Buffy finished filling everyone in on the evenings events, including her mother's condition and the fact that she would be spending all day tomorrow at the hospital.
"So, here's the weird stuff. One of mom's doctors ran into a closet, and Glory ran out. So, either she killed him, which – it seems weird he'd go in there if he thought that was going to happen, or I've got to figure that he knows something about her. Maybe he's a human minion..."
"Or maybe he's her!" Spike said. "How did you not see that just now?"
"See what? All I saw was Glory getting ready to smash some cop cars, and then Ben was standing there, distracting everybody while she got away."
"She didn't get away, she turned into that bloke. You were looking right at her, Slayer."
Buffy frowned. "So you're saying what? That she went invisible or something?"
Spike growled and rolled his eyes. "Do any of the rest of you understand what I'm saying?"
"Ben is working for Glory?" Willow offered.
"Glory kidnapped him from the hospital and Buffy just didn't notice?" Anya said.
Giles shook his head and pointed to an envelope from the Council. "According to this, Glory spends part of her time on this plane in a human host. Perhaps this Ben person is a friend of that host?"
"What is wrong with you people?" Spike threw his arms into the air and began to pace the floor. "Are you all barmy? Or under a spell?"
Willow and Tara exchanged nods before Willow said, "I suppose a god could do a spell so nobody could see her when she was in her host, or..."
Giles groaned. "Or be able to see her change or remember it if they did..."
"Exactly! Thank you!" Spike said.
At the same time, Buffy asked, "God? That skanky bitch is a god?"
"Hellgod, actually," Giles said. "The council has provided us with as much information as they have. Which is basically that Glorificus is trying to get back to the hell dimension from which she was exiled millennia ago. She requires the Key "– he shot Buffy a look – "and it has to happen sometime this month when all the portents are right. If she can't make it happen, she will be stuck here for another thousand years."
"Hence her harassment of Buffy who she thinks has her Key," Xander said.
There was silence around the table as they all waited for Buffy to say something. She exchanged glances with Spike, who shrugged his willingness to let her make the decision. Taking a deep breath and letting it out she said, "The Key is Dawn, guys. Or Dawn is the Key. Take your pick. Everything we think we remember about her as a little girl was implanted by those monks Glory killed. They made the Key a person and sent her to me to protect. Which I intend to do," she added quickly when she saw Giles begin to speak. "I don't care how she got here, she's my sister and I'm not turning her over to Glory."
"Which wouldn't be wise, even if you did," Giles said. "Once she opens that portal, all the creatures from that hell dimension would begin swarming into ours. Even you would not be able to stop that much evil from taking over the world."
"How is Dawn being the Key going to help Glory?" Willow asked. "Dawn doesn't know how to open portals."
"It's her blood," Spike said quietly as Anya nodded in agreement. "It's always the blood."
"Spike's right," Anya said. "It's probably a blood ritual that she needs to do at just the right time. With Dawn's blood," she added, just in case anyone was in doubt.
"So, we keep her away from Dawn until after the end of the month. We can do that, can't we?" Buffy's statement was more of a plea. "She doesn't even know Dawn is her stupid Key. All I have to do is keep her looking under rocks and stuff."
"Or you could kill Ben."
Buffy whirled on Spike. "I don't kill humans! Even if they are friends with evil, skanky hellgods."
"Help me out here, Watcher," Spike pleaded.
Giles rubbed his forehead. "I understand what you're saying, Spike. But even if Willow and Tara are correct about a spell having been done to hide Glory's identity, none of us are going to be able to do what needs to be done. I cannot condone killing someone who, as far as I can tell, is just an innocent bystander."
"Who maybe helps Glory," Buffy added in hopes of soothing Spike's irritation. It failed.
"Who is Glory!" he exploded. "A hellgod that has no god-like powers when she's in human form."
"Well, yeah. That's good to know. But we don't know what her human form is, so—"
Spike cut Buffy off in mid sentence. Looked over her head at Giles, he said, "I think I know how to handle this, Slayer. You just worry about your mum and let me worry about the bitch."
Giles frowned at what Spike seemed to be implying, but he couldn't think of any way Spike's chip would allow him to murder an innocent man, so he just shrugged.
"Why don't you take tonight off, Buffy? You seem to have done a good bit of fighting already, and Dawn is home alone, is she not? I suggest you go home and get a good rest" — he did send a meaningful glare at Spike, who ignored him — "so as to be fresh tomorrow when you are waiting for Joyce to come out of surgery."
"I am kinda tired," she admitted. "And I don't like leaving Dawn home alone, just in case..." She glanced at Spike. "Maybe she can hide out in your crypt. Glory isn't likely to be looking for her in a vampire's lair."
"The Bit is always welcome there, you know that, but the hell bitch already knows I'm... something... to you, and she tried to grab me once. We don't know if her minions know where I live or not. Bit's probably safer doing her I'm-just-a-normal-teenage-brat thing."
"A normal brat who just happens to be the Slayer's sister," Xander pointed out.
"True. If she's looking for a hostage to trade for information, any one of you might be in danger, including Dawn."
"And on that happy note..." Xander stood up and nodded to Anya. "Let's get home and get some sleep so we can be with Buffy at the hospital tomorrow."
"I'd suggest that for everyone. We can meet Buffy there and perhaps discuss possible hosts for Glory while we wait."
Spike didn't even bother rolling his eyes this time, just gave a low growl and went to hold the door open. "Come on, then," he said. "Slayer and I will walk you home."
"Actually," Giles said with a nod at Buffy, "it may be more useful if you and Buffy split up." When Spike and Buffy both narrowed their eyes, he hastily added, "For tonight, I mean. In the interest of getting everyone home and asleep as soon as possible."
"Or, you could just drive everybody home," Buffy said. "We'd just have to make sure they got safely inside."
Xander spoke up. "I've got my truck. Anya and I will be fine. Any hellgod that gets in front of me, I'll just run her down."
"Fine. I will drop Willow and Tara off on my way home then."
Buffy had walked to the door and was talking quietly with Spike as the others worked out their arrangements.
"I really don't want to leave Dawn alone tonight."
"It's fine, love. You scamper off to check on the Bit and I'll follow the Watcher." He frowned suddenly, remembering why they'd been at her home in the first place. "Have you eaten anything this evening? I know Bit's okay, I bought her enough fast food to feed an army, but you..."
"I'll grab something on my way past the Doublemeat Palace." She smiled up at him. "But thanks for worrying about me."
"Got to keep that luscious body well-fed and healthy until I get a chance to enjoy it again," he said with an exaggerated leer.
"Way to spoil the moment," she snorted.
"Didn't know there was going to be a moment," he said. "What with your mom all sick and everything."
"I meant, you dope, the moment in which you were worried about making sure I ate dinner." She nodded. "But, yeah, I can't say having sex is very high on my list of things to do right now... I just didn't expect you to realize that."
She could hear the disappointment in his voice. "Know how to set priorities, Slayer. I'm not a complete git." Without waiting to hear a reply, he walked out the door to wait for Giles and the girls. Buffy explained to them that Spike would see them safely home and she would to her house to be with Dawn.
When they all emerged and went to their various vehicles, Buffy stood staring at Spike's rigid back and biting her lip. Just before he squeezed into the front seat of Giles's car, Buffy ran up and grabbed his arm, pulling him down to whisper, "Are you coming to my house later?"
He blinked at her. "Didn't think you wanted me to," he said.
"I didn't say that. I just said I didn't want—" She hesitated, realizing that her voice was rising and the others were looking at her curiously. Lowering it again, she said, "I'll leave the back door unlocked." Without waiting for a response, she turned and began jogging in the other direction.
Giles dropped Willow and Tara at their dorm, surprised when Spike got out and walked all the way to the door with them. When Spike rejoined him, Giles said, "That was very solicitous of you."
"Not much point driving them home if one of the gets nabbed before she gets in the door, is it?"
"So, do you think you can successfully fight a hellgod? One that has already shown she can beat Buffy under most circumstances?"
Spike shrugged. "Prob'ly not on my own. But it would buy whoever she's after some time." He frowned. "I think maybe the Slayer and I together... But that's not the best solution."
"Spike... I know what you're thinking about finding her host and killing her while she's vulnerable. And I have no problem with that – not really. I would do it myself if I knew who it was. But we don't, and even if we did, you wouldn't be able to—"
"Only gonna say this once, Rupert." Giles blinked at Spike's use of his first name and the calmly focused look on the vampire's face. "Prob'ly because I'm not human, I'm not under whatever spell she's got out there that means humans can watch her change back and forth between slovenly tart and clean-cut doctor without remembering what they saw. I know what I saw tonight. Add that to what Buffy saw in the hospital and I think we know exactly who the host is. You lot are just too bespelled to acknowledge it."
He continued to face Giles as he drove into his apartment building's lot.
"I don't care if my head explodes, I'm not letting Buffy face that bitch if I can make the problem go away."
They got out of the car and Giles locked it up. As he began to walk toward his unit he asked, "Are you coming in? I have a new bottle of scotch."
Spike shook his head. "I appreciate the offer, Watcher – or, I would if I didn't know you were trying to keep me away from Buffy – but I want to make sure she and the Bit are okay before I turn in for the night."
"Spike... you know if Buffy thinks you've killed someone, she..."
"She'll do what she thinks she needs to do. Know that. I'll worry about it if and when I need to. I'm just warning you ahead of time, in case it goes pear shaped." He paused and added, "Joyce's girls could probably use a ride to the hospital in the morning. I won't be able to drive them there in the daylight."
Without any more conversation, Spike turned away and began moving through the night in the direction of Revello Drive, leaving a bemused Giles wondering if he should call the hospital and ask them to warn one of their doctors.
While Buffy choked down two Doublemeat burgers and the accompanying cold fries, she tried to fill Dawn in on what had happened since Spike hustled her away from the hospital.
"Mom's having surgery tomorrow? For a brain tumor? And Glory was there, in the hospital?"
Buffy nodded and swallowed. "The doctor said he doesn't think it's malignant and Mom should be fine. We'll just get a good night's sleep tonight and be there before she goes in. If we're there early enough, maybe they'll let us see her first."
Dawn nodded. "Okay, I'm going to bed now then. I'll see you in the morning." She hesitated on her way out of the kitchen. "Where's Spike?"
Buffy shrugged. "I guess he's still with Giles. He'll be here later... I think."
"Do I need earplugs so I'm not scarred for life?"
"Wha— no! Of course not. I don't even know if he's coming back here, and even if he did, we wouldn't... not in... Just go to bed and mind your own business."
"If you're going to be boinking your boyfriend right across the hall from me, that is my business!"
"There's no boinking. We've both got too much on our minds right now to worry about relationship stuff. If he comes by, it will just be to... to... offer support. And maybe a ride to the hospital in the morning if we can keep the sun off him."
"Uh huh. And Glory only wants me for her key so she can make me shiny."
"She's not going to get you Dawn. I promise you. I won't let it happen."
Dawn paused on her way out of the room.
"Who was that crazy guy yelling at me in the ER? How did he know?"
"He was just a crazy guy. Don't worry about him. He's locked up in the psych ward."
"Buffy, he knew. He knows what I am and he was yelling about it. If Glory hears him—"
"She won't. How could she? Unless she's hanging out in the psych ward – and you hang out there too. It'll be fine. I'm going to have a talk with that Ben guy and make him tell me what he knows about Glory. Just in case he is a minion, you need to stay away from him."
"Got it. Night, Buffy."
Buffy wandered around the kitchen, making sure she'd thrown away all the fast food wrappers and wondering if she'd have to learn to cook until her mother was all better. When she'd run out of things to do, she began to yawn every few minutes. With one last lingering look at the unlocked back door, she sighed and gave up waiting for Spike. She left the door unlocked and the light on, but turned out all the other downstairs lights as she worked her way to the stairs and her bed.
She'd been asleep for only a short time when she felt the bed dip and came awake immediately, hands searching for a better weapon than the pillow she'd been clutching.
"Easy there, love. It's only me."
"That's a good way to get dead, or dead-er," she said, straining to see him in the dark room. "I didn't know who was climbing into my bed."
"You weren't expecting me?" She could hear the uncertainty in his voice and felt him moving away. She grabbed the nearest part of him, which turned out to be the sleeve of his shirt.
"I was expecting you. But you weren't here when I went to bed and I thought you might have changed your mind – or you were still mad at me."
"Not mad, Buffy. I was a mite disappointed, I'll admit, but in all fairness to you, I know I've got to earn your trust. Know I've got to show you there's more to what I feel than just my craving for your body."
"Oh." She snuggled back down in her bed, eyes already closing. "Okay then. Let's get some sleep."
She felt Spike lower himself beside her and rest one arm across her waist. Buffy linked their hands and was asleep so quickly she never noticed that he was awake and watching her with eyes shiny with unshed tears.