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Of Exes and Allies

Chapter Text

Dating Harmony had seemed like a good idea at the time, at least to Spike’s alcohol-addled mind, but he wasn’t the most patient version of himself of late, and she was getting on his last nerve, rattling on and on about France and what-all while he was trying to work. Couldn’t she understand that the Gem of Amara was important? Didn’t she care that it was the very thing that would help him bag his Slayer?

He snapped and turned on her, lifting a nearby piece of wood and shoving it straight through her chest where it– had no effect what-so-ever.

Spike pulled the wood out again and stared at it.

Harmony slapped his arm. “What was that for?”

He ignored her and made a grab for the ring on her finger. She all but threw it at him. “If that's all that matters to you, then take it.” Her voice broke a little as she added, “I would have just given it to you.”

Spike concentrated on the ring, refusing to let himself be distracted by the pang of guilt pulling at him. He stepped away from Harmony and was just about to place the Gem on his own finger when his senses went haywire and Drusilla stepped out of the shadows and into the crypt directly in front of him. He stopped, mid-action, and stared at her, scared that if he blinked she might disappear back into his imagination.

Harmony continued to sniffle and whine in the background. It grated Spike’s nerves afresh. Two momentous things had happened back-to-back and she was ruining the moment, damn it. The temptation to stake her again surged but, before he could move an inch, Drusilla hissed and commanded her to hush.

Harmony fell silent.

Something within Spike unclenched. He smiled at Dru, amazed at her all over again. With Harmony thralled into being background furniture, Dru’s attention was on him and him alone. His blood sang. Her eyes drifted to the Gem.

Spike swallowed and lowered himself to his knees. There was no way in hell he was going to mess this up. He was seconds away from having everything he ever needed.

“Dru, love,” he crooned, holding the ring out to her.

Drusilla let him slip it on her finger before holding her hand up to admire it better in the lamplight. She grinned but her eyes were hard. Their gaze returned to Spike, who she backhanded in the next second.

He fell backwards, the fingers of his left hand instinctively reaching for the spot beside his mouth where she’d struck him. They came back bloodied.

“Did you think you could win me back with trinkets?” demanded Drusilla, glaring down at him.

Spike pushed himself forward, back into a kneeling position. “Dru, love, that’s not–”

“I know what it is,” she snapped. “It doesn’t make up for what you did. Only one thing will wash away your betrayal.”

It was on the tip of Spike’s tongue to protest his innocence and explain his actions to her once more, but he pushed that instinct aside. “Anything, love,” he vowed instead. “Name your price and I’ll pay it.”

“The Slayer’s blood,” said Dru instantly. “She’ll bleed out and you’ll be free from her siren call.”

Spike’s chest deflated. “That’s all well and good, pet, but–”

“Hush,” said Dru.

Spike shot to his feet, fuelled by sudden rage. “That won’t work on me. I’m not weak-willed like sodding Harmony.”

Drusilla tsked him. “Words don’t matter. I see your heart.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Not this again.”

“Yes!” exclaimed Drusilla. “Don’t tell me what I can’t see!”

Spike raised his hands in a placating motion. “Know there’s nothing that can change your mind on this. Not tryin’ to talk you out of going after the Slayer, just think that it’s a lost cause. The thing about her is, she tends to win – infuriating as it is.” He shrugged. “Guess that doesn’t matter. If your heart’s set on it, I’ll go along with–”

Drusilla jabbed a sharp fingernail at his chest. “You will stay out of this.”

“Dru–”

“Enough!” she said, turning to sweep out of the room. At the last second, she paused to click her fingers.

Spike watched as Harmony followed after her. He stared at the empty space before him for a long minute, barely able to believe the turn of events, before he swore and started throwing things around.

Goddamn it, he’d been screwed over again. “What is it with bloody women?” he roared. Another golden cup hit the wall with a clang. He lifted something else and flinched at the hiss of flesh. Shit. That was a cross. He needed to pay attention to what he was picking up. He needed to think.

Shit shit shit.

Drusilla was powerful. If she wanted to kill Buffy, she stood a real chance, and that was before he’d handed her the power of invulnerability. Fuck, he’d really screwed up now. This new error in a long line of bloody brilliant mistakes meant he really had to do it: admit to himself that he didn’t actually want the Slayer dead.

If he didn’t help her take down Dru, or at least give Buffy a heads up, she’d be a goner. That thought twisted his insides. Of course Drusilla knew that. That had no doubt been why she’d gone about her plan like this.

“Bitch,” he said under his breath. He couldn’t understand why she never just left things alone. If she’d stayed with him, he’d have kept his nasty little nightmares to himself and none of his feelings would matter because he’d never act on them. She had to have known he’d never act on them, right? Not if they were together. But she’d gone and bloody well forced his hand.

Spike picked up the cross again and sent it flying at the doorway Dru had vanished through. At least it was some small comfort that she’d taken Harmony off his hands and that he’d never have to hear her bitching at him again.

---

Buffy had been having a blissfully boring day before a vampire had to just turn up and ruin it.

“What’s with you?” she snarked. “You’re like a bad penny.”

Spike spread his hands. “Not here to fight.”

Buffy shrugged and punched him in the nose. “Pity.”

Spike growled. “Will you just bloody listen? This is important!”

Buffy went to hit him again in reply, but he danced just out of reach. She sighed. “Fine. Make it quick.”

To her surprise, he wasted no time in outlining his B.S. story: Drusilla’s back, she’s got some thingy that means she can walk about in the sun – god knows she needed a tan – and couldn’t be killed, and…

“God, are you done? You can’t seriously believe I’m buying any of this.”

Spike’s jaw dropped open a little before he clenched it tight. “You know what? If you want to die, go right on ahead. Don’t let me stop you,” he snapped.

Buffy watched him stomp off into the shadows, briefly considering going after him before shaking off the idea. She had better things to do, not least of which to pick out an outfit for her date with Parker.

Chapter Text

“He didn’t call? At all?”

“No. He was a total no-show.”

Willow frowned. “Well, maybe he’s really busy. Like, with studying?”

“Didn’t you notice? He totally skipped psych. My slayer-sense is definitely tingling.”

Giles glanced up from his book. “What’s this?”

“Missing student,” said Buffy. “Probably. I mean, maybe he’s just had enough of college already and dropped out. And not told me.” She groaned.

Willow patted her arm soothingly and tried to change the subject. “Seen any more of Spike?”

Buffy groaned louder. “No, but I know he’s around. It’s like I can feel him watching me. Super creepy!”

“Maybe he’s, um, you know… I’m really trying to find something comforting here, but I’m kinda fresh out. Giles?”

“What? Oh.” He set his book down. “I’m afraid I can only provide more bad news.”

“Why?” demanded Buffy. “Why now? It’s not even apocalypse season!”

“Buffy,” Giles chided. “You know–”

“That evil doesn’t really run on a schedule and I should be ready to face it any time. Yes, I know, but no fair!” She crossed her arms and slid deeper into the couch.

Giles’ expression turned contemplative. “Is there a reason you feel more… erm, upset than usual?”

From the corner of her eye, Buffy saw Willow shaking her head and making, ‘run away while you still can’ gestures. She sat up straighter and pouted. Before Willow could start babbling about something to cover up for the fact that yet another guy had ditched her, Buffy ignored all of it and pressed on. “You said there was bad news?”

“Ah, yes, well–” he consulted his book again. “Two things: You said Spike referenced a mystical artifact?”

“Yeah.” Buffy reshuffled her thoughts to try and remember the name. “O’Hara, something?”

“I think he may have been referring to the Gem of Amara. It’s a jewel that gives a vampiric wearer immunity from sunlight and is generally considered to be a myth, but I’ve found a text that posits its whereabouts in the ‘valley of the sun’.”

“Oh, goody. So maybe he’s not talking a crock after all. What’s the second thing?”

Giles handed over a newspaper. The headline was all about a train full of dead people arriving in town the day before. “This coincides with the arrival of Drusilla.”

“So Spike didn’t lie,” said Willow, eager to jump on any scrap of good news. “Maybe he really is trying to help. For… some reason?” She suddenly didn’t look so sure.

“Unless the evil, murdering, lying guy actually killed the train people,” said Buffy. “Either way, I should look into it. I’ll try tracking him. Either he’ll lead me to his psycho girlfriend or I’ll find out what he’s up to all by himself.”

Giles took off his glasses to study them intently. “You will be careful, won’t you? Both of them are strong in their own right. If one of them does indeed have the Gem…”

“I’ll be careful. The careful-ist. It’s not like I have a choice. I can’t just ignore it until it goes away.”

“What about the Bronze tonight?” asked Willow, her eyes wide. Pleading. “Lots of Halloween party goodness. You said you’d come.”

Really not in the mood for dancing, it was on the tip of Buffy’s tongue to make her excuses in favor of her sacred duty, expecting nothing but enthusiastic back up from Giles, but he piped up to say that Halloween was usually quiet within the demon community and “perhaps” she should take a break to “cheer” herself instead.

Buffy bristled at the betrayal but was left with no other choice but renew her promise to Willow. Two hours later, when tracking Spike was officially a bust, Buffy donned her Little Red Riding Hood outfit and headed for the Bronze.

Xander greeted both girls with a hug before going off to the bar and Willow disappeared backstage to help Oz set up, leaving Buffy to idle at the edge of the dance floor.

“Nice outfit, Slayer. Anyone ever tell you that red’s your color?”

She whipped around and pinned Spike to the ground with her glare. “Where the hell were you, and what are you doing here?”

Spike smirked. “Looking for me, were you?” Buffy’s jaw ticked. “My, my, if looks could stake. PMSing, are we?”

“What. Are. You. Doing. Here?” Buffy ground out.

He shrugged and glanced around. “Gotta play my part. Heard you were in need of a Big Bad Wolf. Say, where are the three little pigs?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “That’s not even the same fairytale!”

“Depends which version you’re talkin’ about.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Want me to blow your house down?”

She went to hit him but he danced out of the way with a chuckle. “Come on now, pet. Where’s your sense of fun?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” her hands went to her hips, “Maybe it’s with the train full of dead people.”

Spike’s expression sobered. Buffy could tell he wasn’t putting it on. He genuinely was surprised. Isn’t that interesting. And totally worrying. “Has Drusilla pulled that before?”

Spike cast his eyes downwards. “Look, Buffy–”

“No. Tell me straight. Is she really in town?”

He focused his gaze back on her, eyes now narrowed. “I already told you.”

“And I was, what? Expected to believe you? Just like that?”

“Yes!”

Buffy backed up a step at the force of the statement. She eyed him carefully, not able to figure him out at all.

“I’m a lot of things, Slayer, but I’ve not lied to you.”

“Oh, sure, you’re way on the up-and-up.”

Spike scoffed. “We can fight about this all night, but it ain’t gonna change anything. You wanna dance?”

Buffy baulked. “Dance? What’s wrong with you! I’m talking about dead bodies!”

He shrugged and pushed off into the crowd. “Have it your way.”

She went to go after him but caught sight of something from the corner of her eye that made her hesitate. Ignoring Spike, Buffy made her way up to the balcony, led by a niggling instinct and an ever-increasing sense of dread. I know that sweater. Wasn’t he wearing it the other day?

She stepped closer and he turned around. Buffy gasped. “Parker?” He looked like death and she was pretty sure it wasn’t Halloween make up.

“Oh, hi, Buffy. I came to find you.”

Buffy blinked. “Parker. You– you’re okay?”

“Well, I was,” he said, “But then I saw you chatting with your boyfriend. I guess it didn’t take you long to get over me.”

Buffy’s eyes nearly fell out of her head. “What are you–”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Parker easily. “If you’ve got a thing for vamps, I guess I’m still in with a chance, right?”

Before she could start processing that statement, he slipped into game face and lunged.

Chapter Text

Buffy swiped roughly at the dust coating her now ruined costume and slipped her stake back into her basket. She made her way back to the lower level of the Bronze where she quickly told Xander she had to split and asked him to apologize to Willow for her.

Outside, she had no difficulty finding Spike again. He was leaning against a wall by the club door, smoking. If she didn’t know any better, she’d be sure he was waiting for her. She hit him in the jaw and his cigarette went skittering into the gutter.

“Why? Why did you do it? Why him?”

Spike held up his hands and asked what in the hell she was “Going on about.”

“Parker. I got Drusilla’s little message.”

Spike’s head tilted to the side. “Don’t know the bloke. You said there was a message?”

Buffy’s fists clenched at her side. “If this is some game, I swear–”

Spike sighed. “You’re really not getting this. I’m not with Dru. If I were, why do you think I came to you?”

“It’s mind games. All of it. It’s gotta be.”

“Yeah?” He stepped a little into her personal space. “And why’s that?”

It took Buffy a second to acclimatize to the weird effect having him so close had on her body. “None of it makes any sense,” she answered, the sharp edge to her tone dropping a little. “Drusilla’s message? In a nutshell, she’s taking revenge, going after anybody I have because I took what’s hers. What’s she talking about?”

Spike backed up a little. “Right. Err, yeah… not a clue.”

“Wow,” said Buffy. “So much for not lying to me. You actually suck at it, by the way.”

He clenched his jaw. “Fine. She has some wack-job theory that you’ve…” he made a vague gesture. “I don’t know, corrupted me somehow.”

Buffy stared at him, speechless.

“Hey, you wanted to know. We both know it’s bull, but try tellin’ that to her!”

“You’re trying to tell me that I lost a friend tonight because Dru is jealous we had a truce one time?”

He shrugged and Buffy stamped her foot. “That was for her!”

“I know, Slayer. She won’t listen. Lost it more than usual, she has.”

Buffy shook her head. She hadn’t thought it possible, but she was actually angrier now than when she first confronted him. She’d poised herself to slug Spike again when Riley came walking up the alley and asked if he was bothering her.

“No,” Spike told him. “Now push off.”

Buffy ignored him and turned her attention to her T.A. “I’m fine, really.”

“You don’t look fine,” said Riley. “You need a walk home?”

Once more, Spike opened his mouth to reply but – this time – Buffy held up a finger to silence him. Plastering the fakest of fake smiles on her face, she said, “Sure, let’s go,” and linked arms with Riley. They walked a couple of steps away and Buffy heard Spike swear under his breath before stomping off in the opposite direction.

“So…” said Riley. “How long have you guys been broken up?”

Buffy unlinked her arm and stopped walking so she could stare at him.

“I mean, you clearly dated him, right?” Riley’s smile slipped. “You’re not still dating him, right?

“Spike is not my boyfriend. Never has been, never will be. Why does everyone always think that?!”

“It just looked like… like you had history.”

“Oh, sure, plenty of that,” grumbled Buffy. “Look, can we not talk about him?”

Riley smiled and offered his arm again. “Whatever you want.”

The last of Buffy’s rage and adrenaline leeched out of her at the pleasantries – just in time for her to realize she’d made a huge mistake.

“I, uh, really appreciate the walk home, but am I keeping you from anything? Were you headed to the Bronze?”

“Oh, no, it’s okay. I was just out for a walk.”

Buffy resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow. “A walk. On your own. In the dark?” Clearly, he hadn’t lived in Sunnydale long enough.

“I’m a big boy,” he assured her.

Buffy’s annoyance resurfaced. She declined the offered arm but began walking again. “You know neither of those things prevent a person from being attacked, right?”

Riley gave her a sidelong glance, like he thought she was joking. She ploughed on, because it wasn’t just a difference of opinion about some hypothetical topic, she’d put him in real-life danger just by being seen with him. If he really did get attacked, it would partially be her fault. And partially because he’s a meathead.

“I’m serious,” she said, carefully modulating her tone to come across firm yet sensible. The last thing she needed was to be written off as hysterical.

“So am I,” said Riley. “I can handle myself.”

Buffy pursed her lips, really not sure how to get him to understand he needed to be super careful other than bringing him to a vamp nest for show and tell. Where’s Spike when I need him? All he’d have to do is flash a little fang. Nothing fancy.

“He’s really got you on edge, hasn’t he?”

“Huh?”

Riley pointed back the way they had come. “The guy you were talking to. The not-your-boyfriend guy? It looks like he got you rattled.”

Buffy almost laughed. Her scared of Spike? Not likely. But maybe something she could play up for her own purposes.

“Yeah, he’s um…” she swallowed. “He’s dangerous. Way, way bad. And totally jealous. That’s why you need to–”

“He’s jealous?” questioned Riley, cutting her off. “Of people talking to someone he’s not even dating?”

Buffy’s mouth went dry. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. “Not jealous. Wrong word. He’s just… uh, dangerous. I said dangerous, right?”

Riley stopped walking and turned to face her. “Did he threaten you?”

“What? No. No!” You know, except for that time he said he’d kill me… and then kept trying to kill me. She sighed. “I’m not saying this right.”

“If he threatened you, I can deal with it. With him,” said Riley.

Buffy grimaced. “You know what? I’ve kinda dug myself into a hole here. Can I level with you?”

He nodded and she told him straight, “A friend of mine died tonight. A guy friend. Please believe me when I say I think you should be careful.”

Riley frowned and said he was sorry for her loss. “This guy friend… Did he die because of your dangerous friend?”

Buffy ground her teeth. “Can’t you just be careful anyway? Why are you pushing this?”

“Whoa!” he held up his hands. “You told me someone died. That’s pretty serious. I’m just trying to understand.”

“Yes it’s serious!” snapped Buffy, “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I shouldn’t have had to confide something personal just to get you to listen.”

Riley looked taken aback but kept his mouth shut. Buffy apologized and started walking once more. “All I’m asking is that you avoid dark allies and run away if someone with fangs jumps out of a grave.”

Riley laughed. “Fangs? Like a vampire?”

Buffy shrugged and forced a smile back on her face. “Just covering my advice-giving bases.”

Riley gave her a look that she couldn’t quite interpret but was sure she didn’t entirely like, but he didn’t say anything else. Soon enough, they were back on campus.

Buffy said goodnight and was surprised, yet again, when Riley asked to spend some time with her after their class the following day. Ignoring her initial instinct to say no, she agreed, rationalizing that if he refused to keep himself safe, she’d have to keep an eye on him.

Chapter Text

Back in his frat house, Riley ignored the early bedtime he’d been building into his routine and took the elevator down to the labs instead of the stairs to his personal quarters. There was just something bugging him about his interaction with Buffy and he knew he wouldn’t sleep soundly without checking it out.

He found a vacant computer terminal and turned it on, typing in his access codes and then opening the student database. He pulled up Buffy’s file and began to scroll. The Initiative was connected to the military’s mainframe, so he had access to way more than just her academic record. Underneath Buffy’s list of current grades was a list of her previous schools and a string of misdemeanors. Underneath that was her medical history including a psych report from L.A.

Riley frowned. He’d got the impression that she wasn’t just your average girl, but this was something else. She was nuts. A delinquent. He wasn’t quite sure how she’d passed high school let alone got into college until he clicked to open the psych report’s attachment. It was a photocopy of handwritten notes detailing the specifics of Buffy’s “episode”.

The words ‘vampires’ and ‘slayer’ immediately caught his eye. Riley minimized the tab and opened the demon folklore database, searching there for the word slayer. There were a few hits, mostly notable demons “the slayer” was famed to have taken out, a page about a vampire calling himself the “slayer of slayers” and then one about the – capital ‘S’ – Slayer themselves. Riley clicked on that and frowned again. It didn’t make sense. The file was about a girl – singular – but it had a long list of names; definitely in the plural. At the end of the list, just before the final listing for ‘Faith LeHane’ was Buffy Anne Summers.

Riley did a double-take. Seriously?

He looked up a few more sources. They all backed up his original findings. Buffy was a Slayer. Maybe THE Slayer? She was studying right above their state-of-the-art facility and no one had mentioned it. If there was a briefing, he’d definitely have remembered. What he did know was that some of the scientists didn’t put much stock in demon folklore. His best guess was that, if his superiors looked into it at all, they dismissed her as non-threatening. At least to them. Somebody somewhere had probably used her info as a character study, but Buffy hadn’t been tagged as a person of interest.

Riley stared blankly at the screen for a few moments, trying to process that. He flinched slightly when someone came up and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Why you down here, soldier? Ain’t this your night off?”

“Yes, sir.” He hit the power button and stood up. “Leaving right now.”

His lieutenant waved him off. Riley headed for the elevator but hesitated when the doors opened. He could go to bed – he wasn’t too far behind in his sleep schedule – but he’d been left with more questions than answers and still couldn’t quite rest. On a whim, he headed back out across campus.

---

Spike didn’t know what to do. Buffy seemed to have finally accepted that Dru was in town, but she still wasn’t bloody listening to him with regards to anything else. He didn’t know how to change that, beyond pure perseverance, but he also didn’t know how much time he had before Drusilla did something really bad that neither of them could come back from. In truth, he was surprised she hadn’t struck already. She had even less patience than him, usually. The fact that she was waiting – picking off inconsequential people in Buffy’s life – meant she had grander plans. And wasn’t that just fucking terrifying?

He tracked her scent to a plush hotel where all the staff took on a glazed expression when he mentioned her name. Great. She couldn’t have used that little trick when we had to bed down in a filthy factory?

The staff didn’t answer Spike’s questions, but they didn’t need to. They didn’t try and stop him when he took the elevator up in search of Drusilla’s room and that was enough. She’d cleared out the whole top floor: two separate penthouse suites that she’d let spill into one by leaving the doors open and allowing the Happy Meals on legs wander about.

He shook his head at their varying degrees of undress and blood loss but didn’t allow himself to get distracted too much. In the master bedroom of Penthouse One he found an entirely naked Harmony. All of the blinds were down despite it being dark out, but Spike didn’t think it was to protect her modesty because one: he knew for a personal fact that she didn’t have any, and two: the chit was out of it. Sure, she raised her head a little and giggled at him, but it was clear no one was really home.

Dru had done a real number.

Spike felt genuinely sorry for Harm. Not because she’d ever really engendered a great deal of feeling in him, beyond annoyance or lust, but because – once upon a time – that had been him. He scanned the room, looking for something that might put her out of her misery when Dru came in the door directly behind him and snarled.

He turned around and put up his hands. “Had a party and didn’t invite me, pet? S’not very nice, is it?”

“You’re invited to the Slayer’s house,” said Dru, shifting the topic. The wench. It occurred to him that, last time he was in town, his entry to the Summers’ house had indeed withstood. He hadn’t questioned it at the time, but it was definitely noteworthy now. Or, at least, when he wasn’t in immediate danger of having his head ripped from his shoulders. Hands still raised, he backed away towards the opposite exit.

There was clearly no point in trying to reason with Dru. She was circling him like a wild cat. He didn’t even know why he bothered. Except, of course he did. Anything to stop Buffy being next on her hit list.

Spike continued to back up the whole way to the elevator and pressed the down button, not taking his eyes off Dru the whole time. To him, it seemed like they’d changed. A hundred-plus years he’d known her, but only one spent apart and he could barely recognize his former paramour. What had happened during that year? Did he even want to know? The questions slipped off him as he ran across town to the college campus. He wasn’t being chased, but he needed to work off the anxious energy building all around him. More than anything, he needed to warn Buffy. Again.

---

Riley was almost at the outer door to Buffy’s dorm when he stopped short. Ahead of him was the guy she’d been fighting with outside the Bronze. What had she said his name was? Spike? Yeah, that sounded right.

Riley watched as Spike reached for the door, hesitated, and then began pacing back and forth. When it became obvious he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, Riley stepped out of the shadows and closed the distance.

Spike looked up and rolled his eyes. “What do you want? Haven’t bothered enough people for tonight, eh?”

“I go to school here,” said Riley casually. “Got every right to be on campus. Why do I have a feeling you’re not one of the student body?”

Spike shrugged.

Riley filled in a mental checklist: pale skin, outdated sense of style, hostile nature, and linked to someone who is known to associate with vampires – the guy had a full card.

“What are you looking at?” demanded Spike.

Deciding to test his theory, and knowing he could easily laugh it off as a joke if it didn’t go well, Riley said, “I think I’m looking at a vampire.”

Spike went still. Like, inhumanly still. But that still wasn’t proof enough. Riley had to see him actually do something before he could take him in.

Head tilted to the side, Spike considered him afresh. He sniffed once, scrunched up his nose at his own set of findings, and then laughed. “Supposed to be scared of a little boy hulked up on steroids, am I?”

Riley narrowed his eyes. “I think you should step away from the building and leave Buffy alone. Haven’t you figured out she doesn’t want to see you?”

That wiped the smile off Spike’s face, but Riley wasn’t all together sure why. He didn’t stand around asking any more questions. One momentary flash of fang from Spike and Riley pulled out his taser, blasting him right in the chest.

Chapter Text

“Is it just me,” asked Willow in hushed tones, “or does Riley keep smiling at you?”

Buffy sighed. She’d been trying to ignore it. When the psych professor wasn’t looking her way, she replied to Willow, “Yeah. He, uh…” She grimaced. “I think he likes me. Maybe.”

Willow seemed a little confused about this, or maybe confused as to why Buffy wasn’t happy about the development, but the psych professor was looking at them again so they didn’t get the chance to talk it out any more.

When class ended, Buffy hung back and told Willow she’d catch up with her later. Riley wasted no time in pulling Buffy off to the side and jumping headlong into a one-sided conversation. Within five seconds he’d sped through pleasantries and was asking her to follow him.

She eyed him. “Why?”

“Well, I….” He finally took a breath and turned bashful. “I have something to show you.”

“Uh-huh?”

“Yeah.” He beamed and started walking, leaving Buffy no real option other than to follow along and keep up if she didn’t want to be rude. Damn social convention. “So, I know about you. Now I want to bring you in on what we’re doing.”

Buffy stared blankly. “You know about me?” she repeated carefully.

“That you’re the slayer,” Riley clarified.

Buffy’s eyes went wide. She pulled him into a nearby empty classroom. “God, could you keep it down? What is this?”

Entirely ignoring the caution in her voice, Riley’s smile got brighter still. “So it’s true. I knew it!”

“Look,” said Buffy, “I don’t know what you think you know, but–”

Riley waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t waste time denying it. There’s already a lot to cover.”

Buffy crossed her arms. “Right. You said you wanted to bring me in on what you’re doing. What’s that?”

Her mouth dropped open as he explained, briefly, that he was part of a secret government operation to “capture, study, and exterminate hostile sub-terrestrials.” When she found herself speechless, he added, “I also got you clearance.”

“Clearance?” This has to be a dream. Or a nightmare.

“Come on,” he urged again. “I’ll show you.”

Equal parts wary and curious, Buffy let him lead her back out of the classroom and across campus to his frat house, then down to basement level. Hot holy wow, he had not been kidding about the setup. On the short walk, Riley had given a little more detail about his own personal background – how he ended up as a recruit, and his posting to Sunnydale – before boasting about having personally taken seventeen HST’s “down or out.”

“Seventeen,” said Buffy. “Wow. That’s… seventeen.”

“That’s right. Eleven vampires. Six demons. What about you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah. How many demons have you–”

They’d still been walking along as the conversation progressed, past rows and rows of containment cells; some empty, most full. There had to be hundreds in total. Beside each one was a little board that stated the date of capture, location, and an identification reference for the ‘subject’. Some of the codes were as basic as the soldier in charge’s name with a number added on the end, some were overwrought sci-fi references that Buffy only had a vague awareness of, and some were even more basic still.

Buffy zoned Riley’s questions out when she got to the row that began with ‘Hostile One’ – a perfectly harmless Ferinty demon – and ended with ‘Hostile Seventeen.’

“Oh my god!” Her hand automatically went to her mouth to stifle a gasp, but it was already out. She turned to Riley. “Where did you find him? What did this?!”

Riley’s brow furrowed. “Well, I did,” he said slowly, in an exaggerated ‘well, duh,’ fashion. “For you. Hey, get this.” The smile crept back onto his face. “We even put a microchip in his head so he can’t fight back.”

Buffy felt vomit rise in her throat. “You did this?” She mentally scolded herself over taking so long for it to click. Where had she thought this was leading? Dumb, Buffy. So, so dumb!

“He’s a demon,” said Riley. As if that explained everything. As if it made it okay that Spike strung up, black and blue, leaking blood and god-only-knew what else.

“Yes, he’s a demon,” she ground out. “What the hell’s your excuse?”

Riley gaped at her like a fish and she shoved past him to get closer to the door. Suddenly, she wasn’t so interested in anything her TA had to say. She punched the little keypad beside the lock and got a small jolt of electricity for her trouble.

“Damn it! Where’s the key?” She could hear the panic even in her own voice – she really did sound hysterical now – but she didn’t care. She couldn’t bear to see anyone like that, let alone someone she knew, who’d been trying to help her less than twelve hours ago.

Riley had begun talking again, trying to calm her down and explain away his actions in a flurry of words, but Buffy wasn’t having it. She rounded on him, glaring daggers. “I swear if you don’t get him down right now, I’ll really show you what a slayer is.”

A small chuckle emerged from the other side of the glass door. Spike started to say something but the words cut off in a coughing fit.

Now, Riley,” demanded Buffy, holding out her hand expectantly.

Someone else came walking down the corridor and asked what “all the ruckus” was about. Buffy watched Riley as he did some mental calculation before shrugging off the question and handing over the passkey. The other soldier didn’t seem too bothered about questioning things further.

As soon as the door was open, Buffy rushed in and held Spike up so she could unhook him from the top of the cell. He winced when she touched his ribs, halfheartedly whispered, “My hero,” and unceremoniously passed out in her arms.

“What are you doing?” asked Riley.

“I am getting him out of here. What does it look like?”

He stood in her way and tried to reason with her but she barreled straight on through, not pausing until she was in some dimly lit corridor where she found just what she needed: a blanket and an escape hatch.

---

Giles paced the length of his living room three times before turning back to Buffy.

“They were doing experiments?” he questioned.

“Yes,” said Buffy, her lips twisted up. “It was way gross.”

Giles made a ‘hrmm’ noise and began another lap. “And you say they fitted Spike with a microchip? What were you thinking bringing him here?”

“I wasn’t, okay? No thinking Buffy. I was just so mad. You should have seen them, Giles. It was–” She shook her head. On second thoughts, she wouldn’t want anyone to see that. Ever. “We need to shut it down. We can do that, right? The council, or, or… something?”

Giles ‘hrmm’ed again. “We may have a more pressing matter. If they have as much technology as you say, they’ll likely be tracing him and will be with us shortly.”

“Shoot.” Buffy jumped to her feet, grabbed Giles’ phone, and dialed Willow. She didn’t waste any time on explanations, just called a code red and asked her to come over as soon as possible. “Sooner, if you can.”

“All this in aid of little old me,” said Spike from the couch. It was a relief to hear him snark – something Buffy could not have imagined all that long ago – but the words came out weakly enough that she was still worried about him.

Spike and weak didn’t go together in the same sentence. They were way un-mixy. The whole thing was wrong. Without consulting Giles, Buffy followed her gut and made a second call, asking Xander to pick up some premium-grade butcher’s blood, stat.

“I didn’t know you cared, pet,” said Spike, but still the tone was off. If she didn’t know any better, Buffy would have said he was scared. Fear and Spike? Two more things that definitely didn’t match.

“What’s your plan here, Buffy?” asked Giles. He looked away from Spike and lowered his voice. “Would it not be, erm, kinder to put him out of his misery?”

“Hey!”

“No.” Buffy took a deep breath. Everything was happening way too fast. “The plan is, we get Spike better and he helps me take down Drusilla. In the meantime, you and Willow find a way to put that place out of business.”

Chapter Text

Spike opened one eye to the dim light of a side lamp. It took more effort than he wanted to admit, even to himself. His other eye wasn’t even for trying. If he could see himself in the mirror, he was pretty sure he’d be greeted by big, black panda eyes. Not exactly a look he was aiming for.

“Are you okay?” Buffy asked softly from her position in a nearby armchair. He grunted and rolled over, galled by the fact that he wasn’t initially aware of her and how becoming aware of her had made him flinch. She seemed to take it as an answer, at any rate. “Right. Sorry. Stupid question.”

“What time is it?” he asked, his voice raw. He’d lost all sense of… well, everything. “What the bloody hell happened?”

“You don’t remember?”

He thought about it for a second, then decided he didn’t want to. “Nevermind. Time?” he asked again.

“After midnight. Giles is asleep upstairs.”

Spike opened his eye again to fix her with his gaze. “Guarding me, are you?”

Buffy shrugged. “You could call it that.”

He propped himself up on one elbow best he could, which wasn’t very well at all. “Not exactly in much of a position to pose a threat, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“That wasn’t–” Buffy began only to trail off. “Whatever. Do you want more blood?”

So that was it. She was actually taking care of him, guarding him from others and not the other way around. That needed some thinking about and he for damn sure didn’t have the energy. He licked his lips and focused on her question instead. “You been feeding me beef?”

“A blend of pig and cow, I think. The butcher said it wasn’t bad.”

Spike scoffed. “I bet it passed his personal taste test. Go on then, give’us some more. Not like there’s gonna be anything better on offer.”

Unless he was very much mistaken, Buffy looked genuinely tempted for a moment. Bloody hell, just how much of a bad state was he in? He didn’t bother asking, just sat quietly as the microwave distantly whirred and dinged.

“Do you need a straw?”

“No!” he snapped. “‘M not a bloody invalid.”

“You’re not making this easy.”

“Well excuse me! So deeply sorry for being tortured.”

Whatever comeback Buffy had planned died on her lips. She didn’t meet Spike’s gaze as she handed him the mug. “I’m sorry, okay?”

“Yeah,” he said, his own ire winking out. “Me too.”

“Maybe you should sleep more,” said Buffy.

He took a tentative sip, not taking his eye off her. “And you? Just gonna sit there watching my good self?”

“I….”

“Thought so.”

“I have reading. I could, y’know, read. Or maybe something that doesn’t sound quite so lame.”

“Or you could sleep,” said Spike.

Buffy sighed, frustrated. “Why is this so weird? We’re being nice to each other, mostly. It’s…”

“Weird,” he affirmed. “Would you rather fight about it?”

She sat back in her chair, leaning her head on a cushion. “No. Tired.”

Spike shifted a little, settling himself. “Well, then. You sleep, I’ll sleep, and we can argue as much as we want in the morning.”

Buffy laughed a little. “Be good. Don’t scratch at your wounds.”

“I’m not a sodding dog.”

“Oh yeah? You should have heard yourself earlier, growling at Willow when she removed your tracker.”

That gave him pause. “Red do anything else?”

Buffy shrugged one shoulder, the other being pressed against the chair. “She examined you some. We can talk about it tomorrow.”

“Fight about it,” Spike corrected her.

Buffy laughed again, softly, following it up with a yawn. “Sure, we can fight about it.”

---

Buffy woke to the sound of Giles and Spike bickering about Weetabix. Whatever that is. She rubbed her eyes and looked around.

“Why is it bright? And why is there noise?”

“Ten AM, pet,” said Spike, who looked way too perky for a recently tortured dead guy.

Giles pointed a butter knife at him. “This one wants to polish off my specially imported cereal.”

Buffy stretched her arms above her head and rolled to her feet. Man, sleeping in a chair is so not comfy. “So let him,” she told Giles over her shoulder on the way to the bathroom. “Call it a one-off, on me. I’ll write you an IOU.”

She felt Giles stare after her but closed the bathroom door before he could vocalize any surprise. Upon returning to the living room, she found Giles had moved on to occupy himself with a book but Spike had taken up the mantle of irritation.

“What?” she asked, defensive.

“I don’t need pity.”

Buffy sighed. She’d been hoping his promise of a return to their standard arguments was a joke. “I can’t win with you.”

Spike’s scowl dropped into a look of surprise. “Since when do you want to do that?”

“Don’t we have a truce?’

“I offered one. You refused, remember?”

“Yeah, well, things are different,” said Buffy. Spike scowled again and she threw up her hands. “Seriously! What do you want? Are you just gonna get pissed off at everything I say and do?”

After a long moment’s consideration, a petulant “maybe” passed his lips and they slipped into a silent stalemate until Willow arrived with coffee, doughnuts, and a declaration of “Xander sends his love.”

Buffy reached for a jelly-filled. “How come he didn’t send it in person?”

“He’s on a trial for a new job,” said Willow. “Barman on campus.”

“Is he old enough for that?” enquired Giles.

“Who cares?” said Spike. “Are there any chocolate muffins? Updates regarding our friendly neighborhood wanker?”

The small talk fizzled as Willow admitted that Riley hadn’t been in psych class. She pulled out her laptop and explained how she’d done a little digging and his military record showed that he was currently ‘under caution’ for letting an HST go.

Spike scoffed. “He didn’t bloody let me do anything. It was either that or face the wrath of the Slayer. Hardly an option.”

Buffy frowned at him. “I thought you didn’t remember.”

He shrugged then pressed a hand to his shoulder. “Bits and pieces.”

Not sure how to reply – unclear if remembering made things better or worse – Buffy kept the conversation on Riley. “At least if he’s been disciplined in the brig or whatever, we know Dru hasn’t got to him.”

“Shame,” said Spike.

“Hey!” Buffy and Willow objected in stereo.

“What?”

“I know what he did was awful but–” Spike’s glare cut off her train of thought.

“But he’s human and that makes it okay?” he snarled. “Because you’d still like to think he’s still a good guy deep down, is that it? Goes to show how little you know about how awful he is.”

Silence hung heavy in the room for a minute, then Buffy apologized. “I’m not ever gonna condone human deaths, but your reaction makes sense. I shouldn’t give you a hard time about it.”

“How very generous of you.”

Buffy let the sarcasm slide and asked Willow if she’d found out anything else about the chip.

“What chip?” asked Spike.

She studied him carefully, her heart sinking when she realized he really didn’t know. Shit. She steeled herself and asked if Giles and Willow would let them talk in private. They agreed, which only put Spike even more on edge. In the short time it took them to clear out, he looked ready to murder someone. Which…

“There’s a chip in your head. Riley told me it, umm…”

“Spit it out, Slayer.”

She let out a slow breath and braced herself. “It stops you from fighting.”

Spike didn’t explode. He didn’t blink, or breathe, or do anything, he just stared at her for a long time. That scared Buffy more than anything. Spike, if nothing else, was always in motion. She found herself apologizing again before he finally closed his eyes. Tentatively, she sat on the couch beside him.

“It was wrong what Riley did. We all know that. Whatever happened in the past, you don’t deserve–”

“Stop,” said Spike. Buffy tried to continue but he told her to stop again, this time with a snap. After another pause, he asked if Willow was able to confirm what Riley said about the chip.

“She was able to tell there’s definitely one in there,” said Buffy. “She was just about to tell us if she’d got any Intel on it.”

“Right.”

“Spike, I…. Are you okay?”

“No.”

God, it was painful to watch him try and process everything. It was so weird to feel bad for him.

“Okay, listen, hear me out. This shouldn’t have happened, so we can fix it; find a way to get it out again.”

For the first time since the revelation, Spike’s expression lifted a little. “You would let me hunt again?”

Buffy considered her answer carefully. “No,” she said at last. “You hunt, I slay you. That’s the deal. That’s always been the deal.” He tilted his head and she continued on to say, “What I want to give you back is free will and the ability to defend yourself. If you’re serious about helping me take down Drusilla, I would really appreciate the help.” 

Chapter Text

Stab it in, but not too far, just enough to set it deep without going the whole way through. Shove another one in from the other side and add it to the rest, stacking them high.

Spike’s tongue poked out between his teeth a little as he industriously set about his work. Buffy grimaced just at the edge of his vision and his concentration broke, the structure toppling.

He swore under his breath. “Problem, Slayer?”

“No, I just…. When you asked for marshmallows and toothpicks so you could make an Eiffel Tower model, I wasn’t expecting it all to be quite so… violent.”

He turned towards her fully and raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either.”

He flung himself back against Giles’ couch cushions. “It’s been a week and you’ve vetoed me pulling apart your watcher’s trinkets. He won’t let me touch the books. I’m bored shitless. Gotta have something to do.”

Buffy raised her hands placatingly. “I know, I know, I’m sorry.” She gestured to his model. “You don’t have to stop.” He sighed heavily and she changed tack. “We could watch more of your crappy TV show.” His nostrils flared and she gave up in a sigh of her own.

“It’s not right for a creature of the night to be housebound in suburbia.”

Buffy’s expression turned thoughtful. “Would it be easier in the mountains, do you think?”

Spike glared at her. She narrowed her eyes. “I’m trying here.”

“Yes, you bloody are.”

“Spike–”

He waved a hand and got up, stalking off towards the bathroom.

---

He’d been making a habit of that: just dropping the conversation, mid-bicker, and disappearing for a few minutes. Buffy had been trying to be understanding, wanting to give him space, but it was happening so frequently that she was also getting nervous. What was he doing in there?

Giles had banned him from smoking out the window. He’d been having a hard time getting anywhere with setting the Council against the Initiative or finding a demon neurosurgeon, though Buffy couldn’t help but feel he wasn’t trying quite as hard with that one as the other.

For seven days they’d all been in a holding pattern and she didn’t think Spike could take any more. It was driving her crazy, too, spending all of non-slaying, non-studying time with him, but Giles pointed out that not being able to fight didn’t keep Spike from other kinds of evil so, if she didn’t want him chained up all the time, he’d need supervising.

It was a weird balancing act, the supervision and giving him space. If he really is doing evil in there, I’m gonna be in so much trouble. Maybe I could just check, a little…

She walked softly to the bathroom door and listened. He was making weird noises, low in his throat, and she could tell he was trying to hold them back so as not to be so loud.

That’s what he’s been up to? Sneaking off to cry? Her heart clenched and she instinctively reached for the handle. It was locked, but she was so lost in feeling bad for Spike and wanting to help that she gripped it too hard and it opened anyway. The door swung inward and she saw him.

He was… not crying.

Buffy gasped in surprise.

He stopped; turned his head to look at her.

When she didn’t move or say anything, his tongue slipped out to wet his bottom lip. Holding her gaze – his eyes challenging yet shy, almost – he gripped himself tighter and began pumping again.

Buffy felt blood flood her cheeks but couldn’t look away. That seemed to spur him on. His hand got faster, his teeth bit into his lip, and he came in a grunt, his spendings spilling into the toilet.

Spike flushed, zipped up, and washed his hands. “Enjoy the show?”

“What? No. I–”

He faced her, his whole body poised for battle. “I won’t be shamed for something natural, but if you’ve got a problem with it just damn well stake me now.”

Buffy finally tore her eyes away from him, training them carefully on her shoes instead. “I didn’t come to give you a hard time.”

“Yeah?” he said, breathy. “And just what were you after?”

“I didn’t– I wasn’t–” She shook her head. “I thought you were upset. I just wanted to check on you.”

“And breaking the lock?”

She winced. “That was an accident.” How am I gonna explain it to Giles?

Spike didn’t say anything else until she looked up again. It took a minute, but she eventually summoned the courage. There was something in his mannerisms that still seemed torn, somehow, like there was a little excitement alongside the mortification. His eyes were seeking, but she didn’t know what response he wanted.

Buffy was surprised to discover that she wasn’t repelled. More than anything, she was curious. Spike seemed to sense it, because he leaned in a little. Her heart rate quickened but she didn’t pull away. She didn’t know what was happening, but she wanted to find out.

Tension thick and Spike so close she could feel his hitched breath against her lips, Buffy was ready to be reckless and follow her blood for once, just giving in to the temptation of a kiss, when the phone rang.

Buffy flinched back. Spike told her to ignore it, but his shoulders had slumped. He knew the moment was broken already. Before things could get any more awkward, she walked back into the living room and picked up the receiver.

Willow was frantic on the other end. The sound of her crying cut right through Buffy’s mind fog, but the words still weren’t making any sense.

“Whoa, slow down. What happened?”

Buffy sensed Spike re-enter the room behind her and install himself back on the couch as Willow explained that some band chick called Veruca had been killed.

“There was a vampire attack. It was pretty nasty.”

Okay, that was upsetting, but not any more than what the Scoobies faced on a weekly basis. Buffy was missing something; some reason why the death had affected Willow so personally. Before she could figure out a delicate way of asking, Willow added “Oz is leaving” and started crying again.

Buffy turned to look at Spike, who looked back at her just as bemused. Right, not sure why I expected him to help. She sighed inwardly. “Let’s rewind here. Take a breath, Will. We’ll figure this out.”

Chapter Text

In fits and starts punctuated by more tears, Willow explained to Buffy what Oz had taken pains over telling her earlier in the day: that he and Veruca had a “connection” and that they’d been “growing close.” He, apparently, had a hunch that she was another werewolf, and he was convinced that she was attacked by Drusilla because of her connection to him and, therefore, indirect connection to Buffy.

“He says–“ another sob built in her chest and broke from her in a gust of air and snot– “he needs a few days out of town to process.”

“Wow,” said Buffy, gently. “I’m sorry, Will.”

Willow closed her stinging eyes, not sure what else to say. Thankfully, Buffy already had a plan. “Get Xander and Anya and come over,” she said. “We can all hole up here until Dru is dust.”

In the background, Willow heard a minor commotion that she initially assumed was protest by Spike but, after a moment’s pause, Buffy amended the rendezvous to Joyce’s place because Giles had apparently come in and said his flat was “too small to host that many people overnight.”

“My Mom’s in L.A. on an extended buying trip, so we’ll have the place to ourselves.”

“Right.” Willow bit her lip. “Yeah.” Packing a bag should distract her for a little bit, and being with friends would be good, except she wanted to be with Oz, and right now he was packing his own bag and – god! – how did this happen? It was all so out of the blue. Willow had met Veruca and seen the weirdness of her with her own eyes, but she had no idea they had a connection. Why hadn’t she known? Had she really been that distracted?

“Will?”

“What? Oh.” She zoned back into the conversation, finally realizing that Buffy had been trying to get her attention.

“Are you gonna be okay getting to my mom’s? Maybe I should call Xander and get him to pick you up.”

“No, I– I’ll be okay.”

“Okay, if you’re sure.” Buffy started to say goodbye and was about to hang up when Willow panicked.

“Wait!” she yelped.

“What?”

“I, um… I mean–”

“Willow, what is it? Is there something else?”

She took a deep, steadying breath then just spat it out: “If Drusilla really is coming after everyone we’re connected to, I might need to bring someone with me.”

“Okay?” said Buffy slowly. “Who?”

Willow twirled the phone cord around her finger. “So, uh, there’s this girl from my Wicca group.” She cringed at just having to say it out loud. “We might have been getting close too.”

---

Spike listened as Buffy wrapped up her call with Red and watched as she began gathering her things from around Giles’ living room so they could get going. He tried to step close and talk to her, but she evaded him, catching her watcher up on the latest development instead.

There were a few “dear lord”s and much spectacle wiping from old Rupes, and that was without Buffy imparting the last part about Willow having got herself a chit.

Soon, Giles too was fannying about, getting a bag together. When he and Buffy were finally ready to get in his pathetic excuse for a car, they turned to Spike.

He was sat watching his fists clench and unfurl, clench and unfurl.

“Well, come on then,” said Giles, gesturing to the door.

Spike didn’t move or look up. He could practically feel Buffy rolling her eyes. She turned to her watcher and said, “Just give us a minute. I’ll need to grab him a blanket,” and Giles accepted the lame excuse at face value. He stepped outside, probably to start winding up the engine. When he was gone, Buffy stood in front of Spike with legs apart and arms crossed. Battle pose.

“Are you gonna make this hard?”

He looked up and rolled his tongue behind his teeth. “That what you want, is it?”

She visibly wavered, uncertainty crossing her face. “Look, can we not–”

“No.”

She sighed. “Spike, please.”

He shook his head. “We should talk about this.”

“Talk about what?” said Buffy, blushing again.

He stood up and faced her properly. “That moment we had. We both felt it.”

She looked away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, bullshit. It wasn’t ten minutes ago you were busting in on me having a wank.”

Buffy sputtered, her blush deepening further. Spike stepped into her personal space again and lowered his voice. “All I’m askin’ is that we talk about it.”

She closed her eyes, breathed him in for a moment, and then stepped away. “We’ve got to go.”

Grudgingly, he got in the car. The last thing he wanted was to push her away, especially now he knew she was interested, if only deep down, on some physical level.

Spike lay in the backseat covered up, stomping up to Joyce’s front door as soon as the car stopped, not saying another single word. Any time Buffy tried to offer him something or start a nonsense conversation, he glared at her.

Sure, he didn’t want to push her away, but he had a right to be brassed off. He’d been minding his own business, coping with being close to her the best way he could. She’d pushed him on it, and now she wanted to run away and pretend it hadn’t happened. There was no way he was going back to small talk after that.

So he sat on Joyce’s couch – which was softer than the one Giles had, at least – and watched as the rest of the Scooby gang arrived, two-by-two. None of them paid him the least bit of attention except the new girl, who threw him shy, curious glances from behind her hair.

Willow was a mess of tears, Xander tried to cover his fear with humor, and Anya bitched and moaned about having to be there at all.

Spike grinned to himself at Buffy’s forced smile getting tighter and tighter. It would be a hell of a show once she’d snapped, and he had a front-row seat.

“Hey,” she interjected after a solid minute of noise being directed at her, “I have an idea.” She turned to Giles. “You should go with Xander and Anya to the store for supplies. We don’t know how long we’re gonna be here, and my mom doesn’t have groceries. You know, her not being here and all.”

When the group at large looked unsure, she pointed out it was still light out. So they toddled off again. Willow excused herself to the bathroom, where she could no doubt cry some more, and Tara followed for moral support.

Finally, the Slayer was alone. She practically deflated in the silence, taking a long minute to re-center herself. At which point, she turned to Spike.

“You’re not helping, you know.”

“Not trying to,” he said. “But I’m not doing anything.”

“You were staring. I could feel it.”

“Can’t blame a bloke for looking.”

“Can,” said Buffy. “And will.”

“Oh, ho,” he crowed, “I’ve got you right wound up, haven’t I?”

She opened her mouth to answer and he slid in for a kiss. Buffy’s eyes were wide with shock for a moment before they closed and she kissed him back. It was just deepening when Willow’s footsteps sounded on the stairs again. Spike and Buffy pulled apart, both panting.

Chapter Text

Buffy was furious. She’d had her life figured out. Or, at least, her love life. Which is to say, she’d resigned herself to not having one. After what happened with Angel, and Parker, and all of her high school and middle school mini romances, it was just safer to quit while she was behind. The plan was to focus on studying and slaying and, one day, get a full-flexible, well-paid job that would be the result of her studying and enable her slaying.

Simple.

Except her body had betrayed her. She’d written off the weird almost-kiss of before as a fluke, but one actual kiss from Spike and she knew for sure she was doomed. She wanted him. All of him. Right the hell now. What was that even about? It wasn’t part of the plan, damn it. He was supposed to be the enemy!

Okay, so they hadn’t been trying to kill each other for quite a while. And sure, she’d kind of always found him attractive but this was something else.

He was stood there looking at her – his blue, blue eyes staring through her – as they both got their breath back. It took everything within Buffy not to grab his hand and drag him off to her room where they could be properly alone. She was surprised at herself. She wasn’t normally so… brazen.

She hadn’t been turned on so much in such a long time.

Spike’s questioning look morphed into a knowing grin. The bastard.

Before he could say anything or she did something she’d surely regret, Willow and Tara had fully descended the stairs and joined them again. An awkward silence fell, which Tara then broke by asking if she could make herself useful getting drinks for anyone.

Spike asked her to warm up some of the blood Buffy had brought from Giles’ place. She stared at him, annoyed that he would make someone so new to the group uncomfortable by such a weird request. He winked at Buffy and she then realized it was a test. If they were all in danger of their lives, getting used to blood and the reality of vampires maybe wasn’t so bad of an introduction after all.

Tara, to her credit, only hesitated momentarily before rolling with it and disappearing into the kitchen.

Willow poked Spike in the ribs.

“Hey!”

“Don’t make things weird.”

Buffy laughed. “That’s his specialty.”

Spike grinned again and Willow looked between him and Buffy. Buffy’s cheeks heated. “What?”

Willow shook her head, mumbled “nothing,” and went to help Tara in the kitchen.

“I think she might be on to us,” said Spike.

“Us?” questioned Buffy.

He raised an eyebrow. “Tell me you’re not still trying to play innocent.”

Buffy smiled a little despite herself. “Maybe.”

His grin widened and he held out a hand. Buffy eyed it speculatively. If she didn’t take it, she could put off making a decision for a while longer. She could stay in denial. If she took it, though… that would be a firm decision. She might not be able to come back from that. He’d pull her into his lap and kiss her again. She’d probably get lost in it, and Willow would probably see. What then?

Spike tilted his head. He’d been waiting patiently, but that wasn’t going to last all night. As Buffy realized her window of opportunity was closing, she asked herself another question: would it really be so bad?

She took his hand.

He pulled her close.

Xander opened the front door and came back in the house followed by Giles and Anya, all carrying bags and lost in conversation.

Buffy dropped Spike’s hand and escaped to the kitchen.

---

Spike was furious. Every time it looked like he might be starting to get somewhere with Buffy, something went wrong. He should probably take it as a sign that the whole thing was doomed, but god knows he was too far gone to give up now.

He quietly enjoyed his blood in the living room as the white hats got in each other’s way in the kitchen, all trying to pitch in with dinner at once. Spike had a hunch that Buffy would have just left them to it and joined him outside the fray if she wasn’t already busy avoiding him again.

Frustrated as he was, he contented himself with thoughts of the progress that had been made. The kiss played over in his mind and he was tempted to slip off to the bathroom, but there were too many people around who could start asking questions.

Bloody humans.

At the dinner table, conversation was stilted following the inevitable too-many-cooks argument that had broken out and the hurt feelings that followed. Anya, in her wisdom, apparently thought the solution to this was to ask Willow if she was gay now and enquired of Tara if she wanted Oz’s place on their upcoming double date.

Tara excused herself, stepping outside for some air, and Willow yelled at Anya in her absence. Xander half-heartedly defended his girlfriend while simultaneously backing up his best friend and got exactly nowhere except the bad books of both of them.

It was better than television.

Spike was enjoying the entertainment and savoring his second mug of blood when he felt a change in the air. There was a tingle at the back of his neck. He got up and walked to the kitchen where, through the glass of the backdoor, he could see a gang of vampires approaching Tara on the porch. She’d put some kind of glowing field of protection around herself, but the look on her face made obvious her lack of confidence in it.

Spike opened the back door and stepped out, in front of the witch.

Harmony stepped to the head of the group of attacking vampires.

They regarded each other. Clearly, Harmony wasn’t as out of it as the last time he’d seen her, but she still had enough of a glaze in her eye to tell Spike that Dru was still very much in charge. There was also the fact that she wasn’t yammering on. Dead giveaway, that.

A fledgling broke ranks and ran at Tara, trying to get around Spike. On instinct, Spike pushed her toward the house with one hand while shoving the vamp to the ground with the other.

Tara yelped, her forehead connecting with the doorframe and Spike felt lightning buzz through his temples. He reared back, growling and pressing his hands to either side of his head.

In the next moment, the smell of Tara’s blood was in the air, a second fledge had lunged, and Buffy was out the backdoor with fists flying.

Harmony lost what little control she had of the remaining minions with two more going after Buffy and the one Spike had knocked down going at him again.

If anything, the zap from Spike’s chip left him feeling even more desirous of violence. In lieu of not being able to rip his own skull open and pull out the offending hardware, he grabbed his opponent by the throat and squeezed.

Buffy dusted her two opponents, Harmony looked on, and Spike kept squeezing until his foe could fit comfortably inside an ashtray. He braced himself for the chip firing again, but the agony didn’t come.

Spike looked at Buffy, who stared back at him, eyes wide.

Harmony began backing away, no doubt to report back on the latest development to her boss. It looked for a moment like Buffy was considering going after her but then thought better of it. She pulled Spike back inside instead. He was speechless. Confused.

In the kitchen, everyone was talking at once. Spike let it wash over him in a single wave of sound, vaguely aware that at the heart of it lay some debate over why his chip didn’t fire with the vamp and what that might mean.

“Isn’t it obvious?” said Xander. “The thing’s unstable.”

“Or it only works on humans,” said Anya.

Giles said that they should be careful around him until they ran some tests and knew for sure, and Willow stayed out of the conversation as she fussed over the cut in Tara’s eyebrow on the sidelines.

Buffy told everyone to cool it. When they quieted down enough to hear her verdict, she ignored them all and turned to Spike.

“Are you okay?”

He didn’t reply. He didn’t know. In all his years as a vampire, he’d plenty experience of pain, but the chip was like none of it. It felt like he had an enemy inside his own skull and that was genuinely terrifying.

Xander went to say something else but Buffy raised a hand to stop him. She turned back to address the group at large, finally declaring that it didn’t matter whether the chip only worked some of the time or all of it, on humans or demons or little fuzzy squirrels. “We’re taking it out, remember?”

Something within Spike’s chest lit up at that; at how sure she sounded. He didn’t love her more than in that moment.

Chapter Text

The fight had gotten Buffy’s blood up, brief though it had been. One thing was for sure: she’d had enough of having everything being decided by committee for one day. Figuring out sleeping arrangements was tricky – everyone had an opinion on those – but she’d put her foot down: her friends could all do what they wanted so long as her mom’s room stayed off-limits. She was gonna be in her old room and Spike was gonna be on her floor. No objections.

If she’d been against him being chained up before, she was definitely having none of it now. Couldn’t they see what that chip did to him? No way was she gonna add insult to injury.

Giles tried to reason that Spike clearly wasn’t safe, to which Buffy said, “That’s why he’ll be with me. I can handle him.”

Spike still hadn’t said anything, but he was looking at her with more gratitude than she’d seen on the faces of any of the humans she’d saved.

That did something to her; twisted some part of her she didn’t want to name, and it occurred to her for the first time that she was maybe in over her head. It was blatantly clear that Spike wanted her, but Buffy was starting to think it was more than something physical. She’d definitely have to be more careful around him, just not in the way Giles expected….

She closed her bedroom door on the hushed bickering happening downstairs over who deserved the couch most and snuck a look at Spike, who was stood in the middle of her room looking lost.

“You’re really not okay, are you?”

A manic laugh escaped him. “Don’t rightly know.”

She frowned and took a seat on the bed before immediately standing up again. “Do you want to switch? If you’re injured, I could–”

“Nah, Slayer. Floor’s fine.”

“Oh.” She sat down again. “So, umm… we have blankets, but the guys downstairs kinda had dibs. I was gonna pull rank again, but Willow pointed out that you don’t actually have heat to conserve, and she actually had a point, so….”

A small smile touched his lips and Buffy felt herself blush. “I should probably stop rambling, huh?”

Spike’s smile widened and he finally sat down. “I can handle a little rambling.”

Buffy laughed. “Since when? You were always snarky about it before.”

“Well, I…” he intently inspected his nail beds. “If you’re being nice to me, I guess it’s not so bad.”

Buffy rolled her eyes but couldn’t force the accompanying smile from her face. Maybe they should have tried pleasantries before. It was kinda nice. She handed Spike a pillow, got under the covers, clicked off the light, and belatedly realized she didn’t have a hope of sleeping any time soon. There was just too much going on inside her head. And, you know, the fact that she had a vampire in her bedroom not two feet away. Again.

She groaned.

“Are you all right, pet?”

“No.”

She heard him sit up and waved a dismissive hand to let him know it was nothing serious. “Just a bad memory. Or…” she pondered. “Not even bad, just… weird. Sorry.”

There was the sound of a little more shuffling as, she assumed, he lay down again. “Angel memory, was it?”

“How did you know?”

“Just a hunch.”

Buffy sighed and admitted he’d once spent the night on the same stretch of floor. “It was before I knew he was a vampire.” Spike didn’t say anything and she interpreted the silence as incredulity. “Yeah, I know, dumb Buffy.”

Again Spike held his tongue, which was actually way more annoying than he ever was snarking at her.

Buffy couldn’t bear the silence. She propped herself up on one elbow and looked towards where she knew he was lying, even if she couldn’t actually see him in the dark. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes.”

“Yes? Just like that?”

“Bloody hell, you want me to say no?”

“No! No, of course not. I just… I don’t know, expected to put up a fight or something.”

“Just ask already.”

“Okay, well. Um… it’s a little personal.”

“Ask!”

“I am asking!”

He chuckled. “You’re nervous. Whatever it is it’s gonna be good.”

Buffy glared in his general direction and considered abandoning her question, but she knew he wasn’t going to let it go now. “I was just wondering about that, um… that thing I saw you do.”

“Wanking?”

Buffy’s cheeks flared furiously. “Yeah. That.”

“What about it, love?” His voice was rich with amusement. It made Buffy want to poke him in the ribs like Willow had done. She soldiered on regardless.

“I was just wondering if that much was normal.”

“Eh?”

God, he was gonna make her say it. “You were, um, disappearing a lot. I didn’t know guys actually did… that… that much. Is it a vamp thing? To do it more? Or, uh…” Why am I making this so awkward? Why am I even asking Spike this at all?! “Is it a you thing, specifically?”

Spike laughed and laughed. His giggle-fit went on so long, Buffy seriously considered going down to his level and wrestling him to silence, but she had a feeling that might not work out quite as planned and the curiosity was killing her.

“I’m serious,” she said. “Tell me.”

It took him a solid minute, but he eventually caught his breath. “The reason it’s funny, Slayer, is not because it has anything to do with me. It was all about you, specifically.”

Buffy’s brow knit together. “You’re saying–”

“I’m saying,” he interrupted, “That I don’t normally wank so much, as a rule. But what was a bloke to do? Being around you all day. Your scent. I didn’t have the luxury of any other way to break the tension.”

“Oh.” Some part of her brain told her she should be grossed out, but it was flattering in a really weird way.

“You asked,” said Spike, suddenly defensive.

“I know. Not bad just… processing.”

“You’re not gonna stake me, then?”

“No.”

“Got anything else you wanna ask?”

“Really, really no.” She screwed her eyes shut, but it did nothing for the mental image. “I’m not sure I could handle any more honesty right now.”

“Right.” The levity was gone from his tone again. “But you’re not gonna stake me. You said that.”

“I did,” affirmed Buffy. “You just… stay down there and don’t tell me anything else. We’ll pretend it didn’t happen.”

He made a huffing little unhappy sound but didn’t argue and Buffy willed herself to sleep.

---

Willow couldn’t sleep. Not with all the misery, and fear, and thoughts rattling around in her head, and especially not with Tara lying so close beside her. Her primary thought was that she was sure there was a way to fix it – everything. If she could undo the misery and fear, everyone would be okay again; Oz would be back, they’d be okay, and Tara wouldn’t be hurt. It was too tempting not to try.

Quietly, Willow disentangled herself from her sleeping bag and crept over to her book bag where her fingers easily found the large tome she needed in the dark. Grabbing some of Joyce’s candles from the dining room and some herbs from the kitchen, she went to the bathroom and set everything out on the floor before her.

Some chanting and several candles later, it seemed like it had worked, but when she tried it out, nothing happened. No. Come on, I can do this! Maybe I’m just not being confident enough.

Just loud enough that they were actual words but quietly enough so as no one would hear her, she said again, “I will that the situation be fixed.”

There was silence. Okay, scratch that; too vague. She stood up and looked in the mirror. “I will that my heart suffer no more.” Her reflection stared back at her, unconvinced. Willow groaned and picked up the nearest object to her: a used Q-tip. Maybe if I start off with something easier….

“I will that this become unbend-y?”

Zero reaction.

Defeated, Willow blew out the candles and returned everything to its place. What she really needed was a girly chat with Buffy, but she was too busy vamp-sitting Spike. On her way back to bed, Willow muttered to herself, “If she loves him so much, why doesn’t she just marry him?”

Chapter Text

Spike woke up deliciously warm, snuggled tightly against Buffy in her bloody ridiculous yummy sushi pajamas. He smiled as he breathed in her scent. She shifted against him with a happy groan and he pressed his mouth to hers. Buffy’s lips parted and the kiss deepened. Her sleepy eyes opened and she looked at him with such devotion, he was overcome.

He pulled away and took his favorite skull ring off his finger. “Buffy, love–” he held it out in earnest supplication. “Tell me you’ll marry me.”

“Oh, Spike!” Her greedy fingers seized the ring with one hand and pulled him closer with the other, his t-shirt bunched in her fist as she mauled his mouth.

Spike swore he felt his undead heart beat. He couldn’t believe his luck.

“That a yes, then, love?”

She slapped his arm playfully. “Of course it’s a yes!”

He beamed so wide, his face was in danger of splitting in two. “I love you,” he confessed, basking in the freedom of finally being able to say it out loud. “I love you so bloody much!”

“I love you too!”

His knees went weak. The words damn near did him in but, while he was at it, he might as well go the whole hog and tell her the rest. He sang Drusilla’s praises with fervor, grateful that her insistence in his feelings for Buffy had led him to this moment.

Buffy put a hand on his chest to hold him at a distance as she searched his face. “Are you serious? This whole Drusilla thing is because she knew you were in love with me?”

“I am,” said Spike. “Have been for years, if I’m honest with myself. Dru could tell. It’s true.”

Buffy’s mouth hung open for a moment before she leaned forward and kissed him again. “That is so romantic!”

There was a knock on the bedroom door that they both ignored; far too wrapped up in each other. Whoever it was knocked twice more. Spike would have told them to bugger off if he was willing to take his mouth off Buffy’s for a moment, which he most certainly was not.

“Buffy? Are you awake?” It sounded like Giles.

Spike groaned as Buffy stopped kissing him to answer her watcher. Well, if her mouth’s otherwise engaged, there are other places I can still have a taste. He went for her throat and she released a heady gasp instead of whatever words she had intended for her father figure.

“Buffy?” Giles opened the door then staggered back at what he saw. “Buffy!”

“Giles!” Buffy slipped on her new ring and showed it to him. “You won’t believe what happened!”

---

Giles could not believe what happened. His Slayer must have had some kind of mental break, but he wasn’t sure what to do about it. Protocol told him to contact the council in the case of such extreme behavior but, somehow, he didn’t think that wise.

He kept trying to talk to her to find out the specifics of when her apparent change of heart towards Spike happened, but it was difficult gleaning information while her lips were so thoroughly otherwise engaged.

He asked if he might have a moment alone to discuss something with her and Spike outright said no. Buffy nodded her agreement, looked doe-eyed towards him, and affirmed that if Giles had anything to say, he could say it in front of Spike as well.

Fat chance of that. I must have hit my head one too many times.

It was two hours before Buffy became aware enough of her surroundings to ask where everyone else was.

“Xander has gone to work,” Giles told her. “Anya went with him, and Willow and Tara went to class together.”

“But that isn’t safe!” she protested.

Giles tried not to show too much delight on his face that she wasn’t so far gone into madness so as not to care about her friends’ wellbeing entirely. “We don’t know how long this siege of sorts is to last,” he explained. “It didn’t seem practical to all remain housebound day and night while jobs and studies still needed attention.”

“Not. Safe!” Buffy said again, her lower lip sticking out as if she were a child.

“Oh, look at that pout!” said Spike, taking it gently between his teeth.

Giles cleaned his glasses furiously, thinking idly to himself that they had never been so clean in the entire time he had them. The next time Buffy came up for air, he continued on to say that there were some agreed-upon rules to help ensure safety.

“Tara has given everyone a protective charm, everyone has promised to keep it on them at all times, stay in direct sunlight as much as possible, minimize interactions with people outside our own group as much as possible, stay in regular contact, and not leave their pairings.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Buffy, holding up her hand, fingers tightly entwined with Spike’s. “I found my pairing!”

Spike grinned widely.

Giles sighed and poured himself some of Joyce’s wine.

---

Willow doodled in her notebook. It had taken a lot of creativity and a little bit of legitimate magic to make her and Tara’s college schedules sync up, but they’d done it. It was a win for safety but a loss for Willow who was now stuck in a random kinesiology class that she didn’t fully understand. She was a brain, not understanding things wasn’t supposed to happen to her!

Tara caught her eye and smiled reassuringly, which did a pretty good job of cheering her up. Willow sighed wistfully. Maybe things aren’t so bad. I guess it’s okay that my spell didn’t work out.

The day was pretty uneventful, all in all, until they arrived back at Revello Drive several hours later, coffee in hand, and with a little daylight to spare. It only took stepping inside for a moment to realize something was seriously wrong. Giles looked like he was losing it. He put his glasses on and looked at Willow exclaiming, “Oh, thank god.”

She belatedly realized she hadn’t checked in with him as planned and figured that’s why he was stressed until she moved from the hallway into the living room and caught an eyeful of Buffy in Spike’s lap.

Willow looked back at Giles, blinked, and then did a double-take. Yeah, that is some definite grinding.

“What is happening?!”

Buffy looked up from where she’d been nibbling on Spike’s earlobe and stuck out her hand. “Oh, Willow, look!”

Willow looked. She stared at the god-awful skull ring, thought idly about how it wasn’t remotely Buffy’s style, then noted which finger it was placed on.

“Oh. OH! Oh my god!”

“Isn’t it great?” squealed Buffy.

Willow grimaced, whispering as fast as she could, “Let the healing power begin. Let my will be safe again. As these words of peace are spoken, let this harmful spell be broken.”

Buffy froze in Spike’s arms. Slowly, she disentangled herself and stared at Willow along with Giles, Spike, and Tara.

Willow bit her lip. “Uh, hi guys.”

Chapter Text

Buffy got up and went to the bathroom to get changed for the day while Spike lay deathly still on her bedroom floor, pretending to sleep. They hadn’t talked since the spell ended the night before, but she had at least finally acquired him a blanket. Unsurprisingly, Willow had suddenly come over all charitable and readily donated one of hers.

Buffy wasn’t talking to her either. All she said to anyone over breakfast was to tell Giles to sort out Spike’s chip. “Today, if possible. Or tomorrow. Just as soon as you can make it happen.”

This time, he didn’t put up a fight. It was fair to say everyone was on edge and walking on eggshells as a result. Buffy felt relief in the prospect of going back to college, even if it meant facing Riley again. It had to be preferable to all of the awkwardness of her mom’s house.

Speaking of which: Joyce was due back later that day. Buffy still had to call and give her a heads up about all their visitors. Because the fun just keeps on coming.

She walked into psych and took her seat, grateful that Willow’s schedule changes meant she could have some space from her for a few hours. Riley was, indeed, back in class. He was no longer all smiles. Buffy braced herself at the end, when he once more pulled her aside.

“You skipped some lectures,” he said.

Buffy crossed her arms. “I heard you did, too.”

Riley’s glare intensified. “I really don’t appreciate you putting me in a situation like that.”

“Oh, please!” she scoffed. “That was all you. What the hell did you think you were doing going after Spike?”

“I thought I was helping you!”

Buffy shook her head. “You thought you were being some big hero helping the little lady by taking out the big bad monster. News flash, Riley, I can take care of myself. And you know what? What you did to Spike was sick. You only did it because you’re sick!”

“You can’t talk to me like that!”

She squared her stance. “Oh, yeah? Why not?”

“I… I–” He visibly floundered. “I’m your T.A.”

“So, what? You’re gonna give me bad grades?”

“What?” He huffed out a breath. “No! Of course not. That would be….”

“Unethical?”

“Yeah!”

Buffy pinched the bridge of her nose. “This is ridiculous. You can’t even hear yourself.” She went to leave but he put a hand on her arm. She snatched it back and he gestured for a time out.

“Just wait a sec.”

“What for?”

What for?” he echoed. “Are you serious? You’ve got to help me. Come to a briefing and tell my superiors it was you who released the HST and that I’m innocent.”

“Wow.” She stared at him, struggling to find words. Innocent? That’s how he defined himself? “Riley, I’m not going anywhere with you. If that’s gonna be a problem, I’ll switch class.”

He tried again to win her over but she was done listening.

Buffy stalked off to the cafeteria, too caught up in trying not to strangle someone in the rage coursing through her that she went through the motions of lunch on autopilot, not realizing she wasn’t hungry until she’d been staring at her plate long enough for her apple slices to go brown.

She pushed her tray away and put her head in her hands. How did everything get so messed up? Right at the start of the school year, it was like she’d been given a fresh start and now look at it. Less than two months had passed and everything had fallen apart. Her friends were in danger, she’d already missed a bunch of classes and would probably have to switch her subjects, and, then, there was Spike. Buffy knew she couldn’t avoid him much longer, but if she thought things were awkward before, boy did it have nothing on now.

She’d spent hours kissing him and touching him, letting him lick her neck and feeling him pressed hard against her. They’d planned a whole goddamn wedding but, worse than that, she’d told him she loved him. That part was definitely the spell talking, though she had a hunch that Spike’s confession wasn’t quite so magically induced. Maybe he wouldn’t have said it right then without it but, from the way he looked at her after the spell broke, it was plenty clear the feelings were real. Did that mean what he’d said about Drusilla was true, too? His ho of an ex-girlfriend was out for blood because he fell in love with her? How was that even possible? Far from being romantic, as she’d declared the day before, it was mind-blowing. I think my mind is being blown right now, if this headache is anything to go by.

---

Spike spent the morning keeping to himself, well out of the way of Buffy’s friends. He sat on her bedroom floor in the dark hoping the mortification swamping him would lessen some time within the next decade and that he’d be able to show his face again soon after.

He didn’t hold out much hope.

Buffy hadn’t been able to look him in the eye after their little time together. That was the worst part. He’d gone from the happiest he’d ever been to having nothing in the span of Willow whispering a few choice words. God, he could strangle the witch. Yet another reason to stay out of her way.

Finally, the sound of the front door opening coaxed him downstairs. Spike hoped to find Buffy in the hallway, feeling better for having gotten out of the house for a bit and finally willing to talk things out, but it was Joyce – stood there with suitcase in hand and bewildered look on her face. She turned to look at him.

“Spike?”

He raked a hand through his hair, belatedly realizing he’d neglected his gel and his curls were starting to loose. “Joyce.”

“Why were you upstairs? Where’s Buffy?”

“Oh, err…”

Giles exited the kitchen before Spike could think of a way to finish his sentence. He left him to explain why the house had been taken over by Scoobies and went to get himself some blood. There wasn’t much left. Would Buffy pick some more up on her way home, or would she decide there was no need and it really would be easier to stake him after all?

The look on her face after the spell broke haunted him. It went beyond simple embarrassment, or disgust; she looked… dare he think it? Heartbroken. It was probably the first time she’d actually let herself close to anyone since Angel and then there it was, gone again in the blink of an eye. If she felt half as empty as he did, he didn’t envy her. There was no way Willow could understand what that could do to a person; having everything and losing it, then having to go on afterwards as if things hadn’t changed.

Truth was, everything had changed. What hope Spike had felt for something blossoming with Buffy was gone. He considered leaving town. Maybe then Drusilla would give up her little crusade.

Yeah, right.

If he went, all it would really achieve would be Buffy being another hand down in a fight where she needed all the help she could get. Hadn’t she already suffered enough? He shook his head, angry at himself for brooding. Who am I, Angel? Bloody pillock. No good to man nor beast.

Spike looked up as the front door opened again. This time it really was Buffy, but there wasn’t any chance to talk to her before Joyce pulled her aside for a word. There were recriminations, and explanations, and an apology.

He overheard Joyce ask if she could cancel her plans to go away for Thanksgiving, but Buffy told her no.

“It’s probably safer for you to be out of town,” she admitted, explaining a little more about Dru and the threat she posed.

Joyce visibly paled, but she rallied herself soon after. “Well, I’m here for tonight. The least we can do is get a hearty meal in everyone.”

Buffy hugged her. “Thanks, Mom.”

Joyce smiled then cast a glance back at Spike and lowered her voice to ask, “Is he okay?”

Spike felt Buffy’s eyes on him for the briefest of moments before flitting away again. “Uh, no. He’s, um…. Things have been hard.”

“Oh!” Joyce pressed a hand to her mouth. “Of course, he used to be with Drusilla. That must make things incredibly difficult.”

Buffy looked at the floor. “Yeah. That.”

Spike winced. He blocked out a bit more of the back and forth, only zoning back in when Giles interrupted the conversation with news: he’d found someone to take Spike’s chip out if he could make it to L.A. by the next morning.

Chapter Text

Joyce left for Thanksgiving at Aunt Pauline’s several days early, travelling with Spike as far as L.A., then going on her own from there. Buffy waved them off, managing to keep her brave face plastered on tight until they were out of the street. She sat on the stoop, pulled her knees tight to her chest, and gave in to her true feelings; none of them good.

Giles had promised her Spike was in good hands and that he was in no danger while under the knife, but until Buffy saw him again with her own two eyes, she knew she wouldn’t be able to rest. A big part of her wanted to go with him and oversee the whole thing, but she couldn’t leave the Hellmouth unguarded, especially now.

Back in the house, she got breakfast, did her homework, and started in on her chores. Anything to distract herself. While she was doing the dishes, Willow appeared at her elbow and offered to help dry.

Buffy shrugged and she lifted a dishtowel.

“Listen, I’m really sorry about the whole spell thing.”

“Yeah, you said.”

“But I mean it. It was a total accident!”

Buffy set the plate she was cleaning safely back into the soapy water of the sink before she accidentally broke it. “What the hell were you thinking? I still don’t even understand how it happened.”

Willow stumbled over a few words before finally finding the ones she needed, explaining that she’d been trying to resolve her own situation with Oz and Tara. “The engagement thing between you and Spike was just some off-hand comment I made when I thought the spell hadn’t worked.”

Buffy frowned. “You were frustrated, so you said Spike and I should get married?”

Willow grimaced. “I swear it made sense at the time.”

Buffy shook her head and picked up the plate again. “I guess it doesn’t matter now. So long as–”

She was interrupted by a knock on the backdoor.

Buffy looked out to see Harmony flanked by a new group of fledgling vampires standing on the porch. What she found more disconcerting than that, though, was the fact that she hadn’t even noticed it get dark. I guess my mind’s been on other things. She set down the plate once more, dried her hands, and went to the backdoor; opening it but not stepping out.

“What?”

“I have a message for you,” said Harmony.

“From Drusilla?” questioned Buffy. Harmony nodded and she crossed her arms. “This better be good.”

“Dru says that she’ll leave you alone,” said Harmony.

“Oh, yeah?” That sounds likely. “What’s the catch?”

“She wants you to kill Spike.”

The blood drained from Buffy’s face. “What did you just say?”

“Drusilla told me to tell you that–”

“Shut up!” yelled Buffy. She couldn’t bear to hear it again. She felt sick. “Get out of here.”

“But what do I–”

“Get out!” yelled Buffy, barely holding herself back from going outside to take them all on there and then. She would have, except there was every chance Drusilla herself was waiting in the wings. It would be foolish to be goaded into such an obvious trap.

Harmony gave her a weird look and then led her gang off again. Buffy slammed the backdoor and turned around, fists clenched. Her chest was heaving and breath coming in sharp bursts.

“Buffy?” said Willow gently.

She shook her head and Will backed off for a minute until she got herself under control and was no longer in danger of crying. By that point, the rest of the gang had filed into the kitchen to find out what was going on.

Through grit teeth, Buffy told them, “Drusilla has decided that if she can’t have Spike, no one can.”

“Huh?” said Xander. “Back up. What?”

Keeping one eye on Buffy to make sure she wasn’t going to explode, Willow explained to him exactly what Harmony had said.

He still looked confused. “I don’t get it,” he finally admitted after a long pause.

Buffy groaned. “What’s to get? Drusilla and loyalty: foreign concepts.”

“Oh, no, I get that,” said Xander. “Vampires not to be trusted. Well clear on that point. It’s the bit where you didn’t agree that’s confusing me.”

Willow threw him a warning glance, but he carried on. “I mean, I thought you were keeping him around just to help with the Drusilla sitch. If killing him also gets rid of her, doesn’t that equal a double win?”

“No!”

Willow and Xander exchanged a look before he asked, “Why?”

“Because–” Buffy felt her eyes bug out. “Well, because!”

“Buffy,” said Giles calmly.

“No,” she said again. “We have a truce. If we kill him now, we’re not the good guys.”

“But–” began Xander again.

Buffy stormed past him, up the stairs and into her bedroom, that door slamming too. Then the tears came for real. Why didn’t her friends understand? Why couldn’t they just accept what she said without questioning it, even if they didn’t get it? She rolled over and buried her face in her pillow. Why did people have to keep getting hurt?

She would have asked herself why, indeed, she really did care so much about Spike, but the answer to that had finally started to sink in. For a whole day she’d kept herself convinced that her love confession was just magic and nothing else. It hadn’t been too hard to stay in denial while she got out of the house and didn’t talk to Spike, but as soon as she’d got back home the night before and had to face him again, things went back to complicated way fast.

“Buffy,” her mom had asked, “Is that boy sleeping in your bed?”

“No! Not in my bed, by my bed. I’m keeping an eye on him.”

“Is he hurt?”

“No.”

Joyce frowned. “You told me he wasn’t dangerous.”

“He’s not!”

Buffy got the well-practiced mom-look and held up her hands. “I know he’s safe, but Giles wanted me to make sure. Ergo, I keep him where I can see him. On my floor.”

The mom-look intensified. “Young lady, no guest in this house is going to be sleeping on a floor with a single blanket when we have a perfectly good guest bedroom.”

“It has boxes,” said Buffy petulantly.

“Not on the bed,” said Joyce.

Buffy didn’t even know why she was fighting her. She knew Giles was being overly cautious, and she did want Spike to be comfortable, it was just that she also maybe liked him being nearby. When the spell was in effect and he’d joined her in bed, it had been nice. Really, really nice. Buffy couldn’t think the last time she’d been held like that. It hadn’t ever really been the same with Angel.

Now, bed just seemed so much… colder. But there was no way to explain that to her mom. Buffy dutifully made up the guest room and showed Spike in.

“Ta, Slayer,” he said cordially.

She’d nodded and stood there, waiting for something else but not sure what. The tension held for a minute, then Spike hung his head and apologized for his part the spell.

Buffy gaped at him and that put him on the defensive.

“You know I was caught up as much as you.”

“Of course I know that, dummy! That’s why I’m surprised you’re apologizing.”

“Oh.” He breathed a sigh of relief. “I just didn’t want you to–”

“I know,” said Buffy, cutting him off. “It’s okay.”

He gave her a sidelong glance and she amended, “Maybe not so okay. But it’s not your fault.”

“Ta,” he said again.

She’d tried to talk to him more than that – really, she had – but it was too hard. The words wouldn’t come and standing there waiting for them to suddenly appear was only making things worse. So she’d left the room and gone back to her own bed to cry like she was doing now.

Her tears were interrupted by the phone ringing. Buffy snatched it up before anyone downstairs could have a chance.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is that Buffy Summers?”

She gripped the phone tighter. “It is.”

“Oh, good.”

She held her breath.

“I called to tell you the surgery went to plan. We got the chip out and Spike’s in recovery.”

Chapter Text

“Next stop, Sunnydale!”

Spike opened one eye and peered around the bus, taking a moment to orientate himself. He’d been pretty out of it when he’d boarded the Greyhound, slouching low in his seat at the back, but he hadn’t wanted to put off going home any longer. He’d already had to waste most of a second day in L.A. until the sun went down.

Carefully, he stretched and ran his fingertips along the raised edge of the stitches at the back of his head. As far as he could tell, his hair covered them pretty well, but not entirely. The little shaved patch around the scar would need to grow back but, at least being a vamp, it wouldn’t take long and the scar itself should bugger off as well. How the soldier boys got the chip in without a gaping wound in the first place, he didn’t know. Just thinking about it raised his bloodlust.

Spike’s stomach gurgled and a lady across from him cast a judgmental look. He growled and her body tensed, eyes suddenly focused straight in front of her. The bus pulled into Sunnydale station and she gathered her things. Spike pushed in front of her, walking slowly down the aisle and descending the stairs.

Cold air hit him in a rush. He bathed in it for a moment, ignoring the queue forming behind him, eyes sliding shut. One deep breath in and they snapped open again of their own accord, scanning for the Slayer.

Her scent said she was close.

His heart ached.

Someone behind him loudly cleared their throat.

Spike turned to flash them his fangs when he caught sight of her, coming around the side of the bus and walking towards him. He stepped away from the bus doors amid much sighing and took a few steps before her eyes landed on him. Next thing he knew, she was running at him full pelt and had launched herself into his arms.

He held her back, tight, ignoring the slight wobble in his gait. At some point during the journey, he’d planned a nonchalant quip about public transport as an opener, but it slipped his mind as he reveled in the feel of her.

His lips parted to say her name.

Her lips parted and she kissed him.

Spike groaned with the ecstasy of it as someone, somewhere yelled, “Get a room!” Like he cared. Five minutes ago, he’d have stalked up to such a person and given them the scare of their life. Now, all he could focus on was Buffy.

Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. God, she was delicious.

She pulled back and looked at him. “Are you okay?”

“You know, you keep askin’ me that.”

She frowned. “That’s not an answer.”

He smiled. “Tell me that kiss was real and I’ll be more than bloody okay, pet.”

She kissed him again. “Real enough for you?”

“Not sure,” he said, tentatively. “Try me once more just to check.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “I think you’re fine.”

He shrugged. “Took you long enough to figure it out.”

She gave a slow, sarcastic laugh then linked her arm with his. “Ready to go?”

“God, yes.” He started off in the direction she pointed him in, wondering if they were walking the whole way or being picked up by one of the Scoobies; also wondering if all of the physical affection was likely to continue in the presence of her little gang. To say he couldn’t really believe it was an understatement. “Missed me, did you?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe!”

That made him smile again. “Maybe I should go away more often.”

She stopped walking to point a finger at his chest. “Don’t even think about it, mister.”

He took hold of her hand and she took a sharp intake of breath, all pretense dropped. “We gonna talk about this little change of heart?”

Buffy opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted by a low rumble making its way down the street, vehicles and buildings alike shaking on either side of them.

---

The moment Buffy stepped back inside her house, Willow, Tara, and Xander stood up to greet her, all asking variations of, “Are you okay?”

“Please,” said Anya. “Of course she’s okay. It was only a little earthquake.”

Buffy ignored her, waiting for Giles and Spike to come in the door after her, at which point she called an emergency meeting.

“Is that necessary?” asked Giles. “I hate to be dismissive, but it really was only a small tremor.

“Yeah,” said Buffy, “And the last time I felt one of those, I died.”

“Well, that’s hardly–”

She held up a hand. “I’m not taking any chances. As far as I’m concerned: earthquakes mean badness, little or not. Call it an omen.”

“Like the movie?” asked Tara.

Buffy shrugged. She didn’t know her well enough to tell if she was joking or not so took the question on face value. “There was a creepy little boy last time, but I meant in the more general sense. We should prepare for big, big evil.”

“How?” asked Willow.

Buffy turned to Giles and he began muttering about books he could look up. “I’d need to collect the volumes from home, naturally. I’ll make a list for first light.”

She nodded her approval. “That’s a start. Whatever this is, I want to nip it in the bud. No more waiting around to just react. Drusilla’s been way too quiet.”

Tara looked between Buffy and Willow. “Sending vampires to the house is quiet?”

“In the grand scheme of things, yes,” said Buffy. She still had to tell Spike about Dru’s proposal from Harmony’s second visit. So not looking forward to that.

“And in the meantime?” asked Anya, bringing the conversation back around.

“In the meantime, we have thanksgiving.”

Anya nodded her head in approval. “I do enjoy a ritual sacrifice.”

“Uhh, it's not really one of those.”

“To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.”

“Whatever,” said Buffy. “So long as I get to eat.”

“I could cook,” said Willow with a nervous smile. “Earn myself a little goodwill for the holidays?”

“I’ll help,” said Tara, smiling at her.

Buffy agreed. “Fine by me. Xander and Anya can do dishes.”

“What?”

“Hey!”

She shrugged. “Giles is on research.”

“And what about you?”

“I’m already doing my part.” They stared at her, so she spelled it out: “Giving you refuge, duh!”

“What about Spike?” asked Anya.

“Spike’s still recovering from surgery.”

He smiled appreciatively and she couldn’t resist. On the pretense of leaning close to pick lint off his t-shirt, Buffy whispered in his ear, “I might also have some other plans for you.”

He choked on the air in his mouth. “How’s that?”

Buffy smiled shyly. “You wanna sleep in the guest room again tonight, or–?”

“Floor,” he said, finishing her train of thought. “Most definitely prefer your floor.”

Buffy laughed. “You know, I had a feeling.”

They retired for the night early, defying anyone to call B.S. on their need of rest. Buffy sat on her bed heavily and began pulling off her shoes, putting all of her nervous energy into the minute act.

“Sorry if I made it weird, before. I wasn’t trying to give you the wrong idea. That I wanted, um…”

“Just a bit o’ company, init?” said Spike, rescuing her modesty once more. “No harm.”

She smiled, relieved. “Yeah. I thought, you know, that we could hang out. Talk some more.”

He chuckled to himself. “You’re gonna be all nice to me again, that it?” He raised his eyebrows. “Play nursemaid to the invalid?”

Buffy poked him in the ribs and stood up, dancing a few steps out of reach before he could catch her hand. “Maybe, maybe not.”

He gave chase but it didn’t last long for he needed to sit down again.

Buffy delicately perched beside him. “You know I’m not actually gonna make you sleep on the floor, right?”

He stilled. “You’re not?”

She nodded, holding her face in a deep look of concern. “Your surgeon called. He prescribed cuddles.”

Spike laughed and feigned a convinced look. “I guess we all have crosses to bear.”

Chapter Text

Buffy and Spike were walking along; talking, by the looks of it. Laughing, and holding hands. A demon jumped out and Buffy let go of Spike to beat it down. Spike just stood back and watched her fight, grinning like a fool, like it was a show.

Riley had to admit, she was impressive to watch, but he still thought Spike should be helping. He would help, if he was with her. It was the gentlemanly thing to do. He wondered idly if Spike might have something against fighting other demons but dismissed the idea again almost immediately. As if something evil could have a code of ethics.

Speaking of which: Riley watched Buffy smile as she decapitated the demon. He glared at his screen. What a hypocrite.

Growling from his left distracted Riley from the security footage on his terminal. He looked over to see one of his fellow soldiers struggling to restrain a demon twice his size. Ever since the earthquake the week before, the HSTs had been a lot harder to handle, like they were on edge or something.

Riley got up to help, chastising Forest for not having the demon in a cell already, before the taser blast had worn off.

“I would have,” said Forest, “If we had any room left. Can you check to see if there’s one that isn’t already at triple capacity?”

Riley gave the demon a shot that made it pass out and went to check the clipboard. There did not, indeed, seem to be any room at the inn. Three demons in the cell beside him started to fight but it didn’t last long, two bodies dropping to the bottom of the cage. Well, that’s handy.

“Looks like a space just opened up.”

Forest dumped in the new arrival. “Any theories on why we’re finding so many? It’s like they want to be in here.”

Riley shrugged and returned to his terminal. “I think there’re more demons around because the Slayer’s slacking.” Too busy making out with her own pet HST.

---

Willow set down the latest batch of groceries on the kitchen island and wiped her brow. She’d been happy to cook Thanksgiving dinner, but how come she also had to be the one to carry everything when there were super-powered people about?

No fair.

“You okay, sweetie?”

She eased herself onto a stool and smiled up at Tara. “I think so.” She gestured to the bag. “That should be everything. For real, this time.”

Tara rubbed her back. “I’m sure it’s gonna be great. I printed off the recipes you wanted. A-and bookmarked the links, in case you ever want to find them again.”

“Aww!” Willow turned to hug her. “Thank you.”

Tara blushed. “I want to help.”

Willow held her that little bit closer. “You are helping.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

Tara smiled, bright as the sun, and lifted the bag to start putting the groceries away. Both the fridge and freezer were pretty full, so it took some arranging to get everything in.

Willow frowned as she watched several failed attempts to maneuver everything. “Is Spike’s blood for today still in there? He hasn’t been down yet?”

“Uh, no,” said Tara, a little nervously. “I don’t think so.”

“Geez,” said Willow. “He and Buffy are really making the most of her having the morning off. How much ‘rest’ can two people have?”

Tara blushed again but said nothing. She’d told Willow that their auras had been really pretty lately, since Spike got back, and that made her happy, so who was she to judge?

“I guess we’ll give them another hour.”

---

Buffy woke up gradually, enjoying the comfortable weight of Spike pressed tight to her side. She leaned a little more into him and felt him press a kiss across her hairline.

“Morning, sunshine.”

She slowly opened her eyes. “Hey.”

“Hello, cutie.”

Buffy bit her lip. She’d never really been into pet names before, but seeing Spike sprawled out like a cat, his hair mussed, and uttering words of affection… it was definitely something she could use more of.

“Tell me again why we didn’t do the snuggling thing years ago?”

He chuckled and began tracing nonsense patterns in the fabric of her pajamas. “Not exactly a top activity for mortal enemies.”

“Well, it should be. Totally works for us.”

Spike shook his head. “We work for us. Special case.”

She sighed wistfully and pulled his arms more tightly around herself. “I think it might be the solution to world peace.”

“Oh, sure,” said Spike, “Let’s put the globe’s top dictators in a bed, see them fight it out over who’s gonna be the little spoon.”

Buffy laughed so hard, she snorted. “Okay, weird mental image.”

Spike kissed her shoulder. “It was your idea, pet. Should I phone the Pentagon?”

She rolled him over until she was on top. “Stop teasing.”

He slipped his hand between their bodies, rubbing a nipple gently between his finger and thumb. “I thought you liked it when I teased.”

Buffy gasped a little and leaned into the touch. So, maybe he had a point. They hadn’t gone all the way yet, but things were definitely progressing and if he kept rubbing her nipple much longer, she was going to lose the very last of her self-control. She moved his hand to back around her waist and rolled away.

“Now who’s the tease?” Spike asked petulantly.

“Spike–”

He sighed. “I know, Slayer. Not adding pressure.”

She glanced back at him over her shoulder shyly. “You know it’s not that I don’t want to.”

“Hey.” He cuddled her close again. “Already said I knew, didn’t I?”

Buffy let her head fall back against his chest with a groan. “I hate that I have a hang-up about this.”

Spike began petting her hair. “It’s understandable, after good ol’ captain forehead. Remind me to hit him in the head if I see him again.”

She turned to face him again. “No fighting Angel.”

He rolled his eyes. “Fine. But you should know this white hat lark is distinctly less fun than the dark side.”

Buffy pouted. “If you’re having second thoughts….”

“Oh, no,” said Spike quickly. “Not givin’ up this for anything.”

The pout vanished, her lips finding his. “It is weird how we got here.”

“That it is, pet.”

She kissed him again, and again, and again; until they were on the verge of getting carried away again. Buffy hadn’t been able to stop thinking about how close she came to losing Spike. Ultimately, it was what drove her to finally giving in and just letting herself be with him. Even on days like this, when there was still a little held back and they bickered some, it was the happiest she’d been.

Buffy wanted Spike to know that, when they did finally do it, it wasn’t just hormones and sexual tension. She’d been putting off telling him; she didn’t know why. But here, in her bed, it suddenly seemed like the right time. They were having a nice moment, him looking into her eyes and her heart swelling at just the sight of him.

“I love you, Buffy,” he said fervently.

She beamed at him, opened her mouth to respond, and discovered she couldn’t make a sound.

Chapter Text

At first, Buffy had thought her sudden voice loss-age was down to nerves, except she hadn’t been feeling all that nervous. For the first time since Willow’s ‘will be done’ mojo had worn off, she’d been absolutely, one-hundred-percent sure.

Buffy had finally found the perfect moment to tell Spike she loved him and had been relieved more than anything. She couldn’t wait to see his face when he heard.

But then, when her mouth had just hung open ineffectively and her heart rate hitched up in response, Spike went to ask her if she was okay. Except, he couldn’t. His voice was gone too. His eyes went wide. They sat there and mouthed a flurry of panicked words back and forth for a few minutes before heading downstairs to see if it was just them.

It wasn’t.

Xander, especially, was freaking. He pointed an accusing finger at Spike.

Buffy slapped his hand down and glared at him before turning to Giles, who already had a book open and was furiously flicking through pages. Tara entered the living room and handed out bits of paper and pens, which was good thinking, but no one knew what to write for a while. They all stared at each other until Anya turned on the T.V. It made a sound, so at least they weren’t all suddenly deaf. One theory down.

Wait. Buffy fuzzily remembered something. She racked her brain until it all came back to her. She’d been distracted by Spike, before, so had set her Slayer dream aside without much thought. Now, though, she clicked her fingers at him until he handed over their bit of paper and began to write:

 

Can't even shout
Can't even cry
The gentlemen are coming by
Looking in windows
Knocking on doors
They need to take seven
And they might take yours
Can't call to mum
Can't say a word
You're gonna die screaming
But you won't be heard

 

Buffy read the words over twice to make sure they were right, showed the paper to Spike, who raised his eyebrows, and then handed it to Giles. He raised a finger, set down his book and lifted another one only to set that down and try a third.

Willow came in and clinked a knife against a glass to get everyone’s attention. When they were all looking at her, she gestured for them to go into the dining room. Buffy’s stomach rumbled when she saw all the food laid out. She looked up at the clock and was shocked to see it was past midday already. How did that happen?

Everyone sat and Willow started dishing out. A few times, Giles lifted his book and continued to read, but Willow gave him her resolve-face until he stopped.

“We are all–” she wrote in big letters, underlining the word ‘all’ twice– “Going to have a good Thanksgiving or so help me!”

Giles looked like he wanted to argue, but didn’t. It would be too much effort to write down one of his long-winded sentences. He took a bread roll instead.

Spike squeezed Buffy’s knee, gesturing to her own bread roll when she turned to look at him. Oh. She’d been distracted, practically buttering it to a pulp. She flashed Willow an apologetic smile. But she had a right to be pissed, damn it. Why did the freaky laryngitis thing have to happen now? Worst. Timing. Ever.

She pouted, taking a thrill of pleasure in how Spike’s eyes zeroed in on her bottom lip. Briefly, his gaze flicked up to hers in what she interpreted as a questioning look. She gave a tiny nod, and he kissed her.

Boy, that felt good. Buffy felt her grumpiness evaporate as the butterflies in her stomach woke up and heat spread to her cheeks. When Spike pulled away again, she panned around to take in the reactions of her friends.

Willow and Anya didn’t look all that surprised, and Tara was smiling. Giles looked… perplexed was probably the best word she could put to it, while Xander’s mouth hung open, his first mouthful of food half-chewed. Willow put her hand under his jaw to shut it for him, which seemed to annoy Anya – if her glare was anything to go by – then Willow wrote “EAT” on a fresh piece of paper in big letters and took great pains to make sure everyone saw how serious she was.

So they ate, surreal as everything was. And after dessert, when Giles finally escaped the table, he reappeared not long after to set yet another book in front of Buffy. She studied the picture and read the brief description before nodding her head. The creepy dudes were definitely the ones from her dream. Giles paled at the confirmation. He pointed to a paragraph on the opposite page.

Yikes. The seven things they needed to take were hearts, apparently. Buffy felt her anger remerge and vowed to herself to kill the Gentlemen extra hard.

---

Spike pocketed a long knife while taking his time over selecting something heftier to carry in his arms. Buffy, meanwhile, seemed to be covering multiple bases at once, squirreling stakes, holy water, two knives, and a miniature crossbow away in carefully concealed pockets. Soon enough, they were headed out on patrol. It didn’t take long to find a few creepy bastards that might as well have had ‘demon henchmen’ tattooed across their foreheads.

They followed one of them to a clock tower where the even uglier blokes from Giles’ book were in attendance. They were a tough fight, but manageable. Everything was going to plan until bloody Riley showed up and tried to lend a hand.

Buffy had her opponent on the ground and three-quarters of the way to incapacitated when farm boy strode in and diverted her attention. The Gentleman took his chance, swiping with his scalpel at Buffy’s chest.

She gasped, or tried to, but the sound came out in a gurgle. Blood spread across her shirt.

Spike didn’t think, just acted on impulse, pulling the nasty bugger off her and throwing him to the other side of the room, knocking Riley out for good measure, too. He was going to pick Buffy up and make a quick getaway, but she shook her head and made a motion with her hands.

Spike picked up the box she gestured to and smashed it.

She screamed, the demons’ heads popped, and she slumped to the floor, unconscious.