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Trudge.

It was a good word, Buffy thought, as she trudged back to the YWCA. Very… trudgey. It reeked of hopelessness and… trudginess. For a moment, she almost paused in her trudging, searching for a synonym but unable to come up with one before the fog settled back over her brain and reminded her not to care. Even her mind was trudgey, had been for the past week. But that was okay. Trudging was better than thinking, better than feeling.

Better than remembering.

Buffy was all about the not remembering, these days.

She'd started a job at some cheap diner yesterday, grateful for the mind-numbing work and the accompanying exhaustion at the end of the day. She'd hoped it would be enough to stop the memories, but so far no luck. She needed something else to dull her mind even more, hence the trudging back to the dorm tonight instead of taking the bus. Buffy hoped to god it would be enough, because she didn't know if she could make it through another night otherwise. At night, she couldn't stop remembering, not the way Angel had trusted her when she'd told him to close his eyes, or the way he'd gasped in pain, or the look of confusion and utter betrayal he'd given her before being sucked into hell. Night after night, she slipped from waking memories into lurid nightmarescapes, a helpless witness as Angel endured imagined torment upon torment, all because she hadn't been quick enough or smart enough to stop him from awakening Acathla in the first place.

Her nocturnal thrashing kept the other women at the YWCA from sleeping, and this morning the director had regretfully suggested it would be best if she found somewhere else to stay. "There are places that can help you with whatever it is you're going through," the woman had said, and Buffy had nodded and said she'd be gone by the end of the week. Hopefully her first paycheque, combined with the small wad of cash she'd brought from Sunnydale, would be enough to find some quiet little dank hole in the wall to call her own. And if it wasn't enough… she'd find some place.

Or she wouldn't. She couldn't quite bring herself to care.

Trudge, she thought in time to the sound of her footsteps. Trudge, trudge, don't think about it, don't think at all, trudge.

She was so caught up in the repetitious slap of her worn sneakers against the concrete that she almost didn't hear the frightened whimpers echoing down the dark alley as she passed. But there was a part of her that would never not be able to hear that sound.

The fine hairs on her arms prickled, and Buffy slowed her steps, slower and slower, until she'd ground to a halt three buildings past the alley.

It would be easy to pretend she hadn't heard, Buffy thought, even as her fingers twitched automatically toward her waist, seeking out the stake she'd carried there for close to three years. She didn't have one on her now, because it had been daytime when she'd left for work, and more importantly, because she'd consciously left it behind. That part of her life was over. Finito. The Slayer in her was as dead as the boyfriend she'd killed to save the world.

Her body didn't agree. Her adrenaline had spiked, her feet had already turned her the other way, and her eyes scanned for a weapon as she drew closer to the alley and the sounds within.

Buffy could hear low growling now, over the whimpering. Again, she paused. Why did it have to be her? Hadn't she given enough? The vampire snack down the alley would've had a one-way ticket into Acathla's dimension and been dead already if not her. She'd given them an extra week. Wasn't it enough?

No, her feet said, continuing on their way.

She wasn't even the Slayer anymore, not really. Kendra had been the Slayer, called by Buffy's death to her own early demise, and now some other girl was getting all trained up in the way of the Chosen. Killing vampires, risking her life, watching her loved ones die – it was that Slayer's job now. Not Buffy's. Her feet ached, her back ached, her heart ached. She didn't want to be here.

"Hey," she said to the smear of black in the shadows. And… that was it. The extent of her witty repartee. Punnage was beyond her these days. The vampire didn't react, so Buffy said it a little louder. "Hey. Look. Let her go." Don't make me do this.

The vampire shifted, pinning his victim closer to the wall, and Buffy realized…

"Spike."

The universe hated her. It was the only explanation.

At the sound of his name he turned to face her, all golden eyes and ridged brow and bloodstained fangs. He stared at her, uncomprehending and zoned out on the blood, and then did a double take, gaze sharpening. He let his victim go without a second glance and pivoted to face Buffy, thumbs hooked into his belt. "Well, look at you, alive and kicking. Guess you beat Angelus after all. Figured you had – world's still here – but it looked like he had you there at the end."

Buffy spared a quick look to the woman stumbling away with a hand clasped to her neck, just long enough to reassure herself the woman would probably be okay, before turning her attention back to Spike. She wanted to look for a weapon – anything – but taking her eyes off of Spike for more than a fraction of a second was foolhardy. Then again, so was facing the Slayer of Slayers with nothing but her bare hands and her exhaustion-dulled wits.

"Yeah, thanks for your help," Buffy said, with as much sarcasm as she could muster. "The running away and leaving me to stop the apocalypse all by myself was super helpful."

With a shrug, he ran his tongue over his fangs, clearing off the remains of his meal, and she grimaced at the sight.

"Did my part, didn't I?" Spike's features melted to human. And – wait, was he happy to see her? The cheerful grin wigged her out far more than his bloodstained vamp visage had.

She took an automatic step backwards, moving on instinct just as he lunged for her.

"But no need to get sentimental," he said, blocking her fraction-of-a-second too slow uppercut with ease.

Stupid well-fed and probably well-rested vamp. She countered his return blow, but her reactions were too – trudgey. Though Buffy continued to repel Spike's attack with ingrained muscle memory, her brain remained mired in molasses, unable to see a way out of the situation she was in. A Slayer without a stake was like a Giles without a book, and while she might have prevailed on a different night against a different vampire, a part of her wondered why she should even try.

Only a few days ago she would've gladly sacrificed herself in place of Angel, but saving the world had required her to see the consequences of her actions through to the very portal-closing end. And now…

Now she could rest, couldn't she?

But when Spike had her pinned up against the filthy alley wall, much as he'd had his victim moments earlier – and, ew, he was happy to see her, in ways she was never ever going to think about ever again – Buffy knew that this was not how she wanted to die. At least not without a fight. She'd been there, done that with the Master, and had no desire to repeat the experience.

Spike had trapped her right arm behind her back, up against the rough bricks, and her shoulder was on fire, her arm numb and useless. Her legs were equally trapped between his, giving her no leverage to kick out or buck him away. Ignoring his comments about her lack of fighting prowess, about how easy this was going to be, how sweet, Buffy yanked her other arm free from Spike's bruising grip. She dug her fingers into his hair and ripped his head away from her jugular (all the while not thinking about why he was nuzzling her neck with tiny pricks from his fangs rather than ripping her throat out like a normal vampire, but whatever kept her not dead, right?).

"Bitch," Spike growled. He pressed harder against her, grinding her shoulder into the wall and making her cry out, and grinding other parts too, yellowed eyes sparking with malicious glee.

Gritting her teeth against the pain, Buffy bashed her head into his face, aiming for Spike's nose but getting his cheek as he turned suddenly to stare down the alley. "Ow," she said, eyes stinging. His cheekbones really were as sharp as they looked.

Perfectly still, coiled like a cat ready to spring, Spike ignored her in favor of whatever had caught his attention.

"Excuse me," Buffy said, miffed. "Battle to the death, here? Hello?" His intense focus and tautly strung demeanor had her whispering, though, and staring down the alleyway over his shoulder.

She didn't even sense the whatever it was until it was almost on top of them, materializing out of the shadows with a roar and a spray of sulphurous spittle that burned wherever it splashed her exposed skin.

"Oh, balls," he said, and dropped her in favor of defending himself against the hulking demon's inch-long claws and even longer teeth.

Buffy flattened herself against the wall, but the black, furred creature ignored her, intent on ripping Spike to shreds. Holding her arm close to her chest, she slid down the wall with sigh of relief. All she needed was a quick second to catch her breath, and if Furry wanted to do her job for her in the meantime, she was more than okay with that.

"Little help, Slayer?" Spike gasped as the demon sliced his calf open to the bone.

"And ruin the show? Why the hell would I -"

Spike ducked a slash of claws. "Because she'll be on you next!"

Buffy scrambled to her feet. "Not if I'm not here." At his disbelieving look, she mimicked his earlier unconcerned shrug. "More than happy to return your complete lack of help. Good luck with your impending death," she said with a nod at the demon, and began to edge her way down the alley.

"I'm dead serious, Summers," he gasped after her. "This thing's a brainless assassin. Unstoppable. You've got my scent all over you, and she'll suss it out. Soon as she kills me, she'll be after you, and it won't matter how far you run -" All this was grunted out as the two battled, with Spike most definitely on the losing side.

Did he really think she'd fall for that? Please, she wasn't called yesterday. Buffy rolled her eyes and continued on her way, one cautious eye on the demon. Who – in credence to Spike's claims – whuffed a giant, sulphurous inhale in her direction and slowly pivoted its head to follow her progress, vampire pinned helplessly beneath its behemoth foot.

Buffy froze. Maybe it was just coincidence, but it seemed wiser not to take any chances. "So… how do you kill it?" she said, scanning the alleyway once more for anything that could be used as a weapon.

Spike didn't answer, possibly because the demon had slashed his throat, visibly severing parts of his body that were never meant to be exposed to air. One more arc of its claws, and it would have him beheaded.

No more hesitating, then. Buffy didn't much like her chances against Furry, not with how easily it had bested Spike. Despite his warnings, she didn't see any option other than to flee, at least until she could find some way to defend against the demon. She made to take off, but against her better judgment her feet led her to Spike's side, and she snatched up the insensate vampire before Furry could finish off what she'd failed to manage all the previous year. Ignoring the burning agony in her shoulder, she cradled his head close to her chest as best she could to keep it from ripping the rest of the way off and turning him to dust in her arms as she pounded her way down the alley.

Breath coming in short, hot gasps, Buffy rounded corner after corner, the mingled scent of sticky blood and worn leather heavy in her nostrils. If Spike was right about the demon tracking her by his scent upon her, she was definitely making the situation way worse for herself. Too late now, though. Furry had torn through Spike – one of the few vampires she'd never managed to slay – as if he'd been made of tissue paper. What chance did she have against the creature when she didn't even know what type of demon it was or whether it would truly be after her? Better to save the evil vampire now, and sort it out later.

She slowed, shoulder screaming in protest against the weight it was being forced to bear, and good arm cramping so painfully she was about to drop Spike to the pavement at any second. A hasty glance behind her showed no sign of pursuit, but she couldn't be certain she'd lost Furry, what with the way it had materialized out of the shadows earlier.

Buffy stumbled to a halt. No matter how close the demon was, she couldn't run any farther, especially not with her unconscious burden. She eased down onto a bus stop bench, and did her best to assess the damage to the undead corpse in her arms without taking too close a look at where his insides had become outsides.

Even with the barest of glances, it was clear he was going to take some time to heal, and would need significant amounts of blood for the healing. He was going to need a safe place to hole up too, both of which would require money. Most likely everything she had left. Buffy stared down at the vampire in her lap with exhaustion-laden revulsion, and seriously considered abandoning him to the bus stop bench and taking her chances with Furry on her own. She knew Spike would have no compunction about doing the same.

If only she could be sure that he hadn't been lying about the scent thing, or that, if he hadn't, a long, hot shower and a full bottle of body wash would be sufficient to wash him away. If only she had a Watcher to ask, or books for research, or, hell, even a Willie to beat up for answers. But Buffy had none of those any longer. All she had in the way of answers was... Spike.

Extremely heavy, evil, unconscious, and centimeters-away-from-dust Spike.

God, she was tired. Too tired to think coherently, never mind come to any sort of decision.

With a sigh, she hauled herself to her feet and re-shouldered him. She couldn't fully lift his weight anymore, so she flopped his arms over her shoulders and gripped him around the chest, lugging the unconscious vampire like an overgrown ragdoll. His knees dragged along the ground, booted feet bouncing haphazardly with each step she took, but Buffy really didn't care.

Worn shoes slapping against the concrete, she trudged on.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

In the end, working in the crappy part of town had its advantages. It took Buffy less than a block to find an abandoned store whose back door had been kicked down and left open to the elements and the street addicts and the alley cats. The inside smelled more vile than any demon lair she'd ever had the misfortune to stumble upon, but she hoped it would put Furry off their scent for at least a little while.

Finding blood was the last thing she wanted to do, but her need for answers propelled her onwards when all she wanted was to lie down and Rip Van Winkle the rest of her existence away. Buffy barricaded Spike inside as best she could and set out as soon as the sun rose the next morning, looking for some place that catered to both their nutritional needs.

She made her way back to where she'd encountered Spike the night before, half-remembering a deli that she thought would fill the ticket in the vicinity. It was still early, the streets only starting to show signs of life, when she stumbled upon a corpse. The clothes triggered a sense of familiarity despite the savaged state of the body, and when she squatted down to take a closer look at woman's face, she confirmed that it was Spike's victim – the victim who had been plenty alive when Buffy had seen her last.

Hands shaking – no matter how many times she encountered death, she didn't think she would ever get used to it – she backed away quickly, looking left and right to see if anybody else had noticed the body or her presence. Buffy didn't want to get dragged into yet another crime scene investigation; there was a good chance she was still on Sunnydale's Most Wanted list, and Los Angeles wasn't far enough away for her to risk it. There was nothing she could do for the woman now, and someone else would find her soon enough.

That someone else could deal with the cops. It was Buffy's job to deal with the thing that had done this.

She hurried around the corner, thinking hard, connections snapping into place. The woman had had Spike's scent on her... and something with massive claws had killed her. Buffy couldn't be certain that the gouges were Furry's handiwork, but she couldn't be certain they weren't. Either way it was evidence, however tenuous, that Spike might not have been feeding her a load of baloney in order to save his own skin.

Buffy still didn't trust him, but the discovery of the now-dead woman was enough to convince her she'd done the right thing in keeping him alive.

For now.

The deli was where she'd remembered it, with discreet Open 24 Hours and Special Orders Welcome! signs displayed in the bottom right corner of the storefront window. The wizened woman at the counter didn't blink when she made her request, to Buffy's relief. She didn't have the mental energy to concoct an explanation for why she needed so much fresh animal blood.

When the attendant returned with her order, Buffy eyed the sack reluctantly, tightening her grip on her hard-earned cash while the woman waited impassively for her hand over the creased bills. With the memory of the mauled corpse fresh in her mind, and the thought that she didn't want to suffer the same fate, she eventually stretched out her hand and made the exchange.

Buffy gnawed her bagel as she made the return trip, forcing down nourishment despite the queasiness in the pit in her stomach, and forcing one exhausted foot in front of the other.

Back at their hideout, she righted a chair and sat down heavily. Spike lay in a crumpled heap where she'd left him, looking as dead as it was possible for a vampire to be without turning to dust. Buffy still wanted nothing more than to lie down and pass out, but she'd already gone through all the trouble of first saving Spike's ass, and then finding him something to eat. Sleep could wait a few minutes more.

She took one of the Styrofoam tubs from the bag and squatted next to Spike, and slowly trickled the pig's blood down his gashed throat. Buffy kept her gaze averted despite the mess she knew she was making of it, desperate not to throw up from the sight or the smell. She'd thought about trying to clean Spike up some, or maybe bandage his more gaping wounds, but both were beyond her at the moment. Supplies were nonexistent, and she was so exhausted she thought she might actually sleep soundly for the first time in a week. She was pretty sure vampires couldn't catch infections like regular people, so she made do with positioning him as comfortably as she could before securing his arms to a pipe jutting up from behind a demolished section of drywall, just in case he woke up and decided to finish what he'd started in the alley. With the last of her energy, she crawled over to the cleanest spot she could find and curled up to sleep.

 

*******

 

The dreams came anyway, and Buffy woke wearier than ever. Too sore to move, she stared dully at Spike's waxy, immobile face and tried to find the energy to care about, well, anything. If Spike's assassin demon came bursting through her makeshift barricade right then, she was pretty certain she wouldn't – couldn't – move a muscle in self-defense.

A glance at her watch told her she was due for her shift in an hour, but even if she didn't have a mangled vampire to babysit, there was no way she could manage eight hours of waitressing hell. Not post-ripping something in her shoulder and then sleeping on a cold, filthy floor, and all that after her mad nocturnal dash carrying the literal equivalent of dead weight. Her Slayer constitution only went so far.

With a groan, Buffy rolled to her back and stared at the drooping, stained acoustic tiles overhead. There went that job. And paycheque. "Stupid Spike…" she muttered.

Stupid Spike let out a horrific, gurgling gasp that sent Buffy bolt upright with a wild-eyed gasp of her own. She turned to find him staring at her with pure panic, head jiggling precariously atop his neck as he tried desperately to speak.

"Shh, Spike, shh," she said, hurrying over to him despite the protests of her aching body. She palmed his cheeks, stilling his frantic movements before he managed to accidentally self-decapitate.

Though Buffy loathed the cold-blooded murderer beneath her hands with every ounce of her soul, she couldn't help but be affected by his stark expression of utter terror. What would it be like to wake up in such a state, unable to speak, undoubtedly in horrific pain, and restrained on top of it all? She couldn't imagine.

"Shh," she said again. "You're safe."

Spike stared up at her with a mute plea, which Buffy took to mean he had questions he wanted answered, so she filled him in on what had happened. As she spoke, he relaxed marginally, recovering his calm enough to lay still and allow his body to continue its unnatural regeneration. Which, honestly, was much too slow for her liking. Probably his as well.

"I'm going to give you some more blood, okay?"

He didn't give her any answer, not that he could. She reached for and uncapped the carton of pig's blood she'd left by the wall, grimacing at the odor and the slimy, semi-congealed appearance. "Ugh," she said.

From the face he made, it was obvious Spike agreed.

"Beggars can't be choosers. I'll get you some fresh stuff later, but it's this or nothing for now." Ignoring the unmistakable look he aimed at her neck, she upended the carton into his mouth, trying and failing to create a slow, steady stream. Dark, chunky fluid glopped into his mouth, then oozed right back out of his gaping neck.

Spike gurgled, flecks of blood flying everywhere.

Buffy bolted.

When she came back, breath sour and stomach still clenched, he'd closed his eyes and was once again as still as death. The dark, sticky blood pooled beneath his head and neck did little to dispel the impression of a corpse, and Buffy shivered at the sight.

"Spike?" she whispered.

Nothing.

Kneeling by his side, she repositioned his head as best she could, half-wondering in the back of her mind just how the whole magical regeneration thing worked. Did flesh need to be touching flesh for it to knit back together? Could he mend wrong, and if he did, would it be like a broken bone that needed to be re-broken to set right?

She supposed she'd find out.

The tiny part of her that hadn't yet completely given up on life thought that maybe she ought to takes notes so that when – if, the remaining, far less hopeful part of her part of her mind corrected – if she ever saw Giles again, she could share them with him. He'd be fascinated, probably even jealous he hadn't been here to observe firsthand. She shook her head, smiling despite the constriction in her heart. Watchers were the ultimate in weird.

Buffy fed Spike the rest of the blood, looking away as she had the first time and hoping that enough was being absorbed, however that worked, to make a difference. If Giles were here –

But he wasn't. He wasn't here to answer any questions for her, and while Buffy knew he was only a phone call away, it was a phone call that was never going to happen. No matter how much she missed him. Her watcher had been tortured and lost the woman he loved, all because she'd been stupid enough to fall in love with a monster with a jack-in-the-box soul. She clenched her fists, digging her nails into the palms of her hands until that pain pushed away the other in her heart.

She didn't deserve Giles. Didn't deserve any of them. She'd left her sacred calling behind, and along with it her support system, and that was that. She'd just have to make do on her own. It was better this way, anyhow. If she screwed up, the only life at stake was her own.

Well, and Spike's, but no loss there.

Seeing as she wasn't ready to get dead yet, at least not this way, Buffy climbed to her feet. She figured the demon had hunkered down for the day, as they tended to do, but would be after them again come nightfall. That left her a handful of hours to head back to the YWCA and collect the few things she'd stored there, as well as more blood for Spike and food for herself, before another fun fight-or-flight-filled night.

At the Y, she took advantage of the showers, gratefully discarding her filthy, bloodstained uniform for comfortable old sweats. Tacky and cheap polyester just wasn't made for the Slayer lifestyle. Her uniform was significantly worse for the wear, and the manager had made it clear that any additional uniforms would be coming out of her own pocket. Not that it was likely they'd take her back after she missed her shift anyway, she thought, dropping it in the trashcan on her way out. Fired before she'd even received her nametag, how pathetic was that?

Duffel bag over her good shoulder and all stocked up on food and first aid supplies, including double-strength Tylenol for herself, Buffy made her way back to the abandoned store under the late afternoon sun.

The stench of their temporary shelter, a hundred-fold worse after the clean sunshine-filled air, made her eyes water. Spike was still out cold, and in the boarded-up gloom, it was hard to tell if his wounds had healed any.

Buffy examined him, and wondered why the demon had been after Spike in the first place. And where was Drusilla? Would she have to be on guard against her as well? The questions circled in her mind, with no answers forthcoming until Spike could give them.

Since it didn't look like that would be any time soon, Buffy settled for doing what she could to patch him up in the meantime. If they had to run, he was going to need some help keeping his insides on the inside.

She started by cutting away the remainder of his right pant leg. The pale flesh of his calf had been gouged away, and Buffy bandaged it up. Neither of his legs appeared to be broken at least, which made her running away plan more viable. The material over his upper left thigh was stiff and crusty with blood, but a cautious prod didn't indicate enough damage to require her care, thankfully. Getting off the rest of Spike's pants wasn't high on her to-do list, or on her to-do list at all.

Next came his abdomen, which she'd been doing her level best not to think about or look at. With a grimace, she pulled away the tatters of his black shirt, picking out whatever bits of fabric she could without poking around in Spike's guts. Since she had no clue what parts were supposed to be where in there, she had to hope that whatever magic kept vampires alive would sort it out. Buffy slipped her hand beneath Spike, bringing the bandage under his back and then over his belly, again and again, creating a second skin. When she finished, she looked up at Spike's face and found him staring at her with palpable hunger.

Buffy had unbound him while she was gone, in case he'd needed to defend himself, but the look in his eyes had her glad she'd re-tied him to the pipe when she'd returned. She had no doubt that he'd have gone for her throat by now if he could've.

She suppressed her shiver, and held up a roll of duct tape. "This is going around your neck. To…" She flapped her hand at his oozing wound, hesitating. "Keep your head from falling off," she said. No point in sugarcoating it.

Spike managed to look both distressed and affronted at the same time.

"Do I need to… straighten things? In there?" she said. "Or will they heal up on their own? I mean, I think it would be kinda funny if your pipes got crossed, but since I need answers from you…"

He only glared in response, and Buffy sighed.

"All right, let's try this: blink once for yes, and twice for no. Got it?" Spike blinked once, which she took to mean he did, so she said, "Do I have to make sure everything's lined up, or will the duct tape be good enough?"

Spike rolled his eyes, and Buffy frowned. Oh, right. One question at a time. "Can I just duct tape you up?"

He hesitated, then blinked once.

"Oh, thank god," Buffy muttered. She worked the edge of the duct tape loose, then paused, staring blankly at Spike's neck and thinking about just how deeply weird her life was. She was pretty sure she had to be the first person in the history of the universe to ever duct tape a vampire's head back onto his neck. If the duct tape company had a prize for most creative uses for their product, Buffy figured she'd take first place, no problem. "Okay, I'm just going to… do this."

She worked quickly, ignoring the unnatural way Spike's neck moved beneath her fingers. Some of his hair got caught in the tape, and Buffy found herself apologizing before remembering that she really didn't care about an evil vampire's comfort. When it was done, she sat back on her heels and examined her handiwork. It would hold, hopefully. Bonus points for how undignified it looked, which was never of the bad when it came to mortal enemies. She managed a ghost of smile before it slipped away, too difficult to sustain.

Spike was less pleased, his expression promising messy retribution. Buffy got up to rummage in her duffel bag, then squatted back down by his side. She held up a cross in one hand, and a stake in the other. "I'm going to undo your hands, but if you even think about trying to eat me," she said in her best Slayer voice, waving both items for emphasis.

He raised an eyebrow, and smirked.

"What?" She thought back over what she had said. "Ew. Gross, Spike," she said, but it didn't stop the heat she could feel rising in her cheeks, and Buffy was extra not-gentle in untying his hands. She should have just left the stupid jerk-faced vampire to his dusty ending, but no, she'd had to go and save him. Buffy smacked him across the head – and hey, duct tape doing its job just fine! – and backed away with a scowl.

Spike lowered his arms carefully, wincing, then raised a hand to his now silver-girdled throat before slowly sitting up with an inaudible groan.

She waited to be sure he wasn't going to make any sudden moves, then reached for the deli bag and held up a fresh carton of blood. "Do you need my help?" When he blinked twice, she handed it to him, followed by a straw.

Without working throat muscles, Spike had a difficult time swallowing, but at least the duct tape kept most of what he managed to get down from leaking right back out again. When Buffy was sure he had it under control, she started in with her questions.

"How long is it going to take that demon to find us – wait," she said, and rephrased. "Do we have to worry about it finding us tonight?"

Spike shrugged, cautiously, and grimaced at the pain.

"Some help you are. Do you know why it's after you?" He blinked, and she said, "Are you blinking yes, or just blinking?"

He blinked again, deliberately slowly.

"Okay… how about this. Show of fingers, how many days did it take the demon to find you after whatever it was you did to earn yourself a decapitation?"

Without moving his arm, he extended two fingers. Buffy pursed her lips. Two days was not promising. "And Drusilla? She around somewhere?"

Spike looked over her shoulder and scowled. When he continued to not answer, Buffy grabbed his blood away. Droplets fell from the end of the straw dangling from his mouth, leaving crimson spots on his bandaged abdomen. Spike made a grab for the carton, then fell back with a silent yowl of pain.

"You are two seconds away from a dusty ending," Buffy said, brandishing her stake. "The only reason you're still alive and slurping up the last of my cash is because I want answers, got it? So answer me: do I need to be on the lookout for your crazy girlfriend, Spike? 'Cause I let you walk with her once, but if she comes after me, it won't happen again. And don't think I haven't noticed that you haven't left the country yet, either."

They traded glares for several long seconds. "Get chatty, or I get stabby. Is Drusilla going to be a problem for me, yes or no?"

Finally, Spike blinked no, leaving Buffy to wonder just where Drusilla had gone. Assuming he'd told the truth. But he had no way of answering that for now, so she moved on to more pertinent questions.

They worked through her list, Buffy discovering that, yes, Spike did know how to kill the demon, and that, yes, the good old-fashioned stab-it-until-it-was-dead approach would suffice. Even better, it wasn't a threat to the general populace, only to its intended target, which meant that she wouldn't have to go out of her way to hunt it down. Buffy managed to determine that Spike had pissed some other demon off, though the details were fuzzy, and that, yes, he was still planning to leave the country, just as soon as he dealt with this. And, no, there was no point in running far away, because Furry would follow to the very ends of the earth and beyond, and wouldn't stop until either Spike and all those the demon associated with him were dead, or it was.

"And how long until you talk? Or better yet, fight?" Buffy said.

Spike shrugged one shoulder again, carefully.

"I'm out of cash, so… I don't know how we're going to get you more blood."

Again, he looked at her neck. Buffy raised her stake, and he rolled his eyes, then rubbed his fingers through the blood on the floor.

"Ew. Don't worry, you're not that desperate yet," she said, holding the carton back out to him.

He ignored, her, still working his fingers through the mess, and Buffy realized he was writing something. She leaned over to see that he had written 'need HUMAN blood', with 'human' all in caps, and now he was underlining it repeatedly. When she began to protest, he scratched out 'heal quicker'. Then he underlined 'quicker', and looked up to see if she had gotten his point.

Buffy sat back, chewing her lip. Was he telling the truth? Probably, though she didn't know for sure. Angel –

Oh, god. Angel.

Her stomach clenched, and her eyes began to burn. Buffy swallow, determined not to cry. She squeezed her eyes shut, just for a moment, and forced herself back in control. Spike might be injured, but she could not show any weakness around him, not even for a second.

Buffy breathed in for a count of five, and then back out again.

So, fine. Repression. She was good at that, had had lots of practice. She could think of Angel and not –

She engaged in another round of breathing. Of clamping down, of going numb. Buffy tested out his name again – Angel – and was okay. For the time being.

Back to the matter at hand. Angel wasn't around to ask. Neither was Giles. She didn't even have any books for research, so she might as well take Spike's word for it. It still didn't solve the problem of how to get blood for him, though.

"Okay, you need human blood. Since there's zero percent chance you're getting it on tap… I guess I could... liberate... a few bags from the hospital or the Red Cross?" she said, remembering the time she and An-

No thinking about that

– all the times she'd stopped vampires from stealing the blood being delivered to the hospital.

"Or we could buy blood?" she said, thinking of Willie's. "Assuming that, one, I had the cash for it, and, two, you know where a demon bar that sells blood is."

Spike blinked twice.

"No, you don't know where a bar is, or… whatever," she said. She didn't have money to buy blood, which meant either stealing some from a demon bar, or stealing it from a hospital. At the end of the day, there wasn't much difference between the two choices considering that a demon bar's methods of obtaining human blood weren't likely to be any more savory than her stealing it from the hospital. "Take-out baggies o'blood will work, though?"

This time he blinked once, though he didn't look pleased with the idea.

She wasn't either, but getting Spike back to fighting trim now rather than later meant choosing expedience over the high moral ground. Maybe she could find some blood that was about to expire, or something. Hopefully.

Noting the deepening gloom, Buffy said, "Night's falling, which means your demon friend will be on the hunt soon. We're not going to have much time left to get you healed. Are you up for going with me to get blood?"

Spike moved slowly, testing out his injuries, before finally slumping backwards and blinking out a no.

That suited Buffy just fine. The less time she spent with him, the better. In fact, she thought, once she'd barricaded him in and was on her way, now that she had her questions sort of answered, there was no need to go back, was there? It wasn't as though Spike was going to be any kind of an asset in a fight for who knew how long. She was better off taking her chances with Furry alone.

Too bad she hadn't thought of that before she'd gone and left most of her stuff behind with him.

 

Chapter Text

 

After finding a payphone booth that wasn't completely missing its phonebook and letting her fingers do the walking, Buffy had settled on three different potential targets for finding some blood for Spike. She'd lucked out at the first one and now hurried back to their store before the reality of what she'd just done caught up with her. Stealing anything, even blood that was about to go to waste –

She shook her head, determined not to examine her actions too closely. Blame it on rocks and hard places, and leave it at that.

Her stomach growled, and she wished she'd thought to check for some people food while she was at it. Spike had eaten the last of her cash, leaving her with no money to buy food for herself. If she didn't come up with some way to get food that didn't involve either stealing or dumpster diving in the very near future –

Buffy put that out of her mind too. If she survived the night, she'd worry about it then.

And speaking of surviving the night: as she rounded the corner of their alley, she had a sudden strong hunch that Furry had found their hideout. It could have been the way her barricade had been smashed through, but Buffy figured the growls and crashes emanating from inside the store, along with the overwhelming stench of sulfur, were the real clue. She rushed inside to find that Spike had wedged himself into the crawlspace in the back of a half-demolished storage room not much bigger than a walk-in closet, and was just barely holding his attacker off with a broken length of rebar.

"Hey! Big and ugly!" she yelled.

Furry didn't even look her way.

If Buffy hadn't found the body of Spike's victim, clearly mauled, the demon's complete disinterest in her might've been cause to outright reject Spike's story that she was in danger too.

But she had found the body. And she still couldn't be certain that Spike had been lying.

Buffy sighed. Despite the demon's lack of interest in her, she really ought to kill it now, while she had the chance – not to save Spike's ass, because she really, really didn't care if Furry de-Spiked the world, but her own.

On the side of thank-goodness-for-small-favors, Furry's disregard meant she had time to arm herself. She stashed Spike's blood in a far corner – no point in having all her efforts go to waste – and quickly retrieved the short sword that had been lying forgotten at the bottom of her duffel, under her hastily packed clothing, ever since she'd left Sunnydale. Armed with the sword in one hand, she scooped up a second piece of rebar in the other and dove into the fray.

Within a few minutes, it became apparent that she was going to fare no better than Spike had the previous night. Well, a little better, but nowhere near better enough to finish Furry off. The demon was focused on trying to get to Spike, which allowed her to get hit after hit in, but Furry only swatted her away when she became too much of an inconvenience, sending her tumbling head over heels until she smacked into the far wall. Lying there half upside-down for the fourth time, arms and legs askew and blood running into her eyes from a cut on her cheek, Buffy knew it was time to cut her losses and run.

Right now was the perfect opportunity to ditch Spike and save herself, while Furry was preoccupied with trying to reach the vampire. She could take some time to regroup. Come up with a plan. Buffy righted herself and went for her duffel, but she stopped next to Furry's backside. She wasn't positive she could take on the demon alone, no matter how good a plan she came up with. Like with Angel and Dru, she – Buffy grimaced at the thought – needed Spike.

Again.

And if he was going to survive in order to help her, he needed her now.

Goddammit, she thought, and crouched down so she could see him.

"Spike," she called. "We need to run. When I say, you get yourself out of there and run. Got it?"

He didn't answer – no surprise there – but he gave what Buffy interpreted as a nod of understanding in between stabbing the rebar into Furry's questing paw.

Since Spike was still safe for the moment in his crawlspace, Buffy hurriedly packed all their things into her duffel, including his blood, and set it outside so she could grab it on the way out. Then she built up the barricade, wedging the debris tightly into place in the hopes that it would at least slow Furry down. When there was only a person-sized hole left for them to flee through, she headed back to the storage room.

Spike flashed her an unmistakable look of surprised relief when she returned, and Buffy – almost – felt bad about her thoughts of ditching him. There was no doubt in her mind that he would've done so if their positions had been reversed, but that was why he was the evil vampire and she was… well, definitely not all that was righteous and holy. But at least not evil.

"On the count of three," she said. "I'm going to hit it with everything I've got, and hopefully create a space for you to get by. Ready? One, two…"

On three, she threw herself into Furry's side, knocking the demon off balance for a fraction of a second. At the same time, she stabbed and pummeled its back leg as fast as she could. All she needed was to distract Furry for even a few moments, just long enough for Spike to get past and on his way out the door.

He made it out of the crawlspace and three-quarters of the way under Furry's bulk before the demon whuffed and spun – no mean feat in the tiny space – to find him. Furry pinned Buffy to the wall in the process, its exhale making her eyes water painfully. She shoved back with all her strength, until she was able to slide free.

"Spike, go!" Buffy yelled as Furry's paw came arcing downward towards his back. She redoubled her efforts to distract the demon while Spike crawled, one arm clutching his middle, towards safety.

Furry ignored her. No matter how hard she slashed with her sword or stabbed with the rebar, it didn't seem to faze the creature. Her attacks seemed to bounce off its thick, furry hide, and at this rate, the stab-it-until-it-was-dead plan would take days, maybe weeks.

New plan, Buffy thought as Furry buried its claws in Spike's already shredded right leg and jerked him backwards. She aimed a kick at the demon's embedded paw, freeing Spike, then squirmed past its front shoulder and grabbed a fistful of fur. She'd wanted to avoid Furry's fang-filled maw and acidic spittle, but if she couldn't distract it from the backend, she'd have to try from the front. Eyes were almost always a weak spot for any creature.

Her shoulder protested at the sudden strain of hauling her weight upward. Buffy swung herself up on to Furry's neck – hello, ceiling – and rammed the rebar towards the demon's eye. Furry responding by twisting its head and bucking upwards, slamming Buffy into the exposed ceiling joists and making her regret her new plan. A second stab of the rebar missed Furry's eye again, but this time scratched the demon's nose. Furry howled, spraying spittle everywhere, and leapt straight up. Buffy's back connected with the joist again, forcefully rearranging her spine.

Numb from the neck down, she lost her grasp on the demon's fur and fell to the ground with a thud. Buffy lay there, stunned. Stars circled overhead, bright against the inky backdrop of thick black fur.

Furry twisted and pounced, razor fangs slicing through the canvas of her sneaker and burying into her foot, acidic slobber compounding the sudden intense pain. Buffy screamed. Jaws clamped, the demon snapped its neck and jerked her upwards, the trajectory slamming her into the wall above the crawlspace, and Buffy screamed again as her spine rearranged once more.

She dangled upside down from Furry's mouth, dazed. Through the demon's legs, she could see that Spike had scrambled clear of the storage room and had climbed to his feet, one arm still supporting his middle. He turned back to look at her, hesitating.

Buffy didn't wait to see what he'd do; she couldn't afford to. She swung herself sideways and scrabbled for the hilt of her sword. She managed to hook it just as momentum took her the opposite way, and she used the reverse swing to jackknife her torso upwards and take another stab at Furry's eyes.

This time, she connected. Buffy just barely scratched Furry's right eye, but it was enough. The demon let out an aggrieved yowl, dropping her in the process, and Buffy lost no time getting the hell out of Dodge. The first step on her mangled foot had her howling in concert with Furry, but she sucked it up and pushed her way free of the storage room while the demon bucked and screeched, splintered wood and dusty plaster raining down around them.

Spike was nowhere to be seen, which was zero surprising. Buffy aimed a well-placed kick at one of the exposed studs framing the storage room, cracking it inwards, and did the same to three others, until the wall collapsed and what was left of the ceiling caved down on Furry's head. It wouldn't take the demon long to free itself, but Buffy hoped it would buy her a few extra minutes.

She hobbled through the barricade and into the alley to find her duffel bag had been ransacked. A glance down the alley revealed the culprit staggering his way to freedom, several bags of the blood she'd obtained for him clutched tightly in one fist.

With a sigh, she shouldered her duffel and limped after him as quickly as her mangled foot would allow.

 

Chapter Text

 

"Give me one good reason I shouldn't just kill you now," Buffy muttered when she caught up with Spike two blocks later.

Now that she was no longer in immediate danger of being ripped apart, she could feel each patch of seared flesh, each bruise and contusion, each cracked disc, all clamoring for her attention along with her shredded foot. Buffy stifled her urge to cry, and directed all her misery Spike's way with a vicious glare.

Spike spared her no more than a yellow-eyed glance before draining the bag of blood he'd been sucking on. He tossed the empty bag over his shoulder and bit into a new one.

"Hey!" Buffy said, and turned around to pick it up. Furious, she stormed back and cut him off, blocking his progress.

Eyeing the sword pointed at his chest, Spike coughed out a raspy, gurgling hiss of air that, with a liberal dose of imagination, Buffy deciphered as 'need me'.

She'd already decided she did, but that didn't mean she had to be happy about it. "No I don't, asshole. You're worse than useless, and you and I both know there's a good chance you're going to turn on me the second I let my guard down. So, again, why shouldn't I just kill you now?"

Spike tried to answer, but was no more intelligible than before. With a frustrated huff, he reached for her, but stopped short when she pressed the sword against his chest. He rolled his eyes, then mimed walking with his fingers and jerked his head in a clear request to flee now, discuss later.

"Fine," she said, because he did have a point. Furry wouldn't be far behind. Damn it.

Buffy restarted her way down the street, moving as quickly as her throbbing foot allowed. "One wrong move, though…"

He gave her a toothy, bloodstained grin that was far from reassuring and limped along in step, slurping up his blood with revolting enthusiasm.

The occasional sideways glance revealed that the blood was doing its job: Spike's skin appeared less waxy, his gait less shaky. Buffy wished she had some way of expediting her own healing, but other than the Tylenol and bandages, her only choice was to wait for her body to do its job. Her belly growled, reminding her she didn't even have food, unlike certain undead bloodsuckers who'd sucked up the last of her cash. She pressed a hand to her stomach and trudged on, wondering how much of a lead they were maintaining on the demon.

Spike seemed to be wondering the same, turning to look over his shoulder every few seconds, and Buffy began to hurry her step despite the nearly unbearable pain. Spike broke into a shambling run the moment he'd drained his bag of blood, and Buffy followed along, neither reprimanding him nor stopping to pick up the bag when he tossed this one over his shoulder too. With the jaws of hell who knew how close behind, stopping the evil vampire from littering no longer seemed important. Better to save her breath for running. And planning.

Except she didn't have a plan, and she didn't think Spike had one either. Caught in the grip of shared panic, they ran without rhyme or reason, Buffy's breath coming in gasping hitches and Spike making wheezing noises to match. Corner after corner, Buffy didn't slow. She was positive she could feel Furry's hot breath on her back, but she was too busy fleeing to look behind her and find out just how close the demon was.

They began to hold each other upright as they ran. Buffy didn't have the energy to marvel over their seeming newfound trust that each would support the other. Instead, she gripped Spike's arm more tightly and wondered how much longer they could go on.

Up ahead, a garbage truck rumbled through the empty intersection, and her brain finally clicked into gear.

"Spike," she gasped. "Garbage truck. Go!"

He nodded grimly and put on a new burst of speed, pulling her with him. Twenty feet, ten, five… Buffy threw her duffel bag into the back and leapt to the ride-along step. Spike crowded on beside her and together they turned to face the way they'd come.

A shadowy blur resolved into the monstrous form of the demon bounding down the street after them, half a block back. Furry came to a halt right where they'd mounted their rescue vehicle and turned in a circle, snuffling. Body quivering, the demon raised its head and craned its neck left and right, scenting the air in each direction. Furry took a tentative step their way, and Buffy held her breath.

The demon took a second step, then hesitated. It scented the air again before dropping its head and snuffling from side to side, the world's largest and ugliest bloodhound.

The truck trundled on, putting half a block between them and Furry, then another. Buffy let go of her breath and, after realizing what she was doing, Spike's hand. She wiped her palm on her sweats, and, pitching her voice to nearly inaudible, said, "Do you think…" The demon raised its head in their direction, and Buffy tensed.

When the demon didn't immediately follow, she snuck a peek at Spike, who exhaled slowly and went perfectly still. Buffy had the sense that if she hadn't been looking directly at him, he would've disappeared from her sight. Even knowing he was right there, he seemed no more than a shadow as he edged his way from the ride-along step into the open mouth of the garbage truck. He split one of the big black bags down the middle, and Buffy gagged at the sudden overpowering, foul smell.

He raised a finger to his lips, then motioned for her to join him.

Buffy made a disgusted face, but did as he bid, doing her best to move as gracefully and silently as he had. The truck rounded a corner right as she lifted her good leg into the back, and she fell the rest of the way with an undignified plop, releasing another blast of noxious odors.

"Ugh," she grunted, despite herself. She'd shown pure restraint, really, considering how close she was to leaping back into the street and running for the nearest shower, barfing all the way.

She turned to peer down the street with Spike. Several long, tense moments later, Furry appeared in the intersection where the truck had turned, nose still to the ground, but didn't round the corner after them. The demon turned in a circle several times, then turned back the way it had come and didn't reappear.

Spike shot her a triumphant grin and twisted to rifle through her duffle. When he'd found the rest of his blood, he sat back and bit into a bag with more gusto than Buffy could stomach. Between the almost-indecent slurping noises he was making and the overpowering stench of the garbage, her own appetite had fled, and she turned away from the sight, wishing she could block out the sounds and smells as well. She slumped against the inner wall of the truck and let her eyes drift half-shut. There was no way she could sleep with a vampire less than a foot away, but she took what rest she could, letting the vibrations of the rumbling engine soothe her into an exhausted trance.

When it seemed like Spike had had his fill, if the sudden, loud belch and satisfied sigh were any indication, she sat back up. "I think we need to get out of town," she said. "I know you said there's no point in running because the demon will just follow, but we might be able to buy some time. At least a few days to heal up and figure out a plan of attack. A car's gotta travel faster than Furry can, don't you think?"

Spike sucked the remnants of his meal from his fangs, head cocked, as he considered. "Don't know, but worth a shot," he rasped, his voice gravelly and just barely intelligible, but intelligible all the same.

"You can talk! How does the rest of you feel?" Buffy said, waving a hand at his bandaged middle.

"Better than when someone dropped an organ on me. But not by much."

"Yeah, not sorry."

Spike gave her a backwards victory sign, and Buffy puzzled over that for a moment before deciding it was probably some weird vampire thing. "So we just need a car. Or bus tickets, or maybe we can hitch a ride…" She trailed off as Spike reached into his pocket and dangled a set of car keys in front of her face. "A car it is. Where?"

He shrugged. "A good walk from wherever we are." Buffy groaned at the thought, and he added, "Not to mention hoofing it will give the Grdnith demon more'n enough time to sniff us out."

"I have my bus pass… If we can scrounge up fare for you, maybe a bus will get us close?"

"Before sunrise? Rather not take my chances."

"So what do you – Spike?" She peered around the side of the truck to where Spike now balanced on the ride-along step.

"Be right back," he said, then leapt to the ground and dashed to the driver's door. He threw it open and disappeared into the cab before she could call after him to stop.

The truck lurched side to side, tumbling Buffy backwards into the garbage. A moment later it ground to a halt, and then Spike was back, reaching out a hand to her.

"We are not stealing a garbage truck," she said, ignoring his hand.

"Only borrowing. It'll get us where we need to go in minutes instead of hours." When she glared at him, he said, "I am taking it, Slayer. Up to you whether you ride along or walk. If you want the driver's nap to be temporary instead of permanent, I suggest the former."

"You are everything that I hate," Buffy said.

"Yeah. Innit great?"

Buffy settled for slapping away Spike's outstretched hand instead of his smug grin, though she really, really wanted to sock him hard enough to knock his head clean off. She shouldered her duffel and clambered out of the back on her own, and set to work brushing off the garbage on her clothes and in her hair, doing her best not think about the sticky gunk that she couldn't get off. She knew the smelly nastiness had saved her life, but… gross.

Almost as gross as the disgusting, evil vampire still grinning at her.

"You have a condom wrapper in your hair," she said, and limped to the cab with what dignity she could muster, nose in the air.

 

Chapter Text

 

Since being called as Slayer, Buffy had had a lot of weird experiences, but she figured road tripping with a vampire whose claim to fame was killing at least two of her predecessors had to be somewhere near the top of the list.

She sat ramrod straight in effort not to be lulled to sleep by the steady thrumming of the engine and her complete exhaustion, and stared at the blacked-out and cardboarded-over windshield. It was probably better, she thought, that she couldn't see the road. Maybe she wasn't the best driver, but she was pretty sure Spike wasn't even trying to follow the rules of the road. And how did he see through that tiny strip of clear glass anyhow?

After a prolonged swerve and a series of honks from an unseen driver, Buffy looked around for a seatbelt, again, but still couldn't find one. "How about slowing down? I'd like to get where we're going in one piece."

"Thought you wanted to outrun the demon? 'Sides, faster we get to Sunnydale, faster your Watcher can tell us how to kill the bloody thing."

"No!" Buffy said sharply. "Not Sunnydale."

Spike turned to look at her, head cocked.

"Eyes on the road," she said when he didn't stop with the scrutinizing. He returned to considering her after only a brief glance through the windshield, so she said, "Giles… isn't there."

He might've gone back to England. It was possible it wasn't a lie. Not that she would ever tell Spike the truth of why she wasn't going back, either way.

You walk out of this house...

No crying in front of the vampire, she chided herself, biting the inside of her cheek.

"Hey, I kept up my end of the bargain. He was plenty alive when you showed," Spike said, hands up in protest.

Buffy didn't correct his assumption. "Just… anywhere else," she said, too worn to care where. "As far as we can go."

"Get some kip, then, so you can take over in a bit."

Kip…? But, also… "Um… I don't have a driver's license."

"An' you think I do? Just don't get pulled over. As I recall, you don't much care for how I usually deal with law-and-order types."

Buffy grimaced, and shook her head. Had that really been only a little over a week ago? It already seemed like another life.

She thought about telling Spike that she couldn't drive, but decided against it. Just because she'd failed the written didn't mean she couldn't drive, and besides, she couldn't be much worse at it than he was.

"Get some sleep, Slayer," he said when he noticed she was still sitting upright several minutes later.

"Yeah, I don't think so." Buffy held her stake a little higher for emphasis, and pressed her now-bandaged foot against the floor, the resultant flare of pain bolstering her resolve to stay awake.

Spike rolled his eyes. "Much as it pains me to admit it, I need your help. Even between the two of us, it's going to be near impossible to kill the Grdnith, and until then, we're in it together. 'Sides, you're going to have to sleep sometime. So will I." When she still didn't move, he swore under his breath. "I swear to you on Drusilla's unlife, I won't try to kill you until after we've offed the demon. Alright? Now, can you sleep, because you won't be much good to me if you die from exhaustion."

"I really don't trust you."

"An' I'd be offended if you did. But you're going to have to anyhow."

Buffy let out a deep sigh. Any option that involved her being able to sleep without worry – namely, tying Spike up in some way, assuming he'd even let her – meant him not continuing to drive them as far and as fast as he could away from Furry.

And speaking of Furry… "How does the demon find you again, once it's lost you? I mean, it looked like it was tracking your scent, but now that we're out of range and long gone… are you sure it'll find us?"

"Without a doubt. It's what Grdnith's are famous for. Far as assassins go, they make the Order of Taraka look like bloody child's play."

"Xander took care of one of your lame assassins, so I'd say child's play is about right."

"Yeah, they were an overrated lot, weren't they? Standards just aren't what they used to be. Probably why they came so cheap." At her glare, he flashed her an unrepentant grin. "Lucky for you, eh, Slayer?"

"Lucky for you," she muttered. Spike's grin grew wider, and she glared harder, to no effect. Kill later, she told herself. Survive for now. "Okay, but how does the gridlock demon find you after it's lost your scent?"

Spike shrugged. "Dunno. Magic of some sort, I expect. One of those things a Watcher would doubtless know." He sent her another sidelong look.

You walk out of this house...

Sunnydale was out of the question. "We're just going to have to figure it out on our own. What did you do to earn yourself an assassination anyhow? I mean, other than existing, because that's more than enough reason for anybody who's ever met you." Ignoring his dirty look, she said, "But, come on, you must've seriously pissed somebody off to merit a Terminator demon."

"Not really your business, is it?" Spike said, suddenly very much interested in the road.

"Considering you dragged me into this, I'd say it is."

He stared forward, visage sullen, muscle in his jaw ticking. Finally he let out a frustrated huff. "If I tell you, will you quit your yammering and go to sleep?"

"Sure," Buffy said. She didn't even cross her fingers – lying to vampires didn't actually count as lying, as far as she was concerned.

"Fine. Some pissant sewer-crawler was getting too forward with Dru, so I figured to take him down a peg or two. Teach him a lesson he wouldn't forget. How was I supposed to know the git was Archduke Sebassis' nephew?" he said, and snorted in disgust.

Based on Spike's stormy expression, Buffy was certain his ho-bag girlfriend hadn't minded the sewer-crawler's attention one bit. Not to mention, she figured she finally had a pretty good idea of where Dru had run off to. She didn't think Spike would appreciate her insights on Dru not really being worth the trouble, though, and besides, it wasn't like she cared if a vicious demon's love life was less than perfect. He deserved to suffer.

He deserved more than suffering; he deserved death.

But not today, Buffy told herself, yawning so widely she was afraid her face might split in two. Forcing herself to remain upright, one eye on the killer next to her, was draining the last of her reserves. She couldn't – wouldn't – sleep, but maybe she could at least lie down for a while. With a warning shake of her stake, she said, "You even think of coming near me, and it'll be the last thing you do," and climbed into the backseat. Which, huh. Was surprisingly clean. She stretched out on the bench, duffel as a pillow, and stared at the back of Spike's head.

Buffy let her eyes drift shut –

just for a few seconds

– and slept.

 

*******

 

Hand-in-hand, they strolled down the street while stars twinkled overhead, barely visible beyond the glow of the streetlamps. Angel slowed and drew her close, encircling her with his strong arms, nuzzling into her hair with whispered endearments.

Buffy sighed, content. It was so nice to have this time to just be. No apocalypses, no looming danger, just… the two of them. Finally getting to be.

"I love you," Angel said.

Buffy looked up, into his warm eyes. "I love you too."

Something caught her attention, and she dropped her gaze to Angel's chest. A patch of red bloomed on the white of his shirt, right over his heart, spreading outwards. She took a step backwards. "Angel?"

Strips of flesh hung from his face; his arms and legs twisted at odd angles. "You did this." His voice broke, radiating pain and betrayal.

Buffy took another step backwards, shaking her head. "I – I didn't mean to."

Their surroundings faded to grey-black, leaving only the horrifying visage of Angel and nothing but empty, silent mists beyond.

"You should be here, with me. If you really love me. I saved you a seat, just like you asked." As Angel spoke, his head listed to one side, dangling precariously. "Don't forget to bring the duct tape."

"I already used it all," she said helplessly.

"What kind of Slayer are you?" The words didn't come from Angel, who started at her with cold, empty eyes, but from above and all around. The voice of God passing down judgment. "WHAT KIND OF SLAYER ARE YOU?"

Buffy shrank back further, huddling in on herself as the empty world trembled and shook under the reverberations. "I'm not," she whispered, eyes shut tight. "I'm not, I'm not, I'm -"

"Oi!"

She opened her eyes and stared without comprehension, sun-cast shadows melding with the grey mists in her mind's eye. Her makeshift bed shook from the force of a booted kick.

"Come on, Slayer, wakey wakey."

"Huh?" she said, unable to focus on the pale face swimming in her field of vision.

"Time for you to drive."

Buffy swallowed, or tried to around her thick tongue and dry mouth. "Spike?"

"No, it's the tooth fairy. Daylight's burning and I'm all tapped out. 'Less you want to cuddle up for a nap together in my big backseat, it's your turn to drive."

She looked around his shape in the open door, to see they were behind a large building, parked in deep shade.

"Car's full of petrol. Should last you a few hours before we have to refill. Now if you don't mind pointing that somewhere else?" he said, gesturing to the stake she'd unconsciously raised in self-defense.

Thoughts still muzzy, Buffy sat up slowly, forcing her rigid muscles to relax. It was no exaggeration to say that every single part of her hurt. And none of it compared to the ache in her chest. "Where are we?"

"Honestly don't even know anymore," Spike said wearily, and Buffy could see that he was swaying on his feet, hanging onto the doorframe of his big black monstrosity of a car for support. "Miles and miles north. Passed Sunnydale a few hours back, an' Sacramento maybe an hour ago."

"Oh. Okay." She did her best not to react to the mention of her hometown. "So the plan is to just keep going north?"

"'Less you have a better one."

"Not really."

"Great. Keys are in the ignition. Don't scratch the paint." With that, he dropped through the door and began to crawl in beside her.

Buffy scooted hastily backward, out from under Spike's long black coat that she hadn't noticed had been draped over her until now. Which – weird. A little too much like thoughtfulness for her comfort, not to mention disconcerting that she hadn't even been aware he'd done it. She kept scooting, right out the other door as Spike settled in and pulled the coat over himself, covering up any exposed skin.

She stood there staring at him, noting in the back of her mind that he must've changed into fresh clothes at some point since the ones he wore now were no longer tattered and torn. The duct tape had been missing from his neck too, she realized. How often and how long had they stopped without her waking? Just how hard had she slept?

And, just as wigsome, why hadn't Spike tried to kill her? She'd been easy prey. Sure, he'd talked a good game about needing her help, but…

The coat shifted, and one blue eye peered out at her. "There a problem?"

"Just – waking up," she said, and slammed the door shut.

Buffy stretched for a moment, trying to work out the kinks, then hobbled on her still-throbbing foot around the corner of the building, hoping for – there. A bathroom. It was just as scary as one would expect a highway gas station to be, but it was that or the bushes. After, she eyed the sink with some trepidation before shrugging and bending over to take a drink from the faucet. A lack of cash meant no bottled water, never mind food, and she was too parched and hungry to be picky. She'd just have to hope her Slayer constitution would prevent any supergerms from taking hold.

Outside once more, she stared at the door to the store with longing, while her stomach gave a particularly loud growl. Buffy sighed and turned back to the car, wondering how Spike had paid for the gas. If he'd paid?

He must've, otherwise somebody would've come after them by now. Unless –

Buffy paused. He hadn't eaten anybody, had he? She whirled around and charged into the store, scanning for signs of a struggle.

Two surly attendants stood behind the counter ringing up purchases while a handful of customers milled about, unpanicked. Everything looked to be in order.

She let out a sigh of relief. Of course, Spike had probably stolen a credit card or something, but it seemed trivial after the sharp terror that he'd killed somebody while she napped, unaware. She looked around the store again, reassuring herself that all was as it should be.

Her gaze lingered on the racks of food. Her stomach gurgled. Her mouth watered. So much food, just sitting there. Would anybody notice?

Buffy shook her head, and strode back out of the store before she could give in to temptation. Obviously Mom had been right about bad influences. Mom would be so thrilled to hear her admit it –

She drew up short.

You walk out of this house...

Don't think about it, don't think about it, don't -

Buffy forced her feet onward, back to the car, and leaned against it as Spike had earlier, her breathing shaky. She noticed a handful of cigarette butts scattered on the ground around the driver's door. A faint wisp of smoke curled up from one of them and Buffy ground it out, wondering just how long Spike had stood outside the car, smoking. And why? Letting her sleep longer?

It was a mystery best left unsolved. She didn't have the energy for trying to puzzle out the weirdness that was Spike. Outrunning Furry, staying alive – those were taking what little she had left.

She slid into the driver's seat and checked around for spare change, hoping to find enough to buy a candy bar at the very least, but no luck. Buffy couldn't say she was surprised; it wasn't like Spike's car would collect the usual post-McDonald's drive-through window change that other cars did. Her search of the glove box revealed a pair of what appeared to be tinted, old-fashioned airplane goggles, and she pondered them for a moment before realizing Spike probably used them for daytime driving.

God, he was so weird. And, she reminded herself, dangerous. Very, very dangerous. She couldn't forget that, not for a second, no matter how many truces he called for or how often he seemed almost human. Spike was clearly intelligent, unlike the majority of the bloodsuckers she'd staked, but he was still no more than a cold-blooded killer at heart. The fact that he was cunning and resourceful, and willing to do the unexpected in order to see his own goals through, only made him all the more dangerous.

She couldn't let her guard down. Not again.

Buffy readjusted the rearview mirror, aiming it at the backseat. She couldn't see Spike, but then, she hadn't expected to. One more reminder he wasn't human. She twisted in her seat to study him, but he remained immobile beneath his coat, and Buffy forced back the fear that he'd attack her while she was driving. As she'd just reminded herself, Spike was far too intelligent to do something that would at best leave him stranded on the open, sunny highway in a wrecked car, and at worst result in his own fiery death alongside hers.

This left her with only the fear of driving itself – not entirely unreasonable given her history so far and the huge, ancient car with blacked-out windows now given into her care. Buffy sat there a few minutes, familiarizing herself with the pedals and the controls and giving herself a mental pep talk. She'd taken the class. She'd watched her mom do it countless times. She knew the theory… in theory. And besides, she had Slayer reflexes. How hard could it be?

She mashed her foot to the break, and turned the keys.

 

Chapter Text

 

"Why didn't you tell me you can't drive?" Spike bellowed.

"I did!" Buffy said. "I told you I didn't have a driver's license!"

She wasn't sure who was shaking more – her or Spike.

"And it's not my fault! Nobody could drive this dinosaur of a car with only a tiny patch of windshield to navigate through!"

"I manage just fine! And it's a good thing my baby's a classic. Solid American steel saved us both from being nothing more than greasy splotches thanks to your complete incompetence!"

"I am not incompetent! And I can too drive!" Buffy said. Whether or not she could was irrelevant at this point. "But not with no way to see, and not when I'm exhausted, and not when I'm -" She bit off her final point, not willing to admit that she was so hungry she was ready to faint.

Buffy tightened her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, willing back tears borne of embarrassment and exhaustion and hunger, and, yes, fear. She would not cry in front of Spike.

Spike had been draped over the back of the front seat, caught between avoiding stray sunlight from the smashed driver's side window and trying to grab the wheel away from her. Now he heaved himself the rest of the way into passenger side of the front seat. With muttered curses and smoking hands, he reached over and peeled her fingers off the steering wheel one by one, and then glared at her, jaw clenched, nostrils flaring.

Buffy continued to stare straight ahead, swallowing hard. Her hands shook, and she stuffed them into her lap, right as her stomach growled loud and long.

"What's wrong?" Spike said. He sniffed at her, brow furrowing. "Why are you crying? Are you hurt?"

"I'm not crying," Buffy said, "And, duh, yes I'm hurt. I've been hurt ever since I saved your sorry ass from that stupid demon – biggest mistake of my life, I might add – and, hey, let's not forget you trying to kill me."

"Good times," he said with a half-hearted leer. "But that's not -" Her stomach growled again, and he narrowed his gaze. "Oh, bloody hell, you stupid chit. Why didn't you say something?"

"About what?" Buffy said between clenched teeth.

Spike rolled his eyes skyward. "Find some way to cover that window." He clambered into the back and huddled under his coat, cursing all the while.

"NOW!" he said, when she didn't move.

Buffy wrenched her door open, using Slayer force to counteract the inward dent the pole had made. More glass showered to the ground with a tinkling noise. She climbed out and shook the glass out of her clothes, blinking hard. She would not cry.

They weren't quite to the onramp, not more than a half-mile from the gas station, but Spike was as stranded as if they were in the middle of the desert. At least the engine hadn't suffered any damage, only the door – and window. Buffy peered ahead to the highway and the cars whizzing past, then at the now-bent pole she hadn't been able to see through the blacked-out windows, and then the skid marks the car had left when she'd turned too hard and spun out. She shivered, thankful it hadn't been worse. Whatever Spike said, she was pretty sure the accident wasn't completely her fault; after all, she'd managed to drive that far without losing control despite the odds stacked against her.

Either way, it had happened, and now she had to deal with it. It wouldn't take her long to walk back to the gas station, but she didn't know what would happen if she left Spike alone. Some curious passerby might accidentally incinerate him, or worse, get eaten for their good Samaritanism.

Another wave of dizziness hit her. "Have you got something in the trunk I can use?" she called to him, forcing her voice even.

Spike grumbled some more before telling her to pop it open and have a look for herself. It took several increasingly frustrated directions on his part before she figured out where the release was, and by the time she had it open, she was more than ready to stuff him into the trunk alongside with what looked like years and years of accumulated junk.

"God, do you ever clean this thing out?" she said, poking around cautiously. For all she knew, there could be a dead body somewhere in there. The trunk was certainly big enough to hold several. Shifting a few unidentifiable objects revealed an old, tattered blanket. Buffy dumped out a box of creepy porcelain dolls and grabbed the box and the blanket, and a roll of duct tape that she really, really didn't want to question the original purpose of too closely.

When she'd finished with the repair job, it wasn't pretty, but it would keep Spike un-crispy for the time being. "You can come out now," she said as she slid over to the passenger side of the front seat.

Spike emerged from beneath his protective cocoon and vaulted into the front. He eyed her handiwork with distaste. "You owe me a new door."

Anybody else, and she'd be apologizing until the end of time, but this was Spike. She refused to apologize as a matter of principle. "How about I don't kill you and we call it even!" she said in her perkiest voice.

"I'd say the same, but I'm not so sure keeping you around is worth the trouble."

Buffy reached for the door handle. "Good luck with your demon, then."

"Yeah? Well, same to you, Summers. Good luck finding something to eat, too. Or getting back home again."

She paused her dramatic exit, but only so she could glare at him. It had nothing to do with how faint she felt. "You know, just because you're an evil monster, it doesn't mean that you have to be so -"

"What? Evil? I'm not some bad boy with a secret heart of gold, sweetheart. I am a monster, and I like it. But: since my own skin's important to me, I can't have you dying just yet." With that, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of crumpled bills. "Let's get some food in you, yeah?"

"You have money?" she said, taken aback. "For what?"

"For when it's easier than causing a scene."

"Okay, how did you get money?"

"Found it on the side of the road," Spike said with a smirk.

Buffy narrowed her eyes. "Fine," she said, and settled into the seat, arms crossed over her chest. Maybe it was dirty money, but she couldn't afford to be anything more than practical just now, and she doubted whomever he'd taken it from had use for it any longer. And maybe he really had found it, though she wouldn't bet even Principal Snyder's life on it.

Spike nodded approvingly, which gave her second thoughts about practical decisions. Anything a demon approved of had to be the wrong choice. But before she could change her mind, he'd started the car – come on baby, yeah, that's my girl, that nasty Slayer didn't hurt you too badly did she – and roared back towards the gas station they'd left only a little bit ago.

Parked in the deep shade once more, up tight against the back of the building, he thrust the wad of cash into her hands. "Get whatever you need. Doubtful they'll have blood for me, but see what you can scare up. Get me a bottle of something strong and a pack of smokes while you're at it – not those nancy menthols, though."

"You do realize I'm not 18 yet?" Buffy said, shoving the money, which she was glad to see wasn't literally bloody at least, in her pants pocket.

"Yeah, and?"

"I can't buy you booze. Or cigarettes. And you're not going to be drinking and driving anyway."

"Well aren't you the goody-goody?"

"Part of the Slayer package." Buffy hopped out of the car and all but ran for the front of the store. Food, glorious food…

Okay, so it was rest stop food, but still. Food.

Spike eyed her bulging grocery bags with an amused snort when she returned to the car. "Planning to get fat on my dime, I see."

"Fast metabolism," she said, and chugged the last of her orange juice. "Here." She reached into one of the bags and pulled out a small package of raw ground beef she'd found in the refrigerated section. "This has blood in it, right?"

"Sure, and a cup of mud has water in it."

"Well maybe the next city we hit will have a butcher," Buffy said. "Until then…"

Spike reached for the beef, and she held it out to him. But he didn't take it; instead, his fingers caressed the underside of her wrist, so delicately it was almost a tickle.

She stared up at him, eyes wide. "What the hell?" she said, too shocked to yank her hand away.

"Or," he said, his voice a low, seductive burr, his eyelids at half-mast. He bit his lip, playfully, and drew her wrist closer, tracing the veins with one fingertip. "You could let me have a little nibble."

Spike's every word, his every movement and hooded glance dripped seduction, and Buffy found herself leaning closer despite her utter loathing for him. Her breath caught, and she swallowed hard. The interior of the car seemed too small, too warm, his eyes too smoky in the dim light.

Obviously her food had been drugged. It was the only explanation. Or – maybe he had a thrall? Like Drusilla? She dragged her gaze away from his way-too-penetrating eyes and snatched her hand back, breathing rapidly.

"Don't. Ever. Touch me. Again," she ground out.

She saw him shrug out of the corner of her eye. "Can't blame a fellow for trying," he said, and picked up the package of beef from where she'd dropped it, all businesslike, as if the last few seconds had never happened. "I need at least a few hours of shut-eye before I'm ready to drive, and since it's obvious you won't be driving my car – ever again – I suggest you either get some sleep too, or go find a way to amuse yourself elsewhere."

"Fine," Buffy said, all too happy to get away from him. How she was supposed to amuse herself with nothing but a small gas station and miles of emptiness in all directions, she didn't know, but anything was better than being in the car with him a second longer after – that – had happened. "What time you want me to wake you up?" she said, still keeping her gaze averted.

Spike tipped his head back, as if judging the position of the sun. "The shade here should last a good five hours. I'll be ready to go then."

She faced him then. "Five hours?" Five hours doing nothing?

"I'm still healing, pet," he said, scratching at the ropy, angry scar around his neck. "Now, if you want to change your mind and offer up some of your blood, speed the process along…?"

"Five hours is great," she said and leapt out of the car as if afraid it was about to explode, slamming the door on his low chuckle.

The next five hours were going to be just fantastic.

 

Chapter Text

 

When Buffy heard Spike calling her name way, way too many hours later, she was – almost – pleased to hear his voice. At first she'd passed the time by leafing through the few magazines inside the store, but her bandaged foot and filthy state had drawn too much attention for her liking. She hadn't noticed the looks she'd been getting the first time she'd shopped, distracted as she'd been by the promise of silencing the gnawing in her belly, but now she could feel each stare, each hushed whisper.

So, in addition to purchasing two of the magazines, she spent some more of Spike's cash on what had to be the world's tackiest souvenir t-shirt, a roll of paper towels, and a small bottle of soap, and headed for the still less-than-sanitary bathroom. Buffy put her enhanced coordination and the paper towels and soap to good use, managing to wash even her hair without touching any part of the sink other than the handle of the faucet, and that only with a paper towel. After, she headed outside to sit in the sun on overturned crate in the back of the store, where she could dry out her hair and keep an eye on Spike's car at the same time.

The magazines occupied her for the next hour, after which she paced the perimeter of the rear parking lot to gauge how her foot was healing. Satisfied with its progress, she'd sat back down and re-read the magazines, in between avoiding conversation with the occasional employee headed for the dumpster.

The remainder of the time had passed in a long, fidgety blur, and now Buffy hurried to the shade and Spike's car, relieved to be doing anything other than waiting around. Waiting around had meant time for thinking, and thinking was... not good. Very not good.

"You sure you've had enough sleep?" she said as she slid into the passenger seat, more worried about her own not dying in a fiery crash than Spike's well-being.

"Enough for now. And if we get on our way, we'll be able to make it to Portland before sunup. There's a fellow there should be able to offer advice on our demon problem, or at least point us in the right direction." Spike looked her over, and raised an eyebrow. "Nice shirt."

"Oh, shut up. I needed a change of clothes, desperately, and I didn't want to disturb you. But now…" Buffy reached into the back for her duffle, and rooted around for some clean clothes. "Back in a jiff."

She returned minutes later, attired in garbage-free – and tackiness-free – clothes.

"My retinas thank you," Spike said.

Buffy considered taking offense, but she really couldn't. She was thankful to be free of the neon pink too. "Here," she said, tossing the definitely not an apology for wrecking his car at his head.

Spike caught it with one hand, and gave her a curious look when he saw what it was. "Thought you refused to go the delinquent route."

"Katie over there," she said, jerking her thumb in the direction of the bathrooms, "was very unhappy with Mike for going back on his promise to quit smoking, and decided to help him along by throwing away the cigarettes he'd bought when he thought she wasn't looking. Sorry she also felt the need to crumple them up first."

"Suppose the price can't be beat." He looked at the pack again, then back at her, head cocked and brow furrowed as he studied her. "Uh… thanks. Do you mind…?" He shook the package.

She minded, but it seemed only fair after the day he'd had, not to mention the driving yet to be done. "Knock yourself out."

Cellophane crinkled, a lighter snicked, and the car filled with the scent of burning tobacco. Buffy stifled a cough, telling herself that at least it covered up the residual garbage truck smell that had worked its way into the leather.

Spike sighed with pleasure, and started the car. "Portland?"

"Sounds like a plan." Still healing as she was, she wasn't ready to make a last stand yet, which meant she was more than happy to put another night's driving between herself and Furry. And if Spike thought somebody in Portland could help them defeat the demon, then his was as good a plan as any.

He pealed out of the parking lot, and Buffy settled in with one of her magazines. She already knew everything there was to know about Leo and Titanic, but it was that or sit in uncomfortable silence with Spike for the next several hours. Or worse yet, have to talk to him. She'd decided to just pretend his earlier creepiness had never occurred and be as civil as possible for as long as she had to be in his company, but she wasn't up for anything more. Extended conversations were likely to lead to his dusty ending, which would defeat the whole purpose of putting up with him in the first place.

Buffy flipped page after page without reading a word of it, trying to keep up the pretense. She had to admit the avoidance wasn't all Spike's fault, truth be told. She didn't want to be around anybody just now, the irony being that that was what had led to her being in this situation in the first place. If she hadn't left home…

She winced, and firmly put the thought out of her mind. She'd already spent the afternoon remembering why, again and again and again. And again. Leo, dreamy as he was, hadn't kept her from the memories. It seemed he couldn't now, either.

"So," she said, raising her voice to be heard over the sound of the wind rushing through the taped-over window. "Music?"

 

*******

 

A slammed door startled Buffy awake and she sat up groggily, rubbing her eyes and stretching her neck to counteract the kink in it. "Mom?" she said, and opened her eyes. And yelped.

Spike stared back at her, gaze intensely focused, his motionlessness putting Buffy in mind of a predator waiting for the perfect moment to strike. She snapped upright, every muscle tensed, the stake she'd fallen asleep with ready for action.

He blinked, and his entire demeanor changed without apparent movement on his part. "Hey, now, we've been through this," he said, gesturing to her quivering stake. "If I'd wanted to kill you, I could've done it when you were sleeping. And if you were going to do me in, all you had to do was let the Grdnith finish me off. There's no reason to be so twitchy, we already agreed we could trust each other."

"For now," Buffy muttered. She didn't lower the stake.

"Well, yeah, for now," Spike agreed cheerfully. "When the demon's dead, all bets are off."

"Gee, I feel safer already." She lowered her arm halfway, though. In a surreal moment to top the list of surreal moments they'd already shared, she and Spike had agreed, just before she'd let herself fall asleep, that they could – temporarily – count on each other not to get murderous while the other wasn't looking.

She'd still slept with a stake in her hand, though. Trust and Spike would never, ever go together in the same sentence. Ever.

Stretching first one shoulder then the other, Buffy stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. "Are we here, then?"

"Not quite. Just stopped for some dinner."

She realized then what had been bothering her: the small splotch of red at the corner of Spike's mouth. Buffy had her stake pressed to his heart before he could even twitch. "How dare you -"

"Relax," he said, voice calm and steady. Gaze fixed on hers, he slowly raised his hands in self-defense, and then brought her attention to the bagged blood he held in his right hand with a wiggle of his wrist. "I think we've already established that I'm not suicidal, pet. Not going to be stupid enough to chow on the locals with the Slayer looking over my shoulder."

"For how many times you've tried to fight me this past year, I have a surprisingly hard time believing you're willing to pass up a fight now."

Still moving cautiously, Spike shifted the stake aside, hand wrapped over hers. "If there wasn't something scarier than you waiting for me, I'd say bring it on, but as is…"

Buffy snatched her hand away, but only because his touch repulsed her, and one hundred percent absolutely not because it sent a shiver down her spine at the remembrance of how he'd touched her before. Hand safely in her lap, she frowned at him. "Okay, now I'm offended."

"It's nothing to be ashamed of." Spike made a show of looking around for non-existent eavesdroppers, then leaned in and whispered, "I'm the Biggest Bad you'll ever meet, sweets. But between you and me, the Grdnith is even bigger and badder than me." He sat back up, and with a smirk, added, "'Course, you tell anyone I said that and I'll have to kill you. I mean, I'll kill you eventually anyway, but I'll do it with messy prejudice."

"Gosh, and I just can't put my finger on what it is about you that's so repulsive."

"It's a mystery, innit?"

His cocksure arrogance and cheeky grin had Buffy's knuckles itching for one good punch. She forced herself to take a deep mental breath, and settled for rolling her eyes at him with all the disdain she could muster – which, as former head cheerleader and Fiesta Queen, was not inconsiderable. Even Cordelia would've been proud. "Just… you know what? Hurry and get wherever it is we're going. The sooner we figure out how to kill your demon, the sooner I can us out of this mess you got me into and be done with you forever."

Spike did as she bid and started the car, but her scorn had no effect on his spirits. Still grinning, he put the car into gear and looked over his shoulder, though how he could see through the blacked-out windows to back up, Buffy couldn't say.

"So, Slayer, you never did tell me what you were doing in Los Angeles, so far from home and hearth."

She sucked in a painful breath, and fired back the first thing that popped into her head. "And you never told me where Drusilla ran off to. Or should I say who she ran off to."

The smug grin melted into a sullen glare, which quickly gave way to a ferocious snarl. Spike slammed the car into park, causing her to rebound against her seat, and he shot his hand out and grabbed her by the throat. "On second thought, why wait to do this?"

Buffy's heart trip-trapped in her chest, and sweat pooled at the small of her back. But her voice held steady as she stared him down. "Now, now, Spikey. I'm pretty sure that temper of yours is what got you into trouble in the first place." Smiling sweetly, she added, "It's the whole reason you need my help, remember?"

Spike growled, baring his fangs at her before flinging her away. "I'm going to enjoy killing you, bitch."

"Yeah, yeah," Buffy said, swallowing back the need to cough. "I've heard it all before. Like I said, let's get this over with."

He put the car into gear again and stomped the accelerator to the floor, ratcheting her heart rate even higher. Buffy gripped the door handle and silently said a prayer to whoever might be listening that Spike's self-professed desire to save his own skin would kick in before he made learning how to kill Furry a moot point.

The combination of the roaring engine and the wind screaming through the broken window rose to a deafening shriek, but Buffy remained silent, certain that any suggestion to slow down would have the opposite effect. Besides, she was damned if she was going to show any fear in the face of his temper tantrum. After what felt like hours, he slowed a little, but only so he could reach for the bag of blood he'd dropped earlier. He bit into it with a yellow-eyed snarl, and his side-glance her way made it clear just what he was imagining as he gulped and growled down the blood in a frenzy designed to incite terror.

It worked, but Buffy composed her visage in lines of disgust, not fear, as she stared forward. Spike could play all the head games he wanted; she'd endured far worse after Angel had –

Angel -

"So, who are we on our way to meet?" she said quickly, before the thought could take hold.

Spike twisted to stare at her, bloodied mouth slack, and Buffy would've laughed at his nonplussed expression if she'd been in the mood to laugh. "Eyes on the road before you greasy splotch us," she said. He thought he could intimidate her, did he?

"Uh…" he said, shifting his gaze forward. "Fellow who runs a shop. Old coot, big with the mystical knowledge."

"And how do you know him?"

He sucked on his fangs for a moment, cleaning them, before slipping his human mask back on. "Know of him, more." Spike eased off the accelerator, and glanced at her. "Rumor has it he was a Watcher once."

"If he was, the tweed'll give him away," Buffy said, and Spike snorted out a laugh.

His unexpected laughter dissipated the tension, at least for the time being, and they drove on in silence. Spike studied her from the corner of his eye, slipping her the occasional perturbed frown. It was enough to make Buffy wish he'd return to his temper tantrum. Angry Spike, she understood. This version wigged her out.

Luckily his scrutiny didn't last long; he soon slowed, peering through the strip of clear windshield at the buildings as they rumbled past.

"This is it," he said, pulling to the curb and killing the engine.

Buffy rolled down her window so she could see. "How do you know?" She frowned at the store sign that most definitely wasn't in English. Or human, from the looks of it. "What does it say?"

"Not sure," Spike said. "But the sign's done up in the Malachim alphabet. Even for those of us who can't read it, it's a dead giveaway the shopkeeper fancies themselves an expert in arcane knowledge. I'd wager good kittens this is our man."

"Kittens…?" Buffy said faintly, but Spike was already out the door.

He marched over to the window and peered in, then tried the handle. It turned easily, and he looked back at her for a brief second before throwing his shoulders back and striding into the shop.

"Sure, go right ahead, don't wait for me," Buffy said, and hurried to open her door and follow Spike inside.

 

Chapter Text

 

The shop, if you could call it that, was not what she had expected. The large room stood empty save for two small, round wooden tables with two chairs each. One table was bare, while the other supported a single tower of haphazardly stacked books that reached all the way to the ceiling.

The man next to the tower of books was no less startling. Buffy's first thought was that she'd seen healthier corpses, even among the fully dead kind. He was tall and skeletally gaunt, with sunken, chalky grey cheeks and wispy grey hair. She could've sworn he creaked as he turned his head to look at her, but his black eyes were sharp and bright despite his otherwise cadaverous appearance.

Spike caught her gaze and gestured to the shopkeeper's jacket with a flick of his eyes.

It was tweed.

She hid her smile, but not before Spike caught and returned it. Was it weird to have an inside joke with Spike?

It was definitely weird. One more weirdness to add to the list.

"Buffy," he said, and she started at his use of her given name. Had he ever called her that before? Maybe he didn't want Skeletor knowing she was the Slayer?

"This is Mr. Herrington, the proprietor," Spike continued without pause. "I was just about to put our question to him."

Mr. Herrington inclined his head to her, then returned his attention to Spike.

Yep, definite creaking.

"What do know about Grdniths?" Spike said. "Specifically, weaknesses."

The old man smiled knowingly and nodded his head, the nodding seeming to continue on until Buffy began to wonder if he couldn't stop himself. In a wheezy voice, he said, "Very, very difficult to kill."

"Yeah, we got that part, gramps. But they can be killed?"

"Yes."

When the old man didn't say anything else, Spike snapped, "And how can they be killed?"

The nodding stopped. "Knowledge is a precious commodity, as I'm sure you'll agree, young man. I can't just go giving it away for free. We've all got to make a living."

"How 'bout I let you live -"

Buffy stepped in between them. "We're a bit short on cash, but we'll gladly pay what we can, sir."

Mr. Herrington smiled, exposing teeth that had seen far better days. "Oh, I don't want your cash, young lady. More like…" He reached out and clasped a lock of her hair. "Yes, some of this for starters. And maybe a tooth from your young man."

"My hair?" Buffy said at the same time as Spike said, "A tooth?"

"And he's not my young man," she added, pulling her hair back from the older man's grasp.

"Oh, well, that doesn't change anything," Mr. Herrington said. "The potency will be the same. Now, there are other options. I could have a tooth from you and an eyeball from him, or perhaps an eyeball from you and a soul from him. Though I doubt that last would work out well for any of us," he said, frowning at Spike as he looked him up and down.

"Now just hold on," Spike said. "You'll take no pound of my flesh."

"What he said," Buffy said. "What would you even do with… body parts?"

Mr. Herrington tapped his fingers together. "Why, make a potion infused with your essences, of course. But it's not just for me, oh no. You'll need it to defeat the Grdnith."

Buffy looked to Spike, who shrugged. "What do you mean?" she said to Mr. Herrington.

He held up a skeletal finger. "Payment first."

"Excuse us for a minute." Buffy pulled Spike to the far side of the room.

Lowering her voice, she said, "I don't mind giving up some of my hair, I guess, but… do you want his information badly enough to give up a tooth or worse?"

"Yeah, how come he only wants the painful bits of me?"

"I sincerely don't know. And do we trust him enough to be straight with us? I mean…" She glanced over at the shopkeeper, who was muttering up at the topmost books of the towering stack on the table. "The crazy's strong with this one."

Spike studied the old man. "I don't know about crazy, but I'm not much for giving him bits of myself even if it weren't painful. If he's into voodoo of any kind, it's the same as willingly giving him power over us. I say we just torture the codger."

"No," Buffy said firmly, and added a stern look when he made to argue. "But what if we, uh… reappropriate whatever we give him before he can use it. After he gives us the info, of course."

"Yeah, that could work. Still not keen on giving up a tooth, mind."

Buffy pursed her lips. "Obviously. But if we can't negotiate for something less drastic, will a tooth grow back?"

"Oh, sure, since ol' Spike's the amazing regenerating vampire, let's let him suffer all the pain."

She tried for sympathetic, but failed. "Is that a yes, then?" It was hard to feel too sympathetic for him when their situation was all his fault in the first place.

He shrugged. "Don't actually know. If I pop the old tooth back, it'll heal up within hours, but I've no clue if a new one would grow in."

"Great. Good thing the plan is to get your tooth back, then. If it comes to that," she added at his glower.

Buffy marched back over to the shopkeeper and waited for him notice her. "I'll give you some of my hair, but Spike would rather offer something less permanent than a tooth. Maybe… a toenail?"

Mr. Herrington wrung his hands together. "No, no, a testicle wouldn't do. Too yang."

"Oi, not a testicle!" Spike said from across the room, hands dropping to block any sudden moves in that direction. "A toenail."

"Well, perhaps a big toe from him, if an earlobe from you?" he said, creaking back to Buffy.

"Um, no. Look, isn't there anything of Spike's you could use that isn't quite so drastic? I mean, if you can use my hair, why not his?"

"The sacrifice must be great from both of you. But the greater from him, naturally," he said, as though it were self-evident.

"Naturally?" Spike scoffed. "I see no naturally about it. And how's her hair a great sacrifice? Chop the whole lot off, it'll grow back."

Buffy automatically clasped her hair as he had his groin earlier, without even thinking about it, and Mr. Herrington smiled at Spike. "There, you see? Surely you're not so ignorant of the fair sex as you pretend to me, young man."

Spike scoffed again. "Vanity, thy name is Slayer," he muttered, shaking his head in disgust.

This coming from the vampire wearing eyeliner. Buffy settled for scowling at him rather than the oh-so-mature sticking out her tongue that was her first inclination, and Spike shot her a look that precipitated a glaring contest she was damn well determined not to lose.

Mr. Herrington coughed politely. "Do we have a deal?" he said, breaking Buffy's focus.

She raised her eyebrows at Spike. He shrugged, glowering and muttering under his breath, which she took as assent. Turning back to Mr. Herrington, she said, "A tooth from Spike, and hair from me. What will that get us in return?"

He tapped his fingers together, twice. "Everything you need to solve your demon problem."

"To kill the Grdnith?" Spike clarified from across the room.

"Yes, yes." A pair of scissors appeared out of nowhere in one of his skeletal, gnarled hands, and a set of pliers in the other. "Shall we proceed?"

"Spike? What do you say?" Buffy said, eyeing the scissors with trepidation.

"You've a deal." Spike swaggered up to them and poked the shopkeeper in the chest, making the older man take a creaky step backwards. "But if I don't like your solution to our problem, you'll regret it."

"Naturally," Mr. Herrington said.

Faster than she would've guessed he could move, he reached out and snipped away a good chunk of her hair. Buffy put a hand to her head and managed not to cry, but only because it seemed childish in the face of what Spike was about to endure.

Spike set his shoulders and opened his mouth wide at the other man's gesture, fists clenched tight.

"Oh, no, that won't do at all," Mr. Herrington said, and slapped Spike across the face with a crucifix that also appeared out of nowhere.

Skin sizzling, Spike fanged out with a roar. The old man darted in and plucked out his upper right canine with a nimble twist of his wrist, and Buffy jumped on Spike's back before he could attack.

"Hey, hey," she said in his ear. "Information first, mindless violence later. There's something worse out there hunting us, remember?"

Spike whirled and shrugged her off with a snarl, and Buffy whipped her stake out. They circled each other, Spike growling, a bloody string of slobber dangling from the right side of his mouth. With a grunt, he came to a standstill and wiped the slobber away, then tongued the hole with a grimace.

"You okay now?" Buffy said.

"No!" Eyes blazing yellow, Spike spat a glob of red at the old man's feet. "You're a brave bastard, aren't you? You better hope your information is worth it."

"I'd be quite foolish if it weren't."

Mr. Herrington creaked over to the empty table, bloody pliers in one hand and hunk of blonde hair in his other. He sat down and set his prizes on the table, from which they promptly vanished.

"Hey!" Buffy said, grabbing at the empty air at the same time as Spike.

"Oh, don't worry, don't worry. Your items are quite safe, quite safe indeed. Now -" A piece of parchment and inkwell complete with quill appeared in their place. Mr. Herrington blotted the quill, and began to write. "There is more than one way to kill a Grdnith. Stabbing it to death does indeed work, but it could take days to finish the beast off. I think you'll find my method will be most efficient, especially as there are two of you." He looked between them. "Yes, two. So. You'll need a Celtic dagger of pure iron – I have one I could sell you for a reasonable price, if you'd like; two portions of dogbane, one blended with a mixture of your essences – both of which I will give to you as a part of the service for which you bargained; a symbol of the reason for the contract on your head; a symbol of your – er – relationship…"

The list went on, with items that at least sort of made sense to Buffy, such as a bear trap and an animal carcass to use as bait, and items that left her certain the old man was certifiable. Why on earth would they need fishing string and the third claw on the left hind foot of a witch's cat that had been harvested under the dark of the moon?

When Mr. Herrington had finished, he blew on the parchment three times, shook it out, rolled it up, and handed it to Buffy. "There, now, I've written out the procedure for killing the Grdnith in exacting detail. It's simple enough even a child – a pair of children, I should say – could follow it."

Buffy unrolled the parchment, and squinted at the archaic script. "Uh…" She passed it to Spike. "Can you read that?" she said, sotto voce.

Spike took a look, and nodded. When he'd read through it, he said, "And the bits and pieces we need?"

Mr. Herrington tapped the table one time, and a number of items appeared. "Your two potions of dogbane," he said, handing two vials to Buffy. "Now, remember, the black vial is the plain extract, while the golden one is the mixture with your essences."

"Got it," she said, pocketing them. "But when did you have time to make -"

"Oh, my staff are very efficient. Very efficient indeed. Now, here are some of the other components you'll require. You don't have to purchase them from me, of course, but… well… I do pride myself on being a one-stop shop for all my customer's needs."

"And the price?" Spike said.

The shopkeeper stood slowly, creaking all the way. "Very reasonable, of course. Which items -"

"This, this, and this," Spike said, picking up the more esoteric objects like the iron dagger and what Buffy assumed was the cat's claw. "And this and this," he continued, grabbing items up and handing them to Buffy before the old man could protest. "How much?"

"Ah, for the -"

Faster than Buffy could process, Spike reached out and grabbed Mr. Herrington by the face. He twisted, hard, and the old man tottered for a moment before slumping to the ground. The rest of the objects on the table vanished, and the pile of books on the other table wobbled for a long moment before toppling over as well, books thudding all around them.

Though she knew it was pointless, Buffy rushed to kneel at Mr. Herrington's side. She dropped the things she'd been holding to the ground and checked his pulse, but as she'd feared, his wrist hung limp and pulseless in her hands. Mr. Herrington stared back at her, empty grey eyes as lifeless as the rest of him. The sharp pang in her chest turned darker, more violent, and she leapt to her feet, fists clenched.

"What the hell?" she grit out. "Why -"

"He was a demon," Spike said quickly. "And he was going to sell us out."

"What?" She stared at him in disbelief. "You're lying!" He had to be lying. Mr. Herrington had been odd, and old, sure, but he was just a crazy old man. And Spike had –

Spike knelt down on the opposite side of the dead man, keeping his eyes on hers as he raised one finger in a just wait gesture. "I'll show you," he said, and felt around at the base of the ex-shopkeeper's skull. When Buffy grew impatient, he said, "Hold onto your knickers – aha! Here, have a look at this."

She squatted down, not sure whether she wanted Spike to be telling the truth, or lying, so that she had an excuse to finish him and their stupid truce right then and there.

"Look," he repeated. When she did, avoiding looking into the dead man's eyes, Spike did something at the base of Mr. Herrington's skull that caused a small set of green horns to protrude from between wisps of grey hair. "Wasn't sure what kind of demon – probably a half-breed anyhow, that's how he passed – but see?"

Buffy saw. "That doesn't mean he was evil," she said dully. The rage had drained away, leaving her with nothing but her exhaustion. "Or that he was going to sell us out, whatever that means."

"Sure he was. Everyone knows what it means if you have a Grdnith after you. And you can bet he knew it meant there'd be a substantial reward for turning me in."

"So why even help us then?"

"Play both sides of the game. He wins either way – or would've."

"Right. If you hadn't killed him…"

Spike narrowed his eyes and sucked on his teeth as he considered the body. "Might've been a bit hasty, I suppose. Probably should've gotten some more information out of him first."

"And my hair and your tooth back."

"And that. Oh well," he said, shaking it off with a shrug. "Saved us a few quid on our supply list, at least."

Buffy almost envied his complete lack of conscience. It would be so much easier not to care, especially now, watching Spike pat down his victim's body.

She turned her back on him, too drained to maintain a righteous fury when she didn't know who was actually in the right. Maybe Mr. Herrington hadn't been human, or fully human, but a steady influx of demons on the Hellmouth had meant that she'd quickly developed a live and let live attitude towards the ones who weren't pursuing evil and mayhem. And even if he had been planning to sell them out, Buffy wasn't sure it merited a death sentence.

With a sigh, she bent down and retrieved the items she'd dropped to the ground earlier, then trudged over to the front door. Buffy pressed her forehead against the cool glass and stared into the lamplit street, wondering what came next.

What she wanted most of all was to be far away from Spike and the chaos he'd dragged her into, but it wasn't going to happen until one or both of them died, or Furry did. She thought longingly of the dreary, pointless existence she'd planned out for herself, far away from everything and everybody she knew, with few decisions and fewer consequences. Just existence of the basest sort.

Maybe she should've let Spike kill her, she thought. Being done… it would've been okay.

But she was no more suicidal than Spike claimed to be, and besides, she didn't deserve that peace. Not when Angel –

"Oi," Spike called, breaking her reverie. "See that door over there?"

Buffy sniffled, blinking hard. "What?" she said as she turned around.

"Look." He pointed at a door on the back wall that hadn't been there earlier. "Shall we see what's behind door number one?"

Did she care? A small part of her was curious, but mostly she was just… done.

On the other hand, there was the question of their missing tooth and hair. Since Spike hadn't mentioned it, they must not've been in Mr. Herrington pockets. "If he's got employees back there, they might not be too friendly."

"Best be prepared." He slipped into game face.

"Don't – no more killing people," she said, aiming for authoritative, instead of worn and weary.

Spike swept his arm forward in a mockery of gallantry. "Well. Guess you'd best take point, then, Slayer."

 

Chapter Text

 

Buffy retrieved the iron dagger from where she'd tucked it into her waistband and set her shoulders. It didn't make her feel any less exhausted, but without knowing what she was about to face, she supposed she'd better fake it or die trying. She nodded at Spike to open the door and waited, back to the wall, as he swung it inward.

Nothing emerged, so she craned her neck to look through the doorway. There was a short corridor that led to a bifurcated stairway, with stairs leading up on one side and down on the other.

"Up or down?" she said as Spike joined her in the doorway.

"Down," he said. "That's where the good stuff always is. The skeletons and whatnot."

They went down, and opened the door at the bottom.

"Well, I didn't think you'd mean that literally," Buffy said, eyeing the skeleton of a small animal atop a bookshelf.

"I didn't really." Spike nudged her shoulder with his and nodded at the large metal cage a few feet over.

"Oh." Well, that lent credence to Spike's evil shopkeeper theory. "Why are they so worked up?" she said, watching the small, humanoid creatures flutter to the ground, clearly exhausted, and then shoot upward in a frenzy.

Spike strode over to the cage and rapped the side of it, then pointed to the solid metal floor. "Iron. Burns them if they touch it."

"Definitely evil," Buffy muttered.

"The faeries? I dunno, some types are, but these ones look more like the neutral sort."

"I meant Mr. Herrington." She joined him by the cage, exhaustion displaced by anger once more. "How do we open it? I don't see a door," she said, and tapped one of the bars with the dagger in her hand.

The twenty or so brightly colored faeries screeched and flung themselves about, and Buffy took a nervous step backwards. "What did I do?"

"The dagger, love. Iron, remember?"

"Sorry!" she said to the faeries, though she wasn't sure if they could understand her or even hear her over the shrieking. "Look!" She hurried away and, with exaggerated movements, placed the dagger on top of the bookshelf next to the skeleton. Buffy held her now empty hands up. "See, all gone! We're here to help."

To Spike, she said, "Can they understand me?"

"Beats me. Look, you sure you want to let them out? They're likely to attack us as not."

"Yes! This is just – cruel."

"Yeah, it's good fun, alright," he said, poking at one of the faeries that buzzed close to his face with a laugh.

God, did he always have to be so… evil?

Of course he did. This was Spike.

He caught sight of her expression. "But, uh… right. Cruel." He sighed. "Maybe try bending the bars?"

Buffy watched the little, fluttering creatures, trying to get a sense of whether they were hostile, or simply terrified. They moved too quickly for her to get a good look at their faces, so she tried murmuring to them in low, soothing tones. "We're here to help, okay? Going to get you guys out of that awful cage…"

The fairies seemed to calm after a few minutes of her continued soothing, and she nodded to Spike. "Ready?"

"Doubt you want my help. Any of them attack me, and there'll be faery guts flying every which way."

"Fine! Go make sure the doors are open so they can leave the shop, then."

When the sound of Spike's clomping up the stairs had faded, Buffy grasped an iron bar in each hand. "Okay, guys. No biting the Buffy that rescues you, okay?" She gave the bars a test pull to gauge how difficult it would be, and, finding that they gave way easily enough, bent them apart with one quick yank of screeching metal.

The faeries retreated in a confused jumble of limbs and wings to the far side of the cage, hovering for an instant before barreling through the opening like a swarm of angry, shrieking dragonflies. Buffy ducked and covered her head with her arms as they passed overhead, some of them yanking out strands of her hair or scratching with tiny, sharp claws as they passed. A few moments later she heard Spike bellowing, and she hurried after the swarm, yelling up the stairs that he'd better not harm a single faery if he valued his unlife.

Buffy reached the top, puffing and panting, to find Spike slamming the door as the last of the faeries streaked by, screeching at him. The slam of the door buffeted the tiny creature, who turned back to shake a minuscule fist through the window at the snarling, scratched-up vampire.

"I see they got you too," she said, nodding at his plucked-at hair. "And yet, no dead faery bodies. Why, Spike, I think you're a reformed man!"

"Bugger off." He smoothed his hair back into its usual blond slick with a quick, angry swipe of his hand. "Make me hurl with that kind of talk," he muttered, a faint whistling to his tone thanks to the new gap in his fangs.

Buffy hid a smile as she smoothed her own hair back. The smile turned into a frown when her hand encountered the missing chunk of hair. It better have been worth it...

Looking around the shop, she realized that along with no faery bodies, Mr. Herrington's corpse had disappeared as well. Buffy decided she didn't really want to know what Spike had done with it. "You ready to brave the upstairs, or have you had enough fun for today?"

"There was a second room downstairs."

"There was?"

He scoffed. "Typical girl, distracted by the pretty colored lights."

Oh, that was it. One hundred percent it.

"Can your typical girl do this?" Buffy said as she socked him across the chin. It felt so good, she spun a kick into his chest, sending him staggering back against the wall. Fists up, she waited for him to come at her.

Spike rubbed his chest, and to her surprise, laughed. "No, Slayer, your typical girl can't. It's what makes you so fun. But I daresay we're going to have to work on your fighting technique – I can't have you in such sloppy condition if we're going to defeat the Grdnith." He sighed. "Guess I'll just have to train you."

"What?" She still couldn't believe she'd heard him right, so she repeated herself. "What?! You want to train me? Are you insane?"

"Just practical," he said. "Look, you're good, love, but not near as good as you could be. I know a thing or two about Slayers, you might say, and you've given me some good fights, it's true, but the only reason you're still alive is 'cause of all the help you've had along the way. Your little Scooby gang and all. You on your own? We wouldn't be having this conversation today."

"I – what?" she spluttered. "Says the big scaredy who had to run away every time we fought! You ran away from my mom! My mom!" She was so angry, the thought of her mom didn't even pinch the way it usually did. "You ran away the second I despelled from that stupid renfest costume! And then, for no change of pace at all, you ran away at the church!"

He took a step towards her. "And you had help each of those times! Not to mention, I had Drusilla to worry about. Couldn't put my all into it when I had her to think of, now could I?" Spike took another step. "But this last time… do you remember what happened, sweet Slayer? Only a few nights ago?"

One more step, and they were nose to nose, Buffy's raised fists the only thing between their bodies. Spike ran the tip of his tongue over his upper teeth. Voice low, seductive, he said, "You were all mine, love."

"Only in your dreams!"

"And such sweet dreams they are."

Spike stood way, way too close. His eyes were too knowing, the puff of his breath too intimate against her mouth.

Buffy licked her lips. Put her hands on his shoulders.

And kneed him.

He oofed and stepped back a pace, slightly hunched over but still smirking. "Face it. If that demon hadn't come along and saved your life -"

"You mean saved yours -"

"Any which way, you'll benefit from my tutelage." He did a funny thing with his tongue that made her wonder if he didn't have another meaning behind his words, but those kinds of thoughts went firmly in the never ever box, along with any observations she might have made about his… condition… when she'd kneed him.

"You're insane!" she repeated. "Let's pretend for even half a second that you're right – which you're so not – if you train me to be a better fighter, you'd be signing your own death warrant."

Spike shrugged, completely unperturbed by the idea. "Better alive now, when the Grdnith comes, and worry about the rest later."

"Insane!" she said once more, throwing her hands up.

"I prefer opportunistic."

"And I prefer to be completely done with this conversation," Buffy said, whirling on her heel and heading for the secret door. "I suggest you stay here unless you're ready to find out just how much I can kick your ass right now, without any help at all."

Spike chuckled at her retreating back but didn't follow after her, to her relief. She'd had way too much quality time with soulless vampires lately and needed a few minutes – decades, preferably – away from him. If she found anything downstairs that needed a stabbing, so much the better.

"Of all the idiotic, stupid -"

Why did she have to go down that alley? If only she'd ignored the whimpers of pain, like she'd wanted to, she could be – well, not happier. Miserable, really.

But misery was what she deserved, wasn't it?

Then again, maybe this was what she deserved. Wallowing, feeling sorry for herself? Too good for her. Having to put up with Spike, now that was true punishment, though punishment she'd rather do without, quite frankly.

Who did he think he was, wanting to train her? Train her? To fight? As if she couldn't kick his scrawny, pasty –

Gah!

Buffy stomped her way down the stairs and to the cage, and looked around the basement more carefully than she had the last time. The musty, rock-hewn room seemed to serve as a storage area, with shelves and crates filling the majority of the space, along with the odd cage. The remainder of the cages stood empty, and, still muttering imprecations, she turned her attention to the door on the far wall. From the rusty patina on it, she thought it might be made of iron too.

She retrieved the iron dagger from the top of the bookshelf, walked to the door, and put her ear up against it. The metal was chilly against her ear and covered with a coating of dampness, but no sounds filtered through. Ear still tight against the door, she tried the knob. It turned easily.

Buffy stepped back and opened the door quickly, dagger raised high. A variety of faces, some humanoid, some less so – all terrified – turned to stare back at her.

"Um. Hi," she said, and lowered the dagger halfway. "I come in peace?"

 

Chapter Text

 

Not sure she wanted to face this new development alone, she turned her head towards the staircase and shouted, "Spike!"

A moment later, he stood behind her. "Mr. Herrington's staff, I presume. Something tells me they're not going to be too cut up about his death," he said into her ear.

Buffy stepped into the room, hands up, and with her eyes followed the length of chain attached to the furred creature closest to her, from its ankle to the foot of what seemed to be a laboratory bench. She turned her head and did the same for the goblin to her right, whose chain anchored it to a large anvil like the type used to shape weapons. A third chain connected what may have been a human to a table that appeared identical to the ones upstairs. All around the room stood other creatures chained to various work areas, each of them watching her with wide, fearful eyes.

"Anybody speak English?" she said.

The slight, pale woman at the table raised her hand.

"Great," Buffy said. "Do you know where the keys are?"

"Keys?" she said in a deep, heavily accented voice, frowning at Buffy.

"To your chains. You'd like out, right?"

"Oh, ah." She looked around at her fellow prisoners, expression veiled. "Mr. Herrington… he, er..."

Spike stepped through the door. "Is dead." He shoved his hand into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a key ring that Buffy guessed he must've found when he'd been searching the shopkeeper's body. He set it to jangling with a shake of his hand. "You lot have a choice. Be helpful, be set free. Or…" He left his threat unfinished.

"Of course, Master," the woman said, bowing her head.

Buffy snatched the keys away from Spike. "He's not your master," she said, stomping on his foot in an effort to wipe the stupid grin off his face. "Nobody is. You're free to go, no strings attached to your freedom. But if you don't mind answering a few questions first, we'd appreciate it."

"Yes, Master," the woman said.

"Okay, that's going to get old fast." Buffy crouched by the furry creature and examined the chain and its lock, and then the keys on the ring. "You guys worked for Mr. Herrington?"

"Yes, Master."

Buffy fitted key after key to the lock. "I'm not your master. Anybody else work for him? Who's not in this room?"

"No, Master."

Behind her, Spike sniggered, and she craned her head to shoot him a dirty look. Unfazed, he wagged his eyebrows at her and continued to lean against the doorjamb, grinning lasciviously.

She found the correct key and undid the lock. "There you go, you're free." She stood, and the creature looked at her, then at the chain, uncomprehendingly.

Buffy looked over at the woman. From the corner of her eye, she noticed that the table the woman stood next to held several of the items the one upstairs had earlier, including the bloody pliers and large scissors. No sign of her hair or Spike's canine, though.

"Can you tell him – her? – they're free?" she said to the woman.

"Gunshee understands your words, Master," the woman said. "But not the concept of freedom."

"Great," Buffy muttered.

She moved from creature to creature, repeating the process, while Spike smoked and looked on in amused silence. Some of the creatures remained immobile by their station once she'd freed them, while others milled about the room, eyeing her and the vampire guarding the door with wary looks. Buffy put a few more questions to the woman as she worked – what type of demon had Mr. Herrington been, were any of the chained creatures dangerous to humans other than the goblin, did she know where the vampire fang and lock of blonde hair had ended up – but didn't receive any useful answers.

At last, Buffy had freed them all. "How do I get them to leave?" she said to the woman, indicating Gunshee and the others.

She shrugged one shoulder, and Buffy turned to Spike. "Any ideas?"

Spike ignored her, eyes narrowed as he focused on something behind her. Buffy turned to see the goblin hastily remove its hand from its ragged pants. A long strand of blonde hair clung to one of its fingers.

"You see that, Slayer?" Spike said in her ear. When she nodded, he said, "You get that one. Use the iron dagger on it. I've got the other bugger what thinks he can steal my sodding tooth."

Spike broke away from her and she dove for the goblin, who squalled and kicked and clawed at her. All around them the room erupted into chaos, with creatures screeching and running around, but none of them came to the goblin's rescue.

Buffy soon had the goblin subdued. When it shuddered one last time and finally lay still, she cut open its pocket, not wanting to reach blindly in there, and took back her hair. It seemed to be about half of what the old man had taken, and she hoped that was because the other half had gone to the potion for fighting the Grdnith rather than into someone else's pocket.

The mewling creatures had backed against the far wall during the melee, while the pale woman, now paler, stood in front of them with arms spread wide in a protective gesture. A half a dozen sets of eyes darted between her and where Spike stood over the body of some scaly thing, part of a tooth between his thumb and forefinger. Spike spat on the tooth and rubbed it against the sleeve of his coat, then fanged out and shoved it into the gap.

"I guess that solves that," Buffy said. "What about the rest of these guys?" She didn't know what to do with the frightened creatures, and had no idea whether the remainder were harmless or dangerous. But after their enforced slavery, it seemed only right to give them freedom. If they would accept it.

"I will take them, Slayer," the woman said, her deep voice trembling. "I will take them through the tunnels to safety."

"Far away from humans."

"Yes, Slayer." She led her little coterie to a trapdoor in the far corner and ushered them through it, eyes on Buffy the entire time. Finally, she disappeared as well, and the wooden door clanged shut behind her.

Buffy pushed away her worries about the ragtag group and what they might do with their new freedom, along with the guilt she felt at having traumatized them. She was the Slayer, not a supernatural babysitter – and not even that anymore.

Naturally, her brain wouldn't let her drop it. She turned to Spike, who was poking through the odds and ends on one of the laboratory benches. "Did I do the right thing, letting them go?"

He pivoted to face her, eyebrow raised. "You're asking me?"

She grimaced. "Right."

"I would've done for the whole lot, especially after we offed some of their mates. But what's done is done. Still, best be safe, in case any of them are the vengeful sort." Spike dragged a heavy table to position it over to the trapdoor, grunting and puffing, and dusted his hands off in satisfaction. "That'll keep 'em from coming back in through the tunnels, at any rate."

Buffy still didn't know if she'd made the right choice, but he was right. What was done was done.

She watched him reposition his broken fang, eyes screwed up as he prodded at it with the tip of his tongue. "You feeling better now you got your tooth back?"

"Will be in a few hours," he said, voice distorted around his tongue.

"Good." She even meant it. "So… what now?"

"Gonna move my car – it's almost daylight and I want it safely parked before then, so it doesn't get towed," he said to her questioning look. "Since you can't be trusted to do it. Then I'm going to go upstairs and hope old Mr. Herrington enjoyed the finer things in life, like a big comfy bed and full bottle of Scotch, so I can make liberal use of them."

Buffy shivered. "Morbid much?"

"Not like he's got any need for his stuff now. Might as well make use of the free accommodations. And then tonight we'll train, and figure out where to set our trap."

"Train, yeah," she said, rolling her eyes. She'd forgotten about his moronic idea.

"Oh come on, Slayer," Spike said, heading for the door. "You have to admit I beat you hands down. Honestly, it was a bit pathetic. After all that buildup, I feel gypped. I expected it to be more – epic."

Buffy followed, glaring at his back. Her fingers itched to take her stake and bury it in the broad expanse of black leather. Did he think so little of her that he could turn his back on her like that? Or did he actually trust her not to – literally – stab him in the back?

"You try for epic after a twelve hour shift serving cholesterol burgers." And your heart in shreds and your soul so torn up you don't know what's up or down anymore. "Besides, you didn't seem to mind at the time how one-sided you thought it was." She shuddered at the memory, fingers curling more tightly around the stake in her pocket.

"Well, honor's for wankers," he said, grinning at her over his shoulder as he climbed the stairs. "I'll take my victories as I find them."

She couldn't even pretend to be outraged. Nor did the calm manner in which they were discussing his attempt to kill her faze her. After the last few days in Spike's company, Buffy was pretty sure she was full out of faze. She just trudged up the stairs after him in silence, and wondered whether she'd been spending too much time with only a soulless vampire for a companion if the thought foremost in her mind was whether the dead shopkeeper had something good to eat in his fridge.

 

*******

 

Night passed into day in relative calm, to Buffy's relief. Spike had moved his car, and then they'd explored the upstairs, where they'd found nothing more exciting than a well-stocked bar (to Spike's delight), and a well-stocked fridge (to hers). He'd happily settled into the master bedroom, no compunction whatsoever at sleeping in the bed of somebody he'd just killed, and gone straight to sleep. Meanwhile, Buffy had claimed the small living room complete with television and lumpy old couch, and now took advantage of the dummy-box's mind-numbing qualities.

Every so often her mind would drift, and she'd quickly change the channel in search of a new distraction, but the relief of the relative calm was giving way as she remembered why having nothing to do was of the bad. She had neither exhaustion nor numbness to subdue her mind and heart, and her thoughts kept circling back to Sunnydale.

The sights and sounds of the television faded away once more, replaced by a horrific loop of Angel being sucked into hell in excruciating slow-motion detail, over and over.

Blinking hard, she climbed to her feet, looking for a different way to occupy herself. With her appetite gone once more, the contents of the fridge held no interest for her. Buffy wandered through the small apartment, finally peeking into the room where Spike slept the sleep of the scruples-less, splayed out on his back, hand curled lovingly around an empty bottle of something-or-other.

Shucked of his coat, hair tousled, he looked surprisingly sweet and innocent in sleep – everything he was not, but might've once been as a little boy. Before the demon had stolen his face and his life.

Too heartsick to contemplate the injustice of human William's fate, Buffy shifted her gaze to the empty decanter he cradled.

Maybe a bottle of something-or-other would hold the oblivion she craved. If she hadn't had to worry about Furry showing up in a few hours, she would've tried it, but they had no idea how long a reprieve they'd have. She should've been sleeping as it was, recuperating for the battle ahead, but sleep was out of reach and not likely to come any time soon. Not so long as her brain was stuck on repeat, reliving those last few moments with the man she loved.

The man she'd killed to save the world.

Buffy stared dully at the sleeping vampire in front of her, and wondered how it was fair that he was still here, still mostly cheerful even, while Angel, who had tried so hard for redemption, suffered untold torment in a hell dimension. Her truce with a mass-murdering fiend, a demon who deserved a fate far worse than Angel's, might as well have been for naught. Maybe the world had been saved, but hers had ended all the same.

She saw again Angel's trusting eyes. His gentle smile. The sharp, deadly sword in her hand, then in his gut. His look of utter confusion and betrayal.

His eyes… his smile… the sword...

Her breath hitched, and she gripped the doorjamb so tightly it splintered beneath her fingers.

She barely noticed.

She was seventeen. Seventeen! She was seventeen, and she'd already died once, and she'd turned her lover evil and regained him only to send him to hell, and for the extra cherry on top of the crap sundae that was her life, she'd been run out of her home by her own mother for doing her sacred duty and saving the world.

If nothing but pain and heartache was what being a champion of good netted her, then the universe could stuff itself and her sacred calling with it.

Buffy hiccupped out a quiet sob, and turned away to stumble down the hallway. She'd been down this thought path a million times over already, without a single thing the different for it. She couldn't stand to think of it anymore, couldn't stand the hot, sharp weight in her belly that knotted and curled into her chest and made it so she couldn't breathe.

Being on the run from Furry, fighting for her life, had distracted her temporarily. Maybe she could focus on that again. She trudged downstairs, back to the shop, with the idea that she might find something about Furry in the collection of books still strewn about the shop floor. But research was no more her wheelhouse than it had been before, and she didn't know how to spell the stupid demon's name anyway, so she gave up after a few half-hearted page flips.

She climbed back up the stairs with the idea of waking Spike. His company, much as she loathed it, would at least be a diversion from the merry-go-round in her head. Maybe she'd even consent to his stupid training idea – she was that desperate. But when Buffy leaned closer to shake him awake, the ropy scar around his neck reminded her that he needed sleep too. Not to mention that he wasn't too likely to be keen on the idea of serving as entertainment for her. Best to let sleeping vampires lie. And recuperate.

The still-full decanter on the dresser called to her, promising drunken oblivion, but she dismissed it. Shaking her head, and shaking temptation away with it, Buffy thought maybe she could go scout the area. She could find a butcher for Spike – always a good idea to keep the vampire well-fed – and a place to set their trap for the demon.

Physical activity, that was the ticket.

Using the inkpot on the dresser, Buffy dripped out a splotchy mess of a note and left it next to Spike's head – he really did sleep like the dead – and headed out into the Portland drizzle.

 

*******

 

Cold and wet and shivering, Buffy trudged back upstairs to her lumpy couch, mission accomplished. She made a quick detour to check on Spike, wanting to tell him about her encounter with the woman they'd freed, but although he'd rolled onto his belly while she'd been gone, he was still out cold. Buffy had blood for him too, from a butcher a dozen or so blocks over, but decided he needed sleep more than he did food or information for the time being.

She deposited the blood in the fridge, and then took the coat he'd tossed over the back of a chair to use as a blanket, figuring he wouldn't mind since he'd covered her with it himself that one time. As weird as it was to use her mortal enemy's coat as a blanket, it was still less weird than using his victim's blankets. She changed into dry clothes and curled up under the heavy, smoky leather, and fell into a shivering sleep in minutes flat.

When she woke, hours or days later, she couldn't say, Buffy was still shivering. Her eyes felt raw, her head like it had been stuffed with cotton, but at least she'd slept without dreams for once. She tottered on shaking legs to the bathroom and took a long, hot shower, until the water ran cold. The steamy bathroom cleared her head, and she emerged feeling human once more.

A quick peek in the bedroom showed that Spike had decamped. She found him downstairs, booted feet propped on the table and chair balanced on its hind legs, studying a small book with such intense concentration he didn't notice her until she snatched the book right out of his hands. Spike yelped, chair crashing to the ground, and made a grab for her. She spun out of his reach, curious to see what would have a soulless demon so captivated, but couldn't make heads or tails of the words upon the page. It was written in French, she could decipher that much at least, but it may as well have been in proto-Sumerian for all she could read it.

She closed it and inspected the cover, but the plain black binding offered no clues other than the title, which was yet more French.

Trésors… was he reading up on… trousers? Who knew with Spike.

And who knew he spoke French? Just one of those little things she'd never cared to know. And still didn't.

Buffy handed the book back, and he took it with a glower. "There's blood in the fridge," she said by way of greeting. "If you're hungry."

"Human?"

"No!"

"Bugger that, then."

"Look, it's there if you want it." She peered outside, where despite the pre-sunset hour, the skies were as dark as night. "We should -"

She was whirled around with a blow to the shoulder.

"Train, I know." Spike faced her, fanged out, fists raised, and waggled his eyebrows. "I'll go easy on you this time, let you find your feet."

Buffy resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Actually, no, we'd better set the bait. Like, now. If it's safe for you to venture out." She recounted her earlier expedition: how she'd found a nearby park that seemed suitable for their trap, and how the woman from the basement had turned up full of suspicious questions, only to disappear before Buffy could stop her.

"What questions?" he asked, instantly alert.

"Who the vampire – you – were, what was your name. Things like that."

Things like that, and Why have you not slayed the vampire? and Are you with him?, emphasis on the with, to Buffy's vociferous objection.

"She knows about the bounty."

Buffy nodded. "That's my guess. Word sure travels fast in the underworld, huh?"

"Let this be a lesson to you, Slayer: no good deed goes unpunished. Dead prisoners tell no tales, get what I'm saying?"

She grimaced. "How about you stick to your worldview, and I'll stick to mine. You know, here in the land of the innocent until guilty."

Spike looked like he was going to argue some more, but Buffy cut him off by handing him the parchment Mr. Herrington had given them the day before. "Let's just – read the directions to me again, so I can be sure of what we're doing, all right?" Spike had gone over them with her before he'd gone to sleep, but since she still couldn't unscramble the archaic script on her own, she – and, damn it, just how often was she going to end up saying those three little words? – needed his help.

"Right you are," said Spike, surprisingly businesslike. As the business at hand involved keeping him un-dusty, perhaps not so surprising as all that. They went through the list together, checking off that they had each item and knew when and where to use it.

"I'll see in you five, then," Buffy said once they'd sorted out the whos and whats and hows.

Spike nodded, and they met back up at the front door after gathering their supplies and, in Spike's case, his big, ugly coat. It did make him look way more badass, so she couldn't fault him for it too much. She'd changed into something a little less mopey and a little more Slayer-ish herself.

"Ready?" she said.

"Ready," he said with a nod. "Let's skewer this bitch."

 

Chapter Text

 

In the end, the whole thing was mind-numbingly anticlimactic. They'd set the trap and baited it with a carcass coated with their essences, applied the herbs and the incantations and the magic circles, and then waited in the bushes for Furry to show. They'd had to wait for several hours, Spike smoking like a freight train and Buffy whittling stakes, each shooting the other disgusted looks. At some point, Buffy had thought she'd seen a small pair of blue lights gamboling under the bushes by Spike's feet, just out of the corner of her eye. But then Spike had growled, and when she'd turned her head, there'd been nothing there.

Furry had materialized from the shadows moments later, so quietly that Buffy would've missed it if not for the sudden unmistakable odor. The demon had minced over to the trap, sniffing cautiously, and given the carcass a tentative swipe of its paw.

Magically-reinforced steel had sprung, trapping the beast's front left leg, and now Furry howled loud enough to rouse hell itself.

"Quick," Buffy hissed. A noise like that would go unnoticed on the Hellmouth, but here the citizenry might be less clueless – and more likely to interfere. And get themselves dead for their trouble.

Spike took the time to roll his eyes at her before darting forward, iron dagger dipped in dogbane in his left hand, some small dogbane-dipped trinket of Dru's – what he'd chosen as symbolic of the reason for the contract on his head – in his right. Meanwhile, Buffy went for the rear end, stake in one hand and cat's claw in her other.

Dancing lights appeared out of the ether, a miniature cyclone of viridian and cobalt and fuchsia circling about her before zipping ahead, illuminating her target. When Buffy blinked, they were gone again, and she couldn't be sure she hadn't imagined them.

Shaking off the thought that she'd finally cracked and was seeing things, she bound the beast in place by driving the dogbane-dipped cat's claw through its hind foot, gaining a shallow four-clawed gash across her arm in the process. Then she drove the iron nail they tied the cat's claw to, via the fishing wire, deep into the ground.

Buffy shouted out her success to Spike and sprinted around to the front end. He force-fed the demon the trinket, cursing when the creature fought and bucked and refused to make it easy on him. Furry chomped down on his arm with acid-drenched teeth, and Buffy buried her dogbane-dipped stake, which they'd agreed upon as the symbol of their – er – relationship, into its snout.

The demon let go of its vampiric chew toy with a furious roar of spittle and Spike retreated, panting and grimacing as he swore over the torn leather and mangled flesh.

"We don't have time for you to be a baby," Buffy said, ignoring the agony of where the spittle had splashed her face. She yanked her stake free and repeated the process Spike had undertaken with the trinket by shoving the stake into Furry's maw and down its gullet. "Hurry up and -"

"Sed fugit interea, fugit irreparabile tempus…"

"What?" Before she could figure out why Spike had gone Giles-y and gibberish-y on her, he was back, delivering the deathblow by stabbing the dagger through Furry's large, shag-covered heart with an ease that surprised Buffy after all her previous failed attempts to penetrate the beast's hide.

Had Mr. Herrington had steered them true with his crazy directions?

They both retreated several paces, watching with disbelief as the demon first seized up and then toppled over, seemingly dead.

"Is it – is it really dead?"

Spike sidled forward and gave the monstrous beast a cautious kick. It didn't move, so he did again. "Seems like," he said, and booted Furry in the head with a vicious, bloodcurdling howl of triumph that sent prickles up Buffy's spine.

The look of unholy glee in his yellowed eyes when he turned to face her, the monster completely crowding out any illusions of faux-humanity, bolstered her certainty that this was it. The battle to the death they'd promised each other. She reached behind for her backup stake, tense and poised and ready to strike.

Spike threw back his head and laughed, manic and inhuman. Buffy readied herself to dart forward, but he leapt over the demon, kicking at its head on the way, and spun, duster flaring wide. He laughed again. "A Grdnith, Summers, we survived a bloody Grdnith!" He grinned at her over the corpse, tongue curled up behind his gleaming fangs. "Mind, it's not near the rush of killing a Slayer, but still!"

"I wouldn't know," she said, voice as implacable as the death sentence she aimed to be.

Spike stilled, gleeful mania slipping away as he studied her from across the demon's corpse, head cocked. He looked away for a long minute, and when he turned back, he was wearing his human mask once more. Serious now, almost tentative, he said, "'Course, the Grdnith's dead, but it's not over yet."

"No, it's not," Buffy said stiffly.

"Right. 'Cause we've got to kill the Archduke's brother next."

"Right." Okay, wait, what? That wasn't what she'd expected him to say. At all. "What?"

"It's Tenobit's contract," Spike said, gaze holding hers. "Just 'cause we killed his pet assassin doesn't mean the contract is over. And -" he said before she could protest that the contract had nothing to do with her "- he's sure to have heard of your involvement, or will have soon enough thanks to our little tattletale. Don't go thinking you'll be safe from whatever the wanker sends after me next."

Buffy's mouth was moving, but nothing was coming out of it.

She couldn't believe she'd heard him right. Rather than the epic battle and bloody death he'd been promising her, Spike wanted to… extend their truce? Again? Which also meant…

"You mean… drive back to L.A…. together?"

"Yeah, that'd be easiest, don't you think? I'm sure the prick's still there, la-de-da-ing about in his brother's court."

It was almost as if… he was looking for an excuse not to kill her?

Yeah, sure. And she enjoyed Spike's company. Not.

"Okay, and won't this Archduke guy be pissed if we kill his brother?"

Spike snorted. "Demon politics aren't much different from the human courts of yore. What's a little fratricide here or a coup there between royal families? The Archduke will make some noise about revenge, but he'll be secretly grateful if we do Tenobit in. No more worrying about a knife in his back from some wanker what thinks he ought to have a chance at the title, you see what I'm saying?"

Buffy considered his reasoning. It did make sense. Not to mention, it solved the problem of how she was going to get back to L.A. She'd been worried about being stuck in Portland without any money. At least in Los Angeles, she knew her way around. Knew where – and whom – to turn to if she absolutely had to.

The red and blue whorl of approaching emergency vehicles lit up Spike's face, and they both turned and began walking quickly in the opposite direction of the light, in perfect synchronicity. Buffy kept hold of her stake, but her grip had loosened, and she only half-expected him to turn on her at any moment.

"And the Archduke's nephew? Tenobit's kid? Isn't he the one you -"

"Yeah, we'll have to finish him too."

Buffy didn't think Drusilla would be too pleased, but that was Spike's concern, not hers. "So… another road trip, then?"

"The sooner we leave, the better. We'll be racing news of the Grdnith's failure. And of your being on my team – at least in Tenobit's eyes," he said to her scoff. "If we can get there before he finds out -"

"He won't be prepared for us."

"And he won't have time to contract out a new assassin."

Buffy kept step beside him as they turned the corner back toward the store, his duster flapping against her leg thanks to the chilly breeze that had sprung up. "And to be perfectly clear, now we're not killing each other until after the Archduke's brother is dead? On Drusilla's unlife and all that?"

Spike eyed her, not slowing his stride, and she eyed him back. "Yeah," he said eventually.

Well, that was less than reassuring. And begged the question: did he really need her help any longer? With Furry, it had been clear he'd needed her. Her safety, at least until the demon's death, had been somewhat assured. Buffy didn't have the same confidence that she could trust Spike not to turn on her before they reached L.A.

Even if he lied, she could at least put the question to him. Let him know she wouldn't trust him blindly. "This guy dangerous? I mean, do you really need me alive in order to help you take him out?"

Spike didn't immediately answer, which made her wonder if he might actually tell her the truth. If he was going to lie, she was pretty sure he would've done it right away in an attempt to allay her suspicions.

They reached the store and he unlocked the door with his stolen key ring and then held it open for her, not seeming to realize what he was doing. Buffy stepped through sideways, unwilling to turn her back to him, and Spike followed after, deep in thought.

"Spike?"

"No," he said, finally. "No, I don't absolutely need you. But it would be a hell of a lot easier with two of us. Especially if he's not expecting you."

"Oh, joy, just what I've always wanted – to be William the Bloody's secret weapon."

"It's not exactly a proud moment for me either, here."

"Wow, way to win me over." Buffy backed towards the stairs, stake at the ready, certain he'd attack at her next words. "How 'bout we just call it quits now."

To her surprise, Spike said, "I'd rather end this whole thing for once and all. Finish off the wankers, make sure the only reason I'll have to be looking over my shoulder is you, Slayer, not some sodding bounty. Wouldn't you rather the same?"

"In other words, you want my help getting Drusilla back. Again."

Spike's eyes flashed yellow, and the muscle in his jaw ticked. Buffy readied herself for him to lash out. Instead, he sniffed, and shrugged. "I'll be leaving in ten minutes. Come with me, or don't."

They stared at each other a long time, Buffy's mind churning the same questions around and around.

It was crazy. She was crazy to consider it. He was crazy.

But other than in the alley, he hadn't tried to kill her so far.

And she did need a ride back to town.

"Fine," she said, and went to gather her things.