This one is dedicated to RAGAnne, Rinso, Taste Like Special, jackiemack916, and ElysiumPhoenix.

Smut alert. Bit of a fuzzy feels alert, too. :)

Tuesday's chapter will be one of the most important so far. See you then!

Chapter 9

Buffy was playing with the garnet and bronze charm of the necklace Spike had given her. Wills was picking at the sleeve of her fuzzy sweater. Both of them were on edge, could feel the anxiety. Wills didn't have the whole picture, but Buffy's mom being in the hospital at all was pretty much enough fuel for wigging. They were walking near the warehouse district. Buffy didn't want to be trapped in a cemetery tonight.

"So how's your... computer class... going?" Buffy asked. She couldn't remember the exact class name, though Wills probably had the code and the teacher's zodiac sign memorized.

"You mean 'Solitaire 101'?" Willow rolled her eyes. "I thought we'd at least be doing basic SEO or html, and all the teacher does is tell us to type three sentences or whatever."

"And that's... bad?"

"Well, I didn't go to college to goof around, Buffy. I want them to actually teach me things. I mean, for Gaia's sake I subbed for Miss Calendar's computer class in high school!" Willow combed her short hair behind her ears. "It'd be, like, if you were out slaying and Giles was trying to show you which end of the stake has the point."

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Oh."

"Exactly. Tara's been looking at course offerings with me, though. I was thinking about maybe taking courses for a Religion and Spirituality major. Folklore, Paganism, all that kind of stuff. Sounds like fun!"

Buffy wouldn't attach the word "fun" to school—except for that time Synder got eaten. Buffy giggled.

"What?" Wills tilted her head.

"Nothing."

"So how's... um... New shoes?" Willow pointed to Buffy's red suede booties.

"Nah." Buffy stuck her hands in the pockets of her long coat. She could feel the stake stuffed into the waistband of her jeans shifting as they approached an old factory. Buffy thought she heard something in the distance, but she couldn't be sure. "Stole 'em from Mom."

"How... um..." Willow threw her head back, staring up at the night sky. The whole Wills trying to ask how her mom was doing without asking how her mom was doing was getting super awkward super quick.

Out of nowhere a huge guy lunged, tackling Willow to the ground.

"Oh thank god," Buffy muttered, yanking her stake out.

The vamp, pinning Willow to the ground by her shoulders, glared up at Buffy with golden eyes. Buffy raised her stake.

"Disparo!" Lightning zapped the vamp from Willow's hands, and he tumbled backwards. Willow jumped to her feet just as the vamp did.

"Slayer needs her pet witch to do her fighting for her?" the vamp taunted. "I—" He looked down at the stake in his chest, then gawked up at Buffy.

"Did I interrupt?" Buffy said. "Sorry. Some demon ate the Etiquette teacher at Sunnydale High." And, like that, the vamp was dust.

"Nice banter, Buff." Willow grinned.

"I live to banter."

It took them both a minute to realize that a guy was laying on the ground against the fence. Buffy and Willow raced to him. The guy was older than them, and wearing this long brown robe that looked a couple of centuries old. The side of his neck was all covered in blood, like the vamp had been snacking on him, but his face was all bruised and bloody, too. Buffy and Willow kneeled on either side of him. Willow ripped a tulle flower off of her sweater, folded it in half, and pressed it to the side of the guy's neck, where he was bleeding the worst.

"La tua sorella," the robed guy wheezed, his gaze directed at Buffy.

"What?"

"Your sister," Willow whispered.

"Dawn? What about Dawn?" Buffy demanded, narrowing her eyes.

The robed man coughed, blood dribbling down his chin.

"Come on. We need to get him to a hospital." Buffy grabbed his elbow, but Willow tugged on the sleeve of Buffy's coat.

"We can't move him," Wills whispered. "It's too late. There's too much blood." Her lips paled as she frowned.

"Your sister," the man said in a heavy accent.

"Yeah, you said that part already," Buffy snapped. "What do you want with Dawn?"

"She is The Key."

Buffy stared at Willow, her jaw slack. Wills' eyes were on the robed man, hanging onto his every word. Buffy had to rely on the hope that Willow would misinterpret something, or that she could play this off as a crazy dying man's words.

"She is an innocent in this. She needs you."

Buffy took a deep breath, her lip trembling. She nodded, once, hard. "I know." Buffy grabbed the man's hand with both of hers. He was starting to go limp, lifeless. He didn't have any time left. "I know," she muttered again.

Willow pulled the tulle flower away from the man's neck. "Buffy, I—"

"This helps." The man used his free hand to pull a glowing yellow ball from inside his robe. "Take. Use. Defeat The Beast. Salvaci... Salvaci."

Buffy nodded again, emphatically. "I will." She took the glowy ball from him with both of her hands. She stole another glance at Willow. If Wills had caught on to anything important, she sure wasn't letting Buffy in on that right now. "I'll take care of everything," Buffy said. "You can rest now."

The robed man wheezed, closed his eyes, and laid back against the fence. And, like that, he died. Willow held her hand over her mouth for a moment while the pair of them stared at him, speechless. It was Willow who broke the silence.

"What did he mean about a key?"

Buffy shrugged, shaking her head. She remembered what she'd told Spike and Giles, about wanting to keep the Glory/Dawn thing quiet. Dawn couldn't deal with this, not right now. They needed time. "No clue." Buffy stood, wiping off her jeans. "Come on, Wills. We'll find a pay phone so someone comes and gets him. Then head to The Magic Box."

XXXXX

Giles had called in the National Guard. Or, well, all the Scoobies. Spike had been babysitting Dawn, and they didn't want her bugging Joyce, so she tagged along, too. Buffy was fairly convinced that it was mostly because Dawn kicked Spike in the shin until he let her come with him. They all stood and sat around The Magic Box, staring at Buffy: Xander and Anya behind the register, Dawn sitting cross-legged on the table, Spike and Willow and Tara standing next to her, and Giles next to Buffy.

"Show 'em, Buff," Willow muttered. Tara rested her head on Wills' shoulder, smiling.

Buffy was suddenly really aware of each breath she took. She looked to Spike, whose eyes flickered with recognition that something serious was up. Buffy's eyebrows twitched as she stole a look at Dawn.

"What?" Dawn said. "I'm allowed to be here! If I stayed home, I was just gonna blast Blink 182 and wake Mom up." She stuck out her chin like she'd just won an argument.

"Fine." Buffy rubbed her forehead. She walked up to her coat, crumpled into a huge heap next to the register. Then Buffy pulled the glowy ball from underneath the coat and presented it to the class. "I put this before the group. What the hell is it?"

Giles carefully slipped his hand under it, holding it in front of his nose and squinting through his glasses at it. "Well, it appears to be paranormal in origin."

"See! That's what I said!" Willow's arms flailed with her outburst.

Xander tilted his head. "How can you tell?"

"Well." Giles pursed his lips. "It's so shiny."

"Well that's hardly a measure of the mystic nature of anything!" Anya grumbled.

"Ahn."

"It's, um, certainly pretty." Tara smiled sideways, brushing some hair behind her ears. "Where'd you find it?"

"On patrol," Buffy said, scratching the chain of her necklace.

"We were up by all those warehouses and stuff. Like where that old computer factory was," Willow said, looking from Xander to Giles and back again.

"You can't just pick up random glowing objects, Buffster! It could be world destroying." Xander pointed at the glowing ball. "Or have cooties."

"Good thing I'm up-to-date on all my shots," Dawn mumbled, only barely holding back a smile. She and Spike shared a sideways glance.

"Any good news from the future?" Buffy ventured. She knew that if it was Dawn or Glory-centric, Spike wouldn't say much in front of the others. But she could at least gauge if they were on to something with this. There was a reason Spike never played poker with her.

"Yes, Spike." Giles turned around, his glasses sliding down his nose a little so he could rock that retro stern librarian vibe. "Do you recognize this?"

Spike sniffed, then rubbed his nose. "Yeah. Saw it once. S'posed to repel Big Bads." Spike flicked his scarred eyebrow when he looked at Buffy. "Useful enough, but dinnt do much last time 'round."

Buffy shrugged. "Figured it was at least worth picking up."

Spike nodded. He pulled a cigarette from his duster pocket and lit up, taking a slow drag. "Every little bit counts."

Xander reached forward, taking the glow-y thing from Giles. "So this gets rid of Big Bads?"

"Somethin' like that," Spike muttered through the cigarette hanging from his lips. "Called it a dagger somethin' or other."

"That's, um..." Tara leaned toward Spike, keeping her gaze on the glow-y thing. "Spike, it's not dagger shaped."

"No offence, love, but I wasn't exactly in the Slayer Sewing Circle last time 'round. Didn't sit here all day and bloody night researchin' with you lot. Mostly was just around durin' brawls, and even that was touch an' go."

"Maybe it's, like an 'Orb of Enlightenment' or something." Willow's tongue caught between her teeth. "Get it? It's got all that light and—"

Xander pitched the glow-y thing over Giles' head. It almost whizzed right between Spike and Dawn, but Spike reached out with one hand and caught it.

"Xander, what the hell?" Buffy spun to him, her eyes on fire. "You could've hurt Dawn!"

"Or Spike!" Anya slapped Xander's shoulder loud enough that the rest of them could hear it.

"First of all," Xander said, holding his pointer finger in Anya's direction, "ow!" Xand ran his hand over his messy hair. "Second of all, Spike said it affects Big Bads. Ergo, it should do something to him. But that was apparently a load of crap."

"Your response to 'this could hurt my boyfriend' is to hurl it at him?" Buffy stuck her hand on her hip, lips drawn tight.

"Aww, you still consider me a Big Bad?" Spike batted his eyelashes. "Harris, you do care."

"Xander, apologize to Spike!" Anya shouted.

Spike dropped the glowing ball on the table and, before he could even finish the next puff on his cigarette, Dawn picked it up.

"Dawn, no!" Buffy screamed.

The ball glowed brighter suddenly, and Dawn's hair whipped up around her like she was stuck in the middle of a tornado or something. Her eyes flashed green. The green light from Buffy's Slayer dream after Adam had been killed. Spike leaned over and grabbed the orb thingy back.

"Hey!" Dawn said. "Why does everyone else get to touch it?"

"'Cause your mother'll chop us all into bite size pieces if she knows you're touchin' mysterious magic whatsits!" Spike shouted back. He slipped the thing into the pocket of his duster.

"Uh, did no one else see that?" Xander asked.

"See what, Xander?" Giles said with a glare.

"We'll just have to go into research mode tomorrow," Buffy said.

"Seriously?" Xander whispered to Anya next to him. "Am I the only one who saw..."

"Tomorrow?" Willow pouted. "But... but it's glowy and all the books are right..." She waved at the walls.

Tara stroked Willow's arm. "It's late, sweetie. Dawnie needs to go to school tomorrow and Buffy's probably tired from patrol."

Buffy yawned for effect.

"Fine," Wills grumbled. "Party poopers."

"We'll come by tomorrow morning?" Buffy looked to Giles for confirmation.

"Quite right," he said. "Uh, first, Buffy and Spike, I could use your help moving something in the inventory room in the basement."

"Right." Spike glided for the basement door.

"For once," Xander said, a huge goofy grin on his face, "it's good to not have superpowers."

XXXXX

Spike smashed his cigarette against the wall as Giles closed the door to the basement, then joined Spike and Buffy downstairs. The Slayer was fidgeting with her garnet necklace and chewing on her lower lip.

"Alright. One of you better start with the explaining," Buffy said. She leaned back against a table.

"Beats the hell outta me," Spike said. He swiped his hand over his gelled hair. He'd never seen Dawn touch the dagger thing last time, and he sure as hell didn't know the kid would react to it.

"Is it connected to Glory?" Rupert removed his glasses, holding his wrist over his closed eyes. "Or is it connected to another demon?"

"Definitely The Almighty Psychotic One." Spike paced, keeping his eyes on the Slayer the whole time, trying to get a sense of what was goin' on in that blond head of hers. She had enough to worry about with her mum. Girl needed to feel like this was all under control. This all needed to be under control. "Last time 'round, we pitched it at her. At Glory, I mean. Slowed her down for a minute, I think. 'Til the bitch crushed it." Didn't want to bring up the BuffyBot, if it could be avoided. Spike regretted having put out his cigarette. He needed something to do.

"Well that seems like a total waste," the Slayer said.

"So if it's connected with Glory," Giles said, slipping the glasses back on, "then, logically, it must be connected with Dawn as well."

"Hence the freaky green eye trick," Buffy muttered. "Wait. Wait!" She stood straight, eyes wide and workin' away at something.

Rupert and Spike tilted their heads at her, as per her instructions, waiting.

"The monks."

"Buffy," Giles said, voice strained, "what about the monks?"

"Those guys who made Dawn, right? That's where I found this. The guy, at the warehouse... He had a brown robe and spoke, like, Latin or something, something Willow could understand. He might be one of those monks, right?"

Giles shook his head and shrugged. "It's certainly possibly."

"And if he had that," Buffy said, pointing to the pocket of Spike's duster holstering the globe, "then it's almost definitely connected to Dawn, right?"

"Buffy, we've established that there's a connection. Especially with Ben having shown up in town."

"What does Ben have to—"

"Never mind," Spike said, waving Rupert off when he opened his mouth. "It's not worth the headache, love, trust me. Just know that this Ben guy's connected to Glory."

"Well, there's a plan!" Buffy picked up a jar of either pearls or teeth. (Spike couldn't really tell in the dark from this far away.) "If he's connected to Glory," she continued, holding the jar to her face and squinting at it, "why don't I just go kick his ass?"

"Buffy, he's human," Giles said. Spike glowered at him. "And, well, Spike saw him at the hospital and discovered he's currently impervious."

The Slayer placed the jar back on the table and rolled her eyes. "Right. Benefits of being besties with a hell god."

Spike giggled. "Oh, you have no idea, pet."

"Do you think the glowing thing can hurt Dawn?"

"It didn't seem that way," Rupert said. "It seemed..."

"The monks," Spike muttered.

"Yes, Spike," Giles scoffed. "We've established the existence and involvement of the monks, and several times over."

"No, Watcher. The monks made the littlest Summers into a real girl. They made the glowing ball. The monks don't want Dawn hurt. It's why they shipped her to the best warrior this world's got to offer. Maybe the thing protects her."

"What, like makes her invisible to the hell bitch or something?" Buffy leaned back against the table again.

"Or gives the bint a helluva headache if she violates her restraining order," Spike offered.

"It's possible," Giles said. "But perhaps we should research before we place it in Dawn's backpack."

"Fine," the Slayer said. "Giles, can you maybe take Dawn home? I think Spike and I should try to get a quick patrol in, make sure there's no other dead monks laying around town."

Giles nodded. He was halfway up the steps when Buffy spoke again.

"And Giles?"

"Yes, Buffy?"

"Make sure she does her science homework?"

Rupert smirked, then continued up the stairs and into the shop proper, closing the door behind him. Spike and the Slayer listened to the voices and footsteps and, when those died out, Spike waited for each heartbeat that didn't belong to his Slayer to vanish from the building.

"Should we cover a couple of cemeteries or the warehouses again, love?"

In a quick blur of white and tan, Spike was tackled against the wall. Buffy's lips were crashing against his, her teeth bruising his lip. Spike reached down and took the Slayer by the shoulders, distancing her from him. He didn't want her to ignore the bad things in her life by gettin' physical with him. He'd been there and bloody played that, and nobody won.

"What's wrong, Summers?"

Her big green eyes welled with tears as she glared up at him. "I need a distraction, Spike. I... It's too much. And you always make me feel safe. I just..."

"Shh. Shh. Kitten, c'mere." Spike wrapped the Slayer up in his arms. He stroked her hair, kissing the top of her head. "Anything you need, you know I'm here. I just don't want you to get lost in that head o' yours, alright?"

"I promise." She snuggled against his chest. "I just need a couple of hours where I'm not worrying about everyone else, where I'm not putting my brain into overdrive trying figure all this out or thinking about the fact that everyone is counting on me not to screw it all up." Buffy sighed.

Spike leaned down and kissed Buffy gently. He spun her about so that her back was against the wall. Then he crouched, lifting the bottom of her shirt and kissing the smooth tan skin of her stomach. He kept lifting the shirt as his lips kissed all along her torso, over her ribs. Finally, when he stood at full height, Spike pulled the white t-shirt over her head, tossing it toward the steps. He kissed Buffy's bare collarbone and shoulder before he felt her small, strong hands on his arms. Spike leaned back as Buffy looked him over. Then she worked her hands under the duster and slipped it off of him effortlessly, sticking the thing on the table next to them. She grinned, stroking his cheek. Spike smiled back, leaning into her touch.

It was just as he was starting to close his eyes that he felt himself flung backwards. Spike growled out of instinct, grabbing the Slayer's wrists before she could make contact with him again. She broke free, wrapping one hand behind his neck and bringing his lips down to hers, kissing him even harder than when they'd started, her tongue driving into his mouth and her hips swiveling against his. She released him from her grasp, just long enough to pin his shoulders against the wooden beam behind him.

"Careful there, Goldilocks," Spike whispered. He bit his lower lip with his canine, admiring the fire in his girl's eyes. Every time he saw her so alive, so vibrant, it was the greatest comfort he could have.

"Careful?" she echoed. Buffy's hands slid down his sides and, in one slow motion, she rolled the black t-shirt up his torso and over his head. "I'm the Slayer. It's not in the job description." She raised herself on her toes, teasing Spike's earlobe between her teeth. "William," she whispered in his ear.

Spike roared and twined his fingers in her long blond hair, taking tight hold. His human teeth clamped over one of Buffy's shoulders. He sucked the skin there, could smell the blood pumping away beneath. Spike pulled himself back. Buffy stood in front of him in nothin' but her bra and jeans. Spike indulged in the sound of her heart racing, the way her breasts moved with her rapid little breaths as her hair spilled over her shoulders.

"Christ, Slayer."

Buffy grinned. She wrapped her arms around Spike's neck and her legs around his waist. One of her hands caressing his back, she kissed him again. Spike could feel Buffy's hand between his skin and the wooden beam, bracing her. The beam creaked and Spike pried his lips away from hers.

"What?" she panted, eyes working overtime to take in his expression.

"Don't want to bring the bloody Watcher's shop down around us." Spike couldn't say he wasn't tempted, but it was one of the less brilliant notions he'd ever had, and he'd had some winners.

"You are so paranoid," Buffy teased. "That could never..."

When Spike averted his eyes, Buffy scoffed.

"No." Buffy detached herself from Spike. "You're totally bluffing. That's never happened to you before."

"Happened to us before. It was an abandoned lot, o'course, and it was only most of the house." Spike ran a hand over the beam. "But I don't exactly want to test these foundations at the moment."

"We..." Buffy's mouth moved without making any words, for a few moments. "We sexed a house into collapsing?"

Spike raised his eyebrow. "Only the once."

"Wow."

Spike circled her, prowling. Buffy didn't let him completely out of her sight for a second, tilting her head toward him as he stood at her back. "What can I say?" he whispered. Spike unhooked her bra, and she let it fall to the floor without protest. He could see her smiling right before he laid a kiss on the top of her spine. "We've always been good together—fightin', shaggin', all of it."

"True." Buffy reached behind her. Spike was caught off-guard when she unbuttoned his jeans, then spun about herself. "I think it's that we're so competitive." Her fingertips grazed his hip, her warmth nearly stinging his cold skin.

"Right." Spike smirked, then sucked in his cheeks. He bent down to slip his jeans off and toss 'em. "Only—"

"What?"

Spike unbuttoned her jeans, watching her shake 'em off her legs. The only piece of clothing between them now was a pair of purple lace panties—Well, and the necklace he'd given her. "I think I might be a bit more competitive than you, pet." Before she had a chance to react, Spike swept his arm along the table behind her, where Buffy'd picked up the jar of pearls before, and sent everything there crashing to the floor. In one fell swoop, he picked the Slayer up and laid her on the table, her legs dangling over the sides.

"You know, even for a vampire, you are such a jerk."

Spike pressed his body all along hers, his thumb stroking the scars of vampire marks on her neck. He lowered his lips toward Buffy's, just barely staying out of reach. "You love it, sunshine. Admit it."

Buffy laughed, then wrapped her legs around his waist. She leaned up and kissed him, hard and desperate. "Fine." Buffy pressed her pointer finger into the center of Spike's chest. "You're damn lucky you're a cute vamp."

"Oh God. Don't let anyone else hear you call me a 'cute vamp,' you airhead!"

"See, I was gonna make an announcement in the papers."

"Cheeky bint."

Buffy stuck her tongue out at him. Spike, keeping his full weight on her, tickled her sides. The Slayer writhed beneath him, playfully slapping his arms.

"No! No tickling allowed!" she shrieked between giggles. Spike took a moment to just enjoy the laughter, to let themselves get lost in each other.