All About Spike - Print Version
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Reminders
By Kimi

Sequel to Voices in the Dark; part of The Voicesverse

Rating: PG-13
Summary: After Spike's return from Africa, he and Buffy begin to deal with the past...
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net and at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

This fic was written specifically for Linda J. Thanks for my new ... thing! It looks good and makes me v. happy!

I do want to thank Chris and Colleen for being there for me, as always...Chris for the piece-meal betas as I stumble through pieces and parts that make up my fic (no, I don't plan anything) and her constant encouragement; and Colleen for the end of the line read-throughs that always yield a bumper crop of bo-bos and the best kind of feedback.



Part 1

Buffy stomped upstairs from the lower level of the crypt holding a flashlight and wearing a distressed look that bordered on anger. Spike looked up briefly from the microwave and quickly ducked his head again to hide his sudden grin.

"I can't find anything down there," she grumbled, throwing herself into his 'comfy' chair, as Clem called it.

He smothered the grin and walked over with an innocent look on his face. "That's because there's nothing left, pet."

Ignoring him, she stared at the television screen, still wearing the same frown, and started flipping through the channels. Finding Lifetime at last, she looked up at him. "You still have cable, Mr. Shiny Soul," she said accusingly.

Spike raised an eyebrow and slowly turned his head to look the television screen. "Why, so I do," he said in surprise. "Hmm. Need to do something about that," he said, walking behind the TV.

"Don't even think about it." Buffy bit the words off in a way that brooked no argument.

Spike spread his hands, backing off and heading back to the refrigerator, allowing a silent chuckle to roll out once he was out of her sight.

The slayer wasn't finished. "You either need to move out, or we clean this place up. Starting with downstairs," she mumbled.

He stopped what he was doing and smirked at her stiff back and shoulders. "What?" he said innocently. "Don't like the little reminder of Cardy's visit last time 'round? Aw, luv, he'd be so hurt!"

"I hate it when you call him 'Cardy' or anything in the 'Captain' family. Or Whitebread. Frankly, I hate it when you bring him up. And don't try to change the subject! You wear this stuff like a hair shirt and then you're surprised when it starts rubbing off on me?"

"Buffy! Hair shirt? I'm impressed! You've been readin'."

"Have not," she snarked back at him. "History Channel."

"Ah."

"So when you wanna do it?" She asked sweetly.

"How 'bout ... never? Because the memory of my transgression is still too fresh," he said airily.

Buffy rounded on him, nearly snapping her spine in the process. Her eyes narrowed. "You like for me to feel guilty about this, don't you?"

"Luv, what do you have to be guilty about?" He looked at her even more innocently than before and threw a little 'apologetic' into the mix. "I'm the one that had possession of the, uh, illegals. A very bad man, I was. Bad."

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, closed it and then plunged on. "I've offered to help. Clem has. Dawn has. Although I'm a little worried about what Dawn might run across down there...?"

Spike thought for a moment. "Dawn needs to stay upstairs."

She shot him a very suspicious look. "I thought you said it was all gone."

"Well, the metal didn't melt, Slayer."

A sudden look of understanding appeared on her face as she remembered her encounter with a certain pair of handcuffs. "Oh."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Staying or going?"

Spike looked at the image laid out before him in the bright doorway. There was Buffy, armed with a shovel and a huge box of industrial garbage bags. Dawn was holding a flat broom, a metal dustpan and a bucket full of cleaning products.

And behind her, Clem was wearing an uneasy look, very aware that he had come empty-handed. He stepped forward. "I brought the truck," he explained.

"Buffy...." Spike looked at her warningly.

"Stay or go. I don't care. But if you're going to keep living here, it's time to do something about this mess." She set her chin and charged downstairs, Dawn behind her like a baby chick.

Clem looked at Spike apologetically. "I was drafted."

Slapping Clem on the back, he smiled at him. "Half-expected her today anyway. Know how she is when she's bent her head around somethin'. Mix up some lemonade?"

"Yeah, sure, Spike," Clem said in relief. "That Slayer, she's a real go-getter, isn't she? One of a kind."

Spike shrugged. "Well, you know, Chosen One and all that."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy had strung orange electrical cord from the rigged refrigerator outlet to the industrial light she'd brought. Spike sighed. Knowing that this time was coming since she'd mentioned it the night before, he'd gone down and cleared out the drawers by the bed - or what was left of the bed. Those items had been carefully put away as 'mementos.'

Relieved that he'd had the foresight to go down and clear out items that Dawn might have found curious, he began laying waste to the endless bags that Buffy kept hauling up the stairs. There really wasn't anything to keep, and even less that he wanted a reminder of. And frankly, he'd seen more than enough of what the explosives had done to the lower level.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"But why?"

"Because there was a problem. And it was down here. All these eggs hatched and went all Aliens and Attack of the Killer Bees - at the same time. So I had to take 'em out. That meant everything that was down here."

"Ooh, look how pretty this was!" Dawn turned a blackened pillow over and admired the design.

"I know, Dawn," Buffy said with a sigh, trying to keep her mind on the glass she was sweeping up. It was much worse with the light on. She almost wished she'd stayed with the flashlight. Or talked Spike into moving out completely. The high-watt bulb cast distorted shadows and revealed far too much of what the chamber had once been.

Everything blackened her hands. She wondered why she hadn't thought of gloves. The smell, now that the soot was being stirred around, was sickening.

Dawn walked over, dragged a mass of burnt fabric off of what was left of the bed, and stuffed it in a three-millimeter contractor's bag. Pursing her lips, she looked back at the battered mattress peeping through the fitted sheet. "So this is where you, uh..." Dawn got a little tongue-tied and didn't quite finish the sentence.

Buffy rocked back on her heels. "I knew this was a bad idea."

"It is not. I like to help."

Buffy raised an eyebrow.

"Well, Spike anyway. Like to help Spike. It must be horrible to come down here and see all this," she commiserated, deftly changing the subject.

Picking up the edge of a singed photograph, Buffy squinted and looked at a picture of herself at sixteen with her mom at Thanksgiving. Her eyes watered. She slipped the slightly damaged photo in her pocket.

"Uh, Buff, I don't think this can be saved." Dawn was looking at the mattress, now stripped of all its tattered accoutrements. "I think it's a wash." She tilted her head as she thought about her choice of words. "Okay, not. As in so not a wash. Uh, washable. I mean..."

Her older sister walked over and grabbed the mattress, easily sweeping it off the bed and over her head. "I'll get the rest in a minute. Let me just get this up in the truck. We put mom's old mattress and box springs in the basement when she got her queen. They'll do fine." Buffy walked up the stairs.

"Which means more training space for the Dawnster," Dawn said lightly. "Yes!" She reached down and lifted the box spring, pushing it to one side so she could get to it and walk it away from where she was working.

Underneath there was a dark-colored sack. She picked it up, opening the sack and peering in. There was a flash of pale blue. Puzzled at the color, she pulled the fabric out and held it up.

It was a sweater. A size extra-small sweater.

Buffy came back downstairs.

"Did Harmony ever live here?"

"Huh?" Buffy returned to her inspection of the trash on the floor. "Oh. Yeah, I think she did for a while. Pretty soon after Spike moved in here. Why?"

"Well, I didn't think you and Harmony had the same taste in clothes, but..."

Buffy glanced up, eyes widening as she snatched at the sweater. Seeing Dawn holding the suspicious-looking sack, she grabbed it away, too.

"We got the mattress on the truck. Still got room for the rest of it and...." Spike's jaw dropped as Buffy turned around with her now white face and her old blue cashmere sweater in a shaking hand.

Dawn looked at both of them and jumped up, heading upstairs. But brushing by Buffy, she found she couldn't resist a smart-ass remark.

"Told you I didn't take it."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Spike's face fell as he saw the look on Buffy's. She immediately started digging in the bag, looking back up into his eyes accusingly each time she recognized a garment.

Sighing, he took the bag and set it to one side, taking Buffy's shaking hands in his own. "Pet, if we're gonna go through this every time one of us gets reminded of somethin' bad, we may as well walk away," he said softly.

"Those are my clothes. Were my clothes. Those are *old* clothes. You..."

"Nicked 'em. Yeah, I did."

Buffy stared at him. Spike prepared himself for an old-fashioned punch in the nose. After all, he had it coming. Just had to be a man about it.

Instead, she squealed and pinched him. Then, laughed long and hard.

"Ow." He looked at her in astonishment. "What?"

"You went in my ... house," she gasped for breath, "and stole my ... clothes?"

Spike's expression went from understanding and caring, to sheepish and full on embarrassed. "What? It's a thing."

"It is not a thing!" She continued laughing, giggling like a girl. "Surely it's not a thing. Cause that would be like..."

"Buffy," he said reproachfully. "They smelled like you."

The slayer sobered and looked into his eyes. "Oh," she said weakly.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy came in the door and threw Spike's duster at him. He caught it and looked guiltily at her.

"You left it."

He threw it back at her, eyes hardening. "Don't want it. No good in it."

She stalked over to him and held it under his nose. He wrinkled his face in distaste, then stopped, looking at her in surprise. Mixed in with the stale tobacco and the smell of liquor was a light, wholesome scent - her scent.

"It smelled like you," she said in explanation. "We'll finish up downstairs tomorrow. Good night, Spike."

He stared after her long after the door closed.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Spike craned his neck. "Where's the Bit?"

"Didn't want a repeat of yesterday. And today is the really grubby day anyway. And it's Monday."

"Oh, school."

"Yeah, school. As in whole new year and no skipped days yet."

He narrowed his eyes at her.

Nodding, she smiled. "It's okay. I've been checking. With the school."

He nodded in return. "Not the nicest way of bein' sure, but..."

Heading down the stairs, she called out over her shoulder, "But effective. Okay, your turn to help me today."

Spike took a deep breath that he didn't need and headed after her. He found her picking up the bag of clothes. "Upstairs please." He silently took the bag and headed up back to the upper level. Her voice startled him, coming so soon on his leaving.

"Uh, Spike. Spike."

He headed back down, wishing there were an elevator. It was going to be a long day.

"Bloody hell, Slayer. What..."

Buffy was kneeling on the crypt floor, holding a blackened eggshell in her hand. She sighed. "Okay, I never asked. I had other things on my mind that day, but will you please explain this?"

"Now's a soddin' fine time to ask. But I guess you were too busy breakin' up with me to worry about little things like the little killin' machines I was hatchin' up in my bedroom."

"So they were Suvolte demons. Just like Riley said."

"No. Not Suvoltes. Bezuines. They get no bigger than what you saw when they hatched."

She stared at him and started to protest. Thinking about his willingness to cop to anything and everything since his newly souled return, she closed her mouth with a snap.

"You can clean out a hefty length of sewer with a few of these. They're right hungry little buggers when they hatch. Would 'a headed straight out through there," he nodded, indicating the door where the sewers intersected with his crypt. "Place as full as this would clean out all the sewers in Sunnydale."

"Sewers?"

"Well, yeah. Sewer rats anyway. That's how their tastes run." He watched her begin to get a clue. "Pest control, Buffy. Clem has a contract with the city. Rats are real nasties in Sunnydale, what with all the demons, rottin' flesh and all. Bite more babies than the vamps ever did."

She stared at him, wanting to take her fingers and clean out her ears. "But you didn't..."

"Weren't really in much of a mood to hear explanations, were you, pet? And the last thing I expected to see in my crypt with you in my bed was that bleedin' wanker, Riley Finn." His voice grew hard. "Then, I wondered what was really goin' on. You comin' in like you did. Comin' on like you did."

"Nothing. Nothing going on." she said hastily, instantly on the defensive. "He even brought his wife and..."

Spike roared with laughter. "Wife! Never figured him for that. More the..."

Buffy slapped his arm, trying to find a dangerous glint to throw at him and failing miserably, only to giggle instead. Suddenly the giggle trailed off. "So this was a mistake?" She looked around and saw the damage that had been inflicted on his life for no reason.

He shrugged. "We live and learn, pet."

"But The Doctor?"

"Clem. The Doctor, Your Prescription for Pest Control in the Hellmouth," Spike recited. "Even has bloody business cards! Imported the little bastards straight from Belize. Told you I was just keepin' em for a friend. Didn't tell you when you first asked because I thought it was a bit of a lark. And then you..."

"I remember. I remember all of it. God, you must have hated me."

"Hated myself more. Should have been honest with you, luv. Should've, would've, could've. Somethin' like that."

Frowning, Buffy poked at the shell. "But Riley must have known," she muttered. Her eyes widened in remembrance.

Not noticing, Spike laughed again, but the sound was bitter. "Maybe not - just makin' the world safe for mum, apple pie and all that. Always was a stupid git. Look what he gave up." He smiled. "Anyway, we got another shipment of 'em. They didn't mind it down here - even with all the soot. And they're workin' out just fine, Clem says. Don't breed, so..."

Buffy jumped up and brushed off her pants. "Can we...uh, do this tomorrow? Or later? Or - "

Smiling sadly and a little hurt, Spike got up slowly. "Sure, Slayer. No rush."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy slammed in the door of the house on Revello Drive. "Dawn! Dawn!"

Running downstairs at full-tilt, her sister slammed into her chest. "Ow. In the way much? What's wrong? Demons, vamps, Apocalypse?"

"Humans," Buffy said grimly. "Have you got Riley's email address?"

"Yeah. But Buffy, what is it?"

"He set Spike up. Set me up. Then asked me if I wanted him to kill Spike."

Dawn stared at Buffy.

"He gets fair warning right now. Riley or any of the soldier boys - or girls - come anywhere near Sunnydale, they've got me to take on."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

At eleven a.m., Spike opened the door as he heard a large truck pulling up. Outside the door were Buffy, Clem and Xander. His eyes almost popped out of his head. Opening his mouth to speak, he saw Xander cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"Don't get any ideas, Spike," Xander said gruffly. "I'm still pissed." He hauled the nozzle and long hose attached to the pressure washer on the truck toward the stairs and started down to the lower level.

"Buffy..."

She gave her head tiny shake. He nodded as Clem followed Xander.

Clem turned back and looked at with a rueful grin. "See, I told you..."

"Right, Clem. Be down in a bit." Spike looked at Buffy. "What's this about then?"

"I talked to Xander last night for a long time." She nodded. "And he's right. He's still pissed. But we've got to stick together." Taking a deep breath, Buffy spit it out. "Spike, Riley told me he had orders to eliminate The Doctor."

Spike stared at her. Laughed. "What a drama queen!"

"This is not a joke. He asked me if I wanted him to - you know - you."

"Bugger that! Like to see him - " Running a hand through his hair, Spike frowned and looked back toward the stairs. "But Slayer, this is - Bloody hell! Clem!"

She nodded. "The Doctor. Now I've emailed Riley. Didn't explain much, but put him on notice. We see a glint of Kevlar in town, they're goin' down. I think it was just a one-shot deal, but we've got to be careful. Watch each other's backs. And you can't fight 'em, Spike." She looked at him speculatively. "Can you?"

Dumbfounded, Spike just stood there. Then he walked over the head of the steps.

"Harris! Harris," he bellowed.

Xander came up the stairs grumbling and walked over to Spike and Buffy. "What? Look, I'm doin' this for Buffy and I don't need..."

As Spike's punch to Xander's nose connected, Buffy heard twin cries of pain. Xander picked himself up off the floor and started toward Spike.

The vampire massaged his head even as he looked at Xander with a combative glint in his eye. "That's for leaving your bride at the bloody altar, you git."

Xander stopped dead in his tracks.

"And right, Slayer. Can't fight 'em," he said, swinging his head back around to look at Buffy thoughtfully.

Smiling encouragingly, she patted Spike's arm. "Hey. It probably was just a one shot deal, you know."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Xander and Clem had cleared out, Xander's nose still red from his contact with Spike's fist earlier in the day. He'd been toting the headboard to the bed like it was an albatross around his neck. Buffy and Spike were down in the lower level. Sniffing, she walked all around the now-huge room.

"Not bad. Xander did pretty good. And the water drained off just fine."

"Hello, luv. Sewers, remember? S'fine. Just don't know how I feel about startin' over down here. Upper's a'right for a flat."

"This is better," she said decisively. "I always liked it down here. Felt safe down here."

Spike sighed, as the wheels in Buffy's head began to turn. He could almost feel it. Sometimes, he imagined they squeaked a bit. He followed her upstairs.

Grabbing the sack of her clothes, she headed toward the door. "I'm gonna get rid of these."

He put a hand on her arm to stop her. "Don't just throw 'em out. Give 'em to...someone who could use 'em."

Her eyes twinkled. The soul thing was still a daily surprise. "They don't smell like soot or anything. Although I don't know why not!" She looked at him curiously. "You mean like Goodwill or something? "

"Yeah. Somethin' like that. And wait." Spike walked over and picked up the leather duster. "This, too."

Buffy gulped. "But Spike - "

"Buffy, the coat's got a bit of a history attached to it. Rather not have any reminders of it. Not here. Not ever." He took the bag and carefully placed the duster inside, handing it back to her.

Nodding, she took the bag and headed to the door. "Xander's gonna see if he can sandblast the headboard clean."

"Right. I got that. I also saw how he was tryin' not to touch it," Spike chuckled wryly.

Buffy grinned. "Dawn had a little to say about that, yesterday. Very little, matter of fact. See you tomorrow?" she asked hopefully.

"I'm not goin' anywhere."

"Better not," she threatened teasingly. Buffy walked outside and closed the door.

Thoughtfully, she opened the bag and took the coat out of it, throwing it over her arm. Then, she headed home.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: After Spike's return from Africa, he and Buffy begin to deal with the past...and there's a lot to deal with!
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net and at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

For Chris, who is the best writing partner in the 'verse. For Colleen, who makes something good even better. Every time.



Part 2

Little Dawnie Summers looked up from a schoolbook (American History, oh, joy!) and started an irritated tapping on the open page with her pen. She was bored with the American Revolution and wished she were looking at one of those forbidden demon texts that no longer existed. Or maybe she could just be at Janice's. Or maybe -

"Buffy?"

The one and only (well, okay, one and only un-incarcerated) Vampire Slayer pulled on the shirttail of her bright orange uniform (eww, polyester twill!) and looked at the clock. Running right on time for a change, she wouldn't get the usual five-minutes-late, disapproving look. She'd actually made assistant manager - had it on her nametag and everything - despite her squalid time-clock history. Buffy was very aware that this was only because she just called out for apocalypse-type reasons and souled vampire crises. Even more attractive to upper management was the fact that she was still stupid enough to have not found another job yet, like so many of her peers had.

"Buffy!"

Startled, she realized that unconsciously she'd cultivated and actually succeeded in the fine art of 'tuning-out' her little sister - just like a real mom! She felt a surge of pride. She dampened it just a little.

"Sorry, just thinking about work."

"Why?" Dawn asked perceptively.

"Good question," Buffy sighed, sitting down across from Dawn. "What?"

Dawn's eyes brightened in anticipation. "I found some stuff. For Spike. For downstairs."

Buffy's eyes bored into Dawn's. "Are we using it?"

"Noooo." Dawn thought a little harder. "No," she said decisively.

"Does any of it belong to Willow?" Just because Willow was momentarily not living in the Summers home didn't mean she'd want her things given away.

The little Summers bit rolled her eyes. "Buffy...no."

Final question and most important of all: "Is any of it stolen goods?" This last was asked with the modicum of suspicion born of deep embarrassment.

Dawn squeaked in wounded pride and tossed her hair, effectively destroying or knocking over anything within three feet of her.

"No! I told you I took all that stuff back!"

Buffy grinned as she realized that Dawn's hair was wrapped around the back of the chair. Ooh, that was gonna hurt! She looked at the clock and sighed. "You need help?"

Dawn nodded her head. Buffy absently noticed that the hank of hair tightened a bit.

"Well, finish up your homework and call Clem. He'll help you get it on the truck. I'll be off in a few hours, and we'll take it over there."

"And the mattresses, too, right?"

"Not wet?"

"They were up on a table top. Old table, much space, leaned against wall. No wetness."

Buffy nodded once. "You and Clem leave space on the truck if you can't manage it. I'll do it when I get home. Load the big stuff, I mean."

"Can we surprise him? Spike?"

"Surprising someone means that it's necessary that they not be around when you do something for them," Buffy explained with a touch of exasperation. "Successful surprise parties rest solely on that premise. To my knowledge, he's left the crypt *once* in the last four months or so. And that was the night the three of us went patrolling. I don't know if we can pull off a surprise."

"Oh, c'mon, Buffy! We can try. Bully him out of there or somethin'."

"Cause that always works so well! Fine, I'll try. You call Clem. I'll be home later. Make sure you have everything you need for this little escapade, 'kay? I'll be back in no time. And see if Xander's done with the bed."

As Buffy got to the front door, she heard Dawn's muted cry of pain and the slam of a chair against the floor. A huge grin stretched across Buffy's face. She skipped down the stairs, giggling, at the thought of Dawn kneeling down, untying her hair.

Evil, Buffy, evil!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy poked her head in the door of the crypt. "You decent?"

Involuntarily, Spike looked down. Chuckling dryly, he got up and walked to the door, where the Slayer had plastered herself between cracked door and sill.

"If you mean decent 'dressed,' yeah. If havin' a soul makes me decent-like, then, well - "

Sighing in mock-frustration, she grabbed his t-shirt and pulled him close enough that he could feel her breath on his face.

"Leave."

His eyes widened in surprise. "What?"

"Out. Sewers. Now." Her voice with delicious and the grin on her face doubly so. Spike's heartbeat would have sped up if he'd had one. He made do with a sudden surge of adrenaline - and something else - instead. Then he realized what she was saying. To punctuate her words, she dropped his shirt, reached out and pinched him.

"Ow," Spike exclaimed, pulling away and rubbing his nose. "Playing a little rough, are we?"

"'Rough' is punching you there, not pinching. Would you leave?" she demanded in mock-frustration.

"Any suggestions as to where I go?"

"None. Just want you out. Byeee..." She waved four little fingers at him.

Her color was high and her eyes were sparkling. Spike made a last bid for sticking around.

"Bloody hell, Slayer. There's UFO's on Discovery..."

"Which will repeat again sometime after 11. I know the drill." She grinned again and pulled a 'Dawn,' almost giggling as she did it. "Get out, get out, get out."

"Oooh. If the Nibblet heard you...," he teased.

"Sewers. Now. Don't be back before ten. Play poker. Go to Willie's. Go to the Bronze. Just leave."

Spike had a momentary fit of anxiety at the idea of leaving the crypt. Squelching it, he looked at her appraisingly, still pressed between the door and the sill.

"Fine. I'll go." He looked at her suspiciously. "Can't come out this way?"

"Nope," she said firmly. "Go."

Spike shrugged, headed downstairs and out, before he had time to think too much about it.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Willie's hadn't seemed quite the place for him that evening. And poker at the demon bar wasn't very appealing either. He shuddered a bit at the thought of the kittens.

Oh, God, what a poof!

He slipped through the Saturday night crowd at the Bronze like a shark through open waters. On automatic pilot, he headed to the bar. A loud voice stopped him in his tracks.

"And so you're just - back! Like nothin' ever happened. Welcomed home by the Summers women, one and both!"

Spike slowly turned away from the bar and toward the sarcasm that was dripping from the small table to the left.

"Nice trick, turnin' yourself into a new man - uh, thing - like that. Pickin' up a soul cuts you a lot of slack around here. Ask Angel. He'll tell you."

Expressionless, Spike walked over to the table where Xander Harris sat alone except for twelve empty and two full bottles of beer and an empty shot glass.

"Course there's no cutting of the slack from this guy. Seen the all soul-having slink in and out of this town before, usually endin' up in a Buffy meltdown - Big Bad Bang right in the face of the Big Bad Buff."

For the first time in months, Spike was absolutely certain of something. "I'm not Angel, whelp."

Xander didn't blink. Just nodded. "True," he agreed slowly. "Except for the re-souled 'helpless now' part. And even when you were all, and I mean all, Evel Knievel, you were *never* in his class."

Spike winced at the 'helpless' line, but didn't let up on the man. "Went through something of an Angelus phase myself."

Waving a drunken hand in dismissal, Xander laughed ruefully. "Oh, not so much, I bet. Always had Dru's back to watch, didn't you? Then, Dawn's. Now it's the Slayer. Nope, not so much, Spike. Not so much. Hard to make plans to end the world if you're all swoony and lovesick. You know? Whipped?"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy stared at the bed. "Oh," she said in a small voice. "I remember this." She walked over and ran her hand along the comforter. "Mom got this in L.A. for her and Dad's room. I haven't seen it since we moved."

"Well, it was all packed up, pillows and all. Boy, Mom really went all out, didn't she?"

The slayer picked up a throw pillow. It was a steely blue gray, with a bold tone-on-tone stripe. "Don't remember it looking this good in L.A. though."

"It's the walls," Clem said quickly.

The two sisters turned and looked at him expectantly.

"See? Everything just kinda blends together. But the rough texture of the walls with the shiny fabric kinda - well, it's pretty." He looked at his feet. "Or I like it, anyway."

Buffy rushed in to counter Clem's embarrassment. "It does look pretty. But not girl pretty. Guy pretty. I like. Lots."

Clem's face lit up. "I'll go see what else is on the truck. Your friend did a good job on the headboard. Nice guy." The demon walked upstairs with his usual heavy steps.

Stepping back to get the full effect of the cavern walls with the bedspread, she chuckled. "Clem's right. Death becomes it,"

Rolling her eyes, Dawn looked at Buffy. "Xander was an ass."

"Dawn!"

The younger sister stuck her lower lip out. "Well, he was! He's not very nice lately. *And* he'd already been drinking."

"Xander is going through a bad time. And it's not just Anya either. I tried to talk to him about it, but he just went to the refrigerator and got me a beer."

"He barely talks to me," Dawn said softly. "It's like he's mad or somethin'."

"He's pretty angry about Spike. He's pretty angry about everything."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hey, Soul Man, want one of these? Here. Take it. You took Buffy. Took Anya. Take a beer. They bring 'em out in pairs anyway - so I don't have to wait." Xander's eyes narrowed. "If I wasn't so drunk, I'd stake your ass." He raised his beer high, nodded once. "Maybe tomorrow," he said in way of a toast and slugged down half the bottle. "Yeah, maybe." Xander pushed a full beer over toward Spike.

The vampire tried to figure out how he was going to get Xander out of the Bronze and home. The whelp was in a dangerous mood, and he'd be picking a fight sooner or later. "No thanks, mate. On the wagon these days. Spike, alcohol, Sunnydale - bad mix."

Xander laughed loudly. Spike underlined his resolve to get the little wanker home and in bed.

"Harris, s'gettin' a wee bit late. Take you til past Monday to sleep this one off... Workin' man and all that."

"Work? Hey, man of leisure here. Just kickin' back drawin' the checks." At Spike's puzzled look, Xander chuckled good-naturedly. "Laid off, buddy. On the dole. And not the Kenny Rogers pineapple kind either. Seems they didn't need me anymore." He took another big swig. "Mighty polite about it, too. Pays the rent, buys the snacks..."

"The booze," Spike finished for him. He was beginning to have a strange feeling in his chest, a kind of sadness, as he looked at the bloated man across from him.

"The Xanman dooze the booze, cause he got the blues," Xander sang off key. "Aw, c'mon, big, bad and souley. Tie one on. If we're both drunk, maybe I can stake ya. Never said you were sorry about Anya..."

"If I have any apologies to make, they go to the lady, Harris, not you. You left her high and dry. Didn't even have the balls to make it right, after."

"Oh, and you've made it right with Buffy now? Sure you did. She's a sucker for a soul. You're prob'ly boffin' the Buff again and everything. Probably no clauses on your end, you sneaky bastard. You sure got one up on the old L.A. soul-boy."

Spike sighed in frustration. If only Xander knew how wrong he was. After that first night when Buffy had told him she loved him, he'd backed off. Hadn't wanted to fall right back into the same game of slap and tickle that had doomed them the last time.

And it hadn't been that difficult, what with Clem showing up at all hours and the Bit coming by. Buffy had been giving him some odd looks but she hadn't said anything. Maybe she was thinking the same way.

He shook his head, got up from the table and walked around, easily lifting Xander out of the chair and onto unsteady feet. "You're goin' home now, if I have to carry you every bleedin' step of the way."

Xander tried to pull away. "I don't need your help!"

"Not doin' this for you, whelp," he growled. "Doin' it for Buffy and Nibblet. You're bait for any fledgling on the prowl tonight."

Xander swung at Spike over his shoulder and hit him with a glancing blow to the eye.

"Ow," Spike blinked and squinted. "That hurt!"

"Okay, that's enough. You two wanna spend the night in jail?"

Spike let out a disgusted breath. A bouncer. And a human one at that. "We were just leavin'."

"Speak for yourself! And hey! Drinking here. Workin' on the drownin' of the many sorrows. This sonovabitch slept with my girl. Well, they didn't sleep.... And now, he's sleepin' with my best friend. And I doubt they're sleepin' either. I'm gonna stake 'im, soon as I'm sober."

"That's it. I'm callin' the cops. This guy ain't goin' nowhere."

Xander threw a wild punch at the bouncer. Spike caught his fist and pushed him back. "Harris, that's enough."

The young man charged again at the bouncer. Spike tried to figure out how he could stop him - get him home. For his own good.

Spike's fist shot out and caught Xander in the jaw; he sunk and Spike caught him.

Looking up at the bouncer, Spike smiled. "No need to call anyone, mate. I'll get him home. In his cups, he is."

As he hustled Xander out, he marveled at the wonder of it.

The chip hadn't fired.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: After Spike's return from Africa, he and Buffy begin to deal with their past...and everyone else's, too!
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net and at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

God, Chris, thanks. Best online beta around!



Part 3

Spike strode toward the crypt. The sooner he made his way back and talked to Buffy, the better. If she heard it from Harris first, there'd be hell to pay. That wasn't likely, though. No more than an hour ago, he'd thrown Xander over his shoulder and literally carried him to his apartment.

As he'd begun to come around, Xander had cursed Spike, thumped, and even punched him in the back a few times - kidney punches at that. Spike had told him to shut his soddin' mouth or he'd hit him again. Xander dared him to. He had also tried to trip him up by slamming his fist into the back of Spike's knee.

Spike had thought about dropping him on his head. But suddenly, they were at Xander's apartment.

Once there, the problem of unseen barriers reared its head. He really hadn't thought about it - could have sworn he'd been inside there before - but he'd ended up just putting Xander down and shoving him toward the door. Xander had calmed down, opened up the apartment, invited Spike to come in and have a beer (again), and passed out in his overstuffed chair.

Spike had pulled off Xander's shoes, thrown a blanket over him, looked around the trashed apartment, checked the level of alcohol, and left.

"You are soooo late." A half-frustrated, half-teasing voice greeted him on his arrival. Spike ran his hand through his hair, wondering how he was going to tell Buffy about Xander - and about the chip not working.

"You better have a good explanation. Dawn stayed so she could be here when you got back. And I was beginning to get a little worried."

He grinned sheepishly at the Slayer and Dawn, but he was more than a little distracted. He looked down at his shoes, trying to think of a way to start.

Buffy missed the body language. Putting one hand on her hip, really beginning to warm to the subject, she drawled, "In fact, if you were my -"

In surprise, Spike looked up at Buffy. Her eyes widened, as her mouth dropped open. Brows knit with a frown, she sat down heavily in the chair.

He cleared his throat. Dawn looked from one to the other of them and jumped up, heading down the steps. "I'll be - downstairs, okay?"

No one answered - or even looked at her. She fled with a held breath, not knowing if this was a bad thing - or a very bad thing. Nothing about it had looked good. She just knew that this was one conversation she didn't want to witness.

Overhearing, however, would have been of the good. It was so quiet upstairs, you could hear a pin drop. Dawn strained her ears and finally heard footsteps. Someone - Spike - was on his way down.

He looked subdued as he reached the foot of the stairs. "Hey, Nibblet," he said weakly. "Show me - oh."

Spike looked at the bed, saw the two tables on either side, the lamp. His lips tightened. Dawn was sitting on the bed, looking at him expectantly. He looked at her searchingly, a little concerned.

"Bit?"

"We already had it. Had all of it," she said quickly, now seeing it through his eyes. "This," she touched the comforter, "was Mom and Dad's. I found it." She was jabbering, because suddenly everything had gone all weird again, just like it always was when Buffy got between her and Spike.

Walking over to the bed, he sat down, running his hand over the comforter, just as Buffy had. "Dawn..."

"There might be a chair or somethin'..."

"This is fine for now," he said firmly, squeezing her arm in thanks. "What you did is - well, too much. Thank you."

"I'm leaving now, right?"

"Yep. Big Sis and I need to talk. Saw Harris tonight, and it wasn't pretty. And - well, other things to talk about. I'm takin' you home. Give Buffy time to uh, think."

Dawn nodded her head. "I know what she was gonna say."

"But she didn't say it." His eyes locked onto hers. "And she shouldn't. It's complicated."

"Seems pretty simple to me," Dawn grumbled.

"Right. To you anyway. Now, home - or Janice's?"

Dawn thought for a moment. "Um, Janice's?"

"Fine then."

"Are you gonna talk to her about - um, what she *didn't* say?"

"Dunno. Can't believe I'm sayin' it, but Harris is my real worry at the moment. C'mon, let's go."

They walked up the steps in silence. Dawn looked over at Buffy, who was moving things around in the 'kitchen,' trying to look busy.

"Night, Buff. Headed to Janice's, okay?" Dawn's voice was deceptively light.

"Good," Buffy said absently, biting her lip. "Janice's is good."

Dawn shot a concerned look at Spike. He shook his head quickly, forestalling any discussion of Buffy's change of heart where Janice was concerned.

"Be back in a moment, pet. We'll talk then," he said in a normal tone.

Vampire and bit walked out into the shadowy night.

"So, what, Spike?"

"Dunno, Nibblet."

"Does this mean..."

"What it means," he said slowly and carefully, making certain that Dawn understood, "is that neither Buffy nor I have been payin' attention lately."

"You don't sound very happy about it," she said accusingly. "I mean, she was gonna say..."

"Something bloody stupid. There's too much up in the air to add more to it right now. I don't need it and neither does she," he snapped.

Dawn closed her mouth.

Well, fine then.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy wasn't upstairs when Spike returned from dropping Dawn off at Janice's. He made a rude noise and slammed open the refrigerator door, grabbing a container of blood and pouring it into a cappacino-sized mug.

She wasn't going to make this easy.

Impatiently waiting for the microwave to finish, he thought about how the evening had wound itself out. The beep was more than welcome when it came.

Taking a healthy slug, Spike looked longingly at the television and started toward the chair. That way lay sanity. Blowing out a breath and straightening his shoulders, he changed direction, going downstairs to the lower level.

Because of course, that's where she was.

Buffy looked up from her perch on the edge of the bed with a timid smile. "Okay, that was, um, well ... Did Dawn get there okay?"

Not what she wanted to say - and not what he wanted her to say either. He nodded and waited. She ran her hand over the comforter nervously.

"Clem thought this was pretty." She looked up. "I do, too."

Spike nodded again. "It is. But Buffy, this is - not right."

Her eyes got huge. "What?"

"Well, pet, we're just floatin' along here, right? You tell me when you're off work, I expect you by. You know more about what's in my refrigerator than I do. And now this - we're playin' house, Buffy. Driftin' into - what?"

"I just thought you could use some privacy," she said defensively.

"Buffy, I'm a vampire. S'very basic, really. Somewhere dark - doesn't matter where - to sleep during the day. Blood to eat. Not a lot of room for variation there."

"Okay, okay. I thought *we* could use some privacy. And you had - things. This was your bed!"

"The things weren't for me, they were for you. Make me a little less a monster in your eyes, little more like a man." He thought a moment. "Well, maybe for me, too, yeah."

He felt a twinge of pain as her eyes filled up with tears. Mercilessly, he went on, or he wouldn't be able to finish saying the things he needed to say.

"Furniture upstairs? For Nibblet. For when she would come by. The telly?" Spike chuckled, caught out. "Right, well, that *is* for me." He shrugged. "But this?"

Her chin quivered.

"Tried to tell you I wasn't sure about stayin' here. But you were all hellbent on cleanin' it up. And I let you do it. Dragged my feet, didn't say anythin', 'cause I was driftin', too.

"No matter what you do - what I *did* -- this is still a crypt. It'll never be a condo in a fashionable neighborhood. Never be a white picket fence outside."

The tears rolling freely down her face were more than he could take. He sat down on the edge of the bed and gingerly took her hand, trying to figure out how to make it easier.

"Buffy love, don't cry. Please. It's just - "

With a tiny sound she threw herself against his shoulder and shuddered with silent sobs. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "So, so sorry."

"Nothin' to be sorry for. Just takin' baby steps here, right?" he said as he smoothed her hair.

She pulled back and looked at him with swimming eyes. "I miss you, Spike."

"I miss me, too, pet." He smiled sadly. "S'gonna take some time is all."

She held him a little tighter and laughed wryly. "And I miss - this." Through still-wet eyes, she looked at him with a little bit of her old mischievousness. "Can you tell me why we're not doing - this?"

"Because it worked out so well for us the first time?" he said with a hint of bitterness.

Sighing, he went on. "Buffy, there's nothing I'd rather do than crawl into bed with you right now and stay there until one of us starves to death. I'm not a bloody saint, even if I do have the equipment for it now."

"You sound like it's a bad thing," she said cuttingly.

"It is when you use it to hide away - like you did. I don't trust myself enough right now not to do just that."

"You're hiding now! You hide in this place! What happened to patrolling? What happened to poker night?"

"Patrol?" he echoed. He caught her stubborn chin in his hand. "You want me? To patrol with you?" His eyes searched hers for an answer.

"Spike! You are so stupid! Of course, I do!"

He smiled. "Ah. Well." He sat back. "That's one thing settled."

"Well, what about the bed then? You'll sleep here? Like you used to, before I - blew it up."

Chuckling at her, he considered, then nodded. "Yeah, alright. S'long as it doesn't make me soft."

She smiled wickedly. "Don't think there's much chance of that."

Still chuckling, he leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips. "I love you, Slayer. God help me. Now. To business. Harris. And the bloody chip."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"I don't see any other way to do it."

"He's not gonna like this. And I don't know if *I* like it."

"Well, I do. And I'm the Slayer. He just needs to be needed, Spike."

Spike chortled. "Oh, right. And all we need is love."

Buffy stuck her chin out. "Keep it up, and we won't need him. I'll just put you out of *my* misery myself." She looked at him thoughtfully. "But, really, do you think that might be it?"

He shrugged.

Xander trudged heavily down the stairs to Buffy's basement. "Uh, Buff, not really in the mood for bein' the plumber's friend. And my head is - " He saw Spike and stopped. "Whoa! Déjà vu. Demon in the basement!"

Smirking, Spike took a step forward. "Hello, Harris. Head a tad bit large?"

Xander looked puzzled. "Hey. You - hey, you hit me last night!" He rubbed his jaw. "Hard."

"Yep. Thought you might let me do it again."

Looking wildly at Buffy, he said quickly, inching back toward the stairs, "Well, let me go get a beer and - "

Spike reached out with a smile and pulled Xander in close. "And *that's* the magic phrase, mate. S'for your own good." He slung Xander away from the stairwell and into the far wall.

Xander gaped at him, as he grabbed at the wall behind him.

"Anything?" Buffy asked Spike, crossing her arms across her chest.

With another, even more self-satisfied smirk, he shook his head. "Not a twinge, pet. But I don't see what good this is gonna do."

"Holey socks, Buffy! What's goin' on around here?"

Buffy smiled sweetly at Xander. "Just a little experiment. Well, several experiments. You remember that old padded suit you used to wear when we trained?"

He nodded, eyes wide.

"Well, we need your help. Spike can do a few things without the chip firing and we need to see just how far he can go. We need to define 'intent to harm'. Since the chip doesn't work on me, or Clem, you're elected."

"This is *research*? Bring on the books then. Cause I'm not big with the bodily harm."

"Oh, there'll be plenty of research. We're gonna need your help, Xander. Not just as a punching bag, but your little military backstory, too. And remember, Spike can't really hurt you." She grinned. "Much."

"So this is a big? Like really important?"

"Yeah, monkeyboy. Need your help."

Xander absently stroked his jaw. "Just body shots, right?"

Twin nods answered him.

"Wait!" Xander reviewed the conversation. "Wait just a minute. The chip doesn't work on you?"

Buffy shook her head.

"Hasn't since Willow brought her back." Spike looked at Buffy. "You didn't tell him?"

She looked embarrassed. "Thought you might get staked."

"Bloody hell, Buffy. Don't you tell anybody anythin'? And - vampire. I can take care of myself."

Disgusted, she looked at him. "And we're doing this why?"

"Oh." Spike had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, right then. But Harris?"

"Hey! Standing right here!" Xander's face reddened. "Okay, I'll do it. I swear I don't know why - probably the hangover - but I'll do it."

Both Spike and Buffy whirled around to stare at Xander.

"Well, it's not like I'm - you know - Mr. Popular right now with the chicks. Or work. Or well, anyone or anything. Anyway, this could be kinda fun. Cause I get to hit you, right?"

Spike shook his head as Buffy nodded yes. He slowly turned his head to look at her, saw the affirmative and groaned loudly.

"Yes, Spike, he does. He's got to. We've got to see if self-defense is acceptable to the chip. You know, disarmey kind of stuff." She looked at Xander. "We think it might be a soul thing, Xan."

Xander rubbed his hands together. "Ho-kay! Zoot suit! I'll be right back and we'll start, Mr. Sun Challenged."

Looking at Spike for his nod, Buffy carefully broached the next topic. "And Xander, no drinking."

Stopping on his way up the stairs, the man turned and looked at Buffy strangely.

"You've got Spike all worried about you," Buffy heard Spike's snort and disregarded it, "and that could mess with the experiment. If you're, like, drinking. So no drinking while we're working."

Xander walked back down the stairs and up to Spike. "You think I can't handle it." His voice carried a hard twinge of anger. Spike held his eyes, not backing down.

"Well, I'll be damned." Xander shook his head. "Of all my friends, the undead thing is the one that noticed."



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Months after his return from Africa, Spike begins to take his unlife in hand. It's not quite the life that Buffy expected...
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net and at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

And speaking of betas, thanks, Chris, you wonderful brainstorming buddy, you; and Colleen, who never lets me split an infinitive if she can help it. Thanks for the superfast final read through!



Part 4

"Okay, I'm sorry, but...," Buffy Summers held her stomach as a deep laugh threatened to explode out of her body once again. "Really, I..." she said apologetically, straightening her face with a supreme effort of will. She reached down to give her slaying partner a hand up. "It was just so funny. Well, it almost *wasn't*, but then it was, and..."

As he reached up to take her hand, she jerked it back, doubling over into fresh gales of laughter - and was suddenly sitting on her backside in the grass.

"Hey!" She looked a little stunned at where she found herself.

Spike looked at her with a wicked glint in his eye. "Hey yourself," he said mildly.

He reached over and quickly pushed her hair away from her face, then leaned back on his hands with a smirk. Once, a move like that would have been a step away from a caress. One of those heart-stopping moments that made her stomach clench - almost like foreplay. In fact, she thought it might have *been* foreplay more than once.

She wondered what it was to him now, since his return from Africa with his shiny new soul - just a way to get her hair out of her face?

"You know, your timing is way off," she complained. "With the vamp, I mean. And what kind of move was that anyway?" She reached over and slapped the front of his t-shirt. Dust flew into the air, sending her off into a fresh fit of giggles, interspersed with racking coughs.

Waving the dust away, Spike gave her an amused look. "Not creative enough for you?"

"Oh. Like you meant to do that," she said condescendingly.

"Did."

Buffy almost caught her breath at the old Spike. Reluctant to let him go, she tossed her hair. "Didn't."

Dusting off his t-shirt, Spike grimaced slightly. "Well, not quite like that, no. But I got the job done."

"He almost took the stake away from you! I never thought I'd say this to you, but..."

Spike gave her a disgusted look. "It was just a ploy."

Nodding her head, she said in disbelief, "A ploy."

"Well. Yeah. Give us a chance to kick back, luv. Smell the flowers," he said, indicating the fresh funeral sprays nearby. "Take a load off," he chuckled.

It was the most relaxed she'd seen Spike in months - a little off guard, eyes clear and light. Since his return, those eyes had been like clouded glass. If the eyes truly were the 'windows to the soul,' something must have gone wrong, because Spike's eyes had been a lot more expressive before, when he was an evil soulless thing. Gazing at him fondly and a little off guard herself, she mused aloud, "We should bring stuff for a picnic next time."

Appraisingly, he gazed at her from half-lidded eyes. "Patrolling *and* a picnic? How romantic," he said dryly, looking as if the shutters would close on those windows of the soul at any second.

"Not so much," she said defensively. This new Spike was so moody - not that he hadn't always been moody, but...jeez! "We used to bring chips and stuff. Well, Xander and Will did. I mostly saved the world. They did share, though. Sometimes. If the snacks held out." She tried to keep it light.

"Nothin' new under the sun then, I reckon," Spike said, relaxing again as he absently looked up at the night sky. "Or the moon."

Buffy didn't follow his eyes up, even as he sat back, continuing to look at the stars. She was looking at him - in the closest thing to natural light there was for someone like him. Sighing, she thought how it suited him: he was almost glowing against the shadows.

This was the third time they'd been on patrol this week, and she was a little worried. Oh, sure, he got the job done, but not with the old flair. He used to love to patrol with her, push it to the edges of the envelope. Show off a little. Well, a lot. Now, it was more like ... work. And 'work' that he didn't seem to care much about. She frowned.

Spike slowly shifted his attention from the sky to his partner, as if sensing a change in her. "No rest for the weary, pet."

Groaning at the reminder, she threw herself back on the grass in frustration.

Spike stood up and put a hand out. Suspiciously, she caught his eye and with a determined nod, took the offered hand, putting all her weight on it. At the last minute, she jerked him down. He landed on her hard, driving a small woof out of her body. In a flash, she was straddling him, hard, green eyes filling his vision.

"Now look what you let me do," she said, taunting him in a deceptively soft voice. "There's a change, since Africa, and if you don't start paying attention, you're gonna get staked. You need to be training with me, getting your moves back, not sitting in front of the TV."

His eyes turned a dark, stormy blue, narrowing in anger, embarrassment, and a touch of desire. Now that was more like it. She held her breath, not wanting to disturb the moment.

Then it was over, like she'd imagined the whole thing.

He threw her off gently. "Pfft," he said with none of the heat she'd just seen in his eyes. Rolling to one side, he put some distance between the slayer and himself. "Just a bit off, luv. Nothin' a little practice won't make right."

"So? Train with me." She said, pulling her elbow up under her, so she was in a half-reclining position. Considering her next words carefully she went for a humorously worded challenge. "I need a sparring partner, and I can so kick your ass right now. It'll be fun!"

Spike came off the ground in a fluid motion, eyes flashing. "I am not fighting with you."

Eyes widening, Buffy stared. "I said 'sparring!'"

"Fine. I'm not 'sparring' with you," he said with a shrug, reining in his temper. He turned to go. "Think we're done for tonight, Slayer. But we do need to check out some not-so-likely nesting spots tomorrow night."

Leaving Buffy sitting on the ground, Spike headed off toward his crypt. She realized her mouth was hanging open and shut it with a snap.

What in the world was she going to do with him? Everything set him off. One minute, they'd been laughing and maybe headed toward who knew what else, and the next, he was back behind that wall of his.

Now, they'd knocked down walls before - been pretty good at it. But that really hadn't turned out so well, had it? Buffy got up, brushed herself off and headed home, frowning all the way.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy was right, and Spike knew it. He was off-balance, out of kilter. Not up to the usual slash and burn standards that kept his Slayer alive and him undusted. He decided a little solo work might do some good - put him back on the front lines. And that nest he had mentioned might be just the place to start. He could at least go check it out - with no one and nothing distracting him.

As he moved alone through the dark, the night began to whisper to him, telling its tale. He slipped through the trees, using short cuts he doubted even the slayer knew about. His movements became more his own, more under his control. Obviously, the time had come to take back his life - or at least begin fitting it into the new parameters his recent acquisition had caused him to 'suss' out over the last months.

He was nearing the caves, wondering just what types had set up housekeeping there since his departure last spring. He never patrolled there regularly, preferring to save it for those times he needed more of a challenge. Never brought Buffy there. It was his place - a place where the odds were usually against him. Many times it was a mob mentality of hatred and fear, the kind of thing that had challenged him in humans when he'd first been made. This was as close to it as a vampire who could fight only demons could get. It was enough.

The caverns were cool and quiet, the soft drip of water and the chink of falling pebbles here and there the only sound. Spike was beginning to despair of any action at all until he neared the fork that followed the outline of the old Initiative underground installation.

Being in this place always caused a bout of usually unwelcome introspection. Maybe it was the reason he patrolled there so seldom. But tonight, he was almost eager. The insertion of the chip had started him on the road that had led from 'there' to 'here.' He smiled ruefully - interesting road that. More like an undiscovered path he had blazed on his own. Who could have known that the quest for The Gem of Amarra would lead him to another quest - for a soul, this time - after almost a hundred and a half years of joyfully ignorant vampiric existence?

He slowed his silent progress to cock his head, catching a hint of sounds that didn't fit. Lengthening his stride, he headed for the nest.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy closed the front door to her house with a loud slam and stalked into the kitchen. It was late, she was hungry, and something else was wrong, but she wasn't quite sure what it was.

Okay, that was a lie. She knew exactly what else was wrong. A long time ago, she'd told Spike she could never love an evil soulless thing like him.

Fine time to wonder if she might have been wrong, what with the new, re-souled model just a few blocks and headstones away. What they'd had - that complicated mix of attraction and repulsion, fire and ice, wrong and right - seemed painlessly simple compared to what was going on right now.

Earlier, it had taken everything she had not to kiss him when she saw that angry look in his eye. Kiss him and scream 'welcome back' at the top of her lungs.

She was sorry she had ever pushed him back into patrol. The problem was that attempting to return to the old routine had taken their new dynamic and tossed it right back into its old context. Suddenly, she was comparing 'old' Spike with 'new' Spike - often finding that she preferred the borderline 'evil' she'd known, to the 'good' that she didn't always understand.

First, he was so quiet. That was just plain weird. The snarky, running commentary was mostly a thing of the past now. She laughed ruefully in silence. The very thing that used to make her insane - had made her want to knock the hell out of him - was one of the things she missed!

And he kept his own counsel. Once he'd run ideas across her like he had his hands - impatiently, restlessly, incessantly. These days? Not big on the communication. You could almost see him mentally filing things away for future reference, like he needed more information before he could talk about it.

He was becoming...something more than he was before.

Opening the refrigerator door, she stared at the contents without seeing any of the pizza boxes or Styrofoam containers.

'Spike' was a subject she tried to avoid thinking about, preferring to take it a day at a time. But days had stretched into weeks, and now months, and she was no closer to any answers. While he seemed perfectly content with letting the chip fall where it may.

Damn chip.

If it hadn't been for the chip, he'd have been dust years ago, right? Surely, she'd have gotten lucky sooner or later. And that way she'd never have known what she was missing.

Which was 'him'.

Oh, sure, he walked like Spike (sometimes) - even talked like Spike (when he talked) - but there was another level to him now. As if there hadn't been enough of those already!

He was trying to deal with all these new feelings and ideas, and she was totally in over her head, unable to help - and even worse, more than a little impatient with it all. Which was really horrible. Gee, evil demon goes off, faces unthinkable trials, wins a soul, returns triumphant, and the damsel turns her perky little nose up? How self-absorbed was that? He'd been a lot more understanding of her after her resurrection, and he'd been an undead evil fiend.

Closing the refrigerator without getting dinner, she sighed and headed toward the stairs. She was beginning to think she wasn't a very nice person.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Spike rounded a corner and almost wound up smack in the middle of the nest. He raised an eyebrow in disgust. It looked - and smelled - like a locker room. A locker room complete with rotting meat. What a bloody mess!

Three vamps were sitting around a makeshift table playing poker. He couldn't tell what was in the 'pot,' and he didn't particularly care. Two more were fighting over what CD they were going to put in the boom box that was sitting on an old skeleton of a sofa. The last vamp seemed to be chained to the wall, unconscious. A large heavy wooden paddle lay nearby. He felt a surge of anger.

God, how he hated frat rats! Rugby shirts and polos. Bright colors and khaki pants. Fashion victims, each and every one. And each one of them sitting around in gameface - bunch of lazy gits!

Smirking evilly, Spike sauntered into the room, twirling a stake in one hand. His hair had gotten longer. Long enough that it curled at the white blond tips. His long sleeved black tee-shirt was tight, outlining hard muscle from the 'massing up' he'd done from his Buffy-induced force-feed diet. Oh, and he had been exercising. A bit. He looked dangerous. He *was* dangerous - and extremely brassed-off.

The effect was lost on the preoccupied vampires. Spike let out a disgusted breath. Where was the challenge, the excitement? Executions just weren't his cuppa. Needed to stir things up a bit.

"Well, bloody hell! Wake up, you wankers!" he said in frustration. "What is SunnyD comin' to, that you lot could still be undead and kickin'? Slayer's gonna hear about this." He pointedly looked around. "And you call this a nest? I know slugs live better!"

Belatedly, the five vamps guiltily rounded on the Big Bad, mouths open in shock at their discovery. Seeing that the odds were on their side, they relaxed. Five to one was a chip shot.

Spike swaggered deeper into the den. The three around the table backed off slightly at his approach, deciding that he was either crazy or completely insane. Spike walked over to the table. "What's this, then? Poker?" he asked, leaning over to turn over one of the hands. "Hmmph. Good thing I showed up. Playin' this soddin' hand would 'a been a real nutter."

Two of the rugby boys began to look uncomfortable. Five to one and their visitor had an air about him that made them think they might just get their asses kicked. Covertly, they started looking for a way out.

"Hey, grandpa, get the hell out! You don't belong here," the largest one said with a blustery laugh.

Spike looked up, eyes glittering. "Oh. And you think you do? Well, let me tell you something, boy. None of us belongs here - not in this world or any other. And certainly not," Spike looked him up and down with a curled lip, "some nancied-up, smart-ass, bleedin' pathetic former college whelp like you."

The bigger vampire threw himself over the table with a roar as Spike stashed the stake. He caught the boy out of the air and body slammed him to the floor. "Oooh. That hurt, dinnit?" Wiggling his fingers, he motioned the boy to get up. "God, it's bullies like you that give vampires a bad name. Well, bullies like you and 'bads' like me, anyway."

And then, it was a free-for-all of flying bodies and blows, as the others entered the fray. Spike caught a few punches and doled out many more - as well as kicks, and assorted body slams into the walls and the floor. Cards flew into the air as the table shattered beneath a particularly brightly-dressed vampire.

"Bugger this," Spike said, tiring of the one-sided fight. They weren't worth the effort. He pulled out the stake and dusted everything within reach.

Finally, it was down to one of the boom box boys, who took off past the older vampire as if hell were on his heels. The stake, that seemed to magically sail through the air, into his back, and through his heart, proved he was right. Hell? Yes.

Spike walked over to the pile of dust and recovered the sharpened piece of wood, as he spun on his heel to grab the tangled hair of the chained-up vamp. Yanking the filthy head back, he saw an emaciated face attached to a thin neck, which disappeared into a stained and torn shirt. The shirt seemed much too large for his skinny frame. And unlike the others, he wasn't vamped out. Spike sniffed disdainfully, and wrinkled his nose as he recognized the sickening smell.

"Well, well, Frat Boys and Rat Boys... Got to love old Sunnyhell." He put the stake to the boy's heart as the reddened eyes opened. They were a soft, deep green, full of pain.

"Don't feed, d'you?" Spike growled as he lowered the stake.

The boy looked at Spike, seeing him through the haze of delirium as some white angel of death. "Just rats," he said with effort. He laughed weakly, trying to gather his next words. "Got scarce. Came here. Big mistake."

"Won't hunt, eh?" Spike raised the stake again. "Used to kill the likes o' you..."

"Good," the boy whispered as he passed out again.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Months after his return from Africa, Spike begins to take his unlife in hand. It's not quite the life that Buffy expected...
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net and at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

Can't thank Chris and Colleen enough for putting up with me! I'm a real pain when I get going.



Part 5

"Spike? Spike!"

Buffy's voice was a little shaky, but she'd had a really bad dream - and the aftereffects still hadn't completely worn off. One minute she had been lying across her bed thinking about the differences between Spike then and now, and the next, she was waking from a nightmare.

The dream wasn't about Spike though. It had been about Faith, or more precisely, the time Faith had switched bodies with her. Now, hours later, what she remembered most vividly was the image of her own face, twisted with hatred and rage, as she shrilly told herself that she was disgusting, over and over again. That, and the fists - her fists - coming at her again and again as they cracked against facial muscle and bone.

Buffy had come off the bed in a cold sweat, face wet with tears. It was at that moment that she remembered that she wasn't hitting herself, screaming at herself, but that Faith in her body was doing it to her. Or to Faith. She still wasn't clear on that.

It had been a bad way to wake up at 3 am.

Frantically, she had moved off the bed, grabbing clothes and shoes - dressing as quickly as her shaking hands would allow. Needed to get out of the room, out of the house.

She checked on Dawn. Sleeping soundly - hair twined around her fingers - the Key was at peace. Leaving for a little while should be okay. Her sister wasn't a kid anymore - just ask her. She'd tell you. Loudly.

Buffy was thinking she might go out and...what? Kill something? Take her frustration and put it where it would do some World Good? Her mind returned to the surreal images. Why that dream? Why now, after so long? She'd gone to bed thinking about Spike, not Faith.

And then she made the connection between her dream and Spike. Sitting down on the front step, she put her head in her hands. A crazy person wearing her face, screaming in disgust, hands hitting and hitting to punish, not defend.

Spike had seen that. The night they'd found Katrina dead.

Stunned, she slowly got up and started off in the direction of the cemetery. Didn't know what she could say to him after all this time. Surely, it wasn't too late for 'I'm sorry.' Maybe lame, considering, but not too late. Never too late for 'sorry.'

Buffy had gone into the crypt, calling for Spike, but somehow she knew when she entered that he wasn't there. She was prepared to wait - til sunrise if that's what it took.

Then, she remembered that he had been headed home hours ago. Walking down the stairs, she checked to make sure he wasn't in the lower level. Nothing. The room still had the same unlived-in look that it had the night she and Dawn furnished it. The table was clean, pillows still perfectly placed. And most of all, the room just didn't feel like Spike.

So where was he? Buffy went over Spike's options - not 'Classic' Spike, but 'new and improved' Spike. The list of his usual haunts was extremely short since his return from Africa: upstairs or downstairs. And by the way things looked, downstairs didn't look like much of an option either.

What if he'd been waylaid by a bunch of vamps on the way back? Spike wasn't exactly Mr. Popular Guy with the locals. They'd love to catch him out. Or maybe it was some demon who'd just blown into town?

Just about the time she started to feel real fear, she heard the upstairs door swing open and bang loudly against the wall. Pulling out a stake, she flew up the steps.

Spike was carrying something, someone, over to the sarcophagus in the corner.

"Oh, God! What happened?"

Spike almost dropped his burden. "Buffy! What the bloody hell...?" Recovering quickly, he carefully laid the still form on the slab. "Get some blankets," he said tensely. "Downstairs. Somethin' to get him warm."

She backed toward the steps. "But what...?"

"Nest. Bunch of vamps playin' reindeer games." He saw her staring, frozen. "Well, go on!"

Buffy took the stairs two at a time, wondering why Spike had brought anyone to his crypt. Must be bad. Real bad. She grabbed the comforter off the bed and ran back up. "Shouldn't we be at the hospital? The emergency room?" Handing Spike the tangle of bedding, she took a good look at their patient. "The morgue? This is a *vampire*, Spike!"

He grabbed the bedclothes and started tucking them tight around the cold, thin body. "Yeah," he said dryly. "Bloody brilliant, Slayer." He spared her a glance. "What are you doin' here anyway?"

"Thought we needed to talk," Buffy explained as she noticed a huge bruise on the young vampire's cheek from a blow that had actually crushed bone. "Obviously, I was right. Are you nuts? Do you even know what you're doing right now?"

His fingers slid through his hair. "God, Buffy, I hope so. Got to get some blood in 'im."

"But Spike..."

His eyes snapped in frustration. "Buffy, for pity's sake..."

"Fine. I'll get the damn blood!" she snapped, sure that she wasn't going to get anything out of him until he calmed down.

"And make it warm. He..."

"I *know* how to do it," she said, exasperated. "Just don't know *why*," she muttered under her breath. Pulling a jar from the refrigerator, she poured the blood in a large mug and put it in the microwave, setting the timer in almost the same movement. "Now, it's in. What's this all about? And you better make it good, 'cause right now, I'm ready to stake and ask questions later."

"Found him in the caves. He doesn't feed. He..."

Buffy's head snapped around. "Couldn't you just bring home a stray kitten like everybody else? He's a vampire."

"Well, yeah, he is, but he's been livin' on rats since he was made. Or was, until Clem went into pest control."

The timer interrupted their conversation. Buffy reached in, pulled out the mug, and handed it to Spike. She held it for a moment, as he put his arm around the boy's neck and tried to raise him up to drink. Green eyes opened slowly as his head lolled back.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked curiously.

"I dunno, Buffy. I dunno." Spike's voice was impatient. He couldn't seem to get the boy positioned. His head kept slipping back, or over, or forward, or... Spike's frustration mounted.

Buffy leaned over to get a closer look. "Hey, he's just a kid."

"Yeah." His voice was tight.

"Spike, what are you gonna do with him?" she asked - suddenly the Voice of Rationality.

"Wish I knew," he muttered, getting the errant head close to his shoulder.

Spike reached for the mug and put it to the boy's lips. The starving vampire tried to swallow as the warm fluid entered his mouth, but gagged instead. Spike jerked the mug back as the coughing went on and tried to prop him higher on his shoulder. The boy's head fell forward. Spike let out a breath.

"Slayer, give us a hand here, alright?" he snapped, voice a little shrill.

Buffy looked at Spike in utter amazement. He was asking her to help him keep a vampire alive? Her? The Slayer? Then, she really looked - at the frantic expression on his face, the worried frown that had gathered in a furrow between his eyes. Her eyes traveled down, to the battered young face. She sighed in resignation to the inevitable.

Taking the mug from his hand, she freed Spike up to get a firmer grip on the fledgling vampire. "I need to have my head examined," she complained. "Wait. No. You need to have *your* head examined. Oh, and by the way, if he doesn't behave, I'm stakin' him."

Leaning over, she put the mug to the boy's lips.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Spike was headed upstairs to check the blood supply when the knock on the door came. With Buffy's help, he'd been pushing the blood down the boy's throat steadily. He hoped Clem was coming by soon so he could send him to the butcher's for more.

Pulling the door open with a sense of relief, he fully expected to see Clem's smiling face. Instead, he found Xander Harris. Wondering how he could get rid of him, he flashed a trademark smirk. Wouldn't do to make him suspicious.

"Tasty Freeze is around the corner, whelp," he said, closing the door in the man's face.

Xander caught it with his foot, and pushed it open. He looked around. "Got company or something?" he said suspiciously.

"In or out?" Spike said curtly, then realized it was still light outside. And Xander obviously wasn't leaving until he had done what he came to do.

"In, I think," Xander said as he stepped just inside the door. "Though 'out' might be better for everybody involved. Can't believe I'm here. I think I need my head examined."

"May be." Spike kept his face blank, but inwardly he smiled at the echo of Buffy's sentiments. He'd heard it many different times and in many different contexts during the previous night. "C'mon then," he said grudgingly. "But make it quick."

Xander continued to stand there. "You can leave the door open if you're lookin' for a fast getaway," Spike said sarcastically. Eyes narrowing, he took a closer look. "Wait. You drunk?" Spike hadn't forgotten the other night at the Bronze.

Xander laughed uncomfortably. "Nope. What have you got?" he asked rhetorically.

"Blood, blood and blood." He watched Xander sit down in the chair. Spike quietly shut the door. "So talk," Spike said impatiently.

Xander looked up at him. "Why'd you do it, Spike?"

The vampire cocked an eyebrow.

"Any of it. All of it." Letting out a deep breath, Xander ran his hand through his hair. "Anya."

"Ah." Spike considered his answer. "Let's see. What answer will make this right? How about hurt? No? Drunk? You ought to understand that. Alone? Well how about this? There was a beautiful woman sitting there with tears in her eyes, heart broken into jagged pieces. Pick one. Any of those do?"

Xander's nodded as he stared off into space, eyes full of self-pity. Spike's temper flared.

"Oh, come off it, Harris! She loved you and you hurt her. Left her! Know what it feels like. Been there."

"I didn't want to hurt her more, later," Xander said quietly.

"Oh, right. You left her for her own good. Heard that one, too." Spike stepped closer. Xander looked up. "You love her?"

"Yeah," he sighed, almost forgetting who he was talking to. "More than anything. More than..."

"Yourself?" Spike broke into Xander's reverie. "You talked down to her. Treated her second-class. Acted ashamed of her in front of the Scoobies. Know what that feels like, too. It's not nice, Harris, oh, you of the aching heart and wounded soul."

Xander shook his head. "I didn't..."

"You bloody well did! Be honest with yourself just one soddin' time!"

Xander stared at him. When Spike's eyes stayed hard and cold, Xander looked down at his hands.

"Good." Spike took a calming breath. "Next?"

"Buffy."

"You're treadin' in quicksand, whelp," he warned. "Try again."

Eyes widening slightly at the bitter look on Spike's face, he shook his head. "Forget it," he murmured.

"Smart lad. Anythin' else, then?"

"The soul."

"The simple question last of all. The soul. Well, it couldn't go on the way it was, right? Had to change. So I did." Spike's words had the touch of finality. Even Xander could hear it.

Xander smiled a little. "Okay. I guess I gets what I gets." He got up. "Leaving now. I know I'm not real welcome here, but you did rescue me from a night in jail. I came by to tell you we can do that thing any time you say. Those tests. Just let me know."

"Right then," Spike turned toward the refrigerator in dismissal.

"Hey. Wait a minute. You in a hurry to get rid of me?" Xander said with a touch of wry humor.

"No more than usual," Spike's reply was nonchalant.

Xander opened the door to let himself out. "Hey, Spike?" he said, turning back with a rueful grin.

"Yeah?" Spike looked back over his shoulder, questioningly.

"Really looking forward to hitting you." Xander punctuated his words with a one-two air punch.

Spike snorted. "Lookin' forward to seeing you try, wanker," he said with a smirk.

On the heels of his words, a shout came from downstairs.

"Spike! Spike, get down here!"

Spike's eyes flew to Xander, whose shocked expression was rapidly turning to one of betrayal. "Oh, bloody hell!"

"What's she doin' here?" Xander said angrily, looking at his watch. "Shouldn't she be at work? Or anywhere - *else*?"

Spike winced. "Harris..."

"Spike! Now! Move your ass!"

The alarm in Buffy's voice drove any kind of explanation out of Spike's mind. He disappeared down the stairs in a flash - Scooby stumbling along behind.

Xander's eyes had barely adjusted to the dark when he saw Buffy struggling to restrain a wildly flailing...something. He reached for a stake and came up empty-handed. He cursed his stupidity for coming to see Spike without a stake, or an ax, or.... His eyes darted around the room trying to focus on a weapon - any weapon.

"Xander, no!" Buffy's command stopped him cold as he grasped the wicked-looking knife he saw lying on a rocky out-cropping.

He turned back toward her voice and saw Spike over by the bed, talking softly as he gently pushed the...thing...back down on the bed. It whimpered and turned its...head? to the wall.

A soft hand guided Xander's arm down, slipping the knife out of his fingers. He nearly jumped at the touch. The whole scene was like a bad movie. And he was in it.

"Buffy! What...?" His voice trailed off as he watched Spike straighten the twisted bedding, still murmuring to the slowly-quieting form.

The slayer followed his eyes to the bed, and locked him in her level gaze as he turned back to her, incredulous.

"Daniel," she said softly. "His name is Daniel."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

They sat in silence upstairs, almost as if waiting for Spike to join them before addressing any of it. Xander shook his head periodically as if trying - and failing - to make sense of the scene downstairs. His hands were clasped tightly between his knees. Buffy looked up with concern as Spike appeared.

"Well?"

"He's quiet." Spike shot a look at Xander. "Sleeping maybe," he said, fastening his eyes on Buffy. "Can't tell." He let out a shaky breath. "I think that was the first lucid moment he's had."

Xander's head shot up as he fixed Spike with an astonished look. "*That* was lucid? Well, 'lucid' looked like a crazy-ass vampire to me!"

"That's right, monkey boy," Spike said, without anger. "Another evil undead thing. Except that this one has *never* fed on a human. Never hunted once in his short, but tortured existence. Except for rats - and sewer rats at that!"

"Lack of opportunity?" Xander asked flippantly. "Or is it drive and ambition he's short on?"

Buffy gave Xander a disgusted look. He gave her one in return, and sat back.

"Hey," he said, spreading his hands in mock-surrender. "Just asking. Slayer," he added, voice dripping with sarcasm.

She sighed in acceptance of the accusation. "Spike found him last night on patrol. *Private* patrol," she said in explanation, shooting the blond vampire a look that clearly stated that the discussion was far from over. "Well, rescued him really."

Xander looked in amazement at Spike, who had found something very interesting about the toes of his boots.

"Gee, couldn't you just pick up a kitten or something?" Xander blurted out.

In answer, Spike's shoulders started shaking. Xander saw him look up, raising an eyebrow at Buffy as he - what? Laughed? He was laughing? As he stared at Spike, trying to figure out what was so damn funny, he heard a second chorus - of giggles this time - from the slayer. With wide eyes, he turned to Buffy, who was pointing a long finger at Spike. A finger that was shaking with uncontrollable laughter. "I...told...you!" She began gasping for breath.

It was like the two of them were alone in the room. Buffy's eyes were on Spike, whose own eyes were brimming with mirth as he tried to hold himself erect by hanging on to the table with white-knuckled fingers. Their slightly hysterical laughter echoed off the walls.

Buffy wiped her eyes, and looked down at her hands, finding them wet with tears. Giggling, she held out her fingers for Spike to see. She was laughing so hard she was crying.

The vampire wiped his own eyes, finding the same wetness.

That bit of business sent both of them off into new and even more unrestrained gales of laughter. As Xander watched them, all of the pieces finally fell into place. He shook his head in wonder at the insanity of life in the Hellmouth.

Those two crazy kids just might make it.


Note: Part 6 is rated R. If you are under 17, please go straight to Part 7. You do not have to read Part 6 to enjoy the PG version of Reminders.



Rating: R
Summary: Months after his return from Africa, Spike begins to take his unlife in hand. It's an adjustment, but it has some rewards...
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net and at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

This is a little surprise for everyone. Even Colleen. Thanks to trusty beta Chris, who only went 'beta blind' once during the proofing of this chapter...



Part 6

Buffy stood in her kitchen, hands on her hips, glaring at the room's two occupants balefully.

"Okay, Dawn, this has got to stop. Doesn't anybody here get it yet? I am all Status Quo Girl. So do not love change."

The younger sister glared right back. "Hey, get over it, Big Sis. Hair grows."

"Dawn, all this time, I thought maybe, hm, doctor? All saving of mankind. Great for somebody destined to protect the world. Some days I'm thinkin', well, okay, she argues well. Lawyer, destined to protect the environment. Not so far off the original saving thing, right? But never, never once in all my daydreams did I see this. A 'colorist?'"

Spike smirked as he ran his hands through his still damp, freshly-tipped blond hair. Buffy's rants were very entertaining as long as they weren't directed at him. He pulled the streaked towel from around his shoulders, toed some cut hair under the table and settled back for the floorshow.

His movement drew Dawn's eye. Her expression brightened. "But just look how cool! And I did it!" The girl's eyes narrowed as she looked at Spike appraisingly. "Argh! Almost forgot something," she said as she headed to the kitchen door. "Got it the other day. It's in my room. I think. Well, somewhere anyway." Her voice trailed away as she galloped up the stairs.

"Well," Spike said, raising a scarred eyebrow. "How bad is it?"

Buffy half-glared at him. "What are you doing here?"

"Keeping the Bit away from the crypt... and Daniel. And lettin' her have her way with me." He waited a moment, then prompted her again. "So?"

"Pretty good," Buffy said grudgingly. "Okay, very good actually."

Spike nodded. "Figured as much from the Nibblet's squeals of joy," he said dryly.

"How is Daniel today?"

"Gettin' stronger. Up and about. Talkin' a bit. Clem took him to his place to try to do a clean up. Seems real comfortable when Clem's around."

"Really?" Buffy frowned prettily. "Why?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Well, hell, Slayer, isn't everyone? Comfortable with Clem, I mean? Even demonophobic Harris likes him."

She grinned appreciatively at the half-joke and threw herself in the chair across from Spike. Making a huge show of examining his new look, she finally sighed heavily.

"Spike, you don't have to let her do...this." She waved her fingers around, indicating his hair. "You could actually tell her 'no.'" She leaned closer, fingers splayed on the table surface.

"Didn't even try," Spike admitted with some asperity. "Completely whipped by any woman with the last name Summers."

Buffy got up and walked around the table. "Well, I don't think your hair would look right 'brown' anyway," she said thoughtfully. "So I guess this is okay." She walked behind him, still talking and put her hands in his hair absently. "And I like it better this way. No goop."

Spike slowly turned around in his chair, looking up at the intent little frown that had gathered between Buffy's eyes, and caught her still outstretched hand in his. Her frown didn't disappear as she blankly included his hand in her gaze.

By standing up, he drew her attention from their hands to his solemn eyes. "Buffy?"

"You know," she said in a normal tone, "I never thought I'd say it, but I don't know how I feel about any of this. It's...complicated. 'Classic' Spike was a lot simpler to understand. Easier."

A smile ghosted around his mouth as he realized that she was comparing him to a soft drink. His eyes softened in understanding. "Slayer, I think that's the first honest thing you've said to me since I've been back."

She looked down at her hand, still folded into his. As she watched, he gave it a slight squeeze and let go. Her eyes darted back to his face, expecting to see some sort of rejection there.

"S'fine," Spike said reassuringly. "Honest. For you, quite forthright," he laughed.

She didn't. "The other night. When you found... I was waiting for you to tell you something."

"Yeah?"

"I came to tell you...I'm sorry."

His eyes searched her face for some clue as to what she was talking about.

"For the night...That night. The night we found Warren's ex in the woods."

Spike made a small noise of negation and shook his head.

"No. Wait. I hurt you. A lot. I was crazy that night. And scared. Oh, Spike, I was so scared. I was afraid I was like...Faith. I think. I don't know. I was just scared. And angry. And crazy. And I am so, so sorry that I hurt you when you were trying to help."

He opened his mouth to speak, but a sharp look from her stopped his words.

"Okay, no excuses. No excuse. Just sorry, okay? So sorry. I was vicious and cruel and..."

Spike couldn't stand the pain in her eyes. "Shhh. S'all right, love. I know. I knew it that night."

"You knew?" she said uncomprehendingly.

Spike put his hands comfortingly on her shoulders and looked down at her with a half-smile. "Yeah, I did," he said reassuringly.

"But I just left you there. Just...left."

"Shhh." Spike pulled her close and put his lips to her hair. She muttered against his chest, body relaxing. Her whispered 'sorry' floated up between them and away.

After a few moments, he stepped back and tilted her chin up with gentle fingers. He kissed her softly, in deference to the pain written across her face, and in remembrance of her kiss after his survival of the beating at Glory's hands.

As their lips met, a connection that had been bent, broken or maybe had never existed at all except in his own imagination, surged to life. He drew back in surprise, looked into her eyes, and tenderly captured her mouth again.

This time, the kiss was slow and deep. Her hands moved around his waist as if anchoring him there. His hands moved to her shoulders again.

She came up for air briefly, quickly diving again into the ebb and flow of the seemingly endless kiss. Her hands moved up his back, pulling him against her. His mouth was soft and sweet, sucking away the pain, replacing it with comfort and warmth. Her stomach lurched and dropped as the kiss changed and she felt him harden against her. She gasped quietly into his mouth.

At that encouragement, his tongue slipped between her lips, done with teasing. He felt a light-headedness that might mean an interdimensional slip. Her nipples beneath the usual Buffy-style thin camisole had hardened into pellets. She moved her hands to the small of his back and gently pulled him closer. His knee went out and parted her legs, so that her sex was teasingly pressed against his thigh. He growled as she shifted against him.

In answer, she moaned and pulled his tongue deeper into her mouth. Legs shaking slightly, he sought the edge of the table and leaned against it for support, pulling her with him. She shivered as his hand slid under her hair and to the back of her neck. He could smell her arousal, a sweet scent he'd only just remembered. Frustrated, he picked her up with one hand, set her fully astride his thigh, and pulled her flush against his crotch. He felt her warm moisture through the leg of his jeans.

Burying her hands in his hair, she pressed herself to him, working to find some relief for the steady throb between her legs. Her breaths came into his mouth in shallow pants, as her steely arms ground him closer. She moved again slightly, deliberately pushing into the junction between his groin and thigh, her hip against his crotch.

"Oh, my God!" Dawn's voice was shrill with shock. "Okay, now that's just - God! Get a room, guys! Scarred here. Totally traumatized!"

Their glazed eyes swung toward Dawn, who was standing with open mouth just inside the door. A now-forgotten bottle was clutched tightly in her hand.

The slayer tried to slow her breathing to something short of warp speed eight, as she attempted to focus on her sister. Spike slowly stood, letting Buffy slide off his leg and onto her own somewhat unsteady feet.

"Did you like totally forget I was here or something?" Dawn complained.

Neither the vampire nor the slayer spoke - although the answer was a resounding 'yes' from the look on their faces. Buffy was trying to figure out what to say, knowing that she had been caught flushed and panting by her sister. For the one and only time in her life, she was glad her mother wasn't here, or Buffy would have had to give in to all kinds of sordid blackmail.

As to Spike, he was completely clueless about what to say. He decided that anyone who had been that close to orgasm couldn't be held responsible for any rational conversations and sat down heavily, willing the still slightly swollen evidence in his pants to give it up. Realizing that he might be making things even more uncomfortable, he stood again. "I'll just let, uh, you and Buffy, uh..." At the lack of any further words presenting themselves, he beat a hasty retreat to the back door, opening it with a hint of desperation on the dusky evening.

"Spike?"

Buffy's voice. Spike didn't turn. "You know where I'll be, pet." He walked outside and carefully shut the door, sinking down onto the back step. The house remained ominously quiet.

As he was finishing his second cigarette, Buffy quietly sat down beside him. He glanced at her.

"You all right?" he asked, a little concerned.

She nervously ran her hands through her hair. "No. Are you?" she asked, finally meeting his eyes.

"No..." he said slowly with a wry chuckle. "I have to say it. That's the first time in a century and a quarter of existence that something like that has happened to me. Vampires usually don't have nosy little sis' runnin' round underfoot."

"The therapy bills could really mount up quick," she said, working toward some lightness.

He reached over and squeezed her hand. "Set it up with Harris for tomorrow. I'll come over through the tunnels. Basement's ready, right?"

"Yep," she said, a little more herself.

"Clem'll stay with Daniel." He got up. "I need to get back."

"I know, but...." She watched Spike's retreating back. "Don't you think it's scary?" she blurted out, stopping him in his tracks.

"Scary, love?" he said, turning back with a wry smile.

"I never even remembered she was there. I just...forgot. The rest of the world just goes away and..."

"Yeah," he said sadly. "Funny, that." He turned and headed home, feeling her eyes on his back, until he disappeared behind the hedge.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"I didn't get to finish his hair," Dawn pouted, still holding the bottle of hair goop.

Buffy opened her mouth to inform her sister that his hair wasn't all that didn't get finished, but thought better of it.

Once again in good humor, Dawn giggled. "Boy, and I thought Janice was queen make-out artist..."

"Have I told you lately how much I dislike Janice?" Buffy said wearily as she sat down in the kitchen.

"Only every other day," her sister said perkily. "But you must like what I did to Spike's hair, cause you sure had your hands all in it."

"Dawn..." Buffy was utterly defeated. This would never end. Or if it did, not well.

"That was like - mouth sex," her little sister said gleefully. "NC-17 rated kissage. He kisses real good, right? 'Cause it looked like..."

"Yes, yes, and yes. And that's enough, okay?"

At Buffy's dark look, Dawn's smile drooped. "If you could just *see* you guys together. It's like watching this really romantic movie. You know, like when the guy and the girl meet, and they hate each other on sight. And then they get to be kinda like friends, but not really..."

The slayer sighed quietly.

"And then one day, they're doin' this snarky, fight-y, back and forth kinda witty verbal punch thing and they kiss and fall totally into bed, but not before like wreckin' her apartment..."

Buffy looked up at Dawn. "TV show, not a movie. They finally get together after years of sexual angst and the show gets cancelled a year later. He goes on to become movie action hero actor person making double digits mills for each film, while she goes on to *finally* getting another successful TV series playing somebody's mom with an alcoholic best friend. He gets an Oscar nomination for a movie about dead people, and his pint-size co-star wins it."

"Buffy?"

"Yeah, Dawnie."

"Want to see if we can maybe catch a rerun of 'Moonlighting'?"

Buffy got up. "Not if it's the last season. I can't deal. Too depressing." She shrugged. "Don't we own Sixth Sense?"

"Well, we do now, cause I never took it back. I'll get the popcorn."



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Months after his return from Africa, Spike begins to take back his unlife on his own terms. During patrol, he finds a stray...
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net and at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

Oh, man. Ain't we got fun? Thank you, Chris, for sandwiching me in while you were trying to write! And thank you, Colleen, for the early morning beta...!



Part 7

The door shut with a click. Clem jumped six inches in his chair.

"Where's Daniel?" Spike's eyes were hooded.

Clem nodded toward the downstairs.

Spike sat down in the smaller chair and stared at the TV, but Clem could tell he wasn't watching. "Like your hair," he said conversationally. "Kinda, you know, snazzy. The Slayer do it for you this time?"

The rude noise was answer enough.

"Guess not," said Clem, shrugging to himself. Gee, vampires were so moody! "Hey, I rented 'Legally Blonde!' You wanna watch it again?"

"No," Spike said tightly. "No blondes, no bouncin' shampoo commercial hair. Period."

Clem nodded in understanding. "You and the Slayer had a fight. Gee, Spike, do you have to be so touchy? The girl's just trying to..."

"She's not a girl. And. We. Did. Not. Fight." Spike clipped out the words in 1920's typewriter staccato.

Drawing back a little, Clem considered the direction the conversation was going. He decided to drop it and remind himself to stop saying the word 'Slayer,' unless she was in the room.

"You know, when I came back, I realized that this wasn't going to work," Spike's voice gathered momentum. "Should have left then. Gone back to New York." He smiled briefly at Clem. "Vampire can move around all day long there. Whole city underground."

Clem settled back, keeping his expression blank. It seemed to be the beginning of a rant to him. Clem was Spike's best friend and the vampire really didn't have anyone else to talk to about the Slayer. Of course, some of their conversations had gotten a little graphic in the past, but...he liked Spike - admired him even - so he was going to be a friend and not interrupt. Let him vent.

"But no. She was here. Smellin' up the place with that lotion she uses. Paddin' around the crypt like some hausfrau, heatin' blood, watchin' me like I was gonna break, bullyin' me into straightenin' up. Survived over a hundred years without her. Reckon I can make it a few hundred more."

Spike paused. Clem felt the empty hole and responded carefully. "But things have been okay lately..."

"Oh, right. Bloody oh-kay! Well, let me tell you somethin', Clem. She still doesn't get it. Right in front of her bleedin' nose and she's clueless!"

Clem leaned down to pick up the canvas tote bag he'd brought. "Got that, too, Spike. On video. And that Alicia Silverstone..."

"Then, tonight, I'm mindin' my own business. Nibblet's doin' a touch-up, which is fine. I don't care. Bit can do anythin' she likes. And *she* comes in - all full o' piss and vinegar."

"Oh, not good."

"Oh, no, not bloody good at all, 'cause that's the way I love her best. All tossin' hair and flashin' eyes. 'Course I know she's just playin' at it. She's not sorry I'm there. Then, she puts her hands in my hair, and..."

"Whoa! TMI, Spike. You sayin' things got outta hand?"

Spike nodded decisively, mouth tight. "And then, the Little Bit comes in and catches us."

The demon slapped his hand to his head. "She'll be scarred for life. One time, when my mom..."

"We weren't doin' *that*!" Spike said in exasperation. "Well, we were, but not really, y'know. So I go outside, give 'em some space, have a fag or two. And she comes out..."

"Dawn? Whoo, boy!"

"No. Buffy. So I take my leave, right? With as much grace as I can, considerin' what I want to do to her on her own back porch. Make sure she's all right, set up the thing with Harris tomorrow, and I go.

"And do you know what she says to me? To me - the stupid bloke that went all the way to Africa to get a soddin' soul so that she could love me? That she doesn't understand how she forgot Dawn was in the house! That's all. That's it."

"Yeah...?" Clem was attempting to follow, but the confusion factor was getting higher. He guessed you had to be there, but...no thanks! The idea of all that tight skin - whew!

Spike continued, getting angrier and louder. "Bloody fireworks go off - hell, nuclear bomb goes off, just from one kiss, and *that's* all she says!" He turned and looked at Clem in frustration. "I'm a stupid pillock, and if I wasn't such a git, I'd stake myself. Or let the whelp do the honors!"

"So...you didn't want to kiss her?"

"No." Spike looked at Clem in confusion. "Yes. Well, yes, I did. But not if it's just gonna be like last time. All skin and nothin' else."

Clem looked nauseous. He shook his head to try and get rid of the image Spike had conjured up. As his words echoed through the room, Spike heard them from Clem's perspective.

"Sorry, mate," he said apologetically. "Got carried away."

Clem stumbled up out of the chair. "You know," he said with a sour look on his face, "I really need to go. Gonna work through the tunnels, make sure the babies are okay in the sewers."

Spike looked at him in concern. "Christ, Clem, s'not that bad. Is it?"

Wiping his forehead, Clem headed downstairs to take the shortcut through the tunnels. "Just lots of mental pictures. I hope I've got a copy of 'Harold and Maude' at home..."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Feinting with his left, Spike snapped a right at Xander. The Scooby dodged the feint and put his nose directly into the path of the vampire's right fist. Both man and vampire yowled in pain.

Buffy tapped her foot, watching a huffing Xander grab his nose, as a wincing Spike grabbed his head. This had been going on for a week, and was going nowhere. But the Slayer had sunk her teeth into the exercises like a vampire with a new victim, and she wasn't letting go of it, til she'd drained it dry.

"Jesus, Harris," Spike breathed out between clenched teeth. "Got to defend yourself better. Like fightin' with a girl." As he felt the Slayer bristle behind him, he corrected himself quickly. "Uh, with a wanker, I mean," he said lamely.

Just as Xander was drawing himself up for another go, Spike had a better idea. He shot the man a conspiratorial look and hoped the whelp picked up on it. After all, they'd spent one entire summer telegraphing moves to each other out on patrol while Buffy was gone - surely Harris wasn't completely brain dead. And he had to be as sick of this as Spike was.

"Wait a minute, monkey boy," he said.

"What?" panted Xander, nearly ready to pass out from the weight and heat of his padded suit. Spike couldn't tell if he'd gotten the silent message or not.

"You're supposed to be attackin' me this time." Spike looked to Buffy for approval. "That right, pet?" he said innocently, eyes wide and very blue.

As he'd hoped, the Slayer raised a slow eyebrow and impaled both of them on gray-green eyes. "This is the saddest excuse for a training exercise I've ever seen. Pathetic."

Spike dropped his hands to his sides as he rolled his eyes. Xander had the grace to look embarrassed.

"This is so not. gonna. work. Not until you two stop playing around and concentrate."

Xander and Spike glanced at each other.

"You know what? I'm bored. Work it out and call me. Take a break. I don't care. I'll be upstairs - doing my nails, washing my hair, or something." She yawned. "Or a nap. Bad fight scenes make me sleepy. Nap is good..." Her voice faded as she shut the door to the basement.

Xander wiped his forehead with a dramatic swipe. "Whew! Thought she'd never leave. We've been doin' this for days!"

Reaching for the fastenings in the back, Spike helped the man remove the training gear. "Yeah. Bloody hell, whelp, how many times before she gets it?"

Xander huffed as he climbed out of the hot suit. "Sure could use a..." He looked at Spike guiltily. "Bottled water. I'm all Willow for the bottled water."

"Yeah. Right," the vampire said sarcastically.

"Well, still. It's okay, I guess."

Spike walked over and sat down on the basement step. "This is a bloody waste of time. There's no loophole. The second I want to wipe up the floor with you, the chip goes off."

Xander came over as he cracked open a bottle of water and sat down, too. "Yeah. And I don't know how you can use the old 'for your own good' thing on any Initiative guys. Or anybody else. Good thing you missed old Warren at his worst. You'd be toast."

"Yeah, but Willow stripped his bark," Spike said wickedly.

"Hey! I was there. It was...horrible."

"Any bastard comes after my friends with a gun is fair game, Harris - even if the bloody chip fries my brain. What pisses me off is that RoboBoy Warren could 'a told us everything we needed to know about this," Spike tapped the side of his head. "No guess work. All he needed to know was what it was and he'd 'a figured it out. Had reports, readouts, tech stuff. *I* couldn't read 'em, but..."

Xander stared at Spike in astonishment. "What?"

The vampire looked down at his feet, and tried to explain. "When I found out the chip didn't work - on Buffy, I mean - I went to Warren. Had him take a gander at the chip. See what was bolluxed up. Wanted a closer look, but I had a bad feelin'. Got out o' there. Should 'a torn Mr. Fett's head clean off," he muttered, remembering.

"Wait. Does Buffy know this?"

"Nah. Not important, then - no good in it now."

"But Spike, we've got papers," Xander said, excited in spite of himself. "Technical stuff. Will slipped some of it out of the old lair. Buffy got some other stuff from the new one before it went all self-destructo. If we knew what we were lookin' for, we might..."

"RoboBoy is one with the earth, monkey boy. And he built the Bot. Smarter than any of us."

Xander looked at Spike. "Except Will, Spike. Willow could figure it out."

"But Red's not here. She's with that witchy bunch in Devon."

"We could send it to Giles," he said, wheels turning in his head. "Get him to get it to her. Then, she could help," Xander's excitement was palatable.

Spike looked at him with half-lidded eyes. "And why would she do that, whelp?"

"Well, she actually *liked* you. I think." Xander got to his feet, heading up the stairs. He looked back at Spike, who hadn't moved. "You comin'?"

Spike slowly looked behind him and up, eyebrow raised. He blew out a breath and got up. "Why are you doin' this? I'm thinkin' you might not like this chip out 'o my head."

Xander stared at him. He grinned recklessly. "Crazy maybe? Suicidal?"

Nodding, Spike slowly got up and followed him. "Right then. Lead on."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"No." Spike sighed and looked at another piece of paper. "Not it." Buffy handed him a piece of paper that was approximately eight inches by one and a half inches long. Spike squinted at it and made a disgusted noise. He held the sliver up. "Don't hand me any more of these, Slayer. I mean it."

Xander started giggling. Both Buffy and Spike shot him a look.

There were several shallow piles of paper of various sizes scattered in the floor of Buffy's living room. She was leaning against the sofa with her knees up, bare feet pointing toward Spike, while he sat in the floor nearby, legs crossed. Xander had become uncomfortable just watching them, seeing how at ease they seemed, how intimate. Once, she had even lazily handed Spike a sheet of paper with her toes. He'd taken it without commenting.

Xander let out a bored breath. It was hopeless. He was sorry he had ever suggested it. Spike kept on it long after the point Xander would have fled screaming from the house. Finally, the vampire laid the last sheet down and looked around, face falling when he realized he was done.

"Okay, so bad idea, guys," Xander said, spreading his hands. "There really wasn't a lot left, was there? Looked like more before. Hey, Spike? How's the kid?"

Spike absently picked up one of the larger sheets of paper and turned it upside down, looking at it one more time. "Kid?" He glanced at the man. "Is that new slang for the fledgeling vampire I have staying at the crypt?"

"The kid. Yeah. Daniel."

Spike laid the paper down, looking at Xander cautiously. "He's pickin' up," he said slowly. "Face finally healin'. Bruises disappearin'."

"And you did that, right?" the man asked nonchalantly.

Spike was outraged. "No. College boy vampires did it. With one of those bloody paddles all the best fraternities are so fond of. Hit him in the face, ribs..."

Wincing, Xander put a hand up. "Okay, okay. Holy cow, Spike. Don't get your soul in a tangle. Ever figure out what the deal is?"

"What deal?" Buffy broke in, trading a glance with Spike.

"His thing. The why and the who and the rats. Thought I'd come by and see him."

Both Buffy and Spike spoke at once. "Why?"

Xander's eyes widened. They were spending way too much time together. "Why not?" he said reasonably. "Just curious. Okay? No motives here, ulterior or anterior. Promise I'm not gonna stake your new pet."

Spike gritted his teeth. "Harris, you're a wanker and an idiot."

Smiling, Xander got up and headed for the front door. "Betcha say that to all the guys." He waggled his fingers. "Nighty night." The door closed firmly behind him.

Stretching his neck to relieve the tension, Spike slowly turned toward Buffy. "I hate your friends," he said calmly. "You know that, right?"

"Obviously, the feeling is mutual. He hates you, too."

Spike jumped up and paced to the other side of the living room. "No. He hates me *with* you. Or hates whatever he *thinks* I'm doin' with you. Jealous little twit!" He stopped pacing and looked at Buffy apologetically. "Need to get back to Clem."

"Yes, you do. We're notoriously short on babysitters," she said dryly. "Lucky for me, Dawn's with Janice tonight. Or not." She sighed and got up. "I'm going with you."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"I really ought to have my head examined," she complained.

Buffy had gone downstairs and spent some one-on-one 'quality' time with Daniel, while Spike had played catch-up with his demon 'sitter. When Buffy had come back upstairs, her eyes were shining and her face was smooth. No frown marred the sparkle that lit her face.

Spike loved her like this. He chuckled as she fussed around with the heated pig's blood. He reached over quickly, picked up the mug, and spun away with a flourish, raising the mug to his mouth for a taste. She grabbed, but missed.

"Smooth move, Spikey," she said sarcastically, as he wiped his upper lip and the thin line of blood on his chin. "That's right. Waste your food. Oh, and by the way," she said, pointing to a spot he'd missed, "Eewww!" She realized what he'd done. "Hey! That was for Daniel!"

"Oh, of course," he said mockingly. "Daniel..." he teased in a falsetto voice.

"Well, he cleans up nice!" She grinned unselfconsciously. "Clem did good! And he *is* closer to my age than you are," she teased.

"Oh, it's 'boys' now, is it?" he said with an arching brow.

"You know, I feel really sorry for him. Did you know his girlfriend is still going to school here?"

"At Sunny U?" Spike looked at Buffy in surprise.

"Before those vamps got him, he used to go watch her when she'd go out at night. Watch over her, I mean," she said, lowering her voice confidentially.

"Oh, and suddenly, that's all romantic?"

Buffy stared at Spike. Then, her eyes narrowed with comprehension. "There's a difference between 'watching' and 'stalking,'" she retorted.

"Really?" Spike leaned against the table with mischievous eyes. "Enlighten me."

The Slayer opened her mouth to explain the difference. Confused, she quickly closed it. Spike thought she looked especially adorable when that sharp, biting wit escaped her.

"I thought so," he laughed. "Slayer, you just didn't know how good you had it!"

In answer, she grabbed the mug out of his hand and looked inside, effectively changing the subject. Wrinking her nose, she slammed the mug back down. "You drank it!"

"Yes, I did. Fruits of my labor. And Clem's. Percentage of the net, paid over the term of the contract."

"Oh, yeah. Mr. Sunnydale Business Guy," she said loftily. "I can just quit my job and sit back, right?"

"Got other mouths to feed here, pet. Get your own contract. They ought to be paying you well for risking life and limb," he said pointedly.

She laughed. "*Lives* and limb. Plural on the life part. And at least Daniel doesn't smoke. That saves a bundle!"

"Oh, no. Daniel would *never* do anything so crass."

Buffy pushed a fresh mug into his hands. "You're right. Daniel seems perfect. Well, except for that one little thing." She had a sudden thought. "Oh, God."

Spike looked at her questioningly, putting the mug down. Frowning dramatically, she stalked around the table and grabbed his arms, digging her fingers in to punctuate her words. "Never, never, never let Dawn meet him!"

"Ow. What does...?" He remembered Dawn's first Halloween date - a vampire in a high school letter jacket. That had ended badly. "Oh."

"And," she said, letting go of his arms and pressing a finger into his chest, "I blame *you* for that," she said, only half-joking.

"Me? I didn't tell her to toddle off and get her own vampire boyfriend. One in the family is enough."

She ignored his words. "Oh, it's your fault, all right. You, with all your stories. And your cool hair," she said, mimicking Dawn. "And your smooth moves. And your..." She looked down quickly as she felt herself redden at the glint in his eye. "...coat."

"Oh, it was the coat, was it? And I thought it was my sparkling wit and the grace I exhibit under pressure," he teased.

"Miss the coat."

The humor drained out of Spike's eyes. "Buffy, believe me, you don't miss the coat. I don't miss the coat. The coat is a...trophy," he said with distaste. Reaching up to his brow, he tapped the scar there. "Just like this."

She looked at him questioningly.

"The first slayer I killed gave me this. The second slayer? Well, she didn't *give* me the coat. I took it."

Buffy's eyes went wide. "The coat? Was her coat?" she whispered.

He nodded. And waited for the inevitable repercussions.

She tore her eyes away from his, and handed him the now-cool mug. "Um, here. Rewarm this, okay? I...I've got to go." She grabbed her jacket and headed for the door, almost in a run.

Spike watched the door close. Then, he walked to the microwave.

"She's your girl, isn't she? The Slayer?" Daniel said quietly as he appeared at the head of the stairs.

Spike closed his eyes and let out a breath. "She's a lot more than that."



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Months after his return from Africa, Spike takes in a stray and tries to consolidate what was with what is...
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net (if it ever comes up again) and, thankfully, at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

For this chapter, I give a round of thanks to the folks of Ruby Tuesday's, who did not freak when I bit through the bowl of the spoon while writing Xander (just kidding...), much love to Chris, and to Colleen, both for their excellent beta skills and friendship.



Part 8

Timidly, Daniel walked over to Spike. He leaned against the refrigerator. With his curious green eyes trained on the vampire, he pushed the too-long shock of wavy, black hair back and away from his face.

Spike nodded in approval, at the successful clean-up job and the well-worn sweats. "Clem took good care of you, then."

Daniel's eyes lit up. "Clem's a cool guy. Kind of funny lookin', but... And, yeah, he took care of me. We watched a movie, too. Or he did, anyway. I was thinking too much to concentrate on it."

"Hardly think Clem's taste in movies would stretch you in any way, shape, or form," he commented dryly.

"I asked him about her," Daniel said, nodding toward the door. "About the Slayer. He said she kills vampires."

"That she does," Spike nodded in agreement. "S'in the job description. Good at it, too. Best I've ever seen and I've seen some."

The fledgling nodded thoughtfully. "She kills vampires, but she hangs out with you."

"Hangs out? S'pose she does, a bit." Spike almost sounded pleased. "Well," he said shrugging, "she's an odd duck. Hero types usually are."

Daniel was trying to understand. "So she's a hero type, kills vampires..."

"Slays vampires, Daniel. Hard to kill somethin' that's already dead."

Daniel corrected himself. "Slays vampires... But you don't look dead to me."

A wry laugh rang the walls of the crypt. "Daniel, not only do *I* look dead, *you* look dead!"

"Uh, I meant, 'undead.' I think."

Spike took a long look at Daniel. "You do realize that you're a creature of the night, right? An impure bloodsucker - the kind they make movies about. Or did you get hit in the head one too many times since you were made?"

"Oh, yeah, I *know* I'm a vampire. I just ... forget."

"Well, you're all Normal Boy, aren't you? Guess that's why the Slayer gets all sunshiny in your presence. You're like the gits she went to school with. Look a bit like that Parker ponce, now that I think of it."

Daniel looked at him quizzically. Spike let out a frustrated breath.

"It's not you," he said in apology. "It's her. And me. Not to worry, Daniel. The Slayer and I have... an interesting relationship. Known each other quite a while now. I'd like to say it's based on mutual respect, but..."

"But that wouldn't be true."

"No."

"So you two have ... like a history, or something?" The boy seized on part of the vague explanation. Spike didn't feel like he was saying too much if he continued explaining.

Spike grudgingly answered the question. "Something." At the boy's curious look, he relented. "The Slayer and I have *several* histories, Daniel," he explained patiently. "Each one seemingly worse - and more complicated - than the last. The first time I met her, I decided she was going to be my third slayer. I've killed two. And, Daniel, that's not something just any vampire can say. Circumstances caused us to become allies once - well, more than once. And here we are."

"Well, where are you? I mean, where is 'here?'"

"Damned if I know," Spike laughed.

Daniel looked at Spike as if trying to decide how to ask a question.

"Well? Out with it! Go ahead. I won't bite. Well, I will, but... go ahead," Spike said, pulling a container of blood out of the refrigerator and pouring the contents into a new mug.

"So she knows you're a vampire and she's with you, right? So that happens? A vampire with..."

Spike slammed the microwave door and turned to Daniel in shock. "No! No, that doesn't happen! It never happens. For a vampire, a human is a victim. Or a potential vampire. That's it. Two ways it can go, Daniel. Vampires are killers. S'what we do."

"But you..."

Spike remembered what Buffy had said about Daniel watching his old girlfriend. He had to be very careful. "The Slayer and I are even less normal than the usual. There is no normal in the Hellmouth."

Daniel looked down at his feet, chewing his lip.

"And if it's some bird - " Spike sighed as Daniel's eyes went blank. "Some ... girl you're thinkin' about, remember this, Daniel. You. Are. Dead. Your heart doesn't beat. You don't have a soul. You only exist as a nightmare or a horror story."

The beep of the microwave cut through the silence. Spike turned and reached in, handing Daniel the mug. The boy looked into the mug and quietly put it on the table. Spike watched him disappear down the stairs.

"Well," Spike muttered, picking up the untouched mug. "Buggered that right up."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Every time she thought there might be a shot, something else reared its ugly head and struck at her. This time it had gone straight into her.

The coat. The coat was a slayer's coat. *The* slayer - just like Buffy was. She'd cried into that coat for months now. Months that she'd watched him take baby steps, dragging his new soul behind him. Nights and nights that she'd let the lining that reeked of booze and smoke absorb her tears.

She'd slept on that coat, never minding that it was stained and cracked in places. Because it was his coat - and the closest she could get to him right now.

His coat.

Her coat. But there was nothing of 'her' left in it. All him. It was *his* coat now - moving with him like some live thing, snapping away at his heels.

She did the math. She remembered that much. 27 years. That damn coat had been on his back longer than she'd been alive. Her eyes filled with unwanted tears. She'd loved that damned coat. Now all she wanted to do was build a fire in the backyard and let the sparks rise from it like some ancient funeral pyre.

Hearing the scrape of glass across concrete, her eyes darted to the dark lump sitting on her front steps. The half-empty beer bottle seemed to wink at her with light reflected from the street.

"So how serious are you about this whole chip thing?" he asked casually.

Something in Xander's voice made a chill crawl across her shoulders and down into her belly. "What's wrong?" she asked quickly.

"Just needed to talk." He looked her over, as if trying to figure out where she'd been and suspecting he already knew. "You're home late," he probed.

It was a comment, not a question, Buffy told herself. Running a hand through her hair, stalling for time, she reached into her pocket for the house key and tried to figure out what Xander could be doing sitting on her porch at 2 am. After Spike's little confession, she really wanted to be alone and think, not listen to Xander zing away at him, which is what she expected. So not telling him about the leather duster. Ever.

"Where have you been? You left hours ago," she asked noncommittally.

Xander shrugged. "Went home. Made a phone call. Came back out." He dragged the bottle toward his body as he carefully stood. Buffy winced at the grating sound of glass on the rough step.

"So..." she said, more calmly than she felt. "What's up?"

"Ah, the mystery of the night, Lone Ranger." He looked behind her pointedly. "Where's Tonto?"

"'Spike' is at home. Where you should be. Obviously," she said sarcastically.

Xander made a grand gesture, almost stumbling on the low step. "Aw, c'mon, there's absolutely nowhere I have to be tomorrow."

"I do," she grumbled, digging in her back pocket, almost ready to rip it off and listen for the tinkle of the key on the pavement.

"Whatever happened to honesty, Buff? And the big cry face? He's back and you play nursemaid for two months without tellin' the big, funny, best friend guy?"

"We've been over this," she said through gritted teeth. Snagging at the key and missing, she sighed, wishing she wore looser jeans. "And there's nothing to tell. Spike and I are so G-rated right now, Disney is bringing a film crew."

Xander let out a harsh breath. "Really? Then how come I feel like a fifth wheel every time I'm around you two? Huh? And don't tell me it's just him."

"Let it go. Please."

"So I'm just paranoid. Paranoid Xander," he said in disbelief.

"You'll have to ask yourself that. I'd try it sober though if I were you."

Xander laughed a very unpretty laugh. "Well, that's cold. Okay, riddle me this, Batman, without 'Robin' around to help you out: if you could make Spike's chip go away, would you do it?"

In the silence that followed, the click of the unlocking door sounded like a pistol shot.

He laughed again. "C'mon, Buff, the clock is ticking. Decision needed. Should be an easy one for you."

She caught her breath. "What are you talking about?"

"We're doing all this 'testing,' and getting nowhere. I make one phone call and discover the road to somewhere. Keeblerville."

"Keebler..."

"Home of the Keebler Elf and the not-so-chipped chocolate Spike. 'Not so' as in 'chipless,' Buff. I can so see the bracelets now."

"Bracelets?" Buffy had never had as much trouble understanding Xander in their entire relationship as she was having right now.

"You know. Bracelets. Pins. Necklaces. 'What Would Spike Do?' Just how saintly is the ex-Big Bad? Is the Soul Man a good poster child for the 'free choice' gig?"

"Xander, go home. You're not making any sense."

"The big prize rests on the other side of one of these three doors," he prodded unmercifully. "Can you trust Spike without the chip?"

Buffy drew herself up straight. "I'd trust Spike with my life."

"How about everyone else's?"

Pushing the door open, she jerked her head toward Xander and back to the darkened house. He moved inside - swallowed by the dark. Flipping on lights, she noticed that Xander's 'big funny' bit had deserted him. He looked tired and heavy on his feet, like someone's father instead of a twenty-one year old boy. Of course, none of them looked twenty-one anymore.

She took pity on him. "Sit down before you fall down."

With a cheery little salute, he sat on the sofa, as she remained standing.

"Now, I don't know who you've been talking to," Buffy began warningly, "but it better not be Riley."

Xander shook his head silently. Waiting. She sighed.

"Xander, I know you hate Spike. The whole thing with Anya would be reason enough for you - *anything* would be enough for you. But if you know something that can help, and I mean really know something, I want you to spill."

The boy continued to look at her out of flat eyes.

"I sent up a warning shot - an email to Riley - weeks ago. I expected to get back a denial, or some kind of government doublespeak. Do you know what I get back?

"Nothing. Less than nothing. Now I know you're a charter member of the Riley Fan Club, but..."

Xander spoke then, in a cruel voice. "Maybe he's dead."

"And maybe he's not," she shot back, a twinge of a headache starting behind her eyes. "Because a couple of weeks ago, my Spidey senses started tingling. I know what the Initiative smells like - feels like. Call me crazy, but I feel something crawling around Sunnydale - and it's non-demony and all about soldier boys. I'm going have to tell Spike, but I wanted to have a plan first. Any plan. Because he can't face them down. If they come after him, he'll have to leave Sunnydale."

Xander rubbed his hands together and opened his mouth to support Buffy's last statement. Her next words closed his mouth with a snap.

"I don't want him to leave." She sat down in front of Xander. "Not now. Maybe not ever. I hated it when I thought he was gone, even though I wanted to kick his ass into next week. The only thing that made it okay was *knowing* that he'd be back."

"And then he shows up with that new soul. Convenient. Didn't even get that ass-kickin', did he? Just a great big honking 'get out of jail free' card with his name on it in gold," Xander finally said angrily.

"He doesn't feel that way," she retorted.

"Right," he nodded. "He's Mr. Remorse."

"I never asked you to stop seeing Anya, even when I didn't get it. She seemed to make you happy. Me and Spike? Well, I don't expect you to understand it. I just need for you to accept it."

As he dropped his eyes to the floor, he muttered, "I can understand it a helluva lot sooner than I can accept it."

"Look, Xander," she said, frustrated at the tone of the conversation. "I can't protect him alone. I need him to be able to protect himself! *He* needs to be able to protect himself. If the chip was just modified some way..."

"That's not one of the choices. It's all or nothing." He raised his head to look at her searchingly. "I mean in - or 'out.' Gone. History. Like it never was."

She stared at him. Then sighed, "Maybe you should ask Spike that," she said grudgingly.

"Nope. Dead Boy don't get a choice at this stage of the game. I'm asking you, 'Slayer.' Since you're probably the only one who could take him down if he starts foaming at the mouth. Do you trust him enough to let him off his leash?"

"How?"

He got up. "Just tellin' you it's possible. You trust Mr. Holy Souly enough to make it go away? Sleep on it. Let me know."

"Xander..." she said warningly.

"Toodles, Buff. I'll just let myself out."

She continued to stare at the door long after she heard the click.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy ducked her head inside the door of the crypt. The light from the television flickered in the room.

Feeling her eyes on him, Spike turned toward the door, getting up in the same smooth motion. Daniel's eyes followed him to the Slayer. She smiled at him in greeting, and returned her eyes to Spike.

He approached her warily, wondering at the strained look on her face that showed even through the smile.

"Not comin' in, pet?" He frowned. "Gonna stand on the stoop?"

She shook her head. "Can you leave for awhile?"

"What's wrong, Buffy?" It had been almost a day since he'd seen her. That never happened anymore. He'd missed her. Sighing, he thought about the fact that once he would have been grateful for the sight of her face once a week. "Is this about the coat?"

"The coat? No. And yes. It's about a lot of things."

Spike grimaced. "Not really up to drama tonight, love."

"Well, sorry, Spike. Drama we got," she laughed ruefully.

"Is this going to involve yelling or...?"

She shook her head decisively. "No. No yelling."

"Go downstairs then?" He nodded toward the trap door.

She looked behind her nervously and thought about what they might run into out there. Then, she smiled - the first real smile he'd seen. "If Daniel won't mind our using his room," she said coquettishly.

At the sun breaking across her face, Spike relaxed and put a hand under her elbow. "S'okay. I know his landlord. C'mon." As he walked by Daniel, he raised his eyebrows. "Don't go drinkin' all the blood now," he warned teasingly. "We'll be right down here."

Buffy went down the stairs and walked over to the only seating there. The bed. It was made, of course. Daniel would do that. She took a deep breath. "Okay, you need to sit down. I almost *fell* down when he told me."

Looking at her curiously, he sat on the edge. "Summers, you're beginning to scare me."

"Xander came to see me last night. Now before I say anything else, he'd been drinking, but he wasn't drunk. I've seen drunk. This was not it."

"Right. Whelp. Not sober, but not drunk."

She grinned quickly. "Check. He came over to ask me a question. Now I'm asking you."

"Sounds bloody serious."

She nodded. "I think it is. I've been thinking about it since last night. I know my answer, but it's really up to you."

"Hell, out with it then," he said loudly, beginning to get very nervous.

"If you could have the chip taken out, would you do it?"

Spike jumped off the bed and began pacing. "What kind of question is that?" He stopped and looked at Buffy suspiciously. "This isn't rhetorical, is it?"

Her smile didn't reach her eyes. "No. He knows something. He's talked to someone and he believes it can be removed."

"Removed. Not changed. Just 'out.'" He turned the concept over in his mind.

"That's what he said. Wanted to know if I trusted you that much." And that was more than she'd meant to say when she rehearsed this at home.

At her words, Spike walked over to the bed and looked down at Buffy. "Do you?" he asked softly.

She looked down at her hands. In a breath, he was squatting in front of her, trying to catch her eyes. "Do you, Slayer?" He deliberately used her title and not her name.

Bravely, she impaled herself on his eyes. "Buffy does. The Slayer? I think so."

Spike handed himself up beside her on the bed. "Fair enough. Hate it when you lie to yourself more than I hate you lying to me. Being honest with both of us is better."

"There's more."

"Wonderful," he said, rolling his eyes. "It's a good thing my heart stopped years ago."

Uncharacteristically, Buffy giggled. "Well, at least it's the evil we know."

"Soldier boys," he said quietly.

Her eyes opened wide. "You knew?"

"Well, love," he began, picking her hand up off her lap and looking at it, turning it over, and then back again. "The way you were pushing the testing. I can fight demons. This meant a human menace. Thought you might have had a hunch, or knew more than you were tellin'." He looked at her from under his lashes, not raising his head. "Decided to wait until you were ready to talk."

She laughed in release. "Because *forcing* me to talk before I'm ready has always worked so well in the past."

Grinning, he nodded. "Right."

"I'm telling Xander 'yes.'" She said in relief.

"Yes, 'you want it out', or 'yes, you trust me?'"

"Uh, both?" She giggled.

"I don't know," Spike growled. "It ought to scare you that I'll be able to bite the whelp's head off if he gets me pissed."

Now fully laughing, she threw herself back on the bed. "Oh, this is such a relief! I was dreading this. Telling you about the chip, about the Initiative. About Xander."

He followed her down on bent elbow. "Why?" he asked quietly, studying her face.

"This is big stuff! So tired of the big stuff. I'd really rather worry about bills, or Dawn's homework, or work-work." He raised an eyebrow. "No," she protested. "Really. I need a break from the big bad. I need...a vacation!" she announced firmly as she started to get up.

In a flash, he'd knocked her elbow out from under her and had locked his lips on hers. Buffy stiffened as her Slayer reactions kicked in, then relaxed, moaning slightly in his mouth. After a long moment, he pulled back, eyes sparkling. "That's all the vacation I can spare right now. We're in the guest room, after all."

"You're a tease," she grumbled. Realizing that he was telling the truth, she struggled up to a sitting position, looking back at him as he still reclined on the bed behind her.

"Yeah...?"

"And I hate it when you do that."

"Really? Couldn't tell."

She grinned. "Okay, okay. Look, I need to find Xander."

He got up and extended his hand to her, hauling her off the bed and toward the stairs in one motion. "Find Harris then. Although that wasn't quite the reaction I expected from kissing you..."

She headed up the stairs. "I think that's exactly the reaction you wanted though. I don't know what this is going to involve. Xander was very vague. But I believed him, Spike." Looking back over her shoulder, she topped the stairs, waiting for him to reach her. "Once we get that chip out, we can make some real plans. Do some reconnaissance."

"We might need to do that now, Slayer. With or without the bloody chip in my head."

Daniel's head swung around, mouth open. "Chip? A chip in your head?" he echoed.

Spike laughed. "Yeah, Daniel. Silicon, wires, sod all wormin' round in there. Keeps me from harming humans."

Daniel stood up. "Oh, shit."

Buffy frowned. "Daniel. It's not that bad. Spike..."

"I've heard about you. I just didn't..."

Spike crossed the room and backed Daniel toward the wall. "Didn't what?" he said coolly.

"Didn't know you were him." Daniel said in confusion.

"Him who?" Spike prodded in a hard voice.

"Hostile 17."



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Months after his return from Africa, Spike takes in a stray and tries to consolidate what was with what is...
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net (if it ever comes up and stays up again) and, thankfully, at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!

Oooh, my little fingers ran away from me! Thanks to Chris, for putting up with the nits and seeing the point, and Colleen, for brushing away the nits that got away from the first betas.

God, this is fun! What a ride!

Kimi



Part 9

'Half-assed is better than no ass,' Xander thought grimly.

After a truly lame attempt at cleaning up the kitchen, Xander Harris grabbed the two open garbage bags and headed out to the dumpster. The reality that was a pizza box - or four - meant that there was more air in the sack than trash. And the same went for the Styrofoam containers that Doublemeat Doubletreats came in. He felt that the bag would pull a full-scale pop fly if a decent breeze got under it. Maybe he'd just toss it up there and watch the boxes scatter.

"Psst."

Xander spun around, slinging the bags wildly as he reached for a stake. And again... so not there. What was the deal with him and stakes lately? A figure crouched, wincing, as cardboard and Styrofoam flew.

In a breath, Xander was off the concrete and had the shadow pinned against the wall. He looked down.

And down.

"Jeez. And ow!" The shaky voice almost squeaked. "You called me, remember?"

Xander let out a huge relieved breath. "Oh, man, you were nearly dust," he said as he pushed back from the wall. "Well, not dust exactly, and I didn't happen to have a stake on me, but..." Xander's voice trailed off. "Scare a guy, okay? Where were you anyway? Across the street?"

The shadowy form looked down and straightened all-black clothes, cutting dark eyes up at Xander. "Decided to come in last night," he said in his own defense. "Wasn't so sure when I'd get here. And I had to get the stuff you wanted."

"But...I didn't say come back. I just said that I might want you to come back." Xander was confused.

The figure was still. The small voice sounded lost. "So...we're not gonna do it? I thought that maybe Buffy wouldn't be so mad and maybe I could come home. I really need to come home. And you know I never meant for it to go that far. You know I didn't. You told me so."

"I'm not sure I want you to do it," Xander said thoughtfully. "Think maybe the Xanman's sanity might be doing that returny thing after all." He brightened. "Maybe you could just say you're sorry. She's all with the forgiveness lately with ole 'good and gooder' bein' back on site."

"You think? That would be, like, great, cause I'm kinda out of practice with the whole magic thing lately."

"Well, come on in, anyway. You look terrible. And going inside is better than standing around waiting for something bad to bite you on the ass. Hellmouth, remember?"

"Thanks. Hey, got anything to eat? I'm starving."

"Just trashed it. But hey! Delivery okay?"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"He may not need it to breathe, but I think he needs it to talk. Air, Spike. Now." Buffy reached up and slowly peeled Spike's fingers one by one away from Daniel's throat. He'd tossed the boy across the room and fastened onto his neck with one hand as if he would take his head off. His other arm was pushed against his chest, holding him to the wall. Buffy was so relieved to see Spike slipping even a little toward gameface, she almost laughed.

"You know," she said conversationally as she eased the older vampire away from the fledgling, "some anger management courses might be a good idea, considering the changes we were discussing earlier."

Spike let her move him, but he never took his hot, narrowed eyes off the boy. Daniel looked at him in shock. The older vampire was a half-head shorter and less massive, but there was no doubt who had the sheer will to overcome those handicaps. Spike looked as dangerous as Buffy had ever seen him.

Taking a deep breath, she turned back to Daniel. "You," she said curtly. "Sit. And don't try anything either. I've got a stake with your name on it."

He nodded - although he was a lot less worried about the small woman than his recent benefactor. Spike's eyes were fixed on him as he backed away toward the chair. Sitting down, Daniel relaxed slightly and began rubbing his throat.

Slowly, Spike turned to the slayer, still as tightly wound as she had seen him since his return. She touched his arm, not a tender touch, but more of a 'welcome back.' "I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see you again. The odds just hiked up in your favor, Big Bad."

He stared at her as her words hit home, eyes still narrowed and slightly gold at the edges of his irises. He was breathing heavily, pushing air in and out as he fought to overcome the shock and betrayal. She smiled. "Go. Sit. We're gonna sort this out. He's just a kid, remember?"

She walked over and hitched one leg over the table. Swinging it as she looked at them both, the slayer tried to decide what to ask first.

"Okay, so how do you know about Hostile 17?" Her leg never missed a swing. This was more like it. At least something was beginning to shake loose.

As Spike's eyes impaled him, the boy cleared his throat and looked straight at Buffy. She could understand why. Spike was very, very threatening. "I didn't know it was him. The records are gone. There was a fire, I think. His chip - it was a prototype - and the only one that really worked."

Buffy shot a look at Spike and saw that he was beginning to come down some, eyes not glinting as fiercely, as the flecks of gold disappeared. Good! "As opposed to... what?" she continued, turning her attention back to Daniel as if it had never strayed. "The ones that don't?"

The young vampire nodded quickly. "All of Professor Walsh's schematics disappeared. So they went into a redesign. But the new chips kill. At least they do when they put 'em in a vampire that's already... fed. The chip fires, but it's too subtle or not subtle enough, so it either doesn't work or it kills them. White coats don't even bother to pick up vampires for experiments anymore. Just make their own."

Her stomach began to clench in nausea, as she anticipated the answer to her next question. "Make their..."

Daniel looked nervously at the slayer as he stole a glance at Spike. "Vampires."

Spike came off the chair, fingers clenching. "Lived here for days," he said in a harsh growl. "And not a word! Nothing. Like you were some amnesiac on a soap opera!"

"I didn't know..." Daniel protested guiltily.

"Spike?" Buffy said sweetly. "Sit." She turned back to Daniel, not even waiting to see if he did it. "Okay, who's doing this?"

"Military op. Well, quasi-military, because there are some civilians involved."

Spike leaned toward the boy with a menacing coolness that Buffy found strangely comforting. "How do you know all this?"

The boy recoiled slightly, but laughed wryly at the irony. "I'm AWOL. Very, very absent without leave. As in dead. Wrong place, wrong time."

Spike threw himself back in his chair, as the slayer pursed her lips, considering her next question. They'd return to Daniel's origins later. "How?"

The fledgling didn't pretend to misunderstand. The words tumbled out as if they'd been buried for a long time. "They recruit from the hospitals. Terminal patients. Very terminal. Full blown AIDS. Leukemia. Rejected kidney transplants. They get releases from the families for organ donation." Buffy almost sighed with relief that the recruitment process wasn't worse than it was. Then, she recognized the sheer audacity and arrogance of it. And she thought of her old friend Ford.

"So it's an army experiment," she nodded. "Another one." She looked at Spike angrily. "And this one is so far on the side of bad, I can't believe I'm hearing it. Why in the hell would they be making vampires?"

Spike spat the answer into the room where it lay coiled like a snake.

"Soldier boys, Slayer. They're makin' soldier boys."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dawn turned off the television and stretched. Buffy was in for it. It was late and she was tired of waiting.

Clem looked up from his bowl of popcorn (Orville Reddenbacher, of course) with a grin. "That was a good one, Dawnie. Don't go for horror movies much, but..."

"That is *so* not a horror movie," she said archly. "That was 'Scream'. And it's all about the parody. Just one big sillyball, rolled up and thrown right at you." She looked at him, suddenly concerned. "You thought it was silly, right?"

Clem looked down in embarrassment. "Well, at the end, I did. But the first? Whoo-boy! Had to tell myself it was a movie to keep from turning it off. That sweet little girl from ET trying to get away? Well, that was just sad!"

"Buffy's late." Dawn's pronouncement was definitely off topic movie-wise, but on target otherwise.

Clem looked a little embarrassed for the slayer. "I'm sure she just got hung up slaying something," he muttered.

"Oh, yeah, right. Slaying, or maybe lay..." Dawn stopped when she saw Clem's shocked face.

"I don't think that's a very nice thought you're having, Dawnie."

The girl tossed her hair, but had the grace to look abashed. "Sorry. But I saw 'em in the kitchen and it was hot, Clem. I mean, really hot. So excuse me if I wonder just what they're doing right now!"

Clem jumped up and started gathering empty bowls and glasses. He crumpled a still partially full bag of potato chips in his haste to get out of the room. Dawn reached for it, quickly looking inside and smoothing it.

Looking up, the demon set his chins and gave Dawn a reproving look. "Your sister and Spike are having a talk tonight. When she called and asked me to stay, she said it was important. All serious sounding, too. So I don't think there's much kissy-face goin' on, if you get my meaning."

Dawn looked at him craftily. "What kind of talk?"

"Didn't ask. Sounded like slayer business to me. You know how her voice gets when it's slayer stuff. All firm."

The girl sighed. "I was hoping... Well, not hoping. But... just thinking, that maybe everything would just be okay again. And he could come over and watch movies with me again. And talk. Uh, with us. You, too, Clem. You're always invited."

Clem threw up his hand and laughed self-deprecatingly. "Well, I know I'm no Spike, Dawn, but that's nice of you to say. You're quite a young lady."

Dawn sighed and almost stomped her foot. That's right, Clem, make with the guilt! She hoped Buffy never found out that killing her with kindness would make her cave every time.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy had finally left Spike with Daniel, hoping that the young vampire had the good sense and enough training to obey orders and stay downstairs out of Spike's immediate vicinity. He couldn't say she hadn't warned him. Swinging her arms, she blazed out of the cemetery and into the dimly lit streets.

Although most of her attention was on the scenery - and whatever glint of Kevlar might be lurking behind it, the night was on replay in her head. Unfortunately, Spike's display of anger wasn't the only display she was thinking about. She smiled softly and then shook herself out of that little fantasy and back to reality.

Spike had actually moved like Spike tonight. He'd vaulted over the chair and slammed Daniel to the wall like some feline predator. The sight of it had been enough to make her cheer. In fact, it had shocked and pleased her so much, she almost forgot to help Daniel.

Help Daniel. And what was up with that? She groaned. Black and white had been so much easier. Demon, human, stake and go. Spike had changed all that - long before he'd gotten that soul of his.

And she had to admit that Souled Spike had been bothering the hell out of her more and more over the last Riley-wordless weeks. She needed him fighting beside her if it came down to it. Not getting all soulful in a corner somewhere. She realized she really hadn't been worried about what he'd do with the chip out - she'd been more worried that he'd get it out and get staked anyway.

The chip. For a moment she hesitated about going on to Xander's apartment. It was late - and to be honest, the thought of drunken Anya-angst was not on her list of favorite things to end her night. But the sooner she got this over with, the better she'd feel. She and Spike had made real progress tonight with Daniel. They had some information, something to go on. She wished she knew what they were going to do with it.

This whole Initiative thing was scary. The chip had been one thing - one less big bad to deal with. But this? She couldn't even comprehend the sick mind that had lain awake nights hatching this plot. Making vampire soldiers! It was like some D- horror movie.

Finally arriving at Xander's apartment, she noticed that the lights were on. She stood there, chewing on her lip, trying to decide if tomorrow was better.

In a bit, she walked around to a window and peered into the living room to see if he was up. He was. He was sitting in a chair, talking to himself, a beer in his hand. Talking to himself? She snorted as a second, much smaller figure walked into view. Her eyes widened. She ran back to the door and pounded hard. This was *so* not happening!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Daniel came upstairs and saw Spike sitting in front of the television with the sound muted. He wasn't sure if Spike even knew he was there. Eyes glassy, he stared at the far wall.

"Daniel, this is not the safest place for you to be right now." Spike's voice was calm, even though he spoke without looking his way.

The fledgling came closer. "I'm sorry, okay? I needed you to understand that I really didn't know."

Spike sighed. "Didn't you? And what part of 'safe' didn't you understand?"

"I knew you were different. The pig's blood, this place - looks like you've been here a while. You said humans were...food... for vampires. But you weren't eating. I just thought...well, I figured it was because of her. I never thought about Hostile 17."

"You know my name," Spike said gruffly. "Use it.

Daniel laughed softly in spite of the chill in the room. "A lot of the guys don't think you're real," he said, shaking his head. "Nobody's around from when it happened. Bunch of 'em died, I think. Rest got reassigned. The new guys think you're a myth."

"One of the 'guys' knows I'm not," Spike retorted. The thought of Captain Cardboard and his holier than thou self made his stomach turn. Suddenly, he turned to look at the boy with a calculated interest. "Tell me, Daniel. Have you met a soldier boy name of Riley Finn? Officer maybe. Big, beefy looking git. All about obeying orders without any thoughts of his own?"

"Finn?" he echoed. "No. I don't... I don't think so. Don't remember anybody named Finn. And I pretty much know the officers."

Spike slumped back.

Unless..."

The chair creaked as Spike sat up slowly. "Unless what?" A catch in his voice was the only betrayer of his excitement.

"Unless he's the one who brought her. From South America."

Spike let the words sink in. "Brought who?"

"'Her.' The dark lady. The guys call her that. They laugh at her. Well, some of them do. I don't - a lot of the guys don't. She's scary."

"She's the one makin' vampires." Spike nodded once as he relaxed back into his chair.

Daniel nodded. "She's the one - the only one now. Killed the other one. And nobody seemed to mind. That was so weird." He shivered slightly, then shrugged, embarrassed. "I've seen her a couple of times. She's pretty, but strange. You can tell she's evil, but in a sad way. She's supposed to make the new ones, but sometimes she won't. Just lets them die. They say she sees things she doesn't like about 'em. Sees it in their eyes," he said, almost whispering in remembrance.

Daniel's voice dropped away and he shook off the eerie memory. With surprise, he noticed Spike staring at him, mouth open, in shock. Daniel watched silently as the older vampire's face twisted in pain and he buried his head in his hands.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Loneliness...
Spoilers: Season 7-ish, takes place after the fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net (if it ever comes up and stays up again) and, thankfully, at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet!



Part 10

They had finally learned to bring her only the pretty ones.

Oh, not very pretty when they brought them, of course. Oh, no. They were sick and already had the smell of death about them. She would pick and choose, crooning, leaving the unacceptable ones drained and broken on the shiny white floor. Like jointed dolls.

But pretty or not, acceptable or not, they all died with shining eyes. She made sure of that. She saw into their hearts and minds and gave them what they wanted most of all. The twinkling stars smiled down upon her as she fed on their shivering bodies.

Sometimes when she let one die, they'd bring another toy soldier for their cause. Sometimes she changed him, sometimes she simply sang until he was taken away. It was all one to her.

They'd stopped bringing girls - nasty, soft, boneless snakes.

When she finally found the right one, a prince for the princess, she would fold him away and hide him from pale amber tresses, pink lips and deceptively powerful arms that could keep him from her. She would conceal him in the dark and cloak him from the golden light that would flame him to ashes.

Ashes. He had tasted of ashes.

She would find another to replace the one who had held her heart so long. The one who was now so lost to her. He would be beautifully bitter inside and out. Wicked and sweet. Strong and weak. Cruel and soft.

The dark princess smiled at the heap of ragged flesh littering the floor. He'd been pretty, but she'd seen - known him for what he really was. She pouted prettily and spun around, skirt whirling around her ankles enticingly.

Perhaps tomorrow they would bring her knight - one brave enough to breach the walls and free her. Until then, she would dance, brush her long, dark hair, and wait.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Let's see. To make a long story short, the Initiative is making vampire soldiers and using Spike's ex to do it. Spike is back in Sunnydale, armed with a soul, but still with chip. Xander thinks he knows a way around it, but isn't being very cooperative. Spike has also taken in a stray, a vampire named Daniel, and is trying to deal with Daniel, his new soul, as well as his feelings for the slayer. Buffy is just trying to deal, period, with 'new and improved' Spike. And the hits just keep on coming...
Spoilers: Serious Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Fanfiction.net (if it ever comes up and stays up again) and, thankfully, at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

Nothing worse than the old ISP going down. Of course, it did mean I got a little writing done.

Thank you, Chris and Colleen, for the very immediate betas! More soon, 'cause all I did this weekend was write!



Part 11

Two sets of eyes darted to the door, as the Slayer-like pounding rattled the walls. It sounded like the place might fall down. Little did they know it was a real possibility and had happened before.

"Xander!" Dark eyes went wide as the voice rose to a squeak on the last syllable. A shaky hand hit the light switch. Instead of plunging the room into darkness, the outside lamp flooded the porch with light.

Xander ran his hand through his hair. "Bathroom." he said urgently.

The other set of eyes looked wildly about for another clue. Xander pointed. When the scrambling noises ceased, he found himself alone in the room. He took a deep breath, put his beer down on the table, and walked to the door, accompanied by the loud sounds of new and even more persistent knocking. As he turned the knob, the door burst open, followed by a small white fist. He barely dodged it.

"Whoa! Uh, hey, Buffy..."

Buffy Summers had had just about enough. Enough of the Initiative and way more than enough of Xander Harris. "Don't 'hey, Buffy' me! Where is he?" Her tone left no room for doubt that she knew exactly who and what was going on.

Xander shrugged. "Bathroom." He knew when to cut his losses.

Her eyes narrowed as she took four long strides to the bathroom door. Twisting the knob until she disabled the lock, she heard a small "eep," as she reached in and hauled out a gulping and wincing figure that was no taller than she was.

Still holding him by the collar and shoulder of his shirt, she bodily spun him around to face her. "This better be good."

Jonathan gulped, taking a moment to glance at Xander. "Is it good?" When Xander made no indication of the correct answer, he looked at Buffy. "It's good," he said carefully.

"How good?"

"Uh, *real* good?"

"You're the elf," she concluded with a mighty sigh.

Jonathan frowned and in spite of himself began to bristle at the insult. "Hey!"

"The Keebler elf?" Buffy was getting impatient at the zero amount of information she was getting. She looked at Xander. "You are so dead."

Xander was most unhappy that she had remembered he was even in the room. "Buffy, I can explain."

She snorted. "Save it for the jury." She fixed Jonathan with cold, dark eyes. "So? What have you got?"

"Uh, everything?" he squeaked.

The word hung in the air with the promise of even more wincing and dissembling. It was going to be a long rest-of-the-night. Buffy let Jonathan go, shot Xander a dirty look, and sat down on the sofa, throwing an arm across the back of the couch.

With a hard glint in her eye, she settled in. "Give it to me. All of it. Now."

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Clem opened the door. Xander gave him a sharp nod from Buffy's porch.

"Xander! Hi!" Clem seemed genuinely glad to see him.

The man smiled at the loose-skinned demon, in spite of his mood. "I'm here for Dawn patrol," he explained. Looking over his shoulder at the now pink sky, he nodded again. "In more ways than one." He gazed at Clem. "Buffy said 'thanks' and can you meet them at Spike's tomorrow...uh, tonight?"

"Tell the Slayer I sure can," Clem said agreeably. "Dawn's been asleep for hours," he informed Xander as the man entered the house. "But she really didn't want to go to bed. Had a bee in her bonnet over the Slayer and Spike."

"Who doesn't?" Xander muttered.

Clem's eyes dropped to his feet. Shuffling them in embarrassment, he didn't answer.

Xander pushed out a frustrated breath. "Sorry, Clem. I know he's your friend. It's just...well, Buffy and Spike! Jeez Louise, it's hurl-worthy! Believe me. I've known him a lot longer than you have."

"I didn't see anything too wrong with Spike before he went away," Clem said in the vampire's defense. "Other than the fact that he drank too much and he spent way too much time thinking about the Slayer. Broody, you know? He needed to get out more. Meet people. But he was always a good friend to me. Listened when I needed to talk. Gave me advice when it would help, and even when it wouldn't," Clem said. "And it seems to me anybody who changes who they are to try to be 'good' enough for someone else deserves a break."

Xander's eyes went out of focus as Anya's face flashed across his vision. With lightening speed, he remembered her ability to see right into the heart of a problem. And the times she'd embarrassed him in front of his friends with her honesty.

"Hey?" An extremely wrinkled hand appeared on his arm. "You all right?" Clem was looking at him in concern.

"Yeah." He shook his head to clear her face from his vision. "Yeah. Go on home, Clem. I'll take over - get Dawn off to school when it's time. You get some sleep."

Clem looked at Xander, still puzzled by the abrupt change in his manner. He walked over and picked up the canvas tote bag beside the couch. "Don't forget to tell the slayer I'll be there."

Xander nodded, staring blankly at the wall. The click of the front door as it closed barely registered.

+++++++++++++++++++++

Spike had been lost in his own thoughts for hours. Under careful questioning, Daniel had admitted that the Dark Lady was being held, not in one of the cells, but in a whole suite of rooms equipped with lab equipment and massive security. Even so, Spike couldn't imagine anyone or thing keeping Dru prisoner - unless for her own reasons, she wanted it that way. Of the two of them, Dru, at her full mental capacities (such as they were) was far more dangerous than Spike. She never did the expected, so she was impossible to predict. Even living with her for over a hundred years had done nothing to change that. And her sense of self-preservation was uncanny. If her visions didn't virtually incapacitate her - sometimes for days after - she'd be completely unstoppable.

Buffy had no idea who she could be dealing with, and until he was certain, he wasn't telling her. However, Daniel's stammering description of a dark, Stevie-Nicks dress alike had pretty much pushed Spike into the "I Believe" camp.

As if his thoughts had summoned her, the door opened and washed the room with light from the imminent sunrise. Buffy pushed Jonathan into the crypt. Spike looked up in surprise, getting warily out of his chair. Now she was bringing strange men to his place?

"The Chip-meister," she said in explanation. "You might remember Jonathan?" She gave her burden a distasteful look. "Or not."

Finally, he nodded, recalling the short, dark haired man from his visit to Warren's. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."

"He's got the read-outs on the chip - all of Warren's information," Buffy said briskly. "Notes, even.

"No honor among thieves, then. Good," Spike said approvingly.

The small man gathered himself up, trying to get up the nerve to look at Spike, rather than the floor of the room. Daniel slipped back into the shadows toward the stairs he'd just taken two at a time.

"Uh, hi, Spike." Jonathan thought that a little courtesy was overdue, considering they'd just burst right in. Of course, since Spike had burst into Warren's that time, it might just be something these people did to each other. They didn't seem to be much for polite knocking. Maybe it had something to do with their 'save the world' mentality.

Spike looked at Buffy. "This is who Harris has been talking to?"

"Yep." Buffy nodded tightly. She looked at Jonathan in disgust. "Oh, for God's sake, stop shaking like that! Spike's not gonna bite you."

"Not worried about him," Jonathan mumbled. Buffy shot him a look and opened her mouth to speak, but thought better of it. The silence loomed.

"Well, get on with it, then," Spike finally said in frustration. "Short version will do. Don't have to get all Star Trekkie."

"That's Trekker," Jonathan mumbled in a miffed tone. Spike gave him a dark look, as Buffy cleared her throat. He took a deep breath. "The chip is connected to the parts of your brain that control pain and your behavior. There's a signal that comes in on a pulse. It keeps you from harming humans..."

Spike made a noise, something between 'rude' and 'impatient.' "Tell me something I don't know."

"Well, I can't remove it surgically. I don't have that kind of knowledge. And with the scar tissue involved, I doubt anyone could."

"Vampires don't scar, dimwit."

"There is scar tissue. Or something," Jonathan insisted. "The chip was inserted deep in your cerebral cortex and it's become a part of your brain. In fact, I don't think anyone could have taken it out even six months after it went in. Not without serious impairment."

So the doctor had been telling the truth after all. "Well, then what the bloody hell are you doing here?" Spike said loudly. He fixed Buffy with an exasperated glance, ignoring Jonathan for a moment. "What the bloody hell is he doing here?" he asked in the same tone.

Buffy put up a hand to forestall the coming storm. She looked at Jonathan.

"Now I can't take it out with a scalpel or lasers or anything like that, but..."

"But what?" Spike began to feel a twinge of nervousness.

"I can majick it out," Jonathan said with an assurance he really didn't feel. "I don't have everything I need and there's still a little research I need to do, but I can do it." He took a deep breath and rushed through the next words. "But there's more you need to know before you decide." Stuff Buffy doesn't know yet, he thought as he glanced at the silent slayer.

Spike sighed complacently. "Of course." He walked over to the chair and sat down heavily. "Let's have it then. All of it."

"The 'harming humans' part is one thing. But that's not all. The chip's also got connections that go to the parts of the brain that deal in behavior."

"In English, please," Spike drawled with a nonchalance he didn't feel. "American will do."

"It helps modify your behavior - changes the way you react to things. Makes you a little different," Jonathan explained. "And there seems to be some kind of on-going program in place, because the signal changes from time to time."

Spike's hands tightened imperceptively on the arm of the chair. This was far worse than knowing there was a chip in his head that was simply keeping him from the killing.

Jonathan's voice became more certain, as he continued. "Now it's only on very simple levels, but Warren did some checking. Wanted to figure out what it was, how it worked." He looked down at his feet. "Intercept it, change it, feed it in to your brain with his own programming." Jonathan winced as Spike jumped out of the chair and began silently pacing the room. "He actually started monitoring the signal. Got lots of data on it. What you saw was just the start."

Jonathan hurried on, thinking it might be time to look like the good guy. Cause chip or not, it looked like Spike was ready to kill something - anything - him. "Then, Warren got busy trying to take over the world and put it on the back burner. I stole everything, screwed up the computer, and locked it up in a safety deposit box."

"Why?" Spike chose that question at that time? Buffy looked at him in surprise.

"He wanted to see if he could use you against the Slayer some way. Because you and Buffy were..." Jonathan's voice stopped in mid-sentence as the slayer reddened, remembering the cameras they'd found. She wondered how many more there were, and just what the Trio had seen. She and Spike had been in a lot of compromising and very intimate positions when the Three had been working toward world domination. About sixty of those positions came to mind without thinking much about it. There was a tightening in her stomach that was definitely an inappropriate response to this conversation.

"Yeah?"

Spike wasn't letting either of them off the hook, Buffy saw. She cleared her throat. "I'm gonna go see about Daniel," she said, heading down the stairs. Spike lifted an eyebrow, waiting for Jonathan's answer.

"I just didn't think it was fair to go after her like that," Jonathan stated bluntly. "Not right. Not *that* way."

The vampire nodded. "Thank you for that much. The chip changes me how?"

"On a simple level. Slowly. Nothing your thought processes can't assimilate. It's brilliant, really. Uh, elegant, if I can use that word?"

"Looks like you bloody well did. And it does what? For instance?" Spike sounded pretty cavalier. As if he already knew the answer.

"Makes you a little less aggressive toward humans. A little more, um, receptive."

Spike looked at Jonathan in shock. "To what?" His voice was suddenly harsh. "Buffy?"

"What?" Jonathan looked at Spike questioningly. He'd had his spiel pretty well outlined and now this very scary vampire was deviating from the carefully scripted scene. "What do you..." Jonathan's eyes popped out of his head as he realized what Spike was implying. "Oh, no! No, no, no. It doesn't do that. It can't make you..."

"Fall in love?" Spike's world for the last three years had been his love for the golden slayer. He'd gone to Africa and fought for a soul so he could be worthy of her. Now the world as he knew it was shattering around him. "You sure?"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dawn staggered to the top of the stairs. "Buffy! I think I need some coffee! Clem kept me up!" She continued down carefully, holding onto the rail as she mumbled, "So what if it stunts my growth. Stunted is of the good. 'Stunted' means no 'tall' shop. 'Stunted' means I can keep wearing these jeans..."

"Hey, kiddo."

Dawn stopped and stared at Xander. "What are you doing here?"

"Your sister asked me to stay over until she gets back. Get you to school if she doesn't make it back in time."

"She's with Spike? And you aren't beating your breast and wailing?" Suspiciously, she gave him a closer look. "What have you done with Xander Harris, evil demon? Or on second thought, what did you do with Clem?"

Chuckling, Xander rubbed tired eyes. "Sent him home to get real sleep in his own bed. That is if he sleeps in a bed. I'm not real clear on the sleeping habits of demons - at least not that particular demon. And the whole 'Buffy's with Spike' thing? No big. Slayer stuff. Really."

"What stuff?" She sat down beside Xander on the sofa with a small sigh and pulled her knees up to her chest, surveying her bright metallic blue toe nails.

He smiled. It had been so long since she'd done something like that - just sat down beside him like she used to, he wanted to keep her there for a while. "How much do you know about the chip?"

"I know it keeps Spike from walloping the hell out of you when you need it," she grinned, taking the sting out of her words. Her smile faded. "Obviously, not as much as you do, or you wouldn't be asking. Is there new stuff?"

Xander nodded, taking the reproof in good grace. "Jonathan's back with a way to get the chip out. So no more leash for big bad Spike." The last part of the sentence came out a little more sarcastically than he meant.

"Well, now that he's got a soul, the whole chip thing is redundant anyway."

"Redundant? You kiss your sister with that mouth?" Xander grinned sickly, thinking of the names of several serial killers that he was pretty sure still had souls. "Still. No more leash."

Dawn laughed. "Spike doesn't need a 'leash.' He's saved your butt plenty of times. And mine, too. Even Buffy's. The chip doesn't make him do that. *He* just does it. Cause he cares about us."

The man opened his mouth. Dawn was certain he was about to say something condescending, like it was 'complicated,' or 'she didn't understand.' Something all grown-uppy and maddening. And she was sick of it.

"Anya's a vengence demon again. Does that mean she doesn't love you anymore? Does that mean you can't love her anymore? She looks and sounds like the same old Anya to me - when I see her anyway, which isn't much, because you keep driving her away with your big time angst and your puppy dog eyes."

"Leave Anya out of this, Dawn," Xander growled.

"Why? She's a demon and she loves you. You love her. Spike's a vampire and he loves Buffy. And she could just give it up and maybe be with him, if you'd get off it and leave them alone."

She took a deep breath. "See, I love Buffy. And I love Spike. I can even love you - although it's hard right now, because you drink way too much and you don't have a clue and you're beginning to sound and act just like your father, who isn't the greatest role model in the world, and are you getting any of this?"

Xander felt her words enter him like tiny wooden stakes. He shook his head and tried to speak - to explain. Dawn was having none of it. She let out a furious breath and jumped up, turning on her heel, hair flying and feet flashing as she ran up the steps, her final words echoing in his brain.

"I love you, Xander, but I don't like you very much right now."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

It was dark where Clem was. Then, he realized his eyes were closed. He opened them, and shut them again in response to the bright light. His head hurt and his hand automatically came up to touch a sore spot on his chest. A small dart came away in his hand.

He sat up slowly, cradling his head. Didn't know how he'd gotten here and he didn't care. He just wanted to go home. He needed real sleep, so he'd be ready for...what? Oh, tonight. The Slayer needed him. Or did she? Had he dreamed the whole thing? Xander and leaving and the pain in his chest and falling. He looked around the small room, squinting his eyes to minimize the flash of the light bouncing off the white floor, the ceiling, the walls.

Well, three walls anyway. The fourth was... transparent? No, there was a blue light there. A force field? This was very sci-fi and not his usual type dream at all.

He wished he'd hurry and wake up.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Let's see. To make a long story short, the Initiative is making vampire soldiers and using Spike's ex to do it. Spike is back in Sunnydale, armed with a soul, but still with chip. Xander thinks he knows a way around it, but isn't being very cooperative. Spike has also taken in a stray, a vampire named Daniel, and is trying to deal with Daniel, his new soul, as well as his feelings for the slayer. Buffy is just trying to deal, period, with 'new and improved' Spike. And the hits just keep on coming...
Spoilers: Serious Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Previous chapters are at Fanfiction.net and, thankfully, at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

Thank you to Chris and Colleen. And to Kelly and Christy and Chen who let me spin them a fanwank at the con...



Part 12

Buffy eased through the door of the crypt and heard a soft snore. She looked at the chair Clem referred to as the comfy one and saw Jonathan with his head on his chest, mouth wide. He looked like a little boy. A *very* little boy.

She felt rather than saw Spike coming up the stairs. He looked at her a bit shocked. She'd left Jonathan there only a few hours before.

"Don't you ever bloody sleep?" he growled.

She grimaced as she finished closing the door on the bright mid-morning outside. "Not lately. Besides I got a couple of hours after Dawn left for school." And back to business with a subtle shift of her face and body, Spike marveled. "Where did you find Daniel anyway?"

Oh, hell. He'd wondered when she'd finally link his finding Daniel with the Initiative. And Spike was loath to tell her any more than she already knew. "A place I used to go sometimes when I was in the mood for a spot," he hedged vaguely.

"A spot." She looked at him, almost tapping her foot, waiting for his explanation.

He sighed. "A spot of violence, love."

"Oh. Right. Where?"

Spike didn't want to take Buffy within two miles of the cave, or if his suspicions were correct, Drusilla. He'd had plenty to think about since she'd left a little after the sun had come up. Unfortunately, his mind had bounced around and he really didn't have a lot to show for it. There was Drusilla, of course. Then, Jonathan and his revelation about the computer chip - and Spike's decision.

And now, Buffy was asking questions about the caves with the tell-tale outlines of at least three stakes on her person - in broad daylight, too.

Bloody buggerin' hell.

Realizing that the slayer was staring at him with her patented look of frustration, exasperation and impatience, he almost lost his temper. "In the bloody caves!" At the look on her face, he decided his tone could have been a bit of an overreaction to her innocent query for information.

"Sorry, love," he demurred. "Tryin' to talk over the voices in my head."

She gave him a suspicious look. "Whatever. The initiative caves? Well, isn't that just dandy?"

"Probably not such a good idea to go snoopin' around in there, right, pet?" he said hopefully. Right. Well, it was worth a shot anyway.

She ignored his question and asked one of her own. "Can we get there through the tunnels? From here?"

The vampire stared at her, suddenly seeing where this was all going. He scratched his head. "Well. Yeah. It's the long way 'round, but... yeah. Yeah, we can. This is a 'we' thing, right?"

"Well, I could always take GI Vamp downstairs..."

"Oh, yeah. Right. Except he still forgets he's a vampire. Strength of five men and he goes into heart failure when he manages to open a bloody jar. Or would - if he wasn't already dead."

"Okay, you're elected. *If* you can manage to call up some of that old time killer instinct when we need it."

Well, that hurt! Of course, his slayer really didn't have a clue about all the conflict that raged within him every time he thought about going on patrol these days. Oversensitive much, he thought, hearing Buffy's flippant voice. God, this was line of thought was veering off into William-the-Broodydom. He smiled. "See if I can drag 'classic' Spike up when needed, Slayer. Least I can do."

"Good."

Good? A year ago, two years ago, it was 'bad.' Well, that wasn't precisely true, was it? She'd welcomed his help with Glory - even asked for it.

"Okay," she said with a nod. "So 'we' go. Just wish we knew a little more about what's going on."

No, pet, you don't, he thought. I know 'more' and I'm damned sorry I do.

"Then, when we get back, we'll see if Jonathan's any closer to having a handle on the spell."

Spike fixed Buffy with bright blue eyes. "There's a bit of a problem with that, Slayer."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hey," Jonathan looked over his shoulder as he looked out through the crack in the door. "How'd you know I was here?"

Xander snorted. "I'm your babysitter. And his," he said, nodding toward the downstairs. "What do you think of the pet vampire's pet?"

"Oh, he's nice, I guess," Jonathan said grudgingly. "Quiet though. Here I finally have the opportunity to stop speaking high school Spanish and no one cares!"

"Yep, it's pretty much all about Spike right now," Xander said with an eye roll. "Of course, this time last year, it was the Year of Buffy, so..." He let the sentence hang there.

"Well, you know. He seems okay. For a vampire."

"Daniel?"

"Spike."

Xander laughed ruefully. "Don't let him fool you. He's all full of soul now, but... So. When do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"What do you mean what? Hocus pocus the chip."

"Oh, that. I'm not. Spike said 'no.'"

Xander was incredulous. "What?"

Nodding, Jonathan walked across the room and sat down in the comfortable chair, leaving Xander standing by the door. "That's right. Buffy told me to get to work on the spell, but Spike told me to forget it. 'Bugger it,' he said. Does that mean what I think it means, because..."

"Spike said 'no' to the chipectomy? I think I'm having an acid flashback. Do you actually have to *do* acid to have one? He wanted it out, and now he doesn't?"

Jonathan's eyes found his feet. The toe of his left sneaker looked pretty screwed up. "Yeah, well..."

"Why not?"

"I think it has something to do with the way he feels about Buffy. And he's thinkin' maybe he wouldn't feel that way after."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Wait. Wait a minute. Wait just a damned minute."

Spike stopped and looked at her quizzically. They were well inside the cave, quickly approaching the spot where he'd found Daniel.

"You're really not going to let Jonathan take the chip out?"

Spike's mouth tightened. "Said I'm not." He pushed out a frustrated breath. "Are we havin' this conversation, or am I dreamin' it? Slayer, there's a cave full of God knows what, and you want to chat it out?"

"I think we can spare a little time here. No ooglie wooglies. Just us. And it's not like we have any privacy at your place anymore."

"Bloody hell. Can't we do this over coffee? Or never?"

"No. We. Can. Not."

"Fine." He looked around, disgusted, then ducked into a side passage. After a moment, he reappeared. "C'mon, Slayer," he said, taking her hand and practically dragging her behind him. They ended up in a small side tunnel.

"Now. They can only come from one place - the way we came. Have your say and be quick about it."

"Fine. But it's not going to be much of a conversation if I'm the only one talking."

He stayed tense and silent, but she didn't back down. Finally, he sighed. "Let's have it then."

"Have what?" she asked confused.

"Have it *out*, I reckon. Sure are hot to get this thing out o' my head all of a sudden, aren't you? Thinkin' it might make things simpler?"

"What?" She looked at his set jaw and tried to figure out why he was so angry. "Make what simpler?"

"You. Me. Us. I wanted it to stop. And now that little weasel can make it happen."

She shook her head. "You're not making any sense, Spike."

"What if it's the chip? The way I've been, the way I feel. What if the soul has sod all to do with anythin', once the chip's out?"

Buffy belatedly realized what Spike was saying. She could have kicked herself for not paying more attention back at the crypt. "Wait. You think if he takes out the chip, you won't...what? Be good anymore? No, that's not it, is it?"

"Well, you've said it yourself, Buffy. A Slayer and a vampire? What is that?"

She sighed. "Obviously what we do. What comes un-naturally."

He snorted at the obvious.

She took a breath, hoping he might get it this time. "I don't have a chip in my head, and I know how I feel. If I took my time admitting it to myself, well, it's that slayer-vampire thing. I loved Spike without a soul. I love you with one."

It was more than he could take in. He fought to let his head, and not his heart, control this moment. His turn to be the rational one, for once. "Buffy, it's not that simple. The chip..."

She looked at him in exasperation, putting her hands on her hips. "Gee, Spike, nothing ever is, is it? Simple, I mean. Not really? You don't think you can take the chance without the chip. I don't think you can afford not to. And I think you're overreacting to what Jonathan said. You came to the Slayer for help when Angel wanted to destroy the world. What was that? I think it's just you: a sorry excuse for the evil undead, and getting sorrier all the time."

He stared at her in astonishment. "Anything else?" he said hoarsely.

"Vampire at 6 o'clock. But it's cool. I've got your back."

She launched herself through the air, stake appearing in her hand, as she sailed past him. She hit the ground, rolling in a pile of dust: the remains of a college reject she'd managed to stake while still in the air.

"Ow. You're welcome." she said, brushing off her shirt.

Still in shock at her speech, Spike walked over and gave her a hand up.

Her eyes sparkled in amusement. "I finally figured out that this was the move you tried to make the night you ended up chest-deep in dust."

He shook his head in wonder. "Oh, Slayer..."

"C'mon. This is gonna be fun!" she said brightly. "Let's go hunt some bad guys!"

He grinned at last, pushing away the emotional burden that was Drusilla, determined to deal with that in his own way when the time came. He hadn't seen Buffy like this since high school. She said it would be fun, and by God, he almost believed her.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Silence moved up the stairs like a shadow and came to roost at top of the trapdoor. Xander jumped slightly, then chuckled uneasily.

"Daniel. Well, you look a lot more 'sane' than the last time I saw you."

"And you look a lot less scared..." Daniel smiled. Xander was just one of the guys. He remembered 'one of the guys.' He missed it.

"Man, Spike has great snacks," Jonathan proclaimed from the area designated as the kitchen.

Xander looked over at him. "Uh, I think 'snacks' are a Clem thing, not a Spike thing."

Jonathan nodded around a mouthful of Bugles. "Who's Clem?"

Looking down at his watch, Xander gave a low whistle. "More like, where's Clem? Except I did say tonight, and it sure ain't tonight. Even though some vampires seem to act like it is."

Smacking and swallowing the mouthful of chips and cheese, Jonathan grinned. "Yeah, Spike's never been one to play by the rules. I mean, how many vampires get it on with..."

Xander's face turned red.

Jonathan choked slightly. Then, started coughing in earnest. Daniel walked over and slapped him on the back. Jonathan flew across the room and into the back of the big chair in front of the TV. He regained his balance clumsily and used his arms to crawl to a half-standing position.

"Hey," he coughed. "Just bite me, why doncha?"

Daniel looked down, embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I just..."

"Just what? Don't know your own strength?" Xander finished, trying to look relaxed. "Vampire, Daniel. Not human, okay? Daniel strong. Elf weak."

"Hey!" Jonathan retorted, recovering quickly from his near death experience. He looked at Daniel with interest. "You don't have a chip, do you? Cause I've got a great de-chipping spell going to waste right here."

Daniel smiled sadly. "Nope. No chip. I was a ... surprise."

Xander huffed out an amused breath. "Like a 'oops, it's a boy?'"

"More like an 'oops, it's a vampire.'" Daniel said in explanation. "I was having these headaches. Dropped my taser, got bit. Vamp tried to give me some blood, too. To make me one. But he'd barely taken any, so no problem. After they pulled him off me, they took me to the infirmary."

"And you died anyway," Xander finished.

"Oh, not right away. I wasn't gonna die at all. But they did find out why I was having headaches. Had this tumor in my head. The next day, the tumor's smaller."

Jonathan stared at him, full mouth and chewing forgotten. "Well, they just got back a bad test, right?"

"I wish. No, they found out that the little bit of blood that I'd picked up from the vamp was doing things to make it go away. So they gave me more blood. Vampire blood." His eyes focused inward. "And then, two days later, the 'oops.' I don't even remember feeling like I was dying. Just remember feeling different."

Daniel shuddered. "That was right before they tried to stake me in my hospital bed," he confessed, looking up at Xander unflinchingly. "Right before I killed all of them and three of my buddies who were standing guard outside. Kip Garner, Jess Plum and Ben Jeffries."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Oh, great. Vampires in... what? Kevlar turtlenecks?"

"Riley gits all in a row," Spike said, not really hearing her. "Time to knock em down, Slayer."

Buffy turned to him in surprise. "I appreciate the enthusiasm, tough guy. And I'd like to take 'em on, but... with what? Harsh words? Bad attitudes? You're not wearing your punk-ass coat, so that won't fly - just not the same. They're wearing Kevlar. I can't cut their heads off, sure can't stake em. Oh, and I left my Wile E. Coyote Acme flamethrower in my other coat."

Spike took a second look and nodded as the adrenaline ebbed a little. "I'm feelin' bloody naked just lookin' at 'em," he finally admitted.

Mouth turning up at the corner, Buffy spared Spike a glance that became a once-over. "I've seen you naked," she commented dryly. "This is so not it."

Spike's mouth dropped open. Then, his eyes narrowed. "You're awfully unconcerned about this, pet. Got a plan, do you?"

"Nope," she said cheerily. "Just me and the whole 'letting it lie there' thing. I couldn't resist."

"You never could," he smirked as he considered the number of armored vamps and the possibilities of draining gasoline from the motorcycle and firing up the lot of 'em. "Resist, I mean."

"Oh, yeah. Pant, pant." Peering around a rock outcropping, she was startled by a new sight. "Is that a gun?" she said, nodding at an oddly shaped burden that had just appeared in the hands of one of the Kevlar-challenged.

"More like a cannon, love." Spike tried to see past the six vampires, but there was too much going on. He suspected there wasn't a lot to see anyway, except more rocks. And an occasional trickle of water.

"We are so in trouble." She looked back down the passage, thinking about their chances of getting out the way they came in.

Spike sighed. "I told you..."

"Yeah, yeah. 'I told you so...' Keep it up, Spike."

"Slayer, keeping it up was never a problem," he said, raising an eyebrow. Okay, obviously it was contagious. This time *he* couldn't resist.

She threw up her hands, turning to look at him. "Okay, you win this round of double entendre quip wars. Now what? I'm getting all sweaty here, and I think my hair is losing its curl."

"Suggestions are welcome, pet. Even bloody encouraged."

"Do I have to think of everything?" she complained.

"Think? You?" He laughed. "Please!"

It might have been the timbre of his snorted 'please.' It might have been a function of the caverns. But one of the vampires turned in the direction of the bark of sound. Buffy glanced around the rock and looked back at Spike, eyes widening. "Uh oh."

"I think massive head trauma might be in order here, pet. Or perhaps you brought a pipe organ along? For me, not them. Rather not know what's going to happen next."

"Stop being such a baby," she snarled. "And as for 'next?' We run."



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Short and sweet...
Spoilers: Serious Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com



Part 13

Ahh. Poor pretty broken thing. Pushing her head against his chest, she listened to the weak beat of his heart.

His breath hitched. She twisted her head up to peer into his lovely blue eyes.

Yes. He'd been put to rough use and his wings might be clipped, but his heart was free to love - and to hate. First, the death sentence. Followed by years of pain and torment. And still alive, never giving up, no matter how the pain ate at him. He'd waited for her.

She raised her head, moving back a half step and smiling reassuringly as her hand brushed his cheek. A trickle of blood followed her sharp nail. Going up onto tiptoes as graceful as a dancer, she swept her tongue across his face and tasted the blood pooling in the thin cut. She felt his gasp. Good! He had an artist's sense of the subtleties.

Settling back on her heels, she captured his stunned gaze. No need for words here. His pale eyes told her everything. He was tired. He wanted to die.

But he couldn't give death the satisfaction of winning. A Knight.

Chuckling to herself, knowing what she would find, she reached in behind his eyes to feel the fever that was devouring him, coloring his cheeks with false health. Wicked, sickish things, fevers. Never liked them. The flame blossomed quickly, withered and died. Soon her new knight would be ashes, all burned away forever inside his lovely still body.

No. More. Ashes.

She put on her other face and looked into his eyes. Fevered, yes. Afraid. But able to look death in the eye. And welcome it at last.

Inwardly, she clapped her hands in delight. Brave knight!

Oh, yes, he would do. Wondrously fine. Wondrously fair. Wondrously hers and hers alone for all eternity.

Time to quell the ravaging heat. Chill his aching bones.

He would never grow hot again. Not for anything or anyone, but her.



Rating: PG-13 (really!)
Summary: Quick summary is that Clem has been taken by the Initiative. Buffy and Spike aren't aware that he's gone, but are prowling around in the caves where Spike found Daniel. Because Buffy wants to. And then there's Drusilla...
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy. Previous chapters are at Fanfiction.net and, thankfully, at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

Of course, without Colleen and Chris, there'd be no fic at all. Thanks for the majorly quick beta, guys. And listening to me gripe about being James'd. That little imp takes some getting rid of!



Part 14

Spike was glad his Docs had survived the trials in Africa and his subsequent ensoulment, because he was running through the caverns and tunnels at breakneck speed, feet lightly passing over uneven ground and rock with nary a spill.

He spared a glance to his rear, knowing exactly what he would see there: the Slayer gamely keeping up in her sturdy but slightly high-heeled leather boots. He secretly marveled at the fact she could run at all.

Sliding on loose rock, he threw out a hand to catch Buffy and pull her close, as he listened for the sound of other running feet. He could hear the thud of several. And they were still far enough back to take a breather.

"Sounds like a herd of buffalo," he complained. His mouth quirked up at the corner as he raised his eyebrow. "And believe me, I would know."

Buffy was looking at her watch. "I really don't think we need to try to get back to your place through the tunnels." She looked around. "I don't know what we could possibly use for a weapon against Kevlar breastplates."

"Bunch of fashion victims," he retorted. "Sad to have to call them vampires. No sport in it at all."

"We need to get outside, before they figure out where we are."

Spike nodded thoughtfully. "Still daylight. I'll get you to the entrance, and you can..."

"Uh uh. You're coming with."

"In case the soul has clouded your judgment, I'm still a vampire. As you say, Spike and sunlight...not mixy things."

"When has that ever stopped you?" she asked angrily.

Spike pointedly looked around at the stark cave. "Well, love, no blanket, no coat. Dusty ending for old..." He looked around again, suddenly getting his bearings and the beginnings of an idea. His mind began to churn as he considered the options.

"They're getting closer, Spike," she stated coldly. "And I am so not leaving you here."

"Right then, pet." He grabbed her hand. "Detour." And he set off again, practically dragging a protesting Buffy in his wake.

After a few twists and turns that almost had Buffy screaming in frustration as they went deeper into the caves, they emerged into an open, but seemingly deserted, area that was set up like a commons room at a dorm. A very filthy dorm. As Buffy gazed at the odd plethora of furnishings, the vampire tore into the garbage that was pushed into corners and against the wall. In a few minutes, he stood up with a triumphant look on his face, holding up a battered and suspiciously stained sleeping bag.

"Now, we go," he said in satisfaction. "Only the one way out close by," he explained. "Might have to make a break for it."

"Like the 'better part of valor thing?'"

"More like 'fight our way through,'" he admitted, heading out the way they'd come and ducking off to the left.

"You up for it?" she asked pointedly, from somewhere very close behind.

"Yeah. You?" he answered just as archly.

"Oh, yeah."

Spike could almost see her smile, even though she was behind him. Which had to be a bit of a problem for Buffy, who didn't deal well with not being in charge. Probably feeling guilty that this little exercise had gone so wrong.

"All right, Slayer, we're about forty feet from the exit. If they've got us sussed out, they'll be..."

"Hey, what happened to the forty feet," she complained as they skidded to a stop, right in the path of six vampires, one armed with a large gun, the others brandishing tasers.

Buffy shook her head as she caught sight of the tasers. "God, I hate those things." She glanced at Spike accusingly as she inched forward, looking for an opening.

"Well. Yeah." His voice was a little sheepish. "Me, too." He glanced at her. "What say we go straight through?"

She raised herself on her toes, lightly bouncing. "'Through' sounds like a plan. I'm all up for the 'through' part."

With that, Spike tossed the sleeping bag up and over the bunched line of vampires. They were blocking the thin light from the entrance - an entrance that was now only fifteen impossible-looking feet away. The thrown blanket slightly distracted one of the vampires, which gave Spike the misplaced incentive to charge toward them, intending to cut a swath to the exit. He threw himself into the air, twisting, feet first, to connect with the vampire closest to him at chest level. The vamp gave a 'whoosh' as he sailed back about seven feet. Spike rolled and snapped to a crouch, grinning menacingly as he went into gameface, joyfully pounding the vampires with fists and feet. They began fighting back and things got a little more interesting.

Spike realized Buffy was delivering a blow-by-blow monologue, as she picked tasers out of strong hands and slung the pseudo-soldiers against each other. The only other sounds he heard were grunts, from the vamps the slayer was facing. He body slammed one of his to the rocky ground. She'd been right; it was fun. Except they kept getting back up. The lack of stakage was a handicap.

Just then, Spike realized that the gun-toting vamp had taken a bead on the slayer. He dived to grab her around the legs and pulled her down, just as a deafening boom echoed through the chamber, accompanied by the sound of cascading rocks.

"Bloody hell, you pillock!" Spike bellowed as he rolled to his feet, bringing the Slayer with him. He pushed her toward the light and immediately launched himself at the vampire who was taking new aim.

"Buffy, out! Now!" Spike wrenched at the gun as he fired off a punch at the other vampire. Borrowed blood burst from his nose, but the gun stayed where it was. In the soldier's hand.

"Sorry. You were talking to me?" Buffy's pert voice came from somewhere near his shoulder.

Cold hard hands grabbed at Spike from behind. He spun around to break their grip, grimly reviewing what he needed to do to get Buffy the hell out of there. As he moved, he managed a glancing kick to the armed vamp's wrist. There was a howl of pain.

And then Buffy had the gun, grabbing at what she suspected was the trigger with a slayer's sense for weaponry. She blew the vampire against the cave wall. In the stunning aftermath, there was a rumble as rock moved again, more insistently this time. Hands fell away from Spike, as if shocked at the disarming and subsequent death of one of them. She threw the gun at the wall with Slayer strength. It smashed into plastic pieces.

"Hate guns," she muttered.

Spike pulled her forward and looked wildly about for the fouled sleeping bag as the vampires regrouped. There! He scooped it up, throwing it around him and over his head as he sprinted toward the exit to the cave. Four vampires moved to block his way.

Suddenly, blonde hair whipped in front of him. He hesitated.

"Run!" Buffy headed toward the light, head butting the vamps and slamming through like a professional line backer. Spike followed, dodging and moving like a quarterback, as hands tugged at the flapping bag.

He pulled himself up and away in a ten-foot leap. Tripping on the insulated bag, he went down hard, hitting something that had given with a soft 'whoosh' - Buffy. To add insult to injury, he felt a searing pain burn into one hand and his left ear. He rolled over on his stomach, hitching the bag up over his head as high as he dared, and lay there.

The silence of the outside after the fight within the echoing confines of the cave seemed surreal. He thought his ears might be ringing, too.

"What the hell?" Spike heard Buffy's exclamation and her wry laugh. She sounded fine, he thought in relief. And the vampires were safely on the other side of the barrier of light.

"Dammit! Look at my jeans! *And* my knees! Elbow, hand...." Buffy was bitched off in a big way, grumbling to Spike and to whoever else would listen. He heard her walk over and kick something hard into the side of the cave. Then, she laughed again, an ironic lilt to it. He gingerly began to sit up, carefully holding his noxious shelter closely around him.

He peered out and saw five pieces of body armor haphazardly lying on the ground, covered with a faint dusting of... dust.

Buffy tuned to him with an amazed grin. "They *followed* us! Into the sunlight. Kamikaze vampires!" She looked at his strained face, a little concerned. "You okay?"

"Just a bit of a sunburn," he said, reaching up inside the bag to touch his blistered ear. "Nothin' much. You all right?"

"Well, I have clothing issues," she said simply. "And I'm a little bunged up."

And she was. Her left knee was bloody where it peeped through her jeans. Her cheek was scraped. And there was a raw looking abrasion that started at her wrist and ended at her elbow.

"Of course, 160 pounds of undead weight landing on me kinda drove me into the ground a little. And there was that basebally thing we had happening. What do they call it? A slide?" She grinned recklessly. "Oh, and you're welcome," she quipped. "Again." Spike wondered if he looked better or worse, then decided she'd taken the brunt of it.

He realized she was still speaking. "...so got to get clothes. You can get us to my house from here, right?"

Spike sighed and looked around, cautiously keeping his face shielded from the mid-afternoon sun. It seemed like all he'd done today was try to figure out where he was.

"Yeah," he said uncertainly. "Wait. Yeah." His voice became more confident. "Yeah."

"Both of us? Undusty?"

He nodded decisively. "May not be a straight route, but..."

"Let's go. I'm stiffening up just standing here. So need to get with the walking thing."

Spike ducked into the nearby woods. Buffy took a moment to look once again at the empty Kevlar around her.

"Wow." She followed Spike into the trees, where he was waiting patiently for her. As she caught up, he struck off, heading toward a clearing.

"At 10 am, the clearin's not a problem, but at this time 'a day, best to avoid it," he said in explanation.

"Avoidance is good," she agreed, limping a little.

"There's a culvert through there," he nodded. "If we..."

"Got it." She followed him inside as he let the sleeping bag drop from around his shoulders and trail off behind him to his left.

"That thing's nasty," Buffy said, pointing at the bag.

"Yeah. I think they wrapped their kills in it. Or killed what was in it... *while* it was still in it."

"Ewww."

"Yeah, ewww." He mocked her voice.

"Hey. You makin' fun of me?"

"Love, this piece of tattered gore is all that stood between me and minglin' my dust with the other lads."

"Well, don't get attached to it. It's going in the trash as soon as we get home. I've got plenty of clean blankets."

Spike chuckled at her generosity. "Right. Trash it is."

Buffy's bent knees started bothering her. She shuffled along in the culvert, beginning to get a little pissed. "If God had meant man to walk like this, we'd have four foot ceilings."

Spike stopped and turned. "There's an exit up ahead. You can head on the old fashioned way and I'll catch up in a bit."

Buffy chewed her lip. "No thanks," she said, a little abashed at his thoughtfulness. "I think I'll just see how the other half lives."

Turning back and starting forward again, Spike smiled to himself. "Suit yourself," he said noncommittally.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Clem was hungry.

Oh, it wasn't that they hadn't fed him. They had. Soldiers, he supposed, had brought him food twice now. Different ones every time (although they all had a tendency to look alike) arriving in pairs and bringing the same concoction each time: some kind of gruel that looked suspiciously like something his mother used to make.

Which was 'yuck.' He was going through junk food withdrawal. He thought longingly of all the goodies he had stashed at home and at Spike's place.

Clem wanted to ask them for an anything-on-rye. Or a bag of Bugles, even Cheetos would be okay... but he was afraid to let them know he could communicate with them. He could just be an uninteresting demon, the most uninteresting demon ever, in their zoo.

No one had bothered him as far as he could remember. And his head didn't feel funny, like anyone had been cutting on him or anything. In fact, they didn't seem interested at all. And this was good, because he'd been captured by the Initiative, and they were the worst kind of demons, according to his friend Spike. Clem had heard stories that kept him up at night.

When he'd been feeling brave (and that had happened periodically in the last few hours), he'd watched them. When the little uniformed troop of vampires had left for parts unknown, he'd followed them with his eyes to see where they'd gone. Cause maybe if he paid attention, he'd get a chance to go, too.

There didn't seem to be any other demons besides him, and the vampires. One big man seemed to be in charge, accepting salutes with a brief nod of his head, stopping to speak with different 'white coats' and soldiers. This man would disappear every so often, then return in a little while. Once he had caught Clem watching him and he'd smiled.

Clem had almost smiled back, then looked down quickly, confused by what he saw. It wasn't a very nice smile. No, not nice at all.

The demon sat down in a corner and tried to make himself very small.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Spike escaped into the house through the back door, relieved at having once again successfully negotiated a daylight run. He dropped the foul sleeping bag and kicked it toward the wall, turning to Buffy in the same movement.

He was opening his mouth to bitch about the circuitous trip to Buffy's when he saw her collapse against the kitchen island, almost doubled over.

In laughter. Silent guffaws shook her body and with a gasp, the mirth began to roll out. She was laughing. At him, he realized belatedly.

He scowled. "What?"

She opened her mouth to explain, but only more laughter came out. One hand clutched at her stomach, the other clutched the counter in a death grip. It reminded him of the night he'd found Daniel.

In spite of himself, a small half-chuckle questioningly came from him. "What?" he said again.

"You..." She sighed as the giggles subsided a bit. Then she dissolved into another gale of laughter. "You are so... oh, God, Spike," she gasped.

"You're laughing at me, aren't you?" he said in realization.

Great big nods sent Buffy's hair bouncing. Tears began to shine in her eyes.

"You think *that* was funny," he continued in a reasoning tone, tilting his head toward the great outdoors. "I risk life, well, unlife, and limb to get here and you think it's amusing? Almost been toasted three times today! Just because you are a spoiled brat who couldn't wait til nightfall."

She was totally unashamed at herself and was continuing to giggle. "It was the trip across the back yard..." She shook her head, as another thought struck her. "You were right, too - about the daytime wedding thing. 'The wind tosses the leaves aside, and ...'" She let the sentence trail off, inclining her head suggestively, as she surrendered to more giggles.

At her prompting, Spike recalled that phrase. He'd said it to her, or something like it, when she'd suggested an outdoor, daytime wedding ceremony three years ago, right after he'd been chipped. The time when Willow had witched them into planning a wedding. Spike smiled absently, remembering how happy he'd been when Buffy had agreed to be his wife. As spells went, it had been a damn good one.

Seeing his face soften in remembrance, Buffy walked over to Spike, and put a hand on each side of his face. His eyes widened as she pulled his head down and went up on tiptoes, delivering a resounding 'smack' of a kiss.

He wasn't prepared for it. Her lips clumsily connected with the corner of his mouth. He pulled back, blinking owlishly, as if he thought she'd gone off her nut.

A half-embarrassed grin, accompanied by a self-deprecating shrug, flitted uncertainly across his face. The look was so boyish, so shy, that she couldn't resist kissing him again.

And again.

As she moved his head to plant a hard kiss on his cheek, he caught her wrists and took control, putting his lips directly on hers.

And she was lost. Completely irrevocably lost. Again.

When he finally ended the kiss, after a seemingly impossible time, she was gasping for air, eyes wide. His chest was rising and falling, almost in a panic. "Buffy..."

She laughed again, this time ruefully, at the fear in his eyes. "'Buffy,' what? 'Buffy, we can't'?" She momentarily broke eye contact to look at the clock. "Upstairs. Now." Her face was flushed. "I've had about enough of this," she growled.

Her mouth was on his again - lips rough as she tried to burrow her way into his hard body. They moved across the kitchen somehow, slammed into the doorjamb and stumbled backward toward the stairs. She laughed wickedly, as one of her greedy little hands found his belt and tugged at it, pushing her fingers down as if she could loosen it by sheer force.

Which of course, she could. Snap it in half, most likely, he thought with some clarity. And that was when he pulled away from her.

Spike needed to tell her that he suspected Drusilla was back in Sunnydale. He shook his head to clear it. "You don't..." She pulled at his belt with a determined set to her jaw. "Wait," he said wildly. "Buffy, wait."

His words caught in his throat as he was caught by the look of her - at her flashing eyes and her stubborn chin. "I've *been* waiting!" she said, playfulness forgotten. "For months now. I haven't pushed you, which was probably a mistake." She shook her head. "I *know* we have a shitty history. Right up there on the Guinness list of best 'worst...'"

"Buffy, that's not..." he pleaded. She wasn't listening to him, and he had things to say that she needed to hear.

"But I've been patient," she continued, her voice hardening with frustration. "And if your feelings have changed..."

"Of course, my feelings have changed! I've changed!"

"Well, so have I! And it's time you trusted that, and about damn time you trusted yourself! I know you still love me. And you used to be man enough to admit it!"

He opened his mouth, but words wouldn't come. Her face was too raw, too angry, too hurt, to voice his fears. She'd turned his own words back on him. But he still needed to tell her...

He was a coward after all. Spike reached for her and she stepped back, eyes snapping, furious at being forced into her outburst. He let out an exasperated breath.

"Oh, bloody hell!" He caught her stiff angry body and threw it over his shoulder. "Fine," he said, striding up the stairs. She struggled a little, but more in surprise than anything else. "But just so you know," he said to the air loudly. "It looks like Drusilla is back, and your old Initiative buddies have her. Meaning your ex has my ex."

Buffy's body stiffened in shock. "Drusilla?" Her voice was muffled against his back.

"Yeah," he said, reaching the landing and heading toward her bedroom. He put her down outside the door, hard. "Further, I think this is a sodding bad time for romance, but I'm done waiting. Too."

"Drusilla," Buffy repeated, looking up into his eyes. She took a deep breath and considered his words.

He softened, anger seeping out of his face, and sighed. "I always could destroy a mood."

She shook her head. "Not this one."

He kissed her again, slowly and languorously, working her into the room. He reached behind him to slam the door shut and immediately returned his attention to her hot little body. He felt her laugh underneath his mouth and opened his eyes to lock with hers. She'd hooked her fingers into his belt again.

"Impatient?" he murmured.

She nodded, trying to find her way to the bed without benefit of sight. And it should be easy, right? But she was totally distracted by the mouth and hand business, ending up fouled in a pair of discarded jeans. For the second time that day, she went down and he landed on top of her, her hand still tangled in his belt.

"Get off," she laughed, embarrassed by her mess of a bedroom. She pushed him away, while keeping a death grip on the wide strip of leather.

"Let go, then," he muttered, burying his head in her neck.

"Nope," she giggled. "And we are so not doing this on the floor."

He laughed then. A playful chuckle. Leaning up and away from her as far as he could, he settled back on his haunches, her hand still connected to his belt like a small girl holding onto her dog's collar. He looked pointedly at her outstretched arm and then her face. "You think this is cute?"

She nodded, eyes dancing.

Looking around at the room, he remembered other times he'd been there, usually covertly. "God, you *do* need a decorator," he said in mock-disgust. She growled and flipped him over on his back, using the leather for leverage.

Without taking his eyes from hers, he deliberately reached down and unfastened the belt. Her hand slipped to one side. He pushed her away so he could get to a sitting position and then up, reaching back down to grab her and pull her to her feet.

"You see that bed?" he asked calmly, nodding his head at the girlish linens. "I've never been in that bed in all this time. Had fantasies about that bed."

She nodded and swallowed hard, not trusting her voice. They were in her room. That was her bed. She'd had her fantasies, too. And dreams. Lots and lots of dreams.

Obviously, there were still a few first times left. Even for them.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Oh, God, please don't make me. This has gotten really complicated...
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

Special thanks to the usual suspects: Chris, who kept at this when anyone else would have been screaming for fewer drafts. Colleen, who has guests, but made her approval known in two short IM sentences, Kelly, who knows where the heart of Riley is, and Chen, who is a putz and keeps saving the fic for when I'm done. I sure did spoil her today!



Part 15

She thought she had known exactly what to expect. She'd had him a thousand ways last year - each one more spectacular than the last.

But it had still been sex - him giving and her taking, or vice versa. Every move coldly calculated to bring the other back for more. More of a competition than a partnership. She'd had a taste of something a little different when he'd first come back from Africa. Twice. Then, he'd found plenty of excuses for not coming back for more. She'd hated it, but understood. If there was going to be an 'us,' then they had to like each other first, right?

This time, it had been just the two of them. In her bed. And no old ghosts, no reminders, were lying in wait for the wrong word, the wrong move. It was just them. She almost laughed as he pushed his head into her neck. Buffy and Spike. How lame was that? Maybe his name should go first.

Sex between them had always been something of a performance, too. He did it to her, she did it to him. Every once in a while, they did it together, which had been enough to send her screaming into a straitjacket in an alternate reality.

The real problem was, it had never been as good, meant as much, as the first time in that abandoned building. That first time hadn't been just sex. And not all the bravado in the world, from him or from her, could change that. It had scared her to death.

And this time, it was really different. Because her mind hadn't shut down - and neither had her heart. And the sex in the empty building paled in comparison. Finally.

She loved him and she couldn't pull him into her far enough. Technically, this time, there'd been no foreplay at all. Unless you counted the last six months. The last three years. Or longer. She tried not to think about how far back this went.

He pulled back and looked at her. "What?"

"Just thinking."

He turned over on his back, looking at a brown mark on the ceiling. Why hadn't she had Harris look at that? Roof probably needed mending. Not that it rained much in SunnyD.

"Thinking?" he said carefully.

"I love you. You know that, right?"

He was silent.

"Damn you. Are you gonna make me say it again?"

"Maybe. Thinkin' about it. I like the way you say it. Been waiting to hear you say it. Few more times won't hurt."

She got up on her elbow and looked down at him, eyes fierce. "You make me crazy sometimes."

He chuckled and traced a long finger down her jaw. "I'd forgotten that. I'll make you crazy now, if you like," he said with a suggestive smirk.

She threw herself over on her back. "I hate you."

This time, his laugh shook the bed. "No, you don't. You used to, but you don't anymore."

She turned over and stretched out flat on top of him, trying to cover him with her body, skin to skin, cool to hot. She felt him stir against her. They might fuss and fume, disagree and argue at the top of their lungs, but nothing and no one would ever make her give him up.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy trailed her hand idly across Spike's naked thigh, careful not to touch anything 'important.' She grinned inwardly as a low moan ebbed from his lips. He was sleeping like the dead, she thought with a silent giggle. During the day, vampires wanted to sleep. They needed to sleep. But since Spike was such a piss poor excuse for the evil undead, even before the whole souly thing, he always pushed it. Hence the exhausted, down-for-the-count look.

It was getting late, but she just couldn't make herself disturb him. Besides, she'd been waiting months to get him where he was right now and she wasn't ready to give him up yet. And she was a little frightened of the recriminations that she was sure he would feel in the aftermath. God, she really hated his soul sometimes.

Her eyelids grew heavy, and her last conscious thought was, 'okay, just for a minute...'

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hello, Princess."

She stood stock-still, sniffing the air like a predator at the disembodied voice that rang through the walls.

"We're going to take your friend away for a while. You and I need to... talk. If we talk nicely, he comes back to you. If not..."

The words hung in the air. Drusilla bowed her head, but inwardly she was seething with hate. She knew what he was back for. Pretty little pictures in his head. Pretty little slayers speaking soft, pretty words.

She wanted to spit on the clean, white floor. Stupid to try to make him her prey. The devil dwelt in him. That she knew. A sick, twisted devil with the face of a boy and a sparkly stick full of pain and limpness.

Three guards came in with tasers. Her knight coiled to attack, looking at her for guidance. A tiny shake of her head and a small moue of her mouth propelled him forward into their midst.

The door closed with a click. He would be coming soon. She had to be ready.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dawn tore through the kitchen and the empty living room. "Buffy! Buffy!" Changing direction on a dime, she thundered up the stairs and slammed into Buffy's bedroom, just in time to see a bare white ass disappear into a pair of black jeans. Buffy was heading her off in an oversized t-shirt and nothing else, but it was too late.

"I saw Riley," she blurted out.

Spike turned around, just as he finished zipping his pants closed. Dawn didn't even take the time to enjoy his embarrassment at almost being caught with his pants down.

The slayer and vampire exchanged looks. Spike bent down and scrambled for his boots. Buffy started digging through the dirty clothes on her floor, hunting a pair - any pair - of jeans.

"He was near the Magic Box," Dawn explained, nearly out of breath. She gulped and tried to moisten her dry mouth. "He was lurking. I bet he lurks here next!"

Spike finished pulling on his boots. "Or the crypt," he said, under his breath.

Buffy stopped ransacking the floor and gazed up at Spike who was still seated on the bed. "What if he goes in?" She had a sudden image of Xander throwing his arms around beefy savior Riley Finn.

"He doesn't need to find Daniel. Daniel needs to get out of there. Get to Clem's or..."

"Oh, God, Spike, Clem's headed over there!"

Dawn tapped her foot, realizing that she'd been forgotten again.

"Oh, and nice work, guys. More scars. Spike, I saw your butt!" she said accusingly.

"Thirty seconds sooner and you'd have seen more than that. Count your blessings, Bit," he retorted as he ran his hands through his disheveled hair.

Buffy looked at her sister sternly. "Dawn. Out. Now. I'll be right there."

"Oh, yeah. Sure." Dawn said acidly. Taking one more look at the bed and at the two most recent occupants, she flounced out, closing the door with a snap.

Buffy gave the door a dark look and turned back to Spike.

"You're not going."

"Buffy..." His chin set stubbornly as a muscle in his jaw began to twitch.

"I mean it, Spike. You have the magic chip. The *one* that works. Riley knows that, even if the others don't."

"Slayer, Finn may be a stupid git, but he isn't exactly Dr. Evil..."

"Pop references much?" She shook her head. "He wanted to kill you, Spike."

"Buffy, he's shoved a stake in my heart before. True, it was plastic, but it could have just as easily been wood. He could have killed me then and he didn't. Just don't see it happening, love."

The slayer raised her eyebrows. "And when was this? Cause I don't know anything about this."

Spike looked down at his hands. "Right after you ... um, found out about Finn's little vice."

Buffy nodded her head slowly. "Got a visit, did you?"

"Well. Yeah."

"What else haven't you told me? What other little historical moments do you and my ex-boyfriend have?"

"A word or two."

"Or two?"

"Well, maybe a few more than that. And some commiseratin' over a bottle in the crypt."

"You got drunk with Riley?"

"Bloody hell no! It was just a couple of slugs. Big slugs, but..."

"Commiserating how?"

"Well, I may have said something like he wasn't the long haul guy and a bloke's got to try, and..."

She let out a deep breath and shook her head. Suddenly, the whole scene at the crypt between Riley and Spike during the demon egg debacle made a little more sense, what with the massive testosterone overload she'd witnessed. Never considered any private interchanges they might have had. Just like Spike not to mention it.

"I don't have time for this. But this is suddenly a lot more dangerous than you seem to think. If he's already staked you once, plastic or not, there is no way you're going out right now." Her voice softened as she took pity on his helpless look. "Just sit tight for once and don't go all impulsive on me. Let me go to the crypt and get everybody scattered." And get Jonathan over here safe and sound to do something about the damn chip, she thought. "Then, we'll come up with a plan. Together. Okay?"

He sat silently, looking up at her with searching eyes.

"Oh!" Buffy walked to her closet and rummaged around inside. "And you might want to look the part the next time you mix it up with any baddies." A black twisting thing sailed across to the bed. Spike picked it out of the air.

He looked down at the worn leather and back to Buffy in surprise.

"You really thought I'd give away your coat? Your only coat?" she asked, stressing the 'your'. "C'mon, Big Bad, get in character at least. You need a little James Dean bad boy swagger to go with that Roy Rogers white hat soul."

Spike's eyes began to twinkle as a slow grin crept across his face. "Big *Bad*, is it?" he said, slipping into the coat. It fell about him like a second skin. She could almost see the individual muscles of his shoulders through it. Considering fainting, or ripping it off of him, she smiled instead.

He looked down at the coat, smoothing it with his hands. "Christ, Buffy," he said in outrage, seeing the deep new creases down the front to the hem. "What'd you do? Sleep in it?"

She laughed. "On it, mostly. In it? Not so much. Now. Time to deal with the 'brat kid sister.'" She opened the door, looking back once at the pseudo-evil guy in the black leather coat.

She almost ran nose first into a fuming Dawn as she exited the room, her mind still on the demon in black. Dawn looked at her so disapprovingly that she had to remember who the adult was. Oh, yeah, she had it now...

"Knocking is a good thing. Knocking is the polite thing. Knocking is..."

"Hello! Little sister here! We don't knock. We barge. In. Barge in. And besides, you've been boyfriendless for so long, I thought you were gonna take orders or something. Be Nun Buffy or Saint Buffy or... Buffy St. Marie."

"Stay out of mom's albums. You don't know how to take care of them. Spike says..."

"Oh. My. God. Spike says?" Dawn rolled her eyes. "You're not gonna start *that*, are you?" Dawn turned to escape into her room, tossing yet another perfectly aimed parting shot over her shoulder.

"And next time, put on a longer t-shirt!"

Buffy jumped as the door slammed.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

He entered the room like he owned it. Like he owned her. And he smiled. Wicked, evil thing.

"Princess," he said, inclining his head.

She cautiously nodded back, not speaking. He had been known to capture her words, whirl them about his head, and return them to her, full of smoke and ashes, with his talk of science and psychology, babbling like a spring brook.

"I've missed you."

A lie. He missed what she gave him. She took a step back. Not in fear, but because she knew that the little red eyes above her watched her soul. And she didn't want them to see her soul when she began doing what he *told* her to do.

He'd stopped begging long ago. Or asking.

She had hoped he would forget she was here. Sometimes she forgot she was here, so why couldn't he?

"You do know we're in Sunnydale, don't you?"

Her head came up in surprise.

"You know Sunnydale?"

Pixies screamed 'lie, lie!' She shook her head.

"I saw Buffy's little sister. You remember Buffy, don't you? The slayer. You know her, don't you?"

Drusilla stared at him, eyes betraying her hatred at last.

He walked over and touched her cheek. "You *do* her so well. I should have known all that wasn't in my head. I should have guessed."

Her eyes widened.

"Seeing Dawn, being out of this place, helped me remember some things. Things Buffy told me about Spike. And about Drusilla, the vampire who could hypnotize anyone with her eyes, give anyone the dreams they desired." He smiled again. "But you didn't tell me who you were. Which makes this so much sweeter, since he now has what was mine."

She caught his meaning and clamped down on the surge of anger. She'd known sooner or later the slayer would surrender herself to her Spike. What woman wouldn't? Even the golden one. Sighing inwardly at the inevitable, she reached up to touch the big man's face, willing him with her eyes to be in her. She would give him what he wanted and he would go away for a while.

He caught her hand with a twist, and pushed it back, down behind her, pulling her into his chest.

"Oh, no, Drusilla. Not this time. No Buffy. This time, it's going to be you and me. No tricks. Let's see what you've got that would hang on to a man for over a hundred years."

She did spit then. The thought of him touching her and knowing it was her...

"Play nice now," he said softly, sparing a hand to wipe the pink tinged spittle off of his face. "Or your little friend goes for a midday walk. Or worse. You owe me for not killing you the first time we met, and I'm collecting. Now."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy rolled into the crypt, shocking Xander and Jonathan, who were piling cheetos on top of each other to make a junk food castle.

"You got that spell ready?" The slayer wasn't taking 'no' for an answer.

"Uh, sure!" Jonathan stood up guiltily, sending yellow puffs all over the floor. At least, he thought he did.

"Wait. Where's Clem?" she asked, looking around at the mess they'd made of the crypt. Spike was not going to be happy.

Xander looked at his watch. "He hasn't made it yet."

Buffy tilted her head and looked at him questioningly. "What do you mean, 'hasn't made it yet?' This is Clem, the only dependable demon I know. He would have been here *early*! You did tell him?"

Xander stood up and wiped his hands on his jeans, leaving a trail of bright yellow powder. "Yeah, I told him. I told you I told him. And he said he'd be here."

"I've got a really bad feeling about this," Buffy muttered.

Jonathan threw out a pointing finger, "Han Solo, Empire Strikes Back!"

The slayer looked at him in disgust. "Where's Daniel? In his room?"

The smaller man shrugged. "I guess..."

Buffy started toward the stairs. "Get everything together that you need for the spell. We're getting out of here now!"

Xander stared after Buffy. "Now what's got into her? And I thought you weren't doing the spell?"

Shrugging again, Jonathan looked toward the stairs. "Maybe Spike's not calling the shots on this one?"

Xander kicked at the floor. "Man, he is so whipped!"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The big man pulled his uniform straight and smiled at Drusilla. "Nice, but not exactly what I'd expect from a hundred years of practice."

The vampire pulled the layers and layers of clothes around her, bare skin peeping through at her breasts and hip. Her hands were shaking in anger and disgust. It was all she had been able to do to keep from tearing his arms off his body. Only the reminder of what *they* would do to her, and to her little lamb, had kept her from sinking her fangs into his neck and ripping his throat out with her teeth.

"Think we'll just go back to the old way of doing it next time, if you don't mind. I'll be Riley and you be... Buffy. Okay?" he asked agreeably. "You're a little dark for my taste. The light is... lighter. You understand, don't you? Nothing against you, Princess. Just personal preference."

Riley Finn looked down at his uniform once more to check it for unsightly wrinkles. Or clues. He'd had the cameras turned off before he'd come in. Smiling at Dru again, he said, "Try to pull yourself together, Drusilla. Wouldn't want your little friend to get jealous, now would we?"

She shot him a look full of venom, but began fastening her clothes, even as she scooted further away from him until her back was against the wall. The pixies screamed so loudly she almost missed his next words.

"Or maybe your little one has found new friends." He frowned good-naturedly. "Matter of fact, I think I'll go looking for a mutual friend of ours. Later, princess."

He shot her a little salute and left the room. She shuddered and once again imagined what she would do to him if she ever got out of there. It made her smile.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

She looked at him with suspicion. It was the last thing she expected, him just walking up and knocking on the door. "What are you doing here?"

"Don't act so surprised, kid," he said pleasantly. "I saw you see me. You knew I was in town. Just came to pay my respects. Belatedly, cause I've been back a few days, but 'respects' nonetheless."

"Where's Sam?" she asked, backing away as he moved into the house. A voice in her head was yelling 'Spike, get out!'

Riley waved a hand negligently, as he continued toward Dawn, face open with regret. "You know, that was the strangest thing. It didn't work out. Went back down to South America and we just... drifted apart. Sad, the way marriages are over almost as they begin these days. Now, Professor Walsh would have told you..."

"What the bloody hell are you doin' here tryin' to scare Dawn?"

Dawn turned her eyes to the top of the stairs. She almost sighed in relief at the sight of the figure that commanded the landing. Wearing the coat.

Yay, the coat! Now *this* was Spike! *Her* Spike!

Riley slowly and deliberately looked up the stairs. "Living here now, Seventeen?"

"None of your sodding business, Whitebread. And the menacing act won't work with me."

"That's because that, with you, I'm not acting. Not so white anymore, either. Just came by to see if you were around. Thought you might want to take a walk and talk about things."

"A walk?" Spike barked a laugh.

Dawn pushed Riley back toward the door, loose hair flying. "Buffy will be back soon and..."

Riley laughed and put a heavy hand on each of Dawn's shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Really not here to see Buffy, Dawnie." The teenager bristled at his use of the pet name. "Came to see my old friend here," he said softly, looking up at Spike. "Catch up on things. Like our mutual friends." His gaze hardened, as did the ghastly smile that had become pasted on his lips like some parody in a horror movie. The hands on Dawn's shoulders tightened slightly.

Spike realized that he had miscalculated. Badly. He silently apologized to Buffy for not taking the return of Captain Cardboard more seriously. He sauntered down the stairs, leather coat swinging behind him, smiling a nasty smile. "Sure, mate," he said mildly, voice belying the look in his eyes. "Bring a bottle with? For old time's sake, true confessions, and what not?" He looked at Dawn. "Stay here and wait for Big Sis, Nibblet."

Dawn's eyes were full of fear. "But Spike..."

The vampire turned back to the girl, eyes narrowing. "Dawn. Do as I say, now. And no runnin' off to Janice's. Give her a call and ask her to come here, since you two have such big plans tonight." He turned back to Riley, nonchalantly moving his hand against Dawn's shoulder and carefully pushing Riley's unresisting one away.

"Phone works, right?" His mouth was turned toward her, but the question in his upturned eyes was directed at the man. Riley locked gazes with Spike, hard dark eyes with diamond sharp blue ones.

"Sure. No problem with the phone lines." Riley laughed. "Not that I know of, 'mate,'" he said mockingly.

Dawn looked down, hiding the surprise in her eyes. She didn't have plans with Janice. So something was up. And it looked bad, really bad, for Spike. But for once, she decided arguing would not be of the good. She trusted Spike, even if some people, like Xander, didn't. And there must be more to this than she knew. God, she hated her closed-mouth, secretive sister.

"Tell Buffy to go ahead and do what she wanted tonight, Little Bit," Spike said meaningfully. "Seems I have other plans."



Rating: PG-13
Summary: This has gotten really complicated... Okay. Riley has Spike and is taking him to the old Initiative facility.
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

To the Usual Suspects: Chris, aren't you sick of this yet? God, I would be! Kelly, how many different kinds of Riley's are there? Thanks for helping me with that one. Colleen, thank you for always being willing to beta anytime, anywhere. You know I can't put it out there until you see it. And uh, Chen? Gee, read the fic already!!!!



Part 16

Without looking at Spike, Riley nodded toward the big black Suburban as he hit the button on his keychain that disengaged the alarm and locks. The vampire silently reached for the handle on the passenger side door, determined to get this threat away from the Summers home any way he could - and quickly.

Spike suddenly found himself pinned against the door of the SUV, the left side of his face pasted against the dark, tinted window. He chuckled ruefully. One thing about Whitebread hadn't changed. Still wasn't one for a fair fight.

"If I didn't need you, you'd be on your way back to headquarters in the ashtray, Spike. But I've got some company coming from Washington and they want a little demonstration. Your chip is the one they want to see. Since they're the funding folks, I'm going to comply. But don't think it means you're my long lost pal. You're my prisoner. And there's a really quick and easy way of getting that chip out of your head."

"Gained a bit of weight there, Soldier Boy," Spike commented. His tone was in marked contrast to his submissive position. Flexing the muscles in his lower back and buttocks, he pushed himself steadily against Riley and felt him strain to hold him against the truck. Spike's smile got wider. There was a quiver in the man's muscles, but he certainly wasn't hurting him. The vampire was getting back a bit of his own as he slowly straightened, overcoming Riley's muscle and weight.

He felt Riley put all of his bulk and strength against Spike to push him back down. Spike continued to resist, just to make his point. The vampire subtly moved his body in a twist that broke Riley's grip, moving to face him. He dropped the resistance just enough that the man stumbled and fell against him, bringing them almost nose to nose. Spike laughed derisively under his breath, curling his lip.

"Not lying on my back for anyone, Finn, especially you. Not anymore." Spike waited for Riley to get the picture. "Now get off so I can get in the bloody truck. People will think we're lovers."

The man stepped back and reached for the door handle on the back seat.

"Oh, I don't think so," Spike drawled. "If I'm gonna be your lab monkey, the least you can do is make it worth my while." He reached over and opened the passenger side door. "I could even drive. Like to see how this log truck handles."

Lights winked on from out of the blackness as four pairs of white lights shone on the black SUV. Spike cut his eyes at Riley with an indulgent smile. "Back up? For me?" He tilted his head to one side, amused, and pushed the back door of the vehicle firmly closed.

Riley laughed loudly and bowed slightly, indicating the front seat.

Spike got in the Chevrolet and calmly fastened his seat belt, making a show of it as Riley walked around, speaking into a cell phone, and got in. "Sure you don't want me to drive?" the vampire asked with a raised eyebrow. "Don't fancy riding while you're havin' a conversation. Seen the fatality statistics on those bloody things." He indicated the cell phone with a nonchalant wave of his hand.

Riley grinned dangerously. The big Chevy pulled out, followed by four others. Good. No one would be waiting at the house for Buffy. At least not that he could see. It looked like he had all of their attention at the moment.

He cast about for another sarcastic barb to imbed in the man beside him.

"By the by, see you been skimpin' on the workouts, Finn. Movin' up the ranks can do that. You *are* moving up the ranks, right?"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"What do you mean, he walked out the door and got in the truck with Riley? Is he nuts?" Buffy spun around and looked accusingly at Dawn. "And you let him?"

Dawn stuck her chin out. "Oh, yeah. Like anybody can do anything with Spike except you anyway! Besides, he came down the stairs and he was wearing the coat, Buffy! He was *Spike*."

The slayer was not as impressed at this turn of events as Dawn seemed to be. "I do *not* believe this! I leave for an hour and..."

"Besides Riley was...weird. Scary. He made me all... uncomfortable."

Buffy looked at Dawn in exasperation. "Well, duh. Riley's making vampire soldiers for the government. Scary doesn't even cover it."

"Oh, and you're just now telling me? I didn't expect the stupid git to knock on the door!"

"'Stupid git?' Stop channeling Spike! Who I am so killing if the Initiative doesn't do it first," she fumed.

"Well, he *is* stupid. Riley, I mean."

"Dawn, Riley is brilliant. He was working on his master's when I knew him. He was a valued officer in the Initiative. Stupid he's not. Spike on the other hand..." Buffy's tone was dangerous. She turned to a wide-eyed Jonathan. "Can you dechip Spike without him actually being here?"

"I don't think..." Jonathan's voice trailed off in confusion.

"Spike said you were supposed to go on with your plans," Dawn interjected. "I was supposed to wait here for you and tell you that."

"Tell me to go ahead? Like I was gonna listen to him anyway!" Buffy was ranting. "Way past respecting his wishes here. That chip is coming out even if I have to dig in there and pull it out myself!"

The slayer blew out a furious breath. "Stupid vampire! I cannot believe that my in-significant other has just ridden away in the Army-mobile with my ex who has every reason to want him in a vacuum cleaner bag."

Xander snorted in disgust, as Daniel looked down at his feet.

"And you!" Buffy rounded on the Scooby. Xander's eyes widened as he took a step back. "If you'd been the least bit supportive even once. I wish...!"

There was a flash as a beautiful woman winked into their midst. "Finally! I just knew if I listened long enough, you'd manage to mess your nest! Sometime, somehow, there had to be some vengeance coming your way, Xander Harris!"

Buffy turned toward the familiar voice in shock. She'd never get used to the whole teleportation thing. "Down, girl." Buffy grinned at the blonder than blond vengeance demon. "Bigger fish to fry. Got a minute?"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Mind racing, Spike cast back to what Daniel had told Buffy, while referring to Spike very carefully in the third person. Spike smirked. Daniel had been a bit shocked at his run in with the Big Bad.

"... The records are gone," he'd said. "There was a fire, I think. His chip - it was a prototype - and the only one that really worked."

And "...All of Professor Walsh's schematics disappeared. So they went into a redesign. But the new chips kill. At least they do when they put 'em in a vampire that's already... fed. The chip fires, but it's too subtle or not subtle enough, so it either doesn't work or it kills them."

So, the money men were comin' to Sunnydale, he thought idly as he lounged against the seat, face not betraying the wheels that were spinning inside his head. How convenient for Riley that Spike had come back from Africa. And convenient for him that Riley hadn't been back until recently. Else Riley might have gotten his hands on his chip the old-fashioned way. By dusting him.

Strength wasn't going to do him a damn bit of good here. And since Captain Cardboard seemed to have gone over to the dark side, it might be that needling him the way he'd always needled Angelus might be a plan.

Or not...

Seemed to be working so far though. And Spike was not lying down for the slayer's big beefy ex, who wasn't even good enough to breathe her air. Also, Spike certainly didn't intend for Drusilla to spend the rest of her unlife as a brood mare. What he *did* intend was a bit up in the air right now, but...

He wondered how Riley had ever gotten his hands on his dark princess.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy hung up the phone and sighed. "Well, that was oh, so much fun." She shook her head to clear it. "Not. Buffy lectures. Hence, the un-happy." She frowned.

"What was the point of calling Giles then? Don't you already feel silly enough, what with losing Spike and all?" Anya's hands were on her hips. And she had made quite a show of ignoring her ex-fiance, since she'd realized that the wish wasn't going to happen. Which was secretly a big relief. Still, where were the fish? That were bigger? She opened her mouth to ask, but Buffy interrupted her.

"Never enough of the silly. And, frankly, I thought a little CoW help might be in order. You know, government bureaucracy to government bureaucracy..."

Xander laughed bitterly. "You can't be serious, Buffster. The council may hate you, but they're bound to really hate Spike, a.k.a. William the Bloody."

"True. But I had to talk my way through it, so that I could remember I don't have anyone I can count on but us." She looked around at the motley crew. "Which is giving me a headache."

"Hey! Count on me, how? I don't care if Captains Peroxide and Cardboard go down with their hands around each other's necks. Uh, stakes in each other's..."

"Oh, come on. You know you're rooting for Riley here."

Xander ran his hand through his hair. "Well, I don't know, Buff. He did mess with Dawn... not that I think he would have hurt her or anything. Right now, I'm laying equal odds on the outcome, even with that chip in Spike's head. Cause that is one vampire who hates Riley Finn."

Dawn let out a huge breath. "Spike thought Riley would hurt me. Spike..."

Buffy held up a hand. "Let it go, Dawn. The Xanman isn't joining the Spikey Fan Club anytime soon. If ever. But he is going to help. Do whatever I need him to do." She leveled hard eyes on her friend. "Right?"

The steely glint in her eyes made his decision for him. "Well, it seems like if anybody should get to stake his undead ass, it ought to be me," he said grudgingly. Buffy shot him an eyebrow. "Or you," he muttered. He grinned. "So, yeah, I'm in. Why should Riley have all the fun?"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Nice rakish scar you got there. Gives you a bit of an air."

Riley laughed dryly. "I had it last time I was here."

Slowly turning, Spike looked at the man, raising his own scarred eyebrow. "I really wasn't in much of a noticin' mood that night. What with bein' busted in on in bed. Havin' my home trashed. And all for no reason anyway." Spike settled back. "Nice line it's got though," he said conversationally. "Makes you look less like a college kid, more like a man. 'More like' being the operative phrase," he needled. "Menacing. Which is sayin' a lot when it comes t' you."

"That's a funny story. Buffy told me a while back that it was the M.O. of an old girlfriend of yours." Riley snuck a look at the vampire to gauge his response. "Fingernails. Killed a slayer with them. Should have paid more attention, I guess." The man sighed for effect. "But Buffy's war stories...well, you know. After a while, they all started sounding alike. Apocalypses. Unstoppable demons. Evil vampires that lose their souls after sex. You get it, right? Hard to know when to keep paying attention."

"So. My Drusilla gave you that?" Spike worked hard at loitering against the seat. "Good for her. And without me even telling her what a spineless wanker you are."

"*Your* Drusilla?" Riley glanced at the vampire. "She hasn't been yours in awhile, chum. And she definitely has her uses," he said spitefully. "Found out all about *those* the night she tried to take me down."

Spike yawned and tried to look unconcerned, but it was hard. Because Finn had just confirmed that he had Drusilla. "Yeah?"

Inwardly, Riley was surprised at the lack of response to his revelation. "You're not sounding very surprised here, Spike. I have Drusilla. Your ex. In fact, she's..."

"Making vampire soldiers for the government." He shrugged. "You boys were headed that way with the Adam bloke."

Riley's head spun in surprise. His eyes narrowed as the lights from the street played over Spike's face, making his cheekbones and the planes of his face even sharper than usual.

"No surprise it brought you to this," Spike continued, sounding even more unconcerned. "Even with that Walsh bitch dead and gone." He smiled. "Met some of your boys today. Ran outside in the daylight and dusted themselves. Not exactly the sharpest monkeys in the zoo, Finn. Those pretty little blouses might stop stakings and beheadings, but they don't do squat against the light of the sun. Might want to have a little briefing with the boys on that."

"For some reason, their Circadean rhythm is way off."

"Well, hell, it's not like Dru's playing with a full deck," the vampire said offhandedly. "Bound to be some kink ups in the makin'." Well, wasn't this an interesting and oh, so civilized conversation?

"That Dru..." Riley chuckled indulgently. "You know, she's really something on a kill. That thing she does with her eyes..."

"Yeah. Been on the receiving end of that one. Lets you see the thing you want the most."

"Yep. I would have thought that it would have been Sam," Riley mused. "After all, I fell for her, married her. But that's not what I saw... see... at all. I see Buffy."

"See?" Spike echoed his words, mind racing.

"Well, of course, 'see.' A tender, gentle Buffy? One who loves me, says all the right things? Why not have that as often as you can? Dru's a real sport about fulfilling my little on-going fantasies."

Spike froze in his seat, as the images played across his way-too-fertile mind. The truck came to a stop, and seven men armed with tasers waited immediately outside the SUV. Hard hands yanked the door, pulled the vampire out, and placed reinforced cuffs around his wrists. Spike held himself very still, submitting, as he waited for Riley to walk around the front of the truck.

"They'll take you from here. But it was nice having some one-on-one time, Seventeen. Gonna make all this just that much more...interesting."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The slayer had paced and thought, thought and paced. It was getting her nowhere. "Okay, this is it," she announced to the room at large. "I'm going in." She set her chin and headed toward the front door.

Xander grabbed her arm. "And do what? Yell at him? Slap his wrist? Take away his ice cream?" Xander looked at her resolute face. "Fine. I'm going with you."

"No, Xander. You're going to hold down Fort Summers. Wait for Dawn and Daniel to get back from Clem's.

"And I'm doing this because..."

"Because Jonathan has to work on the spell. He might need... things." She looked over at Jonathan, who was kneeling on the floor in front of the coffee table, gazing fixedly at the read outs on the chip. She sighed. "If you can't take it out, what can you do?"

A little dismayed that she had reopened the subject, Jonathan glanced at Buffy. He shrugged apologetically, as he returned his eyes to the papers on the table. "I really don't..."

"Gah! You can't do *anything*? What happened to all that heavy-duty creativity you had last year?"

Jonathan thought about it. "Um, Warren?"

She threw her hands in the air. "Warren. Of course. Well, there's got to be something you can do."

Jonathan tried to shrink down into the floor.

"There's *got* to be something," she continued. "Interfere with his plans. Slow him down, until..."

Xander pointed a shaky finger at Buffy, then at Jonathan. "Wait. Hold on. Just a ..." He snapped his fingers, trying to focus. An incredulous smile slowly lit up the man's face. "Interfere. With the chip. That's it! One time... wow, that's it! *That* time Spike got shot with the tracer, Willow threw a dampening whatsis around him. A spell. Like a field. Very Star Trek, except all with the magic. Blocked the signal."

The slayer's hopes lifted. Buffy turned to Jonathan, who was digging through the papers, looking for something in particular. "Can you do it?"

Jonathan kept staring at the read outs, shaking his head. "He's not here." Then, he raised his head, excitement gleaming in his dark eyes. "But... if I had... something that's his."

Buffy tapped her foot. "Like...?" She racked her brain trying to think of something that he'd left at her house. And came up with zilch. He'd had the coat on. Dawn said so. She'd have to go to the crypt. Find something...

"Blood, hair, nails, something!" Jonathan was beginning to sound as excited as he looked. It just might work. There was a spell they'd used to hide the lair from electronic surveillance, because those cable porn companies could be mean if someone was hacking into their stuff. Of course, that was just a generalized thing. This was a specific spell around someone who wasn't there. Still, the personal stuff could draw it.

The slayer swung around. Blood? Hair?

"Oh. Oh!" She ran up the stairs and barreled into her bedroom.

Her breath caught as the sight of the tousled bed filled her vision. Her stomach dropped. She put her hand on the dresser and took a deep breath.

Okay, she was beginning to panic. Which was very un-slayerlike and very un-Buffy. She gulped once and smashed the choking feeling back down into the pit of her stomach from where it had risen. Then she compressed it into something even smaller that would fit over in a bitty corner. She didn't have time or room for anything else. And Riley wouldn't just kill Spike, right?

Oh, right. Not her Riley. But the Riley that was making vampires...

Slowly, she walked over to the pillow where he'd slept and looked closely. The darker roots stood out against the patterned bedding. For once, she thanked Dawn for her cosmetic touches. No time wasted at all. Definitely Spike's.

She carefully picked up three hairs and pinched them hard between her fingers. Wouldn't do to lose them.

Unbidden, a sarcastic thought played around the corners of her mind.

Oh, yeah, Xander was just gonna love this!

Anya was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. "I can teleport to the crypt. Just tell me what to look for and..." The vengeance demon looked at her curiously, tilting her head to one side. "Where did you go? Did you have an emotional display? Because..."

Buffy smiled grimly and held up her fingers. Anya leaned in and looked carefully, then glanced at Buffy. She beamed, but managed to keep her voice noncommittal. "Convenient."

Walking over to Jonathan, Buffy held out her hand. The shorter man squinted and sighed in relief. "Whew. Good job." He took the hair follicles and put them on the table.

Xander looked down at the table in surprise, then up the stairs and finally met Buffy's eyes. His eyes dropped in the face of her level gaze. "Convenient," he mumbled in embarrassment.

"That's what Anya said. But she meant it."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

She couldn't believe it. Finally, she had something important to do. Finally feeling the love of full scale Scoobydom.

Dawn looked at the fledgling vampire out of the corner of her eye - and up. She actually had to look up a little. His eyes were the oddest shade of green. And he was...well, hunky. Definitely kind of hunky. Hunky with soft wavy black hair that... Whoa! No cruising vampires. That way lay insanity. Still, they could talk.

"So Daniel. You're like...a soldier or something?"

Daniel smiled with some irony. "Something. Absent Without Leave kind of soldier. Except that I'm dead. So I guess the 'absent without leave' doesn't count."

"Bet it counts for those other guys," she said, referring to the Initiative-made vampires. Made in the USA, by the USA, for...

"Which means a tour of duty now officially lasts forever. Instead of it just seeming like it does," Daniel commented ruefully.

Dawn laughed appreciatively and tossed her hair. "So how did you end up in the middle of this rescue mission? And I am so killing Clem if he's sitting at his apartment eating popcorn."

"I like Clem."

Dawn sighed. "Everybody likes Clem."

They walked along in silence. She supposed he wasn't going to answer her question. "I'm glad Buffy sent us to do this. Cause I'm kinda worried about him."

"Well, I've gotten to know him pretty well, and something must be wrong or he would have been at the crypt."

"Maybe he just like... tripped. Caught his toe in his knee flaps and ... hit his head," Dawn quipped, trying to break the tension a little.

Daniel grinned a little. Then, he laughed. "Now there's a mental image." He picked up the pace.

She matched her strides to his as they walked on faster in a companionable silence.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Well. Hello, mate. I take it we're 'off' for poker tonight?"

Clem looked up to see his friend standing on the other side of the barrier. It was like a dream. He had a smirk on his face and that leather coat on his back. The wrinkly-skinned demon had a surge of something like hope. Then, he saw the rest.

Spike had an escort. A uniformed escort.

"Jeez, Spike. I'm incognito here," he said through gritted teeth.

A guard pushed the vampire forward. Spike merely looked back at him and arched his brow. "Do you mind? This was gonna be poker night."

"Spike," Clem hissed the word out warningly. "These are not nice men."

The vampire laughed heartily. "Just doin' their jobs, mate. Can't fault a soldier who's just following orders. Of course, the orders are a bit bent comin' from Colonel Wankinstuff, but..."

"Enough." The lead guard pushed Spike forward.

Spike looked back over his shoulder, dragging his feet. "S'okay, Clem. I'm the one they wanted. You're just gravy. I'll see what I can do. Got an 'in' with the head guy."

"Wow. Really?" Clem thought about what Spike was saying. "Wait. Gravy? People *eat* gravy! And do? Do what? Make it worse?! Spike! Spike!"

Clem watched them push the vampire into a room at the end of the hallway. A place he'd seen vampires go into, but not come out of.

"Oooh, Slayer," he whispered, almost bobbing in fear. "You better do something fast!"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"I've got to do something. Fast. I can't wait around here for a spell that might not even work! I've got to talk to Riley."

Anya rolled her eyes and rocked her head from side to side. "Oh, like that will help."

Buffy looked at the vengeance demon. "What?"

"Well, Riley did hurt you, right? Ran off and left you? Flew off in the big black thing?"

Xander stepped forward. "And that would be *which* time?"

"Shut up, Xander." Anya sighed and rolled her eyes again. "I'm just saying you're probably long overdue for some vengeance. Right?" She slewed her eyes at her ex-fiance and mumbled, "I know *I* am..."

"Anya, I'm all for using the teleporting and messagey stuff, but... well, that other stuff can backfire."

"Well, it's not like we can directly benefit Spike anyway." Anya pointed out grudgingly. "It's got to be Riley-related. And a real wish, too."

"As opposed to... what? A birthday blow-out-the-candles thingy?"

Twin heads of blonde hair swung around as twinnish voices rung out. "Shut up, Xander."

"Look," Buffy continued. "This is still Riley. A decent human being. Or at least, he was. I can go to him, make him understand..."

"Understand what? That you're in love with a vampire? Oh, yeah, that'll put Spike right back in those slayer arms of love," Xander said candidly. "Not instilling me with the old confidence here, Buffster. This is doomed to fail."

"I'm not failing anything. School's out. It's time Riley realized it."



Rating: PG-13
Summary: I can't... Just know that this is the one you've been waiting for!
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

To the Usual Suspects: Chris, thanks for your everything every day. Kelly, you squeal real good. Thanks for seeing the real deal. Colleen, I love sending you the final for beta and waiting for your yay or nay, unspoiled one.

And my wonderful Moose, thank you for that midnight ride through my fic!



Part 17

Buffy walked over to the wall that held the elevator. Once upon a time, it had taken her deep into the Initiative. She hoped that Jonathan had everything he needed to do the spell. Of course, Anya would take care of anything else that was required. Buffy was sure of it.

If he could just put some kind of dampener around Spike to stop the chip's signal, then he could fight.

Right?

That is, if he would. Buffy was still not so sure about that part.

Of course, the other thing that she was unsure of was her reception from Riley. Would he slap her in a holding cell? Or order out for pizza?

Was anybody even here? Who said that the old entrance was the new entrance? If they'd rebuilt, the door could be anywhere above the rambling facility.

Buffy leaned down and spoke into the microphone by the hidden door. "Buffy Summers to see Riley Finn." Well, that felt stupid. She felt stupid. That was so lame, she was grateful that no one was around. And jeez, like he was just going to let her in and...

The door to the elevator slid open. Her eyes widened slightly as she shrugged. Now if Jonathan could just pull off his part, she'd have a little help in here.

+++++++++++++++++++++

"No Clem."

Daniel stood still in the center of the room. "The smell of him is stale. Not new. He hasn't been here in a while. Probably since yesterday."

The former Key flopped down on the brightly-colored Joe Boxer smiley face bed and absently stared at a bright green bean bag chair. Clem was the only demon she knew with a twin bed and kids' linens. "So we've got...what? No Clem. No Spike. Riley Finn..." She looked up at Daniel. "And Clem's canvas bag isn't here. I don't think he was taken from here. I think he never got home at all."

"Since early this morning means that he was taken on the way home from your house?" Daniel peered behind a door that had a huge poster of Tom Hanks as Forest Gump on it, and the legend, 'Life is Like a Box of Chocolates...'

Dawn jumped up, hair swinging. "Okay, we need to get back. Buffy probably needs us. Because if Riley is doing all that..." She stared at Daniel. "Not exaggerating, right? It's really bad, isn't it?"

"Yes, Dawn. It is."

"Making vampires? From live people?"

Daniel nodded once. The girl rushed toward the door. "I hope Buffy can figure something out. Riley must have gone crazy to be doing this!"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lt. Colonel Riley Finn smiled as Buffy was escorted onto the deck. He nodded at the soldier, who turned and left the elevated observation area.

"I was wondering if you were going to make it in time," he said agreeably. "Doing a little test run on old Spikey's chip. Thought you might want to watch."

Buffy ceremoniously looked down at her nails to hide the shock in her eyes. "Right," she grumbled. "Like I did so well in Lab anyway."

The man laughed. "I remember. And of course, with all the saving the world stuff, it was hard to make those structured schedules, wasn't it?" He swiveled around in his ergonomically-sound chair and walked to a large floor-to-ceiling window. He tapped on the high-impact, clear plastic. "See, there he is. Right down there. Although it's hard to see him with all the leads we've got hooked up to him. We'll be measuring everything. Pain levels... pain levels." Riley smiled at her.

Buffy walked forward and peered out and over, splaying her palms and fingers against the plastic. Spike looked very frail and small on the table far below. He was surrounded by technicians. And soldiers with tasers.

Now what did she think she was going to do here?

She cocked her head at Riley, playing for time and praying for Jonathan. "Sam didn't make the trip?"

Riley sighed and returned to the chair. "I'm glad you were all so impressed. No. Sam's gone. Decommissioned and somewhere in Asia doing Peace Corps type work."

"Still fighting the good fight then. And you? Gave up the good fight?"

He ignored the sarcasm. "This place was just tottering along, barely funded, until I came back. I looked around last trip and knew I had just the thing to put it back on its feet."

"Which was..."

"Well, first, you have to understand that I'd already put a feather in my cap and lettuce on my chest with the whole New York thing."

"Feather. Lettuce. Check. New York thing? Not so checked." She nodded as if humoring him.

"The Bezuine demons. I found them in South America and came up with a way to introduce them into the sewers in New York," he boasted. "Incidence of infant bites is practically nil at this point."

"But that was..."

"The Doctor? And no, Buff. That was me. Not the doctor part, but the demon answer to sewer rats. He got the idea from some rumors that we planted back here. Quite the entrepreneur, your Clem. He's around here somewhere. Not much to look at though. We supplied the eggs. They weren't the right ones, but..."

"You set Spike up."

"The connections were there. And I've always had a soft spot for your old lovers."

A tone sounded. Riley put up a hand to forestall Buffy's reply.

Riley looked at Buffy apologetically. "Sorry, Buff, but we'll have time for old home week later. Need to get started here. I have company coming from Washington, and I want to be ready with a little show and tell."

Buffy turned and looked back down at Spike from twenty feet up. "Riley, I've never killed a human in my life, but that doesn't mean I won't hurt you real bad." She glanced back at him, a determined, no-nonsense look in her eyes.

The man smiled at Buffy dangerously. "Do it and he's dust. I'll see that the chip burns out his brain. Fire from the inside out. Besides, this isn't about you and the vampire anymore. This is All.About. The Chip."

Buffy stood with Riley on the observation deck - thick, clear, nearly impenetrable plastic between her and the surreal scene below. She clenched her fists in frustration. Had Jonathan been able to do the spell?

"We've isolated the frequencies now. Recalibrated the pulse. Improved it, I think, a bit. Now we can modulate it. Change the data flow. Delicately, of course. We want everything working well for our little demonstration. So we're putting him through his paces. Now."

Riley barked an order into the mic. Almost immediately, she saw Spike's face twist in pain. This was a thousand times worse than anytime she'd ever seen him react to the chip. She watched impotently as it went on and on, his arms and legs stiffening in reaction to the pain in his head.

"Yes. Everything seems to be working just fine," he said in satisfaction. A triumphant grin stole across his face.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Anything?"

Jonathan shook his head. "I don't feel any surges of power. Maybe we need to be there."

"Oh, sure." Xander looked at him disgustedly. "Like that's gonna happen. We can't just waltz in there, draw a circle and start casting spells."

Anya rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to make a suggestion about what her ex-fiance could do with his 'waltz.'

Dawn and Daniel burst in the door, the teenager panting with exertion. "Where's Buffy? Clem's not there. He hasn't been there. His canvas bag is gone."

"Buffy's gone after Spike," Anya answered helpfully.

"But Clem never got there. Something is really wrong. We think the Initiative has him, too." She stood by Daniel with a 'we are the world' look on her face.

Xander frowned in confusion. "But why? What has Clem done, or got, or..."

"Hello? Demon. With Slayer connections. Spike connections. Riley's got him and I'm going after him."

"Whoa, missy. You don't know that. And you're not going anywhere. Buffy's handling this." Xander realized that things were way out of hand. He grabbed for Dawn, hair sliding through his fingers, as she strode to the hand-carved weapons chest.

"I've been patrolling with Buffy... um, a lot! And I don't see you doing anything except shooting looks at Anya and bothering Jonathan anyway." She threw a cross-bow to Daniel. He caught it and looked it over.

The teenager reached back in and hefted the sword that she'd used in the cemetery the night that Willow had gone all evil. "He's got Clem and he's got Spike. By now, he might even have Buffy! I'm going in."

Xander laughed at her. "You don't know *how* to get in."

"I do," said Daniel quietly. Xander gave him a dirty look.

"And you're being ridiculous," the Scooby continued, turning back to Dawn. He nodded at the sword. "It's not like you know how to use that."

With a flash, the man's shirt was laid open across his stomach. There were a few flecks of blood. "Hey!" He rubbed a stinging spot on his belly.

Dawn looked down, mumbling, "Sorry. Just thought your shirt was too big."

"Not the shirt. Just Xander," Anya said bitingly.

Dawn determinedly walked to the door. Looking back at Xander, she raised her eyebrows in challenge.

"Are you coming or not?"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy watched Spike writhe against the restraints. His face was almost unrecognizable in its pain. The slayer tried to calm herself. She had no idea how many soldiers there were, or where the Initiative vampires were.

She didn't know much of anything. She heard a thin wail through the speaker. It didn't sound human.

"See? Like Forest used to say. Animals!" Her old boyfriend practically spat out the word. Her Riley would never be doing something like this. He'd helped free Oz, Willow's old werewolf lover, over just this kind of experimentation. What had happened to Riley in South America?

"Spike is not an animal." Buffy's words were spoken reasonably to try to stave off the fear that was clogging her throat.

"Want to see him bare his teeth?" With that remark, Riley spoke again. And the mask of pain began to disappear beneath the bumps and ridges of Spike's other face - the demon one.

"See? Animal."

Buffy winced as Spike howled. The speaker crackled as it tried to compensate for the noise. Riley stared at the scene with a feral smile, saying under his breath to the vampire below, "Not so cocky now, are you?"

The slayer's voice pulled him out of his reverie. "Right now, he looks more like a man to me than you do. Even like that."

Riley just smiled. Buffy almost shivered. "Proper stimuli applied... properly," he explained. He leaned forward on the desk and looked out at the scene below. "You know," he mused, almost to himself, "we really don't need him for this. We've got what we wanted out of the testing. The chip's the only thing left. Working backward is a pain, but..."

"What do you mean?" she asked, trying not to give into the sense of panic that was threatening to engulf her. She didn't even know this man anymore. There had been some bitterness after the whole thing with Adam, but this... this was insane!

Riley turned to her. "I can just dust him now. Implant the chip in another one. Bound to have a bad ass vampire lying around somewhere."

Buffy snorted in spite of her fear, still trying to be the slayer. "Oh, yeah. Right. A world of Spikes."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dawn walked with Daniel, Xander following closely and looking behind him almost constantly. She squinted her eyes in the near dark and saw the metal door in the cavern wall.

Daniel spoke into a microphone. "North, Daniel G."

Brows raised, both Xander and Dawn cut their eyes at Daniel.

"G.?" Dawn echoed.

A thin voice came from the speaker at shoulder level. "North, Daniel G. deceased. Access denied."

"Ouch." Xander looked surprised. "Oh. Guess no zombies get in here then."

Daniel ran his hand through his hair and pulled at his sweatshirt. "Guess not. There's the main entrance. We can..."

"No time," Dawn said in a steely voice. She closed her eyes and put her hands on the door.

"Uh, Dawnie, even a slayer couldn't get through that door. Well, maybe a slayer..." Xander was thinking about going the other way and wondering if it would do any good. He touched Daniel's arm. "Let's try it. The entrance, I mean. Not the 'through the door' thing."

The young vampire was staring at Dawn. Xander followed his eyes with a quick glance and turned back to Daniel. "Hey, if we're gonna..."

A soft green light lurked at the peripheral of his vision. He jumped back. "Jumpin' Jiminy Cricket, Dawn! Are you doing that? Wait. *What* are you doing?"

Dawn let her overwhelming need to open the door flow out through her fingers, through every fiber of her being. She felt an easing. Then a pop. Finally, the door in front of her slid open.

"I may not be a slayer, but I *am* a key. Still, I guess." She looked at Xander with a smirk, to cover the surprise she felt at her success. Wow! "If I can open a hell dimension," she said in a nonchalant voice, "a door shouldn't be a problem, right?"

But the sensation didn't end. She felt another pop. And another. And another. One after another, she felt doors give and unlatch. All kinds of doors. Doors that weren't regular doors even.

"Whoops. We may have a problem."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Nothing."

Anya tilted her head to look at the odd selection of items in the small circle. "Are you sure this is the correct way..."

"No!" Jonathan's voice was shrill. "I'm not sure of anything. Including why my parents ever moved to this place!"

Anya waited for his frustrated outburst to end. "Maybe you're just missing a little thing. One little thing. Think."

"I've been thinking! My head *hurts* with thinking. I need aspirin... or something a lot stronger!"

"Well, you just have to do better, that's all," she said in frustration. "I find that when I need to focus, talking helps me. So if you will just *talk* about the spell, perhaps you'll see what's missing. And then..." Anya fell silent.

"Oh." She looked at Jonathan. "Duty calls."

The young man's eyes went wide as Anya disappeared.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy had watched Spike fight against his restraints for...seven minutes. Only seven minutes? It was the longest seven minutes of her life. Every move he'd made had seemed like it was in slow motion. And her brain was moving at the same speed. There was no talking to Riley. And Buffy had been fresh out of options at the first threat.

"We could just get it over with. Test out the far end range of the chip."

Riley kept rambling on, making Buffy more and more frightened of what the man would do.

"... go all the way. We've got everything in place to measure it. Just fire it up and watch him fry," he crooned to no one in particular. "Then, we make more chips." Making his decision, Riley leaned down toward the microphone again.

In desperation, Buffy finally made her move. And took great pleasure in it. She slammed her ex against the clear plastic, looking out past his bulky frame at the scene outside.

The sight of Spike's continued anguish made her even more furious. She looked at Riley with hatred, almost snarling, drawing her hand back to punch him in the face. "You know what, Riley? I wish that damn chip was in my hand right now. Just so I could shove it up your ass!"

Buffy shuddered as something moved inside her fist. Her eyes widened in surprise. The howls stopped. She backed away from Riley, as her astonishment gave way to grim delight. Realizing what had happened, she stretched out her fingers and opened her hand, showing the contents to her old flame.

It was a black computer chip.

"Or maybe not," she said wickedly, as she carefully laid the chip on the floor. Riley looked at her in disbelief, unmoving, eyes huge.

She took the heel of her stylish, yet affordable, boot, and ground Spike's chip to dust, as Riley's face turned white.

"Huh. Didn't even have to throw a penny in the fountain," she quipped.

The man's eyes darted to the vampire below. The technicians and soldiers seemed frozen in place. A woman in a brightly colored suit, like a parrot in the midst of grey and white pigeons, reached down and touched Spike's restraints. They fell away as he pulled himself up, one hand tight on the side of the table, while the other dragged the leads off his face, head, and neck.

She saw Spike look up into Anya's eyes and mumble something. The vengeance demon's mouth moved in a two-syllable word.

Buffy already knew what the word was.

Granted.

Riley disappeared.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Spike had never known such pain. Somewhere on the periphery of it was the idle thought that he'd been a nancy-boy ever complaining about it before. He felt like his brain was swelling in his skull and running out his ears, the ducts of his eyes, his mouth, his nose...

Oh, yes, this was going to kill him. Or leave him a vegetable. Or leave him a vegetable as it killed him.

Once again, 'impulsive' had gotten him in trouble. He just hadn't realized how far Finn would go. He made a silent apology to Buffy for not paying attention. Another one. He'd spend eternity apologizing to her. If there was an eternity for a creature like him.

Probably not. Just dust. Ashes.

And Dru. He hadn't helped Dru. Hadn't even seen her. She was here somewhere, just like Clem was. Trapped. A prisoner.

He felt himself go into gameface as the pain worsened. Worsened?

How the bloody hell could it get worse?

Suddenly, he was beyond it. The pain was somewhere over and off to the left and his thoughts were clear. A lost soul. That was Riley Finn. And all the vampires. More lost ones, just like Daniel, who hadn't chosen as Spike had. They'd been made to be used. Finn had given them the means to do it.

And for Drusilla, what could be worse than to have to wear her rival's face over and over to fulfill the fantasies of someone even crazier than she was?

God, what that wanker had done, how he'd used them all! Even Buffy. The woman the git said he'd loved.

Absently, Spike realized that his ears were splitting with white noise. A constant howling sound rose and fell, like being in the eye of a hurricane at sea. He hoped he'd be dust soon. And he hoped Buffy would never know what happened here.

Suddenly, he felt himself slam back down into his body. It echoed with the pain in his head. Every muscle in his body screamed, striving toward release.

A hand touched his head, trailed across his chest and legs, as small fingers fumbled at the restraints. He was free. And he realized, really free, for the first time in four years.

The chip was gone. He could feel its absence. There was just a steady ache where it had been.

He opened his eyes, to a pair of soft ones. Not Buffy's, of course, but full of warmth. Even surrounded by her vengeance demon face. And as he pulled himself up to a sitting position to face Anya and dragged the wires away, one thought came to mind.

Very deliberately, he locked eyes with Anya. "I wish Drusilla would kill that bastard," he said hoarsely.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Ah, if words could make wishes come true...
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

As always, this is to The Usual Suspects: Chris, Kelly, stubborn Chen. And of course, to Colleen, whose Damphyr was the first fanfic I ever read.

Unfortunately, I do not expect to see this scene in Season 7.



Part 18

Her eyes opened in surprise. An excited shiver raced through her. She raised a finger to her lips as her knight stirred beside her. It was time to play now. New rules. The pixies had told her.

She waited, body poised to leap from the bed and dance in the light, arms swinging in freedom. Freedom!

Her nose tasted the still air. Not yet, not yet.

But it would be soon. She could feel the power swirl, its colors beckoning to her. Her beautiful one waited with her, for what he did not know. Then, he would see. He was as still as death.

She hummed softly to soothe him, her head moving slightly in time to the old aria like a charmed snake.

Snakes were very beautiful.

Ah.

He was there now, reeling like a clown at a carnivale. She clapped her hands and made a face at the winking red lights in the ceiling. Stuck out her tongue. The black hole that had been her soul was filled with a welcome chilliness. She was free again. The pixies had told her.

As if in answer, the door clicked and fell open slightly. She flung herself at her devil. The evil one opened his mouth, put a hand up in fear.

Snick.

Like a switchblade, her fingernail skimmed his wrist. She watched in satisfaction as the blood welled up and poured out. His other hand clenched around the cut. His mouth was a round 'o.'

More. And oh, to bathe in it! She wished she could slather that red paint across her breasts, between her legs, her back her arms, her face. Everywhere he had corrupted with his filthy grunts and grasping hands.

Her next slash was to the artery at the left side of his neck. A negligent sweep back with the same hand severed the right. The blood spurted. She stepped back, as if suddenly afraid he would infect her with sickness. She could smell it in him. The air was thick with it, as it whirled around her.

Continuing to slash away, she followed him down as he fell to his knees, cutting away at every major artery she could reach. At his chest. Reached for his heart. All with the fingers of her right hand.

Oh, so elegant death could be. At least for the giver of it. Life flowed into death. So it had always been. Except for those such as her.

Finally, he slumped to the floor, gurgling like a springtime brook. His legs twisted behind him. Unnatural could be so natural. She knelt beside him as the blood spread around him. She pulled up her skirt like an old farm wife to keep it from staining with the vicious fluid that she suspected ran as acid through his veins.

Drusilla's partner appeared at her side, kneeling as she was, almost in supplication. His hair was golden in the stark light. He reached forward to touch the blood.

Nasty, tainted poison.

She slapped his hand away and thumped his nose. He backed off, looking at her in confusion.

"Sick blood," she hissed in explanation. "Like burning rags in a coal fire. Fit only to be washed away, my lamb. Washed and then scrubbed with mama's lye soap until the infection cannot spread." She got to her feet, surveying the broken body as it continued to bleed out. "He is not for you. He is fit for nothing and no one. Not even for a hole covered in dirt," she spat out. She looked deep into her torturer's eyes as he tried to speak through the bright red bubbles and pink froth.

She waved four exquisite fingers and waggled them at him, smiling brightly. "Ta."

The princess swept out of her tower prison, knight trailing her, never to look back. The door closed with a click.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: Oh, my! I have no 'summary'. Or even a sexy dance...
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

As always, this is to The Usual Suspects, friends as well as fellow writers. We'll always have Baltimore!

Chris, thanks for neglecting your children (kidding, just your husband) to read over the drafts and beta up at the end. Kelly, for constantly being available when I need a fresh eye. This Riley was for you! Chen, for being a stubborn putz. Hope you hurry up and feel better soon! Then, read! Okay?

Colleen, last of all, my mentor and friend. Can you believe this? Remember the first thing I ever asked you to look at. My God, it was terrible! Hopefully, I've gotten to be a little bit better. If not, please don't tell me.

And to all of you, who have stuck with me through the last 18 chapters, take heart! It will be over before you know it!



Part 19

There was a steady sound of clicks as tasers traded places with tranquilizer guns. Anya glanced around the large room at the expressionless faces that surrounded her. Eyes growing larger, she grabbed at the vampire. Spike gave a huge groan and tried to push off the table and onto his unsteady feet. He swayed as his muscles gave way.

"Oooph!" Anya struggled to hold onto him, but he was folding like cardboard. In turn, he grasped at her for purchase, but only managed to catch the shoulder pad of her suit. She heaved herself under him, trying to keep both of them on their feet. Or at least, on hers. She wished she wasn't wearing high heels.

Spike decided that standing up might not have been such a good idea. He felt like every muscle in his body had contracted. Suspecting he was at least four inches shorter, he looked at Anya to check.

Sure enough. And he wasn't going to be standing at full height anytime soon. His muscles screamed louder.

Much stronger, but smaller, hands caught him on his way to the floor. Not Anya. But these hands he knew well. Opening his eyes, he looked at his savior. He had never been so glad to see Buffy in his unlife.

"Spike?" Her voice was breathless with concern.

He smiled. It was lopsided, but it was a smile. Buffy relaxed just a little, not completely reassured, and spared a look at the soldiers who were grouped together, waiting for a word, any word at all, as to what they should do next. For now, they were holding solid. That was, of course, until someone realized there were no further orders forthcoming from the observation deck.

As she'd suspected, one enterprising soul was trying to reach Riley on his headset. She sized up the numbers and her heart sank. The trank guns would and could most definitely take her down.

"'Lo, pet. Mad at me?" The voice was plaintive and weak, but there was a faint light in it. Buffy almost sighed in relief.

"Plan on staking you if they don't do it first," she said in grim amusement. As Spike rocked back against the table, she scrambled to find a better handhold. Around his neck came to mind. She shoved a shoulder under his, as Anya gladly moved out of her way.

"Feel like I'm dead," he grumbled.

"You are," she commented, more concerned about how they were getting out of there than his moaning and groaning. "Still."

"Thank God," he wheezed.

Right... Still the same old Spike.

He stiffened. "Buffy, the ch..."

"Shhh." She looked around again, waiting for someone to make a move. "I know. And we may have to fight our way out of here, so..."

He sighed, head bent. Still trying to straighten up, he leaned heavily on the slayer. "Love," he pleaded in explanation. "I couldn't fight off a bloody cold right now. And I'm a vampire. Don't get 'em anyway. But if I could..." He coughed. And his head hurt. Might have to do with having something ripped out of his brain.

Letting out a slow breath, Buffy counted to ten, twenty. She realized she could count all day and it wouldn't make a difference. Spike was hurt. They were outnumbered. And for some reason that idiot with the headset hadn't realized that his superior officer was Not. Going. To Answer.

At least Spike's sense of humor didn't seem to be damaged. Well. Not anymore than usual.

An alarm went off. Everyone in the room went rigid, as the elevator voice chimed in. "Attention. Security has been breached. Repeat. Security has been breached at entrances A-C, detention cells A1-T9..."

The voice droned on listing laboratories and offices. Buffy had no idea that the Initiative had that many locked rooms. Well, *unlocked* rooms, anyway.

Buffy felt Anya at her other shoulder. "Uh, Buffy? Trouble?" The vengeance demon pulled her hand up to her chest and pointed covertly to the left. "Those vampires have...escaped."

Spike's head came up, neck cracking. He winced. More than twenty vampires had appeared in the room. He drew himself up and leaned against the slayer a little less. Couldn't very well fight if he was hangin' on to her, now could she? He felt her head turn and glanced at her. He wished his head would stop hurting.

Buffy spared a smile for him. She'd felt him gather up what little he had left, seen the pain in his eyes. In spite of everything that had happened between them, ultimately, she could always count on him to come through - no matter what.

She wondered where 'what' was. Where had Riley gone?

Realizing that things had changed subtly, the slayer reviewed the odds. Only a quarter of the trank guns were trained on the trio now. The others were uncertainly leveled at the vamps. Okay, this could be good...

A hesitant figure eased out onto the brilliantly white floor.

"Uh, guys?" Clem looked over at Spike and Buffy and waved a small finger wave. "Hi, Spike. Slayer. Anyanka, when did you...?" He stopped and looked back at the guards. "Oh. Sorry," he said apologetically. The guards stared. So did the vampires. Clem looked even more uncomfortable. "My door went like...poof! I didn't do it, okay? I'm just sayin'." He shrugged. "So if you'll just like fix it, or if that's too much trouble, I'll just..."

Clem's voice trailed off. He gulped once and headed back to his cell.

A full-bodied laugh erupted from the slayer. It was immediately joined by a weak chuckle, as Spike slumped against her. All over the room, the corners of mouths twisted, as guns dropped slightly.

"Buffy! Spike!" A coltish girl loped into view, long legs clad tightly in flared jeans, and dragging an over-large sword. A brunette man who was red in the face and huffing with exertion trailed her. Buffy heard Anya make a 'humphing' noise.

And Daniel came around the corner, cross bow in hand, the only one in the triangle who looked like he might be a threat. He moved to Dawn's left shoulder, head held high with a determined glint in his eyes. Suddenly, Buffy could see the soldier in him.

All the trank guns were back at attention. And now part of the guns were directed at the newcomers. At Dawn! Buffy panicked. "No!" Her voice rang out in anger and fear.

All eyes went to her. Her eyes stayed on Dawn. She took a deep breath, trying to be calm. "What the hell are you doing?"

Dawn hefted the sword threateningly as she faced the guards. "Duh. Saving you," she called out over her shoulder.

Her older sister rolled her eyes. "You are *so* grounded!"

Dawn's eyes wavered uncertainly to Buffy. "What?"

One of the soldiers cleared his throat, finally deciding to take charge. Buffy spoke out of the corner of her mouth to Spike. "Okay, here it comes. Don't you dare pass out on me," she hissed. "We're surrounded and Dawn's blown any chance we have at any kind of explanation."

"Oh, bullocks. So. Good odds, then?" he asked, squinting through his blinding headache. Already knowing the answer, he prepared to buck up. And almost groaned again.

"Seen worse. Have to avoid the tasers though. If the tranquilizer darts don't get us first."

"Bloody hell," he muttered.

"Uh, miss?" Headset Soldier nodded at Buffy respectfully. "That's our prisoner. We need you to step away."

Dawn tossed her hair. "Looks like you've got more prisoners than you know what to do with," she said challengingly, with a lift of her chin.

Spike cut his eyes to Buffy. "Will you get the Bit to shut up?" His voice was a growl "She's gonna get me dusted."

"But if she starts screaming, maybe she'll burst their eardrums," Buffy mused.

"Oh, right, better odds then. Good," he said in weak satisfaction.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Her love stopped and looked at the wild scene that was spread before him. Soldiers stood with weapons, while those like him stood with uncertainty, as if unsure of whether to align with the uniformed men or fight them.

In the midst of it all, were the six. A demon like him being held on his feet by a small woman whose face was set in determination. There was love there; he could see it. He wondered that those looking on were not burned by it.

Another even blonder woman, wearing a business suit and heeled shoes, was clutching at something around her neck, power radiating off of her, but banked and steeped. Her eyes were wide with fear.

A tall young girl, barely out of puberty, held a sword clumsily, but with such a set to her face that he was certain she would use it against all comers. Her hair was like an aura round her.

Then, there was a dark man with soft dark eyes, young but old with experience and life, thrusting his hand through his hair as he sweated in fear. Fear for himself, for all of them, confronting weapons and overwhelming numbers.

The other demon, another vampire, stood at attention at the girl's shoulder, supporting them. He seemed sure and strong, unbroken and joined with them, yet pulled to the others. He was of both worlds, the vampires and the soldiers.

He stepped forward, wanting to know more, wanting to understand, wanting to... He looked at the lady beside him. She was staring in contempt at the couple. He reached out to touch her face and she came back to herself, seeing his longing.

And she did not misunderstand. "No, my darling, they are not for you. None of those weak ones are for you." There was a hint of stone in her voice. He looked back at the six. They did not seem weak to him. Her voice softened. "The monster is dead. The world is fresh for us, and dappled with shadows of things long since dust. We fly away on the wind, no scent of our passing left behind."

He looked at her beautiful face, sweet with patience and love, and believed her.

"Come, Gabriel. We look for life in death. And for death in life. They," she said nodding at the small group, "shall live unhappily ever after; we shall drown in happiness the like of which they will never know. Red, and sticky, and sweet to taste. We do not fight our natures, those of us who survive. You will learn."

His princess touched his hand and he fell in with her, slipping away through the open doors swiftly, leaving no trace behind of their going.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Xander couldn't take it anymore. He'd rather be tranked than deal with standing around doing nothing. He stepped forward.

"Okay, now this is the point where we're supposed to surrender ourselves into your custody. This is a military operation and you've got jurisdiction here. I mean, these are your digs, right?" he asked rhetorically. He nodded. "Well, I've had some... military experience." He held up his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. "Only about that much, but hey! I get it."

He shot a glance at Buffy, but she seemed content to let him talk as she continued to size up their chances, taking the time he was giving her to review and reject options.

He saw that she was prepared to fight, but he knew she wasn't prepared to kill. None of them were. But the soldier guys didn't know that.

"The thing is," he continued, "is that we've mounted a rescue operation of our own. And what you're doing here, making those guys and all, isn't exactly kosher." He looked over at the vamps and back to the headset soldier. "In fact, I don't think there's a single senator that knows where the money is going that funds this place." He shrugged in a big way. "Just don't think it'd fly, okay?" Xander noticed that one of the officers was looking a bit unnerved. Career guy, obviously.

"So I guess what I'm saying is, your boss has run off and you're standing here holding the bag. Which includes a vampire slayer, who is the Chosen One, by the way; a vampire with a soul who has been fighting the good fight for years now, even if I do happen to hate his guts; a vengeance demon, who is definitely not somebody you want to piss off, believe me, unless you like pus and plague; one of your own guys; a sixteen year old girl and..."

Xander looked down at his fingers, watching as he ticked them off one by one, and started on his other hand. "And me," he finished, surprised that he hadn't forgotten anyone. "A construction guy who just happens to like hanging out with the crazies." He looked at Buffy. "Did I leave anybody out?"

Spike cleared his throat. "Clem."

"Wow. So Clem *is* here!" Xander sighed in relief.

A new voice filled the large room, power radiating from it. "Which one of you is Miss Summers?"

Dawn and Buffy both answered. "I am," they said in unison, turning.

A tall, thin man stood in the midst of several uniformed men, accompanied by a shorter man dressed in a civilian suit. The man in the suit stepped forward, nodding toward Buffy.

"That is Miss 'Buffy' Summers, General."

The slayer stared at the smaller man, whose accent and suit reeked of England.

"Miss Summers," the man said, walking toward her, "I am Ian Browne, Council of Watchers liaison to the United States government. And that," he said, nodding back toward the contingent of military men, "is General Paxton." His eyes twinkled as he held out his hand. "Rupert Giles sends his deepest regards."

She took his hand, dazed. So, they weren't going to have to fight?

The general looked around. "Well, this is a helluva mess. Helluva mess! Where is Lt. Colonel Finn?" He waited a moment, but no one stepped forward. "Figures," he muttered to his aide. "Good guys? Bad guys?" The soldiers and vampires eyed each other, then looked suspiciously at the six civilians that had brought the general into this. The general let out a dramatic breath. "Debriefing in ten," he said loudly. "Stand down." The sound of trank guns being holstered and a low murmur filled the space.

Buffy barely caught Spike as he fell.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hey, buddy. You all right?"

Spike looked up at Clem's concerned face. "Head hurts like a bugger." He groaned. "What happened?"

"Uh, you fainted?"

"Did not!" Spike said indignantly, as he struggled to get up. "Must have been one of those darts!"

Clem shook his head. "Nope," he said decisively. "You fainted. And believe me it was hard to figure that out. The only way we knew you weren't dead was that you weren't a pile of dust on the floor."

"Did Buffy see me faint?" He swayed in his sitting position. He suspected he was lying on the same table he'd been tied to. He got no respect at all.

"Uh, she caught you before you hit the deck, so I guess that's a big 'yeah.'"

The vampires eyes widened in remembrance. "And Harris, Harris saw it?" Spike couldn't believe it. He'd fainted? Fainting after you got a soul, well, that was one thing, but this? Nancy tribe, all right. He sighed in resignation. "Where's Buffy?"

"In something called a debriefing. Since she's the one who got Finn's confession. Well, kinda. I'd call his confession gloating, myself. Hey, did you know that first shipment of eggs wasn't bezuines...?"

"Oh, bloody hell. You're joking right? Lied to Buffy again. Just stake me!"

"Hey, it's not like you were down there when they hatched. And Finn did it. Set you up. He said so."

"Some evil thing I am. Should have done more research. Could have asked the Watcher, if he'd been here. Which he wasn't. Never around when you bloody need him anyway. Well, not that I would have asked him..." he rambled, holding his still-aching head.

Clem patted him awkwardly on the back. "It's okay. And I heard Xander talking about what a great guy you are!"

Preparing to faint again, Spike looked out from under his lashes at Clem suspiciously.

"Well, maybe not great, but helpful." Clem continued dissembling. "Well, most of the time anyway. He said..."

Spike groaned. "Where's Finn?" he asked, changing the subject. His eyes widened as he remembered. "And Drusilla... Have they got Dru?"

"Dru's gone. And Riley, he's real gone. As in dead. Bled out. They're pretty sure she did it."

"So am I." Spike lay back on the table, headache returning with a vengeance as the tension seeped back into his body. "Very, very sure."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Spike felt a tap on the shoulder.

"It's your turn. Are you up to it?"

Buffy looked worried. He wondered why. He wondered about a lot of things, especially what 'your turn' meant.

"My turn?"

"The general wants to talk to you. And Browne. Oh, and just so you know, Riley's dead. Found him in Drusilla's quarters."

"Yeah," Spike said under his breath. She helped him sit up. Deciding he felt much better, he tried to stand. Head wasn't as buggered up either. "Yeah, Clem said he was dead."

"And Dru is long gone. Took one of her fledges with her. One of the soldiers was surprised at how much he looked like you."

"Oh, hell. Drop another one on me. I've got a Dru-manufactured clone runnin' round loose? Just stake me and be done. Can't take the guilt," he grumbled.

"Come on." She smiled encouragingly "No rest for the weary. Riley created quite a mess here and they want our help diggin' em out."

"They put a chip in my head, ruin my life, and they want my help? Of all the sodding nerve..."

"Hey. Un-life, remember," she said smiling. "Oh. And Love, Give, Forgive. Heard that someplace once. Put your arm over my shoulder. Can't keep the general waiting."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

She looked at him askance. Spike hadn't said anything when he'd left his private meeting with the general. But his face was thoughtful and his forehead furrowed. Buffy had decided he needed some thinking time, but she was bursting with questions.

The vampire had been closeted with the general for over two hours. By the time they'd finished, he was barely on his feet. During the ride back to the house, he'd fallen asleep in the back seat of the big Chevrolet Suburban. His head had tilted over and wound up on her shoulder. Dawn was grinning at the picture they made. Buffy had scowled at her, because she was afraid her little sister would see too much.

And besides, the slayer hadn't decided how much of Dawn's young life she was going to deprive her of yet. That little scene at the Initiative was not forgotten. She'd dragged Xander and Daniel into a situation that could have gotten all three of them killed or dusted. Dawn had some atoning to do. Big time.

And of course, there was the whole unlocky door, Key-ish thing. Which meant Dawn was still a key. Which could be a problem if any hell gods got wind of it.

Buffy shook her head. More questions than answers. The Hellmouth. You just gotta love it.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bodies were scattered across the living room of Buffy's house. All of them were breathing.

Loudly.

Jonathan had obviously gotten dibs on the sofa. He had his legs up and pulled toward his chest, a whining snore issuing from his lips.

The slayer looked up at Spike, who was still the worse for wear. Dawn couldn't seem to stop smiling.

Scooby Xander had returned earlier and was leaned back in a chair, with the remote in his hand. The sound was muted, but the channels flashed across the screen.

He was surfing in his sleep. Dawn made a sharp noise and snatched the remote from his overlarge and obviously heavy thumb. She hit the power button and the light from the television faded. The girl yawned dramatically. "Well, I'm for bed. In fact, I'm all for bed. Don't wake me, I'll wake you, 'kay?" Her mischievous look took in both slayer and vampire in a sweep.

She stopped halfway up the stairs. "Or maybe I won't bother you at all." She winked and fled, before Buffy could call her down.

Clearing his throat, Spike looked down at his feet, still dull with exhaustion. "Not much of a plan, pet. Should have dropped me at the cemetery."

"You can sleep in mom's old room," she said quickly. Too quickly. This eventuality had already been considered and dealt with.

Spike opened his mouth to argue with her, but it was too much trouble. "Fine then."

"Spike? There's blood in the fridge. Aren't you...like hungry? Or..."

Stopping at the foot of the stairs, he turned. "Yeah," he said wonderingly. "Yeah, Slayer, I am. Starving, in fact."

She smiled. "Well, come on. Let's see what we can do to keep you from wasting away."

Following her to the kitchen, Spike mused on the events of the night. He really needed to be alone and think. But the blood was necessary. He ran his hands through his hair. Stopped as he thought about the chip. Thought about it being gone. There was still an ache where it had been.

Funny. He didn't think you could feel pain there.

Buffy had hurriedly poured the blood and shoved it in the microwave. When he came back to himself, he noticed that she was leaning against the counter, just looking at him.

"What?" he said, half-frustrated. All she did was watch him these days.

"So, what's the verdict?"

"Verdict?" God, he felt stupid. What was she talking about? Had he zoned out of an entire conversation?

"Chip's out, Big Bad. Had any huge changes in your feelings?"

God, she looked like a cat that had swallowed a bird. The smirk on her face was enough to make him lie. Bitch.

"No." He lied badly anyway. "Did you see Finn?"

The smile that had begun to light up her face faded. She frowned and involuntarily her hand went to her stomach. "Yes. Yes, I did."

"And?" He knew she must be thinking he was deliberately being cruel, but he had to know. Had to.

Buffy turned and got the mug out of the microwave and slid it silently onto the table. She sat down across from Spike and took a deep breath.

"And he's dead. Very dead. They found him in a puddle, no, a *lake* of blood. Drusilla did it. He was slashed at the neck, just like Kendra. And other places. All over really. She didn't even feed from him."

Spike closed his eyes.

"He just bled to death. It was fast, I guess. But I don't think it would have been fast for him. Snapping his neck would have been far more humane. Cleaner, too. That's for sure."

"And Dru? Any trace of her yet?"

"Nope."

"Right then." Looking at the blood in the mug, Spike felt his stomach heave. "Maybe I'm not so hungry after all." He got up. "I'm goin' to your mom's room. Pass out there." Or think. Think for the rest of his bloody existence.

She gazed at his bent head as he left the room.

"Night, Spike."

She dumped the mug down the sink and turned on the water. It swirled pink.



Rating: PG-13
Summary: And so it ends...
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, Voices in the Dark
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You betta, you betta, you bet! Would love to hear from you! kimi37212@hotmail.com

Author's Notes: When I write a fic, I always experience a deep feeling of depression when I finish. In fact, I have been known to drag my feet to keep from finishing. This time, I planned for it. There will be another coming soon. And in this AU.

Thank you for all the feedback, all the encouragement. This has been a writer's dream, because I've done nothing but put it on paper. In fact, lately, I haven't been able to type fast enough.

Without Chris, Colleen, Kelly and Moose to take turns holding my hand the last few days, the last few months, I would have gone nuts. I hope the story has meant to you what it has to me. 'Cause I can guarantee we won't get anything like it in Season 7.

Kimi



Part 20

She couldn't sleep. And she wouldn't be able to until she checked on him. Maybe not even then. She still couldn't believe he'd gone off with Riley like that. Big hero, off to save the day. Instead, he had almost gotten his brain fried.

Shaking her head, she turned over, determined to get some rest. She was so not going to him. It would be dawn in a few hours. That Ian Browne wanted to see her, talk to her. And although she had a raw distrust of anything that smelled of the CoW, she had to admit that they'd smoothed the way.

Or Giles had. He'd been the one who made the call. She missed Giles.

She threw herself on her back and stared at the ceiling. Riley was dead. And she wasn't sorry. Sometime during the night, she had realized that the Riley she'd known died when Maggie Walsh had. When Adam was destroyed. When they'd discovered that he'd had implants and enhancers. The first time he'd visited one of those vamp whores. Whatever had been left of him had slowly leached away, until there was a monster wearing his face. She really couldn't grieve. Not for the monster. She'd grieved plenty for the man already.

Drusilla had just put him out of his misery.

But Spike? Now him she could grieve for. She didn't know why she wanted to grieve, but she did. His distance was something that was still unreal to her. She slammed her palm down on the bed. He was hurting and she didn't know what to do.

Throwing the covers aside, Buffy got up and determinedly headed toward her mother's room. If he didn't want to talk, that was fine. If he did, that was fine, too. Whatever. She just couldn't be in the same house and not be with him.

The lights from the street glowed in the windows of her mother's room. Buffy carefully went over and closed the curtains more tightly. Had he really been that tired? So tired that he hadn't noticed?

Turning toward the bed, she looked at him. His eyes were wide open. She let out a disgusted breath.

"You need to sleep," she scolded in a whisper.

"So do you," he said, pulling back the covers in invitation.

She gladly slipped into the bed, settling back against the mattress, pillows. She made a small noise that sounded suspiciously like satisfaction, even to her.

He gazed at the ceiling, where his eyes had been locked all night. He sighed softly, and turned over on his side, facing away from her. After a moment's hesitation, she put her arm around him, spooning against him. After another moment, she felt his hand enfold hers and pull her arm to his chest.

She wondered what to do with her other arm? Cause it was under her, and it would probably go to sleep and then she'd have to disturb him...

With a barely perceptible move, he shifted and the arm that was next to the bed had its own little spot. She marveled at him. How did he always know what to do? She never did.

"He almost killed you," she whispered.

His body stiffened, then relaxed quickly. Too quickly. "Go to sleep, pet."

She could feel his hard back through her t-shirt. Resisting the need to squeeze him and reassure herself that he was fine, she just pulled him closer to her, wrapping her bare legs in his.

All of her resolve to be patient shattered. "Talk to me. Tell me what you're thinking. What you're feeling. Please. I need to know."

He sighed and pulled her arm further up his chest, nestling her deeper into his back. "Buffy, go to sleep."

No. He wasn't doing this. Okay, so he wouldn't talk, but she couldn't stand the distance. Not up against his body like this. How could they be so close together with him so far away?

Shifting, she crawled over and faced him. His eyes were black in the dark room. For a moment, he looked strange. Unlike himself. Which was just ridiculous.

She put a flat hand on his bare chest, and looked at him with solemn eyes.

"Oh, love..." he sighed. There. Now. *That* was Spike.

Catching the sigh with her lips, she drew it away from him and into herself. She drank him down, daintily, enjoying the soft feel of his beautiful mouth on hers. No reason to hurry. He wasn't going anywhere.

When he finally returned her kiss, she worked herself into his arms with a light twist. And swallowed his groan greedily. God, she'd missed this. Had it only been one day? Just the afternoon before? So much had happened since then. And they'd wasted so much time before that.

Her hand traveled down his chest. Could have been dust, that chest. That mouth. That...

She felt him push himself into her hand. Okay, all parts were working fine. No lasting damage from the chip or Riley or...

Then, coherent thought left her as he fell into her.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Buffy, phone!"

The slayer dragged herself out of deep sleep, and reached over. The bed was cold. Which meant nothing, she remembered. Her eyes slowly opened. Okay, and empty. So Spike had gotten up already.

"Buffy!"

She could almost hear Dawn's feet stomping on the floor downstairs. She rolled over and picked up the phone.

"Got it," she told Dawn.

"'Bout time," her sister grumbled as the downstairs extension clicked off.

"This better be good. I've been saving the world again," she growled, not thinking.

"And quite impressively, from all reports." Buffy sat up in shock as Giles voice came through the receiver. She grabbed her t-shirt off the floor and tried to get her naked arms in it as fast as she could.

"G-Giles!" She had wrapped the phone cord around the shirt when she put her head in the neck. Oh, God, this was hopeless! Why wasn't there a cordless in her mother's room?

"Yes, Buffy, it's Giles," he said amused. "Do you need some time to wake before we attempt to talk? This *is* rather important."

"Hold on. Just let me...do this. Hold on, okay?" Buffy put the phone down and pulled her head back out of the shirt. Untangling it from the phone cord, she carefully placed it over her head and pulled it down as far as she could while sitting. For good measure, she raised her hips slightly and pulled it up under her bare butt. And ran her hands through her hair. There. All presentable.

Not.

She picked up the phone again. "Hi, Giles. Riley's dead. And Spike's chip is out. And we've got more than twenty homegrown vampires at the old Initiative headquarters. Any suggestions?"

"Um, yes. I know. But that's not why I'm calling. Ian and the general seem to be doing an admirable job in sorting all that out."

"Oh, good. Glad you approve. Since. You're. Not. Here." The sarcasm in her tone silenced him.

She sat waiting for him to reopen the conversation. Finally, he cleared his throat. Cleaned his glasses, too, probably.

"The reason *I* am calling is to inform you that the Council has taken my last round of recommendations to heart, especially since today's phone conference with the very complimentary Ian. The Council will commence paying you a very generous stipend immediately. Well, generous provided that you continue to buy your clothes on sale, of course," he said in an amused voice.

"What?" Buffy was stunned. Or she was dreaming. Or she was dreaming that she was stunned.

"Take a moment and absorb this, Buffy. Then, call that disastrous nightmare that calls itself 'fast' food and resign your position. As soon as possible. I'll be there in a few days with the paperwork and details."

She was trying to absorb it, but the spongy part of her brain had atrophied from the amount of grease she'd been forced to breathe in. "But Giles..."

"Get dressed, Buffy. Meet with Ian. I'll be there very soon. Even hold your hand, if you think it's necessary. And Buffy?"

"Yeah," she answered distractedly.

"I'm..." He cleared his throat again. "I'm, uh, sorry... about Riley."

"Um, thanks, Giles." It was all she knew to say.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

At full pelt, Buffy ran down the stairs.

The living room was empty. "Yahoo?" she whispered. "Hey!" she called out. "Good news! Where is everybody?"

Xander walked out of the kitchen with a bowl of cereal in one hand and a spoon in the other. His mouth was full. "Hey, Buff." He managed to mangle the two words. A stream of milk ran out of the corner of his mouth. His spoon hand came up to smear it across his cheek.

In a moment, Dawn walked out, also clutching her breakfast. "What's the news? And - good news? Even better. Spill."

"What? This is it?" Buffy looked around, disappointed. Pushing past the pair, she poked her head into the kitchen. No one except Jonathan. He glanced up at her, as he munched. Did these guys know how much cereal costs?

Hands on her hips, she turned back to her sister and friend. "Okay, so where is he?"

Xander chewed faster. And swallowed. And choked a little. Dawn hit him squarely in the back. He began coughing in earnest then.

Facing Dawn squarely, she lowered her brows and narrowed her eyes. "Where is he?"

"Took him home," Xander finally choked out. "He wanted to go home and he didn't look so hot. So I found him a blanket and bundled him up. He's at the crypt."

The slayer stared. "'He didn't look so hot'... *you* took him home? In your car?" She looked at him incredulously. "What is this? What did I miss? Major bonding?"

"Well, he looked pretty rough," Xander said, embarrassed. "And he had it pretty rough, and..."

She stared at him in shock, then headed back up the stairs. "Okay, I've got to go. Be back in a few. Dressing now!"

Dawn dazedly watched her run upstairs. "Well," she said sulkily. "I think the big news flash got preempted."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

No one was upstairs at the crypt. But Buffy heard quiet voices filtering in from below. She walked to the top of the steps and stood there for a moment. Really hadn't planned to have an audience for this. She shrugged. After all, she was at Spike Central. Home For Misplaced Demons and Friends. She smiled and started down the stairs.

Spike looked at Daniel as he heard her tread. The young vampire put down the olive colored duffle and headed up, passing Buffy midway. She didn't see him shake his head.

"I've got good news," she said smiling. "And you weren't there to hear it, so I brought it with me."

He sat back on the bed, and motioned her over. "So," he said, as she settled there, "what?"

"The Council is going to be paying me. Giles called. Told me to quit my job. Today!" The look on her face was a like a thousand suns. "I *had* to tell you first."

He looked at her curiously. "Why?"

Her eyes dropped to her hands. "Because you knew. When nobody else did." Her voice gained strength. "That it was a bad thing for me. That job, I mean. I remember how everybody else thought it was okay. You know, something even Buffy could do," she said mockingly. She looked back up at him. "You always know. Oh, and by the way, this is also an apology for not listening."

"Well. Yeah." He pushed his hair back. "I do know what's good for you, even if I don't always carry through with it. This time it's gonna be different though."

Buffy was surprised at the nervousness in his eyes. "What do you mean? Spike? What's going on? I..."

And suddenly she realized that there were two duffles, partially packed and lying on the floor. Her eyes widened, then narrowed in anger.

"You want to tell me what's going on here? And it better be a camping trip!"

Spike scrubbed his hands down his face and tried to collect his thoughts. "I was going to come by tonight and tell you. The general and Browne have asked Daniel to help with the Initiative vampires. They won't stake them out of hand." Spike grinned ruefully. "Suddenly, it's not politically correct."

"So Daniel has enough stuff for *two* duffles? When did he hit the mall?" The more he hedged, the angrier she became.

He couldn't sit still any longer. Getting up from the bed, he began pacing. "Daniel is going to look out for their best interests. I'm going with him. To keep an eye on Daniel's best interests."

Eyes hardening, she clipped out the words. "For how long?"

He stopped, hearing the note in her voice and looked at her with trepidation.

"How. Long." she ground out.

Walking over and sitting back on the bed, he reached for her hands. They were cold and stiff. "Buffy love, there's more to it." He took a deep breath. "I wished Riley dead."

She shook her head to clear it. Had she entered a different dimension? "Spike, Riley was hurting you. Hell, I've wished you dead often enough!"

"Not to Anyanka, you haven't."

Buffy's mouth dropped open. Then, she smiled. "Well, you should have heard my wish. The one that got you dechipped. Very threatening."

"Yes. You dechipped me. It was an accident."

"Yes, and..."

"Buffy, I looked Anya in the eye and wished Riley dead. At Dru's hands. I *knew* what I was doing." He got up again, and walked away from her. "Look, the chip is out. And I'm not so different after all, am I? Even with the bloody soul. I wanted the bastard dead and made it happen." He glanced at Buffy. "And I'm not sorry." He paused so she could take in what he was saying. "I'm glad he's dead, and I hope he suffered as his life ran out on that sodding white tile they have everywhere in that cold, dead place."

The slayer looked down at her hands, thrown my the anger in his pale blue eyes. "I'm not sorry he's dead. He's been dead a while, I think," she said softly.

"I need some time." His words were brusque, but his eyes were haunted.

Her head came up. "How much time?"

Sighing, he sat down beside her again. "I didn't take any time when I got the soul. Just hightailed it back here on pure adrenaline. It's been hard, Buffy, but I thought I had it beat. And now this.

"I need to get away and do something else. And think. Think without the look of you distractin' me each and every day. This is constructive. Something I can do. Bully the general, squawk about living conditions and reeducation." He took her hands and stroked them, gazing honestly into her eyes. "I need this. Not as much as I need you, of course. But right now, I need it."

She got up and walked to the stairs, not looking back at him. "You've got your time," she said in a hard voice.

Leaping off the bed, he caught her shoulders before she could leave and spun her around, expecting to see anger and betrayal.

What he saw was eyes filled with tears and a quivering chin.

"Oh, Buffy love..." He reached up an thumbed away the tear that had overflowed from her right eye. He pulled her stiff little body close and felt her give way and melt into him.

"Are you coming back?" she asked quietly.

He pushed her away to look at her searchingly. "Of course, I'm coming back." He looked behind her, around him. "But not to this. Clem can have it. It was a mistake to come back to this. No place to make a beginning. This is a place where things end."

She sniffed. "Ian is bringing your coat. Dawn mentioned it, and they found it."

"Ah." Spike laughed. "Keep it for me then. I won't be needin' to be the Big Bad anytime soon. Just 'shepherd of the people.'"

Buffy looked at him uncomprehendingly.

"Just a saying, love," he said soothingly. "Cheer up. I'll be back soon enough, and we'll see if we can't do a better job of it, all right?"

She lifted her chin and smiled through her tears.

"That's my girl."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Answering the crisp knock, Buffy opened the front door. Rupert Giles slipped past her carrying a valise and a small suitcase. He smelled of airline soap and faded aftershave.

Putting down his burdens, he swung back toward her, ducking his head shyly. He hesitated for just a moment, and then gave into impulse and folded the slayer into his arms. The light wool sweatshirt was an eggplant color and it made her nose itch. She pulled a hand from around him and scratched it with her fist.

Giles reached up and put his hands on her shoulders, pushing her away so he could drink in the sight of her. He looked at her in mock-admonishment.

"Have you quit that terrifying job?" he asked sternly, eyes twinkling.

Nodding, she smiled a little.

He tucked her under his arm and propelled them toward the sofa. "Good, good," he said briskly as they sat. "Horrid place." He grinned mischievously. "Quite gave me the 'wiggins.'"

She laughed then. A little half-chuckle, but a laugh nonetheless. Giles pulled his arm from around her and adjusted his shirt, leaning forward as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

"Now. Tell me about the vampires."

Her face crumpled, eyes filling with tears.

"Buffy!" He looked at her in astonished, uncertain of what to do - or of what he'd said to bring about such a reaction. He quickly pulled her to his chest, because that was what you did with a weeping child. And she was definitely crying.

"So glad... you're home," she gasped.

"Oh, my dear." He wanted to reach for his glasses, but his arms were full of sobbing slayer and he didn't have them on anyway.

"Giles, he's gone," she hiccupped.

Her former watcher frowned. "There, there, Buffy." How long had she been like this? Since Riley had been killed?

"He says...he's coming back, but...they never do..."

Giles stiffened. "Who says he's coming back?" he demanded in confusion.

Her sobs stopped abruptly. She pulled away, pushing her hair back and wiping her eyes. She smiled shakily at him. "Oh, Giles, it's such a mess..." She sniffed, and giggled self-consciously, not wanting to meet this straightforward gaze. "I'm sorry. You just got here, and..."

Giles tipped her chin up. "Buffy, dear, I'm here with happy news. The kind of news that can wait. Your unhappiness cannot," he said softly.

She looked down at her toes. "Spike's gone," she whispered, lips quivering anew.

Dumbfounded, Giles cast his mind back to their conversation the spring before and sighed. "Oh, Buffy..." he breathed. He pulled her to him again, patting her back. She was a fragile little bird to have such strength.

And such horrendous taste in men.

"It's all right, dear," he crooned soothingly, ignoring his personal feelings for the moment, as she cried. "Spike will come back. It's what he does. Always."

The End