All About Spike - Print Version
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Wolf
By Kimi

Sequel to Two Days; part of The Voicesverse

Rating: PG-13 Action/Adventure/Mystery
Summary: Read "Reminders" and "Shepherd" All available at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, takes place after my fic, "Shepherd," which was a sequel to "Reminders," which was... oh, you get the picture!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com

Author's Notes: Well, I've just about worn out my betas and my fellow writers with this. I was going to wait and begin posting at season hiatus, since I did not want to be Jossed outright, but I'm just too impatient. I also find that I tinker too much when it's just sitting there.

Special thanks to Chris, who has got to be worn out with Chapter One by now; Kelly, who has lots of little tidbits for later on; Chenanceou, who is way too encouraging; and Colleen, who is as always, the most patient beta in the universe.

Special love and kisses to SS and the Gutter...and Mama TabRas. I love you all!



Chapter One

The main room glared with light and gleaming white tiles. Rubbing his forehead, Spike surveyed the space, wincing as his sharp eyes picked out a white piece of paper that was taped to the far wall. Pushing out a breath, he walked over and looked.

Oh, Christ. DeLuca was 'doing' him again. Finding this today was not putting him in a better mood. He snatched at the pen and ink drawing, looked down at the comic book style rendering, and headed back toward his office. He wondered when the hell he'd see the hind-end of Vale, Colorado. He was damned if he was looking at these buggering white walls at the renovated facility in Sunnydale.

The dark haired vampire almost cringed when he saw Spike pull the paper off the wall. How had he missed it? Surely, it hadn't been there earlier. His eyes followed the characteristically light blond head, as his 'boss' charged through the main room, loose paper in one hand, a case in the other, on a collision course with his office. He seemed to be muttering an unending string of curses. The fledgling vampire got up, nodded to the comm tech, and headed in the same direction.

Spike passed out of sight and a door slammed, the sound ringing above all the ambient noise from twenty-six vampires, nineteen support people, a couple of extras from maintenance...

And Daniel.

Shaking the wavy locks away from his forehead, Daniel tried to prepare for whatever waited on the other side of the office door. Obviously, the meeting hadn't gone well. Even worse than usual, he thought. Sucking it up, he reached for the doorknob, took a deep breath (he'd been around Spike way too much), and walked in. One 'bloody hell', a 'bugger', and three slamming drawers punctuated his entrance.

Bright, hard, blue eyes greeted him. "Can't find the bloody housing survey! So Ralston's in an almighty snit. Hate those Watcher pillocks! I could bleed that wanker, didn't have this sodding soul. Bleed him, gut him, fire his remains in the boiler room! That is, if we *had* a boiler room, and...."

"It's in the computer," Daniel said reasonably.

"What?" Spike's eyes bored into him, as if daring him to lie.

"You had a print out. I can do another one. Have it delivered to him," the fledgling pointed out, thankful that, as a vampire, he no longer perspired. Talk about Daniel bearding the lion in his den.

Spike stopped fidgeting and leaned back in his chair. "No doin' it over?"

"Nope."

"Oh. Good, then. I've got other stuff, and she..."

"Hasn't even left yet. Early afternoon flight. Won't be here for hours. And you have a class," Daniel reminded him.

Spike shoved his fingers through his lighter blond hair. The younger vampire had almost laughed at him when he'd seen him earlier this morning. Looked like 'Shepherd' had spent the night primping. Daniel wondered if the slayer would really be staying in the hotel he'd secured for her close by.

"You take the class," Spike said decisively.

"Well," Daniel said slowly. "I could, of course. Except this is your hand-picked team. Advanced training."

"Oh, hell. Nothin' for it then," Spike swore. "How did I let you talk me into this?" He got up and fingered the papers on his desk. "Will one of you soulless wonders bleed Ralston dry?"

Daniel laughed, relieved. Spike was already calming down. "And miss watching you spin once a week? No way. You're stuck with him until you do him yourself."

"Ungrateful rat eater," Spike muttered. "All right, fine," he said aloud, fixing Daniel with a sarcastic eyebrow. "But don't come moaning to me when the git has you packed ten vamps to a ten by ten broom closet. I'll be livin' the life of Riley at Lowell House." Spike's eyes widened as he realized what he'd said. "And don't you be tellin' the slayer I said that," he admonished him. "That was.... Forget I said it."

"You are one sick vampire," Daniel groaned. "Soul or not."

The older vampire recovered and smirked at the boy. "Be a good little soldier vamp," he said wickedly, "and you might get a room at the top yourself one day. All you need s'a bit o' seniority. Put a hundred or so years on you. Well, give or take."

Rolling his eyes, Daniel reached in the drawer and pulled out a pair of baggy sweats and a t-shirt. He threw them across the room. "Fine. Looking forward to it. Now. Dress out."

"Bugger." Spike caught the clothes. "Not changin' my boots," he grumbled.

"Like I care," the younger vampire retorted, as he shut the door behind him and headed toward the gym.

"And make sure DeLuca keeps his pen in his pants!" Spike called out.

+

Buffy waited as they tried to figure out what to do with her. Drumming her fingers on the desk, she tried not to look nervous. She was having a Maggie Walsh moment.

Which was ridiculous. She was in Vale, Colorado, not Sunnydale, California.

And that was Spike on the other side of that seemingly impenetrable door, not some mad scientist/bitchy college professor. Spike - just an ex-evil, now souled, blood-drinking vampire.

Okay. She felt better.

Nervous now, yes, but she'd been excited the whole trip to Vale, beginning when Xander dropped her off at the airport on his way to work. Jonathan was supposed to make sure Dawn got home from school, then push her over to Janice's for the night. Buffy wondered how much paying for that she'd do before it was said and done. So did not love Janice.

"Remember," Xander told her, as he pulled her overnight bag out of his car. "Dawn's covered. You just relax and concentrate on the Vale Vamps."

She laughed. "You make it sound like a basketball team."

"Hey," he said seriously. "You just check out what Dead Boy's up to. You're talking about increasing the vampire population of Sunnydale here, not decreasing." Xander had looked at Buffy with disapproving eyes. "I hope you know what the hell you're doing. What he's doing. And remember, this *is* the government that brought us Ollie North and Ronnie Regan."

And she had rolled her eyes. "Like you remember all that so well. And yeah, Spike's such a loyal servant of ... well, anything! Come on, can't you cut him a break? I think he's earned it."

"Just sayin.'"

"'Just sayin'' for about three weeks now. I am all Cautious!Buffy, 'kay? Eyes in the back of my head. Oh, wait. That's a demon, isn't it? The one we got last week?" she'd said playfully.

Xander sighed hugely. "Look, Buffster, I'm just asking you to look past those shocking blue eyes and those sinewy arms," he said candidly.

Buffy stared at Xander. "You really scare me sometimes, you know that? Shocking blue eyes, sinewy arms, compact but well-muscled body." She patted his arm soothingly. "This is gonna be good for us. You'll see."

It was the Scooby's turn to roll his eyes. "I'm making big with the anticipation quiver here. "

"I'll call and check in."

"You do that," he said sarcastically. "That is, if you can remember how after all that Spikey 'goodness.' And notice I'm turning puce and beginning to gag here...."

Buffy set her chin. "This is business, Xander."

Her friend had gotten in his car and rolled down the window. "Only business if you get paid for it, Buff." He grinned wickedly to take the sting out of his words.

Xander pulled away from the curb, leaving Buffy with a red face. Half-heartedly, she kicked his back tire.

"Oh, yeah," she had mumbled, as he waggled a wave at her. "Mr. 'I Get the Last Word.'" She picked up her bag and turned toward the glass doors of the Sunnydale Airport. "So killing him when I get back..."

She had almost been bouncing up and down when he'd picked her up at the house. When was the last time she'd gotten away from the Hellmouth, anyway? Other than the whole 'heaven' thing? After she'd killed Angel? Sent him to hell? She was overdue for a vacation, even if it was a working one, she mused, still standing at the Vale Project facility.

Buffy almost jumped when a man in a security uniform motioned her toward a large, featureless, armored door. Surveying him, she said nonchalantly, "There's a door knob on the other side, right?"

"Ma'am, when you're ready to leave..."

She nodded. "Yep, just knock. Got one of those huge knockers on the other side? Cause this is a really big, really metal, door. Mr. Pointy just won't get it..." She looked at him, shamefaced. "Sorry. Rambling. Just call me Rambling Girl. I just flew in and I must have lag jet. Um, jet lag... And no Mr. Pointy either, so don't freak on me. No one searched me at the airport, cause I..."

The door slid open onto a huge white open space. The eyes of several men, and a few women, who walked in pairs, slid interestedly to the slayer. Buffy cleared her throat. "So just... go in?"

"Yes, Miss Summers."

"Hoo-kay," she breathed out, as she stepped across the threshold. She heard the door slowly slide shut behind her, as she looked out across the white space, eyes homing on the pale, undead faces, as her gaze dismissed the pink, living ones.

There were vampires everywhere.

+

"Okay, so this is so not what I had in mind."

Jonathan held up the brass key that he'd pulled out of the heavy metal lock. "Look, Dawn, believe me, you need to start small. Do you think I just decided to do a glamour one day and made myself Tom Cruise?"

She looked him over and snorted with laughter.

Jonathan tilted his head. "Oh, right. Be one of those mean, popular high school girls who torments the geeks for fun."

Dawn frowned. "I was just..."

"Practicing to be Cordelia?" he said harshly. "You know, your sister was never like that. Never mean." His stomach lurched as he saw the hurt expression on her face. "Oh, I'm just being all sensitive, Dawn - artist's soul in a Wizard of Oz munchkin body. It's okay, it's all good. Let's get to it."

"Really, Jonathan, I didn't mean anything by it," she said, stricken.

"Hey, don't worry about it, kid." He patted her arm, and turned back to the lock. "Now concentrate and see if you can open it without breaking it, or melting it, or whatever it is you 'keys' do when you're out of control."

She looked at him with large, guilty, puppy dog eyes.

Jonathan smiled. "I wasn't trying to make you sad. Just wanted you to pay a little more attention to what you do. You're a nice girl, Dawn. And you don't want to be like them. Especially that Janice girl you hang out with."

He took a deep breath and tapped on the lock. "Now. Think how it could help Buffy if we figure this out. Cause we know you used to open dimensional portals. And we know you can knock out a security system. So let's just see what it takes to unlock this without screwing up everything in sight. Slow and steady wins the race, 'wabbit,'" he said with an encouraging smile.

Giggling, Dawn reached out and touched the lock. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to see inside it. Turn it, unlock it, make it open, open, open...

"Whoa!" Jonathan threw her back, and ducked, diving on top of her, as the lock began to crack apart. Then, it shattered, shooting off shards in all directions.

"Ow!" he exclaimed, as he grabbed his bicep. There was a gray piece of metal quivering in his arm. He jerked it out, wincing as the blood trickled out. "Gee whiz, Dawn!"

The teenager scrambled to her knees, grabbing at his arm. "Oh, God. Jonathan, you're bleeding!"

Embarrassed at her sudden attention, he pulled his arm back. "Just a scratch. I've gotten hurt worse in gym class," he reassured her. By the other students, he thought dryly.

"But..." she said, unconvinced, as she tried to see the wound again.

"No, really," he said, waving her off.

"Well, okay, then," she said, sitting back on her heels. "Got another lock?"

+

Buffy was breathing fast. Her eyes darted around the space. She wasn't sure if she could do this. Everything in her was screaming to pull a stake, a broken chair leg, a ...

Two pairs of light footsteps approached from her left. She swung around.

The vampires looked at the small woman with the angry green eyes. Jeffries stepped back in alarm. Matthews was a little braver.

"Uh, miss?"

The polite greeting startled Buffy. As she stifled the urge to take him apart, she tried to smile. She suspected it looked pretty lame. "Hi," she said uncomfortably, as she looked around for someone live. Well, this was cute. Seemed all the live ones were across the room. Buffy took a deep breath and pushed down the need to kill, kill, kill. Besides these two were the unlikeliest big bads she'd ever seen.

"I'm looking for Spike," she informed him. And how dare that smug, smirking bastard not have been waiting for her on the other side of that door, anyway, she thought resentfully. Of course, who knew she was gonna be standing here having a full scale attack of the wiggins? She sure hadn't expected it. And here she was in this clean, shiny place with polite little vamps...

Who were looking at her in puzzlement. "Spike?" the shorter one repeated.

Buffy sighed, as panic gave way to good old fashioned exasperation, Buffy-style. She wracked her brain for a minute and came up with an answer. "Randall S. Giles?" she said, one hand going to her hip. "Randy?" Ready, Joan. She let out another breath. "Blond guy? Snarky disposition? Supposedly some big hot shot around here?" she said in frustration.

The shorter vampire threw out a name, as the light bulb came on. "Shepherd?" He said helpfully.

Buffy almost laughed in relief. "Shepherd," she affirmed gratefully. "Yes." Buffy realized she was smiling, and had forgotten she was carrying on a conversation with two vampires. She let out a breath and squared her shoulders.

"Do you know where... Shepherd," she wrapped her mouth around the word, trying not to giggle, "is right now?"

The taller vampire smiled. Obviously, she'd landed in Bizarro Land, not Vale. He pointed off to the left. "In the gym. There's a class."

"We already had ours today. He's been at it since about nine this morning." Jeffries thought he might remember this woman. He'd asked Daniel about her once. Glancing at Matthews, he tried the name. "Slayer."

Buffy grinned. Now that was more like it. Much better than the 'miss.' Vampires called her 'slayer.' That she could relate to.

Matthews smiled back. "Hello, Slayer. I'm Matthews. This is Jeffries," he said, indicating the shorter vampire. "Didn't know you were coming. And I was beginning to think I'd imagined you. You kind of rescued us."

Buffy looked down at her feet. "Oh, I think you have Spike... uh, Shepherd... to thank for that. He's the one doing the 'thing.'"

Jeffries looked bewildered. "Spike? What is that? Some kind of nickname?"

The slayer laughed. "A nickname? Yeah, you could say that." She shook her head, grinning. Her blonde hair swept her shoulder blades. "So, where's the gym?"

Matthews nodded his head and moved off. Buffy and Jeffries followed. She heard Spike long before she saw him. And whoever he was bellowing at was getting one hell of an earful. She looked up at Matthews.

"It's not a class he usually works with," Matthews said apologetically. "Mostly he works with First Team, sometimes Second. Never them," he said jerking his head at the continuing harangue.

"And you're 'First Team'," she divined.

"Yes, Slayer," he said proudly. "Going to be backing you up. Jeffries, too," he said, nodding to the vampire at her side.

"Cool," she said, almost meaning it. "Now let's see if 'Shepherd' could use some help. I've been doing some wicked training class stuff myself. Just with my sister though, so..."

+

Spike had been in the gym all day. And it had been a relief.

The blond vampire had nearly driven the fledgling to self-immolation since his return from Sunnydale. It had been three of the most break-neck paced weeks he'd ever spent, undead or alive. Spike was always in the office, pouring over the renovation and relocation plans. And if he wasn't in the office, he was in the gym, working with the top teams. Daniel was often there with him in the office all night and part of the next day, or trying to bust his chops in the gym in private sparring practice, until he just couldn't keep it up anymore. Spike had laughed, told him 'fledges' needed rest.

Daniel had managed to clear a lot of reports and even delve into the psych evals some. Their 'luck' was still holding. Three weeks and the adjustment ratings were climbing for the borderline cases, while the high-end ratings had fallen slightly and were holding steady. Daniel shook his head. 'Shepherd' was doing his job, that was for sure.

The fledgling could keep the everyday routine afloat much better than Spike. The older vampire had a tendency to bury himself in a new report or pursuit and let the rest go to hell in a hand basket. But, Daniel admitted, when there was a problem, Spike had a way of looking at it, turning it upside down, and coming up with a solution. He seemed to have a gift for it. Of course, once it was squared away, he lost interest completely and moved on, but that was what Daniel was there for, right? After all, Spike wasn't army. Daniel had been. He guessed he still was.

Daniel walked over to the other desk, picked up the pen and ink drawing that Spike had laid down, and walked over to a filing cabinet near the door of the office. He smiled admiringly at DeLuca's newest work.

He just got better and better. Spike couldn't see it, because he was so hung up on the whole artist equals painter thing, but Daniel could. Just a few lines and the drawing breathed 'Shepherd.' That is, in a manner of speaking.

Shepherd's second in command had a real soft spot for DeLuca. He was as guileless as a child. Daniel had been through the files, and had discovered that DeLuca's entire life had consisted of his battle with leukemia and comic books. Naturally, his art took that form. Daniel had a drawer full of pen and ink comic book illustrations that he'd collected over the last few months. Flipping through a few, Daniel recognized many drawings of himself in the gym, of Matthews and Jeffries sparring, just about everyone in the complex in one drawing or another.

Especially Shepherd, he thought, as he put the latest drawing in the drawer. Shepherd training them. Shepherd walking. Shepherd standing. Shepherd staring into the distance. The pen and inks leashed his predatory demeanor. Daniel grinned. Shepherd looked downright dangerous in the drawings. Something the fledgling hadn't seen since the night Spike had discovered Daniel's connection to the Initiative.

DeLuca seemed to have decided that 'Shepherd' was some kind of super hero. And that was all right with Daniel, because in that sense they all were. DeLuca's psych evaluations were off the charts. His adjustment ratings were through the roof. DeLuca seemed to have the right idea.

Closing the drawer, Daniel's eyes wandered to his computer. When the slayer got in, he would send Dawn an email and let her know. Because she would want to know that her sister had gotten there safe. That the plane hadn't crashed. That...

Daniel ran his hand through his jet black hair and closed his eyes. This really had to stop. It was getting stupid and she was just a kid and he was...

Never going to get any older.

+

Leaning around the doorway, Buffy interrupted the tense scene in front of her. "Need a partner for that?" she asked. "Do a little demo?"

One of the vampires had been looking down, around, anywhere but at Spike. Obviously, the demonstration hadn't done any good. And Spike had been talking at him, voice rising. Buffy'd winced, sensing the return of 'Classic' Spike. She almost felt sorry for the vampire who was staring at the floor.

Spike spun around. Smiling, he stepped toward her. "Could use a hand, lo... uh, Slayer." His expression changed to all business.

Weird, but okay, she thought, as she stepped forward. After all, he was 'working.' Oh, and the sweats were *so* not Spike! "What are we doing?" Her eyes sparkled. "Wait. Is this that throw you used on me at the house?" she asked innocently, as she twisted her hair up and off her face with the band on her wrist.

Spike could feel all the vampires perking up. Bloody hell! She'd better keep her mouth shut.

"Yeah," he said curtly. "Slayer."

She looked heavenward. She clucked her tongue once. "Okay," she said, settling her weight, "but this is so not gonna end the way..." she started in a softer voice.

He moved in and grabbed her. Had to shut her up. Hello? Vampires? They could hear everything she said. Buffy stepped to one side, captured him at the bicep, and dived, letting go at just the right moment. His momentum carried him a good ten feet.

"My turn," he said grimly, as he got up.

"Oh, I get to be 'me' this time?" She threw herself at him. Barely recovering in time, he stepped aside, slipped in, ducked low, and released. He had the satisfaction of feeling her sail over him.

"Ow," she complained, pushing herself off the weight bench she'd half-landed on. Her eyes twinkled, as she headed for him. "C'mon, 'Shepherd,' you know you want to dance," she said archly.

He shrugged, trying not to react to her blatant come on. After all, these blokes didn't know. And a sparring session between the two of them should be educational. Spike had no reservations about how good the slayer was. He wasn't half bad himself. And at his worst, drunk and nearly catatonic, he was better than this bunch.

Spike parried her first blow and settled into a trading of moves. Nobody landed a clean hit, but there were plenty of slaps and pops as arms and legs warded off the punches and kicks. They'd settled into an old rhythm. He almost forgot where they were.

"See? And you were afraid I'd make you look bad," she said in a wicked whisper, calling him back.

"Well, you might," he admitted in the same intimate tone. "Look what I've been sparring with. Still, I'm up for a go."

She nodded. "You better be. I need to open up." She broke their rhythm and put one in, slamming a hard small fist into his chest, right over his heart.

Spike stepped back and rubbed at the spot. "Oooh, that's nice, Slayer. New?"

"New to you," she said with a savage smile. "But the boys at home have been seeing that one for months. Works even better when you're holding Mr. Pointy," she explained.

"No doubt," he said admiringly. "Got anythin' else? New, I mean?"

Her right leg shot out in a gutting kick. Blocking it, almost too late, with his left forearm, he moved inside, grabbed her wrist and spun her around, so that her back was against his chest. His right arm wound up around her chest, his mouth at her neck. He held her there, making sure that she noticed.

"Not bad," she huffed. Almost simultaneously, her elbow slammed back, earning her the loosening of the iron-like band across her chest. Sweeping her hands up, she grabbed his arm and dropped, flipping him over her back with a snap, and against the wall in front of them. He somersalted in the air, landing on his feet.

Only slightly brassed off that the wall had been the thing holding him up, he crooked a finger at her and smirked, moving toward her. Suddenly, they might have been anywhere. The audience had faded into the background.

In answer, she sailed through the air and tackled him at stomach level, caught him and slung him to the ground, pinning him to the slick floor.

"Pretty move that, pet," he said, nodding in approval.

"Oh? Like that?" she said, smiling and flushed. "Got a million of 'em. How about this one?" she asked, as she pulled him over her, preparing to push him into the wall behind them. He caught at her and let her momentum completely roll them over, twined together, twice. This was a lot like how he took out the New York slayer. Now he was on top.

"Smooth, Spikey," she said appreciatively. She blew an errant hair off her forehead.

"Been practicin'," he said modestly.

"Yeah?" she challenged. "Practice this."

She broke the pin with a twisting motion and had him on his back. He waited a little too long to react. Just milliseconds, but her fist managed to come down on his chest. Hard.

"Nice work, love," he murmured. Her eyes went wide and soft. And suddenly, she remembered where they were.

"Staked!" she called out, still with her hand on his chest. She tapped it once and got up, brushing off her pants. "You are one dead bloodsucker," she said, brazening it out.

"Pile of dust," he agreed, as he smoothly rose from the shiny floor. He turned back to the class. "This, gentlemen," he said matter-of-factly, "is a vampire slayer. You would do well not to piss her off. And believe me, I should know. Try to stay on her good side - if you can find it."

"We're gonna be doin' this again real soon," he continued, in a harder, edgy voice, "so I suggest a little more time in the gym and a little less time *anywhere* else. Unless you like sittin' on the bench," he said dismissively with a shrug.

The vampires stood milling around for a moment, as if loath to leave. Spike decided that they'd have to go to his office to talk. He gathered her in with a tilt of his head, heading out of the gym and into the main room.

"So..." she said flatly. "Got an office?"

She was reading his mind. "Yeah. That's where we're headed."

"Kay," she said, matching her stride to his.

"Your flight?" he asked.

"Bumpy. Lumpy," she laughed uncertainly, a little thrown by the question. "Vampire of a flight. Sucked me dry."

He pushed the door to this office open and walked in. In seconds, he was against a filing cabinet as the door slammed shut, with the slayer's mouth on his. He stiffened, unable to kiss her back, or do anything until...

Bloody hell. She'd hooked her leg around his waist and seemed to be considering climbing the rest of the way up.

His non-responsiveness seemed to egg her on. She pushed her tongue into his mouth. Feeling him clear his throat, she broke away with an angry noise, putting both feet back on the floor. "What?" she said argumentively. "I took you down fair and square. You gonna be all sulky about it?"

"Buffy?" he tipped his head to the left as his eyes moved the same direction.

The slayer's head turned and her eyes slammed smack into Daniel's wide green ones.

"Oh!" she squealed, as she pushed away from the vampire. Color rushed to her face.

"This isn't a private office," Spike said, unnecessarily.

Daniel got up, and headed toward the door. "It is now," he mumbled, still looking a little shell-shocked.

Buffy put out a hand to stop him. "Sorry, Daniel. Fighting just gets me..." She trailed off, her own eyes widening, and looked up at Spike, embarrassed.

The blond vampire laughed ruefully. "Fine, pet. Admit it now in front of witnesses." Spike gave Daniel a warning look. "A little discretion, mate."

Daniel saluted, as he recovered from the shock of almost seeing more than he ever wanted to see of Dawn's big sister. "Loose lips..." he laughed as he opened the door and left.

"Thanks, Rat Catcher," Spike called after him. "Be out in a bit."

As the door clicked shut, Buffy turned back to Spike. "Protecting my rep? After all the times you've wanted to blow it wide open? Drag me kicking and screaming out of the closet?"

"Things are different now," he said abruptly, as he turned to his desk.

"Well, yes, they are," she chuckled. "First of all, everyone already knows."

"Not everyone," he said tautly.

She pulled the elastic band out of her hair and ran her fingers through it. "Everyone who matters," she commented dryly.

The sound of his blow to the surface of the desk startled her. He stared at his clenched fist. "No. Not *everyone* who matters!" He pointed toward the door. "*They* matter, Buffy. And the last thing I need is them trollin' the Bronze for a live honey!"

Her eyes widened as she realized what he was saying.

"We're settin' a precedent here," he continued. "S'Dangerous. That is, if they find out. Daniel's already questioned it once. But he'll keep his gob shut. This has to stay between us, Buffy."

"We're back to sneaking around?"

He sighed in frustration as he pushed his hand through his hair and sat back on the edge of the desk. "You got a better idea, Slayer? Be stayin' in Lowell House. Comin's and goin's won't be marked down."

"You've really thought this through," she said, resigned.

"Had to," he said, eyes clear and honest, colored with the vestiges of regret.

This was the Spike she remembered. The one who had come back from Africa and sat in a chair for months worrying about every move he made. Sighing, she walked over and put her arms around him. "Sometimes I really hate your soul," she complained.

He leaned into her just a bit. "Yeah?" His voice took on a characteristic lilt. The one it had when he was hurting and trying not to show it. "Me, too. Crushin' and maimin' and drinkin' human blood really helped knock down a bloke's stress level," he said lightly, as she snaked closer, fingering the gray sweatshirt. "The sparring helped a bit, " he smirked.

"Got another idea for stress," she said softly, tugging at the neck of his shirt.

"Well, not here," he grumbled. "Don't need to get outed at work."

+

Dawn skipped down the stairs. Today's experiment hadn't had a batting average of a thousand, but still, it wasn't a complete waste of time. There at the end she'd been getting the hang of it - sometime after the third lock. Jonathan might need some of those safety glasses from Xander's job site. She wondered how she could get her hands on some, short of stealing them. Which she didn't do anymore. No, sir, not her.

And then, she had an email from Daniel waiting for her when she got home, so that was good. Life was good.

"Your sister hasn't called yet," Xander said disgustedly, from his post on the sofa.

Dawn froze at his angry tone. "Well, so? She's on vacation."

"Not a vacation," he said grimly. "She could be in a cell, being held by the government for experiments on her slayerness. Or killed by a demon that hangs out in snow-friendly airports. Some kind of yeti-yuppie in insulated overalls. Probably pink ones."

"She's fine," Dawn said in exasperation. Sometimes Xander was so anal. "Got there fine. No demonic interaction, except with the object of her visit. Even did a training class, so..."

Xander slowly turned his head and looked at Dawn piercingly. "She called? I didn't hear the phone."

Busted. "Uh, no, no phone. Email," Dawn said nervously.

"Buffy 'No Computers' Summers sent you an email?" He put the 'no computers' in air quotes.

"Not Buffy," she said quickly. "Oh, you know how useless Buffy is with things that are all pluggy into walls," she said, stalling. Dawn had a sudden thought. "Spike emailed me."

"What? And that's supposed to make me feel better?"

"Well. Yeah."

Xander shook his head. Sometimes he could hear the Spike influence oozing out of the Summers girls. Should have let him stake himself when he wanted to so bad. Even held the stake. Or landed that axe, or...

"But what if he's in on it?" he said quickly. Dawn shot him an evil look. "Okay, okay," he said, warding off her evil eye with crossed fingers. "But email from the chipless wonder?"

"Hey, Spike is email-friendly! You don't know anything about him, Xander. You really don't."

"So what did he say?" he asked suspiciously.

"Buffy's fine. Got there fine. Did a training class. Kicked Spike's ass," she watched Xander's slow grin spread across his face. "Yada, yada. No big."

"She kicked Spike's ass?" he said, chuckling softly.

"Well, duh. Slayer, right?"

He sat back with a satisfied smile and turned the volume up on the television. "That's my girl," he muttered.

+

Buffy stretched her legs in the passenger seat of the black truck, and patted her stomach. "I could get used to this whole out to dinner thing."

"Yeah, well, don't," Spike groused, as he fidgeted in the seat. "Sunnyhell's smaller than Vale. And they know us there. Can't be showin' our faces all over the place. Gonna be delivery from here on."

"We could drive up the coast," she said helpfully.

He almost jerked the truck off the road. His eyes narrowed, as he looked at her. "Wait, when did you get all 'girlfriend' about this?

"Um, about the time I realized I was stuck with you?" she retorted nastily. "Makin' lemonade here," she said in a smart-ass tone, a little stung.

"Oh, nice," he said dryly, slowly raising the scarred eyebrow. "Thanks ever so, Slayer. Lemonade," he repeated in a sarcastic tone. He drove silently for two blocks. "Well, not really the boyfriend type, y'know."

She laughed at him. "Really? Could have fooled... well, everyone we know. It's not like you're the love and leave 'em type."

"Well, no. But I *could* be," he said gruffly.

"Oh, sure. Right. You've been trailing around behind me for years. Drusilla before that. Oh, yeah, and *Harmony*, 'Blondie Bear,'" she teased.

"That's a reminder I could do without. I was a bloody bastard to that one." He shook his head. "One I'd like to do over, because I wouldn't."

"So," she said settling back against the seat. "What can we do now? Besides go back to the hotel?"

He looked over at her appraisingly. "There's bars," he ventured.

"Anything good?"

"Well, nothing with mirrors, cause, well, don't like the looks I get from the other patrons. Limits us somewhat." He smiled apologetically. "There is a right dreadful place, all mangy, dead animals on the walls. Not a piece of glass in the place, though, so it works."

"Eww. So not into deer head lodge-look. So ten years ago - or longer. Anything else?"

"Well," he drew the word out slowly, and slid his eyes to hers.

"What?" she said, interested.

"There is this other place," he said slowly, fixing his eyes on the road. "Off the beaten path."

"Like a motorcycle bar or something?" she prodded.

"Well, kind of," he said carefully. Then, he blurted it out. "But more like a demon bar. Not really dressed for it," he rushed on, "more a 'leathers' place, but if we get in a spot, well, hell, we can fight our way out."

Buffy stared at her hands as a slow smile spread across her face. "You know, you really are bad. Maybe not evil, but..."

"Well, yeah," he said testily. "But you knew that, right? And it's not like we're gonna kill anythin' - unless they try to kill us, anyway. Just have a couple of drinks." He looked over at her. "Probably none for you, missy," he said sternly. "Play a little pool, toss a few darts, talk..." His voice trailed off, waiting for her to reject the idea.

She sat there, remembering a previous visit to a demon bar. She'd had fun. Maybe. She'd forgotten a lot of it, but she did remember one thing. "Kitten poker?"

"I'm off it," he said swiftly, shaking his head. "Cross my unbeating heart."

She turned to him, teeth flashing in the dim light. "Let's go."

He looked over at her, eyes sparkling, and smiled devilishly. "We're there, Summers. Give me twenty, and we're there."



For Tabula Rasa, Spike's Salvation, The Gutter, and Stuart Immonen, who gave me DeLuca.

Rating: PG-13 Action/Adventure/Mystery
Summary: Spike prepares the Vale Project vampires for their return to Sunnydale and the old Initiative facility. Buffy has come to Vale to 'work' with him (and have a short vacation). They are headed to a demon bar outside town. Oh, Lord...
Read "Reminders" and "Shepherd" All available at Chris' site "Amare, Dare, Pardonare"
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, maybe even 8, by now, which takes place after my fic, "Shepherd," which was a sequel to "Reminders," which was... oh, you get the picture!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com
Author's Notes: Although I had already mentioned one of the vamps who had an inclination for drawing and painting in "Shepherd," the character did not come to life for me until I saw a drawing that one of Colleen's friends, an illustrator named Stuart Immonen, gave her. His Spike is in the Photos file at Spike's Salvation at http://photos.groups.yahoo.com/group/SpikesSalvation/lst
Because of that drawing, DeLuca became real.
Special thanks to Chris, who is betaing me and just about every one else, as well as working to make the new Troika archive work; Kelly, whose yard-mowing brainstorm named this fic; Chenanceou, who has developed a bad case of Daniel love; and Colleen, whose betas are always a delight, and so on the mark.



Chapter Two

Spike handed Buffy a pool stick. He tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow in anticipation of her approval.

Hefting the cue, she shot him a look, but he'd already turned back to the rack and was choosing a stick of his own. She narrowed her eyes. "How the hell do you do that?"

"What?" he said innocently, turning back to her. "Oh." He turned back to his perusal of the pool cues. "S'good, then?" he asked absently, as if not really needing an answer.

She let out a 'hmmph'. "Yes. Of *course*. You always know..."

"What you need?" he finished for her, lips twisted ruefully. "Well, yeah. Should by now, I reckon."

A smile played at the corners of the slayer's mouth, as she looked around the bar at the motley collection of demons, in various stages of inebriation. "Pretty sad when I feel more at home in a place like this than I do at the Bronze."

"Gettin' a little old for the Bronze, Buffy," he pointed out sagely. "That's more the Bit's thing now," he pointed out. "Ones your age still goin' have pap for brains. Not that I don't enjoy it now and again, but..." He had a sudden thought and looked at her warningly. "And this *isn't* home. This bunch doesn't know you from any foolish bint in off the street," he admonished, as he began racking the balls.

"Yeah, yeah," she said, still looking around. She wasn't uncomfortable. Not really, but all of a sudden it seemed important to get into the bar 'swing.' Finally, her eyes landed on him again. "I want a drink. Don't you want a drink?"

Spike cut his eyes at her. "A drink? For you?" He barked a short laugh. "Been through this once, Slayer. Don't want to be cleaning up my shoes here."

She made a face. This was her vacation, dammit. "I think I can handle a drink," she said curtly.

Laughing derisively, the vampire looked her up and down. "*A* drink isn't the problem, love. And that noise you make is irritating as hell."

"If I wanted to vacation with my dad, I'd be in L.A.," she said nastily.

He considered what she was saying. And he owed her a vacation. "What about wine?" he said helpfully.

She grimaced. Couldn't let go on wine much. Unless you had a whole bunch. "Well..."

"And wine it is," he said decisively.

The slayer stuck out her lower lip.

Spike handed her a ball. "You rack 'em. I'll be right back. No poutin', stay put, and don't start anything. Like to finish this night out with no bloodshed."

She rolled her eyes. "Fine, *Giles*," she said sarcastically. This was getting ridiculous!

Spike gave her a dark look and headed toward the bar.

"Spoilsport," she muttered, just loud enough for vampire hearing to pick up. He heard the clunk of the pool balls as she continued racking them.

The wine she'd had with dinner had definitely taken the edge of her sarcastic quips. That could be good or bad. Spike walked up to the bar and ordered a glass of wine and a bourbon. There was talking to be done tonight, but not yet. For once, Buffy was going to get her vacation - or a bit of one, anyway.

He headed back with the glasses, after generously tipping the barman. She was leaning on the stick, waiting impatiently. Her eyes lightened when she saw him, then darkened. "Where's the rest?" She asked, looking behind him.

Puzzled, he stopped. "The rest of what?"

"The bottle," she said, taking the wine from him and putting it to her lips. She looked at him over the rim of the glass with sparkling eyes.

"Oh, bloody hell," he said, quaffing the bourbon in one slug. He slammed the glass down on a nearby table. "Is this what we're doin' tonight, then?"

She grinned.

He threw his hands in the air, and headed back to the bar without another word. The healthy tip he'd left insured that he was noticed faster than several others and soon he was on his way back to the quiet corner with a chilled bottle of wine and another bourbon. He'd decided that two or three was his limit tonight, since the slayer seemed determined to tie one on.

As he got within view of the pool table, he stopped stock-still and took in the tableau before him. Buffy's glass was empty and was sitting precariously on the pool table. The balls had been broken and she was taking her shot, as she carried on a non-stop diatribe with her new pool partner: a very large Fyarl demon.

"Yuck," she said, as the ball jumped the table. She giggled. "Sometimes I don't know my own strength. Anyway, you got family in Sunnydale? Cause I might have met up with a cousin of yours a few weeks ago."

The Fyarl moved over to consider his shot. Spike quietly deposited the bottle and glasses on a nearby table and put a hand on the back of his neck to relieve the tension. Didn't work.

The vampire let out an exasperated breath and walked up to the Fyarl. He tilted his head in the slayer's direction and said one word in the demon's own language. "Schl'k."

The horned head came up with a snap, as he dropped the pool cue. He growled, as he followed Spike's amused eyes to the little blonde who had discovered the wine bottle. After a bristling moment, he gave Spike the once over, growled again and walked away.

Spike took the wine bottle out of the slayer's hand. "You certainly have relaxed your guard, Slayer. Playin' pool and chattin' it up with a Fyarl demon. Showin' off your best moves to a bunch o' vampires."

"Hey, I had a Giles moment, okay? You sounded like him, and then there was the Fyarl, and well, I got Giles-sick."

"Well, let's get the watcher a plane ticket home, 'stead of takin' up with strange demons."

Her eyes flashed, as her hands went to her hips. "Oh, and on the best moves thing? Those were *so* not my best moves. I have way better 'best' moves. Those were like tame 'best' moves." She looked at him suspiciously. "Which reminds me," she said, taking the open bottle out of his hand and raising it to her lips for a slug, as Spike winced. "You went down pretty easy, now that I think about it."

"Wondered if you'd notice, pet. Surprised it's taken you this long," he said with a smirk.

"You threw the fight?" she said incredulously, sputtering. "That is so totally wrong! I oughta stake you for that." She took another gulp out of the bottle and set it down, turning in a circle as she looked for an exit. "Let's go. I'll show you moves!"

"Buffy, it was an exhibition. That's all. Just a little sparring..." he said hastily.

She jerked her head toward the newly discovered exit. "Now."

He spread his hands in surrender. "Don't get your knickers in a twist. I'll explain." He reached for her elbow and set her down in the nearest chair, as she grabbed for the bottle. "And obviously, drinking, even wine, is not a slayer thing." He smoothly snagged it and poured her a small glass, as he sat down across from her. "All right, pet, here it is. And no punchin' til I'm done..."

"Right," she said folding her arms tightly and leaning back in her chair.

"I'm takin' twenty-six vampires back to the Hellmouth..."

She snorted. "You call those 'vampires?' I know vampires, Spike, and those are so not the real thing."

"Oh, they're vampires, all right," he said, nodding. "Vampires that haven't fed, haven't fought, haven't killed. Now, they're headed to Sunnydale, to fight demons. Training 'em, yeah. But it's not the same as a fight. Hell, love, you know what it feels like to fight for your life. It'll be the same for them. And it'll give 'em a reason to be, right?"

She relaxed and leaned forward, elbow on the table.

"Took First Team out on a patrol here in Vale. Not a lot of vamps where I took 'em. But they did all right, considerin'. Reflexes a bit slow; comes with practice, that." He reached over across the table and grabbed one of her hands, fixing her with earnest eyes.

"But what I cannot have, even a moment, is them thinkin' a slayer can be taken. Specifically, you. Gonna have to keep a close watch on 'em a while. Daniel understands. He's killed, even if he hasn't fed. Killed friends, comrades in arms. He gets it. You have to be unbeatable, larger than life to 'em." He smiled as he squeezed her hand. "Just like you are to me."

"So you let me beat you for my own good?" she said, still a little annoyed.

"Well, I've beat the bloody hell out of all of 'em, one time or another, in training sessions. You beat me?" He shrugged, self-deprecatingly. "Puts 'em way down in the peckin' order, don't it?"

"Do you know how nervous it makes me when your twisted brain makes sense," she complained.

He smirked. "Yeah, I do. About as nervous as it makes me when yours does."

"Hey, you wanna dance?" she asked impishly.

Spike looked at her with narrowed eyes. "Dance, fight, or..."

Squeezing his hand once, Buffy got up out of the chair. "Let's get out of here. There's only one demon I want to interact with tonight."

Spike grabbed his bourbon and finished it as he stood. Buffy reached for the wine.

He stopped her hand. "Nah. Let it go, slayer. Need a navigator on the trip back."

"Navigator?"

"Well, yeah. Your hotel, right?"

She grinned impishly. "Yeah. Sheets I didn't have to wash. Mmm, heaven."

"Somethin' in that. Sheets you won't have to wash after, either."

She giggled and walked into a seven-foot demon and his friend. "Whoops! 'Scuse me. Comin' through," she said, pausing, as she waited for them to move. They didn't.

"Uh, Buffy? Think they're here to see us."

The slayer squinted her eyes and looked up - and up. "Why? Remember, nobody knows me here."

Spike looked embarrassed. "Well, I might have put the other one off with that bit of information. 'Schl'k' is Slayer in Fyarl."

"Oh."

The larger demon growled and reached for her. She ducked and came around his back, planting a booted foot at kidney level, kicking him a good five feet. Looking for Spike, she noticed that he had the other demon up against a support column.

"Just out for a drink with my lady, mate. Not lookin' for a good time - not with you, anyway."

The demon spat at him. "Soul!"

"Well, yeah," Spike said, a little surprised. "Vampire with a soul and a vampire slayer. Nothin' you want here," he said dangerously.

The bigger demon lumbered to his feet and closed on Buffy. Spike reached behind his back, with one hand, and brought out a wicked knife about ten inches long. "Here, luv," he said, tossing it to her.

"Thanks," she said, catching it out of the air, drawing it out of the sheath, and leveling it at the demon. "We can do this the hard way - or the hard way. Up to you. But hey! All up for a good fight."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Sure, Slayer. I really want demon goo on these pants." He pushed his opponent against the column, exerting bone-crushing pressure, and slowly stepped back. "Shove off," he advised him.

The two demons traded looks. The one challenging the slayer stepped back.

"Fine." But she left the knife unsheathed. "Coming, honey?" she said wickedly.

Spike straightened his sweater and smoothed his pants. "Dammit, you are bloody trouble when you're in the mood for a spot," he fumed. "Try lettin' me know next time and I'll dress for it."

"Yada, yada, yada," she teased. "Ready, Randy?"

"Oh, yeah, 'Joan'. Make fun." He stepped around, keeping an eye on the demons and grabbed at her elbow, steering her toward the nearest exit.

"You're stuffy," she complained.

"And you're half-drunk, pet. Let's get you back."

She pushed out her lower lip. "Not ready to go to bed now."

"I'll make it worth your while."

+

"Well, how was I to know there were more waiting outside?" he asked for the twentieth time, as he pushed open the door to her hotel room.

"You and your big mouth," she growled, following his inside. "'Schl'k.'"

"Seemed like a good idea at the time. Fyarl's back right off if there's no one directin' em," he said in his own defense.

"I think my skirt's ruined," she said looking down. "Between the high kick and the demon goo, that is."

"Well, these pants damn sure are," he said disgustedly. He shot her a calculating look. "And it was a very nice high kick. That is, until you landed on your ass." He looked back down at his pants. "Think I'll send you shoppin'. S'your fault. And I'm bloody well not goin'.

"Hold it. You're gonna send me to the mall?" she said hotly.

"Fine. Don't go, then. Christ, Buffy... "

"I'm thirsty," she said digging in her handbag.

"You're pissed," he said accusingly. She looked up in surprise. "Drunk," he explained, as he watched her pull something out of her purse. "What the hell?"

"What?" she said in surprise. "You paid for it! I wasn't gonna leave it."

"Summers, give me the bloody bottle!" There was wine running down the side of the bottle, but half of it was left. The purse was going to reek tomorrow.

"Come and get it," she said with a reckless grin, pulling the cork and taking a long drink.

Letting out a breath, the vampire half-heartedly reached for the bottle. "Oh, hell," he said, stepping back. "Just kill the thing and let's move along to the throwing up."

"Not sick," she said, wiping her mouth.

He sighed. "Not yet," he corrected her. He shook his head and headed for the door. "I'll have a car pick you up in the morning."

She stared at his back, took a quick drink, and put the bottle on the table with a clunk. "All done."

"Good. See you in the..."

"Hold it. Where are you going?"

"Home," he said firmly, with his hand on the door. "You're drunk and you need to go to bed."

"I'll go to bed. *If* you stay," she threatened. "If you don't, I'm gonna..." Her voice trailed off, as she tried to wrap her mind around an appropriate punishment.

"You're going to what?" he prodded.

"Go to another bar," she said with a lift of her chin.

"Really? And do what?" he said softly, moving closer.

"Get more drunk and pick up men," she said threateningly.

"Men? Or vampires?" He sauntered toward her, and impaled her on deep blue eyes.

She tossed her head. "Maybe both."

"Well," he said silkily. "Can't have that now, can we?" He ran a hand down her arm, from shoulder to elbow. "Girl like you'd kill any normal man," he said in a low voice. "Got to protect the weak."

She tried to shrug nonchalantly, but it came off as more of a shiver.

He gave her an evil smirk. "Come on now. Let's get those clothes off you and get ready for the pukin' up."

She tossed her head. "No puking. I'm not..." she gulped, and her face went white.

"Too late," he said in satisfaction. "C'mon, luv. Now." He pushed her in front of him, steering her toward the small bathroom.

+

As he did every time he walked in, Spike's eyes absently scanned the main room. Today was no different, even if the slayer was walking hesitantly a half step behind. He couldn't figure out if it was caution or a hangover.

'Something missing,' his conscious mind nagged. He dismissed the niggling thought and headed toward his office. After all, it was a workday and Spike had decided to show her the adjustment ratings on the teams as a natural extension of their conversation the night before.

'Ah, that,' he thought, mentally slapping his forehead as he came face to face with the door to his office and DeLuca's daily installment.

The slayer's hand whipped out and caught at the piece of paper, glanced at the drawing, and looked up at Spike, mouth open to make some kind of remark.

Instead she closed it and looked back down. The pen and ink showed two figures, engaged in a fight. The male, obviously Spike, was taking a kick to the stomach. A woman with her hair twisted off her face, was doing the kicking. Buffy looked up in delighted surprise.

"This is *us!*"

"Yeah," he grumped, taking one look and putting a hand on the doorknob. "Portrait of a happy couple. Be sure and put it in the weddin' album."

Ignoring his comment, she followed him inside, exclaiming, "This is wicked cool!" She shook her head. "Like a comic book and I'm some sort of Ninja! Buffy! Or Le Femme Ni-whata. Or..."

"A super hero?" he said, raising a brow. Since her 'Randy' comment the night before, that day had been on his mind. A vampire with a soul, on a mission of redemption. And Joan the Super Hero. What a naïve pair they'd been!

She laughed. "Yes!"

"Glad you're intrigued," he said flatly. Spike walked around the desk and sat down, bringing up the program that would show her the adjustment ratings. The newest set of evals would have gone into the computer last night. Those would be the ones that reflected the psych ratings on First Team - the first ones since their patrol.

"Hey!" she groused, seeing that he was already starting to work. "Can we wake up, please? Is there coffee, or just blood around here? My head hurts."

"Slayer, a chip in your head 'hurts.' A hangover is just a hangover," he said curtly. Nothing new yet. So obviously, the psychs had been out partyin', too.

She sat down on the edge of the desk, still admiring the drawing. "Boy, you're a Bad Mood Bear this morning!" she remarked idly. Laying the artwork down, she looked at him. "I think I'd make a great super hero," she teased. "And look!" She pointed at the drawing. "He fixed it where those pants don't make me look fat!"

The vampire pushed out an impatient, ragged breath, as he continued to work the mouse, moving on to other reports. "Right, Slayer. Super hero. Not fat. Got it."

Daniel walked into the office. "You made it," he said unnecessarily. Spike rolled his eyes. He walked up to the vampire's desk, eyes drawn to the illustration. A slow smile spread over his face. "Neat. Shepherd's out, Slayer's in," he chuckled.

"Spike doesn't think it's so neat," she said impishly.

"Jealous, probably. Looks like he's been replaced in DeLuca's affection."

Spike snorted. "Yeah, right. Jealous. Replaced. Got it," he said, as he brought up the most recent statistics. Four days older than he needed them to be. Wankers!

"So, Spikey," Buffy wheedled, "can I have this?"

Daniel grinned and answered for him. "Why not? Got a drawer full already."

Sliding off the desk, Buffy looked up at Daniel. "Really? More of Spike? Where?"

Finally looking away from the monitor, Spike shot daggers at her with his eyes. "Slayer. We got work." He could at least go over the earlier charts, acquaint her with what they were dealing with.

The fledgling rummaged in the file cabinet. "No," he said without turning. "You've got a class. First and Second Team, every morning until further notice."

Spike winced. "Bloody hell."

"Don't like it, you can take it up with Shepherd," Daniel commented, nursing a sly grin. "His directive."

"Need coffee," Buffy groaned. "And I thought he *was* Shepherd. Need something for my head, too. An anvil would work. Drop it, and presto, headache gone. Head, too, but hey!" She shrugged.

The younger vampire grinned at the slayer.

Spike got up and headed toward the door. No reason to cancel. Without the newer stats, he was still whistling in the dark. "Daniel, I need the newest stats. Not last week's." He looked at the slayer. "Two hours, pet. Then we're down to it." He walked out, closing the door with a snap.

She looked after him, amused. "Is he always like this? Cause... well, rude much?"

"Lately?" Daniel considered her question. "Been pretty stressed since he came back from Sunnydale," he said carefully. "Wants this to go off without a hitch." Daniel smiled. Enough said. "Let's get you some coffee and some aspirin. Then, we'll come back and find some cool Shepherd drawings. Souvenirs. Maybe a couple for your sister, too?"

Buffy grinned. "Works for me. Especially the coffee part."

+

He strode swiftly toward the gym, mumbling under his breath. Nothing for it. He'd have to explain it to her. Show her. Get her up to speed.

He'd tried to last night, but Buffy had had other things on her mind. Couldn't fault her for that. It had been a long time since she had been free enough to party at the Bronze after patrol. Of course, the evening hadn't turned out the way either of them had planned. She'd crawled off the bed at least five more times, Spike following to hold her hair back. Then, there had been the trips down the hall to get ice for the back of her neck.

No wonder he was a bit brassed off.

Spike had taken First Team out, with Daniel as back-up, two days before Buffy's little jaunt to Vale. Despite his words to Buffy, the impatient part of Spike thought it was a wonder they'd all made it back. None of the vampires had fought at the strength and speed they were capable of - some just made a better show of it than others. It had been frustrating.

Daniel said it was understandable.

The patrol had been carefully controlled; an older cemetery with fewer opportunities for new vampires. He suspected that they'd see mostly fledglings; locals that had died in what had looked like skiing accidents - skiing accidents that had involved a lot of neck trauma.

Matthews and Jeffries had kept their heads. In fact, the level of teamwork had surprised the vampire. Between the two of them, they'd managed to stake a particularly large fledgling.

And DeLuca had done all right, even if his partner had frozen up. The partner had landed himself on Third Team in the space of two minutes.

Patience was not Spike's strong suit. Didn't seem to be 'Shepherd's'. Once they were on patrol, the mollycoddling went out the window. This was business - what they were in Vale to do.

With five weeks left until the move to Sunnydale, he had to whip the lot of them into shape. And he fully expected to have First and Second Teams up and running patrols on the Hellmouth within a week of relocation. It was the goal he had set, and by God, they'd meet it.

More and more, the vampire found that his training and management methods were a little closer to 'Spike with minions,' than 'Shepherd with the flock.' And instead of rebelling, the Vale Project vampires seemed to welcome the drill sergeant discipline.

Fledgling 'Spike,' on the other hand, would have torn the sergeant's head off.

He shook his head as he entered the gym. The twelve vampires stood respectfully waiting for him to arrive. Discipline was one thing. But this?

+

Dawn crawled out of bed and headed toward the bathroom. So glad she'd been able to stay home, instead of sleeping at Janice's. As much as she liked Janice's mother, her dad made her nervous. Janice said it was because she wasn't used to having dad-types in the house. Which was so... well, not true! Cause Xander and Jonathan were downstairs and she didn't feel weird at all.

Of course, you couldn't really call Xander a 'dad-type,' even though he sounded like one sometimes.

The phone rang. She grimaced at her reflection in the mirror. Really needed to remember to take off her makeup at night, so that she didn't find mascara on her cheeks in the morning.

After the second ring, Dawn let out a frustrated breath and ran down to the hallway to grab the phone.

"This better be you," the teenager said briskly. "Xander's wiggin out big time."

There was silence. "What are you doing there?" Buffy asked suspiciously.

"Getting ready for school. Xander and Jonathan stayed here with me last night, so I didn't have to listen to Janice's dad and his snoring from the hell dimension."

"Oh." Buffy sounded confused. "So they stayed there?"

"Yep. And I did my homework and went to bed at a 'decent' hour. They watched the Star Wars Trilogy again. Geeks ahoy!" she said pertly. Then, she remembered what Jonathan had said, and winced. Needed to do some work on the newer, kinder Dawn pretty quick. "How's Vale?"

"Oh, it's like the Initiative with Spike in charge. Scary stuff." Buffy laughed. "And he's in one total bad mood today. So he's either mad at them or mad at me. I vote for me."

"You're still coming home tomorrow?"

"That's what the ticket says," she said lightly. "You gonna be there to pick me up? With the Xanman?"

"I'll think about it," she said snarkily. Dawn thought about how to phrase the next bit. "And everyone's okay?" Okay, leading questions were good.

"Sure. Fangy, but fine. Oh, and Dawn, I'm bringing you the coolest surprise! Daniel and I are looking for just the right ones."

Whew! An opening! "Daniel's there?"

"Daniel's always here. Want to talk to him? It's on the Government dime."

"Sure," she said lightly. "All for screwing the government." She waited, tapping her fingers on the table.

"Dawn?"

Oh, God. Oh, God. He sounded just the same.

"Hi, Daniel," she said nonchalantly. "Taking care of my sister for me?"

There was a moment of silence. "Spike is taking care of her. I'm just babysitting for an hour or two."

Dawn stood there, trying to figure out what to say next. They didn't have this problem in their emails. Why was it so strange? Oh, yeah. Buffy was standing right there.

"You still on schedule for the move?" she blurted out. Oh, so uncool. And what was she doing, anyway?

"I think so," he said slowly. "Seem to be."

"Good," she said. A touch of satisfaction crept into her voice. Oh, God, more uncool! She needed some kind of thing that warned her - that beeped and said 'uncool alert.'

Daniel cleared his throat. "Here's Buffy. Have a good day at school."

Oh, he was doing that 'you're in high school thing.' Ugh. Guys were so... lame. And cold. And... hello? Vampire?

"I'm back," Buffy said unnecessarily. "So you're headed off to school? Cause I'm looking at the clock and you're pushing it."

"Waking the big guy now. I'll make it. Have fun, okay?"

"Fun? Spike's on a tear, and I'm stuck in Vale. If I get snowed in, I'm staking myself."

Dawn laughed. "I love you, Buff. I'll tell Xander et al you said 'hi.'"

"Et al? Latin, right? I know Latin. Well, I know Latin when I hear it - language of the Hellmouth. Love you, Dawnie. Do good. And hurry up and get to school!"

Dawn made a face at the phone and hung it up. She walked in and looked at the Star Wars refugees, who were crashed out all over the living room.

"Rise and shine, guys. 'Key' needs a ride to school. Be down in a few," she said, stomping up the stairs at a run.

One of Xander's eyes opened blearily. "Huh?" It closed again, as a hearty snore escaped.

+

He thought she might be leaving today. She'd been closed up in Shepherd's office for two days. Lots of people had been in and out. Several he'd never seen before. And there was that general, who had actually come there to see her, DeLuca suspected. They were making plans for the move. Cause they were going back to 'her' town. To the Hellmouth.

He wanted to help her. She was so small, even if she was so strong. And fast. She'd dropped Shepherd like a sack. And hadn't even broken a sweat. The slayer was like them - without the fangs and the whole dead/undead thing.

Smiling, he looked down at the pen and ink he'd just finished. Even though he'd been through in the gym that first day, he'd heard the commotion, and had peeked around the door, just in time to see her fight. He'd been working on this one all night - wanted the colors to be just right. After all, it was the most ambitious thing he'd tried in this style, all heavy black lines and cross-hatch shading, highlighted by the primary colors in cobalts, mid-range blues, and grays. Even the flesh tones were muted. The slayer was the star of his story; the Vale Project was only the supporting cast. Even Shepherd paled in comparison.

He'd captured the look of her as she stepped forward for the kill, muscles rippling in her short t-shirt and tight jeans. He'd added boots with a higher heel than she'd actually been wearing. And a stake in her hand, of course. But pretty much, he had drawn what he saw.

The slayer would have taken his breath if he'd had any. She was everything you needed in a super hero. Well, a female super hero, anyway.

Once again, DeLuca looked at his artwork, frowning slightly. He hated the idea of using scotch tape, seemed a shame to blaspheme good work like that, but he wanted her to see it. And he'd be doing others.

He slipped toward the office. A little tape, and the door had a whole new look.

+

Spike left the gym felling better than he had when he went in. He'd worked First Team for an hour and a half - Second for two more. Both of them were making slow, but steady improvement, especially First, who had done the patrol.

There had been a real breakthrough with Jeffries. He'd punched Spike into the wall.

Certainly, no ribs were broken, and Buffy could have mopped up the floor with the fledgling with one perfect arm tied behind her back, but there had been power behind the blow. Spike grinned in remembrance. The other team members had been astonished. And suddenly, all of them had kicked in, throwing more telling blows, unleashing a little more of their vampiric strength they didn't seem to know they had.

More satisfied than he'd been in a while, Spike hummed an old Ramones song as he headed to his office, swinging his arms and bouncing a bit as he walked.

No dinner out tonight. No, they'd do room service at her hotel. Work today, play tonight, like any normal...

His eyes widened in shock. Disbelievingly, he blinked. Twice.

On the door of his office was Buffy. And 'buff' was pretty close to the mark. The color drawing had the slayer - his Slayer - turned out in a skimpy v-neck top and tight jeans. One leg was bent, muscles in her thighs, hips and stomach jumping off the page, as she lunged forward, large wooden stake in hand.

Her hair was down, golden and swirling with movement - a comic book goddess, and unmistakably Buffy Summers. Spike's nostrils flared at the care that had gone into her sleek, petite, dancer-like form.

His bellow rang the hall.

"Daniel!" His fists were clenched, eyes dark with anger.

The door to his office swung open with a jar as it flew against the office wall and bounded back, almost hitting Buffy.

"Spike, what is wrong with you?" she said hotly. "Daniel is right here. He could have heard you whisper. Vampire, remember," she exclaimed disgustedly. Spike was pushing his breath out in furious huffs. Now what? Belatedly, she realized he wasn't looking at her, but at the door behind her elbow. She slid her eyes carefully to the right.

"Oh!" she squeaked. "It's me!"

She snatched the illustration off the painted surface a second before he could react. "Look, Daniel," she said, ignoring the angry vampire. "It's like a comic book cover. Xander's gonna lose it when he sees this. Sgt. Rock ain't got nothin' on me!"

Spike grabbed at it, but she spun away gracefully. "Now *those* are abs!"

"Buffy..." he warned.

She rolled her eyes.

Frustrated, Spike turned to his assistant. Daniel stood ramrod straight by his desk, eyes darting from the crowing slayer to the murderous vampire.

Surprisingly, when he finally spoke again, his voice was devoid of emotion. The fledgling's skin crawled as Spike looked at him.

"I want that little bloodsucker in my office now. And the two of you out. When I'm done tying his balls around his neck, we're sitting down to work. Playtime over."

Buffy opened her mouth to pop off a retort, but froze when he impaled her on an icy stare. His eyes traveled purposefully back to Daniel. "Did I make myself clear?"

Daniel resisted the urge to gulp. "Crystal," he said concisely, as he went out.

"Spike..."

"Not a word, Slayer. S'none of your affair. I'm the head monkey in this zoo and the inmates are damn sure gonna behave, or I'll stake every bloody one of them myself. Do you get it? You deserve respect. Not this," he said curtly, pointing at the picture in her hand.

"Don't..." she protested.

"I'll do as I see fit," he said curtly. He softened a little. "Just talk to the lad, for now, but it isn't going to be pretty. Suggest you find Daniel now. Hurry him up gettin' DeLuca in here." He walked around his desk, and glanced at her. "We have work to do."

She stared at him, looked at the artwork and back into his cold eyes. Nodding once, she went the way of Daniel.



Rating:  PG-13 Action/Adventure/Mystery
Pairing:  Hell, yes, B/S!
Summary: Spike prepares the Vale Project vampires for their return to Sunnydale and the old Initiative facility.

Okay, since it has taken so long to post a new part, I think maybe a real summary is in order. If you are confused about which fic this is, you might want to relook the first two parts of Wolf... oh, hell, read all of 'em.  At Chris' site or at Laura's.

A very capsulated summary:  Buffy went to Colorado, to review the Spike's Vale Project, and the plans for its relocation to Sunnydale, although she used it more as a vacation, much to Spike's chagrin.  During her trip, she meets a few of the Fang Gang, and becomes the new object of DeLuca's lurid comic book art...

In the meantime, Dawn has continued her 'harmless' email correspondence with vampire fledgling Daniel.  Xander is keeping an eye out for her while Buffy is gone.  Jonathan and Dawn are covertly working on her powers as Key, by practicing her control on locks of all kinds.  Which could get to be a problem, as Dawn is progressing away from the whole MasterLock genre.

Chapter Three opens with Buffy's return to Sunnydale...

"Reminders" and "Shepherd", as well as "Two Days" are available at "Amare, Dare, Pardonare" http://www.geocities.com/cxyzjacobs/btvsfic/chrisindex.html and at Laura's site http://www.allaboutspike.com

Spoilers:  Season 7 AU, maybe even 8, by now.  Post-Shepherd/Two Days.
Disclaimers:  All Joss, all ME, all the time... except Daniel and DeLuca.  Hah!  Take that, Joss!
Feedback:  You beta, you beta, you bet!  kimi615@hotmail.com
Author's Notes:  It's so good to be back in the Kimiverse!  Loving Season 7, but gee...



Chapter Three

Dawn was almost bouncing off the walls in the baggage claim.  "How can the plane be late?  It takes what?  All of three *minutes* to fly from Vale?"

Xander laughed and hugged her.  Mostly to keep her still for thirty seconds.  "A little longer than that.  And planes get late.  It's not the airtime; it's the runway time.  That's what does it.  At least, in my oh-so-limited experience."

"What?" Dawn said, heading to the window.  "She's already here?  Just sitting out there?"

He shook his head as he approached the window.  "Nah.  Not this runway.  That runway.  Maybe.  Or the yeti-yuppie got her on the return."

Dawn looked at his reflection in the glass and made a face.

"Why does nobody think that's funny but me?" he said, pretending to be hurt.

Dawn turned back to him.  "Well, I'm bored with waiting.  And I want to know all about Vale.  *And* I want a t-shirt.  I so need a t-shirt!"

Spreading his hands in a shrug, Xander commented apologetically, "Well, this was a working trip, kid.  No mall.  Maybe the airport gift shop, though, so hey!  You could be sleeping in 50/50 cotton/poly as early as tonight!"

Ignoring him, Dawn looked around the claim area.  "Oh, my God," she said as she looked down the corridor.

The blonde slayer was burdened with two large, very battered, and very full shopping bags - one from Gap, the other from Banana Republic, and a flat black case on a shoulder strap.  Dawn screamed and ran to meet her.

"Buffy!"

The slayer set down the bags, which proceeded to fall over and spill their contents all over the shiny tile, as she captured her sister in a tight hug.

"Ribs," Dawn panted.  "I have... ribs!"

Buffy laughed, glowing in relaxation.  "Sorry, 'Bit'," she said in an atrocious British accent.

Grinning, Dawn hugged her again.  "How is he anyway?"

"Cantankerous.  Sweet.  Borderline bitchy.  Same as always," Buffy answered wickedly, as Dawn dived for the contents of the bags.

Xander joined them, looking at the bags in dismay.  "Buffy, did you even go *see* the Fang Gang?"

"Fang Gang?" she said with an upraised brow.  "Xander, that's so lame..." Her face broke into a wide smile.  "And sure.  Did it all.  Worked with Spike.  Had dinner.  Went to a demon bar.  Got in a brawl.  Ruined my skirt.  Had a hangover.  Worked some more.  Had a fight with Spike.  Went shopping.  Had dinner.  Went to bed.  Got up.  Flew home."

"A well-rounded trip," he said nodding.  "Especially the 'fight with Spike' part."

"That's how I got the shopping trip.  Finally found out what that soul is good for."

"Spike took you shopping?"  Xander was flabbergasted. "What?  You pick it out, he steals it?"

Buffy gave Xander a superior look.  "He has money.  He gets paid."

"Whoa.  What?  He gets paid?  For what, vamp-sitting?"  Xander had somehow fallen out of the loop and he didn't like it.

Dawn popped up with a handful of white cotton.  "You got me a t-shirt?"

Laughing, Buffy reached down and scooped up the contents of the Gap sack.  "And everything in here.  See, all the jeans are 'longs.'  Which is like, so not me, right?"

"Oh, wow!"  Dawn clutched the bulging sack tightly to her chest. "Janice is gonna sh..."  She turned beet red. "Uh, be really impressed at what a great sister I have."

"Oh-kay!  Enough of the 'floor' show," Xander admonished with an eye roll at the crouching slayer, as she stuffed her own goodies back into her bag.  "Let's get your stuff and blow this place before somebody blows it up.  You still have a suitcase?"

Nodding, she came up from her position on the floor.

"Well, I'll get that.  Wouldn't want to lose a limb trying to get that sack away!" he said sarcastically.  Shaking his head, he walked toward the conveyor.  "Gets paid," he muttered resentfully.  "Justice is blind. And deaf.  And..."

+

Daniel was still smarting from the tongue-lashing Spike had given him after the Slayer had left Vale.  Daniel hadn't seen anything wrong with DeLuca's depiction of the slayer as superhero - and obviously, neither had Buffy, since she'd taken the color ink 'cover' home with her, carefully protected in a mail roll the fledgling had unearthed in the office supply room.  Of course, telling Spike so might not have been the most diplomatic thing he'd ever done.

It seemed Spike was very persistent in his depiction of DeLuca's behavior as 'stalking,' and wouldn't be persuaded otherwise.  Daniel thought the older vampire was overreacting, but certainly didn't have much information about the 'stalker' mentality.

Daniel had managed to sit in on Spike's meeting with the artist/fledgling, and had been quite surprised by the older vampire's careful handling of the situation.  Still, Spike had been quite firm in his insistence that the 'cartoons,' as he referred to all of DeLuca's drawings, would no longer be posted for public consumption.

First, Spike had asked DeLuca what he thought about their upcoming move, and their mission in Sunnydale.  The fledgling had nearly fallen all over himself as he expressed his excitement, and the thrill of being able to help the slayer in such a worthwhile endeavor.  Daniel almost bled for the young man, as he saw the jaws of the trap begin to close.

Spike explained tightly that the drawings were undermining the mission, making it seem more like a fantasy than the truly deadly business it was.  At the look on DeLuca's face, Daniel had a flash of the next adjustment ratings and the sharp decline he'd see in the young vampire's numbers.

Next, the older vampire made it very clear that the slayer was the pivot point of the upcoming Sunnydale project, and that she was not to be turned into a 'character' in a comic book.  That he'd known the slayer for many years, had fought the slayer more than once, and that respect for her and her abilities was integral to DeLuca's participation in the mission.

In other words, can it, suck it up, and don't step out of line, or you're out.  When the boom was lowered, Daniel was surprised at how brilliantly it had been done.  DeLuca was appropriately apologetic, and left with his balls still in the appropriate place - instead of tied around his neck.

+

"Well, it was pretty much all a surprise.  First, no more DeSoto.  He's got this Big Bad black SUV with incredibly heavily tinted windows.  And he knows which malls have windows and skylights - which is pretty much all of 'em.  We went at dusk.  Had a big day at work."

"Wait," Dawn said, waving her hands from the front seat.  "You went shopping *with* Spike?"

"With?  That's a strong word, with.  Makes it sound all togethery, which it was *not*!"  She sighed.  "He sat in a restaurant and had extra spicy buffalo wings and beer for two hours."

Dawn nodded wisely and turned back around to face the street.  "Best place for him."

"No duh.  He hates the mall."

"Ahem," Xander said as he caught Buffy's eye in the rearview mirror.  "The reason for your visit?  Did any of that part happen?"

Buffy reddened.  She couldn't believe he was saying it in front of Dawn.

"Hello?  Information?  Data?" he prodded her, not much liking the look of that blush.  "Researchy stuff of any kind?  Or just a new wardrobe courtesy of the blond cockroach?"  Which I would like to take out to the yard and burn, he thought.  Wardrobe and cockroach...

"Oh.  Oh!  Of course I did!"  She wrinkled her nose.  "We did lots of researchy stuff," she said hastily.   She held up the slim case.  "I even have a case with a laptop and files and everything.  See?  Leather."  She frowned.  "And *reports*.  And keeping the case, Dawnie, so don't even think about it!"

Xander's eyes darted back to the rearview mirror to catch Buffy's sarcastic grin, but there wasn't one.  She was pulling papers from the bag.  "There's lots of stuff here," she finished as she zipped it back up.  "Like a care package."

The man was not going to sound surprised.  Not now, not ever.  New subject.  "So. Dawn tells me you kicked Spike's ass."

The teenager froze.  Buffy laughed.  "Who told you, Dawnie?  Did Spike call?"

"Um, email."

She nodded and turned to Xander.  "Yes, I did.  In a training session.  And I can't take full credit on the ass kicking.  Spike kinda let me."

The man waited.

"He's got this whacked out thing in his head.  That I need to look like the boogey monster for all vamps and evil things." She chewed her lower lip.  "As if I couldn't take any of them, and him, in a Sunnydale second, anyway," she grumbled.

Nodding, Xander turned onto the main drag.  "I never thought I'd say this, especially about anything *he* did, but that was smart."

"Oh.  And no one can know," she interjected.

"Know what?"

"About Spike, and me about... well, you know, about me and Spike," she said, shooting a look at Dawn.

"More points to the blond bloodsucker.  Any reason?"

"Well, just didn't want anyone getting the wrong idea about looking for a girlfriend whose heart is beating," she said uncomfortably.

Dawn stiffened in the front seat, unnoticed.

Xander slapped his forehead.  "More genius from the Soul Man!  I might just have to stake his hand."

Buffy leaned forward, putting her hands on the seat between Xander and Dawn.  "Stake?" she asked dangerously.

"What?  Did I say 'stake?'  I meant 'shake'.  You know, 'shake his hand,'" he said innocently, eyes sparkling.  "No, really.  I did."

Buffy sat back and settled into the seat.  A loud yawn followed.

Dawn turned.  "Didn't get any sleep?" she asked slyly.

"Are you kidding?" she grumbled absently.  Eyes flying open, the slayer looked quickly at her sister and into Xander's eyes in the rearview.  "Uh.  Got lots of sleep.  Slept all night.  Sleeping Buffy.  Just like the fairy tale.  But not, of course, cause that would mean..."  She yawned again, and grimaced.  "Must be the airplane ride.  Making me yawn.  Cause I am so rested up from all that sleep."

"Right," Xander said resentfully.  "Of course.  And how's the whole team player thing workin' out for him?  You know? Captain Peroxide?  William the Broody?"

She snorted.  "Team player?  Spike?  He runs that place like... I don't know.  Annoying, snarking at everybody, never taking 'no' for an answer.  He sounds just like..."  Buffy cast around for a good comparison.

"Spike?" Dawn spoke up helpfully.

Buffy seized on the comparison.  "Exactly."

Laughing sardonically, Xander shook his head.  "So.  Great.  Commander Not-So-Evil-Anymore is makin' the world safe for... Uh, what's he doin' this for again?"

"I am so killing you..."

"Oooh, I'm shaking here," he said in a falsetto voice.

"Xander," she squealed, lightly hitting his shoulder with a laugh.

"Ow."  He glanced up in the mirror.  "I'll just sleep so much better knowing... well, knowing..." He paused dramatically.

"What?" Dawn said curiously.

"Well, that Spikey's in charge!"

+

Spike breezed in from his 'morning' workout with Third Team.  It was a little past six p.m.  He had begun making a conscious effort to restructure everyone's internal clocks, vampire and human alike, in preparation for the beginning of the real mission.  He'd decided they'd be running a skeleton crew in the daytime, mostly to handle requests for information that came in from the late night patrols.

Third's inclusion into the daily workout regimen meant that they would be going out in the field regularly now.  In fact, he and Daniel were taking them out tonight - and to one of the older Vale cemeteries, if anyone could actually call them 'old.'  In Europe, it would be like some upstart housing project.

Chuckling, Spike took in Daniel's huge yawn.  "Tired, Fledge?"

"Didn't rest today.  I think the two a.m. to noon thing was working better for me."

"Maybe for you, here.  But it won't work for you on the Hellmouth.  Slayer's pretty much wrapped up patrol by one a.m., unless there's some particular nasty she's dealin' with.  Wouldn't do to miss the action.  Sleepin' sunrise to four makes a bit more sense."

Spike continued to be shocked by the lack of vampiric circadian rhythms that his group of Initiative-made fledglings had.  They were mostly 'morning' vamps.  Which was bloody ridiculous!

"You rest a lot less than that," Daniel said accusingly.

"Yeah, well.  When you're old, you need less.  Besides, I've had this alarm clock for years now.  Got me used to bein' up at odd hours."

"Alarm clock?"

"When the door slams open and hits the wall.  That's my alarm clock," Spike said wickedly.  "Never know when it's gonna go off."

"Not very large on the knocking thing, is she?"  Daniel was grinning at the older vampire.

"Never was.  And her mum was such a lady, too."  He smiled at a private memory.  "Still.  Kind of gotten used to it over the years.  She tried knocking when I first got back from Africa, but it didn't last long.  Just as well.  At least I know when it's her."  He shrugged, self-deprecatingly.  "Oh, well.  What are you working on?"

Daniel looked down at the computer disgustedly.  "Room assignments.  Odd request here."

"Really?"

"Well, you know how we worked up the quarters' assignments?  Two to a room, according to compatibility ratings?"

"Yeah?"  Spike walked over and sat down in his chair and leaned back, as he waited for the rest.

"Got a 'rooming' request today."

"Who?"  Spike seemed unperturbed, which was enough to drive Daniel crazy.

"Matthews and Jeffries.  I mean, I realize we stuck 'em together when Jeffries ratings were so low, but they really aren't very simpatico.  Not according to the compatibility ratings..."

Smirking, Spike reached over and picked up the hard copies of the latest fitness ratings.

"What?  You're smirking."

"So?  Can't a former Big Bad smirk?"

"Not if I think I'm the object of that smirk."

"Look, Daniel, those kind of tests only guide so far.  Not a bible or anythin'."

"But look!  Right here, it shows..."

"Fledge."  The older vampire interrupted Daniel's explanation.  "There'll probably be more requests like this.  So don't get your knickers in a twist."  Without anything further, Spike got up and headed out the door.  "Just realized I'm starvin'.  Back in a bit.  Need to make a little announcement, too, while I'm at it."

+

Dropping Dawn off at school in time for fourth period, Xander headed for Buffy's house.

"Okay, Buff.  Now talk."

The slayer looked at the man curiously.

"This... place.  Vampire Central.  Tell me about it."

She sighed impatiently.  "Give me two hours, okay?  Time to unwind, bask in post-vacationy goodness." She looked at him resentfully.  "You're as bad as he is."

"Yeek!"  Xander squealed like a girl.  "No comparisons, please.  Not to *him*!"  Xander stared at the street for a moment, as he pulled up to the stop sign to turn onto Revello Drive.  "But..."

"Again with the 'but!'" she grumbled under her breath.  "Why is there always a 'but'.  Why not just an 'okay, Buffy, whatever you say...'"

"What?  What is that?" He waved a finger at her, as he briefly took his eyes off the road.  "Grumbling, mumbling, muttering - I *don't* have vampire hearing!  I *don't* get what you're saying!  Spit it out.  Crisply.  Enunciation is of the good here!"  With a huff, he pulled the car over to the side of the street and slammed the gear shift into 'park.'

She turned in her seat to face him.

"Slayer's don't get weekends off.  We get 'hours.'  Sometimes not even that, cause like hey!  Earthquake in California?  Possible apocalypse.  Crazy people saying cryptic things?  Sure enough apocalypse:  dimensional portals, open Hellmouth, yada, yada, yada.

"I took the weekend off.  Well, kind of, anyway.  I got drunk.  I got in a bar brawl.  I got sick.  I got the cold shoulder from my Significant Undead Other over it, and had to watch him sulk and be bad moody over it.  Then, had a fight with him.  Just once, I wanted to be Normal!Girl, well, maybe not exactly normal, cause sure, my boyfriend's been dead for about a hundred years and some change, but girl, yeah.  Not Dawn's replacement Mom, not a Scoobie, not the Slayer.  Just a girl on a mission.  A Cyndi Lauper mission.  I. Just. Wanted. To. Have. Fun!"

Xander ran his hands through his hair.  "Yeah, but..."

"Not a lot to ask, except obviously it is.  Dead guy boyfriend is wound so tight, I felt like saluting Mr. 'I-Am-So-Not-Army.'  And then you start in.  My dirty clothes are still in the suitcase, and you want to know all the business stuff.  When I'm trying to pretend I had a real vacation!"

Xander stared at her a moment, and quietly pulled the car back on the street.  He flailed briefly for a comment, stung that he'd been so unfeeling.

"So.  Tell me about that hangover," he said lamely.

+

Spike walked into his office with a smile on his face.  His fledgling assistant looked up in chagrin.

"There's more of them!"  Daniel looked at him suspiciously.  "What did you do?"

"Speeded things up a bit.  Not a lot of time here.  Need to get this stuff in order."

"But they're requests for 'roomies!'"  Daniel waved a stack of papers.

"Been expectin' more of it," he commented, not perturbed in the least.  His voice held some degree of satisfaction.  "Hopin' for it, really."

Daniel's eyes narrowed.  "Expected it?"

"Well, yeah, you silly git.  Let's see what you've got."

Handing the handwritten papers to Spike, he grew more and more astonished as Spike flipped through, nodding at each one.

"What?  We're going to honor them?  This is the army, not an apartment complex!"

"Bloody hell, yes, we're gonna honor 'em.  Saves me the worry."

Daniel's eyebrows went up.  "What are you talking about?"

"They're pairin' off.  Not enough of it, yet, but it's a start.  Fourteen of twenty-six - "

"Seven," Daniel automatically corrected him.

"Twenty-seven then.  Seven sets couplin' up.  Not bad at all."

"Are you talking about relationships?" Daniel asked incredulously.

Rolling his eyes, the older vampire laughed derisively at his assistant's naiveté.  "Little out of the loop, are you?  Do I have to quote Shakespeare?  Love sonnet?  A little Poe might be more fitting?  Do you know the story of the Sacred Band of Sparta?"

Daniel closed his mouth with a snap and stared.

Spike looked back down at the pages.  "Relief for me, actually."  He chuckled slyly.  "Hope it is for them, too."  He looked at the pages again.  "No surprises, really.  Knew about Matthews and Jeffries, of course. Jones and Bryant."  Spike's eyes narrowed.  "Hmmm.  Now that's a bit of a hummer."

"What?"

"DeLuca... and Beasley."

"Why?  Because DeLuca does soft-porn drawings of the Slayer?"  Daniel's voice carried thinly veiled sarcasm.  "Which is your description of his work, not mine, by the way."

"Look, Fledge, all of our boys were terminal - even you, though you didn't know it when you were turned by those bleeding butchers the Initiative called doctors.  And several of them had AIDS, remember.  Now, none of our boys got it from needles.  Army wouldn't want dopers."

"But what about 'don't ask, don't tell,'" Daniel quizzed him.

"Bullocks!  You've heard of the Sacred Band, right?  Fought in pairs.  Fierce.  Unbeatable.  Five hundred strong.  Nary a one turned tail and ran when Alexander foxed 'em.  Stood strong, pair by pair.  Fought with honor, by honoring their love, friendships.  When they counted after, not a one was missing.  All died together, rather than tarnish the dream.  Damn strong argument there."

Spike returned to the subject.  "Besides, our boys' sexual orientation was already set when they got sick, right?  And DeLuca wasn't one of those."

Daniel looked down.  "Oh."

Smiling, Spike handed him back the sheets of paper.  "Make it so, Number One," he said with a laugh.  "Match up the rest by compatibility, common interests..."

Daniel stared at the pages in his hand.

"Lay it out.  I'll approve it.  Should have expected the numbers to be high.  Still, nice surprise.  Won't spend *all* my time patrolling the Bronze."

+

Buffy sat down with Xander at the kitchen table, ceremoniously unzipping the leather case.  She pulled out a stack of papers and laid them to the side.  Then, she flipped open the laptop.

Whistling in appreciation, the man leaned over to take a closer look at the slayer's new toy.  "Wow, my tax dollars at work!"

Giving him a chiding glance, she booted up the portable computer.

"Oops!"  She grabbed a long cord and quickly plugged it into the phone jack across the room.  Attaching a black box to the other end, she strung out a second cord from box to laptop.

"Well, I'm impressed," Xander said.

Buffy tossed him a glance.  "Don't be," she grumbled.  "He made me practice."

The low guffaw earned Xander another sharp glance.  "Don't say it.  Nothing.  Nada," she warned.

The man spread his hands in apologetic silence, as another chuckle choked through his control.

Finally, able to speak with a straight face, he pointed to the box.  "What is that thing, anyway?"

"Some security thing," she shrugged.  "They're pretty paranoid."

"That's them and me both," Xander said gratefully.

A girlish grin spread over her face, as she settled back into the chair.  "Email first.  See if there's any late breaking."

"Or maybe just internet porn notes from your vampire boyfriend..."  Xander groused as he began thumbing through a bound report.

"Maybe," Buffy said distractedly, as she tried to remember how to access her email.

Frowning, Xander tried to decipher what he was seeing.  "What is this?  The staff?"  He shook his head.  Slowly, his eyes widened as he realized what he was seeing.  "Holy G.I. Joe!  These are fitness reports!  On vampires!"

"Fit for what?" Buffy asked absently, almost there on the mail accessing.

"Not sure," Xander said, as he continued to look at the graphs.  "But this stuff would be way classified if it was for regular troops.  Eyes only stuff."  He looked up.  "Feelin' a little like James Bond here."

"But with a look of Austin Powers," Jonathan said as he strolled into the kitchen.  "Got any fudgesicles?" he asked the slayer.

Buffy shrugged as she fought tooth and nail with the stubborn email password program.

Looking up at Jonathan as he guiltily closed the report, he narrowed his eyes.  "What are you doing here?"

"Waiting for Dawn.  We're gonna... go get ice cream."

Buffy looked up, email forgotten.  "Is this a friend thing, or a hitting-on-my-sister thing?  Cause, buddy, you're only one step away from delinquency in my book."

Hurt, Jonathan unwrapped a fudgesicle.  "Hey, I'm reformed.  And Dawn's just a kid."

"Not big on the convincy thing here.  More."

"We're just gonna get ice cream.  Dawn's my friend," he countered, turning bright red.

"Uh huh..." Buffy said suspiciously.

The front door slammed.  "Buffy!  Buffy!"

The teen sounded like she was near hysteria.  "In here!" Buffy said in alarm, getting up from the chair with lightening reflexes.  She rounded the doorway, frightened by the shaking in her sister's voice.  "What?  What is it?"

Dawn ran into her, full-pelt.  "Buffy, it's awful."  She tried to catch her breath.  "One of the senior girls.  She's dead.  It's all over school!"

Burying her head in Buffy shoulder, she shuddered.  "Jenny Wiseman.  I didn't really know her, but she was pretty in this California girl way.  She even seemed nice!"

The slayer guided her to a chair, as Xander and Jonathan looked on in concern.  "How?  How did she die?" Buffy asked, sitting down next to her, and giving her full-attention.

"Somebody killed her.  There was blood everywhere.  Just like those other two girls."

Buffy's eyes flew to Xander.  "They didn't catch him yet," she said heavily.

"Nope.  It's bad enough that this is the Hellmouth.  Now the serial killers have moved in."

"There was blood?" she asked Dawn.

"Everywhere.  They said lots.  He painted things with it.  On the walls near the new gym."

Jonathan, fudgesicle forgotten and dripping to the floor, stepped forward.  "Things?"

Nodding, Dawn sniffled.

"Magical things?  Symbols?  Or just words?"

Dawn shook her head.  "I didn't see it."

"Not a vampire, then," Buffy said as her eyes shifted to the wall.  "Not wasting blood like that.  Still, it could be a demon..."

"Or a serial killer," Xander said stubbornly.

"Or some sick black wizard," added Jonathan.

"They *were* saying it was a coyote - or a wolf." Dawn said slowly.

Buffy snorted derisively.  "*They* would."

"Of course, now there's the whole painting thing, so I would say, so not a coyote."  Dawn was slowly recovering, putting her thoughts into problem-solving mode.  She shivered.  "I'm going upstairs."

Buffy patted her hand.  "Do that.  Xander and Jonathan and I are going to talk about this."

Nodding, Dawn picked up her backpack automatically, and headed to the door.  "Can you stop him?" she said softly.

"We can try.  And that's saying a lot."  She looked at Dawn reassuringly.  "Get some rest."

As the sounds of heavy feet receded, Buffy turned and gathered the two men up in a fierce look.  "Dawn doesn't go to school unescorted.  She doesn't come home without someone with her.  I need to see that body.  Jonathan, you need to find a way to see the writing.  Xander can get you around the school.  He knows where everything is.  But nobody leaves Dawn, understand?  She's with one of us all the time!"

"Damn, I wish Willow was here," Xander said.  "We'd already be looking at police reports."

Jonathan pursed his lips.  "Yeah, Rosenberg is a queen hacker."

"There's another way to get it," Buffy said quietly.  She left the room to use the phone in the hallway.

Jonathan looked at Xander questioningly.

"She's calling our not-so-local-anymore bloodsucker.  Got government connections, you know."

"Yeah," Jonathan breathed.  "How was that?" he asked curiously.

"Well, let's just say there's no impending break up.  And that's plenty enough."

+

Spike rolled into the office.  "I'm out of here.  Slayer needs me.  Dawn's shook.  Got a serial killer in Sunnyhell."

"What?"  Daniel looked shocked.

"Look, here's what you do.  Make a few calls and forward the police report, complete with pictures, on Jenny Wiseman's murder, to the Slayer's email.  They're flying me in by chopper.  Made a big excuse about needing to look at the paint for the walls and the housing.  Don't want any big involvement yet.  No flags.  Just use some clout, or hack in, but get those reports to the slayer."

"You seeing her tonight?"

"No. Gonna do some looking around on my own.  Doesn't know I'm coming, so don't be spillin' it."

"Right."  Daniel's jaw set.  "What about Dawn?"

"Girl was a schoolmate, not a friend.  Still, the school grounds.  Too close for comfort.  Slayer's put the Nibblet on a short leash.  No unaccompanied anythin'."

Daniel looked grim.  "Keep it that way."

Looking up in curiosity, Spike stopped stashing files in his duffle.  "What?"

"Just make sure she's... okay.  Okay?"

"This is the Bit, Fledge.  Nothing's gonna get her," he said slowly.  "Daniel...?"

Daniel shook his head.  "Just get there, all right.  And don't leave me in the dark here."

"I won't," the older vampire said assured him.  "Take over the classes.  And you've got patrol with Third tonight.  Keep it short and sweet."

"Roger."

Spike mumbled as he headed out the door.  "Hate it when you say that..."

+

"Are you wiggin' out on me?"

"Me?  Do I look like I am?  Cause I am not wiggy."

"I needed to wait until things settled down.  Dawn's asleep upstairs, and Jonathan's picking up some stuff to do a detection spell, if you two can get close enough to the crime scene."  Buffy leaned forward and looked at Xander solemnly.  "Spike sent this stuff so that you'd know he was absolutely serious about being a team.  And because *we* are on a Need to Know basis."

"We?" he echoed.

"He wants your support, Xand.  Says this can't work unless we're all on a level playing field.  His words."

"How rugby of him," the man commented sarcastically.

"I think this can work.  But I need you with me on this.  Not fighting it every step of the way.  Spike knows it, too."

"Well, pardon me for being all skeptical."

"There's the project.  There's the Scoobs.  Or what's left of us anyway.  Spike remembers how it went with Riley and the Initiative.  How we worked at cross-purposes instead of together.  He doesn't want that."

Xander looked down at his hands, slowly digesting Buffy's words.  Deep down, he was flattered that Spike recognized that Xander was a part of this and wanted his approval.

"I dunno, Buffster.  God knows you need the help, but..."

"Yeah," she said tiredly.  "I do.  It's just us now.  And I'm... tired."  At Xander's concerned look, she smiled.  "Oh, not tired enough to throw myself into a portal.  Just bone tired.  I could use the help."

"Willow's coming back.  And we've got Jonathan..."

A wry laugh broke from deep in Buffy's chest.  It was a painful sound that tore at Xander's heart.

"Xander, we need help.  We need muscle.  And frankly, we need his brain.  There's no Giles here anymore.  And if I can't tell you the truth..."

Sighing, he looked down at his hands.  "But, jeez, a buncha vampires?"

She laughed.  "Hellmouthy, isn't it?  Fair is foul and foul is fair."

Candidly, Xander spoke.  "Look.  This thing with you and Spike, that's between you and Spike, I guess.  And watch me gritting my teeth here.  But as far as Spike - and I never said this, okay?  Spike's... all right.  It's the rest of it that I don't trust."

Her eyes crinkled in a slow smile.  "But... you do trust *him*?"

Xander thought long and hard.  Finally, he looked up.  "Yeah.  Yeah, I guess I do.  Dammit."

Nodding solemnly, Buffy reached out and put a hand over Xander's.  "Well, that's a start."



Chapter Four

Quietly unlocking the front door, the slayer crept into a house lit by the flicker of the television.  Samuel L. Jackson was holding a gun on a kid, and declaiming:

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper, and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers..."

Buffy muted the movie.  She'd seen it time and again, and that was her favorite part, but tonight she just wasn't in the mood for massive amounts of bloodshed.  Not unless she was doing the shedding.  Now the only sounds were the ticking of a clock, and the intermittent snores of the sleeper on the sofa.

She was definitely out of sorts.  Even seeing Pulp Fiction again wouldn't help.  Frustrated with a night on patrol with nothing to show for it, but a couple of fledglings Dawn could have dusted half-asleep, she frowned slightly at the sight that greeted her.

There lay Jonathan Levinson, wrapped in the new chenille throw she'd gotten on clearance.  She leaned over and flicked on the lamp right beside his head.  Startled, his hands flew to his eyes.  They watered slightly in response to the unwelcome light.  "Hey," he said, rubbing them.

"You call this keeping watch?" she asked rhetorically.

He squinted at her guiltily.  "Sorry," he mumbled.  His voice gathered strength.  "But it's not like the guy goes into people's houses or anything."

She snorted at the weak argument.  "Oh, and you know that... how?"

Sitting up, Jonathan continued rubbing his left eye, like some little boy who had been wakened early from his nap.  "Gee, did you have to turn on that light?  Blind here," he complained.

At the lack of apology, he grimaced in remembrance of what she'd been doing all night.  "Didn't find anything?"

"Would I be this pissed off if I had?" she growled, throwing herself back into a chair.

He considered his answer carefully.  "Maybe."

"Well, I didn't."

"There's some kind of moon rhythm thing that goes with serial killers." Jonathan informed her earnestly.  "I saw it in a movie once."

"Isn't it bad enough that I have to know that *only* sterling silver kills Fyarls?  Or that chaos demons drip mucous from their antlers?  Or that Polgaras have a hidden shish kabob skewer?" she complained, voice rising slightly.  "I slay *vampires*!  That's the job title.  Except 'Whoops!  Forgot to tell you, Buffy, you kill demons, too!'  And now *you* want me to get all researchy on moon cycles for serial killers?"  She threw up her hands.  "This is *nowhere* in the manual!  Not that I would know, of course.  Because. Giles. Didn't. Give. Me. One!"

Watching Buffy with the same cautious fascination he would reserve for a pit viper, Jonathan folded the throw neatly and set it on the sofa, as he slowly got up to sidle toward the front door.

"Where are you going?"

He almost jumped at her tone.  "Um, home.  Cause, well, you're here now, and..."

Letting out a sigh, Buffy waved Jonathan back to the sofa.  "It's okay.  All done.  Just needed to do the vent thing."

"Oh.  I thought you were working yourself up to a dismemberment, or something," the man said facetiously, as he placed a hand on the doorknob.

"Jonathan, sit!  It's late.  Just stay here.  I'd hate to find you painted on the west side of the house in the morning," she said dryly.

The man gulped once and was back on the sofa in a shot, knees up, throw back in place around his legs.  "Okay," he squeaked.  Chagrined at the tone of his voice, he cleared his throat.  "I guess I can stay."

+

Tired as he was, Daniel couldn't have rested if he'd gone to his quarters and blown off his new sleep schedule, as he had the night before.  He'd dumped the police information into several compressed files, scrambled, and emailed them separately to the slayer's new secure inbox.

He'd been waiting ever since.  Waiting for an acknowledgment, any acknowledgement, that they'd been received.  Finally, he'd checked to make sure they were there, by accessing her box remotely.  They were.  It was just that no one had opened them.  He'd started to call - twice - but he didn't have orders to do that, and it felt like an excuse to hear Dawn's voice anyway.  Finally, he'd caved and called the Sunnydale project facility to talk to Spike.  Who was already there and gone.  Spike, who hadn't seen fit to communicate with him, let alone tell him he was there, what was going on...

Angrily, he kicked at his commander's desk.  Instead of the sore foot he'd subconsciously expected, the desk tilted as the screws tore away from one corner of the particleboard and Formica.  Daniel's vampire reflexes engaged, as he caught the edge before it spilled its monitor and piles of hard copy to the floor.

And there he stood.  Great, he thought.  The leg had been part of the desk, and now the whole thing was cracked, completely unstable.  This was like the day he'd broken his sister's Barbie Dream House in a fit of pique.  He stared unbelievingly.  Hadn't kicked it that hard, had he?

Had he?

Sighing, he realized he couldn't hold the desk up and get the monitor off, because of the wires that were attached to the CPU under the desk.  And even if he did, the papers would slide down to the floor, totally disarranged.  And Spike did have a filing system.  Well, sort of.

He balanced the desk with one hand and reached for the intercom button on the phone.  Wondered whom he should call.  He felt stupid.  There were 'things' going on and he was dealing with a busted desk.

Unbidden, Dawn's face burned across his brain, fear in her eyes, but chin held high, all defiance.  Daniel took a deep breath, trying to steady himself, and push down the welling anger.  What was he doing stuck here playing babysitter, anyway?  Babysitting a bunch of vampires and a broken desk!

Grabbing it with both hands, he slung the whole workstation into the wall, as sparks and papers flew.  The thump of the monitor was strangely satisfying.

As was the jagged hole in the sheet rock wall.

+

Buffy finished her shower and put on a sleep shirt and drawstring bottoms.  The night had been frustrating as hell, but she'd survived it.  And tomorrow, she'd know more.  Because she was sure that Spike wouldn't let her down on the police reports.

Once again, she wished for Willow.  Xander might think she was coming back any day, but Buffy had talked to her.  Heard the vagueness in the witch's voice when she was asked about returning.  Buffy suspected that Will had found someone there, maybe the same someone in the coven that was helping her control and use her powers.

She stared at the ceiling with a frown.  And where was everybody, anyway?  Where were the myriad types of demons that inhabited Sunnydale because of its closed entrance to the Hellmouth?  Buffy had seen a couple of cowering vamps, and that was all.  What?  She was wiping them all out?  She'd killed enough over the years, except...

"How many of my kind reckon you've done?  A thousand? A thousand thousand?  And we just keep comin'."

She could hear Spike's voice, the tone of it, as if it were yesterday.  He'd been right, of course.  That was what they did.  Just kept coming.

So where the hell were they?

+

A smile played around her mouth as she slept.  Dreaming, she watched a tendril of smoke drift up from the tip of his cigarette in fascination, hazing the sharp blue of his earnest eyes.  He loved her.  He said he loved her, and there was no pain in it.

The smell of burning tobacco penetrated her brain.  She pinched herself, wondering if she was still asleep or awake.  Looking over at her slightly open window, she caught her breath.  If it was a dream, it was a dream.  Go with it.

She pushed the window up and slipped out onto a thick tree limb.  Hadn't done this in years, since before her mother knew she was the slayer.  Seemed a lifetime ago.

Which it was, she thought, hitching her leg over the windowsill.

As easily as she had as a sixteen year old, she slipped down the tree, feet finding the safe spots by rote.  The glimmer of a blond head reflected the light from the street.  It took her a moment to remember to be surprised.  After all, tree equaled Spike.

"Something magic in a night like this," he said, eyes still trained on the house.  She watched him raise a lit cigarette to his lips and draw on it, cheeks hollowing momentarily.  "All sharp smells and sounds..."  His voice trailed off.

"You're here.  But what are you doing outside?"

"Thinking.  Rememberin'.  Life used to be so simple."  He spared her a look and caught the shadow of amusement in her raised brow.  "Well, 'death' did anyway."

Spike turned and gazed at the street.  He took another drag off the cigarette in his hand.  "Feels like home under this tree."

"The cigarette butts certainly have squatter's rights." she quipped, a little nervous at his thoughtful demeanor, and reaching down to pick up one.  "Know how many of these I've picked up?  Just so mom wouldn't notice that we had a vampire on watch?"

"Hundreds?" he commented disinterestedly.

"Thousands," she assured him.  "A thousand thousand," she echoed.  "And they just keep comin'."

Not rising to the bait, he threw his head back, looking up into the branches searchingly.  "My tree, you know."

"I know," she said quietly.

He sighed.  "No place on earth as peaceful as right here.  Made love to you under this sodding tree."

She smiled softly at the memory.  "Come inside, Spike."

"Can't stay," he said, shaking his head.  "Got to get back."

"I was asleep," she stated.  "Dreaming."

"What woke you?"

"That, I think," she said, indicating the lit cigarette.

He dropped it and ground it out with his boot.  "Sorry."

"I'm not.  And you didn't have to put it out."

"It was just for remembrance, anyway.  Didn't really want it."  He looked at her quizzically.  "Want to patrol?"

"Is that code?  For want to talk?  Cause I think you need to talk."

He sighed deeply.  "Imagine you think I'm a right bastard.  Well, you're not far off.  So much ridin' on this, love.  Seems beyond me sometimes.  Feel like I'm smothering in it."

"Then stop trying so hard," she snapped.

His eyes narrowed.

"You're shutting yourself off.  Which is a 'me' thing, not a 'you' thing.  So start talking, you dumb vampire.  But I'm not standing out here in the dark in my jammies!"  Her face was mischievous, elfish, in the dim light.

"Buffy..."

"Look, I can see what you're trying to do here.  But the 'not talky' thing is so not you.  Now come on."

Without another word, she turned and headed back to the tree under her window and shimmied up, taking the branches like a monkey.  As she reached her window, she looked at him.  Shrugging, Spike strode toward the tree and followed her trail up.  When he reached the level of the room, her blonde hair swung forward as she leaned out the window, waiting.  Hesitating, he looked into her eyes.  She stepped back as he took a breath and climbed in.  His eyes lit on her bed and on the bound report lying there.  He smiled wryly and picked it up.

"Tell me about them," she said softly.  "The things that aren't in a file somewhere."  He saw her sit on the edge of the bed, inviting him to join her.

"Well," he said, sitting down.  "Rodriguez has a weak left..."

Buffy giggled.  "That's a start.  What else?"

"And Matthews and Jeffries?  They're a couple."

Buffy's eyebrows knit in remembrance.  Nodding finally, she said, "I can see that.  So that's in the plus column.  What else?"

"It's bloody killing me being away from you."

Smiling, Buffy got up and walked over to the dresser.  "So.  You want a drawer or something?"

"What?"

"I can clear this one out," she explained as she redistributed everything in the upper right drawer of the chest.

The corner of Spike's mouth turned up in a smirk.  "Normally, I'd say 'yeah.'  I think.  Don't remember anyone asking outright before.  But we can't be makin' a habit of this.  Need to stick close for awhile."

Unperturbed, she laughed and threw herself onto the bed.  "I could come there," she said wickedly.

"Oh, yeah," he grumbled.  "'Slayer's doing all night patrol.  In my pants.'"

"Fine. Just go on, then."  She crawled under the covers, and stretched out, turning on her side with a sigh, and looking up at him from beneath her eyelashes.  "I'm going back to my nice soft bed, while you go play soldier with the boys."

His answering chuckle was almost a growl.  "You bloody beautiful bitch," he whispered, leaning over and placing a kiss on her throat.  "Being back here is gonna play hell with my schedule," he said, as he pulled back the sheet to climb in after her, still dressed.

"Nope.  No street clothes in the bed," she said haughtily, pulling at his jacket.

Laughing, he undid the tie on her bottoms.  "No clothes of *any* kind."

+

He watched as the vampire's cold blue eyes swept the shadows, but he didn't retreat.  Let him come.

Nostrils flared as he caught the scent of the woman - all sunlight and warmed grass.  He hated the swing of her ponytail and her sharp eyes, as she came down the tree.  Hard, sharp eyes at war with the little girl hair.

Soft voices, soft looks.  Soft, both of them.  Guttable.

The girl would die.  Simple enough to kill a girl, even this one.  Especially one stupid enough to make invitations to shadows in her front yard.

She was interesting, though.  The image of splitting her open as he tore out her throat made him hard.  But he could wait.  There were other things to do first.  Amusing things.  Things that would have made Mother clap her hands in excitement.  The girl would be last of all.  He could wait, unless she interfered.

It wasn't about her, though.  He would take it all away from his brother, piece by piece, thing by thing, until there was nothing left.  Poison Cerberus at the Gate.  Then, Rip off his Head.

At least, that was what he'd been told...

They'd finally passed out of earshot.  Even his.  And not deigning to follow them up and hear more - more weak whining of his brother to the girl - he set off again to hunt.  Let them have their moments of time.  It would make the ending sweeter.  For him, anyway.

Bile rose in his throat as the nausea hit him.  His brother chose that over Mother.  Deserved to die, yes, but deep suffering first.  He would carve him out like a pumpkin and fill him with hopelessness.  Snatch them all away, one by one.  Gift wrap them and return them, red and dripping.  Carry away the children, his weak brothers, and sacrifice them to Mother's pleasure.  It was all one to him.

But not tonight.  Tonight was for small game.

Slipping through the night, he wallowed in the darkness, clad to blend into the pitch of the night skies and the darkening shadows.

He'd fed tonight, yes, but it had been unsatisfying.  The thing better than drinking it was watching it fly through the air, only to be stopped in mid-flight by solidity.  Stucco or brick were best...

The trees whispered as a light breeze stirred the branches.  Moving on, he approached the edge of the university grounds.

He'd go slow, choosing just the right one, watching over time, before painting his message on the walls.  Have to stifle the impulse to draw her blood neatly through dainty holes in her neck, her wrist, so that he could derive the greater satisfaction.

Dream of paint on the canvas, and dark strains of red chords accompanying the screeching music in his head.

+

She could smell the bacon as she floated down the stairs.  Then, she heard the sounds.  A snore stopped her cold in the living room, though.  Looked like Jonathan had stayed over.

She sped up as she heard her sister's voice amid the sizzle of cooking bacon.  She hadn't eaten at all last night.  Had never even gotten up again.  Her mouth watered in response.  Which was purely Pavlovian, she thought triumphantly.  Too bad she's already taken that test.

"Well, if it's a prophecy, then he's not a serial killer.  Right?" Buffy asked.

Dawn stepped into the kitchen and was greeted by the sight of a barefoot and shirtless Spike in front of her sister's new lap top, hair still wet from... the shower?

Even squickier was the sight of her sister, in slippers and a bathrobe, with surprise! Even wetter hair.

So, already two showers this morning, or... ugh!  Just one?

She realized Spike's eyebrows were raised in greeting, as he slid a platter of pancakes toward her.  "Mornin', Bit.  Bacon comin' up."

"This is too weird!" Dawn blurted out, sitting down heavily.  "Shirtless Spike and Bathrobe Buffy *and* breakfast?"  She tugged at her camisole, as the strap slipped slightly.  "And what are you doing here, anyway?  Not that I'm not glad.  Cause I am," she said hastily.

"Checkin' on the base.  Makin' sure it's up to spec."  The half-lie came off this tongue easily.  "And my shirt's in the wash.  Big Sis insisted."

"Hmmph."

"I can put on my jacket if you like..."

Dawn rolled her eyes.  "That's okay, fashion victim.  I'll just try to survive the traumatic sight of you and my sister being all cozy in the kitchen at 7 a.m."

"Thanks ever so," he said dryly, as he returned his attention to the laptop.

"Although my schoolwork might suffer..." she warned.

"This is the only thing I can thank the Doublemeat for," Buffy said as she turned toward Dawn with a plate of beautifully crisped bacon.  "Perfect bacon every time.  Even though what they used wasn't exactly bacon..."

"Oh, ewww!  Stepford Buffy!  Way too domestic here!"

Buffy's voice was droll.  "Well, if you call having coffee and reading over the autopsy report and looking at the gori-icious crime scene the picture of domestic - well, yep.  That's us.  All Grant Wood American Gothic."

Discomfort and fresh bacon forgotten, Dawn jumped up and came up behind Spike to look over his shoulder.  "Oooh.  It *is* words!"  She squinted.  "It is 'words', right?"  She reached over to tap on the screen.  "What's that one?"

"Cerberus," Spike answered.  "Legend has it that it's a three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell."

"Yeek.  That's gross," she said as the smell of breakfast reclaimed her attention.  She wandered back to her chair.

He smirked.  "Well, I've never met one, but it seemed to be a kind of a watcher," he explained.  He frowned in thought.

"Like Fluffy in Harry Potter?" Dawn asked, as she put peanut butter on her pancakes.

Spike's eyes widened and darted to Buffy's.

"Watcher?" she echoed.

Sighing, the vampire shook his head.  "Bugger.  Can't be that.  Too much of a reach."

Mouth full, Dawn gestured with her fork.  "Well, maybe there's more.  Were there words where the other girls were found?"

Her question landed with a thud.  Spike looked embarrassed, Buffy vaguely uncomfortable.  "You haven't even checked, have you?" Dawn crowed accusingly.  "Yay me!  Oh, yeah, oh, yeah..." she chanted.

"Okay..." Buffy commented as she looked at the vampire.  "That was a big old boo-boo."

"Wasn't thinkin' straight," Spike growled.  He brought up his email.  "Daniel might still be at the office."  He looked at the Summers sisters.  "I need the names of the other girls.  Save time."

"Madeleine Waters and Sondra Lane," Dawn answered excitedly.

"Been on your mind a bit, Nibblet?"

"Well, it seemed so unHellmouthish."

"Right.  Need to look over your choice of private reading material, I reckon."

Dawn stuck out her tongue at him.  "As if."  She looked down and saw Spike's hands race across the keyboard, typing with only two fingers.  The page filled with words.

"Wow," she said admiringly.  "You type *fast*!"

Eyes glinting in amusement, Spike grinned at her.  "Been practicin'."

"But..."

"Hello?  Vampire," he reminded her.

"Uh, that's to Daniel?"

Spike nodded, biting his lower lip as he concentrated on the body of the email.  There were a lot of things they needed to know.  Personal information on the girls, autopsy data, crime scene photos...

"Tell him I said 'hi.'"

Spike stopped typing and slowly looked up, face expressionless.  Dawn gulped and dug into the mound of food on her plate.

+

By the time Xander arrived, Buffy's hair was dry, and Spike was dressed in a freshly washed shirt and boots.  Jonathan was stuffing his face with the pancakes and slivers of bacon that remained.

"See you couldn't stay away, Soul Man."

"One more day away from your shining face was a day too long, Harris."

"And so go the Days of Our Lives... or in your case, Un-Lives."

Jonathan watched the exchange with the same absorption that a tennis fan would accord Wimbledon.  After several more insults were lobbed back and forth in the air, Spike let out a breath.

"Bottom line.  You with me on this?"

Xander's open mouth closed.  He glanced down at his feet, then at Buffy.  Finally, he looked back at Spike, whose eyes were matter of fact, and as clear as blue glass.  The man nodded slowly.  "Yeah."

"Right, then," Spike said mildly.  "Here's what we've got..."

+

The cave was dark and quiet, though the morning outside was bright and sunny. It reminded him of Mexico.

Nice memories of Mexico.  He'd left her there until his return.  Until he had what he needed to be everything she wanted.

He'd seen two girls last night.  So hard to choose...

Maybe he wouldn't.

+

Xander inched toward the hallway, where Spike was on something that looked like a "gee'd-up' cell phone.  Eavesdropping unashamedly, he tried to catch the thread.

"I'm sorry.  God, I'm so bloody sorry, Daniel, but I can't have you away."  There was a pained look on the vampire's face.

Xander leaned closer, trying to hear more.  Spike listened quietly, face still.

"No."  His response was flat.  "Just send in First Team."  Spike's voice was tight.  Xander sensed trouble in Vale.

"Sorry, Fledge, need you there," Spike's voice was regretful, but firm.

The vampire's face went stony.  He listened, lips tightening even more.  Buffy made an exasperated noise, as she realized Xander was listening in and pushed past him.

Her slayer picked up a tinny "Bullshit!" from the phone.

"I need 'em trainin'," Spike said in exasperation.  He looked at Buffy and shook his head.

+

"Then, bring in a Navy Seal!" he yelled into the phone.  "I'm there, Spike."

"Don't make me give you a bleeding order!"  Spike's voice was rising in frustration.

"Don't bother!  Won't obey it anyway!"  Daniel eyed the old, little-used filing cabinet in the corner.  Wonder how big a hole that would make in the wall?

Why didn't Spike get it?  He should, if anyone would.  There was no way Daniel could stay in Vale.  Not now.

+

"Spike... what's wrong?" said Buffy quietly.

The vampire put his hand over the phone.  "That Madeleine bird.  She's... the ex.  The... fiancé..." Spike said quietly.  "He's head up.  Wants to come back.  Now."

Xander's jaw dropped.  He'd forgotten Daniel had had a life before undeadness.  And Spike was the voice of reason?  He shook his head.  It was all too weird for him.

Buffy nodded in understanding.  "Just tell him to come on."  Xander nodded, as if anyone cared.

"He's a loose cannon," Spike said stubbornly.

"Oh, and you're not?  Who charged back into town last night over one phone call?  What would you do?  If you were in his place, what would you do?"

+

Daniel slammed down the phone without a twinge of remorse.  The receiver split at the seams.  The fledgling was shaking with anger and shock.  He'd never felt so helpless, not even when the doctors were filling him with vampire's blood on the operating table.

He'd been a good little soldier, preparing to fight the good fight.  Had finally reclaimed himself in this sequestered little world of darkness.  And now, all of a sudden, the real world - the world that *used* to be his - had slammed back into him with all the subtlety of a terrorist's bomb.

Should have stayed in Sunnydale.  He'd been keeping an eye on her, protecting her, watching out for her, as best he could.  And now she was dead.

With sick fascination, he looked again at the pictures of the place where she died.  The blood.  He'd read the autopsy already.  There was a dark hole where a sick nausea ought to be.  He felt dead.

He laughed grimly.  He *was* dead.

Quickly making a list, he fired off orders to ready First Team for its premiere field exercise.  There was no way he was staying here.  Didn't care what Spike said.  If he'd been there, she would have been safe.  Safe to finish school, meet someone else, have babies.  All the things he wouldn't do now.

He put his head in his hands briefly, trying to push away the image of her open smile.  Of the damned Irish setter who used to sleep with her.

The bastard had killed Maddie's dog, too.  She'd been out walking the stupid dog, and the son of a bitch had killed them both.  He'd read the report.  The son of a bitch had cut them up.  Cleaned them out.  And written on the wall of the rickety house she shared with her two roommates in her blood.

No way in hell he was staying in Vale...

+

"What's wrong with you?" Xander was almost yelling.  "You know he has to come back!  You'd come back, right?"  The man sat down heavily, shaking his head.  "I'd die if something like this happened to Anya.  And to be stuck where I couldn't go after him?"

Spike sat down heavily on a kitchen chair.  "We need to move on the relocation.  Can't do it with both of us here."

Taking the chair across from the vampire, Buffy tried to catch his eye.  "Call it a trial run," she suggested.  "You're bringing in First Team.  They can help get everything squared away at the old base."

"But..."

"So you're off schedule," she said dismissively.  "Since when had *anything* here been convenient, or worked out like we planned?"

Xander nodded in agreement.  "Bring 'em here, get 'em patrolling.  They'll catch the guy.  Then, you have troops that know the lay of the land when you bring in the rest."

"When did you get all supportive?" Spike asked dryly.  "And are you volunteering to play 'scout?'"

Shrugging, Xander smiled self-deprecatingly.  "I does what I cans.  And Jonathan's in the know.  Right, Jonny?"

"God, don't call me that." Jonathan swallowed quickly and spoke up.  "And yeah, I'm in, too.  Whatever you need."

"All right, then," Spike said nodding.  "But it would be better if he stayed there.  I'm not backing off that."

"Don't hold your breath," the man mumbled.

"Not in the habit of it, Harris."

+

While the fledgling vampires of First Team and five techs whispered quietly, Daniel stared at the wall of the cargo hold, as images of maize-colored hair glinted in the sun.

Her schoolbooks were spread around her, but her laptop was closed.  She dozed on her stomach, arm under her head, lying in the late afternoon sun.

Periodically, Daniel would look up from his manuals to stare at her, as the light breeze lifted tendrils of her hair and laid them softly on her sun-flushed face.  Her dog was off sniffing at the trees - and any other dogs that might come along.

She was so beautiful.  Not model-pretty - more interesting than that.  She had a crooked smile that made her seem as if she was looking at the world with a quirky sense of self.  Which she did.

Planning to go to law school, her studies were tangled up with every moment of her day.  School time, work time, quiet time, Daniel time.  Her mind was constantly racing, turning everything over and over, and examining flaws and parallels.  Even when she was crying over some 'chick flick' she'd dragged him to.

She liked Wagner and Natalie Merchant.  Nina Simone and Stone Temple Pilots.  She liked action movies and horror flicks, dramas and parodies.  She ran five miles a day, and worked out three days a week.

Sometimes, when school was too much, and the physical and mental exertion floored her, she'd take two days off, watch "Lifetime," and eat popcorn and fat-filled ice cream.

She loved her mother, her dog, and Daniel.  Hopefully, not in that order.

The wall of the plane came back into focus as Daniel chin set.  Shaking the image away, he tried to calm down by taking a deep breath and letting it out.  The oxygen didn't mean anything, but the gesture seemed to help.

Spike would ship his ass right back to Vale if he saw any reason to at all.  So he wouldn't give him a reason.  He'd be calm and do his job.  And if he got a chance to get his hands on the murdering bastard that slaughtered Maddie...

He'd drain him dry.



Rating: PG-13 (and one very bad word) Action/Adventure/Mystery
Pairing: Hell, yes, B/S!
Summary: A string of murders brings Spike back to Sunnydale, before the project is ready.
Distribution: "Reminders" and "Shepherd", as well as "Two Days" and previous chapters of "Wolf" are available at "Amare, Dare, Pardonare" http://www.geocities.com/cxyzjacobs/btvsfic/chrisindex.html and at Laura's site http://www.allaboutspike.com
You will no longer find any of my fic at Fanfiction.net.
Spoilers: Season 7 AU, maybe even 8, by now. Post- Voices/Reminders/Shepherd/Two Days.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time... except Daniel and DeLuca. Hah! Take that, Joss!
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com
Author's Notes: Very huge-ish chappie this go round. You can almost count it as two. Hope it doesn't disappoint after the long wait...

Thanks be what has become a team of betas: Chris, who is always, always en Pointe; Kelly, who cut through to the real meat of this chapter, told me something I didn't know, and gave me a helluva beta; and Colleen, always my final word, who gave me a great side line and offered excellent input on the finer points of proper Pop Tart etiquette... Although Kelly is shocked at eating them right out of the package, I myself find they are good any way, anytime.



Chapter Five

Spike walked into his new habitat at Lowell House. Nothing dank and dark about it, but there was something... forbidding. Perhaps the idea that it was once where Maggie Walsh had slept - probably even on the same night she'd had her scientists cut open the vampire's head and insert the computer chip - might have something to do with it.

Trying to be objective, he looked it over. More like an apartment than a dorm room. He suspected she'd had it enlarged to her specifications when she'd chosen to live there, above the Initiative base.

The trim and molding in the rest of Lowell was white, but here, there was rich vibrant wood, wall and floor. Seemed very Old World and not particularly what he would have expected of the Hellbitch.

With a slight wrinkle to his nose, he looked closely at the color on the walls - where they weren't paneled in cherry. Un-life could really be ironic sometimes. He was going to be living on the UC Sunnydale campus, playing dorm mother to a bunch of newborn vampires in a flat that would've made him feel very much at home in 1880.

One change needed to be made soon. Thick blackout curtains, hastily hung by some inept workman, allowed a thread of light to enter the room on either side of the large window. Luckily, it was the only window. He'd never been a wanker about sunlight like some vampires he knew, but even he would rest easier with something a little more substantial between fiery death and him.

Must be getting old.

He walked around the large room, opening doors. If the small galley-style kitchen was any indication, it seemed Walsh had had very little interest in cooking - obviously, one thing they had in common, albeit for different reasons. The private bath featured a decent tub for soaking demon goo and potentially painful cuts and bruises away. The mirror was a moot point, of course. Hopefully, there'd be someone who might make use of it.

Spike's mind was racing. The flat was on the ground floor. Could he sneak her into his room? Not like they needed to make a habit of it at her house. Maybe if he didn't do it very often?

But if he did... well, there was the bed. The furniture, for the most part, looked as if it had been gathered haphazardly and rather hastily from several locations. On the other hand, the bed looked like it had always been there.

Hell, he'd slept on worse things than the leavings of Maggie Walsh, but he was damned if Buffy would.

Hadn't realized it would bother him so much. It was just a stripped-down room - one he'd thought of as fairly anonymous until he'd walked inside.

He'd seen Maggie Walsh once, when Fyarl-Giles had leapt from his old Citreon to chase the bitch into a high-heeled hobbled run. When he thought of Walsh, his mind conjured up the travesty that was 'Adam,' Walsh's demonic/human/cyborg version of Frankenstein. He winced. Absolutely had to do something about that bed.

He discovered a very large closet, the size of a small room, behind a crack in the cherry-paneled wall. The hinges were hidden. The room had probably served as a private office, as he'd already found a clothes closet. Wires coming out of the interior wall and going nowhere seemed to bear out his theory. The room was large enough for a bed and highboy, and might be a better use of the windowless space for a paranoid vampire. Once the door was completely closed, the doorway melted into the rest of the wall.

"This place isn't very secure for a super secret facility," Xander Harris said derisively. "I walked right in and puttered all over 'til I found you." He let out a whistle. "And if this is supposed to be the Fortress of Solitude, well... not very ice castley, is it?"

Caught unaware, Spike almost jumped, but instead wheeled around and shot daggers at Xander. "Bloody hell, Harris, nothin' secret up here. All that lot's downstairs, under about thirty feet of rock and soil."

"Nice." The man nodded in approval, as he walked around peering behind doors. "Roomy. Do all dorm rooms here look like this? Cause man!"

"No. But since you wouldn't have much of a frame of reference..." It looked like the Scooby was determined to kill him with kindness - a new tack for him. Spike refused to die without a fight.

"Just makin' conversation. I used to go to Buffy and Will's room." He looked in at the kitchen. "Better than my first place, that's for sure," he said over his shoulder.

"Your first place was your mum's basement," Spike said bitingly. "But yeah, better than my last place, too. And the one before that for certain... which, as I remember, was your mum's basement."

Xander walked over and fingered the heavy draperies. "One thing about that basement. It was short on windows. You can't be feelin' too good about this," he commented mildly, shooting a glance at Spike. "But if there's a blitz, you're all prepared."

"Not worried about the Blitz. Though I was there, and the explosions and random fires were a bit off-putting. But stray tendrils of sunlight? Well, this is the east side and all." He popped open the door to the small room and nodded to Xander. "Was thinkin' about bunkin' in here."

Frowning, Xander walked into the hidden study. "Little tight," he called out. He peeked around the door. "Your downstairs at the crypt was a lot bigger."

"Well, yeah, caves, you know. Large, while keeping that cozy, snug as an old shoe feeling," he said sarcastically.

The man walked back into the main room and approached the window again, squinting at it. "Shutters might be better here." He looked around the room. "Interior shutters. In cherry," he said, appraising the large double window.

"Yeah. But I'd need a cabinetmaker, right? Reckon they work 'days'..." Spike said ruefully.

Chuckling, Xander turned back. "Yeah, the unobstructed window thing could get a little sticky when you slip in for naptime," he said agreeably. "And you want to get in here as soon as you can, I guess." Xander's studied offhandedness made it clear that he wanted Spike settled in at Lowell, and fast. Obviously, Dawn had mentioned that the vampire had been stayed the night at Buffy's the night before.

Spike didn't take offense. He wasn't particularly comfortable with the idea of Dawn walking into her sister's room himself, even if he and Buffy were both asleep, rather than...awake. That pesky Victorian upbringing surfaced at the oddest times.

The carpenter was still staring at the wide window. "Hell, I could do it," he said slowly. "Take the measurements, commission the job, and install them when they're done." He glanced at Spike with an apologetic grin. "Really, I'd love to build 'em, got some great tools for this kind of stuff, but it takes time to do it right. Don't have a lot of that lately." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Could do it in a day, I think. After they're built."

"Carpentry work really seems to get your motor runnin', mate," Spike said cuttingly. "Remind me not to be around when you do it."

Xander's grin didn't fade. "Hey, whatever gets me through the night, right? Not like there's a lot of fun and frolic at my place at the moment. And I sure don't want Buffy in mourning over a helping of extra crispy Spike."

"Uh, that'd be pile of dust - nothin' extra crispy about it. Oh. And you're a real prince for bringin' it up, Harris," he said dryly. "A regular Little Lord Fautleroy. Still, you're on."

"Call me Bob the Builder, then. 'Can we build it? Yes, we...'" Xander's voice trailed off at Spike's blank stare. He cleared his throat. "Uh, so let's see the rest of this place. And if you think *this* is a turn on for me, you oughta see me around secret military installations."

"If I get too uncomfortable, I'll find you a private guide."

Grinning, Xander nodded. "Female, please. And a beating heart would be good."

+

Buffy was desperately trying not to doze off. Not that she was tired, of course, but this particular professor had a monotonous drone that would have sent her to Sleepytown even if she hadn't spent most of the night doing the horizontal (and vertical and diagonal) mambo.

Giving up on paying attention to the oh-so-boring lecture, she thought back to the information that Daniel had forwarded on Sunnydale's newest bad.

Nasty stuff. She had a flash of a Lifetime movie she'd caught once about Jeffrey Dahlmer. Yuck! Vampire killings made some kind of convoluted sense. When you're one with the bloodsucking undead, you eat or you waste away. But people doing those things to other people... well, now, *that* was evil!

Jonathan had pointed out something odd - or it had seemed odd to him. The killer's M.O. was a little different each time. Every murder had a new element, in addition to what had gone before. The writing on the wall was new, even if the blood-splashing wasn't. Jonathan had called it 'progressive killing.' Buffy didn't know if that was FBI profiling talk or Jonathan's own description - sometimes it was hard to tell. But it seemed ominous enough. Like the monster was working up to something.

There was so little human crime in Sunnydale that Buffy felt off-kilter. Disturbances were pretty much of demon origin, with a witch or warlock thrown in here and there to spice up the mix. She recalled the muggers she'd caught a couple of years ago. Remembered the feeling of surprise at interrupting a simple robbery. Then, Spike had interrupted her, and...

Anyone prowling around for nefarious purposes was pretty much vampire fodder after one go. Those who rolled into town for an easy mark soon ended up rolling off a gurney and into a drawer at the Sunnydale morgue. It was easily the busiest place in town - and that included the Bronze.

Of course, the demonic activity lately was almost nil. Maybe word had gotten out to the human baddies. Maybe she was in for a career change.

Jonathan had trolled around on the computer for a while earlier, and had found a girl who might have been the first victim. She'd been found barely alive about three weeks ago on the steps of her apartment building. Slashed at neck and wrists rather haphazardly, she probably would have lived if her neighbors had answered the buzzer she'd somehow managed to activate. The girl had dragged herself half a block to her building, leaving a blood trail to show her progress.

Strangely enough, it was clear to Buffy that no vampire had been attracted to the freely bleeding girl. Photographs showed the massive amount of dark blood pooled under and around her. The police report said that the edges were already dry when they arrived.

Buffy looked down at her notebook. Her pen was tracing over the letters she'd written there.

CERBERUS

What had Spike said? Watchdog? Gates of hell? Some crazy killer into Satan, instead of alien abductions? She knew lots of serial killers believed in aliens. They'd said so in 'Silence of the Lambs.'

Okay, forget aliens. What if this guy was calling *himself* Cerberus? What if he thought he was the watcher at the Gates of Hell?

And what was he watching for, anyway?

+

"Oh, an empty house!" Dawn said sarcastically. "Big shock." She turned to Jonathan. "Where is everybody?" She'd been a little surprised that Jonathan had been waiting for her outside the school, driving Xander's car, but she hadn't asked until now.

Jonathan thought for a moment. "I guess they're not back yet. The Slayer had a class she couldn't miss. Spike asked Xander meet him at the old Initiative base." He shrugged. "Guess it's just us for awhile."

"Xander with Spike? That sounds all Hellmouth doomish to me," she commented as she put her schoolbag on the kitchen table. "Things must be really bad."

"Yeah, almost like 'dogs and cats living together.'" Jonathan chuckled at his own joke. Dawn didn't. "From Ghostbusters. You know, Peter Vinckman says..." The girl's eyes were blank. "Never mind," he said, a little embarrassed. "I think he was going over to check out the refit on the base. Professional curiosity. They're redoing that place top to bottom."

Dawn laughed. "Good! I hope somebody paints the walls. All that white gave my eyes a concussion!"

"May be." He turned his attention to the kitchen cabinets. "I'm starving. Are you starving?"

Dawn followed him to the cabinet and looked inside. "Mmm. Chocolate Pop Tarts." Jonathan reached up to get the box for her. It was too high. He stepped back, head down.

Solemnly, the girl easily palmed the box and handed it to him.

"Thanks," he muttered, looking down.

She waited for him to open the box, put her hand out for a foil-wrapped package, and waved it in the air. "Nothing like good old preservatives," she said in way of a toast.

Jonathan opened an identical package, slid out a single pastry, and bit into it. "I thought we might try to get in some practice today..." he said, as he chewed.

Her answer passed through the mass of pastry, as a hand went in front of her mouth to hide the evidence. "Where?" she mumbled.

Swallowing, Jonathan made sure his mouth was clear of food before he spoke again. "I thought we could work on the locks here."

Dawn shook her head, as she opened the refrigerator. "Sounds boring. I already know how to - oh, gross!" She turned to the man, hand going to her hip. "Look at this! Spike groceries," she explained, holding up a jar filled with thick red blood. "Which means no going half-asleep for juice anymore." She sighed. "And so it begins. You know," she began, "he might as well just move in! *Then*, he can have his own shelf. At least that way I'd know better than to run around the house in my bra and jeans ever again."

Jonathan choked a little on the bite he'd just taken. Between the mini Buffy-rant and the 'bra and jeans' remark, he was pretty much undone.

"Put your arm up! Quick!" Concerned, the teen rushed over and lifted one of his arms above his head. Obediently, Jonathan left it there, face reddening as the cough subsided. "Mom used to tell me to do that and it always worked." She looked into his teary eyes. "Better, right?" She sank down into a chair. "Isn't there another place we could practice? Practice on something harder than my house? Which I already have *so* nailed," she stated in a matter of fact voice.

Still coughing lightly, Jonathan nodded. "Maybe," he choked out. "Let me think about it. But first... homework."

"Only if you'll help," she said stubbornly.

"Sure. No problemo."

+

"So, what do you think?" Spike asked, as they wound up back in the 'Pit'.

Xander looked at him incredulously. "Does the phrase 'snail's pace' mean anything to you?"

With a triumphant nod, Spike smiled dangerously. "I knew it! Knew they were screwin' around!"

"Well, don't kill anybody, Chipless. You're not the first guy that ever got screwed on a construction job - maybe the first vampire ever... but hell, they may just need guidance," the man said sagely. "Who's doing the oversee on this? Looks like you need to have a talk with him."

Spike stared at him. "*I'm* handlin'..."

Shaking his head, the man interrupted. "No. I mean, on site. Which one of these guys is in charge on site?" he asked patiently, as if he were questioning a child.

Spike looked confused. "Well, different ones for different things."

"Oh. My. God." Xander rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "Spikey, you need help. You need somebody to ramrod this."

"I do?" he said innocently.

"Of course, you do. If I was working this job, I could have it out six ways to Sunday in two weeks."

"Two weeks?" Brightening perceptibly, the vampire smiled slyly. "You volunteerin' to ramrod, nimrod?"

Xander put up both hands and made the sign of the cross with his fingers. "And look at your blanched whitefish face every day? Don't think so."

The gesture didn't faze the vampire. "Pay you," Spike said persuasively. "US American dollars. Lots of 'em. Just to get this sodding hellhole ready." Spike settled his shoulders and smiled ingratiatingly. "You can be a consultant. Like me."

Recoiling, Xander took a deep breath and exploded. "Hey, so *not* you, bitey guy!" He reflected for a moment. "And who says I have time?"

"Christ, Harris, nobody's asking you to move in. Just pop in, put the fear of God - or the devil, don't care which - in 'em and pop out. Pop back in, do it again. Til it's done," he said decisively. "Wait. What am I thinking?" Spike shook his head, as if clearing it. "You couldn't take on a job this big..."

"Hey. Hey! I'll have you know I'm damn good at what I do!" Xander was stung by the implication. "And I can sure handle *this* little refit!"

"Prove it, whelp," Spike said flatly. "I'll put my money where your mouth is."

Xander stared into the vampire's eyes, answering the challenge without a word. As a slow smirk quirked the corner of Spike's mouth, the man realized he'd been had. "Hold on a minute, you bastard," he said slowly. "You're trying to..."

"Eh, eh, eh. Not nice to bite the hand that wants to feed the kitty," Spike taunted. "I can't do it and chase baddies, too, right? And you think I'm doin' a piss poor job, anyway."

The man saw the truth in that. Plus the fact that he could have loads of fun on the government dollar. "You're on." Xander cleared his throat. "With reservations, of course."

"Sorry," Spike said snarkily. "Full up. No room at the Inn." At the man's frustrated breath, he relented. "What?"

"Just a question. Are these vamps you've got comin'... well, I didn't ask, but I've been wonderin'."

"What, Harris? Just stop natterin' and ask!"

"Are they chipped? Like you were? Cause if they're not..."

Spike's face hardened. Turning without responding, he flagged down a workman. "Need my office. It ready?" he asked in a growl.

"Uh, I think so," the man stuttered stepping back at the glint in Spike's eyes. He looked back over his shoulder in the direction of the office complex area.

Spike looked at Xander with hard blue eyes. "Want to talk 'chip?'" he snarled. "Fine, then. Let's."

+

They would head to the old Initiative base after dark. The vampires, techs, and equipment cargo would make a caravan to the woods pretty obvious in the light of day.

Daniel was beginning to feel some trepidation about meeting with Spike, after basically cooling his heels in an airplane hanger for four hours. He had disobeyed an order - a pretty direct order - from a superior not-officer.

Would this get back to General Paxton? He would have come anyway, but yelling 'bullshit' at his not-boss might muddy the road of advancement. He didn't expect Shepherd to stay with the project vamps forever. And he'd planned to be ready to take over.

Of course, bottom line was, he'd been prepared to hitch-hike back to Sunnydale, just on the strength of the implied and very indirect threat to Dawn. But Madeleine's murder had tipped him over. Now it was personal.

Too personal.

Suddenly, he had begun thinking about his mom and dad, his older brother and younger sister. Wondering about what they were doing, how they were. Thank God they were in Seattle, and not in Sunnydale.

Daniel had liked Seattle. How the hell had he ended up living in this place anyway? Or more importantly, dying here?

Completely at loose ends with his laptop and papers all tucked away in cargo, he practiced going in and out of game face on command, feeling the surge of strength and power course through him. Quickly, he grew bored. It wouldn't take vamping out to kill the dirt bag that had bled Maddie.

Wouldn't even take a gun...

+

Lengthening his stride and picking up his pace just to stay abreast of Spike, Xander tried to figure out what had set the vampire off. It had been a simple question, after all. Pushing open a door, Spike nodded curtly at the man to precede him into the small room.

He took the only chair in the bare office. "Okay, what? And why are you going all evil undead about it?"

Mouth twisting in a sneer, Spike paced the almost empty room. "Cut off my balls, didn't they? Put 'em on the mantelpiece like ornamentals, right?" He slid Xander a cold look. "Well? Didn't they?"

"Okay, I can see where you might have some residual issues." Spreading his hands in truce, the man sat back. "But I really don't think you'd be with Buffy right now if you hadn't been chipped. Fact is," he said, unable to resist the jibe, "I think you'd be fertilizing roses somewhere by now."

"Says you," Spike shot back. "And m'not talkin' about stoppin' the killin'. Not being able to defend myself, even from a git like you... *that* was buggerin' hard to stomach. Takes a man down."

Xander let the 'man' remark lie, even though an ice pick of a comment was stabbing at his brain.

"When I started this thing, didn't know what I was gettin' into. Didn't think." He saw Xander's mouth open to comment. "I know, I know. It's a shortcomin' I've got," he said in exasperation. At Xander's knowing look, he blurted out, "Hey, I'm workin' on it, all right? But to answer your question, no, they weren't chipped when we found them. That's why Finn wanted me so badly, remember? For *my* chip. The chip that worked."

Spike put a hand behind his neck and twisted his head slightly to relieve the tension. "We get to Vale, and the whole authority thing starts stickin' in my craw first thing. Hated it with Angelus, and I hated it a damn sight worse with all those military types millin' around and pokin' their noses in."

Xander nodded in understanding. "When Uncle Sam says he wants 'you,' I don't think you're the 'you' he had in mind." He prodded Spike a little. "But you stayed."

"Bloody right, I did! Courage of my convictions, wrong-headed as they might have been at the time. Always was a stubborn git. Still, I was missing Buffy... even missin' you, whelp, which is a big indication of my mental state." He shook his head in remembrance. "Then, Paxton comes to me. Tells me they've got the chip ready."

Xander was confused. "But your chip..."

"Was splinters of plastic under the slayer's well-turned heel. Turns out it didn't matter. Finn got what he wanted before he started playin' games with my head. They'd run every kind of scan, found the frequencies, traced back this lone signal, and got everything they needed to reinvent the sodding wheel. And they did." He sighed. "Fought it, of course."

"Fought it?" Xander nearly came out of the chair. "Sweet Aunt Fannie, Spike, what the hell were you thinking? They're vampires! No matter how or why they were made!"

The vampire looked at him coolly. "What was I thinking? I wasn't. I blame massive head trauma for my temporary insanity. And numerous blows to the nose, a plastic stake in my chest, an axe inches from my head..."

"Hey!"

Spike started pacing the small space, two steps, and turn. Two steps, turn. Xander was already dizzy by the time he spoke again. "Mate, I been through one too many games of Kick the Spike. In the last four years, I've had my nose broken more times than a sodding prizefighter!"

"Hey, hey! Now *that* was Buffy!"

"Anyway, they tell me they're doin' it - chippin' 'em, just like I was. Pitched a bloody fuss, I did. Like they cared." He stopped and glanced at Xander with an old-time Spike look. "Then, well, I got smart."

He fixed Xander with resentful blue eyes. "No reason *they* have to spend their un-lives as anybody's punchin' bag." He smirked at Xander. "Sussed it out and made a proposal. Damn good one, too." The vampire shrugged. "Didn't matter, of course. In the end, we had to resort to good old-fashioned blackmail."

"'We?' You and Buffy blackmailed the Department of Defense?"

Spike barked a laugh. "Not Buffy, you git. Couldn't bother the slayer with this. Wouldn't. And it needed finesse. They'd have quietly staked me, no one the wiser. So I called Rupert." Xander's mouth dropped open. "Gave him the names of the boys and their families, and he put together a press release - plus a list of where those releases would go. Some photos, a few medical reports sprinkled in... and presto, change of heart by the powers that be.

"Took four months on the inside, fighting hell for leather, and watching my own back the whole time, but I did it. They can restrain a human," he continued, ticking the points off on his fingers, "so long as there's no bodily harm. Can act in self-defense, too - long as it's non lethal."

Xander stared at Spike as he slowly shook his head. "I am so not believing this. You called Giles?"

"Havin' trouble keepin' up?" The vampire took in and let out a breath. "Who else? Needed a brain. I was way too close to do much of anything except wring my hands... and make idle threats."

"Oh, like you did when you were still chipped?" Xander interrupted.

"Well, I couldn't very well eat the entire chain of command, could I?" Spike said, amused. "That wouldn't have gone over at all.

"The Watcher knows his way around those ruddy hypocritical bureaucracies. *He* thought it was a bloody awful situation all round." Spike smiled fondly. "Old Rupert may be a judgmental pillock, but he's an *unbiased* judgmental pillock." He shook his head. "Inherited a sodding Watcher of my own for all my trouble - and a right bastard he is, too - but still in all, it was a fair barter."

Xander looked at his hands. The vampires were chipped - which was a relief. "So. Twenty-seven chipped vampires."

"Twenty-six," Spike corrected him. "Still an experiment of sorts, Harris. That's where the money comes from. So there's a control."

"Control?"

"Well. Yeah. You know, like in a lab? You do know labs, right?"

"Hold it." Xander ran through Spike's words in his head. "I get it now. Daniel isn't chipped."

"And therein, lies the rub, 'cause the boy's out for blood."

"Wouldn't you be?" Xander muttered.

"I'll stake him if I have to," Spike said in a matter of fact voice.

Xander laughed ruefully. "I don't think so."

"If I don't, they will. So you better stand with me on this."

"Get me a red pen and a calendar. You're asking for my help? Again?"

Spike let out a frustrated breath. "Yeah. Makes my skin crawl doin' it..."

"Hmm," Xander mused. "Me help you. Repeatedly." He looked at Spike wryly. "It's a novel concept. Not necessarily a valid one, but yeah, a concept." He nodded. "Fine. I'm in, crazy as it sounds."

"Insane's more like it. Now, how much money will it take to get you here?"

Xander gave Spike a measuring look. "To get this place up to snuff, or keep an eye on Daniel?" he asked pointedly.

Spike looked down uncomfortably. "Uh, both," he mumbled.

"Daniel's free of charge. But to deal with these guys, well, let's just say... a lot. I'm all up for screwing the Pentagon!"

"You and every other defense contractor in the United States..." Spike muttered.

+

Dawn was sitting on the sofa watching Oprah when Buffy got in.

"Hey."

"Hi," Buffy answered as she started up the steps.

"Dr. Phil is being so lame today. Way out of touch," the teenager commented.

The slayer stopped. "Wait a minute. No TV until homework's done, remember? No homework, no Oprah and no Dr. Phil."

"It's done," the teen said nonchalantly.

The slayer came back down the steps and put her hands on her hips. Dr. Phil was getting more and more agitated by a teenager in the audience. She got that. "Done," she echoed. Glancing at Dawn, she nodded toward the television. "A little more clarification before Dr. Phil's head explodes. 'Done' by you?"

"Jonathan helped," the girl answered, as her hand did a perfect swan dive into the bowl of popcorn in her lap.

"And you understand it." The half-question, half-statement was made in Mom-voice - a voice that dared Dawn to lie, because it would know if she did.

"Yep. Got it, your Slayerness." Giving up on Dr. Phil, Dawn muted the sound and turned to her sister. "Did you find out anything about the girl at school? Jenny?"

"A little," Buffy admitted. "Not enough, but a little." She stepped over Dawn's outstretched feet and sank down on the sofa beside her, staring absently at the wall. "I really need to see the body." Dawn flinched. "The autopsy report is inconclusive. That's what it says. Inconclusive." She shook her head. "I don't know if they're inept or covering up. I need to see the depth of the wounds. See if there's anything they missed that I'd get. Like the kind of wounds, I think. I think." Her eyes glazed over. "I think, therefore I..."

"You're rambling."

Buffy's eyes refocused. "I know." She turned to Dawn with a shrug. "Two hours with the Nutty Professor and I'm toast."

Nodding in sympathy, the girl offered Buffy some popcorn. "And the semester's barely started. I get that. And mentally, I'm sending you all kinds of study strength." She changed the subject abruptly. "How long is Spike staying *this* time? And am I going to wake up in the morning and find him here again?"

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Slipped that second one right in, didn't you?"

"Noticed that, huh? Well, guess what I noticed? Blood in the refrigerator. So I thought I should ask."

"Should?"

"Okay, would. 'Would' ask," Dawn clarified, pursing her lips.

"First question." Buffy ticked off the first one on one finger. "He's back. Period."

"Unless he has another mid-life crisis..." the girl muttered. For someone who wouldn't go when everyone wanted him to, he was certainly good at disappearing when it was finally okay to stick around. Just like every other man she knew.

Buffy ignored the remark. "The first group is here by now, with Daniel, I suspect, though Spike wasn't too happy about that. They start recognizance tomorrow night."

Dawn kept her face still and filed that away for 'later' reference. Even with that news, she wasn't going to let up. "Next..." She let the word hang in mid-air.

"Nope. My turn. Now, would it be so horrible? If you woke up and he was here?"

"Not horrible. Just..."

"Just what?"

"I'd like to *know* when he's going to be here," she said stubbornly, chin thrust forward. "Cause I walked in on the two of you before he left for Vale, and it was a seven on the 'Yuck' meter. I mean, you always farmed me out when you were going to boink Riley, and..."

Buffy covered her face with her hand. "Did you have to go there?" she complained. "I mean that particular 'there?' And 'farmed you out?' That's..." Buffy abandoned the mom voice. "Okay, 'fair,' I guess. That's fair."

"Let's make this easy," Dawn said in a rational voice. "He's officially a boyfriend? Or, um, whatever?"

"Yep." The slayer took a deep breath and let it out. She'd been through these Dawn interrogations before, and they always made her feel trapped. Like the next sound out of her sister's mouth would be 'ah, ha!'

"Slaying and sometime bed partner," she said definitively, as Buffy cringed silently. "Not gonna change your mind after I get all attached, right?"

"First, can the bed partner remark. Second, despite his name, Spike is not a puppy. So as far as getting attached, knock yourself out. But remember, he could still get hit by a stake tomorrow."

"Okay, that's enough of the dog analogy thingy, cause I just got a flash of Lady and the Tramp."

"Well, relax," Buffy said soothingly. "Cause there are no puppies in the foreseeable future."

"Oh." Dawn got a wistful look on her face. "No puppies?"

"I don't know how this is going to go anymore than he does. But from where I'm standing, I look like the bigger relationship risk here. After all, I've chased off two other ones already, and him once. For the most part, his boyfriend history looks pretty solid." Buffy grimaced. "Except for that whole Harmony thing."

"Eww." Dawn shivered in remembrance. "Did you have to go there? I mean *that* 'there?' Cause again, ewww..."

+

Xander was shaking his head in wonder when he returned to the Summers house. Buffy looked up from dinner. "What?" she said, half-smile on her face at his bemused look.

He slung himself into a chair. "Your boyfriend," he said simply.

The slayer sighed. "What did he do this time?" she said as Xander stared at the food on her plate.

"Conned me into a contract," he said as he picked up a fork and snagged some of her salad.

"What?" Looking up with wide eyes, Buffy almost choked on her food.

His explanation came out in a rush. "Things are a mess over there, Buff. And he is absolutely clueless. It's taken all day for them to paint a wall. One wall!" He grinned wryly. "He hinted, I hooked myself on the bait, and suddenly, I'm a conned-tractor. Or cod-tractor as the case may be. Since I'm the one on the hook."

One corner of Buffy's mouth turned up. She covered it with her hand.

"Hey!" Xander's face reddened. "No laughing."

A sound mysteriously like a snort made its way around her hand. "Sorry," she apologized, eyes dancing with suppressed mirth.

"Not completely stupid," he proclaimed. "Getting paid here. Several round zeros on the left side of the decimal point for the Xanman," he crowed.

"Good." She nodded, then, looked down at her plate. "Hungry?"

"Yeah, but salad's not on my happy-happy joy-joy list of food goodness. Meat guy, remember?"

"Xander, everything you say lately sounds sexual..."

He grinned self-deprecatingly. "I guess that's what happens when you're between girlfriends and not getting any."

+

Daniel walked into Spike's new office, chin high and back stiff with anticipation. The older vampire was putting away files.

"Well, well. Fledge. See you didn't take my 'advice.'"

The younger vampire was silent.

"I should be kicking your undead ass back to Vale about now. Or stuffing you in a lockbox and onto a cargo carrier. But I'm not. Seem to think I can make your unlife right miserable without you going anywhere."

"Thanks," Daniel mumbled.

Shooting him a hard look, Spike made a very rude noise. "Don't thank me. You can thank the Slayer. M'Still throroughly brassed off, believe me. But instead of kickin' your ass, I'm gonna work it off you." He picked up the hard copy of a report and set it on a shelf. "Gonna run the first patrol tonight, instead of tomorrow. You need to pull maps and acquaint the boys with the layout." Spike narrowed his eyes. "We're headin' out in four hours. Little later than I'd like, but for tonight, it'll do. And the slayer's comin' with. That's all."

Daniel turned crisply and headed out the door, heaving a silent sigh of relief.

"And Daniel?"

Uh, oh. The other shoe. He turned back, schooling his face to impassivity.

Spike looked him over, eyes intense. "I'm very sorry about your girl," the older vampire said softly. His voice regained a hint of steel, as his eyes pierced Daniel's. "But understand this. There'll be no private investigations of any kind. No withholding of information. And you'll do what I say from here on, or I'll ship you back to Vale - and Ralston - so fast your fangs rattle."

Daniel nodded.

"We'll get him, but no goin' off half-cocked. Could bollix up things for everybody. Now... is that clear?"

"Crystal."

"Sod it, Daniel, stop sayin' that! Feel like I'm in a bad war movie."

+

Dawn was heading out the front door as Spike raised a hand to knock on it. "Patrolling?" she said in a flip voice.

"Well, yeah. Gang's all here now." He smiled. "Thought it was time to get 'em out on the streets... or at least the paved byways of the Sunnyrest Cemetery."

"So. You sticking around this time, or what?" she asked curtly.

Spike looked at the girl questioningly.

"Oh, don't. Don't even try the headtilt on me. It might work on Buffy... and yeah, it used to work on me, but I'm onto you now."

"Headtilt? That's a form of communication now? A headtilt?"

"Don't go all innocent on me, Mister. I want to know what your intentions are."

He sighed. "What's this about, then?"

"Oh, maybe that your comings and goings around here are beginning to look a lot like a revolving door at Macy's?" she said snarkily.

"C'mon, Bit, do you really think that's fair?"

"I don't know. You tell me. Is it?"

Spike took a deep breath. "You know this is complicated, Little Bit. Has been from the get-go."

Dawn snarled at him. "All I know is, I'm sick and tired of watching Buffy mope around every time you leave. Every time you have one of your little mid-life crisis thingies."

Drawing himself to full height, he raised an eyebrow. "I do *not* have mid-life crises. Besides, I'm dead."

"Okay," she shrugged. "Mid-unlife crisis, then. All I know is, you men all seem to have 'em. Dad had one. Giles had one, and I guess Angel had one, too, which *so* fits my mid-un-life theory. Even Xander, who isn't even close to mid-life. Man equals mid-life..."

"Christ, stop saying that!"

"Okay, how's this? You needed to be your own person. Make your own place in the world," she said condescendingly.

"Bit..." he said through gritted teeth.

"Oh, and by the way, spending the night at Xander's tonight, so if you two are going to boink, you don't have to worry about me walking in on you." She watched in satisfaction as Spike's jaw dropped. "As if you ever do. Just take the house down if you want." With that, she slipped out the door and out to Xander's waiting car.

"Jesus!" Spike was almost shaking with anger and embarrassment.

"What's wrong?" Buffy called down the steps.

Spike raised his voice to carry up the stairs. "Your ever-frightening sister."

"Oh," she called down. "She got you, too?"

"'Got' me? It's gonna take years of analysis to..."

"She has abandonment issues. Obviously," Buffy said, as she bounced down the stairs. She was wearing a black turtleneck and corduroy pants, black watch cap pulled down over her ears, like every other coed on the Sunnydale campus. Spike forgot about Dawn and looked her over approvingly. "Fetching, love."

She made a face. "I wasn't going for a fashion statement here. More college uniform for the female masses. Besides, you've made me so nervous about DeLuca that I thought I'd dress down."

The vampire chuckled. "Like that cap's gonna hide that glorious hair. And black is rather flattering on you. I've always thought so."

"You'd think 'black' was flattering on a golden retriever," she said dryly. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you'd eaten Henry Ford."

"There's my girl. All full o' piss and vinegar. I was beginning to miss you."

She smiled. "Are we taking the truck? I'm so up for the truck."

"And it's black, too. Will wonders never cease?" He shook his head. "Going on foot. I'll leave it here and pick it up after." Looking around, he grabbed at a dark coat. "Taking this one?"

"Sure. Why not?" He held out the coat as she slipped an arm in. "Mmm. So polite."

"Hey, even when I was all evil, y'know?"

+

"Feeling all crampy here." A whine of complaint came through in the short statement.

"Oh, we crampin' your style, pet?" Spike grinned rakishly at her, as he translated from Buffy-speak. "Wondered how long you'd last. Patience has never been your strong suit, Slayer."

"Yada, yada. It's not like I'm bored or anything."

"Bollocks! You're bored to bloody tears..."

"Okay, I'm bored. And there's nothing around here. I need to get some private demon hunting in. I'm restless and getting wiggier by the minute. Are these guys gonna patrol with you every time from now on?"

"For now? Yeah." In the dim light, Spike saw the slayer's lower lip protrude slightly. "Oh, bugger. Now you're pouting."

"Shhh," she whispered. "I think they're listening."

Spike looked up as six backs stiffened noticeably. He sighed. Just great. First night out and already the rumor mills would be churning - as if they weren't already.

He felt pressure on his bicep and looked back at Buffy. She'd squeezed his arm to get his attention. "I'm out of here. Catch you later," she whispered. "Bye, guys," she said in the same low voice.

Six heads turned. Spike could have died (again), as the slayer giggled merrily. Then, she was gone.

Had to save the situation somehow. He turned on the mike to his headset and spoke into it. "Everyone sound off. Then, split up into sets of two, headset on all the time. Let's see what we can flush out." As the team members spoke quietly into the mouthpieces on their headsets, Spike slipped away into the darkness.

+

The older vampire let Daniel take over the patrol, only half-listening and offering information when necessary, as he headed toward the school and the crime scene there. He wanted to see the blood markings for himself.

It took a moment for the low voice to cut through his thoughts. "Oh, God..." Spike's ears sharpened at the reverent tone. He wasn't sure who it was. Then, he heard a growl.

"Jeffries, stand down!" That, definitely from Matthews. "So much blood..." Almost a whisper. Then, a stronger "Jeffries! Back off!"

Spike turned back toward the cemeteries at a run, hand to his earpiece. He heard Daniel calmly say, "Matthews, report. Coordinates?"

"'Bee niner seven.' It's a crypt."

Spike could hear feet pounding across the ground through the earpiece, even over the sound of his own. "Daniel, where is that?" he asked.

Daniel sounded a little uncertain. "I think it's your old..."

"What?" Oh, God, not Clem, he thought. Hadn't even been by there to visit him since he'd gotten back. And now...

Spike heard murmurs as the vampires began to converge on the spot. "Where's Shepherd?" A voice, he thought it was DeLuca's, gasped, then breathed out, "It's the Slayer..."

"Don't touch her!" Spike's bellow slammed through the headsets. The team winced as one at the sheer rawness in his voice. With a burst of speed, the vampire covered the last of the distance to the old cemetery, leaping errant headstones and finally taking a short cut through the trees. As he broke through the copse, the first thing he saw was moonlight playing in blonde hair. He stopped dead in his tracks and felt his stomach clench as he realized that she was facing out, hair blowing across her face in the night breeze. She was against the crypt door, and her feet weren't touching the ground. His stomach heaved.

Absently, he noticed that most of the team, including Daniel, had arrived. He didn't care. Most of them were fighting their own battles with the sharp smell of all that spilled human blood. Matthews seemed to be holding it together, but the quiet night was punctuated by snarls and growls from the others - especially Jeffries.

Daniel's shrill voice in his earpiece cut through the din. "It's not her!" The words punched into his brain, but didn't register. "Spike! It's not her, Spike!"

The assurance came too late. Spike was already beginning to gag, even as he ran toward the form.

She was wearing black, but no cap. And Spike knew the smell of Buffy's slayer blood. Still, he pushed breaths in and out, trying to keep from being sick. The shock kept his hand shaking long after he realized this girl wasn't Buffy. He reached out to push her hair away from her face.

Pretty girl. Light eyes. Taller than the slayer. And nailed to his old crypt door with something through her sternum. He pushed down the gag reflex and tried to concentrate. Knew he shouldn't move her, but it was too much, seeing her there with her blonde hair billowing and her blank eyes.

He looked back and realized that the six vampires were morphing from human to game face and back constantly. "Daniel, call a tech crew to take this girl back to base. Need a good... a good look at what's been done to her. No knife did this."

Daniel walked over slowly, green eyes dark as frozen seawater. "He did this, didn't he?"

Nodding, Spike took another deep breath and pushed it out before answering. "Looks like it." He squinted at the wall of the crypt. "Any words written anywhere?" he asked in a more rational tone.

Behind them, there was a low growl. Daniel's head came up and around, just as a half-morphed Matthews threw his weight against a fully vamped-out Jeffries. "We've got to get them out of here," the fledgling said urgently.

Spike looked over his shoulder and nodded. "Yeah. This is a right baptism of blood. Have the truck meet 'em at the gate. It's late enough to get by with it, I think."

Daniel spoke into the headset, organizing the pick up, calling for the techs, and sending the team back toward the front of the cemetery.

Stepping to the side, Spike looked at the bloodied wall and found one word.

EURYDICE

"Oh, hell, we got ourselves a bloody scholar!" he said angrily. "This is just grand!" Daniel was relieved. At least Spike sounded normal. At least, his 'normal' for 'pissed off.'

Daniel turned back to him. "The truck is on its way. Techs are coming, too. But there's..."

Spike's strangled groan shocked the fledgling. The light had shone on the girl's jaw and the blood clotted hair. The similarity was too much for Spike. He shook his head, and turned off his mike, nodding at Daniel to do the same. "Help..." His voice caught and he swallowed, trying to steady himself. "...help me get her down," Spike said hoarsely. "I know I shouldn't, should wait for the techs, but..."

They reached under the girl's arms and pulled her body forward. She wouldn't budge. "She'll tear, if we pull any harder," Daniel said bluntly, setting his chin against the urge to bury his face in the fresh blood on her arm.

With something to do, a problem to solve, Spike seemed a little more in control. "Bloody hell, what is this, anyway?" Spike muttered disgustedly as he wrapped hard fingers around the thing holding the girl against the door. With a sharp jerk, she was free. Daniel caught her in his arms, vamping out briefly. The length of metal came away from her body and into Spike's grasp. He stared at it in disbelief as it fit comfortably - too comfortably - into his palm. "Oh, bloody Christ," the older vampire whispered in a sick voice.

Daniel laid the girl down with a low growl. He glanced at Spike in wonder. The vampire had never gone into gameface once - even in the midst of all the blood.

"What is it?" Daniel asked, features and voice returning to normal. The thing in Spike's hand was about twelve inches long and clotted with dark blood, tissue, and splinters of bone.

"It's a spike." The vampire said, as he looked at Daniel with wild eyes. "A fucking railroad spike!"



Chapter Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was all he was.

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

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

DeLuca began to walk.

+

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

"Sure, I will, but..."

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

"But Spike..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

+

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

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

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

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

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

ORPHEUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+

Daniel rode with the techs to Revello Drive.

"Shepherd, can I talk to you?"

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

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

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

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

"Perfect," Spike said sarcastically.

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

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

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

Spike bit his lip. "The others?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

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

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

Truly kill...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone else's turn to suffer.

+

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

It wasn't working.

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

"What did 'who' say?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Buffy?" he said softly.

She made a low sound in acknowledgment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

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

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

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

"Bloody hell, Nibblet!"

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spike stared at him like he was an idiot.

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

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

"Huh?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was almost a disturbing thought.

Almost.

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

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

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

The closed window.

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

Had it been the killer?

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

Focus.

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

A little voice answered. 'Fairly recently.'

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

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

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

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

Vampire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I always wanted to help people."

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

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

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

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

+

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

"You've got to stop this!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Inevitable..." she echoed.

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

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

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



Chapter Seven

Daniel was running a search on the three names written at the murder sites when Xander popped his head in. The office was still an eye-boggling white color, the man noticed. According to Spike, that was something that needed to be remedied in all the offices that were being used, as well as the common areas. He agreed. The bright white reflecting from floor, ceiling and wall - even broken up with office furnishings - was irritating. It hurt his eyes. And the antiseptic feel made him think of an operating room.

The fledgling looked different. Since he was a vampire, it had to be the mileage. Xander wondered how much the boy knew about Spike's fight to keep him chip-free. Strangely, he had hated to see Daniel leave Sunnydale, although he'd felt like sending a bon voyage bottle of bourbon to Spike in celebration.

He had been slyly looking for Daniel all morning. Seeing him alone and seemingly lost in his computer monitor, he hesitated. Xander didn't like to be interrupted when he was working, and maybe this wasn't the time. Daniel drummed his fingers on the desk and glanced up.

"So. This is your space?" Xander said quickly. Didn't want him to think he was spying on him.

A slow grin spread across the fledgling's face, shifting his features from frustrated to pleasantly surprised. "Xander." He got up and walked around the desk. "If Clem was here, my morning would be complete."

Frowning, the man commented, "You haven't seen him yet?"

"I was... at the crypt last night," Daniel said with a veiled look on his face. "I knocked. Needed to ask him some things. He was out, I guess. If he's still living there."

"Oh, he is," Xander said with certainty. "Saw him early this morning. He was probably out playing kitten poker last night." Xander seemed sure of his information. "Big time major vice he's got. Oh, and he was bitching about this hole that showed up in the crypt door. Told him I'd fix it."

Daniel ran a hand through thick black hair. It was a little shorter than the last time Xander had seen him, but not a lot. Spike's, on the other hand, was cropped close. Was this some military look they were going after, cause, so not working. They still looked like vampires to him. The man ran a hand through his own hair, absently pushing it back away from his eyes, which he had to do a lot lately. It was as long as it was in high school. Okay, well, maybe he did need to get it cut a little, get it out of his face, before he lopped off a thumb or something.

The fledgling smiled, but the smile seemed to be forced. "Shepherd got you whipping this place into shape?"

"Yeah, he... Shepherd? No, Spike conned me into..."

"I meant Spike. Spike is Shepherd."

"What?" Xander snorted. "Spike's not a good enough name now that he's all soul-having guy?"

"Oh, he's still Spike," Daniel assured him. "With you, me, the slayer. The other vampires and the support crew call him 'Shepherd.' I don't even think they know any other name." He grinned. "Ask him sometime about it."

Xander rolled his eyes. "First William the Bloody, then Spike. Now it's Shepherd? Angel, Angelus? Jeez, what is it with vampires and names?"

The fledgling shrugged. "I'm still Daniel."

"Good!" Xander looked him over. "You look like you're wound pretty tight. What's up?"

Daniel frowned. "We found two more dead girls last night."

The man's face fell. "Oh. Hence, the Scooby meeting, I guess?"

"Scooby? Oh, right. The Scoobies. Yeah." Daniel looked puzzled. "So does that make me a 'Scooby,' because I'm invited?

"Nope." Xander grinned wickedly. "A vampire." At the fledgling's amused look, he continued mischievously. "And feel honored. It makes you one in a not-so-long line of the undead who partakes of Scooby rituals. Spike ordered snacks, I hope?"

Not allowing the man to change the subject, Daniel sat back on the desk and fixed him with a level look. "One of the girls had a railroad spike in her chest. She was hanging on Spike's crypt door."

Xander's jaw dropped as all pretense of avoiding a discussion oozed away. "But that's..." He looked down quickly, shutting his mouth with a snap.

"Where did Spike get his name?"

The simple question, delivered in such a flat tone, dropped into the room with the weight of a Wile E. Coyote anvil. Xander picked at his nails, before he slowly raised his eyes.

Letting out a long slow breath and still meeting Daniel's gaze, the man sat down. "I think you already have a pretty good idea," he said softly. He looked down at his hands again. "There's a... well, maybe... a myth about Spike and those things."

"Yeah?" Daniel's voice and face were neutral.

"Yeah. And that's all I know, and from what I could pick up, it was a long, long time ago. So I'm shutting up."

"I don't want you to shut up." Daniel's voice was still flat, expressionless.

"Well, I am. Zipping it now. You want the real deal, ask him. He'll tell you. Might not be pretty, but he'll tell you." Xander changed the subject abruptly. "The other girl?"

"Wooden stake in her chest. Shepherd found her on the slayer's porch. Words written on the wall, just like the Wiseman girl."

"Great," Xander said with a shaky breath. "Looks like our friendly neighborhood everyday serial killer theory just got bit in the ass."

"That's pretty much a given," Daniel agreed with an angry thrust of his chin.

The man looked down again. "I was really sorry to hear about your old girlfriend."

Daniel blinked. "You know about that?"

"Well," the man said carefully, "I was kinda there when you basically told Spike to screw himself."

"Oh."

Xander's mind began to race. "So, you think this guy's human?"

Daniel shrugged one shoulder as he walked around to sit at his desk. "Maybe. Sledgehammer would put that spike through the door at the crypt. Or demon. Or someone using majicks. At least that's what Shepherd said."

"He's right. Of course, you'll know when you get the fingerprint tests back, cause hey, most demons don't have fingerprints. I don't think. Or at least, they're not on file anywhere."

The fledgling stared at him. "What?" Xander's words were knocking, but they couldn't quite get in.

"Well, you know, fingerprints, fibers, tests. All the stuff the police do when they're working a homicide. You've seen CSI, right?"

Daniel was already reaching for the phone as Xander continued on. "The spike is metal, so it would hold fingerprints just fine, unless the killer is wearing gloves. Wooden stake? Not so much. Unless there was already blood on his fingers. Then, you'd get a print."

Putting the phone down, the vampire looked at Xander. "Forget the phone. Let's go see the techs."

"What? No CSI?"

"Not yet," Daniel said grimly. "We're fixing that right now!"

+

Buffy sat down on the edge of Spike's desk. "You look tired."

Never looking up from the screen to avoid her eyes, he answered. "Yeah. M'tired."

"You jerked in your sleep this morning. More than once," she blundered on.

"'Magine I did," he said noncommittally.

She got off the desk, and looked down at him with folded arms. "What? Are you mad at me?"

He pushed out a sigh and looked up at her. "Pet, I've got nothing here. Nothing. No ideas, no clues, except three stupid words referring to an ancient Greek myth. And a spike. And a stake. Could go after someone else tonight, and..."

"Oh," Buffy said nonchalantly, turning to walk toward the door. "I think the warm-up act is over. Pretty well figure it's my turn next."

Spike was out of his chair before Buffy's hand touched the doorknob. "Stop it!" he fired off. "S'nothin' to joke about! Nothing to..."

She looked up at him with wide eyes. "Spike, I'll be..."

His eyes darted around her face, looking for some kind of comprehension there. Finally, he grabbed her shoulders and kissed her. It was a claiming kiss, angry in its ferocity, possessive in its desperation. Her surprise was replaced by a deep burning in the pit of her stomach. She melted, then began to return heat with heat, and...

The door burst open. "Sweet sufferin'...! Gah! My eyes!" Xander screamed, throwing a hand up and over his face. "God, it's office hours!"

Spike recovered first, only pulling away from Buffy slightly. "Then, don't come through a closed door without knockin'," he said hotly. "And Christ, Harris, it's not like we're shaggin'!"

"Oh, God! My ears! My ears!" he yelled, covering his ears with both hands.

Spike and Buffy traded glances. Spike raised an eyebrow. "Would you please do something with him, pet? A kennel, p'rhaps?"

She looked at Xander sternly. "Okay, enough. Adults here, all right?" Glancing at Daniel, she grinned. "Hi."

The fledgling smiled, embarrassment clouding its brightness slightly. The slayer was having 'death threats' and... Those two were beyond him sometimes.

"So. What, then?" Spike clipped each word into precise tones. He looked at them disapprovingly. "I expect you have a good reason for slammin' in like the slayer always does?"

Buffy shoved an elbow in his ribs. He winced slightly, but continued staring at man and vampire. "What?"

Xander and Daniel looked at each other. Daniel nodded. Xander grinned. "Well, seems there are fingerprints on the railroad spike."

Buffy looked at Spike. Spike tried to take in what the man was saying. "Fingerprints?" he echoed.

"That's so normal," Buffy pointed out.

"Mundane."

"Maybe so, but bingo! We got fingerprints," Xander said, hooking his thumbs into his pockets. "Two sets as a matter of fact. Now one set, the best set, belongs to a 'Randall S. Giles'- seems he works for the government as a sub-contractor." Xander grinned mockingly.

Spike rolled his eyes. "I reckon Daniel told you that's me?"

"Yep. I knew it was familiar. Of course, I knew the more familiar 'Randy.' Although, 'Desperate for A Shag" came immediately to mind."

Sheepishly, Spike looked down. "Name was just a joke at the time. Didn't know I was getting stuck with the paper to go with it."

"Now normally, I'd be givin' you 'Xander Suspicious Look #3' right now, but hey, you weren't here when the murders started." Xander looked Spike up and down with a superior look on his face. "And way to go contaminating evidence, 'Randy!'

"Just get on with it, whelp," the vampire growled. "You got more?"

"The other set wasn't as good," Daniel answered, "but it was clear enough for a match. Trouble is, the match is classified."

Buffy looked at Spike in exasperation. "Classified?" She looked back at Daniel. "By who?"

"The army," he stated. "And I can't get into the data base. Don't have the clearance." He looked at Spike.

"Don't look at me," he said testily. He glanced at Xander briefly. "I'm just a sub-contractor." He looked back at Daniel. "Need authority from higher up to pull this off."

The fledgling smiled. "Paxton?"

Spike nodded. "Paxton."

+

Buffy sat across from Spike in a chair on the other side of the desk. Oh, sure she was only getting one side of the conversation, but it was the side she cared about.

This was the second phone call. The first one had consisted of a request for information. It had been short and sweet.

This one had all the makings of a turf war. Spike was stretched as tight - well, almost as tight - as she'd ever seen him. Paxton had called back. Obviously, the information he had turned up had caused some ripples. Somewhere.

Spike had been business-like and respectful, something that Buffy had come to expect from him since her trip to Vail. And it wasn't that Spike was subservient, either. God knew that wasn't it. He had his rocks back, and although he wasn't shoving them in anyone's face, Buffy was well aware that he could.

A hint of steel crept into the vampire's voice. Buffy sat a little straighter. She knew that tone. And it didn't bode well for the general. Might be rocks in face yet.

"Yes, they were fresh!" he said impatiently. "Told you that." He shoved out a frustrated breath. "Am I steppin' on some bloody government cover-up?" he said suspiciously. "I mean, besides the one I'm already neck-deep in?"

Buffy almost cringed. He had sounded exasperated. Now, he had swung over into 'brassed off' land. Not good. Although there'd been plenty of warning.

The real problem was, pissed off looked so good on him. Always had. She shifted slightly in her seat.

"I can walk out of here right now, and you can ship the whole lot back to Vail. Let Ralston deal with it - and the press junkets that come pouring in. He ought to bollix it up good and proper. I need clearance - and I'm talking 'skeletons in the closet' clearance." He listened, frowning intently. "*All* available resources," he clarified.

She almost sighed aloud. Knew she should be listening, and thinking, and planning, but gee!

"Look," he said finally. "Dunno who's breathin' down your neck, General, but there's a cold-blooded killer breathin' down mine. Fifteen more minutes without information and I go back to my cozy little crypt with a phone and a list of numbers."

After a moment, Spike nodded in satisfaction. "All right. Set it up. I'll be here." He hung up, muscle in his jaw jumping in anger. "Christ, I hate democracies! Bureaucrats, red tape, wimpin' out. Give me a healthy dictatorship anytime! One guy you can go to and get anythin' you need. Like Argentina in the..."

Buffy rolled her eyes. He sure could destroy a mood.

"What?!" he said in exasperation.

+

Spike stared at the screen over Daniel's shoulder. His mouth was a tight, thin line. He glanced over at Buffy and Xander, perched on chairs across the desk.

"We're in," Daniel reported, more for the slayer and Scooby's benefits, than Spike's.

Their eyes landed on the first bit of information that came up. "Gabriel," Spike said in satisfaction. After a beat, he frowned. "No last name," he said, surprised.

"Recruited by the Army for special assignment on thirteen April 2003," Daniel commented. His eyes traveled down. "Oh."

"Deceased tenth May 2003," Spike supplied. He looked up. "But..."

Daniel tapped the screen, anger making the angles of his face harsh. "There. That explains it."

Eyes widening, Spike stood up and exploded. "Bloody, bloody, bloody hell!" Anger flew from his blue eyes like sparks from a cigarette lighter. "This is..."

"Gabriel, no last name, special assignment to the Initiative Project on seventeenth April 2003," Daniel explained to the pair across the desk.

"He's a vampire! The pillocks lost a vampire in all the fallout and didn't tell a sodding soul!" Spike railed. "Didn't tell me! Just swept it under a rug like he was already dust! The piss-ant isn't chipped, on the loose, and..."

Xander spread his hands. "Hold on, Spikey. How would he know about Buffy? Or *you* for that matter? You're not exactly common knowledge."

The slayer's voice interrupted him.

"Maybe Drusilla decided to travel with a friend." Her eyes abandoned her hands and went to Spike's.

Xander's head swung around. He stared at Buffy for a moment, who was looking at Spike. "Okay, well, that's a nice little theory, but..."

"I was already gone by the time he came here," Daniel said thoughtfully.

Spike's eyes were on Buffy, as the wheels continued to turn in his head. "DeLuca was here," he said softly. "He's more observant than the others by half."

"So we talk to DeLuca." Buffy shrugged. "And Spike's right. If he saw him, he'll remember him. He notices everything."

"Right," Xander said dryly. "I've seen the drawings."

Daniel looked up at Spike. "There's surveillance equipment here. Maybe the raw footage from the cameras is still here, too. You know, packed up somewhere."

"Yeah." Spike rubbed his chin. "Get a tech to nose around, pay special attention to any footage with a dark-haired female vamp." He laughed coldly. "From what I've seen, she was the only female. If she's with somebody, another vampire, more than just for turning, I want to see the bastard."

As Daniel got up, Spike's voice stopped him. "Get DeLuca in here - wait, make that the conference room. I'll talk to him alone."

"And scare him to death? Again? I don't think so," Buffy said derisively. "I'm sitting in on that," she said stubbornly. "He likes me."

"Right," Xander repeated. "I've seen the drawings."

"Another thing," Spike said decisively. "We need more information. Need to know about this pillock *before* he was turned."

Daniel looked at Spike. "I didn't see anything else. Do we really need it? I mean, he's a vampire now, and..."

"Daniel," Spike said patiently, "not every vampire who was ever turned was a good little soldier boy, a sick artist, or even a lovesick poet. Some were cheating, drunken, carousing, maiden-ravaging, lying sociopaths who..." His voice was rising.

"Spike!" Buffy interrupted. "Let it go, okay?"

Xander leaned toward Daniel with a whispered aside. "'Shepherd' has issues."

Spike's angry eyes landed on the man. "Issues? Bloody right, I do. You've met Dru, as I recall. Angelus did that. And if this bastard was half the scoundrel when he was turned, we're bent! But good!"

Xander leaned back in the chair, still held by Spike's sharp eyes. He nodded in comprehension.

"Right, then," Spike muttered, somewhat placated.

A frown knit a crease in Buffy's brow. "Whoops." She looked at Spike. "A world of whoops."

All eyes fixed on her.

She laughed uncomfortably. "Um, last night, before...?" Spike nodded. "After patrol, I kind of..." She shifted in her chair, face reddening in embarrassment. "Okay, here's the thing. I smelled cigarette smoke outside my window."

Spike tilted his head, puzzled. "But I..."

"Well, I know that now," she said quickly. "But I *thought* it was you, and I," she coughed into her hand, "toldyoutocomeinside." She looked up. "Then, I was pissed, cause you just..."

Xander leaned closer. "What did you say?"

But Spike already had it. "You did *what*? You did say my name, right?" he prodded in a hopeful voice, but suspecting the answer was far different.

"Um, not really. No."

Spike's eyes flew heavenward as his hands stiffened at his sides. "Christ!" He looked at Buffy, eyes flashing angrily. "You issued an open invitation to any vampire who could hear you? Are you bleeding off your nut?!"

Buffy stood up, back stiff, a fist clenched on either hip. "*You* were the one who was standing in my yard night before last having a pity party! Why *wouldn't* it be you?"

Moving around the desk, Spike leaned in and brought his hands up to clap them once, sharply, in her face. "'Death wish.' Remember that?" He smirked in satisfaction, as her eyes went wide. "I warned you years ago and you just looked at me with that high and mighty look you get!"

"I was *not* high and mighty," she answered virtuously. "You were obnoxious!"

"And evil!" His voice dripped with sarcasm. "Don't forget evil!"

Buffy's head bobbed up and down. "Okay, evil, too! *Way* evil!"

"I don't know why you aren't dead, Summers!" he said disgustedly.

"Been there," she said snarkily. "Twice! And guess what? They don't yell at you there!"

Daniel's eyes traveled from face to face, fascinated. As Spike's eyes grew bluer and colder, Buffy's face turned redder and redder. Their voices rose geometrically, until the fledgling's ears hurt.

Clearing his throat, Xander tried to catch Daniel's eye. After the second 'ahem', the young vampire glanced at him. The man jerked his head toward the door, and slid toward it. Daniel opened it carefully.

Once in the corridor, Xander breathed a sigh of relief. "Whew! Believe me, it's not safe in there," he informed the fledgling, as he closed the door with a soft click. "They're working up to a doozy of a brawl. If we're lucky, they'll just yell. I don't think they hit anymore. Otherwise, I'll be patching drywall for days."

The two voices continued to rise. "And boy," he continued, "did the Buffster ever screw up!" At Daniel's questioning look, he qualified his last pronouncement. "Of course, I'm sure it's all Spike's fault," he said loyally. "Just like she said."

Daniel looked troubled. "So now what? The house isn't safe. And Dawn..."

"Dawnie can stay with me. She did last night. So not a problem."

"Still. She's the slayer's sister, Xander. What if she's a target, too?"

The man started down the hall, Daniel following. "Okay, new plan. You put her up here."

Daniel hesitated briefly, then continued walking, staring at his feet. "We could, I guess..." he said slowly.

"Buffy, too. And I'll get Jonathan to find a good disinvite spell. Willow had a great one." He smiled in remembrance. "We'll call her if we have to. Get hers. Either way, it'll be fine."

Daniel stopped. "Wait. What do I do about DeLuca?" He tilted his head back toward the office. "They..."

"Wait a while. Just give 'em some time. As much as I hate to say it, and my stomach is doing a sick somersault as I do, they always work it out. Volatile as hell sometimes, and I really don't understand, but they get over it. I think it's the slayer/master vampire thing they've got going," he said sagely. Xander started walking again. "But one thing for sure. Do *not* go in there without knocking. Know what? Forget knocking. Call first. They fight loud, but they make up even louder."

Daniel filed away the advice. "Will you take Dawn home to pick up some things? It's still daylight," he said apologetically. "And I should stay here, anyway."

"Sure," the man said reassuringly. "As soon as she gets here with Jonathan, we'll go. Be back long before dusk."

Daniel picked up his pace. "Need to make sure Lowell House is tied up tight. I'll have them run tests on the new security system."

Xander nodded. "Good. I'll go find Dawn a room upstairs. Close to Spike's, but not *too* close." At Daniel's puzzled look, Xander looked down. "Never mind," he mumbled. "It's a soundproofing thing."

+

The door to Spike's office was open when Daniel was finally called back down. He was taken aback by the change in them. Xander was right.

"So Eurydice died," the slayer said pertly from her station behind the desk with Spike.

"Yeah. Snake bite." Spike grinned up at her, which seemed strange until Daniel realized she was sitting on his leg. "Ow, love," he said shifting her slightly. "That pinches."

"Oooh, big bad vampire," she teased.

"Well, it did," he retorted. Tapping the screen to get her attention, he continued. "Now. Orpheus, her husband, went down into the Underworld, past Cerberus, the three-headed dog who watches at the Gates of Hell, and brought about her release - all with the power of his song. Lyre, pretty words - Hell wept on his throne."

"Well, I think you're putting a little too much stock in your singing abilities if you think this story relates to us. Ow!" She slapped his hand. "You pinched me!"

"Yes, I did. You pinched me first."

"Yes, but *that* was an accident."

"Not buying it, pet."

Daniel's eyes darted around the room, looking for holes in the wall. What he saw instead was a pile of papers on the floor. Above it was a worktable that looked like it had been swept clean.

Suspiciously, he took a closer look at the pair. Buffy's cheeks were flushed and her eyes were sparkling. Spike had a languid, lazy look that he hadn't seen in weeks - or at least, since the last day of Buffy's visit to Vail.

He cleared his throat. Obviously, they weren't going to notice him on their own.

"Daniel!" Buffy said merrily. She stood up. "I'm a myth!"

"They've been saying that for years, love," Spike said quietly. She glanced down at him and smiled. "'Chosen One' thing and all."

"Yeah, but this is all 'classic'. As in books you can actually find in just *any* library."

"You know, Slayer, a little more gravity would be nice here," the vampire reminded her, slightly disturbed. "This bastard..."

"Spike, this *Gabriel* is a vampire. And you know what I do to vampires." With a smile, she drew her hand back, as if she held an imaginary stake and swung it forward. She looked at Daniel with a wicked glint in her eye. "Present company excepted, of course."

"Take it a little more seriously, pet. S'all I'm asking," Spike said carefully, a hint of worry in his voice.

"You know what I don't get?" Daniel asked quietly. "Spilling blood like that. It's not... natural. Not for *us*."

Spike looked relieved that the fledgling recognized the oddness of it, even if the slayer didn't seem to notice.

Buffy nodded. "You're right." She looked at Spike. "And what's he feeding on, anyway? Not them, that's for sure." She shuddered at the memory of the blood on her front porch and the blood-darkened crime scene pictures.

"S'more like a sacrifice," he said tautly.

"Maybe Dru's sick again," she said helpfully. She clarified the statement with a grimace. "Or sick-er."

"Nah," he answered offhandedly. "Went through all kinds of spells and such after Prague. Human blood offerings didn't enter into a single one, just...."

Daniel watched as they both looked uncomfortable. It only lasted a moment.

"Techs got anythin'?"

Surprised at finally being addressed, it took Daniel a moment to answer. "Well, we found the archive. Digging through it now, but it could take a while."

"DeLuca?"

"He's available. Thought you might want to wait on an image of this 'Gabriel,' though."

Spike nodded. "Rush up the techs then. Don't have a lot of time here."

Daniel turned to go and stopped. He turned his head and looked at Spike. "Xander and I were talking. We think Dawn should stay here - until the house is safe again."

Buffy winced slightly. Spike looked thoughtful. "Yeah," he agreed. "He could go after the Bit. Do it."

"Already working on it. Xander is finding a room upstairs for her, and I've got them overhauling security."

"Need wards on Lowell House," Spike mused. "God, I miss Red!"

Buffy looked grim. "Jonathan will have to do."

+

"You're late," Jonathan said nervously, as Dawn got in the car.

The girl tossed her long, dark hair over her shoulder as she struggled with the heavy bookbag. "Hey, you carry six tons around with you and see how quick *you* move around by the end of the day!"

Jonathan grinned. "That I don't miss. Lots of homework?"

"Enough." She groaned. Exaggerated it. Shifted to whine mode. "You gonna stick around and help?"

"We're headed to the old Initiative base."

Dawn slid her eyes over to Jonathan and eyed him suspiciously. "What happened?"

Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he kept his eyes straight ahead. "I don't know that anything did. Xander said..." His voice trailed off, as if unsure of what the man had said.

"What? Oh, not supposed to tell me? Something else I'm not supposed to know?" she said sulkily.

"Scooby meeting. I guess we'll know then."

"*You* already know something."

"Just that I'm supposed to find a disinvite spell."

Dawn fixed him with a glare. "For...?"

"I don't know," he answered in exasperation. "All I know is that we're supposed to be at the Base."

"What else?"

Jonathan sighed. "One of Spike's teams came in yesterday and patrolled last night. Something bad happened."

"Spill it."

"They found more girls. Words on the walls in blood, Xander said. More to come when we get there, so..."

Frowning, Dawn chewed her bottom lip. "I didn't hear anything at school about it."

"Me, either. I mean, I've had local radio up on my computer all day and nada."

"Maybe you misunderstood." Dawn's eyes narrowed as she looked at Jonathan appraisingly. "I mean, how did Xander sound? Cause that's a good indication of the badness of this."

Frustrated, he shot Dawn a look and returned his attention to the road. "Well, he sounded like Xander. I wasn't trying to decipher his emotional state. I just live with him. I don't *sleep* with him!"

Dawn sank back against the seat, thwarted. In the lull before her next attack, she thought of something important. "Hold it!"

Jonathan almost ran off the road.

"I've got to go home!"

"Nooo..." he said patiently. "We've got to go to the Base."

"I have to go home for a minute."

"But..."

Dawn sat back and sighed. "Jonathan, I soooo have to go," she wheedled. "I've... got a problem. Need to... change clothes," she said, hoping her tone and the implication of her words would save her from telling an out and out lie.

"You look fine," Jonathan assured her.

Getting ready to play the trump card, since he was so incredibly uninformed on the whole 'girl must change clothes' thing, she carefully schooled her face and voice to one of delicate embarrassment. Because it worked so well in the office at school, she did not doubt its success in this case.

"It's girl stuff." At the lack of response, she aced it. "Girl *problems*." The girl was almost gritting her teeth. "Need. To. Change. Clothes." Was he ever going to get it?

He slid a look at her. "What... Oh. Oh!" Jonathan's face turned beet red. He immediately turned the car toward Revello Drive, making a u-turn in the street and almost hitting a parked vehicle doing it.

Inwardly, Dawn smiled in triumph. She absolutely could not see Daniel for the first time in months looking like a school kid. Silently, she began making mental wardrobe choices. Cause this shirt and jeans?

Not. Gonna. Happen.



Rating: PG 13 with a bullet! Action/Adventure/Mystery
Summary: I was going to put a summary together that kind of did a capsule summary of the story so far. I couldn't. It will take a better writer than me to pull it off, because I want to mention everything. Suffice it to say that in my BtVS Season 8, a string of murders brings Spike back to Sunnydale, before the Vail Project is ready. The Vail-Sunnydale Project consists of twenty-six vampires, nineteen support personnel, Daniel and Spike (who is known as Shepherd to the vampires of the project). The 'serial killer' is a vampire, and in a sense, is Spike's brother as much as a brother to the vampires created by the Initiative that Spike works with. Oh, and Xander is really cool. Jonathan is not dead. Dawn is still annoying. And Gabriel is a real nutter. Drusilla is nowhere to be found. Riley is still worm food...

And I'm digressing.

Things were left in a real uproar last time. It's not getting any better.

Distribution: http://www.the-sandlot.com/fic.php?mode=fic&fic_id=346 http://www.allaboutspike.com/fic/243.html

Spoilers: Season 6. This is a Season 8 AU by now. Only spoilers are for my own fics, Voices in the Dark, Reminders, Shepherd, and Two Days, which scares me, cause the continuity is pretty much in my court now.

Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time... except Daniel and DeLuca. Those gorgeous vamps are all mine!
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com
Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who has fed back on Wolf - in fact, any of the Shepherd Stories. You have no idea how it comforts me when I've been Jossed... This is for Chris, Kelly, Colleen and Chennie, the betas who hung in while I did everything *but* work on "Wolf", and for all the folks who very quietly prodded me without pushing.

Thanks, guys. Think the muse is back! Hope you think so, too!



Chapter Eight

Daniel looked up in alarm at the man leaning against his office door. He was taking in deep, heaving breaths. Before he had time to think, he was out of his chair and across the room.

"Xander?"

The man gulped air and tried to speak. But all that came out was a wheeze. Putting a hand to his chest, he caught his breath and attempted to find his voice.

"There's another one," he gasped out.

"Another what?" Daniel was completely puzzled. "Another...?"

"Girl. There's another... girl."

"Where did you hear...?" The fledgling didn't even know Xander had been off the base. The last time he'd talked to him, he was going up into Lowell House to find a room for Dawn. "Where did it happen?"

"Upstairs."

Eyes widening, Daniel grabbed his cell phone off the desk and took Xander's arm with the other hand. He pulled him down the corridor. "He's been here?"

The man nodded. "Well, unless..." Xander shrugged off his abortive attempt at black humor and shifted gears. "He's been here all right," he said, swallowing bile. "He's been here and left his toy behind. I've never seen anything like it. And I've seen plenty!"

Moving swiftly, the fledgling got them to the elevator that would spit them out on the ground floor of Lowell. He took a moment to identify himself and place his request.

"I should have secured this place sooner," Daniel said angrily. "Everything's fine now. Up and online. Must have happened last night."

Xander leaned against the wall weakly. "Like any of us knew any of this before last night. Or early this morning. Remember?"

Last night? It had only been last night when they'd found those bodies...? Daniel ran a hand over his face. He looked up to catch Xander doing the same thing. He watched as the man wiped an upper lip that was wet with perspiration.

"What... how does she look?"

"Not like Buffy, that's for sure," he answered bluntly as the door opened on the Lowell House level.

"No, I meant..." Daniel's tone changed abruptly as he followed Xander. "Wait. What do you mean, not like Buffy?"

Xander headed toward the stairs. "Just what I said," he said curtly. "So I guess we can pretty well bank on the fact that this is All About Spike."

Retreating into silence, the two headed up the stairs and down a hallway to one of the doors that was furthest from the front of the older building. Xander reached for the door and took a deep breath.

In the time it took for the door to swing open, Daniel had a fleeting memory of coming into his grandmother's house after playing outside for hours at a time. His stomach would twist in hunger and his mouth would begin to water, even before he realized that the aroma that greeted him was that of freshly-baked bread.

The rich, metallic odor of human blood was like that for him now. Like the most delicious bread ever baked. He lost himself in it for the space of a moment as he looked into the room.

His eyes went to the splashes of deep red blood on the walls first. The floor was painted in it. The blood puddled around the girl's torn-out neck was still wet. He swallowed sharply. Her chin was resting on her back. Her head had been completely turned around, muscles torn and shredded to allow the one hundred eighty degree twist.

Xander had had time to prepare himself for seeing her again. He turned back to Daniel to get his reaction. What he got instead was a new shock.

"Whoa!" The man stumbled backward into the room, almost slipping in a wet spot. Daniel reached out and pulled him away from the body. The man winced at the proximity to the vampire and choked out his name. "Daniel?"

The fledgling looked at him in surprise and back at the girl on the floor. "What?"

Xander took hold of his fear and pushed it down. After all, this was just Daniel. His buddy Daniel. Daniel the Vampire. "Put the pointies away, okay," he said slowly. "And the lumpies, too, while you're at it. Damn," he said, as Daniel's face reverted back to his human one. "You scared the bejesus out of me! As if this wasn't bad enough!"

"Sorry," Daniel mumbled apologetically, shame-faced.

"Well, it is a lot of blood. And the whole neck thing is the height of sick. But you are one ugly vamp. Did anybody ever tell you that?"

The fledgling realized that Xander was rambling. And he could see why. The scene was horrific. He reached for his phone and requested a tech crew, then turned back to Xander.

"The girl's brunette," he said finally.

"The girl is Asian," Xander qualified. "I looked. Maybe Chinese. That would make the most sense," the man said as he continued to recover from the double shock of seeing the girl again and seeing Daniel in gameface for the first time.

"Sense?"

"Giles told us once that Spike's first slayer - the first one he killed - was Chinese. Can you tell if she's Chinese?" he blathered.

"He wouldn't care if she was. He's just making a statement." Daniel looked around the room. "Shepherd was right. We need wards on this place if we can't do a disinvite. And what's a ward, anyway?"

"It's a spell. We did something like that at the Magic Box once. And again, so wishing for Will right now."

"Well, the crew is on its way up," Daniel said unnecessarily. The room, in fact all of Lowell House, seemed eerily deserted. The contrast to the busy base below was unnerving, even to the vampire. He stood there staring blankly at the word written on the wall. "I don't know why he's still bothering with that," he said with a dark look.

"With what?"

"I heard Shepherd talking about this to the slayer today," he said indicating the writing on the wall. "It's some old Greek myth. Doesn't even fit. It seemed like some smoke and mirrors thing to me then. And you're saying this girl doesn't have anything to do with Buffy."

"Who's... uh, Prosperpina? Prosper...? Live long and pros... Okay, sorry. Nerves are shot," he muttered.

"Proserpina. The Queen of Hell." At Xander's surprised look, Daniel explained with a shy duck of his head. "Took Classic Lit in college. Had a little refresher course today."

"Does that make Gabriel the king?" the man said, trying to cover his anxiety with conversation.

"Of Hell? Well, Hades made the judgment to let Eurydice leave. Set conditions. Orpheus didn't follow the conditions, so she went back. Had to stay that time."

"Are you sure this doesn't mean something?" Xander asked, intrigued. "Drusilla was in Sunnydale. Well, here, in fact. Down under. She didn't go after Buffy or Spike. Let them go."

"I don't think she was in any position to launch an attack."

"You don't know Dru." The man's mouth quirked ruefully in remembrance. "That part wouldn't really matter."

Daniel ran his hand through his hair. The smell was becoming overwhelming. The fledgling could see where the blood was soaking into the unprotected areas of the hardwood floor, staining it with life. "Let's wait outside," he said briskly.

"Oh. Okay, sure. I'll close it up." He stepped out and pulled the door shut, just as the tech crew appeared at the far end of the hall. "Or not," he continued in the same breath as he pushed the door open again.

Daniel strode down the hall to meet the three men, who were armed with cases and bundles. Xander watched as he spoke to them, giving them a swift and concise series of orders as he led them toward the door. His last directive was the hardest for Xander to hear.

"Find out who she is. See if she's a student here, or has a job. People are going to be wondering about her."

Suddenly, the similarities to the crime scene photographs of Madeleine and the one open eye that had peeped glassily through her blonde hair were too much. Daniel needed to get out of there - had to get out of there. Report to Shepherd and...

He was going to gouge the son of a bitch's eyes out before he staked him.
________________________

She was supposed to be in hell and she wasn't. The fable had been rewritten. Instead of suffering in eternal torment, she was alive, walking the earth. Mother blamed his brother for that, and it was as good an excuse as any to take him down. Not that he really needed one....

Because of his impatience, Orpheus had lost his beloved on the brink of delivering her out of hell. From what Gabriel could gather, his brother had played it a little more carefully. Of course, it was hard to tell. Mother's visions could get confusing.

She'd said the slayer had died in color and light. Been reborn in darkness, with a spirit that was sick unto death. Dead, but walking, destined to soon slip back to darkness. But his brother had held her long enough for her to find the light again.

With the pixies and the talking stars and all, Gabriel thought Mother was full of crap a lot of the time, but this story was amusing and totally insane, so it was probably true.

Bottom line was that his brother had spurned his dark princess for the all-goodness-and-light slayer. It was an insult not to be borne.

Convenient.

Eurydice must die so that Orpheus could fulfill his destiny to wander alone, broken and whining piteously to any and everyone. Gabriel didn't plan for him to wander long. The convenience store around the corner from the old cemetery was plenty of wandering time. In the fable, it was spurned maidens who tore Orpheus apart, but Gabriel thought one wolf would do.

After all, he was a very hungry wolf.

Screw the fable. He was going to kill his brother and his whore and all his little tin soldiers and those stupid little hangers-on who dogged the slayer's footsteps just because. And the words on the walls had served their purpose, because Gabriel was one vampire who liked his press, be it bad or worse. Which reminded him that he needed a newspaper.

Chuckling, he looked out of the cave to gauge the imminence of the coming darkness. Still a while to go before he could safely take to the trees. He sighed with impatience. He had places to be, things to see and objets to retrieve. He wasn't sure which he would do first, but something was bound to present itself if he just stayed open to the experience.

Those little hangers-on might be a good first stop...
________________________

Buffy was standing by the large table in the conference room when DeLuca walked in. Seeing his face brighten when he saw her, she smiled back. He seemed like such a sweet kid - for a vampire anyway, she reminded herself.

He ducked his head, a bit bashful at the sunny smile on her face, and then looked up. "They said you needed me. That I can help."

Spike nodded. "I think you can, yeah. Take a look at this." He pushed a hard copy of a frame extraction from one of the surveillance disks. "You seen him?"

DeLuca's eyes darkened. "I thought he was dead," he said flatly.

"He is," Spike agreed. "Undead."

"Not what I meant, Shepherd." The fledgling shook his head. "When they took him away and he never came back, I thought..." His eyes were fixed on the photo, repulsion written across his open face.

Spike glanced at Buffy. "Well, no love there." He looked intently at DeLuca. "Didn't care for the wanker much, I take it. Ever talk to him?"

Something that might have been a shudder moved across the fledgling's shoulders. "I talked to him," he said with distaste. "And no, I didn't like him. He was screwed up." His eyes flew to Spike. "He's a vamp now? He's the one doing all this?" At the expressionless look on Shepherd's face, his eyes traveled to Buffy's.

"Maybe," the slayer said guardedly.

"What do you think?" Spike prodded. "You met him. Talked to him."

"I was glad when they took him away," DeLuca confessed. "And I hoped he wouldn't come back. He made me uncomfortable. He... watched. He watched everybody and when he thought no one was looking, he had this expression on his face like we were..."

"Not good enough?" Buffy prompted.

"More like pond scum."

"Oh," she said, sitting down in a chair and leaning back to gaze at DeLuca.

"His name?" Spike was getting impatient.

"Gabriel. Gabriel Naughton." The fledgling's lip curled up. "Or that's what he said. He said a lot of things."

The vampire eyes were hard. "Like what?"

"I don't know. Things that caused problems. He would start fights, but when it was all over, he wasn't anywhere around. He seemed to like it... messed up."

"Chaotic?" Buffy nodded her head, hoping DeLuca would get her drift.

"Yes. He'd start these... things. Saying something that sounded innocent, but it wasn't. He'd sit back with this smile on his face. A... hungry smile. Like he was feeding off of what was happening." DeLuca shrugged and looked down at his hands. "I wanted to call him on it, but... you couldn't really put your finger on what it was he'd done." The man looked at Spike. "Shepherd, this guy could cause a prison riot from solitary confinement."

Spike tapped the photo. "And this is him? You're sure?"

"Yes, sir. It's him."

The vampire got up from his perch on the table and walked DeLuca to the door. "Patrol tonight. Get some rest."

DeLuca looked at him. "Yes, sir." He opened his mouth, closed it, and then plunged on. "We're going after him? Tonight?"

"Yeah."

"Good." The fledgling nodded and left, closing the door behind him.

"I guess my next question would be 'where is Drusilla?'" Buffy said from her chair.

Spike ran his hand through his hair. "Dunno, love. Hopefully, she had a lucid moment and slipped off into the night."

"You think?" Buffy sounded uncertain.

"Maybe. She's not around. All of this stinks more of Angelus than anything Dru could come up with. This isn't her kind of game."

"You keep saying that. I guess you should know," she said, capitulating.

"Yeah." He stared at the wall over Buffy's head. "You know, can't help thinkin' though..."

She looked at him questioningly.

"Well, bloody hell. Dru makes a new playmate that looks something like me, but acts like something straight out of The Angelus School of Torture and Mind Games. Does this mean she turned me for m'looks? Cause I think I had more to offer than..."

"Oh, please." Buffy let out a disgusted snort. "Spare me your pain."

The muffled strains of an Avril Levigne song wafted through the room. The slayer made an embarrassed noise and captured her bag from the floor, digging until she excavated a cell phone. She glanced up at Spike and caught his derisive look.

"It's Dawn's phone, all right? Mine was dead this morning," she said in her own defense. He tilted his head as he waited for more of an explanation. "And mine does not have pithy top forty on it either!" As Spike let out a low chuckle, she punched the 'receive' button. Immediately, a man's shrill voice came pouring into her ear. Buffy's brow knit into a frown that became deeper and deeper.

"Hold it, Xand!" She waited for him to wind down. "Yes, it's me and no, I'm not with Dawn. I've got her cell. Isn't she supposed to be here by now?"

Spike could hear the man talking quickly on the other end, but couldn't make out all the words.

"Oh, okay..." Buffy said, relaxing. "Give Jonathan a call and tell them to get on over. This ice cream fetish they've got is gonna have to wait."

She listened some more. "He's right here. In the conference room. Okay, I'll tell him." She hit the button and put the cell on the table. "Daniel needs us. Want to do it here?"

Spike shrugged. "Be fine."

"Good. Cause he's on his way."
________________________

"Okay, Jonathan is so dead," Xander said shakily. "And so am I if I don't find them pretty quick. Cannot believe I just lied to Buffy! Mind if I use your office and track that little rat down?"

Daniel looked at him in confusion. "Sure. But what...?"

"Buffy's got Dawn's cell. I'm gonna check at the house again." Xander slapped his forehead. "Oh! And I'll try my place, too."

A frown creased Daniel forehead. "Why would they be at your place?"

"Dawn might have left something last night. Who knows? Anyway, I'm not calling out the posse just yet. But I didn't get to tell Jonathan to tell Dawn to get a bag together. I'll leave another message at the house, just in case. She's gonna be exceedingly miffed when she shows up and finds out she's staying over."

"I'll let Shepherd and the slayer know about the girl upstairs." Daniel headed down the hall. Couldn't believe he'd slipped up and hadn't secured the perimeter.

"Do that. I'll beep you if we need to go hunt them down."

The fledgling stopped. "You're really worried, aren't you?"

"Nah. Yeah. Not really, but... well, I don't know. Just give me a few, all right? It's not like it's dark yet."

"Just beep me."

"Right. Beep you." Xander's hand went to his forehead, as he watched Daniel disappear around the corner. "I'm never having kids," he mumbled. "Never. No matter what. Wild horses couldn't drag warm seed out of me right now. Or ever, I bet..."
________________________

Buffy was worried about Spike. The news of the death of the young woman upstairs had hit him hard and he was uncharacteristically quiet. Too quiet. Guilt was all well and good, but not when she needed him at top form. They needed to take that insane vamp out tonight before he could hurt anyone else. She needed to get Spike's mind back on tonight and off the girl in the dorm room at Lowell House. Picking a fight seemed like as good an idea as any.

"I am so not wearing this. What makes you think I'm wearing this?"

"Buffy..." Spike's voice took on a warning tone.

"This makes me look like a Brittany Spears wanna-be." Buffy pulled at the headset with a pout. "I don't like it."

"It's not a fashion statement, Slayer. It's a survival device. Or call it a cell phone without a handset. Don't care what you call it as long as you wear the bloody thing!"

Buffy stuck out her lower lip even further as she eyed the mass of black plastic on the worktable. "Well, I'm not wearing *that*!"

The vampire didn't even look up. He was well aware of what she was talking about. "'Fraid it'll make you look fat, love?"

As she pushed the Kevlar vest off to the side, she gave him a dark glare. "Hey, I've still got a stake at home with your name on it!"

"I know." He looked up with a smirk. "As I remember, I put my name on the thing m'self."

"Yeah, that's right. You did." Mollified slightly, one corner of her mouth quirked up. This was more like it! "The heart you put under your name kind of makes it difficult to stake you with it, anyway. One of your more romantic moments..."

"By design," he said sweetly. "Always up for avoiding a stakin'." He walked over and fingered the vest. "And I'm not wearing the sodding vest either, so that'll be the both of us dead, then," he said as he looked down at her.

She cut her eyes up at him with a grin. "At least we'll look good. Rather be a Gabriel victim than a fashion victim anyway."

"Hush," Spike admonished her angrily as he began pacing, head down. "I suspect he's running out of clever words and ideas. That last was scraping at the bottom of the barrel."

"You mean upstairs?" At his curt nod, she took up the new topic. "Do they know who the girl is yet? Or was?" Buffy asked with a frown as she picked up the vest and pushed it under the table out of sight.

"Yeah," he said over his shoulder as he paced. "Waitress over at the Bronze. College student. From San Francisco originally."

"We've got to stop him, Spike."

The vampire stopped pacing and gave her a reassuring smile, the first she'd seen since the body was discovered. "We'll take the pillock out and be eatin' popcorn by midnight. We know what he is now, and what he wants," he said dangerously. "He's too sure of himself now, by halves. That's what's gonna do him in."
________________________

It had been a long day. Gabriel had been unable to really rest, mind plotting out his next moves and discarding them almost as quickly. He thought he knew what he needed to do first. She'd said it was there, in a dark place. The grail, tucked away with sachets and mothballs.

So that was his first stop, if all went well. And if there was a hidden benefit involved, that would work out fine.

Gabriel was a heavy believer in coincidence as fate. And the world really did seem to revolve around him. Finally, things were darkening up a little outside. It was a little early yet, but he was never one to refuse a gift that could put surprise on his side.
________________________

Jonathan eyed the phone as it rang again. There was no way he was picking it up. Xander would yell at him. Dawn was the one who was upstairs curling her hair, not him.

Why should he take the heat for it? None of this was his fault. Especially the not-being-there-yet part...

He imagined his roommate wouldn't see it that way, of course. Hence, the ringing phone. As Xander's shrill voice came over the answering machine speaker, Jonathan reached over and turned the volume down. Getting yelled at over the phone or over the speaker would have the same result. He'd be all jumpy and nervous - like he'd had too much cappuccino. Which was not good. He didn't drive well when he was all hopped-up.

He stared at the blinking light. Dammit, he was getting all anxious anyway! They needed to leave, or both Xander and the slayer would have his head on a pike. God, he hated having to be the adult! "Dawn!" he yelled as he stood mesmerized by the red light winking on and off. "Dawn!"

The clomp of heavy feet informed Jonathan that she'd heard him. Tearing his eyes away from the phone, he saw her standing with a foot tapping at the head of the stairs. "What?"

"What?" he echoed incredulously. " 'What?' " He felt his face redden. "We've got to go! They're waiting for us. And this is twice that Xander's called."

"So answer it," she said flippantly as she headed back to the bathroom.

"No way! You answer it," he shot back. "You're the reason we're not there. I don't think you were telling the truth about... well, you know. I think you just wanted to come home and change clothes!"

"Fine," she said haughtily. "Think whatever you want. I don't care. And I..."

Xander's tinny voice filled the room. Jonathan had turned up the sound on the answering machine message. "... so Dawn's gonna have to stay at the base tonight. Cause until we can do a disinvite on the house, any vampire out there has an open invitation."

Eyes widening, the teenager gulped.

"And it turns out this Gabriel is making it open season on slayers and souled vampires, and anybody else he wants to. No signs of Dru yet, Spike says, but who knows how long that'll hold. Tonight, the big thing is to get wards on Lowell House, in case he comes back."

"Dru?! What's he talking about?" she said wildly.

Jonathan snapped the machine off. "Dawn, we've got to get out of here. It's gonna be dark in... oh, shit!"

"You know how to do a ward?" she said, raising her voice as she moved back toward her room.

"Yeah, but I don't have the ingredients!"

"What did Xander mean - in case he comes back?"

Uh, that we missed the most important part? "I don't know and we don't have time to find out! What are you doing?" he yelped, following her up the steps two at a time.

She appeared from behind the bathroom door, holding a bright pink bathroom appliance that was trailing a metallic pink cord. "Here," she said, putting it straight into Jonathan's hand.

"Ow!" he yelled. "Ow! Jeez, Dawn! Burning flesh! Blistering flesh!" He juggled the hot curling iron until he was holding it by the handle in his other hand. He sucked on the reddening skin loudly. "Now what?"

"Getting a bag," she said calmly from her room. "And we'll have to go to the Magic Box to get the stuff," she said, voice loud enough to carry into the hall. "Do you know what stuff?"

"Yeah." He twitched a little. "Hurry up. We..." His mouth closed with a snap as Dawn came out of her room with an overnight bag.

She looked at him pityingly. "I always keep a bag packed. Hold over from the Glory Days," she said in explanation.

"Glory Days...?"

"Guess you had to be there. Come on." Her long legs covered the hallway and she loped down the stairs, grabbing the doorknob and pulling the door open in one movement.

"Uh oh."

Jonathan reached her just as she shut the door with a slam. "What?" His burned fingers were momentarily forgotten.

"This is bad. Really bad." Dawn began tearing around the living room. "Too bad there's no real weapon against something like this!"
________________________

"Okay, that's it. I'm going after her! Need a vehicle. Now!" Xander threw his hands in the air in frustration.

"We'll get a truck," Daniel assured him. "And I'm going with you."

The man's nose wrinkled slightly at the thought of the odor of singed Spike - which he'd smelled more than once in the past. "Well, get a blanket or something, too. Scorched Daniel is not something I want to smell on the way over in the car."

"Truck."

"Truck," Xander corrected himself.

"We need to let Shepherd know..." Daniel reached for his cell.

Xander snatched at the phone and looked at the vampire challengingly. "Which means telling Buffy. No thanks. They're busy getting the ops planned for tonight from what you said. No reason to interrupt. We're just going to go. Tell them when we get back. Or not at all."
________________________

The vampire had decided that the slayer had gone completely off her nut. Or she'd been in his private stash of bourbon.

"Can you hear me?" Buffy stepped around the corner, speaking into the mouthpiece. "Can you hear me now?"

"Buffy!"

"Good."

He threw up his hands in disgust. "Christ, Buffy, this is not a bleedin' commercial!"

"Well, can you? Hear me, I mean," she said as she walked back in the room. Putting her hands in the air, she swung one hip forward and made a quick dance move. "I'm not that innocent," she warbled in a voice that was not in range and not in tune.

Spike shook his head and looked at her in disgust. "At least go for a bit of Chrissy Hind or a bird with some talent. And no," he said as her mouth opened, "you cannot have one for Christmas. It's not a toy."

"You're so moody. We're going on patrol. Where's the bad in that? Staking things, beheadings, big nasty oozy demon stabbings..." she said, picking up a weapon and swinging it, intent on the flash of light on the blade. "You're going down, Vampire," she muttered to the empty air.

Spike shook his head in amazement. Give the woman a weapon and a mission and the sun came out for her. Heaven forbid they ever completely cleaned out the Hellmouth. Have to put her on antidepressants.

Buffy smiled to herself. It had worked at Anya and Xander's almost wedding, too. She had a real career in physical comedy if she could stop slaying long enough to get to L.A. or New York.
________________________

It had taken them ten minutes to ransack the house and find an umbrella. Jonathan's hands were aching to put themselves around Dawn's neck and squeeze. He'd made do with the steering wheel.

"God, it never rains! And I just finished my hair. This humidity will flatten it!" she said pettishly from the passenger seat of Xander's car.

Jonathan was finally getting mad. "I'm a lot more worried about being flattened by whatever might be out there!"

"Oh, chill out!" Dawn was getting real bored with Jonathan real fast. "We're here. We just stop and get the... Don't pull up there! Just park on the street!"

Jonathan swung the car to the curb, almost cursing at the car in the other lane.

"Hope she's here," Dawn muttered.

"What do you mean, 'hope she's here'? Why wouldn't she be?"

"Well, I haven't seen her in days. She could be out of town. And who knows if she's restocked everything?"

Jonathan groaned. "Now you tell me. I am so dead! Wait! *We* are so dead! Both of us. Cause I'm not taking the fall alone!"

Dawn pushed at the car door and maneuvered the already-wet umbrella outside to open it. "Whatever." She leapt out and pulled at the door to the shop, waiting to hear the answering bell.

It was locked.

"Great..." she mumbled to Jonathan as he joined her.

"So now what? We need..."

He was answered by a green glow and the pop of the dead bolt as the door opened.

"Dawn!" Jonathan was shocked.

The teenager put a hand in her dark hair, looking at it critically as it ran thought her fingers. "Ugh. Let's get in there and get the stuff before my hair falls completely!"
________________________

Daniel's lips were a thin, drawn line. Xander was scared enough for both of them.

"Look at this! Now Buffy's no housekeeper, but this..." He ran a hand over his face. "You don't think...?" The man's voice trailed off.

"She's been here, but she's not here now."

"She could be hurt."

Daniel shook his head. "Not here, she wasn't. There's no scent of her blood, a faint scent of fear, but I think that's Jonathan."

Xander smiled. "This is almost as good as having Oz around." At Daniel's puzzled look, Xander shook his head. "I'll explain later. So what next?"

"See if we can figure out where they went, I guess."

Xander looked around the room. Drawers were half-open. The sofa was pulled away from the wall. "Man, this place is trashed! Of course, I've seen Dawn's room, so..." As Xander's eyes fell on the coat closet, they widened. "Wait a minute. Something's wrong. Nobody ever uses that closet... and the door's open." Xander moved toward the handmade weapon's chest he'd given Buffy for her birthday one year and swung the lid up. He grabbed a crossbow and tossed it to Daniel.

"Thanks." The fledgling sounded distracted. Xander thought he must be trying to sniff out more information.

The man grabbed the sawed-off axe that he'd adapted for Buffy's weapons chest. It would have to do. He wasn't sure where she was keeping the big axe anymore. "Check upstairs," he directed Daniel. "I'll look around down here."

Nodding, the vampire disappeared up the stairs. Xander headed to the kitchen, snagging half a package of pop tarts as he breezed to the back door and checked the lock.

All tight.

The man moved quickly out of the kitchen and took to the hallway outside the basement door so that he could finish his circuit in the dining room. His breath went out of his body with a 'woof' when the door opened out, knocking him against the opposite wall. A thin, strong arm went around his neck, pulling him as close as a lover, as the hand attached to the other arm clamped down on his wrist. The axe fell to the floor. It skittered as it was kicked into the kitchen and across the floor.

Xander caught the smell of worn leather, liquor and cigarettes. And overpowering those odors was the stale smell of blood, gore, and dirt. His stomach lurched in nausea. He knew who had him. Hadn't had a doubt, really.

"Why, hello, hanger-on," a honeyed voice whispered in his ear. "Comfy enough? Or do you like more cuddle with your snuggle?" A shift and Xander was hitched up even closer to the hard, wiry body.

Xander closed his eyes in shame. What a shitty end! To have your neck snapped by a bad vampire when a good one was one stair flight away!

"Where's the party?" The intimate whisper was tickling Xander's ear, distracting him. "I'm here, but you're the first to show. And you aren't even the one who was issuing the invitations. I was all up for a surprise party, but it looks like I'm the host." He chuckled. There was a slight hiccup in it, as if he'd been laughing non-stop for hours. "Got several surprises in store for the gang. This one's for you," he said softly, as he shifted his grip and put his mouth right above Xander's neck. "Nice jugular you've got there. Do you work out, or is it an occupational thing?"

Xander willed himself to go completely limp as the vampire chuckled softly. "Soft boy. Nice boy. Well, maybe not so soft. Let's see..."

Xander let his knees give way as he let himself bend at the waist. Gabriel's hand fell away as he went sailing over the man's head. The vampire rolled over his back with a delighted chuckle and continued until he was on his feet. Xander took a good look and his mouth dropped open. The vampire laughed loudly and put both hands out in answer to applause that he didn't expect to come.

"Ta da!"

Xander's eyes were locked on his opponent.

"That's right, cutie. William the Bloody, Version 3.0," Gabriel said in satisfaction with a slight bow. "If you call the souled version 2, of course. I don't, but I'm sure some do..." He ran a hand through his greasy, over-long hair, pushing it back over his ears in a bastardized version of Spike's old look. "And I wasn't ready to kill you anyway. My kind of diligent work should be appreciated by one who knows."

Xander stared in undisguised shock as he took in the long, dark roots on the blond hair, the almost skeletal look of the vampire's cheekbones and the brilliance of his mad eyes. He didn't look like he'd fed or rested in weeks. Maybe months. The man didn't know how he'd ever thought Spike was evil. On his worst day, the vampire had never been like this. Hell, evil for Spike, for the last few years before the soul anyway, was nabbing a pack of smokes and scaring some college kid for a few bucks. Now *this* was evil! Gabriel was a serial killer on the vampiric equivalent of steroids - and a starvation diet.

"And what's a dark knight without his armor, you ask?" He pulled Spike's old leather duster away from his body and turned quickly, coat snapping in retaliation. "Not much of a grail, is it?" He laughed again, sending chills up the man's back. "Unless you know the history." At the Xander's puzzled look, the vampire smiled. "Guess you don't. Oh, well. I was always a sucker for the whole seventies thing, anyway." He shrugged. "Born too late, I guess.

"That's right, doll. All the looks, none of the handicaps. No soul, no government leash, no moral ambiguities. Just me like I always was. With one tiny improvement. Eternal life. Oh, that and a kick-ass libido!"

Xander threw himself back into the kitchen and the floor, scrambling for the axe and rolling to bring it against his chest. If he just hurt it a little...

"Now, now. That wasn't nice." Before Xander could draw a shaky breath, Gabriel was lying on top of him, axe imprisoned in both of his bony hands. He turned it back slowly, bringing the blade toward Xander's chest. "Guess some people aren't very appreciative of the good fortune of others."

Xander bucked once, but the vampire wasn't going anywhere. And then, he was.

As Gabriel's body rolled off and away, Xander leapt up and looked in the direction of the crazy vamp's hot, blue eyes.

Daniel. Thank God.

The fledgling was in gameface, crossbow in his hand forgotten. It dropped to the floor.

"Hello, brother," Gabriel said, unfazed, with a vicious smile that resembled a snarl. "Nice ta meetcha."



Rating: PG 13

Spoilers: The Voicesverse/Shepherd Stories universe picks up from "Grave" and moves on accordingly through an AU Season 7. This is my Season 8 AU.

Summary: Spike returns to Buffy and Sunnydale, with the first team of Initiative-made vampires in response to a brutal serial killer's trail of blood and death. But the killer is literally more inhuman than the usual run of killers and is bent on satisfying a vendetta against our boy and the slayer.

If you're a bit unsure as to how and where this chapter fits in, you're certainly not alone, since it's been three months since the last part was posted. Luckily, the pixies began whispering at Chicago Vulcon. If you're uncertain about the pick up point, previous parts are available right here on Laura's site and at the Sandlot.

Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...

Author's Notes: The last time I posted a part of this story to the lists was February 9th. Yes, I know. Seems longer to me, too. I have found this season to be so rich with ideas and so compelling that the AU simply paled in comparison. I believe this to be another manifestation in the symptomatic illness known as 'being Jossed.' So I set this aside and wrote other things until such time as the Muse kicked me in the ass.

If you actually still care about "Wolf," then I deeply thank you and hope that these two offerings, Chapters Nine and Ten, satisfy you for now. Ten will follow later this evening.



Chapter 9

He was a bad boy and needed to be punished.

Wicked child. Left her in chains, with only a few crippled victims for company. Broken their backs, so that they would last, but not escape, while he went off on his silly quest.

He'd been choking on his jealousy for weeks before he'd gone away. She could almost hear the gurgle. Had chained her while she slept, when she couldn't appreciate it.

Crooning, she drank deeply as the last girl gave up her life. There had been a dark man who had loved this one. In the girl's thoughts, the dark one looked something like her Angel. She understood, and did her best to accommodate the girl's dreams as she drained her dry.

Fear made the blood nasty and rancid. Once, she'd fed off that, the acrid taste of fear, but not for a long time. The smell of the frightened made her wrinkle her nose. It was so much better this way, the blood going down sweet and pure. All pink dreams and fluffy clouds.

Sitting back, she regarded the now broken figure. A large and rather nasty fly had perched on the girl's neck and was making its sticky way around the wound. Fascinated only briefly, she watched until she became distracted. The room had begun to reek of death. She suspected her clothes had begun to smell of it, too.

The fresh aroma of blood was like ambrosia. The stench that followed was interesting and momentarily amusing. But after days upon days in this place, she had ceased to be amused. No longer content to study the patterns of red death that decorated her victims and hating in particular the deep dried brown of them, she began to think of leaving.

It had been weeks since she'd seen the stars. Stood beneath them, whirling and dancing to the songs they sung. They missed her, calling out each night as they rose, twinkling, outside.

Patience exhausted with the final breath of her last victim, she frowned as she stared at the heavy chain. Brute force was not something she enjoyed, but she could certainly use it if the need was great enough.

Rising from the dirty floor, she brushed at her skirt, muttering resentfully at the dust streaks that striped it. Filthy hole she'd been left in. It made her want to scrub the stained wood floors clean. Yet another wicked thing from her wicked boy. Cut him to ribbons before she bathed the wounds with salt and bound them with her soiled garments.

Stepping lightly to the spot where the chain had been fixed to a beam that ran from the floor to the ceiling, she tilted her head, turning over in her mind exactly the best way to free herself.

Needn't have chained her at all. She could play the lady of the manor, waiting patiently at home weaving a tapestry of visions until her knight returned. Chains hadn't been necessary, although they did have some interesting uses. Uses that she'd been unable to enjoy.

He hadn't trusted her to stay, but with his extended absence, she wondered just what kind of fun she was missing. She didn't like to miss the fun. Her lip went out in a pout as she considered what entertainment would keep him from her side for so long.

Shrugging, she reached down and grabbed at the chain nearest the post and pulled until the room came down around her and the roof caved in. Dust and debris whirled around her like the stars as she pirouetted in the darkness.

As she dug her way daintily out, clucking with disgust as she realized that the dust from the stucco had done further damage to her dress, Drusilla swore to find her boy and give him the hiding he deserved.



Rating: PG 13

Spoilers: The Voicesverse/Shepherd Stories universe picks up from "Grave" and moves on accordingly through an AU Season 7. This is my Season 8 AU.

Summary: Spike returns to Buffy and Sunnydale, with the first team of Initiative-made vampires in response to a brutal serial killer's trail of blood and death. But the killer is literally more inhuman than the usual run of killers and is bent on satisfying a vendetta against our boy and the slayer. And now there's a wild card that's set on going into the pot. Bless you, sweet dark Princess, for prodding me with your presence.

Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...

Author's Notes: As always, my deepest thanks go to those who always find time to beta me when I'm growling for a look-see. To Chris, Kelly, Colleen, Cindy and Chennie (so many C's!), I'll see you again soon! Without you guys, I'd be toast.

And thank you, Laura, for instantly caring when I update. It means so much!



Chapter 10

"Not your brother," Daniel growled as he advanced on Gabriel. He'd dropped the crossbow, determined to take the other vampire apart with his bare hands before dusting him.

This was the monster that had bled those girls - bled Maddie. And he was determined that it ended now.

"What? No warm embrace? No smoochies?" said Gabriel sarcastically as he spread his arms in greeting.

Daniel smiled. Xander was shocked at how frightening it looked. "Only if I can rip those off first," he said, nodding at the vampire's outstretched arms.

Xander squeaked at the air speed at which the crazed vampire covered the remaining distance to Daniel. Gabriel's heavily booted foot slammed into the fledgling's chest, pushing him up into the air and against the wall. Spinning in the air, coat flying around him, Spike's evil clone came down perfectly poised with most of his weight on his back foot. Gabriel dove after Daniel silently, pushing him against the wall once more as he inflicted wounds with fangs and long, ragged nails.

It was a close-quarters battle. A street fight. Daniel had been taken by surprise and had forgotten most of his lessons from Shepherd immediately, falling back on those he learned in his military training. Finally, by brute strength and superior weight, he threw the dervish off with a roar, getting his neck ripped nastily in the process, then spun away to gather himself for an offensive of his own.

Almost instantly, bony fingers like metal hooks caught at one shoulder and dug in, stabbing into muscle and burrowing toward bone. A hunk of skin came with Gabriel's retracted fist as he jerked his hand back. Daniel snarled in pain. Managing to get an elbow up, the fledgling slammed it into his foe. Finally able to turn, he brought up a hammer-like fist. Gabriel's open hand closed around it, slowing Daniel slightly as the blow was directed downward. Savagely, he brought his other hand down in a chopping motion onto the fledgling's wrist. Daniel's hand went numb. Gabriel slammed him back against the wall with all his strength.

Xander looked around the floor. Daniel was a head and a half taller and twice the other vamp's breadth. Yet Daniel was the one looking like a lightweight. The man grabbed the foreshortened axe and flung himself to his feet, swinging the weapon blindly in Gabriel's general direction.

In a flash of motion, Gabriel came in under the blade and once again took hold of the handle with both hands, slinging Xander off his feet. The man held on for dear life as his feet reconnected with the linoleum.

But the subsequent jerk from the vampire insured that Xander saw stars as the flat side of the axe sharply connected with his forehead. He dropped like a stone, nervelessly letting go of the weapon as he fell.

He hit the floor, vision dulling as he saw Daniel begin to throw a flurry of hard punches at the other vampire's face and gut as Gabriel tried to move the axe into attack position.

Unbelievably, the last thing Xander heard was Gabriel's crazy laugh as the world went black.

*

"I do not believe this!"

Jonathan sat on the cot at the other end of the holding cell, as far from Dawn's cubicle as he could possibly get. "You?" His eyes flashed. "I'm back in jail. How do you think I feel? I'm not going to have your sister breaking me out this time."

Dawn looked at Jonathan resentfully. "How was I to know Anya put in an alarm system? And it's just a misunderstanding, anyway. As soon as she finds out it's us, we're out of here." She wished she really believed that. She and Anya had a history.

"For you, maybe" he said wistfully. "But I've got a record. Remember the heist?"

"No," she said flatly. Dawn frowned in remembrance. "Well, maybe."

"How soon they forget... but I guarantee you, there's a little computer in the other room that'll connect the dots. I bet my name is up on it right now. Flashing lights even. So if I do get out, on some technicality, I'm still a marked man," he said, full of doom, gloom and monuments to self-pity.

Dawn snorted at his histrionics. "Wait. I get a phone call, right? They always do on TV."

"Sure. But who are you going to call? Cause I'd rather rot in here than have your sister come and kick my ass. She'll blame me. She always does."

Dawn looked off through the bars, arms wrapped around the steel. Her eyes traveled to her fingertips, blackened with ink. "Does this stuff come off?"

"Booked. Again." Jonathan sighed as he rubbed his own fingers against his dark polo shirt. "Sunnydale is not a good place for me. I can't imagine why I ever came back."

"Cause you're a mama's boy?"

"Am not."

"Are so."

The door opened, and a young policeman walked in. "You can each make a phone call. Who's first?"

Wearily, Jonathan indicated Dawn with a half-hearted wave. It wasn't like he had anyone to call anyway. He hoped to never see his roommate Xander again. Or the Slayer. Or anyone he'd let down today. A long incarceration was his best bet. That and a 'special friendship' with some big guy named Bubba who'd keep him alive so he could suffer appropriately for his myriad sins.

Well, maybe 'alive and suffering' wasn't the best idea.

*

"Bloody buggerin' Hell, Daniel!" Spike's bellow brought Xander around. His head felt like it had been split open, and his brains were leaking out. Which was probably the only thing that was keeping Spike from killing him at the moment. He experimentally opened one eye and closed it immediately as light exploded into his brain, making his head implode. Maybe playing possum was the way to go.

He listened with an inward groan as Spike enumerated his and Daniel's offenses.
"Concealin' information. Goin' off half-cocked. Almost gettin' cut in *half*, for Christ's sake."

Xander's eyes did open then, steeled for the light as he stole a look at Daniel. The fledgling stood at attention, hands clasped respectfully behind his back. Xander suspected the stance also hid the clenching and unclenching of his fists.

"Asinine, irresponsible..."

There was a large bandage that was colored with blood wrapped around Daniel's middle. His face wore the evidence of his fight with Gabriel in purple bruises and broken skin. Xander was shocked again at the memory of the Tasmanian devil that was 'mini-Spike'.

Xander chuckled painfully. 'Mini-Spike.' Catchy.

"And you!" Spike roared as he rounded on Xander. "I'd like to know what the bloody hell you were thinkin', whelp!"

The jig was so up. Get jiggy, Xanman, the man thought as he rolled over and started to rise.

Xander promptly doubled over and threw up, kneeling on the kitchen floor.

"Stupid git!" Spike was disgusted as he waved a medic over. The man helped Xander onto his back again. He felt the room continue to spin as lunch and bile rose into his throat once more. He moaned.

"Concussion. And it serves you right," Spike said in dark satisfaction. "First sign of trouble, you should have said somethin'. Now Buffy's out lookin' for the Bit, which is where I should be instead of pickin' up your beaten and battered bodies."

"No Dawn?" Xander croaked, winded by his continuing bout with nausea.

Spike's look of anger was supplanted by worry. "No word yet. But Buffy'll..." He shook it off. "You, by all rights, should be dead, Harris." He spun to face Daniel. "And *you* should be decoratin' the floor. Any idea why he left you alive? Cause right now, I'm admirin' the self-restraint," he said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Xander and Daniel traded looks. Spike noticed. "What? Do I have to separate the two of you 'til after you spill?"

Spike's cell phone rang. With another venomous look at the two offenders, he glanced at the caller i.d.

"Bloody hell," he whispered. He stared at the phone. Decisively, he clicked it on 'receive'. "This is Shepherd," he said, holding his voice firm.

His forehead cleared briefly. "Nibblet? Are you all right?"

Xander sighed in relief. Dawn was found. He looked at Daniel, who had gone into parade rest.

"Are you hurt?" Spike continued into the phone. "Did...?" Furrows in his brow etched themselves in deeper than before. His eyes began to burn in anger. Xander grimaced in sympathy.

"You did *what*?" The vampire took in several deep breaths and pushed them out to calm himself. "Your big sis is gonna kill you. If I don't bloody well do it first!"

He smiled dangerously into the phone. "Oh, no worries, Bit," he said crushingly. "I'll get you out. And your little friend, too. But make no mistake, only because we need him right now. And m'thinkin' you'll be droppin' the high and mighty act you've been pullin' lately in return."

Xander winced again as Spike clutched the phone tightly enough to crush it. He was sorry he was witnessing this. And Dawnie? Where was Dawnie?

"Bollocks! You've been in a right jealous snit for days now. Don't know what possessed you to call me, except you bein' sure I'd come waggin' my tail at the chance to get back into your good graces."

Xander closed his eyes. Spike yelling at Dawn. This had to be bad.

"No, you *cannot* talk to Buffy! She doesn't have the paper to get you out. I do. S'not like she has a bloody membership card that says 'slayer' on it!

With a smothered curse, Spike disengaged the signal. He looked at Xander.

"Dawn's in jail," he said tightly. "She and the boy. Broke into the Magic Box to get supplies."

"But..."

"So she's safe, no thanks to you." Spike ran his hands through his hair. "You," he said, turning to Daniel, "call the slayer and let her know I've gone to get Dawn. And she's to get back to base with the team she's got with her. Now."

He shot a menacingly look at Xander as he walked out of the kitchen. "You better hope this ends well, Harris."

Xander looked at Daniel, who had already gotten on his cell to contact the base. He laid his head back on the floor and stared at the ceiling.

He'd really screwed up on this one. Buffy was gonna kill him.

*

The slayer heaved a sigh of relief, followed by a flash of anger. Dawn was so going to get it!

She turned back to the patrol. "They found her. Shepherd says to get back to base."

Matthews and Jeffries, who were bringing up the rear, turned back sharply in the way they'd come. Buffy's spidey senses kicked in. And then everything was happening too fast to make sense.

First, there was the pungent smell of gasoline, followed by the sound of a splash as liquid hit Kevlar battle armor. Jeffries pushed Matthews to the right as flame licked out and engulfed him.

Matthews looked up in horror even as Buffy grabbed DeLuca and felt her hands slide down his wet armor. She slung him behind her and moved forward to Jeffries just as he fell away into dust.

There was the sound of a gutteral roar of grief, but the slayer didn't have time to deal with it, any of it. The black clad figure had already moved into the trees, ducking into the shadows at preternatural speed. Following with a leap over a parked car, she headed into the woods after their assailant.

*

"So. You didn't win?" Xander whispered as they carried him to a big black van on a gurney.

Daniel looked at him sourly, then to his middle. "Do I look like I won?"

"What? He just... left?"

The fledgling looked at Xander warningly, then glanced cautiously at the medic.

The man lay back on the gurney. What's the what? As his head began pounding anew, he realized it was about to blow off his shoulders, and the ice pack they'd placed on his forehead burned like cold fire. Cold. Fire. God, he was making no sense!

Daniel got in the van behind Xander and slid the door shut as the vehicle moved into the night.

*

Spike's hands clutched the steering wheel convulsively.

It had been all he could do not to take both Daniel and Harris apart when he'd realized that the Nibblet had been missing for hours. They'd seen firsthand, fresh blood and all, what that bloody sadist could do and still they hadn't come to him.

The perfect soldier-vamp wasn't playing by Shepherd rules, and Spike wouldn't tolerate it. Hard to believe that Harris could end up being what a parent would describe as a 'bad influence.'

He shook his head. Unfair, even if it was the sodding whelp. Daniel had been a loose cannon ever since he'd found out about his girl. Spike had just been stupid enough to believe that Daniel had the discipline to hold off - although the vampire knew that had he been in Daniel's place, he would have already burned down Sunnydale to find the bastard.

His cell phone went off again. Spike absently reached down and picked it up. As he pieced together what dispatch was telling him, he slammed on the brakes, firing off orders as quickly as his mouth would move.

Dawn was in jail. Dawn was safe. It was all about Buffy now. Buffy and the team that was decimated on patrol, one dead and others with major burns. The gasoline had splashed and run underneath Kevlar vests that had trapped the traveling flames against undead bodies. The lack of oxygen was the only thing that had saved them. Jeffries hadn't been so lucky.

And of course, being the stupid slayer that she was, Buffy had run off after him alone, like she was bloody immortal. DeLuca had tried to follow, but she'd had too great a head start. Spike mentally called her every name he could think of. Now it was up to him to track her down and watch her back, just as he'd done for years.

He turned the truck around and headed in the direction of Sunnyrest, still barking orders into the phone as he drove, too fast, to the last place Buffy had been seen.

*

She flew over the headstones without thinking. Knew this cemetery backwards and forwards. In the light and in the dark. Mostly, in the dark, she thought absently, as she searched the shadows with slayer vision for a glimpse of Gabriel.

Because it had to be Gabriel, right? And gasoline? He might be crazy, but he was smart, just as DeLuca had said. Smart and cunning and all those things that made the real evil stand out from the fledglings who awoke in their graves all hungry and stupid.

Her sense of self-preservation began to kick in as she reached for her headset. She needed to let them know where she was, cause hey. They didn't. Spike was probably cursing her six ways to Sunday by now. The fallout from one of those was never a chuckle-fest.

She slowed slightly, unfamiliar with the how and the why of the talking when she was moving at a dead run. She reached up tentatively, fingers looking for the switch.

Something that felt like a small bulldozer hit her square in the back and brought her down. She rolled and came to her feet, only to catch a flash of startling eyes in a whirl of black leather, before it closed on her.

*

"I guess we're gonna rot here, huh?"

Dawn flipped her hair and looked at Jonathan narrowly. "Spike said he was coming. He will. Even if I wish he wasn't."

Jonathan sighed. "And he said he'd get us both out."

Looking down, Dawn flushed at the remembered anger and disgust in Spike's voice. "Um, 'fraid so." She looked up candidly. "I won't kid you. It's not going to be pretty."

Jonathan let out a defeated breath. "Well, yeah, I'm still skating on thin ice with Buffy anyway. This means I just fell through a crack. And I'm freezing into a Popsicle."

Dawn laughed derisively. "You're worried about *Buffy*?" She continued to chuckle as Jonathan slumped further and further into himself. "Buffy's the least of our troubles. We pissed off Spike. And I've *never* pissed him off. Not really. So yeah, it's not gonna be pretty."

Turning her face to the security door of the lock up, she sighed, wondering just how miserable Spike could make her life before he forgave her.

*

The smell of Buffy's blood - slayer blood - hit Spike before he was into the cemetery twenty paces. He sorted the direction and started running, falling into gameface without being aware of it. The smell sharpened, metallic and hot. Like ambrosia.

If that bastard didn't kill her, Spike thought, *he* would. 'First, I'll save her, then I'll kill her' ran through his head and out. This was bloody, bloody stupid!

The smell got stronger as he got closer. He sped up and leapt into the midst of the battle, tearing the smell of dirt and blood away from the blonde that was fending the vampire off with defensive moves instead of the usual offensive ones.

There was a fresh onslaught of the odor of blood that stopped Spike dead in his tracks. A rush of it, as Buffy sunk against a head stone. In the split second that Spike hesitated, Gabriel took off. The instinct to go after the killer warred with his need to get Buffy somewhere safe. Buffy won.

"Christ, Slayer," he muttered, working to keep panic out of his voice. "Ripped your arm clean open. M'gonna tear his bloody head off!" Spike shook his head, glancing after the other vampire, who had smirked once as he retreated at vampire speed. "Can't believe he had you on the ropes like that, love," he said, as he went to her, trying to keep his voice steady. Couldn't let her see that, now could he? How frightened he was. How close the bastard had come. He reached for her injured arm to try to assess the damage.

She shrugged him off resentfully and pushed herself up and away from the headstone, miffed. "Didn't you see him?"

Spike stepped closer and squinted at her arm. He needed to see how bad it was. "Yeah, saw the little piss ant," he said distractedly. "All done up in Drac-black. Typical. Nice boots, though... Let's see to your arm, love."

"I'm fine!"

"Oh, bloody right as rain, you are!"

"He *does* look like you! Like they said," she insisted, trying to divert him as she moved her arm out of line of sight.

The vampire drew himself up to full height. "Does not!"

"Well, not exactly. More like a cheap Spike rip-off," she said dryly as she began to walk away from him.

"Oh, right! And when did I ever go tearin' gapin' holes in you anyway? Always had more finesse than that!" What? Was he gonna have to wait until she bloody passed out from loss of blood before he could see to her? Stupid bint!

His anger and fear welled up and burst through. "And what the hell was that, anyway? You goin' off after him by yourself, knowin' what he was, what I walked into at the house." He moved in front of her, blocking her way. "I've had it with seeing you die!"

Buffy stopped walking, face pale. The arm of her sweater was soaked with blood and it was beginning to drip away from her fingertips. "You know what, I don't feel so good."

"Oh, hell!" Spike caught her as she staggered, the smell of so much flowing rich slayer blood finally making real impact on his brain. Bastard had hit the main artery.

He growled, grabbed at her headset and hit transmit. "It's Shepherd. Need a medic now," he said evenly, not letting the fear into his voice. Hell, she was the slayer. She'd taken more damage than this. "Sunnyrest. Main gate. M'bringin' the slayer out."

With that, he put a hand under Buffy's knees and picked her up, striding quickly toward the cemetery entrance as her blood left a trail like perfume behind them.

*

Xander enjoyed the little gurney ride in through the back door of the Initiative. They'd come straight into the large unfinished area that served as a direct way into its bowels. For once, with the medic hovering at his shoulder, the whole thing felt AllAboutXander.

And it was about time. This was the first time one of his concussions had made any real impression on anyone. He felt important. And he especially liked the feel of the cool air passing over his incredibly sore head.

Oh, sure, it felt like there were a thousand elephants line-dancing across his brain, but it wasn't the first time and at least the beat had rhythm.

All in all, it was a nice ride. Too bad he couldn't have drugs. Not yet, anyway. Cause he was concussed. Ergo, no good stuff, just Tylenol. Which sucked.

But he could look forward to cool, clean sheets, a nice quiet room, and getting the low-down from Daniel about just what had happened at the house while he was all comatose.

After all, Dawn was found, Buffy was on her way back, and...

Close by, one of the support people handed Daniel a set of headphones. He thrust them on his head and began running for the steel double doors.

"Hey," Xander said weakly. "What about me?"

The gurney picked up its pace, following Daniel through the doors and into the massive space that was the Pit. Xander heard a tight, low murmur and the sound of booted feet hurrying across. Wincing, he turned his head to one side, but realized he'd have to raise it to see anything. Which he did with a deep groan. Daniel had already made it to the communication station.

Everyone was wearing white plastic suits, just like in the movie, ET. In fact, exactly like ET, he thought, bemused. It looked just like a movie set.

Something was wrong. Very, very wrong. Was he sure they hadn't given him any drugs?

There wasn't much in the way of personnel at the old base yet, but it looked like each person he saw was functioning as two as they moved through seemingly urgent tasks. Xander's medic deserted him as a tech dressed in a white plastic suit grabbed for his gurney. He could smell the sharp odor of the plastic.

"Back off!" Xander warned. The tech moved away a little, as if uncertain where he was needed most. He looked at Daniel.

There was no way they were shuttling Xander off to a private room with the neon light emergency going on. "Go! I'm fine. Do... well, whatever it is you were doing. Or wait! Push me over there first!"

The tech looked toward Daniel. With a curt nod, Daniel motioned him forward. The gurney glided across the floor to the comm space, where Xander slid off and put his weight on shaky legs. He took a deep breath and worked toward upright. He might be listing a little to the left, but he was good. As long as the chair stayed twelve inches away. It was hard to tell if it would. His depth perception kept coming and going.

Daniel had traded his field headphones for something a little more streamlined. He was issuing instructions. Lots of them. Xander collapsed into the empty chair at the fledgling's right. As his ass hit the seat, his head began to pound in earnest. He wanted drugs. Good drugs.

Daniel glanced at him briefly, concerned. There was a tight look around his eyes that Xander took at face value. There was trouble. Big trouble.

*

Daniel's lips compressed to a thin line. He should have been with them. Especially since Shepherd wasn't. He grabbed Hollis as she went by.

"Triage?"

The woman nodded. "We're good to go. I went over the injuries with the medic-in-charge. It's not good. Shock. Burns. But only the one casualty."

"Jeffries," Daniel said quietly.

"Yes, sir. DeLuca took over the team when he realized he couldn't catch up with the slayer and that Matthews wasn't... well, able."

"How bad is it?"

"Three seriously injured, two moderately. Everyone is splashed with gasoline, some more than others, so they're all kinds of combustible right now. Even a spark in the wrong place could send another one up, maybe the whole team. We'll need to clean them up as soon as possible." She looked at him candidly. "And it should have been much worse."

Daniel waited for the rest.

"Jeffries was flanking Matthews," she continued, "Pushed him out of the way and took the brunt of the flame. It broke the patrol pattern enough that injuries were mostly minor." She waited a beat, trying to decide how to phrase her next statement. She went with clinical. "They retained his remains."

So they'd saved Jeffries for this. And Jeffries had saved his comrades. Daniel couldn't believe how quickly it had all gone pear-shaped. Daniel hated the fact that they didn't have a full team. There was only one psych and he was already earmarked for Matthews. They'd jumped the gun by opening up the base with only a skeleton crew. He'd give anything for a full staff right now. If they were still in Vail, there'd be several psychs and their assistants, plenty of EMT-types and the administrative/support staff to keep it moving, not just poor Hollis. He felt crippled.

"ETA, two minutes," Rimbold, the communications tech called out.

He looked at Hollis. "Go."

She moved off to the left where an area was being set up for quarantine and clean up. The members of Second Team who had been left behind dropped thick sheets of plastic from the ceiling to cordon the area off.

Xander was so dizzy it took him a moment to take in what had been said. "Gasoline?"

"Gabriel. Ambushed the rescue team. The slayer went after him," Daniel said tightly. "Alone."

"Oh, God. Buffy." The man buried his aching head in his hands, ignoring the sharp pain. "All my fault. If I'd just come clean..."

"Shepherd's gone after the Slayer."

Xander glanced up. And even that hurt. He swallowed his nausea to reassure Daniel. "He'll find her, too. He was always showing up where he wasn't wanted," Xander said gamely. "You'll see. He'll find her."

"A whole team. He took out a whole team. Most of First Team and part of Second, injured," Daniel muttered. "Rat bastard son of a bitch." Daniel glanced at the board as he pushed his hair back, grateful that he didn't perspire anymore. He'd be swimming in sweat right now, waiting for the casualties to come in. If they'd only stopped Gabriel at the house, *none* of this would be happening right now. It would all be over.

A light began blinking.

"They're here," Daniel said loudly. He pointed to two of the techs. "You're on assist. Get them in and over there," he said, pointing to the newly finished enclosure. "Make it quick, quiet, to the point."

The double doors opened. As the first of the vampires came in, the odor of gasoline and charred dead flesh carried through the Pit with the help of the enormous air blowers. The techs pointed out the triage area and went out after the ones that weren't ambulatory.

Xander caught his breath. It was the most sickening thing he'd ever smelled.

*

"So, is he coming or not?"

Dawn cast a jaundiced eye at Jonathan. "Oh, he's coming, all right. Get ready for it," she finished glumly.

She'd been thinking about it since she'd gotten off the phone. Maybe she had been all jealous-y and snarky lately, but it was like Spike just came and went as he pleased. Would go do the whole mid-life thing for a while, and then come back like he'd never left. The blood in the refrigerator had really pissed her off. And she'd wanted him to know it. He'd been there, what? All of two seconds and he already had a *shelf*?

"Well, it's not like we didn't need the stuff..."

Oh, great. Now Jonathan was going to try to justify what they did. Rolling her eyes, the girl snorted. "Oh, yeah. That'll go over well. He's all big on the excuses right now." She raised an eyebrow. "And you are so dead, cause I'm a kid and you're like... well, *almost* a grown up."

"Hey!"

This is so bad, Dawn thought. If she could just keep her mouth shut when he started yelling, just back off into the corner of the car, creep really, really close to the door, maybe he'd get unmad faster.

And Buffy. Buffy was going to be all disappointed. And if they figured out that there weren't any signs of breaking and entering... B&E, she reminded herself... then they were going to just *know* that she'd been practicing, which she was *so* not supposed to do. So Buffy would go from 'disappointed' to downright mad. Too. Which meant both of them. At once. Mad.

Dawn's mind wouldn't quit moving. She was getting a really, really bad headache. The kind that made your hair hurt. The kind that made your neck go all stiff and achy.

She put her head in her hands and moaned.

"So he's gonna be mad?" Jonathan's voice was getting weaker and weaker.

"He's gonna be mad," Dawn assured him in a small voice.

Jonathan was quiet for a moment. "You think there'll be some kind of house arrest involved? Or will he just kill me outright? Put me out of his misery?"

Dawn looked up, rallying. "Spike doesn't kill people anymore," she said in a condescending tone. Jonathan began to relax a little. And that wasn't happening if she could help it. "You'll just wish he had."

"Well, where is he, then?"

"He'll be here." But Dawn was beginning to wonder. Either he was really, really mad...

Or something was really, really wrong.

*

Daniel was at the quarantine area when Spike's voice came over the speaker. Everyone was inside and being treated, worst cases first. Dr. Jackson had whisked Matthews away as soon as he'd stripped down and been cleaned up. Hollis made certain that everything, armor and clothing alike, went directly into a waste container for toxic materials.

"It's Shepherd."

Unknowingly, Xander smiled when he heard Spike's voice. There were a lot of really bad things you could say about Spike, but right now, his unparalleled talent for stalking Buffy was making Xander see him in a very favorable light.

"Need a medic now," the disembodied voice continued.

He sounded so calm that Xander was momentarily comforted by the tone of his voice. So it took him a little longer than usual to get the gist. The man's head spun around to stare at Rimbold. The man was tinkering with dials and switches. Subsequently, Spike's next words were much clearer. And loud enough for Daniel's vampire hearing to pick up on.

"Sunnyrest. Main gate. M'bringin' the slayer out."

Xander's hands went together of their own accord as his lips went white and his shocked eyes found Daniel, who was already across the thirty-five feet and back at the comm station. "Rimbold, we got a truck out?"

The man pushed a button and spoke into his headset.

"Oh, sweet Jesus," Xander breathed out. "She's hurt. I mean, *really* hurt."

Daniel looked at him impatiently as he reclaimed his headset. "You don't know that."

"You think Buffy'd be letting him call for a doctor if she wasn't? She'd have to be unconscious," Xander said, bitterness tainting his words.

Rimbold interrupted them. "Transport will be there in four minutes. At the Sunnyrest Cemetery. Main gate on the east side."

"Set me up," Daniel said briskly. Rimbold connected Daniel's headset directly into the comm board.

"Shepherd? North here. Four minutes on that transport."

"This can't wait then," Spike said cryptically. "And it better not be a bleedin' second more. Slayer's made a fine mess of herself. Can't do much without dressin's and such. No vamps on that truck, right?"

Daniel looked at Rimbold. He shook his head. "Just support. No field operatives."

"Just support personnel, Shepherd."

He heard Spike push out a breath. "Right, then."

Xander shoved himself to his feet. His head felt like it was splitting open. "Spike! Is she...?"

He stopped, unable to continue. Because Xander really didn't want to know. Not like this. They waited, staring at the speaker, as Rimbold stayed in quiet one-sided conversation with the team in the recon and rescue vehicle. Seconds seemed to tick by slowly, just like watching the hands of a clock, except instead of that old-fashioned comfort, Xander was staring at a red LED that told its tale in military time, to the tenth of a second. He held his breath.

"M'at the main gate. *Been* here," Spike said finally, impatience leaking into his tone. "Where the fuck is that bleedin' truck?" he growled. Suddenly the vampire didn't sound nearly as calm.

Rimbold, still monitoring the driver's frequency, asked a quiet question. "One minute, forty-eight seconds," he said to Daniel.

"Under two minutes," Daniel relayed.

"Well, bloody hell," Spike said in disgust. "Get a White Room ready for the slayer. Now."

"Yes, sir," Daniel said quickly. He motioned to Hollis, who was still overseeing the clean up. "Set up one of the isolation rooms for the Slayer," he said briskly.

"And don't bring us in through the Pit," Spike continued. "Not if there's any vamps there. Bring us another way. But a quick way. No dawdling."

Hollis glanced at Daniel. "We can do that."

"Go," he said quietly. He pulled his mic to his mouth and spoke. "Done, Shepherd." Daniel frowned. Isolation? And why did he need to clear the Pit. Or bring the slayer in another way? He turned off his mic and looked at Xander, who was clutching at the desk, but still standing. "What the hell is he talking about?" Daniel said in puzzlement.

"Well, she's hurt," Xander said, trying to sort it out. His eyes cleared. "Oh, shit. She's bleeding. Probably a lot." Xander looked worried. "I guess bleeding bad enough that Spike doesn't trust..."

"We've found bodies before," Daniel retorted. "I mean, the team has. It was a problem, but not..."

A calm measured voice interrupted him. "I suspect that his concern is that Buffy's blood is slayer blood. There is an integral difference where a vampire is concerned. Which might also account for Spike's ill mood. Although certainly, any injury Buffy might have taken, grave or no, is also a determining factor."

Xander spun around, seriously impairing his already damaged balance mechanism. His hand fell on the newcomer's arm, clutching it tightly as his jaw dropped. The man eased Xander into a chair and turned back to the fledgling.

"Who the hell are you?" Daniel asked curtly. "And how the hell did you get in?"

The man looked at him appraisingly, as he handed the vampire an envelope and his identification. "I'm your interim Watcher," he said crisply. "Ralston has been, uh..." He hesitated briefly. "Reassigned. You're Daniel, of course."

Startled, Daniel looked up from the i.d. card as the man pulled off his glasses and wiped them on his handkerchief. "Now," he said smoothly as he returned his spectacles to their rightful place, "could you be so kind as to put Spike on the line? Tell him it's Rupert. And... do you have something that looks a little more like a telephone?"



Rating: PG 13

Spoilers: The Voicesverse/Shepherd Stories universe picks up from "Grave" and moves on accordingly through an AU Season 7. This is my Season 8 AU.

Summary: Spike returns to Buffy and Sunnydale, with the first team of Initiative-made vampires in response to a brutal serial killer's trail of blood and death. But the killer is literally more inhuman than the usual run of killers and is bent on satisfying a vendetta against our boy and the slayer. There's a wild card in the pot - and an old friend to help balance it out.
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...

Author's Notes: Back on the horse, by God! Thanks for being so patient! This is for Chris, Kelly, Colleen, Cindy and Chennie, who continue to encourage and watch the Voicesverse/Shepherd Stories continuity like hawks.



Chapter 11

"Shepherd? North here. Four minutes on that transport."

Spike thought about it. And it wouldn't do. Buffy was continuing to bleed, the flow slowing a bit, but not stopping. She was still losing enough blood that *he* was light-headed from it. He couldn't imagine how light-headed she must be.

"This can't wait then." Nothing for it. He had to stop the blood now, not wait for the medics. The thing was, Buffy wasn't going to like the method. "And it better not be a bleedin' second more," he warned Daniel. Feeling like he was exerting some control helped him center. "Slayer's made a fine mess of herself. Can't do much without dressin's and such," he rambled. The main gate was in sight. Jostling her more than he intended, he hurried on. Needed to get started, and to do that, he needed to get to the rendezvous point.

Spike had a sudden thought. "No vamps on that truck, right?"

After a moment, Daniel replied crisply. "Just support personnel, Shepherd."

Not that it was normal that there would be, but this night was far from normal. "Right, then." Looking around, he noticed a particularly large live oak near the gate, but still somewhat concealed by shadows from the street. It would have to do.

Xander was saying something, but Spike didn't have time to ask what and the man didn't ask again. He switched off the mic on his headset.

"Buffy, gonna have to do something about the bleeding. Need to set you up against this nice, big tree."

"Great," she mumbled weakly. "Love sitting on the damp ground..."

His spirits soared as he carefully set her down. Yes, she was with him, bitch that she was. Never had he been happier to hear her all out of sorts.

"Now this is gonna hurt, Slayer," he said warningly.

She let out a pained breath as she settled against the trunk. "Sitting against the tree," she said gamely, but reduced to a whisper, "or your next brilliant move?"

"The move," he answered as he grabbed the hem of his tee-shirt and ripped it away. Of course, there was no seam on the side, so he made one, easily ripping the gray cotton knit until he had a long narrow tube. He began wrapping it around Buffy's arm above the still sweater-adorned wound. Her eyes followed his hands, watching as he worked. "Sweater's seen better days, pet," he commented to distract her.

"Occupational hazard," she said gruffly. Her voice grew a little stronger. "Are you really doing what I think you're doing?"

"Yep," he answered as he tied the ends of the shirt together. "If you hadn't been so bloody stupid, I wouldn't have to," he said tightly. Reaching down, he grabbed a stake-sized stick, jammed it between the cotton loops and began twisting it to tighten the cloth.

Buffy gritted her teeth and gasped. "I hate you," she managed finally. "Really a lot."

"Yeah, well," he muttered as he secured the stick. "Right now, I hate me, too. Reckon we'll both get over it."

First aid handled, Spike gathered Buffy back up and set her on one leg, while the other was knee down on the sod. Holding her close with one arm, he used the other to reach for the switch on the headset. He'd waited long enough.

"M'at the main gate. *Been* here," he said into the mic.

Sure the slayer was trussed up, but it wasn't the same as being tended to by a real medic. Besides, the irony of a vampire *stopping* the bleeding wasn't lost on him. She needed a sodding doctor, someone trained to *save* lives, not take them.

"Where the fuck is that bleedin' truck?" he ground out. Gabriel could always come back. Could be out there in the trees right now. Waiting. Spike couldn't sense anything except Buffy's blood, and his brain and body were throbbing with it.

"Under two minutes," Daniel answered.

"Well, bloody hell," Spike said in disgust. What was the good in having a crack team if the team couldn't get cracking? And dammit, the blood was distracting as hell. Even if she stopped bleeding, he could still get lost in the smell of it. If *he* could, after years of being accustomed to Buffy's scent, what about the vampires at the base? "Get a White Room ready for the slayer," he said tightly. "Now."

"Yes, sir." Daniel's answer was almost automatic. Spike heard him direct someone to prepare a room. Which meant that at least one of them was functioning.

His mind was moving like molasses and there was more to say. Unconsciously, he pulled Buffy closer. "And don't bring us in through the Pit," he directed Daniel. "Not if there's any vamps there. Bring us another way." He should make it clearer, but nothing was particularly clear at the moment. "But a quick way. No dawdling."

Spike waited impatiently for Daniel's acknowledgment.

"Done, Shepherd."

He pushed out a breath. Nothing left to do now but wait for the truck. And he needed to remember to send someone after his later. If they could pry it off the tree he'd hit on his way there.

*

Spike's ears sharpened at the sound of a throat clearing in his headset. "Um, Spike?" There was the sound of a finger tapping on the microphone, then more words, stronger. "What is the nature of Buffy's injury?"

Closing his eyes in relief, the vampire thanked whoever was in charge, whether it be God, or simply the Council of Wankers, that at least one of his prayers had been answered.

"Watcher?" His voice felt thin, thready. He hoped he wasn't dreaming, or that this wasn't some strange hallucination having to do with being engulfed in the heady scent of slayer blood. Which now seemed to be drying into the threads of Buffy's sweater. Amazed, he realized he had actually stopped the bleeding.

"Yes, of course," Giles said in reproof. "Now to Buffy?"

Spike felt Buffy raise her eyes to his. He looked down. They were slightly glazed, but surprised. Her lips were pale, but she was with him. He smiled, and pushed her hair away from her forehead. Yes, it was for her, too, this thing he'd somehow managed to make happen. Shepherd needed Giles for the Project, but the slayer needed him as well.

"Needed a new watcher, love," he said quietly. "Rupert's it."

She squeezed his arm and relaxed against him. With a sigh, he returned his attention to Giles and the base. Words began to pour from his lips as he described how he'd found Buffy, the injury she'd taken, his treatment of it. He spoke quickly and concisely with no embellishment. Still, if he'd needed breath to live as well as talk, he'd be dead. Finally, he halted, surprised that telling so much had taken so little time.

"You've done all you can, then," Giles said reassuringly. "And I'll make certain that everything is prepared properly for your arrival. Just keep Buffy safe."

Spike saw the fog lights before he could make out the outline of the black vehicle. Getting to his feet, the slayer in his arms, he headed to the van.

*

Rimbold turned back to the second-in-command. "They've got 'em."

Despite his massive case of Buffy worry, Xander couldn't help but stare at Giles, decked out in an Initiative-headset. Maybe all that old-fashioned, tweedy Gilesness was just a ruse. Because he looked like he'd been wearing it for years.

And man, sure would have been better that summer than having Willow firing off orders in his head!

Which still hurt like a mother.

"How long?" Daniel asked.

"ETA six minutes. Belay that. Five. Five minutes."

Daniel turned to the man slowly. "How did it go from six to five?" Seemed like everything was falling apart. His people couldn't even fix on a simple estimated time of arrival.

"Shepherd, sir. He..."

Nodding, Giles' chin was firm as he reached for the switch. Somehow, he found it quickly. "Spike?"

Spike's voice came over the headset. "Yeah?"

"Your team is accessing Buffy's medical records. There's not a great deal of information, but we do have her stay in the hospital when she was in high school and the aftermath of the Warren Meers incident."

Spike was silent for a few seconds. When he spoke again, he sounded as if he needed to clear his throat. "Right. Might want to get me a change of clothes, Watcher. M'covered in her."

Turning to one of the low-level techs, Daniel quietly directed him to get fresh clothes.

Giles considered the ramifications of that statement. Taking a steadying breath, Giles spoke again. "Is Buffy conscious?" He kept his voice level and calm.

The question hung in the air. Xander realized he was holding his breath. After a moment, they heard Spike's voice drop to a murmur.

"How you holdin' up, pet?" he said softly.

After a beat, Spike's voice came back to them. "She's awake," he said grimly. "Wouldn't exactly call her alert, but... Ow!"

Giles smothered a smile. Xander didn't. With a huge grin, he threw up his hands, regardless of the pain in his head. "All right!"

"Well," said Spike resentfully. "Her pinchin' mechanism is workin' fine." The relief in his voice was clear even over the headsets.

*

"This is... well, the tissue here is already healing. Healed, I mean. At the edges."

The doctor was using her for a slayer anatomy lesson. All ooohing and ahhing over her accelerated healing powers. Buffy didn't think she was nearly accelerated enough. In fact, she wished she could slam her foot on the gas. If there'd actually been some kind of gas pedal thingie for healing, she'd be one happy little slayer. Her head hurt when it wasn't all in the clouds somewhere. The one thing that she was sure of right now was that a) she hated hospitals, b) she hated the smell of antiseptic, and c,d, and e) she really, really hated the white wardrobe choices that the medic and techs were turned out in. Didn't they know it was December? And those white shoes? Now that was definitely a fashion rule. No white shoes after Labor Day. Everybody knew that.

Not that she was going to be in much better shape, she suspected.

They'd cut Buffy's sweater off, but she'd managed to hang on to her bra for the moment. Even with the spots of brown on the pale peach lace, it was better than what she was about to be subjected to. Soon, she thought, they'd be bringing in the lame hospital gown of the fashion victim. And she'd be expected to wear it.

Why hadn't she packed something at the house yesterday?

The doctor said that Gabriel had torn the brachial artery, that she'd lost about a liter of blood, and that she needed an IV to plump her blood back up to a better volume.

And that's what Spike and the medic were arguing about now. Though, why, exactly, she had no idea.

She was tired and her arm ached. At least, partway. From somewhere around the wound and down, she was numb. And she couldn't wiggle her fingers. They said the nerve was bruised. This called up images of a little black and blue string running from her shoulder to her pinkie finger. Maybe a bandaid would help?

All she knew was that it had better get unbruised fast. It was her right arm, which was her all-purpose sword and good staking-arm. What was a slayer if she couldn't hold a stake? Or a sword?

How 'bout 'dead slayer'?

Both Spike and the medic were getting on her last nerve.

And where did that expression come from anyway? How did you know when you were down to your last nerve? When you started screaming?

"Okay, enough. What's the problem?"

Spike rounded on her. She struggled up onto one elbow. She knew she was pale, but she got as much 'stormy' into her eyes as she could. He'd get the message. He'd better.

"This pillock wants to jam a needle in your arm," he explained.

She sighed. "Not exactly my idea of a good time, but fine. Anything to get me up and out of here. I want to see Giles."

"Buffy, how in the hell is he supposed to get the needle in? Hell, I can't even black your eye with a good right cross. And God knows, I've tried."

The doctor and techs stared at Spike.

Ignoring the doctor's raised eyebrow, Spike continued on. "And as far as sewing up her arm, well, you might as well get out the big adhesive bandages and tape her up. Cause there's no stitchin' her," he continued.

Oooh, big authority on slayer healing. Buffy wanted to pop him in the nose. Or at least pinch him, but she was too busy thinking about the IV. "So getting the needle in my super-duper, tough-stuff skin is the problem?"

"Well, yeah," Spike said in frustration. "That and gettin' it in the vein all proper like. Which would be bloody difficult for the doc, seein' as he's human and all." Spike looked down his nose at the doctor. "And a bit on the puny side at that."

She stared at the ceiling for a moment and looked back at the vampire. "I think I had an IV once."

The pronouncement fell flat in the middle of the isolation room. Spike stared at her. In fact, all of them did. Spike, the two techs, and the doctor.

"What?" she asked impatiently. "Did everybody just go deaf? And is there a problem with that?"

"Yes, that's what the records say." The doctor spoke first, just after he cleared his throat. "At the wrist. But this particular IV needs to go into the vein at the elbow. Which might be a little more of a problem than the thinner vein at the wrist."

"Well, try it. If you can't, Spike can. It's no big." This was beginning to get boring and annoying and all the things Buffy hated most.

"There's a certain amount of training involved here, Miss Summers," he said reproachfully.

Spike's drawl rolled through the room. "You think I can't find the vein?" he asked in a derisive voice, staring at the doctor. "Cause I assure you, I can find the fuckin' vein." His voice began to rise.

Buffy winced. She had a headache and he wasn't helping it. "Down, boy," she said, forestalling the inevitable description of what veins and arteries Spike could find from twenty paces. "Look," she said to the doctor, "just try it. And Spike, you relax. If the doctor can't do it, you can get the little needle in and he can do the rest. And I can get out of here." Her voice carried more than a little annoyance.

"Miss Summers," the doctor began, "you've lost blood. Your arm needs time to heal." He held up a hand to stop her from speaking. "And you need rest, even if you *are* already beginning to mend."

"Hey, I've had worse than this..." She stopped. Had she *had* worse than this? Well, other than the whole 'dead' thing? Her head was spinning and she felt nauseous.

This was not going the way she expected. Buffy looked at Spike entreatingly. "Will you fix this so I can see Giles? I really, really want to see Giles." She looked at him appraisingly. "You look like you've been in a car wreck. A bad one." She looked closer. "Is all that my blood? Cause, well..."

Spike threw up his hands. He looked at the doctor. "Get the bloody needle and try it."

As the tech began to pull what they'd need and began explaining it to Spike as he set it up, Buffy closed her eyes, sinking down into their now near whispers. God, she hated doctors! And Spike was really being a pain in the ass.

*

The vampire walked out of the isolation room and right into Giles and Xander.

"They drugged her, but she's not out yet." Spike looked at Giles. "She wants you."

Without a word, Giles moved past him and into the room. The vampire looked at Xander. He took in a deep breath and started to speak. "Not blamin' you for this, so you shouldn't either. She's stubborn sometimes. Never should have gone after Gabriel alone. And she knows it, even if she won't admit to it."

Xander nodded, accepting Spike's words. "Things are bad out there," he said bluntly. "Daniel's handling it, but still..." He pushed out a pile of folded clothes to Spike. "You might want to get out there and make sure everything's going okay."

Spike let out the breath. "Things went belly up tonight, no mistake." He took the clothes, turning as he heard footsteps coming down the corridor. "Daniel..."

The fledgling began to change as he approached, suddenly in full game face. Xander pressed himself back against the wall in shock. Spike took one look down at his clothes and threw the clean clothes into the air and his body at Daniel, pinning him against the wall of the narrow hallway.

"Daniel," Spike hissed. "Get a grip." In answer, the fledgling bucked against him, trying to get at him. His eyes flicked toward the door to the isolation room.

"Stupid ass," Spike muttered in annoyance as he drew back and slammed his fist into Daniel's chin. As the back of the fledgling's head hit the wall, Spike crowded close, face inches from Daniel's golden eyes.

"Fledge! It's slayer blood! I told you no vamps, and that means you too, you stupid git!" As Daniel pushed against him, he hit him again. And again. Slowly, the fledgling passed back into human face. Spike backed off slightly, very wary.

"Shepherd..." Daniel was shaking his head, struggling not to morph back to demon face.

Xander darted in, scooped up the clean clothes, and jammed them into Spike's arms. "Go!"

Spike took the clothes and stared at Daniel a moment. Seemingly satisfied that the fledgling was back in control, he quickly disappeared down the corridor. Daniel took deep, steadying breaths. Which, Xander had to admit, was real weird, since vampires didn't need to breathe. Still, he'd seen Spike do it a hundred times. Didn't seem any less weird, but at least it fit.

"You okay?" the man asked in a concerned voice. He didn't touch Daniel. Wanted to keep both his arms.

Daniel brought his eyes around to Xander. "Yeah. I think." He closed his eyes and collapsed against the wall. "That was..."

Reaching out, Xander put a comforting hand on the fledgling's shoulder. "Yeah."

Daniel shook his head. "How did... How can he stand it? Why didn't he just...? Cause I think I would have..."

"Look. You need to get back. He'll need you. I'll stay here, wait to see Buffy."

Nodding, Daniel turned, still shaking slightly. "I would have killed her," he muttered. "I would have..."

Xander shook his head. "Nah. You would have been fine."

"No." Daniel swung back and fixed Xander with hard emerald eyes. "I would have killed her," he repeated flatly. He quickly turned and disappeared through the heavy door.

*

Things had been better, but they could have been worse. Just barely though.

The psych was still with Matthews. Doctors and med techs went from one injured vampire to another. Daniel was in his office. 'Recovering', Spike suspected. Xander was with Buffy. Rupert was with Spike. And Dawn?

The vampire shook his head. He couldn't leave her in the slammer forever, could he?

Well, could he? He thought about it briefly, until Giles interrupted his train of thought.

"I must say I like the name Shepherd much better than Spike."

"You would," Spike said in an irritated voice, although he was secretly glad to have the whole line of thought momentarily interrupted.

"Has a certain gravity about it," Giles continued. "Commands respect."

Spike made a rude noise. If Giles saw his military credentials that officially proclaimed the vampire to be one 'Randall S. Giles', he would never hear the end of it. Spike saw a new future as 'Randy,' if he wasn't damned careful.

"Will you leave off?" he grumbled. Glancing up at Giles suspiciously, he realized he hadn't asked. Slipping. Spike was definitely slipping. "And how did you get here, anyway?" he asked in a dour voice. "Got a white horse parked outside?"

"I was in Vail for ten hours, trying to sort through the loose ends, thank you very much. Ralston made quite a muddle of things. I came here tonight in a helicopter to talk with you about some of it. All of this drama is an unwelcome bonus."

Spike was still having incredibly uncharitable thoughts about the project's former watcher. "Ralston. That rigid prick," he growled.

"Careful," Giles said sarcastically. "Some would perceive that as a compliment."

Spike looked up in surprise, and belatedly roared with laughter.

Giles noticed that the laughter lasted a little too long and had more of an edge than it should. "You need to rest," he observed.

The vampire sobered immediately, and shook his head. "You saw. They don't know what to do with her. What if she..."

"I assure you, I'm more than capable of watching over Buffy while you rest. And she's healing quite nicely."

Spike sighed. "Even if she is, there's no rest for the weary, Watcher. Bit's landed herself in jail. Need to go spring her."

Giles mouth dropped open. He closed it long enough to choke out two words. "Good Lord!"

"Well, it wasn't anything near as bad as it could have been, but she didn't have any business doing it, no matter her reasons. Of course, seein's how I was supposed to be there six hours ago, I figure she's probably either good and humble by now, or stewin' away in a godawful snit like her big sis would be."

"Indeed." Giles looked at his watch. "Go ahead then. I'll see to Buffy. Bring Dawn back and then get some rest. But I would like to see any information you might have gathered on this vampire. This... Gabriel." His mouth twisted in distaste.

Spike picked up the phone and pushed a button. "Daniel. Watcher wants to see what we've got on Gabriel. M'headed to pick up the Bit."

Standing, he fixed Giles with a look. "You know how she gets. Keep her in bed 'til she heals some. Don't fancy pulling the boys off her if she starts bleeding again."

Giles pursed his lips. "I'll keep her in bed if I have to resort to a ballpeen hammer blow to her right temple," he said darkly.

Spike laughed, suddenly more relaxed than he'd been since he'd come back to Sunnydale four days before. Just knowing that there was someone else watching Buffy's back made it a little easier to.. well, not precisely breathe, but... "C'mon, Rupert," he said wickedly. "You'll have to do better than that. She'd think that was a love-tap."

Leaving Giles to polish his glasses as he waited for Daniel, Spike went to fetch Dawn.

*

He would have to stop somewhere soon. Sunrise wasn't far away and he'd known he couldn't get there in the small amount of night that had been left to him.

Gabriel jammed his foot down and almost purred in satisfaction as the big Cadillac picked up speed and hugged the curves of the interstate. Hated leaving his eunuch brother and the pitiful human behind. Hated leaving the sounds of screaming and the smell of charred dead flesh.

Most of all, he'd hated leaving the girl like that, her blood rich on his hands.

After, Gabriel had licked his fingers and felt his own blood burn in response. It had taken every ounce of self-control he had not to go back for her and finish it then. Drink long, deep. Lose himself in her.

Reaching over, he stroked the worn leather coat he'd laid carefully across the passenger seat. He'd retrieved the grail. That was enough for tonight. He'd put it across his back and stroll in, inviting her caresses in a sweep of leather and slayer blood. Push himself deep in her, wearing his trophy. Wipe her tears of joy on the lapel.

He could be there tomorrow night. Get her and take her back with him. He had chains in the trunk, in case his princess got bitchy, along with the body of the man who had once owned the sleek dark vehicle he was driving. He could finish it. Finish *them*, with her at his side, all done up like a dark angel from hell. Receive her accolades like black roses drifting around him until he was buried in the ripe scent. It had to be like that, otherwise, where was the satisfaction? He certainly wasn't getting any from the ones he was hunting.

It was easy. All too easy. He was on schedule. He only hoped she'd managed to ration out her food. He shrugged. It wasn't like she'd starve.

Gabriel reached for the CD player and ejected the disk. He picked up another and slid it inside. He grimaced slightly. A talking book. Next time, he'd have to be a little more discerning about the owner of the vehicle he stole. Or at least bring his own music.

*

It might have taken him six hours to get there, but it only took about six minutes to get them out. All Dawn knew for sure was that the policeman who released them into Spike's custody was all but bowing and scraping on the floor. And was still begging him to call if he needed anything else. The girl really, really wanted to know what Spike's 'papers', as he'd called them, said.

Not that she was gonna ask, cause, no way.

Jonathan was at the same level of bowing and scraping as the police officer. At Spike's flat glare outside, he'd gulped and gotten in the back of the big, black SUV and pressed his back against the seat.

He was probably trying to stay out of arm's length, Dawn thought nastily. Unconsciously, she hugged the vehicle's door, wrapping long fingers around the grip.

Silently, Spike drove to the Magic Box and stopped. They all sat there a moment. Finally, Jonathan cleared his throat. "I'll just... uh, get Xander's car. And follow you, cause..."

Spike nodded curtly and the man fled, door slamming in his haste to get as far away as he could for the time he had left until they returned to the Initiative base.

Jonathan's voice had sounded suspiciously squeaky, Dawn thought acidly.

Then, Spike pulled out from the curb and slowly turned the truck around in the street. Dawn didn't point out that u-turns were illegal. Because, well, Magic Box.

"Your sister got hurt tonight," Spike said in a low voice, without preamble.

Dawn turned, eyes wide, her plans to stay quiet forgotten. "Hurt?" she said weakly. She *so* didn't want to hear the next part. But it was like a train wreck. Couldn't look away.

With a curt nod, Spike continued. "Out huntin' you."

That was when she remembered that talking wasn't in her survival plan.

"It's dangerous out there right now for anything that even slightly stinks of me. And whether you like it or not, Dawn, that's where you fit in this. Harris and Daniel got banged up, too. Lookin' for you. Tryin' to track you down, because you weren't where you were supposed to be."

Dawn quickly glued her eyes to the scenery passing along in the side window. It was shadowy where the street lights met the trees and buildings.

"How did you get in?"

A direct question, she thought. No hope now.

"I 'did' it." The queer emphasis on the word 'did' ought to tell him all he needed to know.

Spike nodded again, but slowly this time, as if her answer was no surprise. "You may think you're all adult now, but you're not. That's why you have people lookin' out for you. To keep you safe, show you right from wrong. Up to you to pay attention."

The words rushed out before she could slap her hand over her mouth. "Spike, I know you're pissed, but..."

Spike slammed a hand down on the steering wheel. "Pissed?" The word dripped with anger and sarcasm. "Had your sis' blood all over me tonight. Found Harris unconscious. Daniel damn near cut in half. Jeffries is dust, and a half a dozen vampires smell like half-cooked barbeque. 'Pissed' doesn't come close!"

He glanced at Dawn. "But you now. You're 'pissed'. At me. Want to know why, no dancin' around it."

Despite her better judgment, Dawn told him. "You know, I used to count on you. Buffy did, too. Now you just come and go like our lives are some kind of revolving door. I think I liked you better without the soul. At least you stayed put!"

Her angry words seemed to echo in the car. She winced away from them a little, then stuck her chin out. Hadn't said anything that wasn't true. *Too* true, she thought.

Spike drove on. The street lights moved unceasingly across his face, highlighting a cheekbone, shadowing his eyes until they were like hooded sparks staring into the light.

"That's fair," he said finally. "The only fair thing so far tonight. Here it is then, and you hear it now, 'cause this is the end of it. Buffy and you both deserve better than me. I know it. Still, no one loves you as much. Hell, I'd die for you, Bit. Both of you. So I do the best I can. Until somethin' happens that makes me remember that I'm not good enough. It hurts, Nibblet. And I go. To try to fix it. Try to be better for you both."

He took a deep breath. "Can't be a man for Buffy, a father for you, but I can be your friend."

"You already are," she said grudgingly. She hated it when he talked bad about himself.

"That's your say on it?"

Dawn sat a moment, reflecting. "Maybe. I think. Yes."

"Fine, then. Here's mine. M'here to keep you safe. So you gotta help. Got enough other going against me. I'll talk to Buffy about the Key thing. It's part of you, not something we can forget and hope it goes away. But you've gotta show you're responsible. This hare-brained crap has got to stop. People are getting hurt."

Dawn nodded.

"Now I don't know anythin' that'll help, but maybe someone else does. Rupert's come back."

Her head swung around, a smile playing around her mouth. It faded as abruptly as it appeared.

"For how long?" Her words were cold.

Spike sighed. "For as long as he can and will, I guess. No need to get all pissy about it. Life's all about going away and coming back, or going someplace else entirely. Arrival, departures. Life, death. Goin' and comin'. Sooner you get it, the happier you'll be." He stopped, let his words sink in. "Give us all a break, will you?"

Dawn thought about it. And suddenly decided it was time to cut everybody some slack, if only because, one day, she'd be in the departure lane.

"Okay, I'll try," she said firmly.

"All I'm askin' for."

She watched him drive for a while. Maybe the soul hadn't been such a bad thing after all.



Rating: PG 13

Spoilers: The Voicesverse/Shepherd Stories universe picks up from "Grave" and moves on accordingly through an AU Season 7. This is my Season 8 AU.

Summary: Spike returns to Buffy and Sunnydale, with the first team of Initiative-made vampires in response to a brutal serial killer's trail of blood and death. But the killer is literally more inhuman than the usual run of killers and is bent on satisfying a vendetta against our boy and the slayer. There's a wild card in the pot - and an old friend to help balance it out.
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...

Author's Notes: Oh, my... you gotta love her!



Chapter 12

She left the truck and its dead driver on the the highway and retreated into the wooded area on the side of the road. Drusilla knew that the stars would soon retire from the sky, and if she couldn't have their company, she should retire, too. The heavens were tatted with pink lace.

Drusilla had never been one for being alone. Didn't like it, couldn't abide it. It would make her keen in horror. And now, she didn't even her dolls for company. Once again, her eyes flecked gold at the thought of having been left behind. Such a bad boy, he'd been. She'd punish him for that.

She'd had a large family when she was a child. And then, when they were lost to her, she'd had another. But Daddy had left them, and Grandmother had been so unkind. There was a gaping hole where. A gaping maw that threatened to swallow her whole, like a whale in the ocean with its mout wide.

But, still, she managed to dance on the edge of the abyss, sometimes stumbling but never falling. She'd known it was only a matter of time until she found what she was looking for.

Finally, she and her new knight had wafted away like vapour on the breeze. Away from the golden one, and the 'had-been'. But it wasn't to be. Her new love wasn't happy. Not until he could wipe her old life away completely. Like a cloth on chalk.

The stars had tried to warn her, but she'd shaken her head and told them to be silent. The pixies in her head had sighed in sadness, but she'd placed her hands over her ears and hummed a waltz. What had been done was done, and it was all one until the stars fell. She'd had the voices all her life. Those she could ignore until they were all screaming at once, in one searing tone. They weren't screaming. Whimperin' more like.

The hunger wasn't as simple to ignore. She needed family... and Gabriel was proving to be a disappointment, she thought in a moment of lucidity. He didn't care for his Mummy the way a good boy should.

Drusilla glanced up. There was a house within sight. Her eyes narrowed as she considered it. Perhaps she could find something to eat there - and a warm, soft bed. A warm, sticky bed, she corrected herself. Warm and sticky like a taffy wrapper left in the sun. And tasty.

Drusilla hoped there was a family there. And children. Girl children with pretty dolls.

She giggled and clapped her hands at the remainder of her thought.

Or perhaps the girl children would *be* pretty dolls.

Little boys were like puppy dog tails. Fine for play, yes.

But not for eating.