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The first thing that Buffy noticed was that her head hurt. The second was that it was really dark.

Rolling over with a groan, she cracked her eyelids open and immediately slammed them shut again. Big mistake. She hadn't been able to see much in the split second that her eyes had been open -- just enough for the sudden light to make her eyeballs ache and her stomach turn. In an attempt to steady herself, she lay in silence for a few moments and breathed deeply. There was a musty, decayed odor to the space that made her think that she was in a cave somewhere, and she couldn't hear anything beyond the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears. After a minute, she decided to give the whole eye-opening thing another try.

She was in the basement of Spike's old crypt.

It took her a while to recognize it, actually, what with it being all burnt-out and kind of crappy looking. It looked like someone had made an attempt to straighten things out -- setting up a bed and a couple of chairs, lighting some candles here and there -- but there was almost nothing left of the little nest Spike had created, the one that had not in the least been comfy or homey. Nope, not at all. Of course, as far as she knew, Spike had been too busy communing with the Hellmouth and then being crazy homicidal guy to spend much time here lately. So if this stuff wasn't his, then....

"Buffy!" a cheerful voice said. "You're up! Good."

Buffy turned her head, wincing at the sudden movement that made her headache flare up again. Her eyes widened, and she gasped.

"Riley?" she asked incredulously. She struggled to sit up, rubbing at her sore head and craning her head to look up at him. How had she not heard him come in? "What are you doing here?" she asked. "Did they get you too?"

Riley frowned, dropping down into a crouch next to her. "They who?" he asked absently, reaching out to run his fingers over the bump on her head. "You're looking really good, Buffy."

Okay, so she clearly wasn't the only one with a head injury. "Uh, you're looking good too," she said slowly. And he was, actually -- hot, even, not that she should be noticing that sort of thing, because they were so beyond over that the them part couldn't be seen with a telescope. "And I don't know who. I don't remember anything. They must have gotten me from behind while I was patrolling. Are you hurt? We should probably get out of here before they get back."

Riley grinned, and his eyes crinkled at the edges. "There's that 'they' thing again," he said, playing with the edges of her hair. He smiled again, and Buffy's blood ran cold. Oh god.

He looked almost exactly the same as the last time she'd seen him -- tall and strong and solid as ever, with a couple of extra scars and a trickle of dried blood at the corner of his mouth. Blood, she suddenly realized, that wasn't the result of an injury as she'd preciously thought. Someone had already had his dinner. Buffy jerked her head away from him.

"Oh, Riley," she said sadly. "I'm so sorry." Riley tilted his head like and overgrown cocker spaniel, and the familiar gesture made her want to cry.

"Really?" he asked. "I'm not. I feel great." He stood up again and started pacing. Buffy watched him warily. "I'm a new me," he said happily. "I'm stronger, faster, even better than I was with the Initiative. You really should give it a try."

"Yeah, that would be a no."

He shrugged. "It's okay, I figured you'd say that. Don't worry, I have it all worked out."

"Figured...what? Riley, what's going on? Where's Sam?"



"It happens."


And okay, things were getting really weird now. They were sitting there discussing his wife's death, and Riley still had the same blissed-out, goofy expression he'd used to have following a good orgasm. And how she wished that she didn't have those particular memories right now.

"It was a huge vamp nest," Riley was saying. "They'd pretty much taken over this one village. They killed some of us, turned others. Afterward, Graham and I and a couple of the other guys stuck together and headed out on our own."

"And you're here now," she said slowly. He nodded.

"For a couple of weeks now." He craned his neck and looked around the tattered remains of the lower level of the crypt. "I've been in worse places. And hey, whatever happened to Spike anyway? You two still...?"

"No. A million times no." And that was the right thing to say, right? Her brain was fuzzy and loose around the edges, as if she'd been drinking. Mmmm, beer good. Spiked beer better. Wait, what was he saying?

"That's great!" Riley beamed. "Everything's perfect now." He reached down and hauled Buffy unceremoniously to her feet before giving her a light push that sent her tumbling onto the bed. "Are you sure you're alright?" he asked. "I may have overcompensated a bit with the dosage, you being a Slayer and all."

Oh, god. She hated being drugged. This sucked beyond the telling of it. "Hey now," she protested weakly as Riley began tying her arms to the bed. "You don't need to do that."

He shrugged and grinned that unnerving grin. "Probably not," he admitted. "I just thought it would be more fun this way." He nodded in satisfaction and stepped back, unbuckling his belt. "Hey, are you still on the Pill?"

Whaaa...? "Riley," she said with more patience than she felt, "you remember you're a vampire, right?"

Riley frowned, then his face cleared. "You're right!" he said happily. "Wow, what was I thinking? Force of habit, I guess. See, won't this be great? We don't have to worry about that kind of stuff anymore. We can do it wherever and whenever we want. Plus, the super-strength is a bonus. You can hit me as hard as you want now."

"Oh, don't worry," she muttered, trying to wriggle her hands free of the restraints. "I'm planning on it."

"Oh, and before I forget..." Riley dug into his pants pocket and produced a thin box, pulling out a small foil packet.

It was official. He must have been sired by the world's stupidest vamp. Did these kinds of things get passed on? She was never quite sure how that worked. "Do I have to remind you about the vampire thing again?" she asked testily.

"Huh? Oh, it's not what you're thinking." Riley tore open the foil packet and extracted not one but two flimsy pieces of plastic. They were pretty small too, and she knew there was a penis joke in there if she could wrap her muddled brain around it.

"You...grew an extra one?"

Riley laughed. "Nah. These are for something else." He fluidly shifted to game face, and Buffy shuddered at the beady yellow eyes. No matter how many times she saw it, it was never easy watching it happen to someone she knew. With a flourish, he quickly and neatly rolled the tiny pieces of plastic onto his fangs.

Okay, this was definitely new.

"Are those...fang condoms?"

Riley beamed and nodded. "They sure are. We don't really have a name for them yet -- VampDoms? SafeBites? -- but this is something that Graham and I came up with. Well, mostly me. Graham kept getting bored and eating the test subjects."

She'd have to ask, wouldn't she? "Okay, but...why?"

Riley folded his arms across his chest, getting that slightly officious look she knew so well from when he was a TA. The effect was only marred by the stupid pieces of plastic poking out of his mouth, which made him lisp.

"Do you know how dangerous human blood can be?" he asked. "Not to me, of course. I don't care about stuff like that anymore. No, this is for you." He smiled at her look of confusion. "I don't want you dead -- not yet, anyway. I just want to keep you safe. It's all I ever wanted."

Oh god, he was getting earnest. This wasn't looking good.

"I know you did, honey," she said as soothingly as she could. "But...VampDoms?" She could barely say the stupid name.

"Well, I already ate," he said matter-of-factly. "But I don't know for sure how healthy my dinner was. What if he had hepatitis? Or HIV? That's not something to mess around with. See, this way, I make sure that I don't pass any of the blood on my teeth onto you. Brushing is never one hundred percent effective."

"But if you're not planning on killing me...?"

"Oh, but I didn't say anything about biting," he said cheerfully. "I know you've got a thing for vampires. Do you know what a turn-on being bitten is?" And no, no she didn't. Not at all. Shut up, brain! "I'm doing this for you," he continued, giving her a slightly patronizing look. "After all, the best sex is safe sex."

She didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so she settled for a slightly hysterical giggle. "I know that," she said, "but..."

"And these are new! We worked out a new formula that includes some kevlar along with the latex. Guaranteed puncture proof. I figure they'll be the next big thing, as soon as we can find a major distributor. We did lots of preliminary testing."

"I'll bet you did," she muttered, then gasped in relief when she heard the faint sound of the front door of the crypt being swung open.

"Buffy?" she heard a voice call from above. "You in here?"

"Spike!" she called. "Down here!" She struggled with her bonds again, giving Riley a wary glance, but he merely looked impatient and slightly hurt.

"I thought the two of you broke up?" he asked plaintively.

To Buffy's utter relief, Spike fell lightly down from the upper level, landing on his feet and straightening fluidly. He took in the room in a quick glance before letting his gaze settle on Riley. "Well," he said blankly. "Look at you. Joined the ranks of the monsters, did you?"

"Spike," Riley said stiffly. "We're a little busy here. If you could see yourself out?"

Spike's cheek was twitching slightly, as if he was trying not to laugh. "I would, but then I'd miss the explanation for those ridiculous bits of plastic in your mouth."

Riley sighed heavily. "I wouldn't expect someone like you to understand, Spike. You were always too selfish to see what was really best for Buffy. I mean, do you know how dangerous blood can be?"

Spike turned to Buffy. "Is he serious?"

"Afraid so," she muttered.

"I didn't drink from humans, you git."

Riley shrugged. "So? Do you know how many bloodborne pathogens are carried in pig's blood? Did you ever stop to think about what you might have passed on to the girl you claimed to love? I mean, even if you didn't plan on biting her, one scrape of the fangs could..."

Oh, crap. Spike's eyes had clouded over and his chin was wobbling slightly. "You're right," he said faintly. "I could have hurt the girl."

"Spike, I swear to god, if you cry right now I'll stake you myself," Buffy said fiercely. Whatever Riley had drugged her with must have been wearing off, because her head was clearing. With a final pull, her wrists came loose from the bed. She rolled off and onto her feet, grabbing up a burned piece of what had probably once been Spike's bed. "Sorry honey," she said sweetly, facing Riley in a defensive stance, "but I'm afraid I'm going to have to Just Say No."

Riley looked crestfallen. "If this is about him, I don't mind if he joins in," he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at Spike.

She was not letting her brain go there, for there lay pretty pictures and much badness. "I'll have to pass. Sorry."

"Oh. Okay."

It wasn't much of a fight, which surprised her somewhat, given Riley's impressive fighting skills as a human. Maybe he just hadn't gotten completely used to his enhanced abilities yet. They did end up destroying the new bed completely by accident, which was satisfying. It all ended when Spike tripped Riley, giving Buffy the opening she needed to tackle him and make use of the stake. And that's all she wrote. She knelt there among the dusty remains of her former love, blinking against the candlelight. She didn't even realize she was crying until she scrubbed at her eyes and came away with muddy streaks on her fingers.

"Hey," Spike said gently. "You okay?"

"Yeah," she croaked, accepting his hand and rising unsteadily to her feet. And no, she probably wasn't, but she couldn't think about that right now. She'd realized during the past few months that the Scarlett O'Hara approach to this sort of thing suited her very nicely.

"Ready to get out of here?"

"Yeah," she said again, dropping his hand and giving him an unsteady smile. "Thanks for finding me. Good nose-work."

"Right. Well, I'll be up there, if you need another minute." He gestured at the ladder, and Buffy nodded.

"Right behind you."

As Spike made his way up the ladder, she surveyed the room one final time, kicking lightly at the pile of dust on the floor. She'd say goodbye later in her own way. Just before she blew out the candles and followed Spike upstairs, she noticed a small box on the floor. Riley must have dropped the VampDoms right before the fight began. After a moment's hesitation, she snagged the box and put it into her own pocket before starting up the ladder.

Angel would be getting the world's best anonymous Christmas present this year.