voicesverse
Rating: PG-13 Action/Adventure/Mystery
Summary: Read "Reminders" and "Shepherd" All available at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, "Shepherd," which was a sequel to "Reminders," which was... oh, you get the picture!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Notes: Well, I've just about worn out my betas and my fellow writers with this. I was going to wait and begin posting at season hiatus, since I did not want to be Jossed outright, but I'm just too impatient. I also find that I tinker too much when it's just sitting there.
Special thanks to Chris, who has got to be worn out with Chapter One by now; Kelly, who has lots of little tidbits for later on; Chenanceou, who is way too encouraging; and Colleen, who is as always, the most patient beta in the universe.
Special love and kisses to SS and the Gutter...and Mama TabRas. I love you all!
The main room glared with light and gleaming white tiles. Rubbing his forehead, Spike surveyed the space, wincing as his sharp eyes picked out a white piece of paper that was taped to the far wall. Pushing out a breath, he walked over and looked.
Oh, Christ. DeLuca was 'doing' him again. Finding this today was not putting him in a better mood. He snatched at the pen and ink drawing, looked down at the comic book style rendering, and headed back toward his office. He wondered when the hell he'd see the hind-end of Vale, Colorado. He was damned if he was looking at these buggering white walls at the renovated facility in Sunnydale.
The dark haired vampire almost cringed when he saw Spike pull the paper off the wall. How had he missed it? Surely, it hadn't been there earlier. His eyes followed the characteristically light blond head, as his 'boss' charged through the main room, loose paper in one hand, a case in the other, on a collision course with his office. He seemed to be muttering an unending string of curses. The fledgling vampire got up, nodded to the comm tech, and headed in the same direction.
Spike passed out of sight and a door slammed, the sound ringing above all the ambient noise from twenty-six vampires, nineteen support people, a couple of extras from maintenance...
Shaking the wavy locks away from his forehead, Daniel tried to prepare for whatever waited on the other side of the office door. Obviously, the meeting hadn't gone well. Even worse than usual, he thought. Sucking it up, he reached for the doorknob, took a deep breath (he'd been around Spike way too much), and walked in. One 'bloody hell', a 'bugger', and three slamming drawers punctuated his entrance.
Bright, hard, blue eyes greeted him. "Can't find the bloody housing survey! So Ralston's in an almighty snit. Hate those Watcher pillocks! I could bleed that wanker, didn't have this sodding soul. Bleed him, gut him, fire his remains in the boiler room! That is, if we *had* a boiler room, and...."
"It's in the computer," Daniel said reasonably.
"What?" Spike's eyes bored into him, as if daring him to lie.
"You had a print out. I can do another one. Have it delivered to him," the fledgling pointed out, thankful that, as a vampire, he no longer perspired. Talk about Daniel bearding the lion in his den.
Spike stopped fidgeting and leaned back in his chair. "No doin' it over?"
"Oh. Good, then. I've got other stuff, and she..."
"Hasn't even left yet. Early afternoon flight. Won't be here for hours. And you have a class," Daniel reminded him.
Spike shoved his fingers through his lighter blond hair. The younger vampire had almost laughed at him when he'd seen him earlier this morning. Looked like 'Shepherd' had spent the night primping. Daniel wondered if the slayer would really be staying in the hotel he'd secured for her close by.
"You take the class," Spike said decisively.
"Well," Daniel said slowly. "I could, of course. Except this is your hand-picked team. Advanced training."
"Oh, hell. Nothin' for it then," Spike swore. "How did I let you talk me into this?" He got up and fingered the papers on his desk. "Will one of you soulless wonders bleed Ralston dry?"
Daniel laughed, relieved. Spike was already calming down. "And miss watching you spin once a week? No way. You're stuck with him until you do him yourself."
"Ungrateful rat eater," Spike muttered. "All right, fine," he said aloud, fixing Daniel with a sarcastic eyebrow. "But don't come moaning to me when the git has you packed ten vamps to a ten by ten broom closet. I'll be livin' the life of Riley at Lowell House." Spike's eyes widened as he realized what he'd said. "And don't you be tellin' the slayer I said that," he admonished him. "That was.... Forget I said it."
"You are one sick vampire," Daniel groaned. "Soul or not."
The older vampire recovered and smirked at the boy. "Be a good little soldier vamp," he said wickedly, "and you might get a room at the top yourself one day. All you need s'a bit o' seniority. Put a hundred or so years on you. Well, give or take."
Rolling his eyes, Daniel reached in the drawer and pulled out a pair of baggy sweats and a t-shirt. He threw them across the room. "Fine. Looking forward to it. Now. Dress out."
"Bugger." Spike caught the clothes. "Not changin' my boots," he grumbled.
"Like I care," the younger vampire retorted, as he shut the door behind him and headed toward the gym.
"And make sure DeLuca keeps his pen in his pants!" Spike called out.
Buffy waited as they tried to figure out what to do with her. Drumming her fingers on the desk, she tried not to look nervous. She was having a Maggie Walsh moment.
Which was ridiculous. She was in Vale, Colorado, not Sunnydale, California.
And that was Spike on the other side of that seemingly impenetrable door, not some mad scientist/bitchy college professor. Spike - just an ex-evil, now souled, blood-drinking vampire.
Okay. She felt better.
Nervous now, yes, but she'd been excited the whole trip to Vale, beginning when Xander dropped her off at the airport on his way to work. Jonathan was supposed to make sure Dawn got home from school, then push her over to Janice's for the night. Buffy wondered how much paying for that she'd do before it was said and done. So did not love Janice.
"Remember," Xander told her, as he pulled her overnight bag out of his car. "Dawn's covered. You just relax and concentrate on the Vale Vamps."
She laughed. "You make it sound like a basketball team."
"Hey," he said seriously. "You just check out what Dead Boy's up to. You're talking about increasing the vampire population of Sunnydale here, not decreasing." Xander had looked at Buffy with disapproving eyes. "I hope you know what the hell you're doing. What he's doing. And remember, this *is* the government that brought us Ollie North and Ronnie Regan."
And she had rolled her eyes. "Like you remember all that so well. And yeah, Spike's such a loyal servant of ... well, anything! Come on, can't you cut him a break? I think he's earned it."
"'Just sayin'' for about three weeks now. I am all Cautious!Buffy, 'kay? Eyes in the back of my head. Oh, wait. That's a demon, isn't it? The one we got last week?" she'd said playfully.
Xander sighed hugely. "Look, Buffster, I'm just asking you to look past those shocking blue eyes and those sinewy arms," he said candidly.
Buffy stared at Xander. "You really scare me sometimes, you know that? Shocking blue eyes, sinewy arms, compact but well-muscled body." She patted his arm soothingly. "This is gonna be good for us. You'll see."
It was the Scooby's turn to roll his eyes. "I'm making big with the anticipation quiver here. "
"I'll call and check in."
"You do that," he said sarcastically. "That is, if you can remember how after all that Spikey 'goodness.' And notice I'm turning puce and beginning to gag here...."
Buffy set her chin. "This is business, Xander."
Her friend had gotten in his car and rolled down the window. "Only business if you get paid for it, Buff." He grinned wickedly to take the sting out of his words.
Xander pulled away from the curb, leaving Buffy with a red face. Half-heartedly, she kicked his back tire.
"Oh, yeah," she had mumbled, as he waggled a wave at her. "Mr. 'I Get the Last Word.'" She picked up her bag and turned toward the glass doors of the Sunnydale Airport. "So killing him when I get back..."
She had almost been bouncing up and down when he'd picked her up at the house. When was the last time she'd gotten away from the Hellmouth, anyway? Other than the whole 'heaven' thing? After she'd killed Angel? Sent him to hell? She was overdue for a vacation, even if it was a working one, she mused, still standing at the Vale Project facility.
Buffy almost jumped when a man in a security uniform motioned her toward a large, featureless, armored door. Surveying him, she said nonchalantly, "There's a door knob on the other side, right?"
"Ma'am, when you're ready to leave..."
She nodded. "Yep, just knock. Got one of those huge knockers on the other side? Cause this is a really big, really metal, door. Mr. Pointy just won't get it..." She looked at him, shamefaced. "Sorry. Rambling. Just call me Rambling Girl. I just flew in and I must have lag jet. Um, jet lag... And no Mr. Pointy either, so don't freak on me. No one searched me at the airport, cause I..."
The door slid open onto a huge white open space. The eyes of several men, and a few women, who walked in pairs, slid interestedly to the slayer. Buffy cleared her throat. "So just... go in?"
"Yes, Miss Summers."
"Hoo-kay," she breathed out, as she stepped across the threshold. She heard the door slowly slide shut behind her, as she looked out across the white space, eyes homing on the pale, undead faces, as her gaze dismissed the pink, living ones.
There were vampires everywhere.
"Okay, so this is so not what I had in mind."
Jonathan held up the brass key that he'd pulled out of the heavy metal lock. "Look, Dawn, believe me, you need to start small. Do you think I just decided to do a glamour one day and made myself Tom Cruise?"
She looked him over and snorted with laughter.
Jonathan tilted his head. "Oh, right. Be one of those mean, popular high school girls who torments the geeks for fun."
Dawn frowned. "I was just..."
"Practicing to be Cordelia?" he said harshly. "You know, your sister was never like that. Never mean." His stomach lurched as he saw the hurt expression on her face. "Oh, I'm just being all sensitive, Dawn - artist's soul in a Wizard of Oz munchkin body. It's okay, it's all good. Let's get to it."
"Really, Jonathan, I didn't mean anything by it," she said, stricken.
"Hey, don't worry about it, kid." He patted her arm, and turned back to the lock. "Now concentrate and see if you can open it without breaking it, or melting it, or whatever it is you 'keys' do when you're out of control."
She looked at him with large, guilty, puppy dog eyes.
Jonathan smiled. "I wasn't trying to make you sad. Just wanted you to pay a little more attention to what you do. You're a nice girl, Dawn. And you don't want to be like them. Especially that Janice girl you hang out with."
He took a deep breath and tapped on the lock. "Now. Think how it could help Buffy if we figure this out. Cause we know you used to open dimensional portals. And we know you can knock out a security system. So let's just see what it takes to unlock this without screwing up everything in sight. Slow and steady wins the race, 'wabbit,'" he said with an encouraging smile.
Giggling, Dawn reached out and touched the lock. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to see inside it. Turn it, unlock it, make it open, open, open...
"Whoa!" Jonathan threw her back, and ducked, diving on top of her, as the lock began to crack apart. Then, it shattered, shooting off shards in all directions.
"Ow!" he exclaimed, as he grabbed his bicep. There was a gray piece of metal quivering in his arm. He jerked it out, wincing as the blood trickled out. "Gee whiz, Dawn!"
The teenager scrambled to her knees, grabbing at his arm. "Oh, God. Jonathan, you're bleeding!"
Embarrassed at her sudden attention, he pulled his arm back. "Just a scratch. I've gotten hurt worse in gym class," he reassured her. By the other students, he thought dryly.
"But..." she said, unconvinced, as she tried to see the wound again.
"No, really," he said, waving her off.
"Well, okay, then," she said, sitting back on her heels. "Got another lock?"
Buffy was breathing fast. Her eyes darted around the space. She wasn't sure if she could do this. Everything in her was screaming to pull a stake, a broken chair leg, a ...
Two pairs of light footsteps approached from her left. She swung around.
The vampires looked at the small woman with the angry green eyes. Jeffries stepped back in alarm. Matthews was a little braver.
The polite greeting startled Buffy. As she stifled the urge to take him apart, she tried to smile. She suspected it looked pretty lame. "Hi," she said uncomfortably, as she looked around for someone live. Well, this was cute. Seemed all the live ones were across the room. Buffy took a deep breath and pushed down the need to kill, kill, kill. Besides these two were the unlikeliest big bads she'd ever seen.
"I'm looking for Spike," she informed him. And how dare that smug, smirking bastard not have been waiting for her on the other side of that door, anyway, she thought resentfully. Of course, who knew she was gonna be standing here having a full scale attack of the wiggins? She sure hadn't expected it. And here she was in this clean, shiny place with polite little vamps...
Who were looking at her in puzzlement. "Spike?" the shorter one repeated.
Buffy sighed, as panic gave way to good old fashioned exasperation, Buffy-style. She wracked her brain for a minute and came up with an answer. "Randall S. Giles?" she said, one hand going to her hip. "Randy?" Ready, Joan. She let out another breath. "Blond guy? Snarky disposition? Supposedly some big hot shot around here?" she said in frustration.
The shorter vampire threw out a name, as the light bulb came on. "Shepherd?" He said helpfully.
Buffy almost laughed in relief. "Shepherd," she affirmed gratefully. "Yes." Buffy realized she was smiling, and had forgotten she was carrying on a conversation with two vampires. She let out a breath and squared her shoulders.
"Do you know where... Shepherd," she wrapped her mouth around the word, trying not to giggle, "is right now?"
The taller vampire smiled. Obviously, she'd landed in Bizarro Land, not Vale. He pointed off to the left. "In the gym. There's a class."
"We already had ours today. He's been at it since about nine this morning." Jeffries thought he might remember this woman. He'd asked Daniel about her once. Glancing at Matthews, he tried the name. "Slayer."
Buffy grinned. Now that was more like it. Much better than the 'miss.' Vampires called her 'slayer.' That she could relate to.
Matthews smiled back. "Hello, Slayer. I'm Matthews. This is Jeffries," he said, indicating the shorter vampire. "Didn't know you were coming. And I was beginning to think I'd imagined you. You kind of rescued us."
Buffy looked down at her feet. "Oh, I think you have Spike... uh, Shepherd... to thank for that. He's the one doing the 'thing.'"
Jeffries looked bewildered. "Spike? What is that? Some kind of nickname?"
The slayer laughed. "A nickname? Yeah, you could say that." She shook her head, grinning. Her blonde hair swept her shoulder blades. "So, where's the gym?"
Matthews nodded his head and moved off. Buffy and Jeffries followed. She heard Spike long before she saw him. And whoever he was bellowing at was getting one hell of an earful. She looked up at Matthews.
"It's not a class he usually works with," Matthews said apologetically. "Mostly he works with First Team, sometimes Second. Never them," he said jerking his head at the continuing harangue.
"And you're 'First Team'," she divined.
"Yes, Slayer," he said proudly. "Going to be backing you up. Jeffries, too," he said, nodding to the vampire at her side.
"Cool," she said, almost meaning it. "Now let's see if 'Shepherd' could use some help. I've been doing some wicked training class stuff myself. Just with my sister though, so..."
Spike had been in the gym all day. And it had been a relief.
The blond vampire had nearly driven the fledgling to self-immolation since his return from Sunnydale. It had been three of the most break-neck paced weeks he'd ever spent, undead or alive. Spike was always in the office, pouring over the renovation and relocation plans. And if he wasn't in the office, he was in the gym, working with the top teams. Daniel was often there with him in the office all night and part of the next day, or trying to bust his chops in the gym in private sparring practice, until he just couldn't keep it up anymore. Spike had laughed, told him 'fledges' needed rest.
Daniel had managed to clear a lot of reports and even delve into the psych evals some. Their 'luck' was still holding. Three weeks and the adjustment ratings were climbing for the borderline cases, while the high-end ratings had fallen slightly and were holding steady. Daniel shook his head. 'Shepherd' was doing his job, that was for sure.
The fledgling could keep the everyday routine afloat much better than Spike. The older vampire had a tendency to bury himself in a new report or pursuit and let the rest go to hell in a hand basket. But, Daniel admitted, when there was a problem, Spike had a way of looking at it, turning it upside down, and coming up with a solution. He seemed to have a gift for it. Of course, once it was squared away, he lost interest completely and moved on, but that was what Daniel was there for, right? After all, Spike wasn't army. Daniel had been. He guessed he still was.
Daniel walked over to the other desk, picked up the pen and ink drawing that Spike had laid down, and walked over to a filing cabinet near the door of the office. He smiled admiringly at DeLuca's newest work.
He just got better and better. Spike couldn't see it, because he was so hung up on the whole artist equals painter thing, but Daniel could. Just a few lines and the drawing breathed 'Shepherd.' That is, in a manner of speaking.
Shepherd's second in command had a real soft spot for DeLuca. He was as guileless as a child. Daniel had been through the files, and had discovered that DeLuca's entire life had consisted of his battle with leukemia and comic books. Naturally, his art took that form. Daniel had a drawer full of pen and ink comic book illustrations that he'd collected over the last few months. Flipping through a few, Daniel recognized many drawings of himself in the gym, of Matthews and Jeffries sparring, just about everyone in the complex in one drawing or another.
Especially Shepherd, he thought, as he put the latest drawing in the drawer. Shepherd training them. Shepherd walking. Shepherd standing. Shepherd staring into the distance. The pen and inks leashed his predatory demeanor. Daniel grinned. Shepherd looked downright dangerous in the drawings. Something the fledgling hadn't seen since the night Spike had discovered Daniel's connection to the Initiative.
DeLuca seemed to have decided that 'Shepherd' was some kind of super hero. And that was all right with Daniel, because in that sense they all were. DeLuca's psych evaluations were off the charts. His adjustment ratings were through the roof. DeLuca seemed to have the right idea.
Closing the drawer, Daniel's eyes wandered to his computer. When the slayer got in, he would send Dawn an email and let her know. Because she would want to know that her sister had gotten there safe. That the plane hadn't crashed. That...
Daniel ran his hand through his jet black hair and closed his eyes. This really had to stop. It was getting stupid and she was just a kid and he was...
Never going to get any older.
Leaning around the doorway, Buffy interrupted the tense scene in front of her. "Need a partner for that?" she asked. "Do a little demo?"
One of the vampires had been looking down, around, anywhere but at Spike. Obviously, the demonstration hadn't done any good. And Spike had been talking at him, voice rising. Buffy'd winced, sensing the return of 'Classic' Spike. She almost felt sorry for the vampire who was staring at the floor.
Spike spun around. Smiling, he stepped toward her. "Could use a hand, lo... uh, Slayer." His expression changed to all business.
Weird, but okay, she thought, as she stepped forward. After all, he was 'working.' Oh, and the sweats were *so* not Spike! "What are we doing?" Her eyes sparkled. "Wait. Is this that throw you used on me at the house?" she asked innocently, as she twisted her hair up and off her face with the band on her wrist.
Spike could feel all the vampires perking up. Bloody hell! She'd better keep her mouth shut.
"Yeah," he said curtly. "Slayer."
She looked heavenward. She clucked her tongue once. "Okay," she said, settling her weight, "but this is so not gonna end the way..." she started in a softer voice.
He moved in and grabbed her. Had to shut her up. Hello? Vampires? They could hear everything she said. Buffy stepped to one side, captured him at the bicep, and dived, letting go at just the right moment. His momentum carried him a good ten feet.
"My turn," he said grimly, as he got up.
"Oh, I get to be 'me' this time?" She threw herself at him. Barely recovering in time, he stepped aside, slipped in, ducked low, and released. He had the satisfaction of feeling her sail over him.
"Ow," she complained, pushing herself off the weight bench she'd half-landed on. Her eyes twinkled, as she headed for him. "C'mon, 'Shepherd,' you know you want to dance," she said archly.
He shrugged, trying not to react to her blatant come on. After all, these blokes didn't know. And a sparring session between the two of them should be educational. Spike had no reservations about how good the slayer was. He wasn't half bad himself. And at his worst, drunk and nearly catatonic, he was better than this bunch.
Spike parried her first blow and settled into a trading of moves. Nobody landed a clean hit, but there were plenty of slaps and pops as arms and legs warded off the punches and kicks. They'd settled into an old rhythm. He almost forgot where they were.
"See? And you were afraid I'd make you look bad," she said in a wicked whisper, calling him back.
"Well, you might," he admitted in the same intimate tone. "Look what I've been sparring with. Still, I'm up for a go."
She nodded. "You better be. I need to open up." She broke their rhythm and put one in, slamming a hard small fist into his chest, right over his heart.
Spike stepped back and rubbed at the spot. "Oooh, that's nice, Slayer. New?"
"New to you," she said with a savage smile. "But the boys at home have been seeing that one for months. Works even better when you're holding Mr. Pointy," she explained.
"No doubt," he said admiringly. "Got anythin' else? New, I mean?"
Her right leg shot out in a gutting kick. Blocking it, almost too late, with his left forearm, he moved inside, grabbed her wrist and spun her around, so that her back was against his chest. His right arm wound up around her chest, his mouth at her neck. He held her there, making sure that she noticed.
"Not bad," she huffed. Almost simultaneously, her elbow slammed back, earning her the loosening of the iron-like band across her chest. Sweeping her hands up, she grabbed his arm and dropped, flipping him over her back with a snap, and against the wall in front of them. He somersalted in the air, landing on his feet.
Only slightly brassed off that the wall had been the thing holding him up, he crooked a finger at her and smirked, moving toward her. Suddenly, they might have been anywhere. The audience had faded into the background.
In answer, she sailed through the air and tackled him at stomach level, caught him and slung him to the ground, pinning him to the slick floor.
"Pretty move that, pet," he said, nodding in approval.
"Oh? Like that?" she said, smiling and flushed. "Got a million of 'em. How about this one?" she asked, as she pulled him over her, preparing to push him into the wall behind them. He caught at her and let her momentum completely roll them over, twined together, twice. This was a lot like how he took out the New York slayer. Now he was on top.
"Smooth, Spikey," she said appreciatively. She blew an errant hair off her forehead.
"Been practicin'," he said modestly.
"Yeah?" she challenged. "Practice this."
She broke the pin with a twisting motion and had him on his back. He waited a little too long to react. Just milliseconds, but her fist managed to come down on his chest. Hard.
"Nice work, love," he murmured. Her eyes went wide and soft. And suddenly, she remembered where they were.
"Staked!" she called out, still with her hand on his chest. She tapped it once and got up, brushing off her pants. "You are one dead bloodsucker," she said, brazening it out.
"Pile of dust," he agreed, as he smoothly rose from the shiny floor. He turned back to the class. "This, gentlemen," he said matter-of-factly, "is a vampire slayer. You would do well not to piss her off. And believe me, I should know. Try to stay on her good side - if you can find it."
"We're gonna be doin' this again real soon," he continued, in a harder, edgy voice, "so I suggest a little more time in the gym and a little less time *anywhere* else. Unless you like sittin' on the bench," he said dismissively with a shrug.
The vampires stood milling around for a moment, as if loath to leave. Spike decided that they'd have to go to his office to talk. He gathered her in with a tilt of his head, heading out of the gym and into the main room.
"So..." she said flatly. "Got an office?"
She was reading his mind. "Yeah. That's where we're headed."
"Kay," she said, matching her stride to his.
"Your flight?" he asked.
"Bumpy. Lumpy," she laughed uncertainly, a little thrown by the question. "Vampire of a flight. Sucked me dry."
He pushed the door to this office open and walked in. In seconds, he was against a filing cabinet as the door slammed shut, with the slayer's mouth on his. He stiffened, unable to kiss her back, or do anything until...
Bloody hell. She'd hooked her leg around his waist and seemed to be considering climbing the rest of the way up.
His non-responsiveness seemed to egg her on. She pushed her tongue into his mouth. Feeling him clear his throat, she broke away with an angry noise, putting both feet back on the floor. "What?" she said argumentively. "I took you down fair and square. You gonna be all sulky about it?"
"Buffy?" he tipped his head to the left as his eyes moved the same direction.
The slayer's head turned and her eyes slammed smack into Daniel's wide green ones.
"Oh!" she squealed, as she pushed away from the vampire. Color rushed to her face.
"This isn't a private office," Spike said, unnecessarily.
Daniel got up, and headed toward the door. "It is now," he mumbled, still looking a little shell-shocked.
Buffy put out a hand to stop him. "Sorry, Daniel. Fighting just gets me..." She trailed off, her own eyes widening, and looked up at Spike, embarrassed.
The blond vampire laughed ruefully. "Fine, pet. Admit it now in front of witnesses." Spike gave Daniel a warning look. "A little discretion, mate."
Daniel saluted, as he recovered from the shock of almost seeing more than he ever wanted to see of Dawn's big sister. "Loose lips..." he laughed as he opened the door and left.
"Thanks, Rat Catcher," Spike called after him. "Be out in a bit."
As the door clicked shut, Buffy turned back to Spike. "Protecting my rep? After all the times you've wanted to blow it wide open? Drag me kicking and screaming out of the closet?"
"Things are different now," he said abruptly, as he turned to his desk.
"Well, yes, they are," she chuckled. "First of all, everyone already knows."
"Not everyone," he said tautly.
She pulled the elastic band out of her hair and ran her fingers through it. "Everyone who matters," she commented dryly.
The sound of his blow to the surface of the desk startled her. He stared at his clenched fist. "No. Not *everyone* who matters!" He pointed toward the door. "*They* matter, Buffy. And the last thing I need is them trollin' the Bronze for a live honey!"
Her eyes widened as she realized what he was saying.
"We're settin' a precedent here," he continued. "S'Dangerous. That is, if they find out. Daniel's already questioned it once. But he'll keep his gob shut. This has to stay between us, Buffy."
"We're back to sneaking around?"
He sighed in frustration as he pushed his hand through his hair and sat back on the edge of the desk. "You got a better idea, Slayer? Be stayin' in Lowell House. Comin's and goin's won't be marked down."
"You've really thought this through," she said, resigned.
"Had to," he said, eyes clear and honest, colored with the vestiges of regret.
This was the Spike she remembered. The one who had come back from Africa and sat in a chair for months worrying about every move he made. Sighing, she walked over and put her arms around him. "Sometimes I really hate your soul," she complained.
He leaned into her just a bit. "Yeah?" His voice took on a characteristic lilt. The one it had when he was hurting and trying not to show it. "Me, too. Crushin' and maimin' and drinkin' human blood really helped knock down a bloke's stress level," he said lightly, as she snaked closer, fingering the gray sweatshirt. "The sparring helped a bit, " he smirked.
"Got another idea for stress," she said softly, tugging at the neck of his shirt.
"Well, not here," he grumbled. "Don't need to get outed at work."
Dawn skipped down the stairs. Today's experiment hadn't had a batting average of a thousand, but still, it wasn't a complete waste of time. There at the end she'd been getting the hang of it - sometime after the third lock. Jonathan might need some of those safety glasses from Xander's job site. She wondered how she could get her hands on some, short of stealing them. Which she didn't do anymore. No, sir, not her.
And then, she had an email from Daniel waiting for her when she got home, so that was good. Life was good.
"Your sister hasn't called yet," Xander said disgustedly, from his post on the sofa.
Dawn froze at his angry tone. "Well, so? She's on vacation."
"Not a vacation," he said grimly. "She could be in a cell, being held by the government for experiments on her slayerness. Or killed by a demon that hangs out in snow-friendly airports. Some kind of yeti-yuppie in insulated overalls. Probably pink ones."
"She's fine," Dawn said in exasperation. Sometimes Xander was so anal. "Got there fine. No demonic interaction, except with the object of her visit. Even did a training class, so..."
Xander slowly turned his head and looked at Dawn piercingly. "She called? I didn't hear the phone."
Busted. "Uh, no, no phone. Email," Dawn said nervously.
"Buffy 'No Computers' Summers sent you an email?" He put the 'no computers' in air quotes.
"Not Buffy," she said quickly. "Oh, you know how useless Buffy is with things that are all pluggy into walls," she said, stalling. Dawn had a sudden thought. "Spike emailed me."
"What? And that's supposed to make me feel better?"
Xander shook his head. Sometimes he could hear the Spike influence oozing out of the Summers girls. Should have let him stake himself when he wanted to so bad. Even held the stake. Or landed that axe, or...
"But what if he's in on it?" he said quickly. Dawn shot him an evil look. "Okay, okay," he said, warding off her evil eye with crossed fingers. "But email from the chipless wonder?"
"Hey, Spike is email-friendly! You don't know anything about him, Xander. You really don't."
"So what did he say?" he asked suspiciously.
"Buffy's fine. Got there fine. Did a training class. Kicked Spike's ass," she watched Xander's slow grin spread across his face. "Yada, yada. No big."
"She kicked Spike's ass?" he said, chuckling softly.
"Well, duh. Slayer, right?"
He sat back with a satisfied smile and turned the volume up on the television. "That's my girl," he muttered.
Buffy stretched her legs in the passenger seat of the black truck, and patted her stomach. "I could get used to this whole out to dinner thing."
"Yeah, well, don't," Spike groused, as he fidgeted in the seat. "Sunnyhell's smaller than Vale. And they know us there. Can't be showin' our faces all over the place. Gonna be delivery from here on."
"We could drive up the coast," she said helpfully.
He almost jerked the truck off the road. His eyes narrowed, as he looked at her. "Wait, when did you get all 'girlfriend' about this?
"Um, about the time I realized I was stuck with you?" she retorted nastily. "Makin' lemonade here," she said in a smart-ass tone, a little stung.
"Oh, nice," he said dryly, slowly raising the scarred eyebrow. "Thanks ever so, Slayer. Lemonade," he repeated in a sarcastic tone. He drove silently for two blocks. "Well, not really the boyfriend type, y'know."
She laughed at him. "Really? Could have fooled... well, everyone we know. It's not like you're the love and leave 'em type."
"Well, no. But I *could* be," he said gruffly.
"Oh, sure. Right. You've been trailing around behind me for years. Drusilla before that. Oh, yeah, and *Harmony*, 'Blondie Bear,'" she teased.
"That's a reminder I could do without. I was a bloody bastard to that one." He shook his head. "One I'd like to do over, because I wouldn't."
"So," she said settling back against the seat. "What can we do now? Besides go back to the hotel?"
He looked over at her appraisingly. "There's bars," he ventured.
"Well, nothing with mirrors, cause, well, don't like the looks I get from the other patrons. Limits us somewhat." He smiled apologetically. "There is a right dreadful place, all mangy, dead animals on the walls. Not a piece of glass in the place, though, so it works."
"Eww. So not into deer head lodge-look. So ten years ago - or longer. Anything else?"
"Well," he drew the word out slowly, and slid his eyes to hers.
"What?" she said, interested.
"There is this other place," he said slowly, fixing his eyes on the road. "Off the beaten path."
"Like a motorcycle bar or something?" she prodded.
"Well, kind of," he said carefully. Then, he blurted it out. "But more like a demon bar. Not really dressed for it," he rushed on, "more a 'leathers' place, but if we get in a spot, well, hell, we can fight our way out."
Buffy stared at her hands as a slow smile spread across her face. "You know, you really are bad. Maybe not evil, but..."
"Well, yeah," he said testily. "But you knew that, right? And it's not like we're gonna kill anythin' - unless they try to kill us, anyway. Just have a couple of drinks." He looked over at her. "Probably none for you, missy," he said sternly. "Play a little pool, toss a few darts, talk..." His voice trailed off, waiting for her to reject the idea.
She sat there, remembering a previous visit to a demon bar. She'd had fun. Maybe. She'd forgotten a lot of it, but she did remember one thing. "Kitten poker?"
"I'm off it," he said swiftly, shaking his head. "Cross my unbeating heart."
She turned to him, teeth flashing in the dim light. "Let's go."
He looked over at her, eyes sparkling, and smiled devilishly. "We're there, Summers. Give me twenty, and we're there."
Continued in Chapter Two