Something Gray by pfeifferpack

1. Chapters 1 - 3 by pfeifferpack

2. Chapters 4 - 6 by pfeifferpack

3. Chapters 7 - 10 by pfeifferpack

4. Chapters 11 - 14 by pfeifferpack

5. Chapters 15 by pfeifferpack

6. Chapters 16 by pfeifferpack

7. Chapters 17 by pfeifferpack

8. Chapters 18 by pfeifferpack

9. Chapters 19 by pfeifferpack

10. Chapter 20 by pfeifferpack

11. Chapter 21 by pfeifferpack

12. Chapter 22 by pfeifferpack

13. Chapter 23 by pfeifferpack

14. Chapter 24 by pfeifferpack

15. Chapter 25 by pfeifferpack

16. Chapter 26 by pfeifferpack

Chapters 1 - 3 by pfeifferpack
Author's Notes:
Early chapters are short and I will post those in clumps to make for ease in reading.

This tale is set in S4. Yes, it is Spuffy, but in keeping with the idea of new beginnings, it has a slow build, beginning with the internal life of the characters. If you are expecting a quick Spuffy fix, you might be disappointed, although your patience will be rewarded if you stick with it. There are 26 chapters.

One of the many lovely things about the world Joss and ME created was the use of metaphor, especially in the first three seasons. They took us through the high school years using their own special supernatural devices to deal with things we all experienced.

Season 4 was a perfect set up to continue that form of storytelling. The college years are the time when we re-evaluate all we have been taught up thus far. We experience the world and its people for ourselves, unfiltered. We experiment and challenge and grow. In the end we become our own selves. The Initiative, with humans at the helm and demons as their experiments, the introduction of a chipped vampire and a Slayer apart from the Council and its control were a perfect avenue to explore those parts of our lives in the same metaphor as the previous three seasons. At some point, for reasons I will never understand, they changed course and made it about Adam, a Frankenstein monster, instead of Buffy trudging into those gray areas of her world and grappling with the issues they presented.

In this story I am attempting to tell S4 in a way that might have continued the progression begun by ME in seasons 1–3. There is no Adam in my story, even though I do use canon here and there in the telling of it.

Hope you enjoy my submission of this alternate season 4.
Setting: Begins after S4 episode “Beer Bad” and goes completely AU after “Something Blue”

Disclaimer: All rights to the characters and setting of Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to Joss Whedon, ME, WB, Fox, and other legally affiliated organizations and individuals. No profit is being made with this work of fiction based on their characters.

~*~

Chapter 1

~*~

Buffy awoke to the mother of all hangovers and the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that she really didn’t want to know all that had happened to get her into this condition. She slowly cracked open one eye and flinched as a small amount of light from the open curtains hit her full force. "Damn, now I know how vampires feel with those sunlight issues!” she groaned into her pillow.

"Hey, Ayla, how ya doin’?" Willow asked, her face beaming even brighter than the sunlight.

"Ay who? God, please tell me the demon that did this is dead and dismembered." Buffy held her head, desperate to hold together all the little pieces that insisted they wanted to fly off in all directions.

"Ayla. You know…‘Clan of the Cave Bear’?" Willow could see that Buffy was clueless, so she tried to explain. "You drank some magic home brew and went all 20 million B.C. on us. It was kinda cute, except for the fires and the grunting and your taste in men…. Oh, and the vandalism was of the bad too. I’m not too sure the maintenance people are going to love you for having to repaint our room to get rid of the petroglyphs, but, hey, I told them you were really into archeology studies and they didn’t report it. Also on the ‘yay Buffy’ side, you did knock Parker unconscious."

Buffy fell over and buried her head under the pillow again in embarrassment. "Will, remind me that Tab is my friend and beer is made by evil demons, okay? I don’t even want to see one of those commercials with the cute guys drinking the foamy. I didn’t kill Parker, did I?" Buffy’s face had a tiny flash of hopefulness that gave Willow pause.

"Nope. The jerk will live to seduce another day. He may think twice about who he picks though, ‘cause I kinda psyched him out earlier, before you beaned his noggin." Willow smiled in solidarity. "I told him off pretty good, let me tell you. I gave him the full Rosenberg talkin’ to."

"You know, so far college and Buffy are turning out to be majorly non-mixy. I almost get whupped by a skanky vamp-ho and lose my protecto-brella. Professors are snarkier than the demons I kill, but I can’t kill them, even if they do throw me out of class. At least I don’t think so, I’ll have to ask Giles. My first roommate gave a whole new meaning to demon fighting and my first non-dead boyfriend should be dead. And that’s just the highlights! My first frat party since the whole snake thing with Cordelia turned into the Twilight Zone and what’s with Anya’s bunny costume anyway? I don’t know what was worse: her bad Easter Bunny imitation or having to see Giles in a sombrero. Guuuuhhhh," Buffy shivered in memory. "I think someone up there is trying to tell me to give up on higher education."

"It hasn’t all been bad, Buff; it just takes some adjusting is all. You’ll be College Buffy in no time, trust me. This will be millions of times better than high school was, you’ll see." Willow was having trouble seeing it from Buffy’s point of view because the redhead was born for the college life.

"High school’s followed me here, Will. Harmony--Vampire Harmony, if you can believe it! Is it just me? I can’t wrap my mind around Harmony and Spike as a couple. No wonder he almost let me dust him when we fought over the Gem of Amara! If Harmony’s the best he can do and his last girlfriend was Dru, he must be suicidal!” Buffy looked horrified for a moment as she envisioned her night of alcohol-induced wildness. “Spike didn’t get a front seat at the ‘Buffy Goes Cavegirl’ show, did he?" For some reason that Buffy couldn’t quite explain, she fervently hoped the annoying vampire hadn’t seen her in yet another humiliating situation. The whole Parker brush-off thing was bad enough. Spike had already used that ammunition to wound.

"Nope. Oz said he ran into Spike in L.A., literally ran into him. Spike was trying to get the ring back from Angel but messed it up. Angel got rid of the ring, so it’s safe. I don’t know if Spike came back to Sunnydale or not. He’s probably off jamming bottles in other girl’s faces far away even now." She still got the willies at the memory of the drunken vampire and his kidnapping of her the year before.

"Seems like a waste of a neat power. Angel could have been safe and even gotten a suntan. He’d look so good on the beach in a Speedo." Buffy’s eyes glazed over in lust at the mental picture.

"True, but then if he had TOO good a time, Angelus would be the Speedo-wearing murderer of fish and teachers, and we’d have a big problem!" Willow pointed out the one major flaw in Buffy’s gift giving.

"What is my problem, Willow? I mean, Angel was the love of my life and our problems made Romeo and Juliet look like a summer fling! I finally go normal with Parker and manage to pick the biggest jerk on campus. I’m doomed! Buffy and college, no mixy. Buffy and boyfriends, no mixy either. I should become a nun. A demon-fighting, kick-ass nun." Buffy pulled the pillow back over her head again and wailed in misery over her fate.

"No, Buffy, no! You just haven’t met the right guy yet. I mean, I got lucky and met the right guy first thing with Oz and…and even if I can’t talk about stupid music equipment like slutty hypnotic singers with weird names like Veruca…um…never mind. Oz happens to be my just right guy, that’s all I mean. I know you thought that was Angel for you, but there’s somebody out there that’s really your Mr. Right. Angel was great and I know you love him, but if it were the perfect match, he would still be here, no matter what some old mean gypsy cursed him with. There’s someone just perfect for you, who’ll really understand you and make you feel complete. You just have to be willing to see him when he shows up, that’s all. Parker was a poophead. He was your rebound guy. Rebound done now, so you can find the real thing."

No one could say Willow wasn’t a cheerleader in her own way.

~*~

Chapter 2

~*~

"Buggering poof! Bad enough the great souled wonder gets the ring I found, but then he has to smash it and make it so no one gets the goodies. If that idiot Slayer had only kept it, I could have just stolen it back from her." Spike was pacing as he lamented his ill fortune.

"Boo-boo, don’t be upset. At least Buffy didn’t dust you and you got to torture Angel, so be happy! I even forgave you for staking me, so it’s all just water over the bridge or something." Harmony was getting tired of her lover’s obsession with all things not Harmony.

"That’s ‘under’, pet.” Spike frowned in irritation at another example of Harmony’s lack of mental skills. “Yeah, well, I’m thinkin’ ‘bout movin’ out, findin’ a place of my own. You and me, Harm? Just not workin’ out. You’re a right fine-lookin’ lady, but that’s all there is, you know. Need some time alone to figure what I want to do now. All my plans were gonna need that gem. Gotta think things out and I can’t do that with you yammering day and night. Why don’t you just take some of those pretties we found and go on to Paris since you’re so hot to do that, yeah?"

"Really, Spikey?! You’d let me take some of the jewels? I could shop the designers right off the runway. Do you think Chanel is too old a look for me?" Harmony was already envisioning her new wardrobe.

"Huh?" Spike had not been paying the slightest attention to his nearly ex-girlfriend. "Yeah, you do that, luv. You and Paris’ll be a match made in hell. Go scourge Europe your own way, Harm."

"Maybe Bernie or Brian or whatever his name is will want to go too, do you think? You didn’t dust him when you found the Gem did you? He always kinda liked me, I think." Harmony was already planning the trip in her mind.

"Yeah, you do that. Bye-bye. Have a good time. Don’t bother to write." Spike had to admit a feeling of relief to be seeing an end to this short affair. He would never have picked up the ditzy new vampire if he hadn’t wanted to prove Dru wrong. He did NOT have a thing for the Slayer. Okay, he did want to kill her, bite her, drain her maybe…but he was not lusting after the killer blonde with the bad puns.

"Do you want me to dress up like Buffy so you can fuck me silly one last time for old times’ sake?” Harmony offered.

~*~

Chapter 3

~*~

Spike had decided the best way to prove once and for all that Dru was talking from her madness and not her internal psychic network where the Slayer was concerned was to just kill the blonde bitch.

Yeah, he’d tried that before, but not with real determination. He’d let himself get sidetracked. He should have taken her out that first night there in the alley. Instead, he’d played with her. She’d hypnotized him with her dance and he wanted to watch a bit more of her, see if she fought like she danced. She had, too. Never saw anyone move like her!

He should have just tossed her mum across the room and drained her that next time. As if some soccer mom with an axe could really stand in his way! But no, he had to make the dance last a while longer and look what it got him.

So many times he’d had her right where his fangs could just plunge in and drink her dry. He felt his cock twitch at the thought of plunging other parts of him into the Slayer…and not her neck either. "Damn it, Dru, it’s your fault. You put these sick ideas in my head with your going on about me wantin’ the slayer. I never would have thought about her that way if you didn’t keep harpin’ on it. That and you screwing every demon and vamp from here to Brazil to make me pay for helpin’ against your precious daddy. Bitch!

"Had you dead to rights, Slayer, when I had my pretty invincibility ring. You weren’t even puttin’ up a decent fight. Then I had to piss you off with that stuff about Angel and the hellcat was loose. Love the way those green eyes flash when the bitch is pissed, though. Gave me a right whuppin’ too. Be dust if that entrance to the underground hadn’t been there." Spike smiled in remembrance of their last fight.

He had decided to watch the slayer on patrol and wait for the best opening to finally get the job done. He’d planned to stalk her the night before but had been too busy moving into his new place. Lots of choice locations available. Vamps and demons were going missing at a rate too high to be just the Slayer and her trusty stake.

Oh well, tonight would be soon enough. "First, I finish off the Slayer, and then I find Dru and show her the kind of vamp she threw away. Both bitches’ll pay."

~*~

"I’m telling you, there are these guys like from an Arnie movie and they’re getting in my way! Look, if the Council has decided to go high tech and replace me, fine. I could use the break to do some school work." Buffy was complaining to her Watcher about the commandos that had suddenly popped up everywhere Buffy was trying to patrol.

"The demon and vamp population is kinda scarce lately. Something is really not right with this, Giles. Also, I think there’s another werewolf besides Oz in town. My psych professor said she was attacked by a couple of big dogs and Oz would have been in lockdown. Those soldiers kept me from getting to the non-local in time." Buffy pouted a bit at having her patrol go so wrong.

"Yes, we will need to find out just who these soldiers are and what their mission is. It isn’t the Council, Buffy. Even though you no longer work for them, they are quite content to allow you to fulfill your calling as an independent agent. I don’t see them sending over a wet works team to do your job while you are still doing it quite well." Giles massaged his head to stave off the impending headache caused by these unknown commandos.

"Willow is weirded out, worrying about Oz with these guys everywhere. I don’t blame her, but I think he’ll be safe in his lockdown. These soldier guys seem more interested in the big bads that are out and about, not chained up. Guess I’d better do that patrol then. There might be a fledge or something these guys missed." Buffy grabbed a couple of stakes and headed out of her Watcher’s apartment and another slow night of fulfilling her calling.

~*~

Spike stood on the hill overlooking the college grounds. The Slayer was playing with a fairly young vamp, making dreadful puns and insulting the overmatched creature of the night.

Fine, if she wanted a challenge, the Big Bad was back and she’d rue the day she came on his radar. "Watch your mouth, little girl. You should know better than to tempt the fates that way. ‘Cause the Big Bad is back, and this time, it’s…ARGHHHHHHHHH!” Spike writhed on the ground from the taser blast that caught him mid-snark.
Chapters 4 - 6 by pfeifferpack
~~~

Chapter 4

~~~

Willow was getting ready to go to the crypt and unlock Oz. He had been acting all funny lately and she wanted to treat him to some special lovin’ time before classes. She hadn’t liked the vibes she had been sensing between her sweet wolfie and the slutty singer who had suddenly plopped herself down in the middle of their lives. "Veruca! Who names their kid ‘Veruca’? Sounds like the sound a horn would make on one of those old cars…veruca, veruca, coming through!" she muttered aloud. She didn’t notice the odd looks a couple of early risers gave her in passing.

"Um, Will, you might want to keep those inner dialogues inner,” Buffy suggested with a smile. "I don’t think you want Oz to think you’re jealous of that girl or anything."

"I’m not jealous! She’s just pushy, that’s all. Hey, Buffy, want to do the crazy and double at the Bronze tomorrow night? That cute TA Riley looks like he’s interested, if you want to give romance another try."

"Yuck, no with a side of no! Riley grades my papers! It’d be like dating my teacher, or Giles or something. Can I just say ewwwwwww? Besides, I think he’d get fired if he dated a student." Buffy shivered at the thought of going down that road.

"Oh, yeah, I forgot that part. Gee, Buffy, I just want you to find someone who’ll make you happy again. All that stuff Parker said about commitment taking the fire out of a romance just proved he’s the poophead we called him. Just look at me and Oz! Lots of fire there, you betcha. Regular inferno of fiery hotness." Willow sounded more like she was trying to convince herself with her insistence. "Come with us anyway. Lots of guys there to dance with. You’ll have to beat them off with a stick!"

"Thanks, but there’ll be no beating off for Buffy for a while. I have a couple of papers due and the stick I’ll be using will be a stake on patrol." Buffy sighed in frustration. "I think all I am is the Vampire Slayer sometimes. I mean, I’m supposed to have a shorter lifespan than cheese snacks. Maybe I’m not supposed to have a love life? I turn men into demons when I do sleep with them. Okay, I’m the Slayer and I’m supposed to dust the demons, not sleep with them. I get that. Still Angel was so dreamy, so romantic, and then when I finally go for it, he turns into a monster. Then Parker turns into another kind of monster and I can’t even kill his kind ‘cause he’s human…sorta. I’m cursed!" Buffy looked like she was about to cry.

"You’ve just had some bad luck, Buffy. You’ll see, everything will change for the better. Maybe Parker was right about one thing. It doesn’t have to always be serious, I guess. Just have a good time and don’t look for the true love and maybe it will find you,” Willow advised.

Willow headed off in the direction of Oz’s crypt and morning smoochies while Buffy turned towards the lecture hall for another exercise in boredom. Maybe Willow was right, maybe a night of dancing was just what she needed. No strings attached, no hearts engaged…just feeling free and young and alive.

~*~

Several hours later, Willow still hadn’t returned to the dorm room from her trip to see Oz, and Buffy was not in the mood to work on any of her assignments. It wasn’t that she wanted to be like Faith and have no feelings for her sex partners at all, but she had to feel a little jealous at the carefree attitude of her sister slayer. Of course that attitude had led to the coma Faith was currently in, but still…maybe it was time to loosen up a bit herself.

Buffy picked up one of Giles’ musty old reference books that had been left over from a recent research project with the gang. She leafed through the book until her eye was caught by the section dealing with vampire sexuality. "Never had a chance to really find out with Angel. He was so careful and tender and then…,” Buffy sighed.

She began to read the anecdotes about vampire’s stamina and the strength of their sex drive. "Hmm…Watcher porn, who’d have thought?"

She continued reading about rituals and unusual behaviors like claiming and so on. "I wonder if Angel ever claimed Darla? They were together a long time. Okay, not thinking about ex-boyfriends and their vamp-ho sires. Besides, Angel can’t claim anybody now." Part of Buffy was pleased to know the curse would always stand in the way of Angel making that kind of commitment to anyone that wasn’t her.

Suddenly Willow came into the room crying and shaking. Buffy tossed the book to one side and rushed to her best friend’s side. "God, Will, what’s wrong?"

"Oz. He was all wolfy and she was all wolfy and they were all together. He said he had to lock her up, but why did he have to make it the same cage?" Willow began to steadily weep as she told her story in small pieces in between heart-wrenching sobs.

By the time the whole tale had been told, Buffy was arming herself for a werewolf hunt. This Veruca was toast. Buffy might not be able to do much about her own sorry love life, but this chick was so going down.

~*~

Chapter 5

~*~

Spike woke to a white world of pain. The last memory he had was watching that bitch of a Slayer take down a vamp. His head felt like there was a small man with a pickaxe in the back of his skull trying to dig out. He seemed to be in a cage with one glass wall and nothing but sterile medical white for the rest. He felt like he hadn’t eaten in at least a month and just as his stomach growled in complaint, a packet of lovely red dinner dropped from the sky.

"Don’t drink it! It’s drugged," came a voice from somewhere to Spike’s left as he faced the glass wall.

In a few shared sentences, Spike learned he was a captive being used as a lab rat and that starvation looked to be on the schedule if he didn’t want all sorts of nasties to be done to him. This just would not do at all. No Master Vampire was going to go out like a Rhesus monkey or guinea pig!

~*~

A simple thing to trick keepers when they underestimate your intelligence! Fake a drugged feeding and escape when the pillocks come to take you to Dr. Mengele’s Operating Theater for the Heartbeat Challenged. Having another vamp along to throw to the wolves when needed was a plus.

The only real problem came when Spike popped his head out into the open air only to discover it was still daylight. After a quick dash to the trees nearby and much cursing from the hungry, smoking vampire, Spike was feeling more like himself again. He headed for the caves where he and Harmony had nested before he’d thrown her out. With any luck, the bubble brain would be halfway to bloody Paris by now and he’d have a place to hide out until he could track down the Slayer and get some serious payback.

~*~

“I know, I know, I should have danced with Riley last night. A dance isn’t like dating or anything. I still had a good time. Why are you all ‘go, Riley’ all of a sudden, Will? I thought we decided that whole idea was one big ewwwwww?" Buffy and Willow were going over their memories of the party at the Lowell house the night before.

"I’m not really. He did stop by and ask about you though. You know, ‘what’s Buffy really like’, that kind of thing. I told him you like cheese," Willow admitted.

"That’s why he had that lame pick-up line! I thought he was just stupid." Buffy smiled. "You holdin’ up okay, Will? I wish I could say something that would help with the whole Oz thing. At least he got rid of Veruca so I didn’t have to. He’ll be back, Willow. He loves you."

"I know he does. Just like Angel loves you. And, just like Angel, Oz left for my own good. Stupid men!" Willow looked ready to cry again, much to Buffy’s alarm.

"Chocolate! Lots and lots of chocolate for you, young lady. We’ll fill you so full of Godiva you won’t even remember why you were craving the yummy goodness that is chocolate." Buffy tugged on Willow’s arm and headed for the door.

"Men are such stupid…um…stupids. All ‘it’s for your own good, honey. It’s all for you, baby.’ Then they leave. Like that’s gonna help anything! Put a guy on a white horse and all he does is ride off into the sunset on it!" Willow muttered to Buffy’s full agreement.

The two preoccupied girls nearly crashed into the angry, black-clad vampire as they rounded the corner of the hallway. "Spike! What the hell are you doing here?" Buffy reached into her jacket for a stake only to come up empty-handed.

"Slayer! Thought you’d seen the last of me, didn’t you?” Spike spat. “Ha! The Big Bad is back and mad as hell. What’re you goin’ on about with the secret lab? Honest stakin’ beneath you now? The whole ‘One Girl in Each Generation’ gig get to be more than you can handle?"

Buffy looked at the clearly irate vampire in confusion. "Did you finally lose all your marbles like that old girlfriend of yours, Spike? I don’t know what you’re talking about, but if you don’t leave right now, I won’t even bother with a stake…I’ll just rip your head off and leave your dust for campus maintenance to vacuum up." Buffy hoped the bluff would disguise her weaponless state from her powerful foe. "I’ll give you a one-time pass because you’re clearly not in your right mind, what with the raving and boinking Harmony and all. Now move it, before I change my mind!"

"Don’t think so, ducks. Got a headache here says you owe me a tussle." With that, Spike lunged at Buffy, only to fall to the ground screaming while he clutched his head.

Buffy used the opportunity to grab Willow’s arm and run from the hallway back to their dorm room. Spike would need an invite to get in there and she had plenty of stakes in the kit under her bed.

"Not playin’, Slayer. I’m done with tapdancin’ around you. Next time we meet up, I’m plannin’ a Buffy buffet of all I can drink. You’d best watch over your shoulder, pet." Spike got to his feet, hit the dorm room door with his fist, then swirled around, a blur of black, and headed out of the dorm.

"What was that all about?" Willow was terrified and confused at the same time. "I mean, why was Spike all ‘aghhhhhhhh’ and writhing on the floor? Why’s he so mad at you, for that matter? I know you guys are all mortal enemies and all that, but usually he’s not actually mad."

"I have no clue. He was really weird, huh? Yeah, we’re always talking about killing each other and then usually just fight to a draw. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this mad at me though. Maybe he really has gone crazy. We’d better warn Giles." Buffy loaded up on stakes, just in case, and they headed out once more after making sure Spike was really gone.

~*~

"Bloody slayer, actin’ all innocent! Bitch had to be behind this. Can’t even kill a soddin’ wimp like that…,” Spike grumbled as he watched his intended dinner run screaming down the alley to safety. Spike looked down at the bag of comic books the pimple-faced boy had been clutching and sneered in distaste. As he kicked at the sack he noticed one and picked it up, tucking it into his duster’s inner pocket. "Least his taste wasn’t all bad. That Wolverine’s bloody brilliant."

Something was terribly wrong. Every time Spike tried to feed, he was brought to his knees or worse with what felt like enough current to light a small city ratcheting about his skull. He wasn’t completely sure how long he’d been held captive underground, but the last meal he remembered was that streetwalker in L.A. he’d drained on his way out of town. He consoled himself with the legend that vampires could not really starve to death, even though he remembered watching Angelus exsanguinate one minion back in the day. "He bloody dusted, now didn’t he?" Spike muttered in horror at the thought. "Gotta find some bloke to eat before I become the second vamp known to go that way."

To a hungry vamp, this particular night was as endless as it was frustrating. In all his years as a vamp, he’d never had any problem feeding himself. Even in the sodding wheelchair he’d had to do most of it himself, Dru being all preoccupied and all. Something was radically wrong now and it was looking more and more like a permanent situation.

~*~

"Giles, it was weird. Spike was really pissed off about something. He was ranting about some secret lab I supposedly had." Buffy brought her Watcher up to speed on the hallway meeting with Spike from earlier.

"Indeed, while Spike has tried to kill you often enough, the extreme anger is unusual. I wonder if this secret lab he was going on about has anything to do with the camouflaged soldiers that have been plaguing you here of late? Pity we can’t have a civil conversation with him on that." Giles looked pensive.

"Spike and civil are just not mixy in the best of times. Just when you think you can have a nice sympathetic conversation with him, he holds a broken bottle up to your face!" Willow reminded the pair of her past encounter with the drunken vampire.

"Quite. I must say that it makes me more than a bit nervous knowing that Spike got as close to your dorm room as he did. With him knowing your room, he could wait to ambush you in the hallway at any time. Perhaps we can find a way to put up wards on the building itself to prevent his access." Giles knew that Buffy was not always on alert and that Spike could easily take one of her friend’s hostage to lure her to his clutches.

"Well, I’m on to him now, Giles. No more surprises in the hallway from him! What about that fit he threw though? He was grabbing his head and screaming like a banshee. What kind of crazy causes that?" Buffy asked.

"What you’ve described doesn’t fit any behavior I can easily call to mind. I agree he appears to be highly unstable. Perhaps you should avoid him for now until we know a bit more. He has always proved to be difficult to kill, much more so now with the unpredictable behavior you’ve described." Giles headed for the bookshelf to begin researching mental disorders in the undead.

Buffy looked at the calendar on Giles’ desk and zeroed in on the red-lettered holiday coming soon. "So…Mom’s out of town for the holiday and I’m thinking we all can use one of those warm Hallmark moments in our Thanksgiving memory book this year. How are you with roasting pans, Giles?" Buffy asked her bewildered Watcher.

~*~

Chapter 6

~*~

Thanksgiving was turning out to be as traumatic as a Buffy birthday party! Maybe it was just Buffy and ALL special occasions that didn’t go well together. Willow had single-handedly ruined the entire holiday by reminding them all about the horrible treatment endured by the Native Americans at the hands of their conquerors. Buffy hated having to think of the gray areas that opened up when having to fight the angry Chumash spirit.

Speaking of gray areas, Spike had shown up on Giles’ doorstep asking for asylum…and not the mental hospital kind either. It seemed that the lab he had ranted on about was a real one and they had put something in Spike’s brain that wouldn’t let him kill. He was looking more like the walking dead than ever by the time he swallowed his pride and came to them for help. Since pride was all he had to swallow in a very long time, he was willing to let them tie him up until they felt safe in his presence. With Spike now the non-kill variety of vampire, Buffy was faced with confusion in how to treat him. Gray areas sucked!

It was hard enough remembering vampires were evil undead and in need of a staking when they were hotties like Angel and Spike, but when they weren’t a threat anymore, it got really confusing. Buffy shook her head to clear it of the thought that she had put hottie and Spike in the same sentence. Still, seeing him there all tied up like a pretty, sexy present DID give a girl a stray thought or two.

Buffy had the feeling that this truce might just lead to a whole new world of bad! The sooner Spike was grade A certified safe and sent on his merry way, the better for Buffy’s comfortable black and white world where the only good vamp was a dusted vamp and the only exception to that rule lived in L.A.

~*~

Spike hated playing nice with the children. The sickly boy was annoying as hell even as he lay there with every disease known to modern man! And as for the waffling about how to fight off the ghostie, Spike was still rolling his eyes over that. You couldn’t win a war when you sympathized with the enemy! How did these people stay alive?

They had fed him pigs’ blood and he had been hungry enough to get past gagging at the taste of it. He was so empty it was going to take a while to get back to full strength.

He finally realized that the Slayer and her little crew of wannabes had not been involved with the underground Nazi camp. 'Actually,' Spike thought, ‘seem to remember some plans in German when those goose-steppers captured me during the Second Great War. Something about experimentin’ on the undead. Wonder if this lot’s just a continuation of that bit of nastiness. Lots of Sig Heil boys made it over here when all the shootin’ was done. Play nice with the enemy and see what happens? Underground secret labs and vampnapping!’ Spike kept his thoughts to himself, knowing he’d find precious little sympathy.

The only thing worse than watchin’ the little group play at being the Walton family was listenin’ to the redhead go on and on about the soddin’ Indians. Then again, that was better than her going on about her missing boyfriend. Humans were a pain in the arse. If he could just figure out how to score enough blood to feed properly, he’d snap the stupid wooden chair they had tied him to thinking it would stop him from attacking them. ‘Bloody idiots, like a chair and rope’d do the job! Good thing for them I need to fill my empty or I’d show them what a royally pissed off Big Bad looks like,’ he thought with a smirk.

Of course, seeing them all hiding Peaches being there from the Slayer was worth the price of admission alone! Spike would have told her himself if he’d known how hard she would have taken it. ‘Stupid pillock to turn his back on a sweet package like the Slayer,’ Spike thought, then tried to erase that thought in horror. He was going to have to find a way to get far from these humans or he would become completely corrupted!

~*~

Just one week later, Spike was willing to be anywhere but where his blonde tormentor was, food or no food. He couldn’t get the look on her face out of his head as she had leapt up yelling, “Spike lips! Lips of Spike!" as if he had some contagious disease. To overhear her in the kitchen later had put the icing on the cake. “The bad boy thing? Over it! I totally get it. I’d be really happy to be in a nice relationship with a decent, reliable….”

‘Well,’ Spike thought, ‘I’m bloody reliable, been known to be decent a time or two as well.’ He was surprised how much Buffy’s reaction to the spell’s ending had hurt. He really hated the witch right now.

Spike couldn’t remember ever being as happy and fulfilled as he had been under that bloody spell. The only thing he couldn’t figure out was why it had felt so much like love, real love. The Slayer had felt it too. According to the witch, the part of the spell that affected them called for them to get married, not fall in love. There was not a question in Spike’s mind that he had loved Buffy at that time, more than he’d ever loved Dru even. He would have willingly died for her then.

The feeling had left him on a high, so high that the fall back to earth when Willow ended the spell had nearly crushed the life from him. He hadn’t stopped thinking about how bloody good the Slayer…Buffy…had felt in his arms. She had the most kissable mouth he had ever tasted and had shown signs that she would be a passionate lover given the time and right circumstances.

Her buddy, the boy with the insulting attitude, kept making comments, making it sound revolting how he and Buffy had been so in love and in tune with each other. Everybody got on board that particular train! Even Spike had pretended to be disgusted with his spell-induced love fest. Truth was, though, Spike missed the warm bundle of Slayer on his lap.

Had her hair always been that soft and golden? Had she always had such expressive eyes? He remembered growing hard watching her dance that first time he saw her. "Okay, part of me always knew she was a looker," he admitted to himself. "Still, never knew she’d be so perfect a fit. Bet she’d be a perfect fit in every way too. Damn Willow for casting the spell and double damn her for ending it! Coulda at least let me try the Slayer out first. Get the bint out of my system and all." One good shag and Spike was sure he’d get over his new interest in all things Buffy.

At least the Watcher left him untied now. Those chains in the tub were more than uncomfortable, they were degrading. Spike remembered Buffy coming into the bathroom, cup of blood in hand, and flaunting that neck of hers…that long, beautiful, neck. Suddenly Spike shook his head in horror to realize his desire had been to kiss and lick that neck instead of ripping it open and draining her even then. ‘God, Dru just CAN’T be right about this,’ his inner Spike wailed in panic. ‘It’s just physical and after the magic engagement, I’m just all revved and ready with no place to race.’ Spike headed to the Watcher’s bathroom, planning on a much needed wank.

~*~

Buffy was having similar problems but would never have revealed them to a soul. She had always been aware of Spike on some level. She remembered being saddened to discover all those years ago that the hot guy she had seen at the Bronze was a vamp. After that, just remembering what he was had been enough to stop any thoughts along that line. Now, however, she kept remembering those ‘lips of Spike’ she pretended to hate. He had tasted wonderful and no one had ever kissed her the way he had, not even Angel. She could just imagine the other things he could do with that tongue of his! Buffy felt herself blush and pretended to have to fan herself from the room heat as Willow looked at her with concern.

"I know it’s fall and all, but the heat’s up way too high. This IS California, after all." Buffy bluffed.

"Maybe it’s the flannel jammies you’re wearing. I’m fine in my tee and jeans. I’ll turn the thermostat down if you want though," said Willow. She was still eager to please her friends and feeling guilty about the results of her ‘Will Be Done’ spell. No one acted like they blamed her. Well, Spike did look at her with angry eyes from time to time. ‘Everything worked out okay in the end,’ she reassured herself.

Buffy knew that Willow was already overstressed about Oz cheating on her and then leaving town. Her friend’s distress had been largely ignored by all of them and had led to the disaster that was never to be spoken of again. Buffy really did feel bad for Willow. She knew how it felt to be left behind, hurting. Maybe it would be a good idea to try to cheer Willow up a bit.

Buffy went to the phone to call Anya with a plan. Time for a girls’ night out. The Bronze was just the place for mending a broken heart, or at least hiding it for a few hours.

~*~

The Watcher was expecting a houseguest, one that he was obviously not planning on having sleep on the sofa during her stay. He’d tried to pawn Spike off on Harris, of all people. Well, damned if Spike needed a babysitter! The Scoobies had finally realized Spike’s Big Bad days were over, so there was no reason to just meekly follow the boy to his basement hovel. It was clear Harris didn’t want him there any more than Spike wanted to be there. What Spike needed was a night out to blow off steam. Knock a few balls around a table, seein’ as how he couldn’t knock a few heads around like he’d like to. Make a few quid and get pleasantly buzzed. Wipe that taste of Buffy right off his lips with plenty of Milwaukee’s finest. He might have to room with the whelp for a few days, but for tonight he was going to be his own vamp.
Chapters 7 - 10 by pfeifferpack
~*~

Chapter 7

~*~

The Bronze was filled with young writhing bodies pumped full of hormones as Spike surveyed the room. Once upon a time he’d be picking out his next meal, but tonight he was chafing at the memory of his erstwhile host Xander Harris and his never ending verbal jabs. The nit had become impossible to be around ever since the witch’s little spell from hell.

He’d never understood Dru’s preoccupation with eye removal before. Now he had a new appreciation.

"Bloody buggerin’ hell,” he muttered and took another long pull on the bottle of cheap bourbon. ‘Really love to make YOU “blind, too”, ya wanker,’ he thought bitterly. The whelp thought he was bleedin’ Oscar Wilde with all his attempts at humor, usually at Spike’s expense.

God, how he hated a weak moron like Xander Harris being able to get away with the swagger and slurs he constantly tossed Spike’s way. Spike used to eat idiots like the Xan-Man for breakfast, ‘after makin’ ‘em piss their pants in terror ‘o course,’ he remembered fondly.

"This cursed chip they shoved in my brain's makin’ me as much of a ponce as William ever was,” he said. The bits of plastic and wire kept Spike from being the Master Vampire and ‘scourge of Europe’ that had set him over and above most other demons. "A bloody force to be reckoned with, I was,” he said proudly to himself.

Now he was as much a target for human bullies and blowhards like Xander as William had ever been.

"Take this hardware out of my brain and I’ll gladly make you blind. Then I’ll make you dead,” he promised.

The quirky apprentice witch’s buggering up that spell caused disaster for everyone around her. Spike had been hit harder than he would have ever imagined with the fallout on that one. Memories of that event were driving Spike mad, far more than the computer chip that prevented his feeding. As always, affairs of the heart always took the biggest toll on him.

He was filled with restless energy of the not-good kind and no way to properly work it off. ‘No one to shag and no way to kill!’ he mourned. He headed out the back door to get some fresh air and work off a bit of aggression on the piles of garbage always to be found in the alley.

A bag of empties flew down the alley with a satisfying crack and tinkle of glass. "Engaged to the Slayer, for Christ’s sake,” he shook his head as if to clear the memory. "Like a pair of soddin’ lovebirds, all cozy. Sittin’ on my lap and squirmin’ about. Gettin’ a fella all ripe and ready… bloody tease, that Slayer. Kisses, too, all hot and tasty like she had a clue about what to do to a man and all…."

He paced angrily while images of the results of the spell gone wrong danced in his mind. He was more frustrated than he had been when Dru was writhing in their bed with every demon in a ten mile radius. Felt more impotent than all that time in the wheelchair. The Slayer was the root of all his misery, he just knew it! The dark alley was now a macabre memory lane rather than the hunting grounds it should be. "Damn!” he exclaimed and threw his empty bottle against the wall of the Bronze.

"Bint probably wouldn’t have the first idea of how to please a man. Only had that one moment of ‘true love’ with Peaches and then that one-nighter with the college Casanova,” he reminded himself. "Might as well be a virgin for all the skill she’d have,” he tried to console himself.

Still, he couldn’t seem to stop thinking about what a delightful bundle she was, all cuddly soft and warm in his arms. "The kisses showed promise, gotta admit. Probably learn right quick. Seemed eager, too. Almost hungry, starved even,” he mused. "I know that feeling all too well,” he admitted sadly.

"It’s this town and this slayer causin’ all my hell,” he reaffirmed. "Before we came here, I was on top. The name William the Bloody caused even fierce demons to tremble and lesser vampires to hide in their lairs. Nothing and no one could stand up to the Big Bad and live to tell. No poncy human like the Boy with the Big Mouth would have dared be in the same room with me, let alone make jokes at my expense,” he raged. Memories of a curly haired, shy poet surrounded by jeering jackanapes flooded his mind.

It had all been simple and straightforward at first: come to the Hellmouth and cure his princess. Racking up slayer number three was only going to be the icing on his cake. It had all gone to hell rather quickly.

This little blonde bimbo with the bad puns had buggered everything. It didn’t take visions like Dru’s to see the bad omens nearly from the start.

He’d scoped out the little slayer and had his surprise attack all ready to take out his number three. First bit of bad luck was runnin’ into his bleedin’ grandsire. "Thought Peaches was still in the game, like he’d been those couple of years after havin’ the soul shoved in,” he remembered.

True, Angel had only eaten criminals and other humans thought of as so much throwaway trash. "Lost his taste for torture, but the Great Souled One still traveled with us, huntin’, killin’ and all,” he reminisced. "How was I supposed to know he was playin’ for the other team?" Spike wondered.

The real kicker to Spike’s well-laid plan that night had turned out to be the Slayer’s mother! No lone defender of the innocent or avenger of blood was this Slayer. Oh no, this one had family and friends all muckin’ about in the demon killin’ business. Like the bloody Mafia. Crazy is what it was. “Bitch should be named Corleone, not bloody Summers.

"Damn fine woman though, that Joyce Summers. Full of fire protectin’ her young. Didn’t even know the bint was more than some boy crazy teenager either. Took it a bit hard when she did find out.” He had to smile slightly in the middle of his tirade as he thought of Mrs. Summers.

"Would’ve thought that one humiliation was enough, but noooo! Never could seem to kill the bloody Slayer, even when she was laid out like a ham for carvin’ in that silly dress on Halloween. Then had to let her drop an organ on me and make me a candidate for Vamps on Wheels. Worst possible time, too, that was--not that there’s ever a good time to be stuck in a wheelchair with a snapped spine,” he corrected himself.

Spike staggered down the alley in pursuit of another bottle of comfort, haunted by his tragic history in Sunnydale.

"Then the Bubble Gum Princess with a Stake had to give ol’ Angel a happy and ruin my love life along with hers. Over a hundred years with his darlin’ only to have to sit in that damn chair and watch her fall all over her Angelus again. Hell, he’d had to put up with the two of them falling all over HIM as they rutted! If the bitch hadn’t dropped that organ on me, I’d have dragged Dru out of town and away from gel boy before she fell under his spell again,” he said with a grimace. “’Ooh, daddy, help princess put together the jigsaw demon and let’s kill all the food supply!’ Pair of idiots! Deserved each other.

"Finally got rid of the git and reclaimed my woman, only to have her turn up funny on me. ‘Soft’, she said. ‘Not a bad enough Big Bad anymore. Love struck by the Slayer’ of all things,” he spat. Dru really was daft on that last one, even more daft than the attempts to drag the world into hell for her daddy.

That was the whole reason he came back to this cursed town: to prove the silly bint wrong about it all. Come back, get all horizontal with a tasty little number--NOT the slayer--and then finish it up by puttin’ a period to ‘Buffy the Vampire Layer’ once and for all! Drag her entrails back to Brazil to drape over his dark plum; do wicked things in the Slayer’s remains.

Bitch lived under some kind of lucky star, she did! "The bloody U.S. Army helpin’ protect her without even knowin’ they were doin’ it! All I wanted was to drain her dry, instead I found myself in some Star Trek kind of holdin’ cell with soddin’ humans shovin’ hardware in my grey matter. Neutered me good and proper, they did. It’s just not right! Someone must’ve put some kind o’ charm or spell on the bint to protect her,” he decided. "Yeah, fallin’ under spells is just a part of livin’ in SunnyD,” he snarked.

Parts of this last spell disaster did bother him, however. The witch had said her flawed ‘do my will’ spell and caused him to get engaged to the Slayer. Spike was more than a little disturbed to remember how in love he had felt, how happy.

"Hell, marriages happen every day without any love or even burnin’ desire. I just don’t understand why it felt like that. Or why I still have those dreams. Or why I always get hard whenever I’m near Buffy. Or why I even think of her as Buffy instead of the Slayer,” he pondered. It just didn’t make any sense.

No matter how much fermented grain he ingested, Spike couldn’t seem to burn the memory of how her small body fit in his arms, how wonderful she had smelled, how soft and warm her skin was against his. Nothing helped, but he kept on trying.

"I need to get bat-chasin’ drunk, and fast,” he decided. "Next thing ya know, I’ll be writin’ soddin’ poems about her golden tresses, and sea green eyes that I could drown in". He stopped in horror, realizing how very close he had come to doing just that. "God, I need a drink,” he remembered, and set off in pursuit of another bottle of forgetfulness.

~*~

Chapter 8

~*~

Tara Maclay had not wanted to meet her study partner at the Bronze. She didn’t care for the crowd that hung out there and felt vulnerable around so many men on the make.

She had only been there a few minutes when one of the burly football players from the University noticed her. "Why can’t he notice someone who might be interested?” she wondered.

The boy was losing at pool against a man dressed in black and smoking, even though it was against the rules at the pub. Tara was a nice distraction for the loser, she guessed.

"Hey, pretty thing. You new at the U? I’d be really, really happy to show you how everything works, if you get my meaning,” he leered at her. "Just let me beat this Eighties reject and I’ll show you a real good time, honey,” he had promised.

"No, thanks. I’m meeting a f..f..friend here any minute,” she had replied. Tara did not make eye contact. She always felt it would be like issuing a challenge if she did. She never seemed to come out on the better end of a confrontation either.

"Don’t see anyone looking for you just now, b..b..blondie. You know how lucky you are that I’m available tonight? Most freshmen have to wait at least a semester before I take notice. You’re gonna be making all the little girlies jealous pretty soon,” he boasted. The neckless wonder ran a meaty hand over Tara’s bare arm, getting far too close to brushing against her lush breast.

Tara felt her body freeze, her mind going blank for a moment like an antelope in the last moments before the inevitable takedown by the cheetah. She found her voice and tried to regain some control over the situation. "I’m really sorry if you thought I was interested, but I’m not looking for anything except my study partner.” Tara tried to pull her arm free from the big boy’s grasp.

"I don’t think you need any studying tonight. I know just what you need, baby. I got it right here, too,” he whispered suggestively. His free hand cupped his crotch suggestively as he made the attempt to tighten his hold on the clearly frightened girl.

A cold hand landed on the boy’s and pried it off of the shy girl’s arm. "Lady said no, I’m thinkin’. Maybe you should take some of those language classes they’re givin’ so you can learn the meaning of that word. Means the same in lots of languages, even ponce.” Spike’s voice was low and filled with menace. The pressure he was putting on the boy’s hand was just enough to get the point across without setting off the chip.

Tara took the opportunity to slip away from the would-be Romeo. She cast a grateful look at the man in the black duster and nearly ran to the other side of the dance floor.

The tension between the two men was thick and everyone expected a brawl to break out at any moment. Steve Foresman didn’t like anyone to tell him what he could or could not do. He also didn’t like losing at any sport, even if it were only pool.

"Yo, Steve, your turn to play. How about showing this dickhead how a real man handles a cue stick and take our money back,” his buddy said with a laugh. The British punk was smaller than Steve, but his buddies didn’t really want their good times to end like they usually did with him. "Think Vanessa just came in anyway, so it’s a good thing you didn’t score with the little mouse,” he said in a soothing voice.

"Yeah,” said Spike, "I bet you get lots of practice handling your cue stick, Stevie. Show us what you’ve got then,” Spike taunted.

Anger does nothing to help a pool game and the sad showing made by the college boy proved the truth of that.

"Maybe you’d better go play with your stick a bit more before you try to use it like a real man,” Spike said with a smirk. He pocketed the cash he’d won and stalked off towards the bar.

The six frat boys had been easy targets for the pool hustle. Spike had won enough to buy some of the good stuff this time with plenty of dosh left over for later.

While Spike enjoyed his winnings and the feeling of power that came from intimidating the bully into letting the bird go, the bully in question sank deeper and deeper into the sulks. Bad enough Mr. Clairol had taken their fun money for the month, then he had to butt in where the stacked blonde was concerned too. The mousy girl should have been honored to have Sunnydale U’s finest pay attention to her at all.

Steve’s long-suffering girlfriend had not come in after all, so he was likely to be sleeping alone tonight. ‘Great. Embarrassed, dissed, horny and now broke, too.’ Steve was not having a good night. That shy girl should have been quivering at the thought of him even noticing her. The interfering pool hustler had made him look a fool on many fronts. His buddies laughed at him being in this unusual position of loser until the hustler had taken them for all their money too.

None of the fine young scholars was happy at being had. They sat at their table, glowering at Spike as he downed another shot with a beer chaser at the bar.

In time, they were joined by a few of their fellow toga party rejects. More angry eyes turned upon the smug stranger in black as the home team shared their tale of woe with the newcomers. Of course, all they saw was a friendless Brit who had already had one too many drinks and far too much good luck for any pool player to have naturally.

When Spike did notice the dirty looks directed his way, he merely laughed to himself. ‘Pfft, if the pups spent half the time perfectin’ their game that they spent slammin’ back the brews, they coulda had a fightin’ chance,’ Spike thought. He never bothered to cheat at pool; his skill was finely honed from over a century of play. Wasn’t his fault the fish thought they could reel in the fisherman!

Spike ordered another bottle of Jack to take back to the Watcher’s with him.

Giles had returned to playing reluctant host to the vampire since his come-and-gone girlfriend had become gone again. It wasn’t home, but it was better than the basement hell that was Xander Harris’ hovel. Giles had become used to Spike staying there at his apartment, but he had also learned to lock up the good stuff from his ‘houseguest’.

At least Spike was free of the chains and ropes the Slayer’s crew demanded he be trussed up in for their safety. ‘Yeah, wish I could do some damage there,’ he thought wistfully. ‘Start with that mouthy Big Bad wannabe, Xander, and finish up with the royal bitch herself,’ he daydreamed.

With a sigh, he took his precious liquid comfort and strutted out the back door of the Bronze, headed for his current haven from the soldier boys with all their toys.

So caught up was Spike in dreams of what he’d like to do to the entire Scooby contingent that he failed to notice his exit was causing a stir at the Phi Kappa Cuppa table.

Tara did notice their reactions, however. She had been too nervous to stop watching their table and she could tell they were really angry with the man who had made them leave her alone.

She had not wanted to meet her study partner here instead of the library, but she was trying so hard to fit in at college that she had given in at the last moment. She had not made any friends yet and had determined to join a group or two and finally explore her hard-earned freedom. She would not let tonight set her back again. She was tired of existing and wanted to try living for a change. Still, being pawed by a drunken bully in a bar wasn’t what she’d had in mind to begin this new life.

Tara did worry a bit for her helper, however, when she saw the table full of college boys get up and head towards the back door of the Bronze where the man in black had just exited. She wondered if she should call on a bouncer to help or just mind her own business.

Maybe she’d peek out the back in a couple minutes, she thought. Just make sure everyone was all right, but not draw any attention to herself in the process.

~*~
Chapter 9
~*~

Spike stopped just outside the Bronze and lit another cigarette. He was feeling a bit of a buzz from the whiskey and beer and was really wishing he could go on a proper hunt, feel like his old self again. He tucked the bottle under his arm and headed towards the end of the alley and the Watcher’s apartment.

"Hey, Prince Charlie, stop! I think you have something that belongs to us. Didn’t think you could cheat us at the table and just walk, did you? I am so hoping you plan to fight back for the cash, man, ‘cause I really want a piece of you,” taunted Steve. He was the obvious spokesman for the large number of drunken athletes that had followed Spike from the Bronze.

"I’d kinda like that coat he’s wearing,” said one of Steve’s less physically endowed friends. "Think the girls might like it,” he said.

The crowd began to close around Spike, cutting off any easy exit from the alley.

"Looks like you need all the help you can get in that department, mate,” Spike shot back as he prepared to defend himself. He set the bottle of Jack down near some boxes and started to turn to the advancing group. He felt the first fist slam into his midsection before he completed the turn.

After the initial blows were delivered, Spike was reminded why he should have used his speed and energy running instead of standing up to the pack of jackals. The damned chip made it impossible for him to take on even one of these rejects.

Just a month or so ago, Spike could have killed the lot of them and drained enough to glut himself with no effort at all. Now he couldn’t even block blows fast enough and was crippled by the chip when he’d try to punch back.

They had him down in short order and rained blow after blow on the fallen, helpless vampire. They helped themselves to the cash he had on him, even what he had started with, and took the coat for good measure.

"Hey, Steve, I think we may have killed him! I’m not getting a pulse here,” one of them said in a panic.

"Shit! Well, let’s get out of here quick. I think we can wake up Coach, make up some story about this clown pulling a knife or something and he’ll square everything with the cops. You remember how great he was last year with that bitch and her accusations. Lots of people saw this jerk hustling us for cash in there. He’s a lowlife. We’re the proud home team,” Steve reasoned. "No need for anybody to panic."

The suddenly sober gang sprinted down the alley and headed for the home of their coach and the safety of his influence with the authorities.

They left the broken body of Spike in a large pool of his own blood, blessedly unconscious. There was a deep stab wound from the knife that one of the gang had put into Spike’s hand. The boy had stabbed Spike before putting it in his hand, and then rolled him over to make it look like he had stabbed himself with his own knife in a fall during the fight. Spike had been past feeling anything at that point.

A soft rain began to fall, mixing with the blood making small rivulets of red to wash down the alley.

~*~
Chapter 10
~*~

Tara nervously looked towards the back exit, waiting for the return of the college boys. They did not return.

She just had to know if the man who had come to her aid was okay. She went to the back and cautiously opened the door to the alley. She looked out into the rain, not seeing anyone or anything, and sighed in relief.

"Okay, I overreacted. I’m sure everything is fine,” she tried to convince herself. "Well, maybe I should just look around a bit more to be certain. I’d hate to be a coward only to find out I should have helped. Besides, those boys are gone and I’ll be safe from them anyway,” she reminded herself.

She had only walked a short distance when she saw the dark form lying on the ground. She recognized him right away, even without the coat he had been wearing earlier.

Tara bent to check on him and pulled back her hand in terror. He was ice cold, covered in blood and not breathing! "Oh, goddess, they killed him! What should I do now? If it gets in the newspaper, my family will know where I am and come for me.” Tara paced in agitation. “I can’t just leave him. He might not be dead. No, do the right thing, Tara,” she encouraged herself.

She ran to the door to get help only to find it had locked behind her. Tara then ran toward the front door of the Bronze to get help for the poor man in the alley. She prayed it wasn’t too late.

In her haste, she wasn’t looking where she was going and ran right into a redheaded girl she recognized from the Wiccan group she had joined that very morning. ‘Willow. Yes, that was her name,’ she remembered.

"Oh, please help him, help me! It was awful and I feel like it’s my fault partly. H..h..he tried to help me and they’ve killed him, I think,” she stuttered. "You’re Willow, aren’t you? Please, I need to call the police and an ambulance, but I think he may already be dead.”

Willow thought she’d seen the hysterical girl before somewhere on campus but could not put a name to her face.

"Um, you need to take a deep breath and calm down so we can help you,” she said in an attempt to comfort and calm the girl.

Tara took a ragged breath but could not stop shaking.

"Okay, where is this guy you think might be dead?” Willow asked.

"He’s in the alley. I saw them follow him out and knew they wanted to hurt him. He beat them at pool and made them leave me alone, so they weren’t happy with him. They were drunk too. I never thought they’d kill him though, or I would have sent help right away, I swear,” she said in a rush. "There’s a lot of blood and he’s not breathing at all."

Willow took the girl’s hand and headed for the alley saying, "Come on, guys, let’s check it out. Buffy, do you have your cell to call the police?”


"Yup, all celled up and callin’ for backup,” Buffy replied as she frantically began to punch numbers.

The evening intended to comfort Willow for losing Oz had taken a quick turn into the lifesaving part of the evening without even a single dance. ‘Well, nothing like a bit of high drama to shake Will out of her own problems.’ No one wanted Willow to resort to witchcraft again to heal her broken heart! ‘Not that I’m wanting anyone dead or anything,’ she amended. “It’ll probably just turn out to be someone passed out after a bar fight,” she tried to reassure everyone. ‘Willow can pat herself on the back for doin’ the good deed and all will be of the good,’ she thought to herself.


The girl who had run up to them was still pouring out the story of the heroic young man who had come to her rescue only to be so badly punished for his good deed. The slight stutter she had displayed earlier disappeared with the urgency of her story.

"I really think he’s dead,” Tara had just finished saying as they came upon Spike’s body. Taking in the scene, Buffy felt her breath leave her body as she looked at the large pool of blood surrounding the familiar figure. She closed her cell phone before sending the call.

"Dead, yeah, but not permanently unless he’s dust,” Buffy whispered quietly. She was uncomfortable with the slight lurch her heart had given at the sight of her recent fiance so still and broken. "So, who did he piss off to wind up pulp boy?” she asked Tara.

No one noticed the slight quiver in her voice because they were all so horrified at the damage done to the once powerful and frightening vampire.
Chapters 11 - 14 by pfeifferpack
~*~
Chapter 11
~*~

Tara had been looking at Buffy oddly since she overheard the odd whisper about dust. Willow took the shaken girl to one side and tried to explain away Buffy’s comment.

"Buffy knows Spike and he gets in trouble like this all the time. He’s not dead, you’ll see. He has a real slow pulse is all. Yeah, and he’s a shallow breather,” she improvised.

Anya chimed in a bit too cheerily for the circumstances. "Yes, Spike is not easily killed. He can take all kinds of abuse, even likes it. It's like foreplay."

Tara raised a brow at that comment but still insisted, "We still need to get an ambulance for him quickly. He’s lost a lot of blood and I think they broke a lot of bones. He was really nice to me in there and made them let me go." Her lovely doe eyes filled with tears, "I just want him to be alright." She turned imploring eyes on the girl with the cell phone, silently begging her to make the needed call.

Buffy looked conflicted. “Spike’s not nice to anyone. There had to be something in it for him.” She didn’t see the shocked, reproving look on Tara’s face at the cold attitude being shown to the hurt man.

"Look, why don’t you let Willow walk you home and I’ll take care of this pest,” Buffy offered. "Looks like you’ve had a ratty night and standing in the rain worrying over him isn’t gonna improve it. He’ll be fine, I promise."

Tara felt weak-willed for agreeing to let this seemingly cold-hearted girl take charge of the situation. She would have stood her ground and made sure this man got the care he obviously needed if only it didn’t involve the possibility of getting her name in print. She really didn’t want her dad and Donny to come and pull her away from the only chance
she had for a life of her own, an end to her private hell. What if she became stubborn trying to save a man already dead only to lose her new life in the process?

"You’re sure he’ll be okay? Won’t I need to tell the police what happened?" Hoping to be reassured, she turned tear-filled eyes on Buffy.

"I really can’t see Spike wanting the police involved in this, believe me. No, he’ll be fine and the guys that did this will get what’s coming to them.” Buffy’s voice took a sharp tone with that promise. For some reason, the thought of a group of jackasses thumping on her vampire made Buffy’s blood boil. “Look, just go home and I’ll tell Spike how you helped. Maybe he’ll drop by and show you he’s okay in a day or two,” Buffy promised.

"Okay, but I really don’t feel right about this. It’s as if what was done to him doesn’t matter. There should be justice,” Tara replied. Tara was already wallowing in guilt over her agreement to hand the decisions over to a girl who seemed uncaring in the extreme.

"Justice is one thing Spike doesn’t want, believe me,” Buffy insisted.

Tara wondered if the helpful man in black was some sort of criminal for these otherwise seemingly nice girls not to want to involve the police. Maybe he was a troublemaker that the police would choose to blame for the problem no matter what Tara might tell them.

He had not seemed to be someone like that though, and she was usually a pretty good judge of character. She hadn’t yet tried to read his aura; right now it would mostly register pain unless he really was dead. Tara preferred to not judge people on anything but her own personal experience with them. So far, the poor beaten man had only done her a good turn. Actually, he was the only male in her short life to have ever done so. "Are you sure he’ll get the medical care he needs without the police getting involved?”


"Yeah, he’s a pain in the ass, but he seems to be my pain in the ass to deal with,” Buffy sighed. She was really uncomfortable feeling the concern she was feeling when looking at Spike in this condition. "I’ll make sure he lives to annoy another day. Anya, will you help me get Spike over to Giles’ while Willow walks--I’m sorry, what is your name?”

"My name is Tara Maclay. I’m new to Sunnydale University. Um, I..I..I’m a freshman,” the shy blonde replied.

Anya and Buffy pulled Spike up and began to drag him to his feet while the introductions took place among the young women.

Willow and Tara headed to the dorms of the university, with Willow giving advice to the newcomer about the areas in Sunnydale to avoid after dark.

"Great, he’s bleeding all over my new coat,” Buffy grumbled as the unconscious body of Spike pressed against her. "Geesh, wonder what he said to piss them off this much. He’s really thrashed! Well, he did say that vampires couldn’t bleed to
death, so he’ll be fine,” she reminded herself.

"Actually, he wasn’t completely correct,” supplied Anya. "I did know of a vampire that was completely exsanguinated. He began to look like a mummy and then his dust just blew away. It takes a lot because every single drop of blood has to be gone, but it can happen. I think Spike still has enough fluid in him to pull through,” she said reassuringly.

In spite of Anya’s words, it was clear from Buffy’s face that she was still concerned for the vampire they held between them.

"Anya, sometimes your stories scare me more than the vampires,” Buffy said with a nervous laugh. "Do you tell them to Xander too?"

~*~

Chapter 12

~*~

Giles was already asleep when the girls brought Spike to the door and began to knock rather loudly.

"Yes, Spike, I am coming! Good Lord, I let the fiend stay here in safety and he insists on going out all hours flaunting his presence, then doesn’t even bother to take the key I so generously let him borrow,” he muttered in irritation. The Watcher was feeling decidedly put upon by his unwelcome houseguest. "Really, if he feels safe enough to carouse all night, it’s high time he find another place to live."

That thought brought a smile to his face as he shuffled to the door. He was still grinning as he pulled the door open. His smile quickly faded as he took in Buffy, covered in blood, her arm around an unconscious Spike. Indeed, he was so upset he did not notice Anya there at first.

"Giles, the very least you could do is take Spike from us and let me get home to Xander,” the forced Samaritan said. "Really, there is a reason they call it dead weight, you know. I don’t have Buffy’s Slayer strength and am quite sure Xander wouldn’t approve of my helping in this situation anyway.”

"Yes, yes, of course, come in, come in. Just place him on the sofa and I’m sure we will do just splendidly without your continued assistance. Feel free to return home to Xander in all due haste, Anya,” Giles said with some annoyance. "Buffy, my dear, are you quite all right?”

"Yeah, I’m fine. Just got pulled into saving Spike’s undead ass from a gang of drunken frat boys. At least that’s what this girl said happened. It was all over by the time we got to the Bronze.” Buffy helped lower Spike onto the overstuffed sofa and continued, “this kinda nervous girl came running up to Willow--I think she’s in a class with Will or something--and said there was a guy murdered in the alley. It was Spike and he was unconscious. I didn’t tell…um, Tara was her name, anyway…I didn’t tell her that if Spike was murdered in an alley, it was in the last century. I didn’t think she wanted to know about vampires and demons on top of all the rest she’d seen tonight."

"No, of course not. Civilians have such trouble believing anyway and there is no need to further alarm the girl,” Giles agreed. "You say Spike was set upon by a group of college lads?" He looked on in discomfort at the condition of the vampire on his sofa.

"Yeah, I haven’t really looked too closely yet, but I think they really did a number on him. This Tara said that Spike had come to her rescue in some way, if you can believe that. I don’t really know what happened, to tell you the truth. I figured I’d better get his sorry butt out of the alley before those commandos stumbled on him and we lost our chance to find out what they are all about,” Buffy said.

"Well, I’m headed to the dismal basement Xander calls home since my services aren’t needed here,” Anya said. She didn’t exactly rush out, however, as it was whites day with the laundry and the tiny apartment would reek of bleach.

"I must say that I would never have believed a group of mere humans could inflict such damage on a master vampire. It appears he was not exaggerating when he said this chip prohibits his doing any harm to human beings. This has to have been quite a blow to his ego, as well as his body,” Giles said. He looked at the bruised and broken body of the once fierce vampire and felt an unexpected surge of sympathy for his plight.

"Now we know he really is neutered, I guess,” Buffy said. She looked at Spike more closely and winced at the sight of the damage that had been done to him. ‘I hope not literally,’ she amended to herself.

Buffy frowned. "He makes me crazy a lot, but I wouldn’t have done this to him. Stake him, sure…beat him half to death, no. Giles, these guys couldn’t have known he’s a vampire. They must have thought they were beating up another human being. God, they had to have thought they murdered some guy and just left his body there! Maybe that girl is right and some kind of justice needs to happen. I mean they might do something like this again when someone pisses them off and really kill someone,” she reasoned.

"Until he regains consciousness, we won’t know what happened or who was involved. That, of course, is provided that we can be sure his story will be the truth in any form,” he sighed. "Let’s get him cleaned up and try to stop the bleeding before my sofa is thoroughly ruined. He’s going to be in a great deal of pain for some time, I fear. And I had so hoped to get him to move on. Ah, well, after he heals up, he can shop about for some nice nest or tomb or something other than my home,” Giles mused.

"I think I’m gonna’ pass on the whole cleaning Spike’s body show, if you don’t mind, Giles. I don’t think I wanna see all the parts that need fixin’.” She pushed down the heat that flushed her body at the thought of what parts might be revealed and what those might look like. They had certainly felt wonderful under Willow’s spell. Buffy had given THAT far too much thought already without a visual. “I’m gonna head back to the dorms and check on Willow and that Tara girl. Maybe I’ll hear some more on what happened tonight.”

"Yes, do that, Buffy. Naturally, I wouldn’t expect you to, ahem, assist in any unseemly way with tending to his injuries. Perhaps this girl can offer some more information on what occurred. At least we will have another source besides Spike for the whole story,” he said softly. "Would you mind heating up some blood before you go, however. He’s going to need quite a bit if he’s going to heal properly and I’d like to start that process as soon as possible."

"Sure thing,” Buffy said with a quick smile. "One thermos of Piggy Dew coming up,” she quipped. "Do you have enough, or should I stop by Willy’s?"

"I believe we have enough for tonight. Thank you, Buffy.”

Buffy heated the blood and left Giles to the job of tending to Spike’s many injuries.

"How the mighty have fallen,” Giles thought to himself as he began to pull away the clothing from the fallen vampire’s wounds. Giles was sure he’d seen worse beatings, but he couldn’t remember when as wound after wound was revealed.

~*~
Chapter 13
~*~

Coach was angrier than any of the boys had ever seen him. He didn’t like being awakened at this hour, especially with news like his star players were sharing with him.

"What do you mean you left the body in the alley? You thought no one would notice the whole pack of you going out that back door after this guy. I don’t know how I’m going to keep this one quiet. Who was this girl that was involved? We’ll have to make sure she doesn’t remember any connection between any of you and this pool shark,” he nearly shouted. The coach’s face was beet red and he just knew his blood pressure medication was being given a workout.

‘God, why can’t we get kids with half a brain that can play football? Or at least some who don’t drink and break every law known to man on a regular basis,’ he thought with rancor. Coaching used to be much easier when he worked at the middle school.

"Let me call a friend or two, see if the body’s been discovered or if this guy is in the hospital and not dead. I’ll have to be careful how I ask; don’t want to draw any suspicion. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the guy will have crawled out into the street, got hit by a car or something and this will all just go away." Life was rarely that simple, however.

"Meanwhile, try, try, try to be discreet and find out the name of that girl,” he ordered. "And, for God’s sake, let me handle her! Just give me her name and dorm room and I’ll handle it,” he said forcefully. "You said she was real shy. That could be good. The last mess you got me into was saved by the girl being reluctant to have her name in the papers.” The coach cringed inwardly at the memory of his veiled threats to have that girl’s less than pure past spread all over the news. “Honestly, Steve, you really need to keep that zipper of yours up or just stay faithful to Vanessa for the season! I can’t keep pulling a rabbit out of the hat whenever your hormones get the better of you,” he reprimanded the worst offender, who also happened to be his best player.

"That goes for all of you,” he finished, glaring at the room filled with Sunnydale University’s finest. "Stay away from the women and gambling, and all of our lives will get a lot easier."

‘Maybe I can bribe a demon to mess up the corpse and make it look like another of the “unexplained deaths” we always have here in Sunnydale’, he thought. The coach had lived on the Hellmouth a long time and was far from stupid. He knew the secret world of his little town. Knew some names too, not that he wanted to be in their debt again. First he’d need to be sure there was a corpse to cover up.

‘If the guy is alive and wants to cause trouble, I may just bribe one of those demons anyway. It worked well in dealing with those twins last year. God, I need a higher class of athlete for my team. I can’t keep this up forever. Damned alumni, all they want is a winning season, no matter what kind of thug it takes to carry the ball to victory.’


He started making the necessary calls, being as careful as possible to give nothing away. After about an hour and a half he was left scratching his head in confusion.

If the story his unrepentant boys had told him was true, the English pool shark should have needed a hospital at the very least, and more than likely the morgue. No one with injuries matching their description, however, had come in and no dead bodies were found. Well, at least not in the alley behind the Bronze, and no male bodies--not tonight anyway.

After all, this was Sunnydale; there was always at least one dead body every night. This night, it was a pair of girls in the park with neck wounds, but no beaten men in alleys. Maybe Coach’s luck was finally changing and some random demon had made a meal of the unfortunate hustler. Things were looking up. Now the only possible fly in the ointment was the girl.

~*~
Chapter 14
~*~

Spike had lost a lot of blood. In all his years of taking on the biggest of the big bads, he couldn’t remember having quite so many broken bones to show for it, at least not at one time. The only time he ever remembered being this badly hurt was after Angelus had established the pecking order in their little family soon after William was turned. He wondered just how he had managed to get to the Watcher’s flat. His last memory was of the blinding pain in his head as he tried to defend himself against a pack of hairless gorillas masquerading as college students.

"So you’re back amongst us, I see,” said Giles. "There’s a cup with blood next to you. I think it advisable that you drink down as much as you can hold for now,” he advised softly. Giles was not without compassion, even for a vampire. "I think we can wait until you’re feeling more the thing before we discuss what happened.”

"How did I get here?” Spike choked out softly.

"Buffy and Anya brought you here from the alley behind the Bronze. A young lady led them to you, thinking you were dead. You really do need blood and rest for now, however. There will be time enough for the sharing of information later." Giles stood and began to move away from the injured vampire.

"Bloody bastards! I wasn’t even cheating. Won the blunt fair and square. Wasn’t my fault they couldn’t hold their drink or play a decent game of billiards. Actually trying to do the straight and narrow for once. See what it got me? Damn buggerin’ chip won’t even let me fight back against a pack of pups,” he lamented.

It was clear from his tone of voice and facial expression that he was feeling no small amount of shame at having been laid low by a group of college boys.

"Yes, well, you have been handicapped by the wiring put in your head by those scientists that you promised to lead us to,” Giles reminded him. "I’m sure you would have decimated the lot of them had you not been chipped,” he offered in sympathy.

"Damn straight, Watcher, woulda drained the lot of ‘em! Used to eat gangs of bullies all the time," Spike spat out in a mixture of anger and pride.

"Of course, if that had been the case, Buffy would have simply staked you, rather than hauling your carcass over to bleed on my sofa,” Giles replied dryly.

"There is that,” Spike agreed. "Still don’t seem right--a group of humans being able to do this to a bloke and it’s okay, but not okay for a fella to defend himself.”

"No, Spike, it is not okay. Humans have laws to deal with such behavior, however. These criminals will be dealt with in a human way by humans with human laws,” Giles promised.

"Your human laws don’t protect demons. What, I’m gonna go to the police and press charges on the lot of ‘em? Even in blind Sunnydale the cops’ll figure out I’m not quite human. Don’t see any justice happenin’ in this case, old man. Don’t think those
jackals knew or cared if I was human or not either. What’s that say about your soulful human justice?"

The watcher and the vampire looked at each other with a tense silence between them. Spike drained the blood, then groaned in pain as he eased back on the pillows and closed his eyes.

Giles found it difficult to sleep with the moral questions highlighted by this night’s events. Things were much simpler when one merely staked the vampires and left the criminal element to the police. Suddenly Giles felt years older than he had earlier in the evening.

Tomorrow he would try to talk to the girl that had alerted Buffy to Spike’s situation and try to sort out what needed to be done. Spike was right--they didn’t do this to him because he was a vampire. For all they knew, Spike was a human. This couldn’t be swept under a carpet.
Chapters 15 by pfeifferpack
~*~

Chapter 15

~*~

Buffy tried to enter her mom’s house as quietly as possible. She wasn’t up for mom –talk right now. It would start with the “why aren’t you staying at your dorm tonight?” and likely end with too many questions about classes. After Buffy’s stellar SAT scores, her mom had held such hopes for Buffy’s college career that Buffy hated to admit she had less interest in her classes than in her social life. Most of her professors caused more terror in the Slayer than an entire nest of Glixmax demons in rutting season! The only thing worse was the dreaded “disappointed in you” mom look.

“Buffy? Is that you?” came the voice of concern from the kitchen.

“Yup, it’s me, Mom.” Buffy took a deep breath and prepared to beard the beast in its den. “Got a little homesick. Hope you don’t mind if I stay the night tonight. Maybe we could watch one of your old movies…if you’re not too sleepy yet.” Maybe that would head off the questions.

“You’re always welcome here, Buffy. This is your home and it always will be, you know that.” Joyce smiled tenderly at her daughter. Buffy looked so tired for someone so young. “You’ll have to sleep on the couch though, because I have your bed filled with boxes. I’m sorting through things now that I live alone and I really didn’t expect you back here so soon. Not that I mind.”

‘My room’s the sorting room now?’ Buffy thought with a spark of irritation. ‘Gee, gone for how long now and already she’s moved me into the used-to-live-here category?’ “The couch is fine, Mom. Um, I don’t want to keep you up or anything.”

“Buffy, I’m hardly so elderly that I go to bed at this hour!” Joyce suppressed a giggle at the thought. “Actually, I was just getting ready to fix some hot chocolate. Do you want some?”

Buffy licked her lips at the idea of non-powdery goodness made with real milk, “That would be heaven in a mug. Thanks, Mom.”

“So…,” Joyce began carefully--she really didn’t want to be one of those moms who pried into their children’s adult lives. This was Buffy’s time to explore the world a bit and grow. “How’s school?” Yes, that was general enough.

“Long, confusing and a little scary at times. I like my Nineteenth Century Poetry class though,” Buffy reassured her mom before the frown lines took up permanent residence on her still-pretty face. “Not so much Psych though. The professor is a real bit…um…bit of a Nazi. Yup, can see her in Hitler’s goon squad easily! It’s a lot different from high school, but I’ll get the hang of it.”

“I’m sure you will, hon.” Joyce poured the chocolate and warm milk mixture into two mugs and took a seat across the counter from Buffy. “You’re not missing too much sleep, are you…with patrolling and school work?” She would never fully get used to her daughter’s calling and responsibilities.

“Not so much,” Buffy answered. “Kinda quiet this time of year. Just a few vamps and a demon or two, but there’s this new group in town that are eating into my turf a little. Not as much to patrol for lately.”

Joyce noticed that Buffy sounded more sad than happy at that development. “Really? I thought there was only one Slayer at a time. Well, there is Faith too, but I thought that was an exception.”

“They aren’t slayers, Mom. They’re military, or I think that’s what they are; we aren’t too sure. Spike is going to try to remember how to get in there so we can check it out. All we know is they’re dressed like spies or a SWAT team or something, and they take out demons and vamps.”

“Spike?” Joyce’s face showed a surprising amount of concern at the vampire’s name in this context. “How would Spike know about this group?”

“Gee, I thought I told you about it,” Buffy scrunched her forehead as she tried to remember the last real conversation she’d taken the time to have with her mother.

“No, you never said a thing about Spike or this group.” Joyce got up to rinse her mug and didn’t see Buffy’s face when she added, “I’ve been worried about him. They didn’t bother him, did they?”

“Um…..”Buffy would have been less surprised to see a second head pop from her mother’s shoulders than to wrap her mind around her mom worrying about the annoying vampire currently residing with her Watcher. “Why would you be worried about SPIKE?”

“Well, he hasn’t been around in a long while and I was sure he’d show up last week for the opening of my Venetian glass show. His mother had a collection from that time period and he was going to look at some pieces of Barovier to help me set a fair market price. He never came and hasn’t been by for a visit in a long while. I thought he might have left town for some reason.”

“Spike…Venetian glass…shows…visits?” Buffy was clearly flummoxed. “Since when have you become talking buddies with the bleached bane of my existence?” Buffy riffled through her memories to try to see just when THAT odd friendship could have begun. ‘Oh God, I hope it’s just a friendship. Mom CAN’T be interested in that…that…she just can’t!’

“Since last summer when he came back to town.” Joyce poured another cup of chocolate for her sputtering daughter. “He dropped by as soon as he got back to let me know that I had been right in the advice I’d given him. That Drusilla wasn’t really worth all his heartbreak. He tried to woo her back and she still cheated on him with some mushroom--no, fungus demon, it was. He was heartbroken again but finally determined to let her be his past.”

Buffy’s eyes nearly crossed as she listened to her mother talking about Spike and demons as if it were the most normal thing in the world for her to be Dear Abby to a vamp! She was suddenly hit with the timing of her mother’s new friendship. “Last summer? You’ve known Spike was back in town and never said anything?”

“Sweetheart, I’m entitled to my own set of friends too,” Joyce admonished. “Spike’s been very helpful at the gallery. He always seems to know when a heavy shipment is coming in and when I’ll need help lifting the larger pieces. He’s really quite a gentleman.”

“And he comes HERE?” Buffy was aghast. “I tossed his skinny ass out of here the night he kidnapped Will and Xan. How dare he come back here talking up my mother?”

“He came here on my invitation,” Joyce huffed. “The last time I looked this WAS still my house.”

Buffy blinked repeatedly and began to hyperventilate. “MOM, he’s a vampire! He could have killed you!”

“Nonsense. Spike likes me. He misses intelligent conversation, that’s all. Dru only had moments of lucidity, after all, and according to Spike most vampires aren’t much interested in art and literature.”

“Art. Literature.” Buffy was seriously in need of full sentences. While she was trying to get her mind focused, her mother went back to the initial question.

“He is all right, isn’t he? Those soldiers haven’t harmed him?” It was clear that Joyce Summers was genuinely concerned for her friend.

When Buffy didn’t seem to hear her, she cleared her throat loudly and asked again.

“Uh, no, he’s okay. I mean they captured him and put a chip in his head so he can’t kill anymore, but he’s fine,” Buffy answered in a daze.

Joyce looked appalled. “Okay? You say he can’t feed himself and you think he’s okay? How is he surviving? He should have come here. I would have slipped out to the butcher for some blood.”

Buffy began to look around the kitchen for the pod that clearly had to be there holding her real mother as this strange creature took over her life. “Mom, are we talking about the same Spike?”

“Of course we are. How many vampires named Spike do you know?”

Buffy was beginning to wonder that very thing.

~~~

“Why don’t you stay in our dorm room tonight?” Willow suggested to the shaken girl. “Buffy will probably stay at her mom’s or Giles’ place and her bed is free. If she does come back, we can work something out.”

“Thanks. I’d like not being alone tonight. It’s not often I’m responsible for getting someone nearly killed,” Tara said remorsefully.

“You didn’t do anything like that at all!” Willow felt terrible that she couldn’t just explain that Spike was a vampire to this guilt-ridden girl. “Spike will be fine, just like we promised. He’s like that, always chargin’ in, getting into fights. It’s not your fault.”

“But this fight was anything but fair. Those bullies were out for blood. I should have just let that boy buy me a soda. He’d have gotten bored and left soon enough and then Spike wouldn’t have felt he needed to protect me.”

“You can’t know that!” Until now, Willow had never met anyone with a lower self-esteem than herself. “I can’t imagine anyone would be bored by you.” She smiled shyly at her new friend.

Tara ducked her head in embarrassment. ‘Wonder if you’d be so kind if you knew what I am?’ She shuddered at the thought.

“Look. There’s a lot of things in this town that take some getting used to. Spike’s one of them.” Willow didn’t mean to be cryptic, but it was the best she could think to do. You didn’t just go blurting out, ‘Hey, all those horror movies? Real!’ to a perfect stranger. “Why don’t you go down to the shower room at the end of the hall and I’ll hunt up a spare pair of PJs for you?”

Tara looked up at Willow through lowered lashes and smiled. The redhead was so very beautiful and take-charge. Tara could almost feel the magical power coursing through this girl. She wondered briefly if Willow knew how strong and lovely she was. “Thanks again. Wow, I wanted to meet people here, but this isn’t how I imagined doing it.” She laughed softly.

Tara borrowed some shampoo from her hostess and headed for a quick shower. ‘I don’t dare get too close. What if I turn into a demon in front of these nice people? They’ll never believe that I wouldn’t hurt anyone.’ She allowed herself a short fantasy while showering. For a brief while, she imagined having a circle of friends, maybe even one special friend. A flush of attraction flowed through her at the image of the lovely Willow as something more than a friend. ‘Great way to make sure you have no friends, Tara. Just reveal you’re gay as well as a demon!’ No, better keep to herself, like always. No place for someone like her--not here, not anywhere. Daddy was right about some things.

~~~

Buffy had related all the recent events about the soldiers, Spike and Oz while they finished a third mug of chocolate. “Spike’s at Giles’ place. He’ll be fine, but I’m kinda worried about those guys that whaled on him. I’m not used to having to protect vampires from people.”

“Buffy, it shouldn’t be about vampires or people; it should be about right and wrong. What those monsters in human guise did was evil. I know enough by now to know the police won’t be of any help, but something must be done to make this right.” She sighed and wondered just when life had become so complicated.

“I’ll drop by Mr. Giles’ place tomorrow and check on Spike myself. He’ll need someone to talk to after this. A man of his strength won’t deal well with being unable to defend himself. Say what you will about that chip, it seems unkind to me. Spike is a vampire, but he could learn not to kill. We’ve talked about it a lot and he’s intelligent enough to know there are many ways for him to live in a civilized way. Now that he’s away from that woman, he might have a reason to try something new.”

Buffy laughed at the idea. “Mom, what do you expect Spike to do? Get a job? Buy a house? Get a dog? He’s a vampire. They kill. They’re evil. It’s who he is.”

“Buffy Anne Summers!” Joyce chided her, “it may be WHAT he is, but it is not WHO he is. Don’t act like you are the authority here. I’m the one who has actually spent the time getting to know him.”

“Really, Mom,” Buffy laughed again. “What kind of weird Spike fantasies have you listened to?”

“We talked of many careers open to him. Lots of ways to feed without killing. He seemed really interested in my ideas.”

“I’m sure he did,” Buffy scoffed. “Look, Mom, don’t put too much stock into anything Spike says. He’d say anything to score points with you.”

Joyce was offended. “You seem to think I’m either a child or terribly naïve. I assure you that, aside from your father, I’m a good judge of character. I knew right away that Angel was bad news and it had nothing to do with his being a vampire.” She relented slightly at the wounded look on her daughter’s face. “Honey, I understand that vampires are dangerous and prone to evil. Spike has told me that himself. I’m merely saying that there is more there than just the demon. Spike may not be the only vampire that’s different, but he IS different. You just have to get to know him. Not everything is black and white, sweetheart. That’s something you’ll learn the older you get.”

“We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” Buffy stubbornly stated.

“We’ll see,” Joyce speculated. “I think that now that Spike has that chip and is around more people, you’ll be surprised at what you find him capable of doing and feeling. He’s quite complex and really quite human. Maybe some small good will come of this barbaric electronic device.”

“You can’t expect me to be sad about someone neutering Spike,” Buffy patted her mom on the arm. “At least I don’t have to stake him now.”

That was a point on which Joyce could wholeheartedly agree.
Chapters 16 by pfeifferpack
~*~

Chapter 16

~*~


Xander laid his hard hat on the table and gaped at Buffy as they dug into the sandwiches she’d brought to the construction site. He had listened to her version of the previous night’s excitement and Buffy’s thinly disguised outrage and concern over what had been done to Spike. Ever since Willow’s spell, Xander had noticed little things between his superfriend and the bane of his existence with fear and dread. He normally was able to slip back in the River Nile, but the look on Buffy’s face wouldn’t let it go this time.

“So that’s about it. I’m really not sure what to think, Xan. I figured, out of all my friends and family, you were still sane. So here I am all tuna delivery girl. looking for a reality check.”

“Vampires are of the bad, Buff. Right there with you, no question. Also a case of preaching to the choir where the bleached menace is concerned. You know I’ve said the best solution to his problem, and all our problems with him, is a pointy piece of wood where his heart used to be.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far. He has helped a little. Ever since he found out he can wail on demons, he’s helped keep the local craziness to a minimum.” Buffy thought back to her last few patrols and the diminished number of demons and vamps she had encountered. She had actually managed to study for her Music Appreciation class without dozing off listening to Bach.

“Buffster, he’s not doing it to help. He’s doing it because it’s the only way he can still be at least a little scary.” Xander took a large bite of the tuna sandwich, making further commentary from him impossible.

In the silence, Buffy thought about Spike and their long history.

“Well, he also helped me be able to defeat Angel when he went all grrr. I really couldn’t have done that if Spike hadn’t changed sides. The world would have ended if he hadn’t….”

Xander’s unintelligible reply with the mouth full of food needed no interpreter.

“Yes, I know…he did THAT to save his nut case girlfriend. Still, not typical Big Bad behavior. Buffy let out a sigh. “That’s the real problem--I can’t seem to put Spike in a box and label him, you know? All the things I know are true about demons are things he makes me question. It hurts my head.”

Xander swallowed. “Yet another reason to be rid of the pest. A confused Slayer is a dead Slayer, and if I have to pick between an ambiguous vampire and my bestest friend, I pick you.”

“That’s not a good enough reason to get rid of him. If I slay everything that confuses me, it’ll get really messy.” Buffy closed her eyes in contemplation, seeing carnage in the staff rooms at the university as a real consequence of that plan of action.

“Look, Buff, I’m totally on board that something needs to be done with the jocksters that beat the undead to a pulp. Like you said, they couldn’t have known he was of the non-breathing community. Besides, I think I remember a few of them from high school, and having them whipped gives me a happy. Still not sure what to do though.”

“Mom seems to think Spike is her friend.” Buffy watched her bomb drop. Xander’s reaction was as expected.

“She DOES know he’s a bloodsucker, right?” he asked incredulously.

“Yup. Seems she knows more about Spike than we do. He’s been visiting since last summer.”

“HOW?” Xander was horrified. “I mean, your mom does know not to invite pale creepy guys in, doesn’t she?”

“She didn’t have to invite him,” Buffy blurted out to an astonished Xander. “I never revoked his invitation from when we planned our strategy to stop Acathla.”

“That makes sense of the not-at-all variety,” Xander blinked. “You letting him walk was one thing--although I still don’t think that was the best idea you ever had, but….” His mind whirled at the possibilities. “Buffy, after you left town he could have slipped back and killed your mom. Killed all of us, really. What were you thinking?” He continued before she could reply, “Even after he came back into town and kidnapped me and Will? Damn, Buffy…. You even caught him there in your mom’s kitchen. I remember how wigged you were at the time!”

“He didn’t seem like a threat. I don’t know why, but I just never thought he’d really hurt my mom and he could have killed you when he kidnapped you and didn’t, so I guess I thought you guys were safe too.” She let the words out in a rush. In truth, she had never thought about the whys, or even the issue at all. It was odd to realize the truth of what she said. She hadn’t seen unchipped evil undead Spike as a threat to her nearest and dearest or she would have revoked his invitation. “Looks like I was right, because he’s been visiting mom even before the chip.”

“That is just worlds of wrong, Buffy, and you know it,” Xander proclaimed.

“And again with the ambiguity,” she agreed.

“Well, I had hoped to unconfuse myself with a good Xander talking to, but I’m still as confused as before,” Buffy sighed. “Not your fault. I just wish Spike would act like….” Her voice trailed off as she wondered just why Spike WASN’T like Angelus. She backed off that thought immediately because it opened old wounds best left to scab over.

“Sorry I couldn’t help much. Thank your mom for the tuna; it beats the stuff on the Roach Wagon I was doomed to partake of.” Xander shuddered at the thought of another lunch from the canteen van.

“I’ll probably see her at Giles’ place. She was going to go check on Spike.”

“Oh, Anya was going to drop off some stuff there. Giles is going to help get her some legal paperwork besides her high school diploma, so she can get a decent job. Guess they don’t give Social Security cards to demons. Who’d’ve thought?” Xander grinned at his own lame jest. “Tell her I have to work a couple of hours over tonight, will you?”

“Sure thing. Thanks, Xander.”

“For what? I didn’t help and Spike is still undusty in the near future, it seems,” he grumbled.

~~~

“So you can imagine the surprise when Buffy came face to face with her TA in full military gear,” Giles continued his story to Joyce’s rapt interest. “Seems a decent enough fellow for all that I question this operation and what little we know of it. They appear to be more in the way than actually helping Buffy with her duty.”

“I’m just glad you are finding out something about these butchers!” Joyce looked sympathetically at Spike. “I don’t believe in research on sentient beings. I don’t care if they are demons or human, wrong is wrong.”

Giles looked like he might actually agree with her in principle, but he stayed silent. It was one thing to kill the evil creatures and quite another to make lab experiments of them.

After a brief silence where Spike gazed adoringly at his only human friend, Giles moved the conversation back to Riley Finn. “I doubt the lad feels he is doing harm. He seems rather a straight arrow, if a bit too gung ho for my tastes. I cannot be a hypocrite either; this group is not doing anything the Council hasn’t in the past, even if they are doing it on a much larger scale.”

“You lot rammed computer chips into vamps, Watcher? Think I’d have heard of that,” Spike said with raised eyebrows.

“No, most of our research was done long before modern technology,” Giles admitted.

Joyce shivered in horror. “It’s still wrong. If you have to protect someone by killing a vampire or demon, that’s one thing, but full out genocide seems wrong too. Are ALL demons evil, and can you be sure?”

“Yes, well, the lack of a soul would indicate a predilection towards evil,” Giles began, continuing over Spike’s loud snort of disgust. “There are a few species that are more neutral, I suppose, but as a whole it is best to simply remove the threat.”

“Even if they aren’t a threat?” Joyce played devil’s advocate. “You are an intelligent and sensitive man, Rupert, how can you agree with that philosophy?”

“How can you believe all that rot is my question,” Spike muttered.

“Spike, please don’t be rude to Mrs. Summers,” Giles admonished.

“Not her, you git! You!”

“And just what rot are you suggesting?”

“The whole black and white nonsense about ‘good/evil, soul/no soul, demon/human’ rot. Look, I get why the Council puts that shite in their books and teaches it--keeps your little girls alive and all--but thought you Watcher types knew the score at least.” Spike rolled his eyes.

Giles sighed and prepared for more nonsense from his unwelcome housemate.

No one noticed Anya had slipped in through the unlocked front door until she spoke. “Oh, I thought it was obvious that watchers were as close-minded as the Slayers, Spike. I mean, Giles is the most open-minded watcher I’ve ever encountered and even he still doesn’t ask the right questions, or listen to information or advice from well meaning ex-demons who know more than the Council ever will.” The subject was one that obviously rankled Anya.

“Is that so?” Giles said in a huff. “And just what information and advice have you offered, other than what one could discover by a quick glance at the Kama Sutra?”

“If you people would stop telling me to shut up all the time, you just might know,” Anya raised her head in disdain. “Honestly, you act as if I AM some child just graduated from high school instead of an ex-demon who has seen 1100 years of history in the demon AND human worlds; other dimensions as well. I don’t mean book knowledge either, but firsthand information. Yet do any of you ever ask, ‘Anya, what kind of demon is this?’ or ‘So how do I stop this apocalypse?’ No. All I get is ‘Not now, An.’ or ‘Please keep such thoughts to yourself in the future, Anya.’ Frankly, I just keep my knowledge and opinions to myself now, since none of you seem interested in anything I have to say.”

“Well, I’m interested,” Joyce assured the offended girl. “What about Spike’s opinion that the Council is teaching rot?”

Anya looked pleased at being afforded some respect and grinned widely. “Okay, take that soul thing all of you go on about. Some demon races DO have souls. Vengeance demons, for example, keep their souls. Then again, you wouldn’t recognize what a soul is or does if it bit you on your ass.” She looked pointedly at Giles, affronted.

“The soul is what gives a conscience to a being. It is the moral compass. Without a soul, a being cannot determine right from wrong and is therefore evil in nature,” Giles began spouting Council wisdom from the ages.

Again Spike snorted. “And that explains things like those charming gentlemen I met last night? What about such stellar examples of humanity as Stalin? Pol Pot? Nixon?”

“Nixon doesn’t count; he was a F’tulage demon. I thought you’d recognize that from his paranoia and hunger for power,” Anya supplied. “That’s a dead give-away. Lots of politicians are F’tulage demons. They’ve pretty well cornered the market on politics and organized religion.”

Giles looked stupefied at her comment but continued his argument, “Yes, humans can be evil as well, Spike, but at least they are capable of not choosing evil.”

“And you’re sayin’ I can’t?” Spike asked. “I made choices before this chip got shoved in me that were for your side.”

“Yes, but you did so for your own selfish reasons and gain,” Giles reminded him.

“And you’re sayin’ humans don’t make their choices for the same reasons? Everyone has a reason for what they choose. There’s not much altruism out there. If it isn’t to get somethin’, even a warm fuzzy, for doin’ good, it’s ‘cause they’re afraid of the punishment if they do evil.”

Giles ran that thought through his head but couldn’t come up with a quick response to the logic of Spike’s comment. “Still, that does not change the fact that you are an evil soulless being who would cheerfully rip our throats open were you not handicapped.”

“Soulless, yes. Evil…,” Spike started to defend his Big Bad status but caught a look at Joyce and chose to temper it, “Okay, most of the time….vampire here. Wouldn’t rip out ALL your throats. I like Joyce right fine and demon girl’s startin’ to grow on me.”

“For Pete’s sake,” Anya pointed out, “Are you a bigot against proper evolution?”

“Excuse me?” Giles looked as puzzled as he sounded.

“Vampires eat humans. It’s natural for them. How can they do that if they feel guilty about it? Of course that part of them gets submerged. It’s part of evolving into the hybrid predator that they are. That doesn’t mean they have no guilt for some things or that they don’t know right from wrong in other areas.” Anya looked downright smug as Spike nodded in agreement.

“That old whore Darla told me a vampire is whatever the human was, only exaggerated.” Spike offered. “That’s why Angelus is such a massive wanker with bad grooming choices.”

“Nonsense,” Giles sputtered, “The demon utterly replaces the human save for intelligence and memories”

Joyce giggled. “Let’s see, should I listen to a very wise ex-demon and an actual vampire, or something you’ve been taught by a group that tried to kill my daughter last year?”

“Who tried to kill me?” Buffy asked from the doorway. “’Cause I remember Mayor Snake Boy and his trusty sidekick Faith the Slayer-Ho, but I’m not remembering some group.”

“Well, I’ll never forget that terrifying insane vampire you killed so cleverly,” Joyce reminded her daughter with pride and some leftover fear.

Giles looked incredibly sheepish as he muttered something about tests and tradition. He couldn’t look his Slayer in the eye and shut up rather quickly at the glare being directed at him by Joyce.

“See, there’s another bit of rot,” Anya was warming up to the idea of being listened to for once. “That whole ritual was designed to get rid of Slayers who didn’t toe the mark with the Council.” She looked pointedly at Buffy. “You were eighteen, right?”

Buffy nodded, curious to hear Anya mention the ritual that had nearly cost her her life and had deprived Giles of his official position as her Watcher.

“In the past, girls matured earlier and they did it at a younger age.”

Spike tilted his head in interest. “Do tell, luv.”

“Slayers are usually taken from their families and trained to be powerful but disposable weapons. Even you can’t argue the truth of that, Giles.” Anya noticed the poor man shuffle in shame and took pity. “Not you, Giles. We can all see you really care about Buffy. Anyway, when we get older, we start to question things we’ve been taught. That’s why people experiment in college, all those new ideas and opinions! If a Slayer starts to question all that ‘black and white rot’ as Spike calls it, the Council gets nervous. So they do test her, but not the way you thought.”

“It is a test of her resourcefulness,” Giles countered.

“Why? Is a Slayer going to lose her powers without the drugs the Council supplies?” Anya rolled her eyes and shook her head at the concept. “Pulllease! The test is to see if she can still be under their thumb. If she fails, they get a new, malleable Slayer to use and life goes on.”

“What would be the real harm in having a Slayer able to think for herself?” Joyce queried. The latent feminist within her rebelled at the idea that her daughter should be just so much cannon fodder to those who most benefitted from her nightly sacrifices.

Anya looked at all the people in the room before deciding to clue them in on the big picture. She took a deep sigh and dove in. “Slayers were created from demon essence originally.” At Buffy’s horrified gaze, she hastened to clarify, “You’re not a demon, Buffy, but the same power that gives Spike his strength is what gives you yours, just without the demon living in you.”

Buffy sat down hard, trying to digest this bit of information. After staring blankly for a couple moments, she looked to Giles for confirmation.

“I had read that theory, I believe,” Giles agreed. He was interested, in spite of his initial trepidation at the subject matter.

“Vampires and Slayers are sort of related because of that. They are also well-matched in abilities and strength, at least the older vampires.”

“Do go on, Anya. I should have been taking notes!” Giles leapt to get a notepad and pen, his inner researcher rejoicing at the unexpected wealth of information Anya was proving herself to be.

“Well…,” she prepared herself for a negative reaction about the next part. “There’s a natural attraction between older Master Vampires and Slayers old enough to notice them as possible sex partners. Vampires have wonderful stamina, give fabulous orgasms and are one of the only beings who can ever really satisfy a Slayer.

At the appalled looks from all but Spike, she rolled her eyes and continued. “I mean, Buffy, you MUST have already figured out that you’d break a human boy if you ever really let loose!”

Spike was all but laughing out loud at the blushes on Buffy’s face and the ‘must leave immediately’ look on her Watcher. “So all that snoggin’ under Red’s spell was more than mojo, you’re sayin’?”

“Most likely, yes. There was probably already an attraction between the two of you. It would explain why neither of you ever succeeded in killing the other. Buffy is very pretty and you are really quite sexy--even Xander has noticed that.”

Spike nearly choked on that last bit.

The room was silent as a tomb as each grappled with bits of information that caused discomfort. Spike having to contemplate the whelp looking at his bits speculatively made him want to heave. Joyce was mourning her last hopes of Buffy marrying a nice young man in good time and presenting her with 2.5 grandchildren. Giles was horrified at the idea of his beloved charge going through a series of undead love interests. Buffy, however, was torn between relief that she wasn’t a freak and fear that she was doomed to dusting her boyfriends for eating the citizens she was charged to protect.

“The Council knows this,” Anya continued. “See, if a Slayer lived through the Cruciamentum, she would most likely be terrified of Master vampires. That’s why they choose powerful ones for the tests. In Buffy’s case, they just wanted her dead, so they picked one who was crazy instead of hot and sexy. It works to keep the Slayer from following her instincts…most of the time. Of course, most Slayers die before it is too much of an issue. The few that DO pick a vampire as their partner are usually killed when they are discovered.”

“But why want me dead?” Buffy squeaked out the question for all of them.

“Because it was too late with you,” Anya explained as if to a child. “You had already fallen in love with Angel and even forgiven him for turning evil. When you didn’t just dust Angelus, it proved to them you were completely out of their control and might even find another vampire in time.” Anya looked pointedly at Spike and Buffy. “You already had made one exception to their black and white rules. It wasn’t hard to imagine you could make more as you matured.”

“But that’s so cold-blooded!” Joyce didn’t know whether to be more disgusted or angry at this revelation. “Why not simply counsel these girls, help them choose well. Spike proves that some vampires could be convinced to change.”

Spike coughed in agitation, not willing to completely relinquish his status as Big Bad. “Vampire here, Master Vampire, even if I can’t cut a bloody swath at the moment!”

Joyce smiled indulgently, “Yes, Spike, and we’ve discussed this sort of thing before. Your manliness and power are more than your ability to hunt and kill, you know that! You are more than some mindless eating machine. We’ve talked about lifestyle choices.”

Even as shocked as Buffy was by that information, she couldn’t help but be amused at the looks of horror on both Spike’s face at being caught out and Giles’ at the idea her mother proposed.

Anya, meanwhile, was preening like a peacock in full glory at having proven her knowledge superior to all the measly humans who had been so dismissive of her contributions.

“Flies, Giles, not of the tasty,” Buffy teased her openmouthed mentor. “As interesting as this is--and Anya, I’d love to talk more to you later if you have time--I’m here to talk about what happened last night, not last year.”

“I agree,” Joyce nodded. “Something has to be done to make those bullying bastards pay for what they did to Spike.”

Everyone looked at Joyce with wide eyes at her use of profanity as Buffy gasped out a startled, “Mom!”

“Well, they are! Just look at Spike’s face. And even without an examination I can see that isn’t the only damage they did.” She turned sympathetic eyes on the wounded vampire before shifting her gaze to Giles. “Not that I will ever fully understand or approve, but isn’t that the very sort of evil you always say my daughter is charged with destroying?”

“Were they but demons, yes.” He agreed solemnly. “But as Anya has recently reminded us, not all evil is done by demons.”

~~~

Outside the dorm room door, Judson Keller chucked his principles into the mental rubbish bin and sucked in a determined breath. He had learned a few years before that you couldn’t be a successful coach and a by-the-book person of values at the same time. Most of the apples in his barrel were decent, but those few rotten ones always seemed to be faster, more nimble, more valuable to the team. Therefore, selective blindness was the order of the day. This sort of duty, however, warred with the basically decent man his mamma had raised and made him wonder just how long he could possibly continue walking this tightrope over a chasm of compromise.

His knock was answered before he had a chance to move his hand back to his side. “Can I help you?”

The redhead in the doorway didn’t look like the shy mouse his boys had described. This girl looked quirky in a sweet and pretty way, not backward or frightened. “Tara Maclay?”

From behind the titian cutie came a trembling voice, “That’s me. Do I know you?” The doe-eyed girl moved from behind her spunkier friend. She was softly pretty and built like a real woman instead of the anorexic child most college girls were becoming. He could instantly see the appeal to his randy quarterback. Judging by her obviously nervous demeanor, his mission should prove an easier one than if the girl had backbone. Still, he wasn’t happy carrying it out.

“Miss Maclay, I’d like to speak with you privately about a certain sensitive matter if you wouldn’t mind.”
Chapters 17 by pfeifferpack
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Chapter 17

~*~

Willow was pacing in her agitation. “I’m telling you, Giles, the guy had to have threatened her. She was a nervous wreck and I could hear her crying when she thought I was asleep.”

“And you are certain you recognize this man as the head coach for the University football team?” Giles couldn’t believe a person in authority, an upstanding member of the community, would condone the behavior of the ruffians under his charge!

“Yup, no question. All soft voice and polite-sounding words,” she grumbled. “Whatever he said really shook Tara up though, and she won’t talk about it.”

“What about her version of what transpired at the Bronze the other night? Did it match up with the information Spike divulged?”

“Completely, only she made Spike out to be a bigger hero in her version.” Spike, finally able to move about again, wasn’t present to have his ego inflated at that admission. “I promised her that Spike would drop by to see her. She can’t believe he survived that beating and she really feels guilty.”

“Yes, I shall suggest it to him when and if he returns. I sincerely hope he will be moving out today if he can find a decent hovel in which to roost.” Giles struggled to keep from grinning in an unseemly manner. “I imagine he will return to loot my belongings for a housewarming gift for himself, the berk! He’d best keep his hands off my album collection or I’ll forget my resolve and stake him myself.”

“Giles, focus please!” Willow had an exasperated tone to her voice. “Tara is really sweet and I’m afraid for her. She doesn’t have anyone here, no family or friends, and this has her really spooked.”

“Yes, of course,” Giles agreed while mentally counting the records that might be in jeopardy and trying to think of a decent hiding place until Spike was well and truly gone. Once that was completed, he brightened noticeably and turned his full attention on the agitated redhead who had continued on her tirade.

“…..send us to college and expect us to learn to become decent adult human beings only to have jerks like that coach intimidating shy, sweet, pretty girls like Tara! What kind of people run these places anyway?”

“I fear the same flawed people that run many institutions in this world, Willow. Humans are flawed at best, my dear, and that is the sad truth.” Giles hadn’t quite forgotten the conversation with Anya a few days previous. In fact, he had already sought out the ex-demon to continue said conversation once already.

“But it’s not right. Tara is talking about transferring to another university in another state and I just met her!”

“No, it is not right, nor was what was done to Spike, but there is precious little we can do about it, I fear.” Giles was feeling more impotent than usual after his meeting with Buffy’s psychology professor. She had whittled away at what was left of his self-esteem by bringing home to him just how ineffectual he currently was and how little importance he held in his Slayer’s life. This situation with the jerky jocks proved just how little power he had without his Council position to back him up. Even a toad like the late, unlamented Snyder could walk all over him at this point. He needed a drink.

“So what are we going to do about it?” Willow, bless her, seemed to be of the opinion that he had value yet. It unmanned him further to have to admit he had no answers.

“I can but offer to talk to your friend and see what transpired. I make no guarantees about anything further though.” Giles sighed deeply and resolved that in some way he would assist this as yet unknown girl. Even if his Slayer had no further need of him, he might yet find purpose with the young people who used to look up to him.

“Where’s Buff?” Willow looked around as if expecting her friend to be hiding somewhere in the small apartment.

“As we speak, Buffy is being given the red carpet treatment at the Initiative labs. It would seem that they feel they have more to offer the Slayer than I--and so does she, apparently,” he said with more than a hint of bitterness.

“I’m sure that’s not true, Giles,” Willow tried to reassure the Watcher, all the while trying to swallow down the feelings of rejection that came from being out of the loop. “Buffy still needs you; we all do. I’m sure she’s just dazzled with the shiny is all.”

“Indeed. That harridan Professor Walsh is unlikely to have much to offer a spirited girl like Buffy.” Giles brightened at the imagined conflicts. “Lord knows I never could control her. Coming from a military background, she will be terribly frustrated by Buffy, I imagine.” He couldn’t keep the wide grin from his face at the thought.

The door was suddenly flung open with such force that it knocked a small hole in the wall as a smoldering Spike rushed into the apartment batting at a stray flame. “Mornin’, Rupes. Found a place, you’ll be glad to know. Bit under the radar for the G.I. Joe wannabes, I think.” He walked to a small end table and eyed the reading lamp sitting there. “Not needing this, are you, old man?”

“As a matter of fact, yes, Spike, I am quite in need of all my belongings.” Giles made a grab at the lamp that was already in Spike’s hands. “Go scrounge elsewhere. I am sure there must still be someone in Sunnydale that you can frighten into furnishing your new place without coveting my meager possessions.”

Spike looked at the lamp and handed it over, “Find something bit better lookin’ too, I’m thinkin. Right you are. Thanks for the kip and all. Don’t bother to come calling.” His voice was cheery and his face pure snark.

“Wow, you really look better!” Willow was impressed at the improvement in the vampire. You couldn’t tell he’d been injured at all now. A human would not have survived the beating he had received, much less be healed by now.

“Vampire healing, ducks. Yet another thing to thank Dru for,” Spike smiled at the girl. She wasn’t half bad, not all judgmental and nasty…like some others. “Might make an exception, pet, and put the welcome mat out for you. No magic though.” He shuddered.

“I did say I was sorry, Spike. Besides, Buffy said that Anya told her it wasn’t all my fault,” Willow teased. “Something about you already having a thing for Buffy.”

“Hey, no need to turn up nasty,” Spike said in forced horror. Actually he’d given it far too much thought already. Perhaps Dru had been right after all. Was nice to think it was natural, if the demon girl was to be believed, that is. Chit was too bloody honest to doubt.

“Um, Spike, would you mind paying a visit to a friend of mine?”

“Flash a bit of fang? Scare a bit o’ religion into a mate, yeah?” Spike guessed.

“NO! Nothing like that at all.” Willow looked horrified as she whipped her head toward Giles, “Can he DO that?”

“Impotent as ever,” Giles taunted.

“Hey!” Spike was affronted at the word choice. As always, this group had a habit of putting the worst possible face on his situation.

“The girl you helped out at the Bronze before you got all beaten up is still not sure you’re all right. I said I’d try to get you to drop in to reassure her,” Willow ventured. “I mean, you wouldn’t have to stay for tea or anything, but she does want to thank you and make sure you’re okay that we didn’t take you to the hospital or call the police.”

“I remember the bird. Pretty little wren ‘til you got up close and saw the bluebird hidden,” Spike mused. “Worried ‘bout me, huh?”

“Very. Look, she’s really shy and doesn’t know anything about demons or vampires or anything, and I think it would terrify her to find out, but if you don’t mind…,” Willow hesitated. She didn’t want to beg.

“No problem. Mum raised a gentleman,” Spike quipped to the snorting amusement of Giles. “Just say where.”

“She’s staying at my dorm while Buffy’s at her mom’s. I think she’s nervous staying in her own room. The coach of those toads kinda threatened her.” She looked up quickly at Giles, “Hey, I could do that! I could make them all croaking toads. See how many girls they can scare then!”

“No abuse of magic, Willow!” Giles admonished. “We will deal with these cretins, but without resorting to the supernatural. You will only hurt yourself in the long run using magic for vengeance.”

“Always consequences, ducks,” Spike agreed. “So the wankers went crying to their coach. Typical! No balls unless in a pack, hidin’ behind mummy’s skirt elsewise.”

“If you want, I can flash a bit of fang that direction. Not likely to set off the fireworks in my head just to toss ‘em a scare,” Spike offered.

Willow found herself deciding that she actually liked Spike after that remark. Maybe he wouldn’t be such a bad choice on Buffy’s part. He was certainly funnier than Angel had ever been, andfriendlier too. “Probably not a good idea, but thanks for offering.”

Giles followed Spike around the apartment, making sure only the vampire’s possessions left with him on the way to his new abode.

Willow made arrangements to meet Spike the next evening and introduce him to Tara. She wanted to prepare her new friend as much as possible for what had no choice but to be a confusing introduction. Spike looked untouched and he could say some pretty outrageous things even by vampire standards.

“Well, if you two do not mind,” Giles looked at Spike and chanced it, “Or even if you do, for that matter, I must ask you to leave as I have a previous engagement that cannot be delayed and I would like to lock up before I go.”

“’Fraid I’ll help myself to your Cream collection?” Spike teased, hitting the nail on the head as usual. “Can pick a lock, Rupes.”

“I have no doubt, just as you should have no doubt that I am skilled with a crossbow,” Giles retorted.

“No need to fight over cream, guys! Geez, I’ll go to the grocery store and get some for both of you if it’s that big a deal,” Willow offered.

Giles and Spike shared a look that screamed “Infidel!” before breaking into shared laughter.

“Okay, you’re both laughing at me and that can’t be good,” insecure Willow said, her face scrunching adorably. “I said something funny?”

“Cream’s just about the best of the ‘60s bands. Eric Clapton started there,” Spike explained.

“Oh!” Willow blushed as brightly as her trademark hair. “Guess I can’t just pick it up in the dairy section then.” She left to the surreal sounds of Spike and Giles discussing the relative merits of the contributions of Ginger Baker vs. Eric Clapton. “Gee, they sound like a pair of brothers!”

~~~

Giles headed to the nearest bar after completing his set at the Espresso Pump. He had made a decent amount in tips that night and planned to invest in some genuine Guinness in celebration. He had just been served his second pint--pulled properly from the tap, not some heathen bottle at an arctic temperature--when he heard a voice he had hoped was firmly in his past.

“Ripper, old man! Care to buy an old…friend…a nice frothy mug?” Ethan Rayne sat down across from the Watcher without an invitation.

“I thought I’d seen the last of you, Ethan. Didn’t you cause enough trouble last time you were in town?” Giles asked sourly as his “friend” ordered a pint and flirted with the waitress.

“Ah, but the unpredictable is my stock in trade, you remember that, dear one,” Ethan smirked.

“Don’t call me that, you pillock. We were young, and I, at least, quite foolish. I’m not proud of any part of that time in my life. You really need to leave before I let myself remember the less pleasant portions of my Ripper persona,” Giles threatened.

“Don’t be a silly sod,” Ethan was clearly not worried. “I come in peace. Really, Rupert. Actually, I’m not here about you or your little girl at all. Word has it that the demon world is all atwitter over some military group. Seems they know about your girl too.”

Giles peered at Rayne in contempt. “If that’s the best you can do, leave off, you old bugger. I know full well about the Initiative and their interest in recruiting Buffy.”

“Ah, but for what?” Ethan hinted. His pint arrived and he savored the first long drink of the heady beverage. “Yes, this is more the thing! Nothing like a bit of proper stout in this barbaric land to make one feel more comfortable. I see you are comfortable indeed” Ethan chuckled as he noted the empty glasses in front of Giles.

“What do you mean ‘for what’? For killing demons, of course. She’s not with the Council anymore. Buffy can work with anyone she wishes,” Giles muttered into his glass. “Not like she has a Watcher to answer to anymore.”

Ethan nearly fell from the booth laughing. “Is that what you think is going on? My dear boy, you are still so very, very naïve, aren’t you?”

“You’re so well informed, Ethan, what do you say is really happening?” Giles challenged.

“Why, experimentation, of course. It’s all about the discovery and control, don’t you know.” Ethan’s “revelation” was more than a little cryptic.

“What are you getting at, you berk? And do be specific,” Giles tried to look as formidable as possible, considering he was halfway to Dover already.

“Your Slayer. Military group of scientists originally founded by the Nazis. Experimenting on supernatural beings. Come now, Ripper, do I really have to spell it all out for you?” Ethan tsked. “You used to be rather sharp. Must be lack of use of those brain cells of yours.”

“Are you saying they plan to….what…experiment on Buffy?” Giles felt the need for sobriety immediately, but too much liquor had already passed his lips to allow for it.

“That would be the rumor,” Ethan confirmed. “The woman in charge would do Mengele proud! I rather like her, actually. Has this idea she can unlock the secrets of the supernatural world and exploit it for military uses. Nothing like The Chosen One to cap her success, is there?”

“Good Lord, I knew I hated that crone!” Giles stumbled to his feet. “Must get to Buffy immediately.”

“Relax, Ripper, they won’t spring a trap on your girl right away. They realize how bloody stubborn the chit is and hope to learn what they can with her as an ally at first. Besides, I doubt the girl would believe you, especially in your current shameful condition.”

“I feel sick,” Giles announced to no one specific. “Excuse me.” He lurched his way to the men’s room to commune with the porcelain god.

Upon returning to the table, Giles didn’t notice any peculiar taste to his drink. In fact, he noted nothing out of the ordinary the rest of the evening as he wrested as much information from Ethan as he could about the Initiative and its headmistress.

~~~

Buffy felt sick. She had thought the whole idea of the Initiative was promising. If there were real adult people with weapons and everything keeping the world safe, maybe she could actually live to be an ancient thirty-year-old worrying over her weight and thinking of a career. It was seductive. Buffy no longer was certain she yearned for that “normal” that Angel had told her to pursue, but it had an allure in some respects.

The idea that the entire world’s safety didn’t have to rely on her alone had been wonderful while it had lasted. Now she had looked into the face of evil and it wasn’t a demon she found there. The face was as human as hers, more so if Anya had been correct.

Everywhere she looked in those labs, those cells, she saw misery on a scale she had never imagined. Demons being cut into pieces while conscious was standard operating procedure with this group of monsters. She recognized a couple of fairly friendly demons she had used for information at Willy’s in the past. Their pleas for her to just kill them haunted her as she took her tour.

Riley seemed oblivious to the suffering and the wails, screams and cries that assailed them from all sides. There was some resistance shown, and one case of outright defiance, but it was dealt with swiftly and brutally. Buffy couldn’t blame the demons under the circumstances.

One rather pretty female demon from a species Buffy had never seen held her child close to her breasts and wept silently. That vision horrified Buffy more than even the outright despair that permeated the entire complex. The lavender-haired mother turned accusing eyes on Buffy and whispered, “You were supposed to be the warrior for good.”

Buffy felt the need for a shower, for many showers. Somehow she felt she might never be clean again.

“So that’s pretty much the layout,” Riley was saying. “Nothing you haven’t dealt with before, I’m sure. The vamps and more aggressive demons are chipped right away for everyone’s protection. We’ve really learned a lot from our tests so far. As long as the head is on it and the heart is not pierced with wood, a vampire can survive almost anything. Really resilient animals!”

Buffy had seen some of those survivors and nearly lost her lunch. She had spent years killing vampires but never thought to do to them the things she saw evidence of here in this hell of human making.

“They can do without feeding for amazing amounts of time too, even when we bleed them.” Riley actually sounded like an excited kid talking about a new toy. “Some of the other hostiles are nearly as hardy, but usually they’ll bleed to death fairly quick. I’d love a pack of vamps to train for combat! Imagine an army that is nearly impossible to kill but easy to control with a few volts! Of course, most aren’t as smart as other animals. The older ones might be useful, though, in time. We have to work out a few kinks with the chips first.”

Riley led Buffy into the operating theater where a newly captured vampire was undergoing a chip implant with no painkillers. They had gagged the poor vamp to muffle the screams. “We’re trying a 2.0 version now that allows remote control activation. Between traditional methods of brainwashing and this little baby, we might make them useful yet.”

The vampire, trying in vain to move within her restraints to escape the pain and terror, chose that moment to lock eyes with Buffy. Those eyes, blue like another vampire of her acquaintance, held accusation in their depths. Buffy couldn’t help but see Spike on that table and, for the first time, fully understood her mother’s position. There was nothing “good” or noble happening in this pit. It was far better to dust a vampire to keep it from killing, but not this! Not this!

Buffy, never very good at disguising her true feelings, had to get out of there and quickly. “Riley, I think I’m gonna be sick. Think I ate some bad egg salad or something. Sorry.” She nearly flew to the elevator and the fresh air it promised. Somehow nothing was ever going to look clean and pure again. She hadn’t felt this way since she first discovered that monsters existed. Now she had just discovered that some monsters were human.
Chapters 18 by pfeifferpack
~*~

Chapter 18

~*~

Giles watched as the fruit of his misspent youth and affection was led away by a contingent of Initiative soldiers. The day had been an absolute nightmare of unimaginable proportions. From the moment he had awakened as a Fyral demon up until his Slayer had mistakenly tried to kill him, he had burned with rage and frustration. Now it was galling to admit that his freedom and the resolution to his difficulties were in no small part courtesy of one chipped vampire.

Spike understood the grunts and babble that none of the others had. He had instantly recognized Giles, even in the hulking form of a horned demon. Not only had Spike recognized him, but he actively assisted Giles’ search for Rayne and evasion of the military prats that were even now seeking to congratulate themselves on capturing the conjurer.

All things considered, Giles was not regretting Ethan’s return. It had served to warn him of the Initiative’s true purposes. Perhaps his Slayer needed him yet!

“Happy to help, Buffy,” Finn whispered as he trailed the cuffed Rayne out of the motel room. “We take care of our own.”

Buffy dissolved into tears as soon as she was alone with Giles. “God, Giles, I nearly killed you!”

“There, there, dear, no harm done in the long run,” Giles hugged Buffy awkwardly. “That is, unless you consider this dreadful shirt I am forced to wear.”

Buffy sniffled and smiled at his small jest. She had spent a terrible day thinking her father figure was murdered and tearing around the town seeking revenge on the demon responsible. Riley had pushed his way into the final act of the farce and was at least useful in dealing with Ethan Rayne. Now all she wanted to do was sleep for about a year.

“Glad you knew where to find Ethan Rayne and really happy the furniture is too cheap to be real silver,” she sniffed.

“Actually, Spike assisted me in finding Ethan,” Giles told a surprised Buffy. “He even led the soldiers on a merry chase so I could escape becoming one of their caged exhibits.”

Buffy shivered at the close call. The thought of what might have happened to Giles in the bowels of hell called the Initiative made her blood run cold. She owed Spike big time for keeping that from happening.

“God, the thought of it there in that pit!” she sat on the end of the bed and tears began to escape unheeded as she began to describe the reality that was the Initiative. “I know they’re demons and all, but it’s awful, Giles. It’s like a scene from some terrible horror movie and the bad guys are the humans!

“I mean, a part of me says that what they’re doing isn’t wrong. Demons bad; okay to kill demons. But then part of me remembers Angel, and I think I know a couple of those demons from Willy’s. There was this one female and she was tragic, Giles. She was cradling her little girl and they looked so traumatized!”

“Buffy, you are right to be disturbed by this and it isn’t all right in the least,” he reassured his Slayer. “Just because you have a strong sense of right and wrong does not mean you are betraying your calling. Demons harming humans are quite rightly to be slain. This is a far cry from that, however. I remember reacting much as you are, less the unmanly tears, when I read of the Council’s own period of experimentation.” He smiled gently at the weeping girl.

“At least the Council has learned to leave certain demon species alone when they are harmless,” Giles said grimly. “This group doesn’t care a fig about that aspect. Buffy, there is something you need to know about the real plans they have for you there.”

An hour later, one much shaken Slayer emerged from the motel room, determined to bring down the group who had thought to make her exhibit B.

~~~

“Spike, please come in.” Willow stepped back to let the vampire enter the dorm room. “I’d like you to meet Tara Maclay.”

Tara looked at Spike, eyes wide in disbelief. He wasn’t even bruised! “You look fine! I-I mean I’m glad of course, but… um…how?”

“I heal pretty quick, little one, no need to worry,” Spike said gently. “Hear I have you to thank for sending this lot to the rescue.”

“Guess we’re even then, since you rescued me first,” Tara said with a wry grin. She couldn’t stop herself from taking a quick peek at this man’s aura. What she saw caused her to back up until her knees caught on the bed and she sat down hard. “No wonder they said you weren’t dead!”

Willow looked from one to the other in confusion. Spike tilted his head and looked more closely at this surprising girl. She was a knowing one. Funny how that was hidden under the shyness.

“I’m thinkin’ I don’t need to explain or make up a lie, am I right?” Spike asked with a quirked eyebrow.

Tara swallowed hard, never taking her eyes off the man that Willow had invited in. “I know what you are, yes.”

“Thought as much. Right downy bird you’ve got here, Red.” Spike nodded in approval. “Met many of us, have you?”

“No, never. I mean, you’re the first I’ve met up close. My mother taught me lots of important things.” Tara looked more closely at Spike’s aura and furrowed her brow in confusion. “You’re different. I’ve never seen an aura like yours on a vampire. Usually it’s all black, maybe some red streaks when they’re angry. You’ve got all kinds of colors.” She stood and looked him squarely in the eye. “I’m not afraid of you, you know.” It was almost a challenge.

Spike had to smile and decided he liked this gentle woman with a core of iron. “Rather foolish then,” he tested her.

“No, not foolish. I don’t know why, but I know you won’t harm me…Or…or Willow.”

Willow was still struck dumb by the realization that Tara already knew about vampires. Finally, she blinked and noticed the comfortable attitude between her new friend and the vampire she had thought she knew pretty well. Nothing was like she expected. Spike was gentle, even kind towards Tara and Tara was not afraid in the least when faced with a creature that should have sent her screaming into the night.

“Well, that’s settled then. Heard you wanted to champion me, kitten. No one’s ever done that before. I appreciate that.” He smiled at the girl.

“I still want them to pay for what they did to you,” Tara said forcefully. She looked at Willow and said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a vampire or not, it was wrong. You weren’t hurting anyone.”

“Hear not everybody’s bein’ so understandin ‘bout your opinion.” Spike saw the girl blanche. “Someone told me you had a visitor. Anything I can help with?”

Tara, surprisingly to Willow, opened up immediately. “It was their coach. He didn’t threaten me, not really. He dropped all these hints though, about how no one had a perfect past and had skeletons in their closet that would be messy if they got out. I think he was trying to make sure I didn’t talk about what happened.”

Spike was frowning and Willow had begun to pace angrily.

“That CREEP!” Willow was furious. Tara had a gentle soul and couldn’t possibly have anything to be ashamed of in her short life.

“Agreed,” Spike said, no less angry than Willow. “Got you worried though and no need. No one to tell, after all, since I’m already dead in all the ways that matter to you lot. Nothing for you to lose sleep over, kitten. If the wanker comes back, just agree to keep still and it’ll all blow over.”

“But that’s wrong too!” Tara couldn’t understand why the vampire wasn’t more interested in getting back at the boys who had inflicted so much pain for no reason. “They can’t just keep doing things like this and getting away with it!”

“Sooner or later they’ll pick on the wrong victim, don’t worry about that,” Spike promised. “That sort always comes to a bad end.”

“Are you going to kill them?” Tara looked as concerned for the bullies as she had been for Spike. “Because I wouldn’t want that either.” She looked earnestly into Spike’s eyes, as if she could read his non-existent soul there.

“Couldn’t even if I wanted to,” Spike admitted. “Got a piece of hardware in my noggin that’d send me to my knees if I tried. Like to, I’ll admit, but it’s not gonna happen. Least not until I get someone to pull the wires.”

A short but intense conversation followed where Tara was told about the Initiative and the chip.

“That’s just wrong too, not that I’m not glad you aren’t killing or anything,” Tara said with a slightly confused smile at the ethical dilemma posed by Spike.

“Not gonna argue that one,” Spike laughed. “Toothless lion here and mighty pissed that all I can do is roar.”

“You may not be able to do all the things a vampire normally does, but that’s not necessarily bad, Spike,” Tara consoled the vampire. “I mean, it lets you get back in touch with your human side. That’s what I see with your aura. And that can’t be all bad. Besides, you’re really smart, I can tell. You’ll blaze a whole new path with how a vampire can be. That’s not so bad, is it?”

“Always was a rebel,” Spike agreed. “Still like to have my fangs back though. ‘S not natural.”

The visit somehow turned into the very tea party that Willow had told herself wasn’t possible with this meeting. Tara even knew how to ‘fix a proper cuppa’, as Spike complimented her. “Need to introduce you to the Watcher. He’ll be bowled over at the thought of a decent bit of Earl Grey.”

It turned out that Tara knew about the demon world but not about Slayers. That led to another long discussion about the warriors involved in the battle between good and evil.

“So will you start to fight on the side of light now, Spike?” Tara ventured. “Because I think you’d make a powerful warrior.”

“No soul here,” Spike reminded her. “Demon. Evil.”

“Demons don’t have to be evil,” Tara’s vehemence startled the others. “I mean you can choose; you have free will just like anyone.”

“Suppose I do. Never thought about it much. Been evil a long time, pet, not easy to change.” Spike was gobsmacked at this girl. She had a lot in common with Joyce Summers and he readily added her to the short list of those who would never feel his fangs when he got them back.

“You’re a good one,” Spike nodded in approval. “Pure good, you are.”

Tara blushed prettily and ducked her head. Willow couldn’t help but agree with Spike’s assessment.

“Best be on my way home. Thanks again and ta for now,” Spike said as he exited the dorm room.

Willow turned to her temporary roommate and felt a strange shiver of desire that made no sense to her. Tara was a girl, after all. Willow decided to file the feelings in the ‘look at it later’ cabinet of her mind and just enjoy the company of this remarkable young woman. Still, the urge to run her hands through the blonde tresses that framed Tara’s sweet face was hard to deny.

Willow blushed at the thoughts and felt as awkward as in her worst high school moments. “Wow. You know all about demons and even grew up with magic. I didn’t find out about any of it until I met Buffy. You’re really lucky to have grown up like you did.”

“Not that lucky,” Tara whispered. “My mom was wonderful, that’s true. My dad, not so much. That’s my skeleton. I don’t want my family to know where I am. They had…plans…for me that didn’t include college or a career. I feel terribly selfish, but I was dying there. I had to try to get away. Live.”

“Now you don’t have to worry about them finding you. Spike’s okay and there’s nothing those poopheads can do to you.” Willow hoped her reassurances were true and that this girl would be safe. She determined to make certain of that.

~~~

Spike was nearing Restfield and his new home when he felt the stab of pain in his shoulder. Looking behind him he spotted the black-suited soldiers and took off in a dead run. “Bloody bastards! Not going there again!”

He began to run in a confusing pattern, trying to lose the soldiers trailing him. No matter how often he changed course or doubled back, they were still there. He could nearly taste the smugness.

‘Must be tracking me some way,’ he decided. ‘Gotta get some help.’ Without hesitation, his mind snapped, ‘Watcher!’ and he dropped to the sewers headed for Giles’ flat. “Bloke owes me one anyway.”

~~~

Willow had only been gone for five minutes when there was a knock on the door. Tara headed for the door without hesitation, “Did you forget something?”

“Never forget a pretty little thing like you.” Steve undressed the girl with his eyes and it wasn’t pleasant. “Miss me, wallflower?”

~~~

Spike let out a sigh of relief as the homing device rushed through the city’s sewage system. The Watcher had come through perfectly and, one minor surgery later, Spike was once more safe from his personal Inspector Javert. He was starting to hate this whole Jean Valjean lifestyle with a passion he used to reserve for Angelus alone.

Buffy came in looking as tired as Spike felt. “Hey, guys.” Just then, she noticed Spike shirtless and draped over Giles’ breakfast table. “What’s happening? Are we going to start eating the vampires now?”

Xander’s mind went to a bad scary place as he paled. “NO, no eating of vampires! Not here or anywhere else!”

Anya looked at her boyfriend in amusement. “I thought I was the one who shouldn’t talk in public!”

Buffy blushed brightly, especially when she caught sight of Spike’s smirk.

“If you have something interestin’ in mind, I’d rather not have the whelp in the audience, pet. But if you insist…,” he taunted.

“Pig!”

“Oink!” he agreed affably.

“Can we please change the subject immediately, if not sooner?” begged the beleaguered Watcher. He would never get used to the sexual banter from this group.

“Where’s Will?” Buffy placated Giles.

To everyone’s surprise, it was Spike with the answer. “Left her with her new girlfriend at her dorm. Right lovely bird, that. Makes a fine cuppa too.”

“Wait!” Buffy said in amazement, “You had TEA with Willow and her friend in MY dorm room?”

“Invited right and proper, I was too. Ask the Watcher.”

“Actually, that is the case. Willow wished to reassure her friend that Spike had recovered nicely from his ordeal.”

“Smart as a whip too. Knew I was a vamp right off,” Spike said approvingly. “Make a right fine mate for the witch, keep her on the straight and narrow.”

Only Giles seemed to get the implications of what Spike was saying. It wasn’t his place to educate the children, so he kept to his own counsel, merely offering a warning look at Spike.

“Well, my day sucked beyond the telling of it,” Buffy grumbled. “I had to go back to that house of horrors and act like it was all okay with me.” Her shoulders slumped in weariness.

“Charm of the pretty uniforms wear off?” Spike sneered.

“Shut up, Spike,” Buffy replied, but without the force of her usual irritation. She had seen too much suffering to begrudge the vampire a bit of snark involving the Initiative.

“It’s like those films about the Nazi camps. I feel like a decent German citizen caught up in a nightmare.” She was fighting the tears that seemed ever present since her eyes had been opened to the evils under their feet.

“Got that right. Bastards nearly had me back in the war,” Spike nodded. “Long story about what yours truly did during the Big One. Had some vamps headed for slice-and-dice back then, but made my first heroic escape from a submarine.”

“Right,” a skeptical Xander snorted.

“Damn strait, it’s right. Buggers sig heiling all over the bloody boat. Sang ‘em a chorus of ‘God Save the King’ before burning their paperwork and draining the bastards,” Spike insisted. He had no intention of bringing the Poof into it, but it rankled that he was not being believed. ‘Bet they’d believe the Gelled Wonder.’

Giles could sense the truth of Spike’s story and asked for more details. Spike kept it to the Nazi angle and avoided mentioning Angel, even though he was tempted to let the cat out of the bag about Peaches siring that hapless sailor. ‘Wouldn’t be such a perfect hero then, Slayer. Knock the bugger right off that pedestal you’ve got him on.’ In the end he couldn’t bring himself to add to the girl’s burden, not tonight anyway.

“Never forgot though. Ran into their boss in ’48, goin’ by the name Fritz Hollman and farmin’ in Bavaria. Nearly caught him too, but he slipped away to Argentina before I could show him what a vampire really is.” Spike gave a wolf-like grin and his eyes gleamed gold as he completed his tale, “Finally did get the bastard though. Was down in Brazil in 1979 and I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. Every Nazi hunter in the world looking for the dastard and there he was doin’ the breast stroke in the ocean. Death certificate said he had a stroke, but I know what caused it!”

“You’re talking about Josef Mengele!” Giles exploded in excitement. “Are you saying you are responsible for his accidental death?”

“No accident about it. I wanted that bastard from the time I saw his name on the damned orders for our capture. Got my own back, didn’t I? Will again in time.”

“Fascinating,” Giles muttered. He had no doubt of the truth of Spike’s assertion nor of the vampire’s resolve to avenge his recent capture in a like manner.

“So how do we get these guys?” Buffy asked.

“Which ‘guys’ are we talking about, Buff?” clueless Xander asked. He still didn’t quite get the idea that Riley and his buddies weren’t the good guys in this story.

“All of them. The Initiative, the idiots that thrashed Spike, the human monsters.” She looked imploringly at Giles. “How do we get the bad guys?”
Chapters 19 by pfeifferpack
~*~
Chapter 19

~*~

“Buff, um, I fail to see the whole ‘bad guy’ aspect.” Xander looked completely flummoxed. “I mean, Initiative equals human, and the only things getting hurt are demons. You know, the same things you kill every night…sacred duty and all. Those football freaks, while I’m all for seeing them thrashed just on principle, only went after Spike. Now I admit that I have my own issues with a couple of them, but I just don’t see you with ‘Buffy the Vampire Defender’ in the job description. So how are these guys suddenly the bad guys?”

“When they started doing things as bad as any demon.” Buffy sighed in frustration. Xander was really a nice guy, but she just didn’t understand this part of him. He was clearly a bigot against all creatures demon, even though he was a demon magnet when it came to his own love life. “Not all demons are bad, Xan. The Initiative doesn’t seem to care what they are like; they just cut them up and torture them. They have to be stopped. As for the guys that left Spike for dead…well, you can’t say what they did was right!”

“The woman in charge of the Initiative has plans to examine Buffy as one of their projects,” Giles added. “I have it on fairly good authority that after they learn all they can of the Slayer through normal means, they will detain her and Buffy will be treated the same way they do the demons they are currently studying. I believe that puts them firmly in the category of ‘bad guy’.” He was verging on indignation at the lad’s inability to see beyond the simple.

“And those football players…,” Giles struggled to think how best to explain to Xander the extreme wrongness of their actions. “Xander, that kind of action is what a bully does. It has nothing to do with vampires or humans. They cared not who or what Spike was when they left him for dead. It is a character trait. Some people torture animals and others might say, ‘oh, it’s just a cat’, but the problem is more than that. They don’t respect life. Today it’s a cat, tomorrow a girlfriend. The victim is perceived as weaker and the desire to overpower, to harm, is not checked. This isn’t protecting vampires; it is stopping evil. The police won’t be able to do a thing in this case because Spike is a vampire. Something clearly needs to be done, however. It is simply a matter of what.

Xander didn’t look any more inclined to avenge Spike than before, but the revelation of the plans the Initiative had for Buffy had galvanized him to that cause. ”I’m on board for the takedown of the Initiative at least. Nobody turns my best superfriend into a lab slide!”

Giles rolled his eyes as Buffy smiled brightly, “Thanks, Xan, I knew I could count on you.”

“Don’t need the whelp’s protection anyway,” Spike sneered. He wasn’t about to show how it cut him to be dismissed. “Figure that lot are worth the headache it’d give me to fix the problem myself.”

“That is not a good idea, Spike,” Giles said, feeling a genuine sense of alarm. “There will be a way to avenge their behavior without the shedding of further blood or a migraine on your part.”

Willow had entered as Spike was speaking, her face a study in worry. “I don’t know about that, Giles. I’d kinda like a bit of bloodletting myself.”

Buffy took in her best friend’s expression. “Something else happen, Will?”

“The poophead that was giving Tara all that trouble at the Bronze paid her a visit today. She’s terrified of him.” Willow motioned for Tara to enter the Watcher’s apartment and introduced her to Xander and Giles.

“Wanker threaten you, petal?” Spike was concerned for the girl who had no fear of a vampire but was clearly shaken by the lumbering hulk of a human. “I can still take care of him for you. No migraine or bloodletting involved to set a fire at his frat house.”

Tara ducked her head and shook a bit. “He’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before. It’s just…I thought that was all behind me now. I thought I could have the life I always saw others have. “ She turned her tear streaked face up to Spike. “I thought I could be brave for once, but I’m still just a scared little girl from only vague threats. I’m hopeless!”

“Nothin’ wrong with fear, kitten,” Spike reassured the shamed girl. “Maker put fear into a person for a reason. Be an idiot not to fear. Bein’ brave doesn’t mean not bein’ afraid; it means actin’ in face of the fear. As for bein’ hopeless….” Spike made a sound that showed how ridiculous he thought that idea. “So what’d the wanker say?”

Tara let out a long breath before answering. “It was a none too veiled threat that I would live to regret causing any trouble for him with his coach or the school. He has plans to go pro one day and wasn’t going to let any ‘mouse of a girl’ mess up his future. The coach was at least nicer.” Tara didn’t bring in how Steve had dismissed her as unworthy of his notice in the light of day.

“Wonder what pro team’ll take a cripple,” Spike mused.

“SPIKE!” Buffy sympathized entirely but wasn’t going to encourage the vampire. “Not really helping.”

“Ooh, that’s an idea,” Willow brightened. “There has to be a spell to remove a vertebrae or two somewhere.”

“And those books will be kept far away from you, Willow. Have you never heard of the threefold principle? Dark magic will always come back on the user.” Giles began to mentally go through his books to decide which needed to be locked away immediately. “We shall deal with this person without doing bodily harm to him, psychological damage to you or indulging in pyromania.”

The Watcher decided it was time to change the subject before Willow moved back into dangerous territory. The girl was far more magically inclined than he had realized and he’d need to take her firmly in hand to prevent the sorts of things Ripper remembered all too well. “So, Miss Maclay, I am told you are not a novice when it comes to the supernatural. You were surprisingly sanguine when faced with Spike here.”

“My mother told me about the hidden world. She took me to New Orleans once on a holiday and we went into the demon district to buy some herbs for some healing potions. I saw some vampires, but none up close. “ Tara got a pained look on her face. ‘My father wasn’t happy to find out we’d gone.”

“Will must have told you Spikey’s impotent then, to not do a freak-out up close and personal,” Xander guessed.

“Willow didn’t say anything about Spike being a vampire. I judge everyone for themselves though, and Spike did me a good turn. Besides, his aura is special.” She shot a shy grin at the embarrassed vampire. “She also didn’t say anything about his sex life.” Turning fully to Spike, she said sincerely, “I’m sorry to hear you are having trouble. Maybe we can find a healing potion?”

Buffy nearly fell off the couch laughing at the sputtering vampire’s reaction. Spike was torn between being touched at the girl’s concern and outrage that his manly abilities had been called into question.

“What Xander actually meant is that Spike has a computer chip that prohibits his hunting and killing people. ” Giles gave a disapproving look at Xander. “It renders him safe.”

“Hey!” Spike objected. “Could still do more than a bit of harm here! Given it lots of thought, chained up in that tub of yours. Don’t have to use fangs to be the Big Bad.”

Tara noticed how Spike’s aura clearly showed his many emotions at all the talk about him and his handicap. Clearly he was a vampire in transition, not even knowing what he felt himself. One clear feeling, though, had been hurt at being the butt of the others’ ill-meant humor. The Harris boy’s aura, on the other hand, was a good one except for the bright glow of a mean streak that, if left unchecked, could blot out all his better instincts.

“It must be difficult to know quite how to act since this chip takes so many choices from you,” Tara sympathized. She had already decided the chip was making it easier for the vampire to connect with humans in a non-food capacity, but that didn’t stop her from seeing it was a struggle for Spike to know just how to be. Turning to Xander, she continued, “Yes, I know about the chip, but I didn’t until I had already decided that I like Spike.”

Spike wasn’t finished though. “Ask demon girl ‘bout that. No fangs on her while she was ruinin’ lives and killin’. Right proud of her long career too. Don’t think I wasn’t listenin to her carry on when she wasn’t givin’ enough information on your sex life to cause a bloke to lose his lunch.”

Tara looked with interest at the young human who so clearly didn’t like the vampire. “You are dating a demon?” She hazarded a glance at the others in the room, wondering at their acceptance of such a thing. Perhaps they wouldn’t reject her when her true demon nature proved itself.

“Ex!” Xander exploded. “Ex-demon! Wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole if that ex wasn’t there!” No one saw Tara flinch slightly.

Spike smirked, “Don’t see why she’s letting you touch her at all.”

Willow was exasperated. “Okay, off topic here, folks. We need to stop this guy from bullying Tara. And as for your girlfriend, she’s scary enough as a human!”

Anya chose that moment to arrive on the scene. “If I had just gotten my necklace back, if you had been a halfway decent witch, you’d see scary.” She snuggled up to Xander and kissed him in greeting. “Why am I being discussed?”

“Does no one knock anymore?” Giles muttered. “The lot of you waltz in here at all hours as if it were your own home. A man deserves a bit of privacy, after all. A man’s castle and what all.”

Buffy quirked her eyebrow at Giles’ irritation. “Thought you were the one to say we should consider this our second home?”

“Yes, well, I was clearly too far into the bottle at the time,” Giles admitted. “Nor did I expect as much traffic as Grand Central Station at high noon.”

“Back to me and why your oldest friend is calling me scary,” Anya demanded.

“We were just talking about demons and ex-demons and how not scary chipped Spike is, that’s all,” Xander evaded.

“I don’t see why being a demon is cause to be afraid at all. Just like anyone else, there are scary ones and those that are completely harmless. As for me, I simply did my job well.” Anya smiled at the new girl. “Hello. We met the other night. I’m Anya.”

“Tara. Tara Maclay.” Tara smiled at the girl she assumed had been a demon at one time. “How did you stop being a demon?”

“My power was in the necklace all vengeance demons wear. When it was destroyed, I became human. Now I can only punish people the same way as any other puny human can. I can punish Xander by withholding sex, for example.”

“Oh.” Tara hoped to get a chance to have a long talk with this girl. Perhaps she would know a way for Tara’s own demon background to be rejected. “I’d really love to talk with you sometime when you have a moment.”

“Sure. I could use a girlfriend,” Anya looked pointedly at Willow. “One that isn’t always rolling her eyes at me and making nasty cracks just because her oldest friend has moved on.”

“I think I shall pay a visit to this footballer and suggest he refrain from bothering you any further,” Giles offered.

“Yeah, I’ll go along. Nothin’ like seein the bloke you just killed at your door to get somebody’s attention,” Spike added as he followed Giles towards the door.

~~~

The two Brits discovered Steve and the coach in the latter’s office. Practice had gone a bit late and Coach was going over play plans for the next big game when he looked up to see two strange men with a hardness to their eyes that spelled trouble.

“Hey, that’s him!” Steve pointed a shaky finger at Spike. “That’s the wimp that tried to hustle me at pool.” He sneered at Spike and swaggered forward. “What’d you do, go get your daddy to threaten me?”

Giles looked pointedly at the ‘authority figure’ in the room. “We are here to make certain you both understand fully that any attempts to interfere with the life and happiness of Tara Maclay will be answered by the two of us. You are not dealing with a young girl any longer.” He turned to Steve with a withering glance, “You will find yourself well out of your element if you persist. … And why on earth would you assume that I am in any way related to Spike?”

The coach hastened to calm the waters. “Look, there’s been a misunderstanding, that’s all. No one wants to bother the girl. I just wanted to make sure she was all right after Steve here told me about the trouble at the nightclub.”

Spike snorted. “Yeah, I can just imagine your tender concern. The girl is off limits, got that?”

“Or you’ll do what?” Steve taunted, “Do nothing, like you did in the alley? Man, I’ve seen girls fight back better than you even tried.” He turned his back dismissively on the fuming vampire.

“And yet he is still here,” Giles pointed out. “Aren’t you even a bit surprised to see him here healthy after the damage you did to him?” Giles shared a look with Spike. “Perhaps you should be wondering how that is remotely possible.”

Coach had a feeling that things were rapidly spiraling out of control and it wasn’t going to be good for his volatile quarterback to push these two. The older man had a tightly leashed violence in him that was palpable and he had a good point about the other’s condition.

“Got lucky. Me and the boys had more beer in us than we thought, that’s all. Didn’t do nearly the damage we thought…or that he asked for by messing with us.”

“I think it more likely that you and your boys were the lucky ones that Spike has better control over himself than the lot of you,” Giles responded and nodded slightly to Spike.

The sound of bones shifting was unsettling, but it wasn’t the first time the coach had looked into the face of horror. Spike had shifted to gameface and leveled a deadly gaze at Steve as if judging the blood content of the blowhard.

“Um, Steve…,” Coach cautioned the boy who had yet to turn around to see what the look on his coach’s face was about. “I think you need to back off real quick-like and just let this drop.”

Steve turned around and got his first close-up look at a vampire in full ready-to-go. “Shit, man, what the hell are you?” He paled and backed up in spite of himself.

“I’m the angel of death if you don’t back the hell off the girl, berk,” Spike thundered. “I’m what goes bump in the night. Pay Tara any more visits, even with flowers and candy, and the next thing you’ll be seein’ is that bright light they talk about just before you meet your maker. I’ll lower myself to swill down the drek you’ve likely got in your veins and leave you drained and dry with a football stuffed so far up your arse they’ll be weeks pullin’ it out.”

“He’s a vampire, Steve. Don’t mess with these guys…or the girl.” Coach turned to Giles. “I swear I’ll leave the girl alone, like it never happened. Steve won’t go near her either, right?” He looked at his player who was still trying to process what was before his eyes. “Steve, I told you to stay clear of her already. You’ll do as I say now, right?”

Giles and Spike turned and left the pair in silence. Once outside, Spike let out a whoop of laughter. “Now THAT felt good! See that bugger nearly piss his pants, Rupes?”

“Yes, I must admit it did feel rather good to put the fear of…something…into them,” Giles agreed.

“Nearly called me a god there, old man,” Spike teased.

“Not bloody likely.” Giles rolled his eyes and stifled a grin at the rejoicing vampire nearly skipping at his side in glee. “Now perhaps we can concentrate on dealing with that crone Walsh and her enterprise”

~~~

Back at the athletic office, the coach sat down hard on his chair in relief. All things considered, that had gone rather well. There wouldn’t be a problem over the incident at the Bronze because the victim had been a vampire and he and his boys had somehow managed to get off easy from the entire affair. His only hope was that Steve had more brains than he had thus far exhibited.

Steve seethed as he watched the monster and the man leave. He wasn’t one to take orders. He barely followed the coaches’ directions for play when they differed from his own instincts. “Since when does a vampire care about some little stuttering mouse? Who the hell does he think he is to tell me who I can or can’t talk to?”

His coach tensed with worry at where this was leading and Steve decided silence might be golden in this case. ‘Yeah, big bad vampire hiding behind some middle-aged guy. Didn’t even fight back. Why is that, I wonder?’
Chapter 20 by pfeifferpack
~*~

Chapter 20

~*~
“What’d you say?” Spike couldn’t believe his ears. Had the Slayer just said those two words to him?

Buffy shook her head before repeating, “I said that I’m sorry.”

“Okay, sorry for what? For not stakin’ me? ‘Cause I’m not too sorry ‘bout that myself.” Spike was clearly at a loss to understand just what the Slayer’s apology was for.

“Look, Spike,” Buffy explained, “When you showed up at Giles’ door on Thanksgiving, we weren’t very sympathetic or nice.” Before Spike could add his two cents, she rushed to remind him, “You weren’t exactly our good buddy then, so I think we were justified in not exactly killing the fatted calf and giving you the blood or anything.”

“True.” He surprised her with his quick agreement. “Had a bit of a past with you lot.”

“Still,” Buffy continued her explanation, “none of us understood where you had been. Not then.” She was silent for a moment as she pictured the horrors she had seen underground at the Initiative. “We never even asked what they had done to you, and that was unkind. You looked terrible. We should have known it was bad if it caused you to turn to us for help.”

“Didn’t exactly have a boatload of friends to turn to and at least you all were supposed to be white hats--you know, ride to the rescue of the put-upon and all that,” Spike muttered.

Buffy let out a chuckle. “You’re not likely to win Most Popular in the demon world or even Mr. Congeniality, for that matter.” She smiled, taking the sting from the words. “Anyway, I’ve seen that place now. I know the kinds of things they do there. I just want you to know that I think it’s wrong. I have no problem staking vampires or killing demons, but that…,” She closed her eyes at the memory. “It’s just not right on any level. I’m sorry we weren’t able to see that then.”

“’S’okay, pet,” Spike didn’t understand why he felt the need to assuage her guilt, but somehow he did. “Hearin’ the Big Bad got defanged had to have seemed like a real plus to you.”

“It was. It is, actually. Look, Spike, I really think I like it that I don’t need to worry about having to stake you, so I can’t be too sorry about the chip that’s keeping everyone safe from you. But that doesn’t mean that I would have wished that place on you.” Buffy swallowed down the thoughts of other things that had happened between them that never would have had he not been chipped. Memories of soft, passionate kisses and cool, tender hands were swiftly brushed aside. Now was not the time.

As if reading her mind, Spike said in a voice a full octave below his normal voice, “Never would have had a lapful of hot, sexy Slayer either. Guess it was worth it, at least a little bit.” Then in his normal voice, he backtracked, “Not that I don’t want the bloody unnatural thing out, mind.”

Buffy chose to ignore the vibrations in her womb at the seductive tone and words that called to mind being on that lap. She forged on with her planned apology. “We’re going to bring them down. We’re also going to do something about those college boys. You’re right, we are supposed to be against evil and they are evil. “She sighed and was unable to stop herself from asking, “Were you there long?”

“Few weeks.” Spike was warmed by the concern in her voice. “Don’t remember all of it. They drug the blood they feed you to keep you from thinkin’ straight or plannin’ anythin’. Too bad the drugs don’t work on the pain when they’re doin’ the cuttin’ though, just muddle the thinkin’.”

“So they did more than just put the chip in,” Buffy guessed.

Spike knew she really didn’t want the details. The girl had been shocked by what she had seen and he found himself reluctant to add to those images. “Made it out okay. Healed up right fine too, thanks to you lot.”

“I am sorry, Spike. Mom pointed out a few things lately and I think I’ve been judging you without getting to know you first.” Buffy smiled at the dumbstruck vampire. “I hear that you and Giles put the scare into that coach and his pit bull. Tara has you listed as her personal hero now.”

“Felt good to flash a bit of fang and hear the pitter patter of terror in those pillocks,” Spike admitted with a wry grin. “Promised Tara I’d not hurt them even if I could. Don’t break promises to sweet ladies; didn’t even without the hardware in my noggin.”

“Sounds like what my mom said about you,” Buffy admitted. “So…you’re friends with my mom, huh?”

“Right nice lady, your mum,” Spike said with a nod of admittance. “Treats me like a man and not a monster, even knowin’ what I am.”


“Sounds like Mom may know what you are better than we do,” Buffy whispered. “Maybe even more than you know yourself.”

~~~

Tara found it surprisingly easy to open up to Anya for some reason. Perhaps it was because she knew the blunt girl had been a demon and yet was living as a human now. Tara didn’t reveal her own demon background but all else had flown from her lips as though to a much needed therapist.

“I wish I had met you when I still had my power source! Your mother should have called out for me. I’d have been more than happy to take care of her situation, yours too.”


“Mamma didn’t know how bad it was, not for me.” Tara shuddered at the memories flooding her mind. “Daddy was hard on all of us equally. Ruled his castle with an iron hand. Donny wanted to be just like him, heir to the throne. It’s that way with all the men in my family. When it’s all you know, you don’t think of it as wrong. Mamma came from a family just like that too, so it seemed normal to her. In fact, her daddy picked who she married. She never even got to date anyone else. She was only fifteen when she and Daddy stood up before the preacher and he was a cousin to both of them. Even though Mamma was treated terribly, she loved my daddy. He was all she knew, all she thought she deserved.”

“But didn’t she know what your father was doing to you?” Willow asked in horror. She had listened silently and found herself wanting to inflict serious damage on the Maclay males. Tara had been through a horrific childhood filled with abuse and poverty. She had thrown herself into learning, spending hours at the local library to escape a bleak future. She had applied for a scholarship in secret, unable to share the news with her ailing mother for fear that her father would find out and stop her from leaving. “How did you get away?”

“Mamma died just before I graduated from high school. It was only because of her that I got to go to school past sixteen. Daddy wanted to marry me off to a fourth cousin of his, but Mamma stood up to him for once. I don’t know what she said, but Daddy backed down. I think he was a little afraid of Mamma at times. I left a couple of months after we buried her. I hitchhiked to Colorado and worked at a resort for a while until I was pretty sure Daddy wasn’t following me. Then I came out here to start school. Without that scholarship I would never have been able to go to college! Thanks to work-study, I can cover my other expenses.”

“Well, you are safe now.” Anya was thinking of how to make things right and safe for this girl, and she had a couple of good ideas already. Not many people treated her like she was worth their time and this young girl had made her feel accepted as she never had been before. If Anya could help her, she would.

“We won’t let anyone mess up your future. You’re one of us now,” Willow concurred.

Tara blinked back the tears at the thought of how painful it would be to lose their trust and caring once her demon background was discovered. Maybe she should just tell them now, before they found out on their own. Better to lose this wonderful feeling of acceptance now before she got too used to it. She looked at Willow and sighed at the perceived loss to come. True, the girl didn’t know of her attraction, but even if anything more was out of the question, her friendship was already a cherished thing to Tara.

~~~

Buffy and Spike went out to do a quick patrol after their interesting conversation earlier in the day. They discovered that they fought well together, rather like dancing. Spike fought with a glee that Buffy’s inner Slayer reveled in but refused to emulate.

“Got any plans on how to close up the G.I. Joke brigade?” Spike asked as they strolled to the next cemetery on the list.

“Giles thinks the Council will be happy to help bring them down once we prove their plans for me. Travers might hate me, but I am still the active Slayer. They won’t want any other group interfering with me or the mission.”

“Makes sense. Won’t want anyone else playin’ with their toys,” Spike agreed.

Buffy hadn’t even really heard Spike’s reply. She was lost in thought about Spike and Giles and how funny her life was. “That’s twice.”

“Twice?” Spike was clueless about what exactly was twice. Had the Initiative already made a play for Buffy?

“I love Giles” Buffy’s statement seemed to come from nowhere.

“You know, I always wondered about you two,” Spike said with a bleak yet knowing look.

Buffy looked horrified at where Spike’s mind had gone. “Ewwwwwww, Spike, gross!” She missed the look of relief that passed over the vampire’s face. “I mean that Giles is the father I never really had, the only man not to leave me.”

Buffy almost missed the quiet “I’d not leave you, pet.” She chose not to acknowledge his whispered promise just then. “You’ve saved Giles twice now.”

“How’s that, love?” Spike racked his brain to figure out where he had been while rescuing the Watcher.

Buffy grinned at the clueless vampire. She was a bit surprised that he didn’t seem to be aware how some of his own choices had helped so much. Could it be that his instincts were basically good and that was why he truly didn’t realize the good he’d done? “When you and I had that truce going up against Angelus, you stopped Giles from being tortured. Angelus might not have killed him, but he sure was planning to remove some parts, and he would have if you hadn’t tricked him into another plan.”

Spike actually looked a bit embarrassed at his actions being called a ‘rescue’. “Old geezer was holdin’ up fine without me.”

‘Huh, a bit of modesty! Who’d have expected that?’ Buffy was startled but continued her explanation. “Then just the other day you were the reason he found Ethan Rayne. You even kept Giles out of an Initiative cell! I can’t imagine what would have happened if they had grabbed him while he was all demony! I think of what I saw there in those labs and think of Giles having things like that done to him and it makes me a little crazy.”

“Gave me a chance to lead those wankers on a merry chase. Had a good time makin' monkeys out of the lot of ‘em,” Spike chuckled. “As for that mate of the Watcher’s, he was a right bit of fun but a loose cannon. Not good for anyone to let that sort run tame. Magic makes me nervous on a good day, but in the hands of someone like that Rayne bloke, it makes my blood run cold…if my blood ran, that is.”

“Whatever your reasons for helping, I just want you to know I won’t forget it. What you did for us, for me…that was real, Spike. I think I’d like to start from scratch, get to know you, the real you. Put all the history behind us and start over. There’s more to you than just hunt and kill. There’s hope for you yet.” Buffy looked him right in the eye as she spoke and before he knew what was happening, she leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips.

~~~

Anya left vowing she knew how to take care of the whole boatload of problems in one act. Willow and Tara watched her whirlwind out the door and wondered just what the ex-demon might be planning. Willow was more than a bit nervous at the different prospects but decided not to worry her lovely friend with her thoughts.

“She’s quite a take-charge person, isn’t she?” Tara gave a half grin of amusement.

Willow looked bemused. “Anya does tend to just charge in. That’s how she won Xander…it was more attack and capture than subtle seduction. It’s effective if messy.”

“Wonder what she has in mind?”

“Call me clueless, ‘cause I’m not even sure I can buy a vowel to figure that one out. We’ll just have to wait and hope she doesn’t plan anything that will lead to death and dismemberment.” Willow shuddered at the thought of Anya going proactive. “Diseases would be of the bad too.”

Tara was so grateful to have people wanting to take up for her and stand by her that she wasn’t too worried about whatever plan Anya might be cooking up. “I almost think I’m going to wake up back in Alabama and this…all of you…will be just a dream. I never thought I’d have friends that cared and suddenly….” She got choked up with years of need and couldn’t finish the thought.

“We’re not exactly a dream here in Sunnydale. Some might think it’s a nightmare, actually. Still, it’s real. We’re real. We care, Tara, and you aren’t alone anymore.” Willow impulsively pulled the girl into an embrace offering comfort and the promise of belonging.

Willow had never reacted to a simple hug the way she did with Tara. It was like finding something that she didn’t even know was lost. She felt a gigantic hole in her soul begin to fill with something wonderful. She felt like she was coming home. Willow sighed inwardly as the hug began to slowly turn into more of a caress. It was right, ‘made for you’ perfect, and she wasn’t going to blow it by rushing her fences. This wasn’t some rebound thing. This had substance and would be worth the wait. No scaring off the one person who made her feel alive and worthy.

Tara was atremble with hope. Perhaps she truly had finally come home with this wonderful girl and the world she represented. Perhaps there was love to be shared, even for one as cursed and damaged as she.

And on the Hellmouth, hope took wing and flew.
Chapter 21 by pfeifferpack
~*~
Chapter 21

~*~

The gang gathered at Giles’ cramped apartment the next day to go over ideas on taking down the Initiative. Tara had come along with Willow, as the two had been nearly joined at the hip since first meeting. Only Anya was missing, having gone off on some special “top secret mission” of her own.

“Okay, Buffster, how do you want to handle the ‘not so good guys’ that are all over town with high tech weapons…and did I mention official military status too? Not going to be like shutting down Willy’s there.” Xander wasn’t sure how he seemed to have signed up for taking on the United States government, but when push came to shove, he would always stand at the side of his friends.

“Willow thinks that if we can hack into their computer system we’ll maybe find some stuff that talks about what they plan to do to me and then the Council will take them on for us and shut them down.” Buffy was hopeful that this plan would work. Quentin Travers was a thorn in her side and vice versa, but she was still ‘Slayer comma The’. It didn’t hurt that she had averted several apocalypses and performed better than most Slayers in recorded history.

“I bow to the hackery goodness that is my bestest friend.” Xander was clearly impressed. “How long will that take?”

“Well…,” Willow bit her lip before springing her idea on Buffy. “I was thinking that having someone on the inside, someone basically decent, might help.”

“Sure, that would be great. Got any ideas?” Buffy just wanted it all done and over with.

“I was thinking Riley might help if he knew what they plan to do to you. He really likes you, Buffy, and wouldn’t want you to get hurt. He knows you’re a good guy like he is. In fact, I kinda asked him to drop by in a while so we can talk.” Willow cringed at the look Buffy shot her way at that news. “And I did find a few things already and printed them out. It might be enough to convince him to help.”

They were arguing the viability of Riley Finn as their inside man as the door crashed open to reveal a smoking quilt covering a cursing vampire.

“Spike, what are you doing here? Haven’t you gotten the memo about vampires being flammable?” Xander snipped. “Not like you’re needed or even wanted. Hey, maybe you’re suicidal? I can help with that!”

“Xander, that’s uncalled for,” Giles chided. “Spike is here at my invitation. He has a vested interest in helping to bring down the Initiative and is the only one of us aside from Buffy to have ever been in those laboratories. “

“But if Riley is going to join our little crusade, we won’t need Sparky here,” Xander sneered.

Spike looked at the group as if they had lost their minds. “You plan to trust one of THEM to pull down the pillars of their own group? Are you all as crazy as Dru?”

“I will admit that on the surface it sounds foolhardy, but there may be merit to the idea.” Giles wasn’t completely sold on the idea but had none better to offer. Time was at a premium, after all. “If the lad is the well-intentioned soldier he appears, then he will be as appalled as we are at the plans his superiors have to experiment on Buffy. That being the case, he will likely assist us. f he does not believe it to be their true purpose, he will probably investigate to prove us wrong and in so doing will discover the truth and come to our cause on his own.”

“And you still put teeth under your pillow at night hoping for a pence or two in the morning? What about you, Slayer, still sit on Santa’s lap come December?”

Willow was upset that her simple solution was being questioned. “This isn’t some fictional guy; Riley’s a real soldier. He likes Buffy. He wants to be a good guy and won’t like it that his boss is planning to hurt a human. He’ll help, I just know it.”

The argument flared up again, loud enough that no one heard the knock at first. Tara finally got Willow’s attention with a tug on her sleeve. “Someone’s at the door.”

Willow shushed the group and Giles answered the door, muttering, “Must be the first time the bloody knocker’s been used since I acquired this flat. Aside from one rather pushy Jehovah’s Witness contingent, no one bothers to knock.” He opened the door to a smiling Riley Finn.

“Hi, Mr. Giles. I don’t know if you remember me from Buffy’s birthday party. I’m Riley Finn, a TA at Sunnydale U.” He carefully omitted his real position with the commandos.

“Yes, yes, I remember you. We’ve been expecting you, actually. Willow told us she extended an invitation,” Giles motioned the young man into his home.

Buffy gave a short smile and wave as Willow poured on the charm. Riley looked about, slightly bemused and curious to the purpose of his being asked to the home of a virtual stranger filled with people he didn’t know.

After normal courtesies and small talk, Buffy revealed to Riley what they had learned about Maggie Walsh’s plans for studying the Slayer. “NO! Mom--I mean Professor Walsh--would never harm a human. Her entire mission is the protection of our species from Subterrestrial Hostiles and other slime. She respects you, Buffy! We’re doing good here. Protecting the public, removing the subterrestrial threat. It’s work worth doing. You’ve seen all our progress! You’re one of us, Buffy.”

It took looking at the meager evidence, all circumstantial, that Willow had uncovered and the certainty of Giles’ information to convince Riley that he should at least look into the possibility that a plan was afoot that conflicted with everything he believed in. “I’m not saying I’ll help. But I’m not saying I won’t. If this IS the truth, and I just can’t believe it, then naturally I won’t allow an innocent young woman to be harmed. Not even in the name of science and country would that be right. I’ll snoop around and if it looks like you are right, then I’ll do what I can to help. BUT if you’re wrong I’ll expect a full apology for besmirching the name of a great patriot and brilliant scientist.”

“Sig Heil,” muttered Spike. He had been staying on the fringes, avoiding the gimlet eye of the soldier. Finn had given him the ‘don’t I know you?’ look off and on and Spike really didn’t want to discover that the soldier could add two plus two and arrive at four.

Riley looked sharply at ‘Xander’s cousin’ and suddenly it all clicked in place. “You’re Hostile 17! We’ve been looking for you ever since you broke out.”

Buffy rushed to run interference. “This is Xander’s cousin--”

Spike cut her off, tired of the game playing with this dolt, “Oh bugger it! Congratulations, you caught Doctor Kimble, Lt. Gerard.” Off the puzzled looks of the youngsters in the room, he rolled his eyes, “’The Fugitive’? Classic American television? Any of this ring any bells?”

“Oh yeah!” Xander snapped, “Harrison Ford movie…I get it!”

“Your mother must be so proud,” Spike snarked.

Riley had shaken off his surprise at seeing the Hostile in the home of Buffy’s Watcher behaving as if he were just another guest. “We’ve been looking all over the place for him and you’ve known where he was the whole time!” He turned hurt, accusing eyes on Buffy. Maybe she wasn’t on the same team after all.

“He’s not bad anymore,” Buffy started.

“Hey! Still the Big Bad, just inconvenienced at the moment,” Spike asserted.

“Not helping,” Buffy hissed.

“He’s chipped, thanks to you guys, and not hurting anyone. In fact, he’s even helped us out.” Buffy looked challengingly at the soldier. “Spike helped me in the past too. There’s no reason to hunt him down. I swear he’s no threat.”

“I don’t know what to believe with you people,” Riley accused. “I’ll check out your claims because I can’t wait to prove you wrong. As for that monster,” he pointed at Spike, “he belongs back in a cage.”

“Riley,” Buffy turned on the charm, missing the blazing eyes of the vampire in question, “Trust me, I’ve got a handle on Spike. Check out our information. If you find out they aren’t doing the job you think they are doing there at the Initiative, maybe it’s better Spike not be one of their subjects. I mean, what’s the plan with chipping vampires anyway?”

Riley looked daggers at Spike and then back at Buffy’s innocent pleading face and crumbled. “All right…FOR NOW. Once we sort out this whole mess, we can deal with it.” He looked pointedly at Spike on the last word before heading out the door and back to base.

“Well, that went rather well,” Giles said sarcastically.

“Do ya think? Spike, I think you’d better lay low, just in case Riley slips and mentions seeing you.” Buffy suggested.

“Not hidin’ from the likes of him!” Spike was insulted at the thought of cowering before the farm boy in camouflage.

“Oh dear,” Giles said as he looked at his watch. “I’m afraid we shall have to continue this riveting conversation at a later date. I have a job to perform and while it may not be as important as Watcher for the Council, it does at least keep me in single malt and Jaffa cakes.”

“Playin’ another gig at the Espresso Pump then? What, more acoustic Who with a bit of James Taylor thrown in the mix?” Spike grinned at the blush he had caused on the Watcher’s face.

“You play music? In public?” Buffy sputtered.

“One must make a respectable living. Not much call for foreign librarians, and demonology is a sadly limited vocation.” Giles gave up hiding his secret career, picked up his guitar case from behind the chair where he had hidden it and huffed his way to the door. “Do lock up when you’ve finished here, please.”

“Willow, do you think you might be able to get the information without Riley?” Buffy asked. “I really don’t want to have all our eggs in his basket.”

“My laptop isn’t working too well. It picked up a virus that I haven’t debugged yet, so I can’t say when I can work on hacking into the Initiative’s system,” Willow admitted. She hated being unplugged from the wonderful world of computers and hated even more admitting she had not been able to fix the problems. Perfectionist that she was, she felt she should have fixed the infection immediately.

“Mom’s computers at the gallery should work, shouldn’t they?” Buffy knew very little about computers but did know her mother was linked to the internet and that her system was top of the line.

“Do you think she’d mind?”

“What, to save her darling daughter from becoming lab rat for the government? Sure, she’d be all over it,” Buffy laughed.

“Tara, do you mind hanging out here with Spike until the sun sets and he can leave? We’ll be back before you know it and we can pick up dinner on the way back to the dorm,” Willow suggested. She wasn’t comfortable leaving Tara alone with the other bullies on the loose and she knew Spike would be sure to look out for her. Just to be sure, she shot a look at Spike that let him know her real purpose.

“Wouldn’t turn down the company, ducks,” Spike said with a raised eyebrow. He knew full well that Willow was asking him to look out for her girl.

“Will Mr. Giles mind? I don’t want to impose.”

“I’m the one imposing, just ask the bloke,” Spike reassured the girl. “You’ll just be keepin me out of trouble. Rupes’ll thank you.”

The two girls headed out to the gallery to set in motion the plan to hack into the Initiative’s computers.

“Well, I’m not sitting here with the evil undead!” Xander announced.

“Not like you’re my choice for good company, whelp,” Spike returned. “Can do lots better than a glorified bricklayer for conversation.”

“Yeah? Well, at least I’m a decent solid citizen and not a serial killer, Spike. That’s all you are. You may be on a leash right now, but we both know what you are, what you’ve been. You’ve got a century of torture, rape and murder to your name, William the Bloody. You may not be killing at the moment, but you’re still nothing but an evil monster…the same serial killer you’ve always been.” He slammed the door on exit.

Tara and Spike sat in uncomfortable silence for a brief while after Xander’s dramatic exit. Spike could sense no judgment from the sweet girl he had come to respect, but having his past brought up so pointedly made him uneasy about her feelings toward him.

“Pup has a way with words, don’t he? Look, I’ll understand if you’d rather I just leave.”

“Nonsense, Spike. I told you that I judge people on how they are now, not what they’ve been.” Tara desperately hoped her instincts were right about Spike. If a demon as evil-prone as he could turn to the light, then maybe whatever demon she was could avoid becoming evil too. She could see the good in Spike and hung onto that possibility with all the desperation of one teetering on the brink of that deep slide into the black herself.

“Can I ask you something without you thinking I’m judging you?”

“Ask me whatever you want, petal. Can’t say you’ll like the answers though.”

“Why does someone do those things? What makes someone say, ‘Hey, it’s okay to kill. It’s fine for me to do all this evil’? I just can’t understand it in humans or demons.”

“Don’t rightly know, pet. All those people…they were just prey to me. There wasn’t any thought to it. I never thought about it being okay or not. I needed to feed and they were food. Only thing I did think about was pleasing Dru, bein’ the biggest Big Bad, makin’ her love me more than Peaches. He had a big reputation, big shoes to fill. Never did outdo the bugger though, even when I tried. I’m a vampire; we kill. Grrrr Arghhhhh!” He made a face more comical than scary.

“But you’re more than that! You still have a good heart; I’ve seen it,” Tara insisted.

“Heart don’t even beat, pet. When I was turned, I lost my conscience. Have to, else you’d never eat. I know right from wrong. Not stupid, just don’t care anymore. Rules don’t apply any longer. Complete freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want. Want…Take…Have…Simple rules to unlive by; anarchy reigns! Gotta kill to live and still rest easy after that.” He could see that Tara was truly trying to understand. “I never went in much for torture, not after Peaches left us early on. That was his gig; he was in love with evil for its own sake. Tell you himself if he was here! Torture was never a challenge to me; it’s not like I made a moral choice against it. Where’s the fun in it when the victim’s all trussed up and not able to fight back? Was too besotted with my wicked beauty to want to do much raping.” Tara noticed he didn’t deny ever committing that crime either.

“I liked the balls to the wall feeling of fist and fang. That was my thing, never knowin’ if I’d be lickin’ blood from my lips after leavin’ a pile of corpses or blowin’ in the wind. Each time, I might be getting ready to meet up with the real Devil at last. I took plenty of easy targets, sure, but the real fun was when there was a good chance I’d be nothing but a pile of dust at day’s end.” He looked Tara squarely in the eye and summed it up, “I’m a vampire. It’s what we do.”

Tara thought about what he’d said for a moment, then flashed him a cheeky grin. “YOU? I thought you were a rebel, a real maverick? Why would you do just like all the other vampires do? Why not make your own mold? You’ve got that chance now.”

Spike gave a return grin and whispered mostly for his own benefit, “Why not indeed?” Then, in a normal voice, “I can’t undo my past or make up for it, petal.”

“No, you can’t. No one can ever make up for the harm they do. No one expects you to be able to bring anyone back to life. But you can be redeemed.”

“Change, you mean.” Spike’d had similar conversations with Joyce Summers along these lines, maybe not as blunt.

“No, I’m talking about you reclaiming yourself, your TRUE self. Be the man you started out to be before the choices seemed to be taken away from you. Earn forgiveness, trust.”

“’S too late, luv.” Tara could hear the sadness in his voice and see it in his aura. Clearly the idea appealed to him on a very basic level even if he thought it impossible.

“It’s never too late and nothing is past forgiving, not as long as you exist,” Tara insisted.

“Vampire seeks redemption! I’m not bloody Angel!” His voice was heated, though Tara knew the anger wasn’t directed at her. “I don’t have a bleedin’ soul, do I now?”


She wasn’t sure about this Angel, but Willow had told her a little bit about the other vampire and she knew enough to have a clue. “You’ve got soul enough. Does this Angel seek redemption?”

Spike snorted. “Says so. Got the soul cursed into him and moped about with the ‘woe is me’ and enough guilt to make the Slayer’s knees jelly. Off bein’ the hero now. Knight in rusty armor and all.”

“What about without his soul? Did he seek redemption then?”

Spike thought he’d die from laughter. “Not bloody likely! Poofter had no interest in anything but blood and mayhem. Gave a rat’s arse about all else.”

“What about you, Spike? What would you like? Do you want to be an outcast among humans, just another vampire like all the rest?”

Spike’s voice was barely audible, “No. Would want me mum to be proud. Like to please Joyce, you, Buf--”

“Then do it!” Tara stood up. “I’ll be in your corner.”

“Ta, luv,” Spike said ruefully. “No one’s gonna give the chipped vamp a chance. Damned in name and by deed.”

“It won’t be easy, you’re right. Everyone will want to judge you on your past. You have to want to do this for YOU, Spike.” Tara held out a hand in a clear offer of friendship. “If you’re persistent and keep trying, prove who you really are and not what you’ve been told you have to be, they’ll see it eventually. They’ll have to, all of them, even Buffy.”

“You met Joyce yet, ‘cause you seem to be channeling her,” Spike chuckled. “I’ve a black heart, no hope there.”

“It’s been done before,” Tara asserted.

“Yes, we’ve discussed the Gelled Wonder,” Spike snarked.

“I’m not talking about Angel. I’m not even talking about vampires. Evil comes in human packages too. There’ve been people who have done terrible, horrible things and then really changed. Done good in the world.”

“You don’t know the meaning of evil, pet.”

“Sure I do! Okay, one person I can think of offhand is Nicky Cruz. He was a gang warlord. He did all kinds of evil. Then he changed, really changed. Now he runs halfway houses to help drug addicts. They made a movie about him; I saw it at my church when I was little.”

“I’ve killed a lot of people,” Spike hedged.

“So now you can help a lot of people,” she challenged. “You want this, then do it. I’ll be in your corner. No one is beyond saving, Spike.” She offered a silent prayer that she spoke the truth, not just for his sake but her own.

“Why’s this matter so much to you?”

“I like you, Spike. I see the good in you and the potential for a lot more. Being a demon shouldn’t have to mean you have no choice but evil.”

“Some demons aren’t evil.” He noticed Tara’s instant attentitiveness at that comment. “Why do I think there’s more goin’ on here than a pep talk to a reformin’ vamp? Talk to Spike.”

“I’m a demon,” she blurted the awful truth.

“You’re a what? What bleedin’ idiot put that idea in your head, poppet?”

“All the women in my family are. Daddy said it would show up when I became an adult. I really don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want to be evil!”

“Sweetheart, you couldn’t be evil if Satan himself instructed you! You’re about the purest good I’ve ever seen in my entire existence. Whatever shite your old man was shovelin’, there’s no demon in you,” Spike shook his head in amazement at the very idea.

“No, it’s true. Mamma even agreed.”

“No, it’s NOT true and I can prove it,” Spike smacked her on the back of the head and then grasped his own and growled in pain. “See! I can’t hit a human without the mother of all headaches, but I can hit demons all night long. If there was even a bit of demon in you, I wouldn’t be planning on raiding Rupert’s medicine chest for some Tylenol now. You’re as human as they come.”

Tara suddenly felt as if the weight of the world had lifted from her shoulders and broke out into a smile that could light a room. “I’m not a demon! I’m not a demon! Oh God, thank you, thank you, Spike!” She kissed him and danced about the room in glee. “I’m not a demon, I’m just a lesbian!”

“Um…what’s going on, guys?” Willow asked from the doorway.

“Why don’t I head back to my crypt while you two sus things out, yeah?” Spike made a quick exit leaving the girls to their chance to lay all cards on the table.

~~~

The door to the crypt felt like it weighed a ton or maybe Spike was simply emotionally drained by the conversation he had just had with Tara.

“Hostile 17! Don’t move or we will taser your ass!”

“Balls!” Spike debated running until he saw the number of commandos led by Finn and knew there was no way he could get past all of them.

Riley held the walkie-talkie to his mouth and reported in, “Subject in custody. Over. Returning to base. Over.” He smirked at Spike. “You didn’t think we’d let you wander around confusing all the little girls, now did you? Welcome back, Hostile. We have lots of plans for you.”
Chapter 22 by pfeifferpack
Author's Notes:
A/N: Some dialogue taken from “New Moon Rising” (s4) by Marti Noxon and “First Date (s7) by Jane Espenson altered slightly for my purposes.
~*~
Chapter 22
~*~

Willow and Tara spent a couple of intense nights ‘sussing things out’ as Spike had suggested.

“No wonder you were so scared of being around us! I still don’t understand why you believed you were a demon just because your czar of a father said so.” Willow had been moved to tears at the stories Tara had told of her childhood and her mother’s subjugation by a man far beneath her in mental and emotional abilities. Tara had been terrorized from the time she was old enough to be aware. The fact that the girl had survived at all, much less survived as a strong and intelligent person of integrity was astounding to Willow. Her attraction had grown by leaps and bounds.

By the time Tara admitted to being a lesbian and being attracted to her, Willow had already found herself hoping for just that thing. ‘Guess it isn’t just in an alternate universe where I’m kinda gay,’ she marveled.

Willow shared her own past as a misfit who’d come into her own as the Slayer’s sidekick. She told Tara all about Oz and how her heart had been so badly broken by the boy, even though she admitted that Oz was still a decent male for all of it. “It was just the call of the wild, you know. He had a whole ‘White Fang’ moment and then just slunk off out of town instead of working it out. I could have forgiven him for Veruca, but I just can’t get past his not staying to make things right.”

The second night had led to the most amazing physical experience of either girl’s life. “Is it always like that? I mean, girl to girl?” Willow had surprised herself with the wild abandon she had shown with Tara. She had always been a bit shy and awkward with Oz, even after they had been together for a while.

“I don’t have much experience myself. I knew I w..w..was attracted to girls from the start. Boys always were so rough and shaped funny, but I think it’s special with you. Kind of like magic without doing magic.” Tara looked at her shyly from under her lashes.

“I want to make this more than an experience. I think I’d like to try for something more lasting,” Willow confessed. “Maybe we could look at a room off-campus and share. I don’t think Buffy will mind losing a roommate. I just like having something that’s all mine.”

“I am, if you want me…yours.” Tara blushed prettily. “Do you like cats?”

“In general or a specific cat?” Willow chuckled. “Why?”

“I thought we might get one since we won’t be in the dorms. I always wanted a kitty and since it looks like I may be getting everything I wanted, why not a cat?” Tara took Willow’s hand and clasped it firmly.

“I think it’s about time you get everything you want. I’m just glad I’m one of those of things.” Willow squeezed her hand in return.

The giddy girls were walking hand in hand on the cloud of early romance as they headed towards Giles’ apartment. Buffy had called for the group to gather right away. Much to Willow’s pleasure, Tara had been included in the invitation. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as hard to reveal her new love as she had feared.
“I’m so happy your friends want me to be part of the group. So what’s the meeting about?”

“Don’t know. Buffy was all tight-lippy, but she sounded really anxious. An anxious Slayer is not a good Slayer either. I’m thinkin’ another apocalypse.” Willow furrowed her brow in worry.

“I never knew you could have more than one. My old Sunday School teacher would be shocked,” Tara broke into giggles, “Of course, she’d be shocked by everything in my life, for that matter.”

Willow joined in the laughter. “We usually have at least one a year. For some reason they happen in May and usually on a Tuesday, but I haven’t figured out why for the timing. I’m thinking it might be something to do with the planetary alignment or something like that. It gets kinda quiet with demon activity in the summer and that’s another puzzle.”

“Maybe demons go away on vacation in the summer?” Tara teased.

They were still smiling at the thought of beachcombing Fyrals and fungus demons as they entered the somber chambers of Buffy’s former Watcher.

Tara’s eyes immediately were drawn to Riley Finn, who was perched on the arm of the chair where Buffy sat. She could tell that the young soldier was more than slightly interested in the Slayer, even though Buffy gave no sign of noticing his interest.

“Now that everyone has arrived,” Giles began, “let’s get right to it, shall we? Riley has discovered that our information is correct and the doctors in his organization are more than prepared to look upon Buffy as just another Hostile to be examined.”
“I was shocked!” Riley had tried hard to disprove the accusations only to have Maggie Walsh admit to them herself, and with pride. “I don’t think they know I disapprove; I can disguise my feelings pretty well. I still haven’t got anything in black and white though.” He lightly touched Buffy’s shoulder and vowed, “I swear I won’t let you get hurt, Buffy.”

“Slayer here,” Buffy reminded him with a smile. “Kinda able to take care of myself.” She saw the disappointment and hurt on Finn’s face and added, “But I appreciate the thought.” She moved from under the hand that he had let linger on her shoulder.

“Fine, then. Riley will continue to try to find the concrete evidence we need to insure the Council will chose to act on Buffy’s behalf and we shall endeavor to keep her from harm’s way in the interim.” Giles nodded to the commando. He felt a bit uneasy trusting this fresh-faced newcomer. Something about the boy didn’t seem as straightforward as one would think. “I believe we should continue to explore our other options in that regard at the same time. It never hurts to have a secure backup plan.” He looked pointedly at Willow and knew she understood that she was to continue her attempts to hack into the Initiative’s computer system.

“On it,” Willow assured him. “My laptop’s back in fine form, so no more long nights at Mrs. Summers’ gallery.”

At a look from Giles, Willow swallowed back any further information about her assignment.

“Tara, have you been troubled by those ruffians since we spoke with them?”

“No. Well, I have seen them both on campus. The coach won’t even look at me, but the boy who was so scary…,” Tara shuddered, “I don’t think he’s going to let it drop, not for good anyway. He just looks at me like he hates me and then smirks.”

“Perhaps another visit is in order,” Giles mused. “I’m certain Spike will want another go at the bounder.”

“Where is the evil undead anyway?” Xander piped up. “He’s been noticeably missing lately and I don’t want to break out the party hats too soon if he’s just off on a drunken binge or something like that. Please tell me he got a call from Dru and left town!”

Buffy was frowning at the mention of the vampire she had just started to really see as an individual. “I don’t know where he is. I haven’t seen him in a few days. I stopped by his crypt to see if he wanted to patrol with me, but he wasn’t there. I’m kinda worried.” She looked at Giles with wide eyes. “You don’t think that guy Steve found him, do you? Now that he knows Spike’s a vampire he might have used a stake this time!”

“It’s unlikely that any of those boys would have found Spike’s residence so quickly, but I will try to see if they are involved when I deal with the way they are still troubling Tara.” Giles noticed how concerned Buffy appeared over Spike’s welfare and determined to speak privately with her when the meeting concluded. Accepting assistance from Spike was one thing, having his Slayer too emotionally involved with another vampire was quite another.

“Well, that was a thrilling hour!” Anya snarked. “I have precious little time alone with Xander as it is and if I’m going to give up valuable orgasm time for his demon hunting hobby, I’d hope for more than a ‘no progress’ report!”

“What is brewing is of utmost importance and we cannot afford not to keep abreast of any and all progress…,” Giles began in exasperation. As he was speaking, the door opened to reveal a short, sheepish young man with alarming orange hair.

“Hey,” Oz offered as a greeting. He glanced around the room noting the old and new faces. He began to look uncomfortable, as did his old friends.

“Oz,” Willow whispered and paled slightly, “When did you get back?”

“Pretty much now.”

“Are you here to stay or just doing a drive-by, ‘cause I gotta say I’ve missed the extra testosterone.” Xander beamed at his friend.

Introductions were made swiftly and Oz was brought up to date on the Initiative situation.

“So…um…you didn’t answer Xander’s question. Are you staying for a while?” Willow was torn between elation that Oz had returned at all and the angst she could feel pouring off Tara, who had yet to speak a word.

“Thought I’d crash at Devon’s, but I was hoping we could talk later.” Oz was not sure how welcome he was going to be, considering the way things had ended between he and Willow. Still, he had left for the best of reasons and returned for even better ones. “It’s great to see you guys again. Let me know if I can help with the latest Scooby caper.” With that, Oz turned and left the gaping group.

Buffy laid a sympathetic hand on Willow’s arm. “You okay?”

Willow looked dazed. Tara backed quickly toward the door, nearly tripping on a footstool in the process. “I just realized…um….I’m late for a study group.”

“Wait! Tara, please wait!”, Willow rushed to her new lover’s side. “We need to talk too.”


~~~


After the two girls left, Buffy answered Riley’s questions about Oz and Willow and their breakup. “The thing is that before the breakup, they were doing great! I mean, she was totally dealing with Oz being a werewolf. It wasn’t even…..”

Riley looked appalled. “Oz is a werewolf? Willow was dating a demon? I thought she was smart! I didn’t think she was that kind of girl.”

Buffy’s mind flashed to Angel and also to her current undeniable attraction to Spike. Her hackles rose. “What kind of girl is that?” Her tone of voice should have alerted the soldier to her displeasure.

“You know, into dangerous bad boys.”

“Oz isn’t dangerous! He has the sweetest disposition of anybody I’ve ever met. What happened to him wasn’t his fault. God, I never thought you were a bigot too! I thought you were different--that’s why we thought we could trust you.”

“Whoa! How did this get to me being a bigot? I’m just saying it’s a little weird to date someone who tries to eat you once a month.”

“What’s so weird about someone eating…,” Anya began, only to have a horrified Xander put his hand over her mouth immediately.

“Time for us to go,” Xander herded his one-track minded girlfriend from the Watcher’s apartment as Buffy and Riley continued their argument about dating demons.

“Looks like I’ve got a lot to think over,” Riley said in parting as he huffed out behind them.

“Buffy, a word if I may?” Giles said as Buffy prepared to follow and continue her rant about Riley and his closed mind.

With a sigh, she sat back down and waited to see what Giles had to say about Oz’s return. To her surprise, his topic hit a bit closer to home than that.

“Buffy, it’s about Spike.” At her look of confusion, he closed his eyes and ventured into the breach. “I am concerned that your new open-minded approach to all things demon may be causing you to lose sight of the fact that Spike is an evil, soulless demon. A vampire much as Angelus was and therefore dangerous…even with the chip.”

“He can be a good man, Giles, I feel it. You’ve seen him lately. He’s helped out and he really cares about people…well, some people…okay, me and Tara and Mom.” Buffy didn’t want this discussion but knew there was no avoiding it. “He can choose good, just like Mom said, Giles. He’s never gonna get there if we don’t give him the chance though. You’re right, he doesn’t have a soul, nothing to help him know how to act. We have to show him. He wants to change, I know it.”

“Buffy,” he looked at her sadly, “I want more than that for you. Your feelings for him are coloring your judgement. I can hear it in your voice, see it on your face. You are beginning to care for him and that way lies a future filled with pain. I don’t want that for you. After Angelus, you should know how badly this will end.”

Buffy was annoyed. “Spike isn’t Angel or Angelus. He’s Spike; he’s different.” She rolled her eyes at the closed off look on her Watcher’s face. “You think I’m losing sight of the big picture, but I’m not. Spike was changing before the chip--ask Mom. Heck, just think back…do you know of any other vampire that would have come to join with us against Angelus? The chip is a muzzle and I think it was wrong--everything about the Initiative is wrong. You can’t beat evil by doing evil. I’m getting to know Spike, really know him as a person, not just a vampire, and I know we can count on him.”

Giles was exasperated. “Yes, you are relying on him and he is relying on you too. There is a connection between the two of you that only grew after that deplorable spell that Willow cast. I have eyes. I see far too much and all I can see is disaster!”

“You aren’t looking at the right place then.” Buffy rose and walked out before Giles could counter her argument.

~~~

“Tara, wait up!” Willow ran to catch up with the girl she had been looking at as her future. She could tell from Tara’s body posture that she had been crying. “Please, sweetie, just because Oz is back, it doesn’t have to change anything!”

“You still care about him though,” Tara said sadly. She could read the conflict in Willow’s eyes from a mile away. “That’s natural. It hasn’t been that long and you two were so close.”

“Oz and I have things we have to talk about and get some closure, sure, but I know what I want. You don’t think I just jumped into this relationship with you, do you?” Willow moved to draw Tara into a hug but pulled back seeing the tense set to Tara’s shoulders. “I can’t shut him from my life, but I don’t want to move backward. Being with you showed me things about myself, things I never knew or suspected. I think we have a chance for something wonderful between us and I don’t want to throw that away. Don’t give up on us now when we just became an us…please?”

“I’m scared,” Tara admitted. “No one has ever chosen me before. I don’t know if I can take it to have everything, everyone I ever wanted, only to lose you.”

“You haven’t lost me or anything else. “ Willow was never going to lie to this precious girl and certainly not about Oz. “Look, I have to talk to him. You’re right that we have a lot of history and we need to deal with all the ooky stuff from before he left. I’ll have coffee with Oz tonight and talk it out. I can’t promise I’ll tell him about you right away, but he’ll know that we aren’t just going to pick up where we left off. He lost that right when he left me like that.”

Willow squeezed her hand, begging Tara to understand what she didn’t fully understand herself.

~~~

Riley was seriously torn. On one hand, all of his instincts told him that the Initiative’s plans for Buffy were evil on a level he had never thought his organization capable. On the other hand were the murky values he was discovering in the very girl called to champion the cause of good. There was no question that he would do all in his power to prevent Miss Summers from being reduced to a lab specimen--or harmed in any way, for that matter--but he was less sure of becoming involved with a group of humans so willing to overlook the very nature of evil represented by demons.

He had done the right thing in reclaiming Hostile 17. The creature had insinuated itself into that small band of demon fighters and clearly muddled their thinking. Even chipped, the beast was a threat to all that was good and decent.

Riley thought back to the various vampires the Initiative had studied and the mistakes made along the way. He wondered if the doctors had remembered to keep the internal organs attached during the vivisection they had scheduled. He had other things planned for the vampire before it could be vacuumed up with the rest of the trash.

‘Now there’s a werewolf in town too and it’s a friend of Buffy’s,’ Riley brooded. ‘Can’t let that just run tame, but I really don’t want to make an enemy of the girl. Wonder if there’s a Frankenstein monster in this town too?’

“Yo, Ri, how they hangin?” Forrest smacked his fellow soldier so hard he nearly knocked him over. “Any progress on the hot girl safari? I mean Wonder Woman isn’t my bag, but I can get down with the serious babe factor.”

“Buffy’s just a friend,” Riley said dejectedly. “Besides, I’m her TA and as much as that’s just my cover, I don’t want to lose my position by breaking that rule.”

“Right!” Forrest chuckled, clearly not believing a word. “That vamp you brought in has made for one happy mamma. Who’s mom’s favorite boy now?” He grinned as he teased his comrade. “That one has lived longer than any of the other chipped things so far. The med staff is in heaven checkin’ that one out. Bet you could even get some extra R&R time if you asked right about now, bro.”

“Don’t need the time. I’m due to head back to Iowa on leave pretty soon and that’s plenty. Got a mission to take care of, after all,” Riley replied with a glum voice.
“Well, I’m planning a trip to Florida and some of that ‘Girls Gone Wild’ action, if you know what I mean. Nothing like hot babes on a beach to make this soldier stand at attention,” Forrest grinned and nudged Riley. “You should tell the old folks you’ll see them next leave and go with us, man.”

“Naw, I love my grandparents. There’ll be hot babes enough later,” Riley had a mental flash of Buffy in a bikini and nearly groaned in want.

“Your loss, my gain, my man,” Forrest took the other pathway from the one Riley trudged. “Catch you later back at the house. Gonna do a last report for the day and see if there’s any special mission tonight. Got a party to attend if we’re free.”

“I might join you there,” Riley offered. “I’m going to catch up with Graham and see if he’s managed to track that Y’shilac demon we nearly treed yesterday. Let Professor Walsh know we’ll be in before shift’s end--with or without the slimy thing.”

~~~

Willow sipped her cappucino and didn’t notice the froth on her upper lip until Oz gave her a half grin and wiped it off with his index finger. She blushed, suddenly gauche and young once more. It might be over, but Oz could still get to her with his quiet gentleness and humor. “This is all so weird. It feels kinda like a dream. I did dream of you coming back, you know, for a long time. I had to wake up though.”

Oz grimaced. He had a feeling things weren’t going to go as well as he had hoped.

They sat at an outdoor table at the Espresso Pump with an awkward tension between them that was foreign. Clearly they had both changed in ways they had yet to discuss. “Sorry.” As always, he used words as if they cost a fortune and he was on a budget. Maybe that had been the problem. When the words would have helped them traverse the rapids, his actions had plunged them into dangerous waters.

Oz pointed up and smiled, “Look at the sky.”

Willow looked and noted, to her shock, the full moon. “How?”

“Did what I wanted. Leashed the wolf.” Oz was proud of his accomplishment even if it had come at such a dear cost.

“Where did you go?”

“Lots of places. Met lots of people, tried lots of things. Finally got the answers inside me,” Oz took a drink of his espresso and waited for her reaction.

“That’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you. Really.”
Willow was in tears. Life was funny in a not so funny way. This was just the latest example for her to stumble over.

“I talked to Xander,” Oz ventured. “He said you don’t have a new guy.”

“No new guy,” Willow agreed. “Oz…we’re both different. Things have happened. You found something new about yourself that lets you not go all wolfy…and I’ve discovered some things about me too.”

“That’s what college is all about. Mine just turned out to be Tibet and a bunch of monks.”

Willow squeezed his hand. “Look at the world traveler! I’m still just the small town girl who dabbles in computers and magic.”

“You’ll never be a ‘just’ ,” Oz said with an intense gaze. “Nice new friend.”

Willow nearly jumped. “You mean Tara? Yes, the nicest! We’re getting an apartment off-campus.”

Oz nodded but said nothing.

“Oz, I need to just come out and say it.” Willow steeled herself for a bad reaction. “I don’t have a new guy, but I do have someone new. Tara.”

Oz didn’t blink an eye at the revelation.

“She’s special. We connected right away. It was like finding a part of me that had been missing.” She noticed her former lover tensing just before the handle on his cup snapped. “I don’t want to hurt anyone--not you, not Tara!”

“My fault,” Oz muttered. “Meditated a bit too long, I guess. Thanks for the talk. You’re looking fine.”

Oz rushed from the coffeehouse blinded by tears. He could feel his control slipping as he ran. ‘Gotta get somewhere safe!’ All too quickly he could feel the change come over him as bones moved and an ancient presence took control of his mind and body
and Oz knew no more..
Chapter 23 by pfeifferpack
Author's Notes:
A/N : Spoiler for X-Files episode “Je Souhaite (The Wish)” (s7, aired May 2000, just as “New Moon Rising” was airing on BtVS)
~*~
Chapter 23

~*~


Willow was updating Buffy about her evening with Oz while letting her dormmate know that she would be moving out. “So Tara and I found this cute attic apartment in an old converted house. We think the landlady may be Wiccan too, so that could be a plus.”

“Wait, Oz is back and you’re moving in with Tara? What’s the scoop, or do I have to do my best Scully to get the 411?” Buffy had noticed how close her best friend had become to the shy girl who had literally rushed into their world only a short time before. She felt a pang of jealousy that made her ashamed because Tara really was nice. “Is Oz leaving again?”

“I don’t know.” Willow was a bit worried about Oz. She had called Devon earlier to talk to him and Devon had said Oz had never shown up at his place. “He found a cure. In Tibet of all places.”

“Cures are of the good…right?” Buffy was the picture of puzzlement.

“It’s complicated. Because of Tara.” Willow watched her best friend closely to see if she was going to have to go all Vanna White and turn over the lighted letters.

Buffy may not have aced trig, but she could add. “Oh! I mean…OH!” She began to pace around the small confines of their room. This was big. How had she managed to miss this?

“It’s complicated. I wasn’t looking for anyone and it snuck up on me. It’s just so powerful and so different from what I had with Oz.”

“I’ll bet.” Buffy couldn’t help the quip.

“Are we still good?” Willow had heard of friends and family deserting a person when they came out of the closet, but she had never expected her own friends to be like that.

“Of course!” Buffy rushed to embrace her dear friend. “Love happens and that’s what’s important, right? I mean, it’s all about how we love, not who.” Buffy nodded sagely. “I’m glad you told me. What did Oz say?”

“He kinda freaked…I think. It’s so hard to tell with him, Mr. Strong And Completely Silent and all, but judging by the snapped coffee cup, I’m thinkin’ he needs time to process.”

“It is a lot to take in.” Buffy was ready to stand by Willow no matter what, just as Willow had stood by Buffy through the whole ‘Angel is a vampire’ thing, but it was still a bit of a curve ball. “I like Tara. If I were attracted to girls, I can totally see why she’d be the one. I just, you know, I never knew….”

“I didn’t either,” Willow admitted. “Well, there was the gay vibe from Vamp Me from the hell dimension, but other than that I never really had any ‘ooh, she’s so hot’ moments to prepare me. It’s just…I don’t think it would matter if Tara were a guy or a demon even, I just know how I feel when I’m with her. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I think I do. I thought I had that with Angel.” Buffy rushed to explain when she saw Willow’s stricken face. “Not that I think you’re just all with the doomed, star-crossed lovers thing. I just meant I know how it feels--the emotions, you know? I want the real thing now and hope that’s what you’ve found with Tara.”

“Thanks, Buffy.” They embraced like sisters, taking strength in a friendship that was proving to be as unconditional as any love could be. “I told my mom. She said she had a girl crush in college, that it’s a part of experimenting! That’s not how it feels though. Tara isn’t an experiment. The love I feel for her is real and stronger than anything I ever imagined. Thanks for not blowing it off as something unimportant like mom did.”

“You love Tara; I’d never blow off love.” Buffy hoped Willow would be as understanding of her own fledgling feelings for Spike if they led where it seemed they might. “I just hope my next roommate isn’t another demon. At least not one with a serious Cher fixation!”

~~~

Oz woke disoriented in a white room with one clear glass side. He was back to his human guise and utterly naked. As far as the eye could see were cubicle after cubicle filled with demons of every size and shape. He saw soldiers patrolling the passageway and realized he must be in the underground compound the Scoobies had mentioned the day before. ‘Must have wolfed out,’ he realized to his horror and shame. It was the first time in months that he had let the demon loose and it couldn’t have been a worse time or place to have it happen.

He remembered unaccustomed anger and jealousy as Willow told him he had no chance with her because she had moved on to another, a girl at that. Didn’t do much for one’s ego to hear that. Still, he couldn’t blame Willow. He hadn’t left her with many options since he hadn’t even made it clear that he planned to return. No, he couldn’t blame Willow for not waiting for him. He had half expected her to be involved with Xander.

He wondered if the soldier he had met at Giles’ apartment might help him out of this mess. The fellow seemed to be working with Buffy and that had to mean he was a good guy. Deciding to take a gamble, Oz called out to some passing troops, “Please, there’s been a mistake! Can someone get Riley Finn? He knows me.” Oz hoped he had remembered the name correctly.

“We all know you, wolf boy,” quipped an armed guard. “Ri knows you’re here. The only mistake made was you coming to this town.” The guard moved on, closing the heavy metal doors at the end of the section and leaving Oz with nothing but the company of many screaming, cursing, growling demons in various states of distress.

“Won’t do you a bit of good askin’ for Finn,” a somewhat familiar voice rasped. “Bugger’s in it as deep as any. You’re nothing but a thing, a demon to the lot of them.” The voice spoke of pain even though Oz couldn’t see who was talking. “You Red’s dog?”

“Not hers now,” Oz admitted. “Do I know you?”

“Spike. Had a bit of a run-in here and in L.A. as I recall.” Spike went into a bit of a coughing fit at the end that sounded wet and painful.

“Man, they were wondering where you were,” Oz offered. “Been here long?”

“Don’t know. Feels like forever. Butchers like pokin’ and proddin’ a bloke.”

After another coughing fit, he continued. “Finn gave me up, even after sayin’ he’d keep his yap shut ‘bout me.”

Riley and another soldier came through the door and the conversation abruptly stopped. Instinctively, Oz knew it was best not to let anyone know he and Spike were acquainted. “Hello, Oz. Sorry about this. I know Buffy is your friend, Willow too, but even you have to admit you’re a threat to decent people.”

“Not normally.” Oz’s gaze was piercing and Riley had an unusual pang of unease.

“If you are the decent man they say you are, you’ll have to admit that you are dangerous--too dangerous--at least three nights of each month. You don’t want to hurt anyone, do you?”

“Never did. What about you?” Oz challenged him with a look.

“If you can’t be controlled, we’ll have no choice but to put you down. It’s the only right thing to do.” Riley looked sad but determined.

“I can control myself, thanks, just get me out of here.”

“You were out of control last night. The docs will do their best and if that doesn’t work, I promise to make it painless,” Riley said in an attempt at consolation. “Get some rest. Someone will be down for you in a while.”

The soldiers left through the same door they had recently entered. Oz noticed they had been tagging various cages including his own.

“What’s gonna happen to me now?” Oz had a very bad feeling he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“Don’t think they put any hardware in your noggin yet. You were pretty frisky last night.”

“Hardware?”

“Computer chip. Behavior modification chip, they call it. Hurts like a bleedin’ mother when it goes off,” Spike advised. “I’d recommend you pass on getting one.” His laugh was rueful.

“Love to,” Oz agreed. “Any way out of this place?”

“Yeah,” Spike replied. “Found it once. Got out, lived in the Watcher’s bathtub for a bit ‘til I found a nice crypt of my own. Finn just ambushed me a while back. Not sure how long ago, hard to tell.”

“Think you could find it again?” Oz wanted nothing more than to get out of this Wes Craven setting before anyone came near him with sharp objects. “You able to travel?”

“Plenty of incentive. Yeah, I’m good to go. You got a plan?”

“I was sort of hopin’ you might,” Oz admitted.

“Give us a mo and I’ll come up with somethin’. Not fancying another dance with this lot again.”

Spike tested his legs by standing and walking about slightly. “Given the choice, I’m up for leavin. Could use a bit of nosh, but not what they hand out here. Drug a body up right proper, next thing you know you’re back on the table with some knife happy bugger makin’ pretty patterns in your body. Yeah, I’ll make it out or dust trying.”

“Start thinking,” Oz encouraged. “Better if we do something before nightfall, because I don’t think the wolf will follow a plan well and I can’t be sure I can keep it under control .”

“There’s the rub. Daylight isn’t exactly my best time, if you get my drift.” Spike privately thought they were buggered good and proper but wasn’t going to let that stop them. “ Let me think a bit. Keep your eyes open for anything useful.”

“Right, MacGyver it is then.”

~~~

Buffy decided to accompany Giles on his return visit to the Coach to put an end to Steve’s new hobby of giving Tara the evil eye every chance he got.

She also planned to get some answers about the missing vampire in her life too. ‘If that little creep has so much as touched Spike again, I’ll have to pretend he’s a vamp and rip his head off.’ She wasn’t even the least guilty at the violence of her thoughts. She remembered well how badly Spike had been thrashed before and shuddered at the thought that this bully might have once more inflicted that kind of pain on him. If Spike was going to have to go through unlife with a computer chip in his head, he’d have to start protecting his sexy ass a bit better.

The coach assured Giles that he had steered clear of Tara and that Steve had as well. He promised to talk to the boy again about his bad attitude and tell him to just avoid the girl entirely. On a campus the size of Sunnydale U that shouldn’t be too hard. It wasn’t as if Steve were in any of the more intellectually inclined classes the Maclay girl would be in, nor did she strike the coach as a potential fan of college athletics.

“I don’t get the feeling they had anything to do with Spike’s disappearance.” Buffy kicked a rock in the path with more force than absolutely necessary. “I don’t get it. Where could he be?”

Buffy fought the fear that, by her extending the hand of friendship, she might have clued in the vampire to her interest. Guys always ran out on her. Maybe Spike headed for the hills at the thought that the Slayer was thinking about him staking her instead of the other way around.

“Perhaps he is merely lying low until we sort out the Initiative situation. I could sense he doesn’t trust Finn to keep his presence quiet.” Giles felt conflicted by the need to offer comfort without encouraging his charge’s emotional attachments. “Have you given any further thought to what I had to say the other day, Buffy?”

“No,” she answered honestly. “I’m sorry, Giles. I love you, but you can’t dictate who I care about. You also can’t let Angelus become the only model for a vampire you ever see. You are the one who taught me to size up my enemies. You said I had to treat each one as different and not get lazy. I know you meant that about how I would fight them, but it’s true in other ways too. Looks like a lot of the more intelligent demons are pretty individual, not all alike. Spike is different. He always has been. He loved Dru, you can’t deny that.”

“He obsessed over her, yes.” Giles began to dispute her comments with Council rhetoric.

“Blabity blabity blah….Council handbook, volume twelve, chapter fifty-four. God, Giles, THINK! Don’t just quote stuff you know is crap!” Buffy stopped and turned on him with blazing eyes. “You’re better than that. Those same books said Dru was dust and Spike was a couple hundred years old. Spike loved that whack job for a hundred years. God! When Ford was in town wanting to be turned, he handed me over to Spike and his minions. The way I stopped the idiot buffet was to threaten Drusilla. Spike made all the vamps let those stupid kids go and let ME go…just to save her. That’s not obsession, that’s love. If he can feel love for a nutcase like Dru, he can feel other positive things too. Look how he is with my mom!”

Giles sighed in frustration. “Spike may well have the best of intentions, Buffy, but in the end he is still a vampire and you are the Slayer.”

“Yeah, well, maybe those workplace romances aren’t such a bad idea after all,” Buffy tossed over her shoulder as she stomped off.

~~~

Anya was thrilled to help decorate the attic room for the girls. It was nice being asked for her opinions instead of just being dismissed as a rather pretty fribble. “I’ve had a talk with an old friend of mine,” she hinted to Tara.

“That’s nice. Is it someone from your demon years?”

“Yes. Hallie is my oldest friend. She’s D’Hoffryn’s new favorite now that I’m no longer the best vengeance demon in his harem. She specializes in children. I told her about your family and she’s all fired up. I told her to drop by so I could introduce you. I think you’ll like her.”

“Whoa!” Willow was as nervous as a cat at a dog show thinking of the danger that could come of that meeting. Much as she wanted Tara’s family to pay for their ill treatment of her, Willow knew that there could be no good outcome in dealing with a vengeance demon. “Didn’t you watch the X-Files episode last night with the genie and the wishes? A vengeance demon granting wishes is even worse. You won’t just wind up invisible or with a yacht in your trailer park or even the only person left on earth, you could wind up in a hell dimension with everybody you love a vampire or worse!”

Tara grinned at Willow and teased, “Or just with a bag eternally filled with turnips.”

Anya had not bothered to watch the show that kept Xander away from their bed and her orgasms, so she had no clue what they were talking about. “Genies are different. They grant wishes without a purpose. Vengeance demons are all about the purpose.”

“There are genies?” Tara was wide-eyed.

“Of course there are. King Solomon himself sealed them up. Nasty, mean-spirited sons of Lillith! Gave wish-granting a bad name!” Anya shook her head in disgust. “Meet Hallie. I promise nothing bad will happen--not to you anyway.”

Willow decided to warn Tara further when Anya had safely gone home. “I think I’ll dial in and try to crack that password problem if you guys want to finish deciding what color the kitchenette should be. I still vote for royal blue flowers on the wallpaper.”

Tara looked at her new lover’s choice of clothing and grimaced at the garish colors likely to be chosen for the bedroom. Love accepted all, however.

Willow plugged in the laptop and began typing furiously. “Hmm…not exactly the ‘top secret’ files, but I got in one data bank. Looks like a list of…Oh, God!” Willow had grown pale.

“What is it, sweetie?” Tara could see that Willow had found something that terrified her.

“It looks like they’ve recaptured Spike and unless there’s another short werewolf in town, they have Oz too!” Willow turned stricken eyes on Tara. Somehow she felt it had to be her fault for upsetting Oz so badly that he wolfed out and was captured. “We have to do something.”

“Call Buffy,” Tara instantly suggested. “She’s been worried about Spike and she cares about Oz too. She’ll know what to do.”

~~~

The cave was large, but there were many crevices and smaller openings that a vamp could hide in while waiting for the sun to go down and the agony to stop. At least he hadn’t left a blood trail. Not enough in him to bleed properly at this point. Spike would have to feed soon or he’d look more like a mummy than a vampire.

“Don’t hold back on my account, dog boy. You getting out before you change is the goal. I’ll hide here ‘til I can move again. You need to get to the Watcher before all you can do is howl,” Spike encouraged Oz.

The escape had taxed what little strength Spike had left. It hadn’t been too difficult to get the drop on the guard once he and Oz had both found themselves in the hallway being led to the operating theaters. Oz did the dropping since he had no chip as yet, while Spike provided the distraction. The race to get out of the underground facility had been the hardest part. If it hadn’t been for the ruckus caused by the two other demons also lined up for a procedure, they would never have outrun the soldiers pursuing them. As it was, Spike was barely able to lead Oz to the vents that led to the caverns connected to the Initiative.

His only hope was that Willow’s mongrel had a sense of honor about him and would send help once he got to safety. The place would be crawling with soldiers before the night was out and Spike didn’t know how long he could hold out if Oz didn’t get a move on.

“Better have the white hats bring along a bit of A Pos if they decide to lend a vamp a hand. Don’t have enough of the red in me to remember what it’s like.” Spike turned hopeful eyes on the werewolf and pushed himself deeper into the partially hidden crevice. “You’re only about a mile from the Watcher’s place if you head due south. Best get a move on.”

“We’ll be back,” Oz promised and rushed from the cave entrance. He only hoped he could keep the wolf at bay this night.
Chapter 24 by pfeifferpack
~*~

Chapter 24

~*~

Much to everyone’s surprise, Xander volunteered to drive to the area where the caves were located. “The company truck’s a four wheel drive and there’s a covered top on the bed. We can stash the vamp there and look like we’re just out for a little picnic and hanky panky in the wilds of Sunnydale Caverns State Park.”

“Surprisingly good idea!” Buffy was astonished.

“What? I can have good ideas. Besides, a couple of years of looking for out of the way places that Queen C found acceptable has made me the professional.”

“I don’t think I want to hear about your relationship with that woman,” Anya pouted. “The only good thing I have to say about her is that she’s the reason I have you now.”

“Love you too.” Xander kissed his girlfriend and got behind the wheel.

The truck was one with a full back seat, so Buffy and Giles climbed in the back while Oz took shotgun. Giles had a tranquilizer gun in case Oz lost his battle with the wolf, but the young man would be needed to lead them to the correct cave.

Oz ducked down as they passed one of the Initiative’s black vehicles out on an obvious search and retrieve mission. Since they were headed towards the Initiative location they didn’t come under suspicion. Getting back, however, might be another issue.

“Do you think we have enough blood in the cooler?” Willy had been easily persuaded to part with several bags of his finest after Buffy threatened to make the Alibi Room just so much rubble.

“It should be plenty until we get Spike relocated,” Giles reassured the worried Slayer.

“I think he may need quite a bit. I don’t think he’s fed since they recaptured him and he’s had a few surgeries,” Oz offered. “He might lose some of the blood he drinks at first when he starts bleeding again.”

Buffy was ready to do some serious damage. Oz had scared them all when he’d burst into Giles’ apartment looking as if the hounds of hell were after him.

The group was already in an uproar after Willow had rushed in and babbled about the Initiative having Oz in their clutches. They were already working on some plan to rescue their old friend when he turned up at their door. Tara understood fully when Willow wrapped her arms around the exhausted young man wearing nothing more than a stolen, ill-fitting pair of camouflage pants grabbed on the run.

He told about the escape and how Spike wasn’t able to make it any further than the caves. Buffy had never known Spike to be that drained of energy or blood. Even in the wheelchair, he had managed to get where he needed to be without too much trouble. Spike was nothing less than resourceful.

“Mom is getting the basement ready. She was really pissed when I told her what happened.” Buffy shook her head in amazement. “I guess I’m getting used to the idea that Spike and Mom are friends. She wouldn’t have just anybody as a houseguest! She already headed to the butcher to pick up more blood.”

“You sure they won’t look for him at your mom’s house?” Oz was concerned for Spike’s welfare. He knew the vampire would stay in Sunnydale. The few conversations they had while planning the escape had made it clear that Spike wanted to be wherever Buffy was,, no matter the danger.

“Riley doesn’t know my mom or where she lives. I’m glad I never told him that much about my home life. For all he knows, my mom doesn’t even live in Sunnydale.”

“The name Summers isn’t all that common, however. Care must be taken, as your mother is listed in the telephone directory,” Giles cautioned.

“We’re bringing them down before they can figure that out.” Buffy had a steel edge of determination in her voice. “They are so going down.”

~~~

“Honey, please calm down. Buffy won’t let anything happen to Oz.” Tara watched Willow pace nervously. It was one thing to be over the romance with Daniel Osbourne and another thing entirely to no longer care.

“I know, I know. What if he wolfs out though?” Willow fretted.

“Then Mr. Giles will tranquilize him and he’ll still be fine. Sweetie, why don’t you try to break into the Initiative’s computers while we’re waiting. You might feel like you’re striking back at them and it will take your mind off the worry.” Tara was getting dizzy watching Willow pace.

“Excellent idea,” Anya chimed in. “I’m not worried that my handsome hunk of manhood is even now risking his life and my future happiness all to help a vampire he hates. You shouldn’t worry either.”

“I don’t think Xander really hates Spike,” Tara suggested. “I think it’s more a habit for him to say nasty things to him because he’s a vampire. I get the feeling that if he forgot what Spike was for a moment they might even become friends.”

“I love that you’re such an optimist,” Willow smiled at her love.

Anya thought about what Tara had said and nodded. “You may have a point. If I remember the stories Hallie told, William was a little like Xander before he met Dru.”

The other girls looked at Anya in amazement. “You know what Spike was like as a human?”

“Well, only through Hallie. I was in the Far East in the late 1800s. Hallie knew him before either of them were demons.” Anya laughed. “She nearly died laughing when she found out her William the Bloody was the vampire William the Bloody. I mean he got the nickname for his awful poetry, most of it written for her. ‘William the bloody awful poet’, they called him. She was mortified!”

“Poet?” Willow forgot her worry at the concept of Spike writing poetry.

“Yes, a nice, quiet, unassuming man, far too romantic for his own good. Not enough money or prospects for Hallie, but he was persistent.

“You haven’t told Xander any of this, have you?” Willow could just imagine the hazing the vampire would be in for if Xander had any clue.

“Of course not! The last thing I need is to add fuel to THAT fire, especially with the Slayer getting all hot and bothered over Spike. Nope, not going to stir that pot of soup.”

“Hot and bothered?” Willow was further distracted. “Are you saying there’s sparkage there, ‘cause Buffy’s already tried the undead boyfriend route and it was majorly of the not good.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed there’s a real attraction between them too. Honey, you have to know Spike isn’t like that other vampire. You should see the colors in both their auras when they are together! It’s really quite beautiful.” Tara smiled indulgently. She had seen a similar display between herself and Willow. It boded well for the unusual pair.

“Okay, really have to work on hacking into that computer now. My mind can’t handle more Springer moments.” Willow opened the notebook and began to type. She was close to breaking the code, she just knew it. All she needed was a clear head and some time.

~~~

By the time they got to the right cave, Spike had slipped into unconsciousness. Giles suggested it might be for the best since Spike would not be troubled by being jostled as they moved him to the bed of the pickup. Buffy and Oz opted to join him there withBuffy to keep a watchful eye on the injured vampire and Oz to stay out of sight of any passing soldier types.

Buffy’s already simmering anger had blazed up at the sight of Spike’s condition. She could see where the doctors had cut and sliced, never bothering to put in a single stitch to close the wounds. ‘And they call Spike subhuman!’ She was outraged on his behalf.

So far the vampire had yet to make a sound, not even a groan when he was moved from his hiding place to the back of the Ford. He looked terrible. Even Xander was sympathetic. It had helped to have Oz tell of Spike’s helping him to freedom. Xander was beginning to think he just might need to re-evaluate the vampire in light of recent events. Spike clearly was no Angel and he had never, even at his worst, been as evil as Angelus.

Buffy cradled Spike to her as the truck bounced over the uneven terrain. “So are you going to stick around and help kick these guy’s butts?” she asked Oz.

“I think I’d better leave again. There’s nothing for me here now and I need to be able to keep the wolf under control. Can’t do that here…not now.” Oz sounded lost.

“Where will you go?”

“Nepal or maybe this commune in Sri Lanka I heard of,” Oz had gotten plenty of experience in world travel of late. “Might try some music over in Europe in time.”

“That’d be nice. I always loved Dingoes. Hey, you could be a rock star one day!” Buffy tried to sound supportive, but she hated the idea of losing another piece of her life forever. Friends were too important to just blow off.

“Got a feeling I’ll be back one day, just not now. I’ll stay in touch either way,” Oz promised.

“See that you do.” Even a werewolf should know not to break his word to the Slayer.

~~~

“EUREKA! Really, that’s the word, ‘eureka’. What a ‘duh’ moment. You’d think I was a blonde, not a redhead.” Willow was stoked. The computer flashed with page after page of de-encrypted data. “Now to find the right file, download it to disk and it’s bye-bye, rogue soldiers.”

“Do you think this Council will be able to close them down?” Tara didn’t know much about the British Watchers other than the fact that Buffy and Giles no longer worked for them.

“Oh yeah, they’re really powerful…too powerful.” Willow thought about the previous year. “They have their hands in so many things it’s scary--governments, businesses, all kinds of things. Buffy doesn’t work for them anymore, but the only other Slayer they have is in a coma. So as long as Buffy’s still keepin’ the Hellmouth safe and stopping the annual apocalypse, they’ll help. Besides, I think Giles has some dirt on them to make them at least try.”

“I doubt they would want anyone tampering with the whole ‘chosen’ thing anyway. If the Initiative starts taking Buffy apart, who knows what they’ll find? I mean, legend has it that Slayers got their start from a demon essence and that isn’t something they’d want put out for public knowledge,” Anya nodded sagely.

“Buffy’s a demon?” Tara was confused. Buffy looked completely human all the way down to her aura.

“Oh no, not a demon…a demon essence. I doubt these scientists would even know how to find that out. Buffy’s human in every way a person could tell, except for the obvious strength and healing and unexplainable knowledge of fancy martial arts.” Anya had always wondered about that last part.

Willow had been scanning files as they talked, looking for any reference to Buffy or the Slayer. “Bingo!” She read the proposal with cold anger at the callous way these people had been discussing ‘studying’ her best friend. She began to transfer the entire file to disk, shaking her head in disgust as the damning files copied over. “Think I’ll make more than one copy just to be safe. Might as well copy all their stuff while I’m at it. Never know what we might find.”

~~~

Xander took a long and circuitous route to the Summers home.

Buffy had managed to get only two bags of blood into Spike as he remained unconscious. He had bled it right back out again, so she decided it was best to wait until he was safely in her mother’s basement and properly bandaged up.

“Will I see you again to say good-bye?” Her eyes were tearing up as she looked at Oz. The werewolf had helped move Spike to the cot in the darkest corner of the basement.

“Doubt it. Need to be on the move. Don’t want to wind up like Spike,” Oz nodded to the vampire currently being fussed over by Mrs. Summers. “I’ll stop and say good-bye to Willow. I owe her that much this time.”

“Be safe, Oz. I’m holding you to your promise to stay in touch too.”

“Sure you have everything you need, Buffster?” Xander looked at the girl he had finally consigned permanently to sister/friend status, leaving behind any lingering hopes of being more to her one day. He had noted her concern over Spike and could see the handwriting on the wall. He was only surprised that it didn’t hurt as he had always thought it might.

“We’re good.” Buffy hugged him and smiled at Giles. “Thanks, guys. I know you have reservations where Spike is concerned, but I think he’ll surprise you.”

Giles snorted. “He’s always done THAT, Buffy. I will call you later to make sure you are not in any need. Perhaps it would be best for you to stay here as well until we have the Initiative sorted.”

“Spike kinda needs me anyway, so, yeah, I’ll be here.”

“Thank you, Giles,” Joyce added. “I’m glad you are finally being the man I remembered you to be. Xander, I’m proud of you as well.”

Buffy was applying butterfly sutures to the worst of Spike’s wounds and bandaging all the areas where he might lose the precious blood once they got him fed. “We’ll probably need more blood by tomorrow. He’s leaking like a sieve.”

“On it,” Xander promised. “I’ll bring it by in the morning. I’d better get back before Anya gets Willow mad enough to turn her into something icky. I really wish they’d get along!”

“Stranger things have happened,” Buffy said and smiled down on Spike.

~~~

Willow looked sadly at Oz. Once more he was leaving for parts unknown. This time, however, he was not walking over her heart in the process. “I missed you, Oz. I wrote you so many letters but didn’t have any place to send them. Eventually I just stopped writing.”

“I’d like to hear from you, if you want to write those letters again. I just can’t be here.”

“I get that.” She smiled and took his hand and couldn’t stop a few tears from falling. It was closing a chapter in her life, a very important chapter. “You’ll always be in my heart, you know. I don’t want this to be good-bye. Maybe it’s selfish, but I just think one day I’ll be this old lady and I’ll turn around and there you’ll be and it’ll be like nothing’s changed.”

“I know.” Oz fully understood how she felt. “We had our time and we may have another time in the future. Now is not that time, I guess. I’ve got your e-mail address. I’ll let you know where I am. I won’t just disappear this time.” Oz looked over Willow’s shoulder at Tara and couldn’t help but think the girl looked right with his sweetheart. “Be happy.” They hugged and Oz moved quickly from the door to his van and the grand journey that was to be his life.

Tara moved behind Willow and wrapped her arms around her. “You going to be okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m home.” Willow leaned into her lover’s arms and let out a contented sigh.

Giles was eagerly reading the files Willow had downloaded. “This is perfect, Willow! Travers will be wanting to come himself to bring these barbarians down. There is valuable data here on some rare demons as well.” He turned a wide smile on the young woman he had always valued but rarely more so than now. “Well done, Willow, well done!”

~~~

Spike moaned softly and wondered at the feeling of warmth that surrounded him. Without opening his eyes he knew he was no longer in the crevice, but he wasn’t sure where he was. The smells were familiar, but he wasn’t in enough control of his senses to place them. All he knew for certain was that he was no longer in the hell called the Initiative. He was on too soft a bed for one thing; for another, his wounds had been tended to.

“Hey, sleepyhead! Plan to stay asleep much longer? ‘Cause I’m a bit wigged at you being quiet this long.” The voice was without a doubt Buffy. She had come for him. Part of him had worried that no one would bother.

“Buffy.” Had angel’s names ever sounded as lovely as that one? He spoke it like a prayer or a poem, and she loved the sound of it for the first time in her life.

“Not a nice thing scaring the Slayer that way,” Buffy gently smoothed his hair from his forehead. “I didn’t know what happened to you. I was afraid one of those Neanderthal football morons came after you again.” She looked at his damaged body and let the tears fall. “Might have been better for you. Don’t think even a chip would put you completely at their mercy, not again.”

Spike opened his eyes just in time to see the startling sight of the Slayer’s tears. He reached a finger up and caught one as it fell. “These can’t be for me, love, can they?”

Buffy laughed. “Well, I AM blonde. Not known for making great choices. Yes, you dope, they’re for you, although to keep your ego from exploding I should have lied and said it was allergies from this dusty basement.”

“That where I am?” He looked around, trying to figure out where he had landed. He was clearly not of sound mind at the moment, imagining a caring, weeping Slayer.

“Yup. Mom just went to bed. She was dead on her feet. I said I’d stay and make sure you eat as soon as you can sit up.” She started to help him into a position to do just that. “We’ve been really worried.”

“Just don’t wake me, ‘kay, pet? ‘Cause this is the best dream I’ve ever had.” Spike sighed in contentment.

“Who knows, maybe waking up could be even better,” Buffy teased. “You’ll have to drink up and heal to find out, won’t you?”

Spike tilted his head and looked at her in wonder. “I will at that, love.”
Chapter 25 by pfeifferpack
~*~

Chapter 25

~*~

“Okay, I never thought I’d want to kiss Quentin Travers, but I sorta do,”Buffy grinned into the phone. “When is that team coming?”

Giles gave her the lowdown on the Council’s plan to terminate the Initiative without prejudice forthwith. “I did suggest to Quentin that some of the more exotic demons might best be removed from the Hellmouth. I think they plan to let the wet works team put most of the hostile…er…dangerous demons down quickly, but the peaceful or benign ones should be released. I was quite clear on your stand where that is concerned.”

“Good. I don’t want to just change jailers for these demons. Wrong is wrong, no matter who’s doing it,” Buffy agreed. “God, I feel so old Giles! Growing up is hard. It’s so much easier when the world is all black and white and you don’t have to think at all. Then you figure out it isn’t that easy, there’s exceptions to every rule, and lots of silly rules besides that. No wonder no one wants to grow up…too much thinking!”

“Fortunately, the Council has enough pull with the United States government to assure us that this won’t just be a temporary shutdown. They have made it explicitly clear that the entire operation needs to be closed, not simply the base here in Sunnydale,” Giles reassured Buffy. “The soldiers will be reassigned elsewhere. Of course they now are aware of the existence of demons, but aside from that they will function the way a normal military would.”

“Not sure I trust governments any more than I trust the Council, Giles,” Buffy admitted. “They tend to just repackage the same old stuff. Spike said this whole Initiative thing started with the Nazis, after all.”

“There are no guarantees, that is true. For that matter, there are plenty of private individuals who might find such research of interest. It isn’t unheard of for scientists to leave the employ of a government and hire themselves out to whoever will pay,” Giles admitted. “But do try to get some rest, Buffy.”

“Will do. Going to check back on Spike and then hit the hay,” Buffy yawned into the phone.

Buffy was finally satisfied with Spike’s condition. The blood was staying in him where it was needed for healing and he was sleeping peacefully. Both would quickly improve his condition. She took a quick shower and changed into her flannel cow pajamas before sliding between the clean sheets of her old bed. Somehow, knowing they were close to ending the abomination that was the Initiative made her feel she could rest peacefully for the first time since she got a look at the misery beneath her town.

~~~

Terrified, the young girl ran, pursued by the strongest warriors of her tribe. They were fleet of foot, but so was she. Sweat ran down her forehead and her breath came in tight, painful gasps. Her own father had delivered her into their hands for the ritual and she had gone meekly…until she heard them discuss what was to come. She ran in no particular direction, knowing she could never go home again. To do so would only result in her being returned to the Shamans with their potions and chants, to the horror they had planned.

Sineya had expectations of rituals when she had her first bleeding, but not one such as the elders planned for her. She was to be prepared for uniting, as were all girls come into womanhood, but this…THIS…was not a uniting but a permanent separating. What warrior would want a mate with the spirit of Tano within? Tano, who had entered the singing contest with death and won the right to champion man against the dark, would share his essence with a mortal girl to fight the darkness on the earth. Sineya did not wish to house part of the ancient god and trickster and so she fled.

The Shamans shook their sacred sticks and called the sacred words to summon the god. Sineya tried her best but had been unable to outrace the boys long used to hard, long pursuits of game. The dark mist swirled about the bound and helpless girl. Now she was to be changed forever against her will. She was to stand alone against the spirits and demons who made prey of her people. She was to fight and die alone. She had only known thirteen summers and now she would know only harsh battles and pain and death. The mist settled over her and tendrils of it entered her screaming mouth and vulnerable woman parts. She felt a power settle in her bones and a thirst for violence that was previously unknown to her.

She had been right. Jibade had rejected her. Her own mother feared her strength and her father turned from her. She was alone against the ever deepening night. Demon after demon came up against her like a pride of lionesses circling for the kill. She took them down one at a time and still they continued to come. An endless series of enemies to kill or be killed by.

One night a young man, proud in bearing, began to battle her. Although not of her people, he looked like the finest of warriors. He fought well and laughed heartily at her missteps. “Little girl, you fight with fire in your belly but not with your mind! Watch your opponent and learn. Not all demons are simple in mind. Observe. Evil knows where evil sleeps.”

Too soon it was clear that the young man was an Adze, a drinker of blood. It was as if this demon/man were trying to make her fight better, last longer. The elders had not done as much. When discussing her lifespan they had only offered the old proverb, “Life is a shadow and a mist; it passes quickly by and is no more.” But this demon, an enemy, seemed to relish her growing strength.

The Adze, Faraji, became a familiar figure as Sineya patrolled the vast landscape of her homeland. He laughed at her and fought with her even as he counseled her in her battles against all manner of demons. It seemed that no matter how strong and skilled she became, she could never quite kill the Adze, nor would he sink his fangs in her tender neck and take her life. Indeed, each encounter with Faraji strengthened Sineya until she began to believe she might be a white hair one day after all.

All this came to an end when the elders discovered them and plotted to destroy the Adze that Sineya was reluctant to turn to dust.

Sineya howled at the skies when she discovered what had been done to her enemy, her friend. She refused to follow their direction any longer. They had taken her last comfort, a comfort she hadn’t realized was there until he was gone. No longer would she put her life, her body, between evil and those who had enslaved her to this mission. If she was to fight and die alone, she would do it in her own way and far from her home village.

She left that night.

Coming to a strange village where none knew the power within her, Sineya settled for a season. There was an ancient among them who had knowing eyes. This seer looked with pity on the wild girl who roamed the land without fear. “Child, you have lost he that was to have been your compliment. The one who would give you peace and be your true other half. You now await only death. You must not dishonor the gift you had for too short a time by abandoning the lessons you have learned. In time you will be reunited, as your life will be short. Do not despair.” Sineya felt herself oddly reassured to think her brief moments of joy might be recaptured in some far land where her spirit would dwell. She was saddened that those who imparted the power to her in order that she might protect them had also deprived her of the only comfort she would have in her harsh life. Such should not be.


~~~

Buffy woke with a start. It wasn’t fair! The Slayer was asked to offer her life on the altar night after night, a willing sacrifice to protect the rest of humanity, and yet they denied her any happiness at all because they disapproved of the source! “Guess the Council has always been the same.”

She knew the dream was a Slayer dream. The originator of her line was trying to tell her something important, vital. Buffy didn’t need a dream interpreter to understand the meaning. She should put aside the issue of vampire and Slayer and look instead at what gave her joy, what strengthened her, what might help her live a longer life. That was clearly Spike. Buffy was determined to grab onto what Sineya had been denied. This time the Slayer would not wait for her death to taste the peace and comfort that was easily accessed while living.

She rolled over to return to sleep with a smile on her face. Tomorrow she would share this dream with Giles and make him see that he needed to recognize and embrace those gray areas that she was now accepting, and that doing so would be righting an ancient wrong.

~~~

Spike groaned as he turned in his sleep. His many wounds were beginning to heal, but he was still far from comfortable. The sharp stab of pain his restlessness had brought about wakened him. ‘She came! She came for ME.’ He was stupefied at the thought. The Slayer had come to his rescue instead of abandoning him to his fate. All she had said about starting over, not holding their history and his past against him had sounded fine but not quite believable. Now her actions had proven them to be the truth. ‘Even the Watcher helped her,’ he shook his head in amazement.

He rose from the cot and moved about slowly, reveling in his freedom. “Maybe I’m not the only one who learned something from Willow’s little spell. Maybe the Slayer has some fond memories too.” He didn’t want to push his luck by trying any tonsil hockey with the Slayer right off the bat but subtle touches might be in order. If she didn’t slap him down, he could push a bit farther and see if Buffy had an interest. She was worth the risk, “She came for me.” That had to mean something.

His foot hit something that he hadn’t noticed in the deep shadows of the basement corner. An open box filled with photo albums had been moved about a quarter inch from its dusty place of repose. Spike gently lifted one from the box and made his way back to his cot.

Picture after picture of a young Joyce and a bubbly little girl graced the album. The pictures chronicled a happy childhood filled with all the standard poses. Young Buffy in a cheerleading outfit, clearly still in elementary school, smiled out at the camera without a care in the world or a clue of her future. He was saddened to see the smiling faces slowly disappear from the two Summers women as time marched on. It was obvious that by the time Buffy was a teenager the mostly cloud-free family was history.

“’S’not right. Slayer has the whole world to protect, all the beasties and uglies to battle,” Spike whispered, “Should at least have a bit of joy in her life.” He’d never really thought about the short life span of a Slayer, being more interested in becoming the cause of said end, but that was before Buffy. Now he only wanted to make certain this Slayer beat the odds and lived to a ripe old age. “Don’t care if she doesn’t want me, gonna make sure she outlives ‘em all,” he vowed. Just being there to watch her back should be enough to tip the scales in Buffy’s favor. If she’d allow him to be at her side, even as a friend, he could commit his unlife to the cause. One way or another, he’d be there, be it in the open or in shadow.

Spike turned the page and found a fairly recent picture of Joyce and Buffy. It was a candid shot taken in the kitchen as both were busily at work frosting cupcakes and laughing. He slipped the picture from its slot and carefully placed it in his wallet. They had a wealth of others to choose from and since the album was consigned to exile in the basement, it wouldn’t be missed. He, on the other hand, would treasure the scene of blissful everyday enjoyment of life that it represented.

~~~

Giles and Buffy stood shoulder to shoulder on the rise watching the official army vehicles as they packed up equipment and personnel in their task of dismantling the Initiative. “Look! It seems the Council didn’t lie about letting the peaceful demons go without any trouble.” Buffy pointed to the small, straggling line of terrorized creatures moving slowly towards the side of town that was home to their kind. She was pleased that she hadn’t had to interfere with the process to make sure the right thing was done. She was equally pleased that she didn’t have to be the one to kill those deemed dangerous. Somehow even the dangerous ones elicited pity from her after their ordeal in the Initiative.

As if reading her thoughts, Giles said, “You would only have had to kill the others in battle sooner or later, Buffy. Injured animals are even more dangerous, so you would have had a hard time with the bulk of them.”

“True. Still, I feel bad there wasn’t another way,” she said sadly. “I can’t help thinking that if Spike were still in there they would have marked him as dangerous too and just staked him.”

“Then it’s a good thing he is currently in the tender care of your mother.” Giles smiled gently.

Riley Finn spotted the pair and moved in their direction, a metaphorical thunder cloud over his head. “He doesn’t look too happy,” Buffy noted.

“I suppose you two are responsible for this redeployment?” His countenance was dour to say the least. “We were doing good work here.” He looked daggers at Buffy. “While you were busy protecting the enemy, we were cleaning them out, ending their reign of terror. Now who will protect the decent folk in this town?”

“I will, the same way I have been for years now. Don’t lecture me on fighting evil and don’t even try to say that what you were doing in there was necessary or good. I have a sacred calling that goes back to before people were writing history books. I know my duty and do it every night. I risk my life every day for the ‘decent folk’, but I haven’t sold my soul to do it,” she huffed. How dare he imply she needed a lecture on how to do her duty!

“Have you been reassigned then?” Giles asked gently. The lad had good intentions, even if his implementation left much to be desired.

“New unit headed for Central America. Doubt I’ll be back this way in the future.” Riley nodded curtly to the older man. He had the feeling that Mr. Giles at least understood the goals of the Initiative. His Council group was very similar from the looks of it. The black-clad members of the Council of Watchers had been quite thorough in dealing with the hostiles they put down. Finn was still confused at the handful they permitted to leave, however. He’d never understand why some people had difficulty in seeing the clear objective of ridding the planet of the threat these things posed. “Plenty of hostiles everywhere, always a need for my training.”

“Yes, so it is with all military,” Giles replied dryly. “Necessary evils.”

“You know, Riley,” Buffy counseled, “maybe you should pay more attention to what you see instead of just listening to what you’re told. You might live longer and learn more.”

As they were speaking, the lavender-haired demon Buffy had wept over came up to them, her child still in her arms, sleeping peacefully this time. “I am told that you are responsible for our release from this hell, Slayer. Is this so?”

“We did the right thing. I’m glad you and your baby are safe now,” Buffy looked at the defenseless toddler and smiled.

The demoness looked at them as if reading their very souls, then nodded as if coming to a conclusion. “I am a Volcor demon. My kind has ways of reading the ether; we see portents and potentials. Humans call it psychic ability. You may call upon me if you have need, Slayer.”

“Thank you, “Buffy said earnestly. “Never know when that’ll help!”

“Heed the coming Dawn,” the seer demon said cryptically and walked off towards Sunnydale proper.

Riley looked at the female in disgust. “You’d trust that thing?”

“Volcors are notoriously truthful, as well as being renowned for their connections to the Higher Powers. Her assistance will be a great help in the fight against evil,” Giles remarked, impressed with the offer they had just received. “They rarely mix with humans though; they find us unstable at best.”

Riley snorted and walked off to rejoin his men.

“Think he’ll ever learn?” Buffy had liked the soldier in spite of his pigheaded stubbornness. After all, she hadn’t been that different from him not too long ago.

“We can all learn, Buffy, even old dogs like myself,” Giles smiled at the idea. “Much as I hate to, I suppose I should debrief with the old guard. Once more into the breach, as they say.” He headed toward the sea of tweed gathered at the entrance to the Initiative labs.

“Good luck with that,” Buffy giggled. She was once more reminded of all the reasons she was glad she had broken the yoke of the Council when she did. Since she had decided to explore what life might offer with Spike at her side, the last thing she needed was THAT bunch looking over her shoulder. There was something to be said about being a free agent. Maybe Riley would come to see that one day and finally serve humanity in a way that was the blessing he wanted to be. She hoped that would be the case.

~~~

Giles regaled Joyce with anecdotes about the Council’s stuffy reaction to the high tech gadgetry they had discovered at the Initiative. “Noticed they pocketed quite a few pieces in spite of all the tut-tutting they were doing,” he laughed.

“Wonder what that psychic demon meant with that warning she gave us?” Buffy thought it sounded ominous at the time, but she had been too distracted by Riley and the dismantling of the labs to give it much thought.

“I daresay each day brings with it its own challenges. I think if it had been something dire she would have been more explicit. That has always been the trouble with oracles--the vagueness of their pronouncements has often made it difficult to understand their meaning until after an event has occurred.”

Giles filed the warning away but was not overly concerned. Let tomorrow’s troubles be in the morrow was his motto. It was enough to deal with today’s in the now.

“Giles, I haven’t said it in a long time, but I’m glad you stayed here when I quit the Council.” Buffy was surprised at the look on her Watcher’s face. He looked inexpressibly pleased and on the verge of tears. Surely he hadn’t thought he was unimportant to her? Time to nip that in the bud.

“I don’t often say it and I’ve been a bit wrapped up in BuffyWorld lately, but I really do need you. You’re not like Travers and those pompous tweedcoats I couldn’t stand. You understand me…you help me, guide me. I couldn’t do my duty without you there to help save the day. I know it cost you to quit the Council, but I’m sure glad you did. I can’t imagine ever being the Slayer without you here.” Buffy was half afraid the ordinarily stiff-lipped man was going to dissolve into a puddle of goo in front of her eyes.

“Why, I…,” Giles choked out, “I can’t imagine being anywhere else. You are a splendid girl, Buffy, and the finest Slayer in history. I’m honored to be a part of your team. I hope you know I’ll always be here for you. You are so much more to me than simply my Slayer.”

“Thank you,” Buffy was sincere in her gratitude. “So, let me tell you about this dream I had.”
Chapter 26 by pfeifferpack
~*~
Chapter 26

~*~

Buffy slowly related her dream. All the details were clearly etched in her mind since awakening with the sure understanding of the First Slayer’s message to her distant descendant. “It’s almost like she was sending me a blessing over the ages.”

“That makes perfect sense to me, dear,” Joyce agreed readily to Buffy’s analysis of the meaning. “I think that with someone with similar strengths at your side, you could have a much better chance of beating the odds with this duty of yours. I’ve finally had to accept that you can’t just quit as the Slayer, especially with Faith in that coma. I also realize that what I call normal may not be possible--or even actually normal--for you. Baby, I just want you to be happy and I don’t want you to die young. If there is any way at all to increase the chances for you to have the kind of life you deserve, I’m behind you one hundred percent and I don’t care what ANYONE else says about it.” Her mother looked pointedly at Giles as she made that last pronouncement.

“I’m glad you feel that way, Mom. I was worried. You never liked me dating Angel.” Buffy had expected her mother to object when she realized Buffy was thinking of the vampire in the basement as a possible partner in more than patrolling. She cast a wary look at her Watcher. He hadn’t said anything yet, but Buffy was still half expecting him to fall out of his chair in shock that she was considering a bond with Spike.

“Honey, I didn’t like Angel because of himself, not because he was a vampire!” Buffy was surprised, but before she could say anything in Angel’s defense, Joyce continued. “There was something about him that just didn’t sit right. Oh, he talked a good game, but there was something shifty, like he was withholding something or even lying. He was also fairly controlling. I know from your father that in time you would hate having to always work to please him, to live up to his unrealistic expectations. Sooner or later, you’d just want to relax and be yourself, but you’d always be afraid you would be disappointing him. Maybe that’s it; he reminded me of your father in a lot of ways. You’re enough like me to need more than that.”

Buffy was actually speechless. She had never seen Angel in the same light as her father and yet just as her dad had bowed out of her life claiming he didn’t want to interfere with Buffy’s new life, so had Angel left her for ‘her own good’. She had loved Angel with her whole being but couldn’t honestly say she knew him, or he her. There WAS a part of him that he always held back. “Wow, I just thought you didn’t want a vampire dating me!”

“If you were just any human girl, I wouldn’t, but you’re the Slayer. Buffy, honey, when you hug me you have to hold back or snap me like a twig! I want you to be all you can be without pulling back. I doubt there’s a man alive who can handle that. Why should you be alone though, if there are other choices,” Joyce grinned slyly, “And when you have a perfectly acceptable candidate who is also well-educated, sweet, romantic and a complete hottie…well…I’d say you hit the jackpot!”

“MOM!” Buffy blushed brightly. Somehow you never get used to hearing a parent notice someone being a hottie.

Joyce saw her daughter’s embarrassment and decided to add a tease by looking suggestively at Giles and adding, “Of course, there’s more than one hottie in this town, lucky for the rest of us.”

“Yes…well,” a clearly flustered Giles piped in. “I shall have to give your dream some thought. You are quite certain it WAS a Slayer dream and not simply a case of wishful thinking on your part?” He cast a glance at his Slayer that practically begged her to be unsure.

“Nope, no wishful thinking. It was pure, one hundred percent Slayer. I’ve never felt it more strongly, Giles.”

“Oh dear,” he sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that. Good Lord, now I’ll need to research this in full. If the First Slayer seems to think your proper partner might be a demon, one must wonder if other slayers have had similar dreams.” He did a mental inventory of the journals more likely to touch on the subject. So few slayers lived to an age of sexual maturity, after all. “Then again, there are several demon races that have successfully attached themselves to humans through marriage. Many a half demon is in existence. The Council even employs a few. Does it absolutely HAVE to be Spike though?”

Buffy had to laugh at the look on her Watcher’s face. It looked like he had just bitten into a particularly sour lemon. “It’s not like I discussed it with him…or am going to! I plan to be non-verbal Buffy, that’s really for the best. But yup, I think Spike’s the one. I’m listening to my heart for the first time in ages and it feels right.”

“Well, at least he has an appreciation for good music and alcohol. Now that we know his education is better than he’s let on, he can prove useful at the research table as well. I suppose I’ll adjust. One thing I’ve had to learn having you as my charge is to be flexible,” Giles gave a half laugh as he thought about all the things he’d been taught at Watcher’s school that had long gone out the window. “Of course it would be Spike. I had the most dreadful fear of that after Willow’s spell. The two of you went far beyond behaving as an engaged couple. You doted upon one another. The berk even treated me like a father!”

“Well, you are the closest thing I have. I think it’s sweet that Spike cares about people he knows I love, even down to the Scoobies. That’s a good sign too.”

“I won’t stand for him calling me Dad, however. One must draw the line somewhere.”

“Don’t let him hear that or that’ll be all he calls you!”

“Oh God, I’m going to be ‘Mom’ to a man old enough to be my grandfather!” Joyce grimaced at the realization.

“Neither of you need to rush things. I plan on a long courtship, whether he knows it or not,” Buffy laughed at the older generation. “Besides, maybe he won’t even be interested.”

At that Giles DID fall out of his chair…with laughter.

~~~

“Hallie, this is Tara, the nice girl I told you about,” Anya stood at the door to Willow and Tara’s apartment just daring Willow to deny them entrance. “Hallie is a vengeance demon like I was.”

“Justice demon, Anyanka. Justice is what I mete out.” Halfrek smiled warmly and extended her hand to the shy blonde. “So pleased to meet you, Tara.”

“Come in. I don’t know if I would want veng…justice or anything, but I think I’d like to meet you anyway. Until just a short while ago I thought I was a demon too, and I think I’d like a chance to just talk to someone who really is one.” Tara motioned to the guest chairs, ignoring Willow’s glower of disapproval. They had discussed Anya’s offer and Tara had made no promises except to take great care and not use the word ‘wish’ in any conversations around Anya or any of her friends.

“My father set a high standard for me and simply demanded that I marry well,” Hallie confided. “It was so very stressful and I was never sure Father ever fully approved of me. Let me tell you, I’ve seen children over the years that have had the most horrible childhoods! I take great pride in evening the score in those cases. No apologies from me for that!” Anya had warned her that neither human girl was seeking to harm anyone.

Tara shared highlights of her troubled childhood with the others. As the story progressed, Willow found herself thinking that perhaps a bit of justice wasn’t so wrong.

“Donny is trying to be like Daddy. They really believe that a man has to rule his women and that means in every little way. He was that way even as a little boy. When Mamma died they just decided I was going to be the woman of the house. I was already doing all the cooking and cleaning while Mamma was sick, but Daddy had started to treat me like a wife in other ways too,” Tara blushed furiously. “Mamma was sick for a few years. I d..d..didn’t let him…you know…but he birched me for standing up to him. Donny knew what Daddy was trying to do and he grabbed me too. Daddy belted him, because as the man of the house HE had rights, that’s what he said anyway. I couldn’t stay, not with Mamma gone. I just knew that one day I wouldn’t win the fight.”

Anya patted Tara’s hand in sympathy, while Willow scowled. Hallie nodded with a look on her face that said she had heard it all before. “Yes, men like that think women are weak and that they have some kind of permission to do as they please. They use their greater physical strength to force themselves on them.”

“That boy from the college, he’s like Donny, only he’s stronger. That’s why I was so paralyzed with fear, I think. It was the same thing I’d run away from!” Tara shivered at the memory. “I know Mr. Giles and Spike tried to scare him off, but he keeps looking at me. It’s like Donny and Daddy, just watching, watching all the time like they’re waiting for a moment when I let my guard down.” Tara looked like she might be sick.

“Willow, I know you don’t like me and you don’t like the idea of me bringing Hallie here, but you have to see that Tara deserves some peace,” Anya pointed out. “She can’t go to the police and report the creep is giving her the evil eye or that her dad and brother are thinking naughty thoughts. She shouldn’t have to keep living in fear, should she? I mean, there are other ways.”

“It’s true. I’m very good at what I do. I really don’t want to do anything to upset YOU. You’ve been through enough, sweetie,” Hallie nodded.

Willow had been thinking all through Tara’s confession and suddenly her face brightened and she turned to Tara, “Honey, can I talk to you alone for a minute?” Without waiting for their guests to speak another word, she guided her girlfriend to the bedroom.

“Well, that was just rude!” Anya was used to Willow treating her that way, but there was no reason for Halfrek to be snubbed. “And they say that I have no manners!”

“I think the witch may be coming round to our way of thinking. Didn’t you see her face as Tara told us about her father?” Halfrek was already thinking of the dozens of ways punishment could be meted out.

Willow and Tara came back into the room with wide smiles. “Can the same wish be done on all three men?”

“What do you have in mind?” Halfrek was practically rubbing her hands in anticipated glee.

~~~

Steve rolled out of bed with the hangover to end all hangovers. The boys had all partied hard the night before and he’d won the chug-a-lug contest but was now paying for it. No matter, a nice hot shower and he’d feel more the thing. He stumbled from the bed and made his way to the end of the hall and the welcoming embrace of gallons of warm water.

“Hey, toots! Just who brought you into the lion’s den and let you loose? Grrrrrrr!” Larry’s hands made a grab for Steve’s butt and pinched hard. The squeal that came out of Steve’s mouth could have shattered glass and he wasterrified to hear it.

He looked down, intending to break Larry’s arm even if the jackass were the best receiver on the team, only to see his body for the first time.

Then he promptly passed out cold.

~~~

“So not just women, but weak, REALLY weak women and guy magnets too, don’t forget that part!” Willow cackled in amusement. “Walking blonde jokes.”

“Not a problem. They’ll be their own fantasy women.” Hallie thought it a tame request but beautiful in its simplicity. They had preyed upon women they perceived as weak and now would live their lives as exactly that: prey. Perhaps they might get lucky and find a nice fella and settle down, but they would know the fear, the suppression, the humiliation they had inflicted for years. Yes, it was a good wish. “Granted” had seldom been so satisfying.

~~~

Spike was feeling better than he had in weeks. For some reason the Slayer and her mom had insisted on human blood to speed the healing and there was a definite difference from the pig slop he’d become used to. “Not quite the same as from the tap, but still nice.”

“Hey, you’re lookin’ like your old self there, blue eyes,” Buffy teased. “Mom wants to know if you want dinner. It’s pot roast and she’s a great cook.”

“Sounds right lovely. Tell Joyce I’m happy to accept,” Spike grinned. He’d spent the last few days feeling welcomed more than in his memory. Joyce had always been kind to him, but even Buffy was acting like he wasn’t a burden that she was grudgingly bearing.

“You going to be moving back to your crypt soon?”

‘Had to happen,’ Spike thought to himself. ‘Wore out your welcome and now the Slayer’s gonna pitch you out faster than you can swing a cat.’ He looked crestfallen. “Suppose there’s no reason to stay here, not being an invalid anymore, so yeah, I can be out right after dinner if that’s fast enough for you.”

“Hum…I suppose I can wait ‘til after dinner. Mom would be pissed if we missed it, after all that work.” Buffy moved in closer to Spike, invading his personal space and filling his senses with her sweet scent. “The walk over to Restview will be good after all those carbs she’ll probably serve too. Don’t want to be too full, after all.”

Spike had nowhere to go since the cot was right behind him. “Vampire here, carbs don’t matter much.”

“I meant for me,” Buffy said, not moving away. “I’d hate feeling bloated when I’m naked with a guy.”

Spike was struck dumb.

“Careful, you don’t want your face to freeze that way! Would be a real shame,” Buffy teased.

“Slayer, you all right? Haven’t hit your head or anything.” Suddenly his face took on a look of horror. “Red’s not been at the spell book again, has she?”

Buffy did her best to disguise her nervousness. She wasn’t particularly aggressive in romance, but her vampire hadn’t taken action yet and she was tired of waiting.

“No spells.” She patted her head. “No head injuries either. I’ll let you check me over everywhere else later…if you want to be sure I’m all right.”

He blinked rapidly and began to wonder if he should check his own head for damage.

“I’m not a tell girl, Spike, so maybe I’d better be show.” Before he could puzzle out her meaning Buffy leaned in and lightly kissed him. “Remember how I said I wanted to start over with you? Well I think I’d like to skip a few pages past all the ‘getting to know him/getting to like him’ parts and get right to the ‘starting to love him’ section. That is, if that’s okay with you.” She was nervous about what his response would be now that she’d shown her cards. She could only hope that the attraction she had been feeling was shared.

A slow smile started to light his face followed by a look of pure wonder. “More than okay.” He tilted his head and gave her a look of adoration, “You’re sure?”

“Completely,” she sighed.

Their lips came together in a kiss so soft and tender the angels sang. In short order, it had heated enough that it could melt anything within ten feet and the devils joined in the chorus. His tongue sought entrance and was welcomed with enthusiasm. Hers soon engaged in the oldest of battles in a war they both knew would be a win on either side.

“So I’m thinkin’ dessert at your crypt. You up for it?” She asked when they parted ever so slightly.

“Something sweet and tasty would be just what I’ve been wantin’ forever,” Spike replied with a quirked eyebrow. “Providin’ that’s what you have in mind too.”

“Maybe a bit of something salty too,” She teased and lightly ran the back of her hand across the bulge in his jeans. “Depends on how strong you’re feeling. I wouldn’t want to tire you out.”

He chuckled into her hair as he held her close in a loving embrace. “I’d like to see you try, Buffy. Like to see you try.”

“Challenges are always of the good,” she agreed and began to plan all the ways to tire a vampire. It was going to be a long night before the Dawn.

~fin


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