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Fixing It

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Fixing It

 

Terri Botta (c.2001)

 

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own `em. I just take them out and play with them. No money, no infringement, yadda yadda yadda. I'm poor so don't sue.

Pairings: Buffy/Spike: Post "Flooded"

Summary: Spike tries to fix it. Spoilers for all S6 including Flooded.

Rating: PG

Authors note: Feedback welcome. Not sure I'm 100% happy with it so any critique is welcome, even if you think it sucks.

*******

Not for the first time in his unlife, Spike was grateful for his vampiric healing abilities. Without them, he would have had one hell of a hangover instead of the mild headache he was suffering from now. If he was still feeling the effects of his and Buffy's trip into the demon world, he could only imagine what the Slayer must be going through. As it was, she'd begun vomiting before he had even gotten her home.
 
He would have liked to stay and make sure she was alright, but he took one look at Giles' face as he helped the sick Slayer in the door, and thought the better of it. The Watcher might nominally accept him as part of the gang, but he would no doubt react as any father would towards the one responsible for his 'daughter's' drunkenness. No, it had been best to cut and run before he met the business end of a stake.
 
Now it was day and he was lying on his bed, staring at the roof of his crypt, wondering where last night had gone so wrong and cursing his own stupidity.
 
'Good thing she didn't stake you for taking her to that dive. Spike, sometimes you really can be terminally stupid. Were you always this big of an idiot? I mean, I know William was a ponce, but he had brains. He would never have taken a lady slumming at a demon bar. Good plan, Spike. And for our next date, I'll take her for a tour through the sewers. Bloody pillock.'
 
In the midst of his self-recriminations, he realized that while his actions were pathetically ill-conceived, he wasn't entirely to blame for the situation. Long before he and Buffy had gone to the demon bar, the Slayer had come to him and begun raiding his liquor supply. She had downed several shots of bourbon with him before they'd ever left the crypt, and he had only meant to buy her another drink at the bar, not supply her with an entire bottle. That had been all her doing. He'd just been along for the ride.
 
Dimly he recalled that had been his primary intention from the beginning. The Slayer, depressed and upset, had come knocking on his door looking for someone to talk to, and then proceeded to drink herself into oblivion. Not typical behavior for the girl, and if he remembered correctly, someone had told him she couldn't hold her liquor. They'd been right. She gave it a good go though. Had to give her credit where it was due. He figured, if she was going to get herself snockered, she might as well do it where she was safe, and he could keep a close eye on her to make sure she didn't do anything stupid.
 
'Yeah, like you didn't have the market cornered on that already, wanker,' he thought to himself.
 
That had been his original plan at least. It wasn't his fault that the plan got screwed up and tossed on its end. Had to give a guy credit for good intentions, right?
 
'Being as you are still here and not a big pile of dust, consider that credit, and consider yourself lucky. Giles may come looking for you yet.'
 
As if on cue, he heard the door to his crypt open and he forced himself to sit up.
 
'Okay, so the headache isn't as mild as I thought.'
 
He gripped his head and fought back a moan, silently praying that the intruder wasn't someone he would have to fight. He heard whomever it was heading for the ladder to the lower level, and rose to his feet, preparing to meet his visitor.
 
"Spike?" Buffy's voice called, and he sighed with relief. "Are you down there?"
 
"Yeah," he managed, shaking away the cobwebs in his brian.
 
"Is it okay for me come down?"
 
She didn't sound angry, depressed or upset. If anything, she sounded uncertain. It made him wonder what was going on.
 
"Yeah. S'okay. I'm decent. Or rather, as decent as I get these days."
 
A moment later, he saw her dainty feet begin to come down the ladder, followed by the rest of her slender body. He met her halfway; right by the coffin they'd been sitting on the night before.
 
"So what brings you rap tap tapping on my chamber door, Slayer? Not that I'm not happy to see you, but I rather expected you to keep clear of me for a while."
 
She blinked at him, obviously not catching the Poe reference, and shook her head. "Why would I do that?"
 
"Oh, I dunno, maybe because I took you to a demon dive and got you hopelessly drunk. Remember?"
 
She looked away guiltily. "I remember. That's actually why I'm here today."
 
'Ah, here it comes.' He braced himself for the tongue-lashing and blows.
 
Buffy fidgeted and wrung her hands. He waited, wondering why she wasn't screaming and hitting him yet.
 
"I… I wanted to apologize. For my behavior yesterday."
 
He felt as if a ton of bricks had just landed on his head. "What?"
 
"You… you were trying to be helpful, and I… I treated you poorly. And I'm sorry for that."
 
Spike softened and gave her a gentle smile. "You've nothing to be sorry for, luv."
 
"Yes I do. I came here and I drank all your liquor…"
 
"Not all of it…"
 
She ignored him. "And I dumped on you and tried to get you to fix my messed up life, and when you tried to help me, I shot you down. Since I've been back… since I was brought back, you have been the only person I've felt I could be with and not have to worry about being okay all the time. And I repaid you by getting drunk and being bitchy, and I'm sorry. Okay? Apology offered."
 
Head still spinning from her admission, he managed a stuttered, "Apology accepted."
 
"Thanks." She gave him a hopeful look. "So, we okay?"
 
He smiled warmly. "Absolutely."
 
She looked relieved and ventured a shy smile. "Good. I'm glad."
 
There was a moment of awkward silence before Spike motioned for her to sit down on the coffin.
 
"So, you fancy a drink?"
 
"Opph, uh, no. Alcohol and Buffy equals Bad."
 
"I've got other stuff you know. Soda and stuff."
 
"Oh."
 
"Might have some of that flavored water Dawn likes."
 
"Okay."
 
He walked over to the small fridge and began rummaging. "Yeah, I got strawberry and raspberry. Oh and some diet cola."
 
Buffy hopped up on the coffin. "Strawberry water's fine."
 
She was looking around the crypt as he brought her the bottle of flavored water.
 
"I never told you that I like what you've done down here. It's homey… for a crypt with… coffins in it."
 
He gave a small chuckle as he sat next to her. "I left the coffins in for Nibblet's benefit."
 
"You redecorated for Dawn?"
 
"Well, yeah. After… after you… died, she was here a lot. We kinda… held each other together. After a while I thought it'd be best if I made it more comfortable for her, y'know?"
 
"The bed too?"
 
"Yeah. She slept here a few times. Thought it'd be good for me to have a bed."
 
"You slept with my sister?!!"
 
He looked horrified. "Me? No! Never! She just crashed here sometimes is all. I never laid a hand on her, I swear! Well, aside from in friendship…"
 
"Oh. Oh, good. That's good."
 
Buffy took a few deep breaths and Spike looked kindly at her.
 
"Buffy, I won't lie to you. I love Dawn, but not that way."
 
She nodded. "It's okay. I understand. Sorry I overreacted. I'm kinda tired."
 
Taking a good look at her, he had to agree. She looked ragged and had dark circles under her eyes.
 
"Didn't get much sleep, luv?"
 
She shook her head. "No. Spent most of the night and morning puking my guts out."
 
"I'm sorry, luv."
 
"S'ok. Not your fault. You weren't the one downing a whole bottle of booze."
 
"I should've stayed last night."
 
"No. It was okay. Giles took care of me." She gave a little laugh. "Took care of me in more ways than one."
 
"How's that, luv?" he asked, his hands clenching involuntarily. If the Watcher had raised his voice or hand to Buffy…
 
"He gave me a check this morning."
 
He relaxed. "Did he now?"
 
"Yeah. It's enough to pay the outstanding bills and keep us afloat for a couple of months if nothing major happens. After that…" She gave a sad shrug.
 
"I'm sure everything will be fine, luv. You'll see."
 
"I don't know, Spike. I don't know. I wasn't any good at this grown- up thing even before I died, and now…" She paused, taking a deep breath, then looked at him with a heartbroken expression on her face.
 
`Oh, love, found out drinkin' yourself blind didn't make your problems disappear. It's a hard lesson to learn. Believe me I know it,' he thought to himself.
 
"And now it's even harder for you because you're still getting used to this whole back from the dead thing," he offered.
 
She hung her head and nodded. "Yeah."
 
"You're being too hard on yourself, luv."
 
"That's what Giles said when I told him I was screwing up."
 
He cocked his head at her curiously. "I don't think you're screwing up. I think you've handled all of this remarkably well all things considered."
 
She blew out a frustrated breath. "Then why do I always feel like they're expecting something from me? I mean, Willow looks at me and if I don't smile and tell her what she wants to hear, she pouts. Xander just wants things to be the way they were before I died, and doesn't think raising me from the dead and leaving me to dig my way out of my own coffin should make that much of a difference."
 
"For what it's worth, the whelp told me they thought the spell didn't work," he commented reasonably, surprised that he was defending the Scoobies' actions.
 
"I know. But Spike, I was frightened and confused and in pain, and the first thing I had to do was kill some big skanky demon! I was so convinced that I was in Hell that I was going to throw myself off what was left of Glory's tower. I would have done it too, if Dawn hadn't found me," she admitted.
 
Spike shuddered. The thought of seeing her body crumpled at the bottom of that tower twice… He blinked away tears.
 
"Well, I'm glad that she was able to talk some sense into you."
 
"But she didn't, Spike. That's the thing. I wasn't buying it. The only thing that snapped me out of it was the tower collapsing underneath us and my having to save her. I'd been back from the dead for all of ten minutes, and I was already back in the hell that I left. I had to kill demons, protect Sunnydale and save my sister, again. And they just want me to be okay with this. They want me to get over it and figure out `what I'm going to do with my life' and go on as if nothing happened."
 
He shook his head. "I don't think they think that, luv. I think they're so happy to have you back, that they're just scrabbling for normal."
 
Buffy waved her arms then dropped them to her sides, fighting tears. Spike edged closer to her, concerned, but glad that she was getting this all out.
 
"Normal. As if my life was ever normal. I was chosen to be the Vampire Slayer at sixteen, I've died twice, lost numerous friends, and everywhere I go death, destruction and evil follows me. I can't even have my eternal rest without somebody ripping me out of it so I can save the world again."
 
There were no words he could say to answer her so he remained silent, looking at her with what he hoped was understanding and compassion. He was horrified when she had told him the truth about where she had been, and sick with knowing she hated being back. But still, he couldn't bring himself to plead with her to give life another chance, to give him another chance. All he could do was listen to her and give her a safe place to run when she needed to hide, like now when she needed someone to listen to her vent. Seeing her, knowing she trusted him enough to confide in him things she hadn't even told her Watcher, was enough to make his undead heart soar. She needed him. Even if she never admitted it, he knew it in his gut, and he wasn't about to betray her or let her down.
 
"I don't want this. I don't want to do this. I gave it all up. I was finished, but they brought me back and dumped me in the middle of it all over again. And they expect me to just pick up where I left off. But I can't! I can't do this, Spike, I can't."
 
He reached for her, touching her arm gently as she lost control.
 
"Here now, luv…"
 
"Dawn looks to me to make it all better and I have no idea how to fix it all. And I'm lost. And I'm tired and I feel like everything's coming apart."
 
She let out a soft sob as the tears came.
 
"Easy, luv. It's alright. You're not alone. You've got the Scoobies and the Watcher and me. We'll all help you through this. You and Nibblet."
 
Buffy sniffed and bit her lip, trying to regain control of her emotions. "There are days I can't stand to look at Willow," she admitted in a guilty whisper.
 
"S'understandable. Red ripped you out of Heaven. I wouldn't be too pleased with her myself if she'd done that to me."
 
Buffy nodded. "It's just that she really thinks she saved me…" She stopped and shivered, rubbing her arms.
 
"You cold, luv?"
 
"A little. Never realized how chilly it is down here."
 
He moved immediately to fetch his duster.
 
"Well we are underground. Constant temperature and all that," he explained, bringing her the coat and draping it gently around her shoulders. She was practically swimming in it. "Besides, you've had a rough couple of days, and spent most of last night being sick."
 
She clutched the leather and pulled it to her body. The black made her look even more tired and sallow.
 
"Yeah, thanks."
 
"No problem."
 
"Thanks, for listening to me. For being here."
 
He smiled softly. "Anytime, luv. You know I'll always be here."
 
She looked up at him. "I know. You have no idea how much that means to me."
 
`No, love, you have no idea.'
 
He looked away as things turned awkward and she sunk down into the coat, closing her eyes. He waited a few moments, watching her struggle to stay awake, before tentatively offering, "You… you wanna lie down a bit? Maybe take a nap? Bed's comfortable, and you're safe here. No nasties or impending apocalypses, I promise."
 
Buffy's eyes opened and she gave him a lost look that made his heart melt.
 
"Maybe you just need to let it all rest for a while, Slayer. Everyone's always expected so much from you, and you've killed yourself twice trying to live up to their expectations. You deserve a break. Even if it's only for one afternoon."
 
He followed her eyes as she looked at the bed and saw the conflict passing over her face. She was exhausted, and he knew it, but he didn't want to push.
 
"I… I don't sleep well. At night," she admitted. "Bad dreams."
 
He nodded. He knew all about that. Dru used to have horrible dreams, terrors really. He'd been awakened by her screaming and flailing fists on more than one occasion, and suffered the wounds from them.
 
"You're safe here. You know that."
 
She nodded. "I don't want to go home. I can't face them when I'm like this."
 
"You don't have to. You can stay here as long as you need. Anyone comes lookin' for you, I'll send 'em packing."
 
He saw her sigh and close her eyes again, and he went to her, offering a gentle hand.
 
"C'mon, luv. Just a little rest. I promise, I won't tell."
 
She looked up at him, eyes innocent and seeking guidance, then slowly nodded. He gave her a reassuring smile as he guided her tohis bed and urged her to lie down. She settled on top of the covers, wrapped in his duster, and curled into a fetal position.
 
"Want a blanket?" he asked tenderly.
 
She shook her head, her eyes already drifting shut.
 
"Alright then. Sleep well. I'll be right here."
 
"Mmm hmm," came her faint reply. She was asleep moments later.
 
Spike watched her sleep, a small smile on his lips. She trusted him enough to sleep in his bed. It was a far cry from a declaration of love, but a great improvement over her earlier hatred and venom, and demon that he was, he would take what he could get.
 
"I could fix it, you know, luv. Fix it all right up. I'm good at that. Fixin' things. I fixed things for Dru all the time, mostly cleanin' up after her hair-brained schemes. I could fix it for you too, if you needed me to," he whispered, stroking her hair.
 
He frowned. 'Fixing it' would involve doing something he vowed he would never, ever do, but if it meant that some of Buffy's burden would be lessened, it would be worth it. Poor girl had enough on her plate. Lost her boyfriend ('Bye-bye Captain Cardboard and good riddance to bad rubbish!') and her mum ('God, I miss you Joyce. Your little girls need you.'), faced a hell god ('Fat lot of good you did for her then, wanker.'), then died and got ripped out of her eternal peace ('Damn the witch, meddling where she shouldn't.') She should have some rest, some peace, not be out fighting demons like nothing ever happened or worrying about jobs and paying bills.
 
The more he thought about it, the more his conviction grew. He couldn't bring back her mum, or undo what had been done to her, but he could take some of the weight off her shoulders and give her some peace. Doing what he would have to do wouldn't be pleasant, of that he was certain, but he'd do it. He do it for her.
 
Satisfied that he was being useful, he pulled out something to read and sat down on his high-tech chair. He was a good distance into the book when he heard Buffy's heart rate increase and begin to move restlessly on the bed. Immediately he put his book down and went to her side.
 
"Buffy? Luv?"
 
She was shaking her head, her hands clenching into fists, and she began striking at something close to her face.
 
'Reliving having to dig out of her coffin,' he decided.
 
"Buffy? Buffy, luv, wake up."
 
Her struggles became more violent, small sounds of distress and fear escaping her mouth as she remained trapped in the nightmare. He was about to shake her awake when she shot up with a scream.
 
"Buffy!" he called, trying to get her attention as he sat on the bed next to her.
 
She was gasping for breath, shaking and looking about with wide eyes.
 
"You're safe. You're in my crypt. Everything is fine. You're safe."
 
"Spike?" she asked in a small voice.
 
"I'm here, luv. I'm right here."
 
Her gaze fell on him and she stared at him for a moment then burst into tears. He fought with himself for all of three seconds before wrapping her up, duster and all, in a strong hug.
 
"Shh. It's all right. It'll be all right," he soothed as he let her cry.
 
He felt her shake her head. "It's not all right. It'll never be all right."
 
"You'll get through this. I'll help you. We'll all help you."
 
"What am I going to do?"
 
"We'll think of something. We'll fix it. I promise."
 
Her tears graduated into deep, wracking sobs, and he held her tight, feeling as if he was holding her together, keeping her from shattering into a million pieces by the sheer force of his will alone.
 
'I love you I love you I love you. I'll never leave you. I love you,' he repeated over and over in his head, as if he could telegraph it to her mind and engrave it in her bones.
 
She wept in his arms and he rocked her, crooning under his breath the way he used to when Dru would wake up screaming. It felt good to hold her, good to be needed, wanted, useful. He comforted her, giving her whatever she needed, letting her take solace from him until finally, her sobs eased and she relaxed in his embrace.
 
Gently, he eased her back down to the mattress and lay quietly beside her. She didn't object to his presence in the bed with her, and he took that as a positive sign. Instead, she snuggled up against his side, her face buried into the collar of his duster and the crook of his shoulder.
 
"There now, luv. It's alright. I'm here."
 
She didn't answer him, but he heard her sniffle a few more times before falling back to sleep. Lying there, holding her, her body heat warming his cold form, he knew he was lost. He'd already been lost, but now he could do nothing but accept the inevitable. He was in love with this girl, hopelessly, madly and deeply in love, and it looked as if she were developing feelings for him as well. She'd given him his crumbs and now she had him: mind, body and heart. There was nothing he would not do or endure for her, and his path was set before him. He'd set the wheels in motion just as soon as possible.
 
*******
 
The poker slid into his exposed flesh and he tried not to flinch. It joined the other thin bar of metal that jutted from his torso, the point puncturing a lung. Made screaming a bit difficult, but then he was all screamed out, and had been for a while. How long had it been since he had left Sunnydale? Three days? Four? He'd gone to the house and left his duster with Dawn, explaining that he had business out of town and that he would be back soon. He remembered doing that, but the days were lost in the haze of pain and blood.
 
He knew Angelus would react to his request this way. The moment he stepped through the hotel doors and demanded to speak to Angel, he had known what was coming. Angelus had a hand for torture. He could make punishments last for days, weeks even. Spike had learned early on in his unlife how to endure pain. Life with Dru had taught him more, then having the Chip, and then Glory. Glory's torture had been bad. No one had ever put their fingers into his chest before. He was well versed in enduring pain, andsoul-filled Angelus wasn't nearly as creative as his demon counterpart.
 
"What do you want with the money? What do you want to buy? Who do you want to buy?" Angel demanded for the umpteenth time since this all started.
 
"Piss off," he rasped hoarsely.
 
A growl was his only warning as he was backhanded. The blow put a great deal of strain on the chains around his wrists, the ones that were attached to the low ceiling, and he felt the blood start trickling down his arms again. A third poker joined its siblings, this one spearing through his abdomen. He grunted.
 
"You already did that," he wheezed, his voice barely audible because of the hole in his lung. "When's the real pain gonna start? I'm gettin' bored."
 
"Tell me."
 
"None of your sodden business. It's my money. I want it."
 
Angel twisted one of the pokers roughly. "I'm making it my business, Spike. You've been hanging out around Sunndydale, hanging around Buffy and Dawn."
 
"Go to hell."
 
"I'll meet you there."
 
"Umm, Angel?" Cordelia's voice interrupted.
 
Angel faced her with blazing eyes. "I told you not to come in here!"
 
The young woman blanched but held her ground. "I know, but this is important. It's Dawn." She held up a cordless phone. "She wants to know if we've seen Spike."
 
Angel cast an accusing glance at Spike then went to take the phone from Cordelia's hand. As he did so, the ex-May Queen approached the tableau of pain and blood suspended from the ceiling.
 
Four days. Angel had been at this for four days. It showed. The stone floor was covered with Spike's blood. Spike was covered with Spike's blood. Angel had hung him just high enough for his toes to reach the floor, forcing him to hang or balance on the small appendages. His face was bruised and bloody, his back latticed with bullwhip lashes, his chest and shoulders raw and bleeding from holy water burns, and three pokers were artistically arranged as body piercings through his chest and stomach. He looked so horrible even she felt compassion for him, especially after hearing Dawn's worried voice on the phone.
 
"Cordelia? It's Dawn. Look, I'm sorry to call, but have you guys seen Spike? He's been gone for four days and no one's heard from him. We're worried. I'm worried…"
 
She had had no choice but to interrupt Angel to bring him the phone. It also allowed her to see exactly what Angel had been doing. Spike had stopped screaming two days ago.
 
She didn't know she'd been staring at him until she raised her gaze to meet one open, blue eye. Even half-swollen shut it still sparkled.
 
"Cordelia. You still look smashing."
 
The whispered statement would have been funny if blood hadn't leaked from his lips when he spoke.
 
She couldn't find the voice to answer, and then she didn't have to as Angel shoved the phone back into her hand.
 
"She wants to talk to him."
 
She blinked at him for a moment, before moving closer to Spike and holding the phone close to the wounded vampire's ear. She saw him straighten up a little, trying to ease the pressure on his strained torso, probably so he would be able to talk.
 
"Spike?" Dawn's voice came over the line, loud enough for Cordelia to hear, still laced with concern.
 
"Yeah, Nibblet," Spike rasped.
 
"Spike, where've you been? We were worried. I was worried. You just left and didn't tell anyone where you were going and you've been gone four days and no one's heard from you and…"
 
"I told you, I had some business I needed to take care of." His voice was a whisper, but steady.
 
"You said it would only be a couple of days. No one's heard from you. Anya's been saying you got dusted and were never coming back, and Buffy's been trying not to be upset but she sleeps with your coat…"
 
"Knew she'd keep it safe for me."
 
"Spike, when are you coming home?"
 
Spike paused, his eyes creasing shut and Cordelia knew he was fighting back the pain he was in.
 
"I'm not sure, Nibblet. `S taken me a little longer than I thought to get things done."
 
"Do you think it'll be soon?"
 
The blue eyes opened as far as they could and looked at Angel. "Yeah, hope so."
 
"Spike, you sound really bad. Are you okay?"
 
A smile touched the thin, bloodied lips. "Never better."
 
"You sure?"
 
"Yeah, luv. Ole Spike's fine."
 
"Well, okay. Try to come home soon. We miss you. Buffy really misses you, but she won't admit it. And I really miss you."
 
"I miss you too, Sweet Bit. I'll be home soon."
 
"Okay. I'm glad I found you."
 
"Yeah. Me too."
 
"Okay then, I'll let you go so you can get things done."
 
"Okay. And Nibblet?"
 
"Yes?"
 
"Tell Big Sis I'm fixing it."
 
"Fixing it. Okay. I'll tell her. Bye Spike."
 
"Be seein' you, Nibblet."
 
Dawn hung up and Cordelia pulled the phone away, turning it off. She didn't say anything as the hanging vampire sagged and closed his eyes.
 
"Cordy leave us," Angel ordered, his voice strained.
 
"How long are you gonna keep this up, Angel? I mean this time he wasn't even trying to kill you," she argued.
 
"Cordelia…"
 
"Cheerleader…" Spike whispered. "Leave it."
 
"But…" she tried again.
 
"Leave it," the blond vampire insisted.
 
"Get out, Cordy."
 
Cordelia huffed indignantly. "Well, alright, but if you think I'm cleaning up this mess, you've got another thing coming, buddy," she said as she stormed out.
 
The door slammed shut with a bang and they were left alone. Spike's eyes followed Angel until the other vampire walked behind him. He tensed, waiting for a blow, and groaned when one of the pokers was forcibly ripped out of him.
 
"The money's for Buffy," Angel stated, his voice hard.
 
Spike didn't answer and Angel pulled out the second rod.
 
"You're pathetic, you know that. You've let me beat on you for four days over this."
 
The younger vampire still didn't answer, and Angel yanked out the last poker.
 
"How bad is it?" Angel demanded.
 
"Sod off," Spike answered.
 
Angel sucker punched his grandchilde even as he freed the chain from the ceiling and sent Spike crashing to the floor.
 
"Tell me how bad it is."
 
To his utter amazement, he watched as Spike slowly rose to his feet. Even beaten and in agony, the younger vampire still refused to give in. Spike's defiance had always amazed him. No matter what was done to him, Drusilla's golden boy had never been conquered. He'd been subdued, at least for a time; contained, again for just a time, but he'd never been broken. The childe had an almost indomitable ability to endure.
 
"If you care so bloody much, why don't you ask the lady herself?" Spike countered.
 
Angel snarled, but unclasped the manacles around Spike's wrists and sent them clanging to the stone.
 
"Why didn't you just say the money was for Buffy in the first place?"
 
Spike straightened as much as he was able. "None of your bloody business."
 
Angel gave a depreciating laugh. "You really are love's bitch." He slapped a key into one of Spike's numb hands and closed the fingers forcibly. "Go get cleaned up. You stink. Use any one of the rooms. I'll send Cordelia up with soap, shampoo and clean clothes."
 
Wordlessly, Spike shuffled out, headed for a shower and a place to lick his wounds in peace.
 
"She'll never love you," Angel taunted. "The most she'll ever do is pity you for the pathetic thing you are."
 
He paused and looked back at his Grandsire, but he didn't grace him with an answer, and after a moment he continued on his way.
 
*******
 
He hurt. Everything hurt, but he was alive, or rather still undead, and he had survived Angel's wrath. It had taken nearly an hour and three changes of the bath water to clean away all the blood and filth, but he'd managed (and amazingly, Cordelia had helped him.) Then he'd pulled on the soft cotton clothing the cheerleader had brought with her- not Angel's clothes, they were too big, probably the ex-watcher or the other one- and crawled onto the bed to sleep for the next year. He regained consciousness for a few brief moments some untold hours later when Angel shoved some papers under his nose.
 
"Sign these to authorize the setup of the new accounts and the transfer of the funds," the older vampire ordered.
 
He'd taken a few seconds to blearily read over the documents, noting dimly that Angel had remembered his original surname and had put the accounts in that name, then signed them before passing out again. When he woke up next, almost forty-eight hours had passed, and he was feeling marginally better- at least better enough to drive back to Sunnydale. He slowly made his way into the hotel lobby. Angel wasn't there, but the cheerleader and a young woman he didn't know were talking quietly. They looked up as he entered and he saw the flashes of pity on their faces. He tried not to scowl.
 
'These are wounds of honor, you bints!' he wanted to say. 'They're battle scars, every one of them. I faced Angelus- again- and I got what I wanted. He didn't beat me. Don't you see that? I beat him!'
 
"Spike!" Cordelia greeted nervously as she came out from behind the front desk. "Um, Angel and the others are out, but Angel said to give you this if you came down."
 
She reached behind the desk and pulled out a plastic bag. He suppressed a smile when he saw that new jeans and a black t-shirt were in it, along with his boots ('I wondered where they'd gone.'). There were papers there too, in a large manila envelope, the all- important papers.
 
"I'll go heat you up some blood," Cordelia said and hurried out.
 
He ignored the other woman long enough to inspect the documents and make sure everything was in order. Then he looked up at her. She was shaking like a scared rabbit, but she gave him a nervous smile.
 
"Hi, I'm Fred," she told him in a tremulous, Southern voice.
 
He gave her one of his best smiles, knowing the effect would be dampened by the fact that his face looked like it'd been smashed into a wall numerous times (probably because it had been.)
 
"Hello Fred," he replied. His voice was still ragged, but much stronger now that the hole in his lung was healed.
 
"Cordelia said you and Angel were related."
 
He frowned but the expression made Fred even more nervous so he tried to be reassuring.
 
"Unfortunately." He motioned to the phone. "May I use the phone?"
 
"Oh! Oh of course. Sorry."
 
He gave her another small smile as he picked up the handset and dialed Buffy's number. Three rings later Dawn picked up the phone.
 
"Hello, Sweet Bit," he smoothed, thrilling at the sound of her voice and nearly bursting with triumph. 'All your problems are about to be solved, Nibblet. Well, not all of them but…'
 
"Spike!"
 
"The very same."
 
"Where the Hell are you, you stupid vampire!" she demanded and he had to smile.
 
"Still in L.A. but I'm leaving tonight."
 
"You're coming home?" Her voice was so hopeful. It warmed his undead heart. Everything he'd been through, everything Angel had made him suffer, was worth it if he could make life better for the women he loved.
 
"Yeah. I am."
 
"So you're all done your business?"
 
"All taken care of."
 
"Good. I'm glad. Should I tell Buffy? Do you want to talk to her?"
 
"Nah. Just tell her I'll see her tomorrow, okay?"
 
"Okay."
 
"Gotta go. Be seein' you."
 
"Okay bye. Oh, and Spike? Thanks for calling. We were worried again."
 
"Can't have my girls frettin' now can I," he teased and heard her giggle.
 
"See you tomorrow, Spike."
 
"Bye Nibblet."
 
"Bye."
 
Still smiling, he hung up the phone.
 
"So you're leaving soon?" Fred asked.
 
"Yeah. I've had enough of this town. Got what I came for so's its time for me to go home."
 
"You're going back to Sunnydale and that girl with the funny name?"
 
"Buffy. And yes, I'm going back."
 
"And not a minute too soon," Cordelia interrupted, placing a mug of heated blood in his hand. "I swear every time you two see each other its blood and gore time. You bring out the worst in him, Spike."
 
"It's a gift," he replied as he gulped down the food. "Thanks. I'm much obliged," he told her sincerely as he handed her the empty mug.
 
"Want another?"
 
He gave it a moment's thought. "Yeah, I could go for another. Thanks."
 
"Okay," she said and headed off again.
 
"I'm just gonna change into these new clothes. Wouldn't want to take anything that wasn't mine, y'know," he told Fred as he slipped into Wesley's office.
 
Cordelia had the mug of blood ready for him when he came out and he downed it gratefully.
 
"Oh good, those jeans fit," she commented.
 
He looked down at himself then back up at her. "You bought these for me?"
 
She gave him a patient look. "Well, duh, of course I bought them. Did you think Mr. Brood Torture-Miester was gonna do it?"
 
"Well, if you put it that way. Thank you, Cordelia. It was very kind of you and I am very grateful."
 
She paused, her eyes searching his face. "You've really changed."
 
"So have you."
 
"Someday you're gonna have to tell me what happened."
 
He gave her a cocky smile. "Maybe, but that'd spoil the mystery wouldn't it."
 
She scoffed. "Oh, please there's more than enough mystery here with Brood Boy." She looked sideways at him. "Buffy wouldn't have happened to mention what went on between her and Angel at their after-death meeting, would she?"
 
"Ah, no."
 
"Rats."
 
Spike shrugged. "Well, thank you ladies for your hospitality, but I must be off."
 
"I'll tell Angel you left."
 
"Thank you. Is my car where I left it?" He'd taken the DeSoto because it gave him a place to hide from the sun if need be.
 
Cordelia nodded. "Yes."
 
"Brilliant. I'm off then. Be seein' you, ducks," he said with a wave. He didn't bother to look to see if they waved back.
 
*******
 
Spike arrived in Sunnydale before dawn and went straight to his crypt. On the way home, he'd been listening to the radio and caught the weather report. There was a storm front coming in that would bring heavy rains for the next few days: perfect for him to move about during the day. As soon as offices were open, he'd find a phone and make some calls. Once he had everything set up, he'd call the Watcher and enlist his help. He'd already decided that Buffy should not know the identity of her newfound benefactor. If she knew he was the one who had given her the money, she would probably not react well. Things had been good between them, fantastic even- drunken binges notwithstanding- and he didn't want to do anything to jeopardize their friendship. He figured Rupert could spin some tale about the Council coughing up some dough to insure that their only Slayer that wasn't in a California jail was free to keep the world a safe place for Christmas and puppies- and pathetic neutered vampires who loved Slayers.
 
Once home, he drank two more pints of blood and crawled into bed. The trip had made his wounds and bruises ache, and he needed rest. Angel had hurt him badly and he knew he would take weeks to heal. His face was much improved, and would probably be almost completely healed within the next day or two, but he needed to figure out what to tell Buffy about his condition or she would be sure to ask some uncomfortable questions. Putting it on the backburner to deal with later, he curled up under his blankets and fell asleep. It was good to be home.
 
"Spike?" a voice called, forcing him out of his healing-induced sleep.
 
"Yeah?" he managed.
 
"Are you okay?"
 
Dawn's voice. What was Dawn doing here? Slowly he uncovered himself and peered up at her. She gasped.
 
"My god! Spike what happened to you?"
 
Shit. His face.
 
"Nothin' you need to worry about, Nibblet. Just a few bruises."
 
"Spike, your face looks like it's been smashed in with a troll hammer!"
 
He gave her a toothy grin. "Yeah, but you should see the other guy."
 
The teen put angry hands on her hips. "You told me you were fine."
 
"I am fine. I'll be healed up right as rain in a couple of days. You'll see," he insisted, sitting up.
 
She gave him a once-over with her big eyes, frowning. "God, what did they do to you?"
 
"Nothin' that won't heal. Now tell me what you're doin' here, Nibblet. You're not playing hooky are you?"
 
"No, school let out early. Bomb threat. Seems to be the prank of choice these days. Buffy's out on job interviews so I figured I'd come here to see if you were back."
 
"Job interviews?"
 
Dawn nodded. "Yeah. The money Giles gave us will only last a couple of months and Mom's money is all but gone. I'm thinking about getting an after school job too."
 
"You'll do no such thing," he answered with a bit more force than he wanted. "School is your job and that's all you'll do."
 
"But Spike, if I don't find some way to get spending money, I'll be wearing this year's clothes next year!"
 
"Oh, perish the thought. And just think, you might have to settle for this year's hair too."
 
Dawn huffed. "Spike, I'm serious! The kids at school think I'm a big enough freak as it is! I can't be wearing out of date fashions."
 
"You know, in my day, we all wore uniforms to school and there wasn't any of this fashion show nonsense."
 
"That's because fashion wasn't cool when you were in school."
 
"Hey! I'll have you know a lot of what we thought was fashionable then is still considered high class today."
 
"Yeah for Old Maids and losers. And maybe Giles."
 
He sighed, admitting defeat. He was too tired and sore to argue. Besides, he knew her concerns would be a moot point before the end of the week.
 
"Right, luv, you do have a point there."
 
She nodded, satisfied. "So, can I get you anything? Blood? Bandages? Ice pack?"
 
"Nah, I'm good."
 
"You wanna watch a movie or play cards?"
 
"To be honest, Bit, I really need to rest. But you can have free run of the crypt if you want. Watch the telly, play solitaire and the like."
 
"Really hurtin' huh?"
 
He gave a tired nod. "Yeah."
 
"Okay. I'll head home then. Should I tell Buffy you're back?"
 
"If you want."
 
"Should I tell her it looks like you went twelve rounds with Mike Tyson and lost?"
 
"No, but you can tell her I'll be around in a couple of days."
 
"Okay." She leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Feel better, Spike. I'm glad you're home safe. If you need anything, let me know, okay?"
 
Her lips on his cold flesh made him smile. "Thanks, Sweet Bit. I will."
 
"Get some rest."
 
"I will. Be seein' you."
 
"Buffy'll probably kick your ass later."
 
"Lookin' forward to it," he answered, lying back down and covering himself back up.
 
"Oh, so too much information for the fifteen year old."
 
"Later Nibblet."
 
"Later."
 
He heard her leave, then closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
 
Three days later almost everything was in place. His face was mostly healed and the storms had come as promised. The previous night he had broken into a young men's shop and taken what he needed. Knowing he didn't have to steal if he didn't want to was an interesting feeling, but he still loved the rush of power he got from breaking the rules. A while ago, he'd used a payphone to call Giles and tell the Watcher to meet him at the brokerage.
 
"Watcher," he had said on the phone.
 
"Spike?" Giles had asked, confused.
 
"Yeah, s'me. Look, I need your assistance with something. Meet me at Collins & Hartman at 1:30. We have an appointment. Bring Buffy's finance information with you."
 
"The brokerage?"
 
"Yeah."
 
"Spike, what's going on?"
 
"I can't say right now, but it's for Buffy and Dawn. Meet me there."
 
"Collins & Hartman at 1:30. Alright, I'll be there. But if this is one of your hair-brained schemes to get to Buffy…"
 
"Give it a rest Watcher. I'll see you there," he'd countered angrily and hung up the phone.
 
Now it was time for him to leave. He was dressed appropriately, all his papers were in order and it was raining. Everything, for once in SunnyHell, was working out fine.
 
*******
 
Giles shifted uncomfortably and looked at his watch. It was 1:28. He glanced around the quiet, upper class brokerage, trying not to draw too much attention to himself. The place reminded him of solicitor offices back in England- all paneled in dark wood with expensive furniture and impeccably clothed employees that moved with efficiency.
 
"May I help you, sir?" a female voice asked and he turned to face a young woman in a tailored business suit.
 
"Ah, n- no, I don't think so. I am waiting for a colleague. He told me to meet him here for a 1:30 appointment."
 
"Do you know who you are meeting with?"
 
He opened his mouth, then shut it. "Unfortunately, no."
 
His further embarrassment was saved by the door opening as a young gentleman entered the brokerage. The face was concealed as the man lowered his umbrella, shaking off the droplets of water from the storm outside.
 
"Ah, Rupert. You're already here. I'm glad. I was concerned that you would be late. It's quite dreadful out there, isn't it? Reminds you of home, though. London rain and all that," the newcomer commented as he took off an expensive-looking raincoat and hung it on the rack by the door.
 
The voice, he knew the voice, but the clothes, the accent… He looked up, completely poleaxed. It was Spike. But a Spike dressed in an impeccable tailored black suit. He wasn't wearing a shirt with necktie; instead he had a high collared, black shirt with black embroidery that suggested a decorative chest panel. At the throat was a silver sunburst collar pin with a blood red stone in the center. His hair was natural and softly styled, but still the platinum blond he was used to seeing.
 
"Rupert, what on earth are you staring at? Have I got lint on my lapels?" Spike teased, a wicked gleam in his blue eyes, then turned to the young woman, offering his hand. "William Sutter and Rupert Giles. We have a 1:30 appointment with Mr. Collins."
 
The woman blinked in surprise even as she shook Spike's hand.
 
"Of.. of course, Sir. I'll tell him you're here."
 
Giles continued starting as she hurried off and Spike kicked him.
 
"Quit your gawkin' Watcher. You never seen a man in a suit before?"
 
The cockney was back and for some reason Giles found that oddly comforting. "Spike, what are we doing here? We have an appointment with J.M Collins himself?"
 
Spike gave him a measured look. "Yes. And all will be explained. Just play along, will you. Don't ruin this for Buffy."
 
'Buffy, the things I do for Buffy. Even being seen in a high-end brokerage with an evil vampire. I do hope his plan doesn't involve taking one of Sunnydale's most influential businessmen hostage.' Giles thought worriedly.
 
He plastered on a smile as the woman returned.
 
"Mr. Collins will see you now."
 
"Thank you," Spike smoothed, his upper class accent returning, and followed the woman to an office in the back.
 
Giles followed, noting for the first time that Spike carried a fine leather attaché case. He didn't have time to ask about it however, as they were greeted by Mr. Collins in his office.
 
"Ah, Mr. Sutter. It's good to meet you," the businessman said, shaking Spike's hand. Then he turned and shook Giles'.
 
"And you as well," Spike replied and sat down, motioning for Giles to do the same.
 
Once they were all seated, Spike put the attaché on the desk and opened it, pulling out a sheaf of papers.
 
"Lets get down to business, shall we," the vampire said. "As we discussed on the phone, I wish to set up a trust for Ms. Elizabeth Anne Summers. Here are the papers my solicitor has drawn up for me. You're free to read them, but they are all very standard."
 
Spike handed Giles a stack of papers, and he looked at them numbly.
 
"Basically, I want Ms. Summers to have a continuous income from the trust. I'd like to set it up so that a percentage of the dividends are transferred to a regular checking account on a quarterly basis. I'd like the amount to be no less than 6%, but no more than 10% of the accrued gains and interest. I know from my studies of your annual statements that your company's average is considerably higher than the national when it comes to gains for your clients. This way, Ms. Summers will have an adequate income while still having dividends to reinvest," Spike explained as if this were something he did very day of his life.
 
"The initial capitol will be in the form of a cashier's cheque which I have here," Spike continued.
 
Giles was still reeling from the words coming out of Spike's mouth when the vampire handed him a bank cheque. He gasped, counted the zeros, blinked, shook his head, then counted the zeros again.
 
Mr. Collins perused the documents briefly, nodding. "It all looks to be in order. Does the trust have an expiration?"
 
"Yes. When Ms. Summers turns twenty-five she will gain full control of the trust. In the unlikely event that Ms. Summers should die before her twenty-fifth birthday, the trust will then roll to the youngest Summers daughter, Dawn."
 
Giles lifted his head at the emphasis Spike placed on unlikely.
 
"And you, Mr. Giles, as Ms. Summers representative, are in agreement with Mr. Sutter in this matter?" Mr Collins asked him.
 
"Ah, I... I need a moment with my colleague."
 
Mr. Collins smiled indulgently. "Of course. I'll go refill my coffee and give you a few minutes to talk."
 
They both watched the man leave. Giles waited for the door to close before rounding on Spike.
 
"Where did you get this kind of money?" he demanded.
 
"Relax, Watcher, it's all above board. I called in a few favors is all."
 
"If it's blood money, Spike I won't let you do this. Buffy would rather go bankrupt than accept this from you."
 
He saw Spike wince and noticed for the first time that the vampire's face looked as if it had been recently badly bruised.
 
'Buffy told me Dawn said Spike had been beaten up…'
 
"It is blood money. My blood. Blood I spilled getting it back from the one who took it from me. It's what's left of my family fortune, and mine by rights. I simply went to collect it. As I said, Rupert, it's all above board. I knew neither you nor Buffy would accept anything less from me," the vampire seethed through clenched teeth.
 
"Why are you doing this? If you're doing it because you think Buffy will feel grateful…"
 
"No! Buffy isn't to know I did this. Tell her the bloody Council of Wankers coughed up the cash. She's not to know I had anything to do with this. You know what she'll do if she finds out."
 
"I… I… I don't understand," he stuttered, unable to comprehend the enormity of what Spike was telling him. The amount of money he held in his hand was enough to make sure that Buffy was set for life.
 
"You already know the answer to that question, Rupert," came the measured answer.
 
'He loves her. He really loves her.'
 
"I want to take care of her, Giles. I want to ease her burden because she has so much on her small shoulders. Believe me when I tell you that this is just a fraction of what I am now worth. She's been through so much, lost so much. She shouldn't have to be worrying about finances and what to do with her life. She's the bloody Slayer. That is her life. Your bloody Council should know that and make provisions to take care of their girls."
 
He gave Spike a look. "Our girls usually don't live long enough to need the kind of assistance you are talking about."
 
"Yeah, well, yours did and she needs all the help we can give her right now."
 
Giles looked at the cheque in his possession, his hands trembling, and was hit by a sudden revelation that made him almost physically sick.
 
"What do you know?" he demanded of Spike.
 
"What?"
 
"She's confided in you. I know she spends a great deal of time with you. What did she tell you? What would make you do this?"
 
A shuttered look came across Spike's face and he knew he had hit something close to the mark.
 
"'S not my place to tell you, Watcher. Not my secret."
 
"What do you mean?"
 
"I won't break my word. Don't ask me to. You wanna know, you ask her."
 
"I already have. Obviously, she didn't tell me."
 
"Well, there you have it then."
 
They were silent, then Mr. Collins returned. "All settled then?" he asked as he sat behind his desk, placing the fresh cup of coffee on a coaster.
 
"Y-yes. We are in agreement," Giles replied, pulling out Buffy's finance information from a pocket in his jacket. "Here is Ms. Summers information and the cashier's cheque."
 
The businessman took the papers and looked through them, writing down the pertinent numbers and information, then handed them back.
 
"Alright. All that's left is for the two of you is to sign here and here and we'll get the accounts all set."
 
He gave them the papers, indicating where they needed to sign, and a pen. In less than two minutes the deed was done, and Mr. Collins was calling in his secretary to set up the new account. A few minutes later, she brought back the documentation and checkbook for the account and handed it to Giles.
 
"If all goes well, the trust should be complete within 5 business days. Ms. Summers should expect her first direct deposit from the trust on January 15th," the man said, reaching to shake their hands. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you."
 
"The feeling is mutual," Spike answered, but Giles just gave a nervous smile.
 
"Oh, that reminds me. Since it will be some time before Ms. Summers' first deposit, is it possible for me to arrange for a transfer of funds directly into her checking account?" Spike asked as they were leaving.
 
"Yes, of course. Just see Christine up front and she'll take care of it for you."
 
"Every good. Have a pleasant afternoon."
 
Giles followed wordlessly as Spike sought out Christine and made arrangements for a large sum of money to be transferred into Buffy's checking account. And then, it was done and he was left feeling somewhat out of sorts, as if he were walking through a dense fog.
 
"Come along, Rupert, we're all finished here," Spike said, gathering his umbrella from the stand he had left it in. "You fancy a bit of lunch or tea? I don't know about you but I'm feeling rather peckish."
 
"We… we could go to a little café I know. It serves decent tea and sandwiches," he offered.
 
"Sounds perfect. Are you driving or shall I meet you there?"
 
"I… I'll drive."
 
"Very good then. Let's go."
 
*******
 
Spike put on the raincoat he had taken off when he arrived and followed Giles out to his car. The rain was still falling heavily and they both got wet, but the vampire didn't seem to mind. As soon as they were in the car, Spike removed the choker pin and unbuttoned the first two buttons at the top of his shirt.
 
"Oh cor, I knew there was a reason I'd stopped wearing these bloody things," the vampire announced with a sigh. "Thank god the fashion allows for these. Those damned collared shirts itch, and neckties, well, lets just say only ascots are worse than those bloody nooses around your neck. How do you bloody stand the damned things?"
 
"I suppose you simply get used to it after a while."
 
"Yeah? Well let me tell you, Watcher, I wore tweed for longer than you've been alive and I never got used to it. As soon as I figured out I could make my own look, I dumped those rags and slipped into something more comfortable," Spike answered with a cocky smile.
 
"Well, yes, one can certainly say that you do make your own fashion statement."
 
Spike eased back against the seat and cracked his neck.
 
"Mind if I smoke?"
 
"Not in the car, please."
 
Spike gave a shrug and lit up anyway. His only concession was the rolled down window that he blew the smoke out of. The only problem with that was it let in the rain.
 
"Sorry, after all that posturin' and playin' dress up, I really needed a fag."
 
He gave Spike an exasperated look before capitulating. "Oh, pass one over."
 
Spike did a double take but obeyed and handed him a cigarette, then he offered to light it for him with his zippo. He took a deep drag, filling his lungs, and let it out slowly with a sigh.
 
"Thank you."
 
"Never seen you smoke before, Rupert."
 
"I have been known to indulge on occasion."
 
"Hey, far be it from me to deny you. Live it up a little. I've always thought you were too stuffy anyway."
 
They arrived at the café and Giles parked. They went in and were seated at a small table near the back. There weren't many people there so they had some modicum of privacy.
 
"Whatever Buffy told you, it had something to do with Willow's spell, didn't it?' he asked after they had ordered.
 
Spike gave him another of his shuttered looks, his face perfectly calm, and did not answer.
 
"She didn't come back unscathed, did she?"
 
"The girl woke up in a box and had to dig her way out from under six feet of earth. You don't come out of something like that unscathed," Spike said slowly, his blue eyes glittering with what looked like anger. "At least when you're a vampire, you don't need to breathe. Red and the rest of her buddies are lucky Buffy didn't suffocate before she got out."
 
Giles fiddled with his napkin. "Well, yes. Willow was exceedingly foolish. Things could have gone horribly wrong. She got lucky."
 
"The Witch is changing. She's gotten a taste of power and she's fallin' in love with it. She'll be one to watch in the near future, mark my words."
 
Spike's tone caught his attention and made him listen. In spite of everything Spike had said and done in the past, the fact remained that the vampire had the uncanny knack for telling it exactly how it was, and one did well to listen to him.
 
"Yes, you may be right about that."
 
"I know I'm right about it, Rupert. The question is, what are you going to do about it?"
 
"Me?"
 
"Well, it's not like I can take her out." The vampire tapped his head. "Chip, remember?"
 
"You think it will really come to that?"
 
"I think, if you don't do something to contain her now, you're going to have a very big problem on your hands very soon."
 
Spike sat back, cocking his head in a way that had made him nervous in the past. It usually preceded another example of Spike's ability to see right through people. He wasn't wrong.
 
"But then, it won't be your problem, now will it?"
 
Giles' heart sank. "What do you mean?"
 
Spike didn't answer as their drinks and lunches were brought to the table.
 
"You're leaving," he continued after the waitress had gone. "You wouldn't have given Buffy that money if you were planning on stickin' around."
 
Giles took off his glasses and began to clean them as he struggled for words.
 
"It's not that I blame you for wantin' to get out. I mean, you've watched your Slayer die twice. It's more than any man could be asked to endure. You've done your job, now it's time for you to go home. It's not like you're abandoning her, although she does seem to have rotten luck with the men in her life walking out on her."
 
He stiffened and straightened in his seat. "All except for you, which I'm sure you'll point out."
 
Spike shrugged. "Well, of course. But that's because I'm an evil bastard who won't give up."
 
"I'll agree with you on the giving up part. The evil…"
 
Spike slapped his hand down on the table and leaned close. "Hey. I'm Bad, and don't you forget it."
 
Giles met his hard gaze with one of his own, and the vampire slowly smiled at him. "You'll take care of her?" he asked.
 
"You know I will."
 
He gave Spike a satisfied nod and dug into his lunch while Spike nibbled at his own sandwich. When they were finished, Spike paid the bill and they got up to leave.
 
"Shall I drive you back to your crypt?" he offered.
 
Spike shook his head, turning up the collar of his raincoat. "Nah. `S nice day. I think I'll walk."
 
"As you wish. Thank you. For what you did for Buffy."
 
Spike grunted. "Just make sure she doesn't find out it was me who done it."
 
"I'll tell her it was the Council as you suggested."
 
"Good plan."
 
He offered his hand to the vampire who paused a moment before taking it.
 
"I was serious about you askin' her," Spike said suddenly.
 
"Do you think she'll tell me?"
 
"I think she needs to, and you need to know."
 
"Do I want to know?"
 
Spike lowered his eyes. "Not really."
 
"But I should ask anyway."
 
"Yeah."
 
"Very well, then, I will."
 
They parted and Spike moved to step out of the café.
 
"Oh and Watcher, Red told me about your little stunt with the note on the register. This time don't leave without sayin' goodbye."
 
He smiled sheepishly. "I promise."
 
"I mean it. You leave without sayin' goodbye, I'll fly to London and drag you back here myself. I've got the money to hire thugs to do it now. Don't think I won't."
 
"I won't leave without saying goodbye, William, you have my word."
 
Spike gave him a measured look then nodded. "'S'alright then. Be seein' you Watcher."
 
"Goodbye Spike."
 
The vampire gave a dismissive wave as he walked out into the rain. He waited until he could no longer see the vampire's umbrella before leaving himself. He had to go give Buffy the good news.
 
********
 
The door to his crypt crashed open and he barely had time to leap out of bed before Buffy's voice cried from above.
 
"Spike! Spike!"
 
He heard her hurried footsteps and saw her take the ladder almost two rungs at a time as he rushed to meet her.
 
"Buffy! Buffy what is it? What's happened?" he asked, worried.
 
"Spike, I really hope you have more of that bourbon coz I'm gonna need it!" she replied, her voice agitated and upset.
 
"What? Why? What's happened? Buffy, tell me."
 
"The Council! The damned Council happened, that's what!" she answered, pacing angrily.
 
"What? I don't understand."
 
"Giles came to me this afternoon with papers from some big wig brokerage. He told me the Council had set up some kind of big trust fund that gives me money every three months," she lamented, going to his mini-bar and rummaging through the bottles of liquor.
 
"Well, this is a good thing right? No more worryin' about money and job and the like?" he stammered, trying to cover.
 
"A-ha!" she crowed, finding the bourbon and pulling it out. Yanking off the top, she took a deep swig, making a face as the whiskey hit her tongue. "Bleah, bleech! No, it is not a good thing. This cash cow comes with strings. Big, iron-clad strings!"
 
`Huh? What nonsense had the Watcher told her?'
 
"How do you mean?" he asked, going for neutral.
 
"The Council always has ulter.. alter… reasons for doing things. When we wanted information about Glory, they sent the Spanish Inquisition, remember?"
 
"Yeah, I remember," he answered, moving closer to her as she slumped to the floor of his crypt, bottle in hand.
 
"Well, they wouldn't have just given me this kind of money. They want something from me."
 
"And Giles told you this?" `I'll wring that Watcher's neck…'
 
"No, but he didn't have to. I know how the Council works. They give me this big bank account and if I accept it, they'll think they own me. All they'll have to do is threaten to take the money away and I'll have to do whatever they want."
 
Spike frowned. He hadn't considered this; that Buffy might be upset with the money coming from the Council. In hindsight, he should have thought of it because he knew how the Watchers had treated her in the past.
 
`And why didn't Rupert think of it?'
 
"So I can't take the money, even though I desperately need it. I won't be owned by anyone, especially them," she went on, not seeing his turmoil and drinking from the bottle.
 
"They've always hated me as a Slayer and they still hate me now. They just think that if they dangle this big golden carrot in front of my face, they can get me to pull their plow for them. And I can't do it. I just can't. I'll go bankrupt before I'll take money from them after how they treated Giles and me. I'll just have to find another way to pay the bills, and fix the house and send Dawn to college…"
 
Her breath hitched on a sob, and she took another drink. "Damn them. When Giles said he had some good news, I thought he was gonna tell me my dad had come through for us or that my mom'd left us more money that we didn't know about. I wasn't expecting this… this lame joke. I mean I don't know if I should feel flattered or insulted. Obviously they must think I'm worth something to have pulled this, but what I don't understand is why Giles went along with it."
 
"Maybe the Watcher knows something you don't," he ventured, trying to contain his own upset and disappointment. There had to be away to get her to take the money without giving himself up.
 
She gave him an incredulous look. "Doubt it. Half the time he's no better off than I am when the Council is concerned. Thing is, I need the money. What Giles showed me, it would fix everything… well, everything financially that is, and it's all there, just within my reach, but I know it's a trap so I can't possibly take it. It's some kind of sick joke, is what it is: offer to give me everything I need, then drop the `oh by the way, we now own you until the day you die' thing on me. It's cruel and unusual punishment, I tell you. It's some kind of twisted fairytale that only happens on the Hellmouth. That only happens in my sick, messed up life."
 
She drank again as tears leaked out of her eyes and rolled down her face.
 
"Hey now. Hey, no crying, and gimme that bottle. I'll not be havin' a repeat performance of the last time you raided my bar," he told her, going to take the bottle away.
 
She shook her head and clutched it to her chest, not letting him have it. "I mean, how could they do this to me? How could Giles let them do this?"
 
"Here now, maybe it won't be so bad. Maybe the Council of Wankers'll surprise you by bein' above board. Can always hope, can't you. And remember you got Giles and the Scoobies and me to help you handle them," he tried again, angry with himself.
 
"Fat lot of good you all do me. None of you are rich!" she countered, taking another swig from the bottle.
 
"Nuff o' that. I don't like it," he warned. "You're too young to be turnin' to a bottle to drown your sorrows. I let you do it once. I won't let you do it again. Now I understand that you're upset and feel like things have gone all wrong, but we'll work it out, we'll fix it right up, I promise you. Now give me the bloody bottle."
 
He reached for the bourbon, but she fought him.
 
"No. You can't have it!" she yelled and struck out with her fist.
 
The blow hit one of the still unhealed holy water burns on his chest and pain seared through him like a hot poker. He cried out and fell back, landing on one of the deeper lash wounds and sending more pain ricocheting through his body.
 
"God, oh! bloody Hell!" he yelled, fighting back the haze of pain that clouded his eyes.
 
"Spike? Spike, are you alright."
 
Before he could stop her, she was leaning over him, her hands working at the buttons of the high-collared shirt he still wore.
 
"Hey, stop it! I'm fine, you bloody bint," he argued, trying to squirm away but only succeeded in causing himself more pain.
 
"Then why are you writhing on the floor in agony?" she countered, losing patience with the buttons and just ripping the material off. She gasped when she saw his skin and he slumped to the dirt in defeat, the fight going out of him.
 
"Oh my God," she whispered, venturing to lightly touch the burns and healing scars where the pokers had punctured his flesh. "Dawn told me you'd been beat up, but I didn't realize… Spike, who did this to you?"
 
"No one you know," he lied.
 
"She said she found you in L.A. Spike, did Angel do this to you?"
 
"I already told you," he tried, but he knew she didn't believe him, and she soon proved it by grabbing one if his burns, making him howl.
 
"Don't lie to me Spike!"
 
"Bloody hell, that hurt you bitch!"
 
"Spike…" she warned.
 
"Alright! Yes! Your sodden poofter Angel did this to me! Happy now?" he gasped, rolling his head back in pain.
 
"No. Why would Angel do this to you?"
 
"Because he wanted to try out some new interrogation techniques and I made a good test subject?"
 
"I'm serious, Spike. What did you do?"
 
He gave her an angry, defiant look- the same one he had given Angel not all that long ago, and set his jaw. "Sod off. None of your bloody business. Now if you're all done pokin' holes in my holes, get the hell out."
 
He tried to ignore the wounded look in her eyes as she pulled back from him. She stood and looked around, as if seemingly at a loss for what to do. Moaning, he struggled to sit up so he could watch her move about his crypt. She was by his bed, looking at the suit jacket he had thrown there, then he saw her reach down for something on the floor.
 
"Buffy? Buffy, I'm sorry…" he began, trying to take her attention away from the clothes on his bed.
 
"The money's yours," she said flatly.
 
"What?" He let out a dry laugh. "Oh please. How can you think that…"
 
"Then what's this?" she countered angrily, stalking over to him and tossing a bank receipt printed on Collins & Hartman's stationary on the floor in front of him.
 
He sighed, slumping his shoulders and closing his eyes. `Well, that lasted all of six hours.'
 
"Buffy… I can explain…"
 
"Where'd you get the money, Spike? Where does a neutered vampire who has to steal Xander's change to afford blood and cigarettes get two million dollars?"
 
"It's not what you think…"
 
"Well then maybe you'd better explain it to me because I don't like the explanations my own brain is supplying me with. If this is money made off of your kills, so help me God I will stake you where you lie!"
 
"It's mine! Okay! It's my money, and it always was!" he yelled, his heart breaking and hurting as much as his body.
 
She blinked at him, and crossed her arms, waiting.
 
"When Dru turned me, I had a trust fund. Angelus took it after… said it was for safe keeping so my family wouldn't take it when they thought I was dead. He never gave it back. I just went to him and demanded he give me what's mine," he said, lying back on the dirt.
 
"I don't understand. If he had it all this time, why go for it now?"
 
"Because you didn't need it before now and I swore I'd never go ask the bloody poofter for it," he growled, then spoke more gently, "After Angelus got all soul-filled and abandoned me and Dru, I swore I'd never ask him for anything. I didn't need him. Didn't want anything from him. He could keep the bloody trust for all I cared. I could take care of myself. I didn't need to go begging for what was rightfully mine."
 
She lowered her gaze. "Until I started having money problems."
 
"I probably woulda gone for it anyway even if you hadn't been brought back. Money was running out even before Willow did her spell. I woulda gone and gotten it for Dawn eventually, so don't go feelin' special."
 
She gave him a smile that told him she saw right through all his bluster, and came to sit beside him, her eyes gentle. "Spike, I can't take your money."
 
"Why the hell not? I gave it you freely, no strings attached. I only told the Watcher to tell you it came from the Council because I didn't want you to know it came from me."
 
"Spike, I can't take it…"
 
He bared his teeth and snarled. "If you don't, then everything I suffered will have been for nothing. Angelus beat on me for four days, and he probably would have kept beating on me if Nibblet hadn't called there looking for me."
 
"Why did he hurt you?"
 
"Because I wouldn't tell him what the money was for."
 
"Why?"
 
"Because I hate him! Okay?! I hate him with every drop of blood in my body!" he yelled. "He did nothing for Dawn and the Scoobies while you were gone. Nothing! I was the one fighting beside them all summer. I was the one takin' care of Dawn and makin' sure no nasties got her. Where was he? Off brooding at some monastery! And then, after you were back, you ran scurrying off to see him just as soon as you knew he knew, and left me in the lurch. I'd be twice damned if I was gonna tell him about your money problems so he could give you the money and be the great big poofter hero!"
 
He was shaking with rage and pain, his fists clenched so tightly he was cutting his own palms.
 
"I wanted to be the one to fix it," he continued emphatically. "Even if you didn't know it was me, I wanted to be the one to ease your burden. I can't bring your mum back, and I can't make getting' ripped out of Heaven feel any better, and I couldn't save you when it counted, but I could do this. Please don't make it be all for nothing. I did it for you. Because I love you. There's no strings attached. I don't want anything from you, or expect anything in return. Please, you must believe me."
 
Her hand touched his face, wiping away the tears he didn't even know were there. "I do believe you Spike. But I can't take all of your money, especially when I've nothing to give you in return."
 
He laughed mirthlessly. "You think I gave you all of it? Believe me, luv, I didn't give you all of it. The money sat in investments for over a century. It's worth quite a tidy sum, and I've more than enough left over after what I gave you."
 
There was a long pause as she blinked at him, then a new expression came to her face, and if he didn't know better he would have said it was coy.
 
"Oh. So you're like, independently wealthy now?"
 
He gave her a soft smile. "Somethin' like that. And being that I have no outstanding debts such as a mortgage, car loan or paternity payments, I have it to spend on the important things in my life- you and Dawn. Was gonna ask ole Rupert to help me set up a college fund for the Nibblet."
 
"What, no little Spikes running around out there?"
 
"Luv, back in my day, a bloke didn't get it on unless he had a wedding band. Well, not if you were a man of any decent breeding that is."
 
She laughed and nudged him in the ribs gently.
 
"So you're telling me you were a virgin when Dru turned you."
 
He gave her a cocky grin. They'd found their equilibrium again and he was glad.
 
"Hey, I never said I was from decent breeding."
 
"Spike, you're a pig."
 
He smiled at her, and she smiled back, her hand absently brushing his hair from his forehead.
 
"C'mon," she said, standing and reaching to help him up. "Let's get you off the floor and into bed. Do you have any salve for your burns?"
 
"In the end table over there," he answered as he stood and shuffled over to his bed. He heard her gasp when she saw his back.
 
"Your back too…"
 
"Yeah, old Angelus is thorough," he commented, slumping down onto the mattress.
 
"Humph, I'm gonna have to have a talk with him," she said, sitting next to him on the bed, salve in hand.
 
"Don't bother, luv. It's not worth it."
 
She snorted in disagreement and began smoothing the salve on his chest. He closed his eyes in pleasure at her gentle touch.
 
"He tortured you for four days. Overkill much? Besides, I think it's about time somebody told him you're on our side now."
 
He didn't answer and was quiet for a few moments as she tended to his wounds.
 
"Luv?" he ventured after a while.
 
"Yeah?"
 
"Does this mean you're gonna take the money?"
 
She was quiet at first and his heart sank, then he heard her sigh. "Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I'd rather owe you than owe the Council, and it does make life a lot easier."
 
"That's what I was tryin' to do, luv."
 
"Not to mention all of the new, previously unimagined possibilities now. New car, designer clothes, vacations in the Bahamas, French Riviera, Bermuda…"
 
"All lovely, beach-filled places with lots of fatal sunlight."
 
"Hey, never bothered you before, blanket boy."
 
He chuckled. "The things I do for you."
 
"Yeah," she said seriously. "Thank you."
 
"You're welcome, luv."
 
She finished with his chest and flopped down on the mattress beside him. "So, does this make you kinda like my Sugar Daddy now?"
 
He cracked open one blue eye. "Wot?"
 
"You know, rich, older man taking an interest in a sweet young thing."
 
"You forgot handsome, rich, older man, and what do you mean sweet, young thing? Young you may be, but luv, you'll never be sweet."
 
"Pig."
 
"Bitch."
 
"Yeah, but you love me anyway."
 
He opened both his eyes to look at her in surprise. "That I do, luv."
 
"I know." She looked away. "I just… I'm not sure…"
 
"You don't have to say anything, Buffy. I know. I know you don't love me."
 
"But I don't hate you either. Truth is, I don't know what I feel. But I meant what I said about you being the only person I can stand to be around these days. You let me be whatever I want to be, even if it means I'm not okay. I can be me when I'm with you."
 
"I consider that the highest compliment anyone has ever paid me."
 
"Really?"
 
"Well, aside from comments on my extraordinary prowess and talent as a lover…"
 
"Ego much?"
 
"Hey, I'm only tellin' it like it is, luv."
 
"Oh, as if anyone who wasn't a skanky ho would come back to this place with you."
 
He stretched, a cocky smile on his lips. "Actually, now that I'm a gentleman of means…"
 
She choked back a laugh, but he ignored her.
 
"I was thinkin' of gettin' meself some nicer digs; a condo or maybe one of those nice townhomes where Giles used to live. Y'know, a place with running water and decent cable TV."
 
She looked shy for a moment then bit her bottom lip. "There's a couple of houses on my street that are for sale."
 
He let the smile on his face broaden as warmth seeped into his cold bones.
 
"Oh really?"
 
She fiddled with the coverlet on the bed. "Yeah. I mean, I think they have got pretty significant Hellion damage, but since Post-War Reconstructionism seems to be your décor of choice…"
 
"Sounds like they'd be right up my alley. You fancy me for a neighbor, pet?"
 
"You'd be better than say, Ted Bundy moving in, and since only real nutcases ever move to Sunnydale these days, I figure serial killer is a pretty safe bet."
 
"Chipped serial killer," he corrected.
 
"I wasn't talking about you."
 
"Oh."
 
"And it would give Dawn a safe place to go after school rather than hanging out here."
 
"She told you about that, huh?"
 
"Spike, I know she comes here. Whether she admits it or not, she has a huge crush on you."
 
"Yeah I kinda noticed that. I'll let `er down easy, I promise."
 
"Thank you."
 
He gave her a tender smile.
 
"You're welcome. Thanks for tending to my wounds."
 
"It's nothing I haven't done before."
 
"I'll just call you Buffy Nightingale."
 
"Cute, Spike, real cute."
 
He flashed her a grin.
 
"So, you think you might move in on my street?" she asked timidly.
 
"I'll at least consider it, luv."
 
She took his hand. "I think… I think I'd like that. I mean, any guy who's willing to endure four days of torture for me has gotta be a decent neighbor, right?"
 
"Oh, I dunno about that, luv. I like my punk rock music loud, and I have a nasty habit of dancing naked in front of the windows. It's a result of my seeing Risky Business at an impressionable age."
 
She laughed out loud, and shook her head. "How do you always do that? You always make me laugh."
 
"I like makin' you laugh. You've got a beautiful smile."
 
"Yeah, well, yours isn't half bad. When it's genuine."
 
"Checkin' me out, are you, luv? Like what you see?" he teased.
 
"Well, it'd look a lot nicer if it wasn't bloodied and flayed open."
 
"Hey, it's what's called a fixer-upper. Just gotta see past all the uglies and envision the potential."
 
She looked at him, her eyes serious. "I think I'm starting to," she whispered, then leaned down and kissed him gently on the cheek. "You should get some rest. It'll help you heal faster. Let me get you some blood."
 
"Had two pints before you got here, luv, so I'm not hungry, but thanks for offerin'. I think I will take a nap though. Day's catchin' up to me," he admitted, toeing off his boots and letting them crash to the floor.
 
"Okay," she replied, and draped the covers over him, tucking him in. Once he was settled, she laid down beside him, her head in the crook of his shoulder, and one arm draped loosely across what she hoped was an undamaged part of his chest.
 
"This hurt at all?" she asked.
 
Her arm was laying directly on one of his burns, but he didn't tell her that. He wasn't about to do anything to jeopardize their newfound closeness, so he lied instead.
 
"Not a bit, luv. Not a bit."
 
"I'm glad."
 
"Not half as glad as I am, believe me."
 
He heard and felt her small chuckle.
 
"Thanks, Spike. For fixing it for me."
 
"Anytime, Buffy, anytime."
 
No more words were spoken as he allowed himself to relax in Buffy's loose embrace, and drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow he'd go house hunting.
 
FIN