Chapter Four

In spite of what he'd told Giles, Spike decided to at least go by the Summers house and make sure Joyce had the doors locked. He told himself he'd leave again if he had any reason to think he'd been followed; however, by the time he'd hit Willie's for some O neg and booze, hung out in a big tree for over thirty minutes just in case someone had followed him, and taken a circuitous route to the house, he was fairly confident that Riley was not following him. He went, as usual, to the back door and knocked softly so as not to wake Joyce if she'd already gone to bed.

She hadn't, and she quickly opened the door, clutching her bathrobe around her.

"I just decided you weren't coming, and was going to go to bed. I wasn't sure if I should lock the door or not."

"I'm sorry, Joyce. Ran into a spot of trouble with Buffy's I hope about-to-be-ex, and needed to make sure he wasn't still out and about. Didn't want to lead him here."

"What's that idiot done now?" Joyce narrowed her eyes, giving her more of a resemblance to her daughter than was normally evident. Spike grinned at her.

"You look a lot like Buffy when you get all brassed off like that," he said. "Haven't seen that look for a long time. Maybe not since you beaned me with that fire axe."

"I may not have Buffy's fighting skills or super strength, but I know how to defend my friends and family," she said, blushing a little at his admiring expression.

"That you do, luv," he said. "That you do. But I don't want you having to defend me. I'm an old vamp and I've been taking care of myself a long time. If Buffy hadn't been so insistent—"

"If she hadn't insisted you stay here, I would have. Now, if you're sure we aren't going to have soldiers breaking down the door, I'm going to take myself to bed, so keep the drapes pulled and the TV turned down low. I'll probably be at work by the time you wake up tomorrow, but there's blood in the fridge and Buffy and Dawn will be back around noon."

Spike nodded. "Want you to know how much I appreciate this, Joyce. If I thought for one minute I was putting you in danger..."

"Really, Spike? My daughter is the Slayer. The only person who's put me in danger so far is Rupert, when he allowed her to take that stupid test and I ended up kidnapped by the vampire that was supposed to kill her."

"He put her through the Cruciamentum?" Spike's expression went from affectionate and caring to frighteningly angry so quickly that Joyce flinched.

"He did. Then it turned out those horrible watcher-people set her up to be killed, but their nasty vampire escaped and kidnapped me, and Buffy had to fight him without her powers. She killed him somehow – I never did really understand how she did that with holy water – but anyway, she survived, and I survived, and I punched Rupert in the face and he quit his job, and it's all fine now... and will you please stop looking so intimidating?" Joyce stopped babbling to pant for air, watching as Spike's expression softened until he was smiling at her.

"I'm sorry, Joyce. I never heard about that. Must have been in South America then. I just assumed, since the Watcher wasn't working for the Council of Wankers any more and that Faith bint was here for a while, that Buffy had told them to stuff it long before they got to that barbaric ritual."

Joyce shook her head. "If I'd had the axe around then, I probably would have killed Rupert. I don't know when I've been so furious... or so frightened."

"Think the Watcher and I are going to be having a little talk tomorrow night," Spike growled. He shook himself. "But meantime, you should get some sleep. I'll just watch the telly for a bit and then take myself to the basement before morning."

"All right. Lock the doors before you go to sleep. Goodnight, Spike."

"Night, Joyce."

He watched her go upstairs, then locked all the doors before settling himself on the couch with the remote in his hand.

XXXXXXXXX

When the cab bringing Buffy and Dawn from the airport pulled up outside the house, Riley was waiting for them, leaning against his SUV, arms crossed and a scowl on his face.

"Riley? What are you doing here?"

"Waiting for you to get home. We need to talk."

"It couldn't wait until I got unpacked? And how did you know I was coming home this morning?"

"Spike told me," Riley said through gritted teeth. "It seems he knows more about your coming and going than I do."

Buffy looked uncomfortable for a second, covering her embarrassment by paying the driver and getting the luggage out of the cab. She'd been confident Riley understood that they weren't dating anymore, now she wasn't sure how to handle his obvious confusion between a fight and a break-up.

"About that..."

"It's all right, Buffy. I've figured out what's going on and I'm ready to help." He picked up her suitcase and then Dawn's. "I'll explain all about it when we get you inside."

Buffy and Dawn exchanged glances, then Dawn held out her hand. "Key?" she asked, nodding toward the door. "I really, really need to pee."

"Oh, right. Here you go. Hurry up and... and go pee."

She tugged on Riley's sleeve while Dawn bolted for the door and quickly let herself in, closing it behind her. "Let me have my own suitcase, Riley. It's not like I can't carry it, you know."

"Rubbing it in that you're stronger than I am?" he said, clinging to the handle. "I thought it didn't matter to you?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I'm asking for my suitcase because it's mine, and I'm perfectly capable of carrying it. If you want to be a gentleman and carry Dawn's, I'm fine with that." Hoping she'd given Dawn enough time to get Spike out of sight if he was there, she sighed and allowed Riley to follow her with both suitcases.

Dawn had grabbed a telltale bloody mug out of the sink and put it in the dishwasher. She pulled Spike's coat off the back of a chair, opened the basement door and tossed the coat down the stairs just as Buffy and Riley came in. She slipped into the downstairs bathroom, flushed the toilet, and emerged with a smile.

"Whew! I feel much better. Thanks, Riley, I'll take that now." Dawn grabbed her suitcase and put it at the bottom of the stairs. She met Buffy's questioning gaze with a small nod and shrug. While Riley was looking around the living room and had his back to them, she pointed to the floor. She shrugged again and shook her head when Buffy raised her eyebrows and mimed sleeping.

Riley came back into the foyer saying, "Dawn, would you mind giving me a few minutes with Buffy? I need to talk to her privately."

Dawn narrowed her eyes, then forced a smile. "Sure. No problem. I'll be downstairs doing my laundry." She flounced into the kitchen and opened the door to the basement only to run into Spike. Before he could say more than "We—" she slapped a hand over his mouth and pushed him back hard enough to almost send him tumbling down the stairs. "Shhh!" she hissed, moving onto the top step and pulling the door shut behind her.

He was obediently starting downstairs when he heard Riley's voice and stopped, snarling quietly. Dawn shook her head and nudged him to keep going, which he did, growling the entire way.

When they were sitting on the cot Joyce had given him, Dawn explained.

"He was waiting outside when we got home. We didn't know if you were here or not, so I came in first to make sure it was okay."

"Guess that explains the way my coat took itself down the stairs," he said, gesturing to where it was crumpled on the floor.

"Yeah, had to get rid of it in a hurry." She cocked her head at him. "Feel free to stop that growling any time now."

"Sorry, Bit. You've got no idea how I hate hiding out down here when if I didn't have this chip..."

"If you didn't have that chip, Buffy would have staked you last year. Just relax. She'll get rid of him pretty soon when—"

An outraged "What?" from upstairs had them both running for the steps.

"Stay here," Dawn hissed as she ran up and into the kitchen, slamming the door in his face.

"What's going on?" she asked, hurrying into the living room where Riley was wearing his most understanding smile as Buffy stalked toward him.

"Riley thinks I must be crazy because I won't let him stake Spike, so he wants to take me to a psychiatrist. To be given drugs to "help" me control the thrall he says Spike has put on me."

"Thrall? Spike?" Dawn burst into laughter, her giggles trailing off as she realized Buffy wasn't kidding. "Seriously, Riley? A thrall? That's too funny."

"It affects all of you, including your mother. I tried to talk some sense into her this morning, but she threw me out of the gallery."

"You told my mother you wanted to take me to a psychiatrist?" Buffy's eyes narrowed and her voice became cold and eerily steady. "Just so we're clear, if you ever come near my mother again, I will show you exactly how much I was holding back last year when we sparred. My mother, my sister, my friends – which includes Spike, FYI – and my watcher are all off limits."

"I'm trying to save all of you."

"No. You're not trying to save anybody, Riley. You're trying to rationalize something you don't understand by calling it crazy."

"If you won't get help yourself, then you leave me no choice, Buffy. I'm pretty sure once Spike is dust, the thrall will be gone and you'll be yourself again."

Buffy stared at him with frightened eyes that soon narrowed to a slayer's cold stare. "I'm pretty sure you don't want to meet the "myself" I'd be if anything happened to Spike," she said slowly. "Anything like somebody setting up a trap in his crypt that could kill him... or anybody else who happened to walk in that door. Like, oh, I don't know... me? Or Dawn? Or Giles?" She watched as Riley's expression went from shocked to horrified. "Or was that part of the plan? Just kill the first person to walk through that door? Never mind who it was?"

"Oh my God, Buffy! Of course not! I never thought..." His expression darkened. "So he brings his minions to his crypt then. I had no idea it was that bad."

"Minions? Are you calling us minions?" Dawn was standing in front of Riley, bristling with teen-age indignation. "I'm not anybody's minion! I don't even obey my own mother! And minions are stupid! I'm not stupid."

"Dawn," Buffy said without expression. "Move away from Riley. I don't think we can trust him any more."

Eyes wide, Dawn backed away, flinching when Riley tried to put a hand on her arm.

"Don't be ridiculous, Buffy. That's not you talking, that's the vampire. As soon as we free you from his thrall, you'll understand that I'm just trying to help you."

"I understand that you tried to kill someone I'd made it pretty clear I didn't want dead – dusted – whatever. And that you tried to do it in a cowardly way that could have killed my sister or one of my friends. I think you should leave now, Riley."

"This isn't over, Buffy. It's not like you to allow a vampire this kind of influence over you—" He ignored Dawn's coughed "Angel" and Buffy's accompanying glare.

"Uh, Riley?" Dawn ventured.

"What?"

"That look on Buffy's face? I've seen it a couple of times before. I think now might be a good time for you get out of Dodge..."

He frowned at Dawn, then shook his head and turned his attention back to Buffy, who was standing perfectly rigid with her hands fisted at her sides.

"If you insist on being so stubborn about this, you leave me no choice but to research what happens to humans who have been bitten but not killed."

"Get. Out."

Trying very hard not to appear to be retreating in the face of Buffy's clearly violent intentions, he backed out the door and ran to his car. Buffy watched him drive off, then went to the phone and called her mother.

"Yes, we're home. Have been for a little while, but I had something to talk to Riley about... Yes, yes he did. I did let him know we knew about his little trap... No, I don't think he has any idea Spike is here. I'm pretty sure he would have said or done something stupid if he knew... Yes. We will. You too, Mom. Don't be alone with him or get into a car. If he shows up and won't leave, call the police... and me. Yeah, okay. See you when you get home. Love you too."

Buffy put the phone down and sighed, wrapping her arms around herself tightly. "I guess I'd better tell Giles what's going on—"

"He already knows most of it, Slayer." Spike's voice had Buffy whirling around.

"What are you doing upstairs? Get out of here!"

"Plannin' to, pet. Don't want to bring any more trouble on your mum than I already have." He shrugged into his coat and picked up the ratty blanket that he used to get to and from the manhole.

"You're leaving?"

"Just told me to get out, didn't you?"

"I meant, moron, to get back downstairs where nobody can see you through a window!"

"Oh. I knew that," he bluffed. "I was just..."

"You were just being an insecure jerk," Dawn said, remaining cheerful and unbothered in the face of his threatening growl.

"Come on," Buffy said, walking toward him. "Let's go downstairs and figure this out. Dawn, you should probably lock that front door. Just in case."

"Got it. I'll be upstairs unpacking all the 'I feel so guilty' clothes Dad bought me."

XXXXXXXXX

"So, I heard most of that. The big oaf sounds completely crackers." He was sitting on edge of his cot, while Buffy sat back against the wall so she could stretch out her legs.

Buffy sighed. "I don't know where he get his ideas. Last year, he thought all vampires and demons were just some kind of underground animal; now he thinks he knows all about thralls and minions and..."

"A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing."

Buffy gave him a sideways glance. "You don't have a thrall, do you?"

"Dunno," he said with a grin. "Never needed one, what with Dru being able to charm the birds out of the trees. Should I give it a try?" He leered at her and wiggled his eyebrows. "Look into my eyes... you are getting sleepy... you want to get naked... very sleepy..."

Buffy laughed and shoved him off the cot with her foot. "That's for a hypnotic trance, you dope."

"Oh. Well, guess I don't have one then. Too bad, or your ex... he is your ex, isn't he?... would be my first minion slave." He pushed himself up and settled down next to her, their shoulders touching.

"Not me? I think I'm offended." Buffy pretended to be angry and started to get up. An arm that felt like a steel band wrapped across her body and pinned her to his side. His breath in her ear made her shiver as he whispered, "Would like to think I wouldn't need it for you."

"You'd like to think that, huh?" she whispered back, with no idea why they were speaking so softly, other than it was a good excuse to put their mouths close to the other's face.

"Am I wrong?" he murmured, nibbling on the lobe of her ear. Buffy's answering "Guh!" got lost in the sound of the opening door and Dawn's footsteps on the stairs.

Moving a few inches apart as quickly as they could without seeming to be flinging themselves away, they turned equally insincere smiles at her. She frowned back and forth between them for a few seconds, then burst into a grin.

"That's totally cool!" she said, beaming at them. "Wait'll I tell Janice."

"Did you need something, Dawn?" Buffy said as sweetly as she could manage through gritted teeth.

"Oh. Well yeah, but it can wait till tonight."

"If it's important, tell me now."

"It's just... I had this idea... See, what if we throw some dust around Spike's crypt? And trip the booby trap? Let Riley think he dusted Spike. Then, when he sees that we're all really sad, and nobody's glad he's gone, he'll know it wasn't a thrall and that we all really like Spike." She beamed at them again. "Pretty good plan, huh?"

"Not bad, Bit. But means I'd have to leave town for a while." He put his arm around Buffy's shoulders and pulled her close again. "Don't think I really want to do that just now..."

Buffy leaned into him, but said, "Not that I want you to not be here, but it's not a bad idea. I just don't know if everybody could carry it off. You know Anya and her mouth..."

Spike looked thoughtful for a few seconds, then gave her a squeeze. "Right you are, pet. Would be a pretty big secret to hide. Probably not a good idea." When Dawn's face fell, he added quickly, "Was a brilliant idea, Bit. Didn't mean that it wasn't, just that Buffy's right. In order to be convincing, I think it would have to be real."

"Excuse me?" Buffy pulled away from him. "Really dusting isn't my idea of a solution – just so you know."

"Remember what you told me a while ago – how you'd feel if I was dusted?"

She nodded, frowning. "I said I'd be..." She glanced at Dawn, then shrugged. "...heartbroken... and really, really pissed off at Riley."

"Could you fake that? Knowin' that I was really okay and lolling around Vegas or some place like that?"

"I don't think I'd have any trouble being pissed off if that's where you were," Buffy snorted. "Vegas? Really?"

He waved his hand vaguely. "Was just an example I plucked out of the air. Didn't mean anything by it."

"Humph"

"Point is, you'd have to pretend I was really... gone. For as long as it would take for the farmboy to believe it and to see that nobody felt any differently about me."

"If we don't tell anyone besides Dawn – cause it's her idea – and maybe Giles..." She sighed. "I hate to do that to Mom, but..."

"So, you're going to do it?" Dawn was almost bouncing with excitement.

"We're going to talk about it. We'll decide if we want to try it at the Scooby meeting tonight."