Author's Note: Apologies for the delay with this chapter. I evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. I've had limited computer time and internet time since then, and RL has been up in the air and likely will be for a while. So, I do apologize. Enjoy the chappie:o)

Setting Up House

Fifteenth, Learn from the Neighbors

Spike didn't tell me goodbye.

He didn't even show up to say good luck on our mission to retrieve Faith, and this has resulted in bitchy Buffy. . . bitchy Buffy with a pit in her stomach.

I can't put my finger on exactly why I feel this way.

So far, I've been successful at channeling my irritability in a productive way. The officers at the women's penitentiary had no trouble believing I was the transferring inmate the papers claimed I was, and I was grumpy enough to make up for Fred's meekness and Anya's tendency to over-act and say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Wesley has rigged the cameras, all the officers in our direct route are unconscious, and Xander, Gunn, and I have successfully navigated the stark, white tangle of hallways.

The heavy, paint-chipped door slides away, revealing the bowels of our destination. Swallowing, I take a tentative step onto the prison pod where, according to Wesley, Faith is located. The stale air is warm and ripe with body odor and sweat.

Hovering behind me, Xander and Gunn poke their heads over the threshold. Gunn follows once he sees that some unseen mystical force hasn't zapped me and no officers have magically appeared. Giving me a nod, Xander remains behind to watch for approaching officers.

I push aside thoughts of Spike, advancing only after my eyes adjust to the dim lighting of the pod. My boots clump dully on the concrete floor, and I brandish my tazer as I detect the dark silhouettes crowding around the narrow windows slitting the cell doors.

Peering through the slender openings, I try to discern Faith's recognizable features amongst the crush of unfamiliar faces.

Most of the women show mere curiosity at my appearance, but when they glimpse Gunn, a barrage of whistles, catcalls, curses, and shouts cascade toward us. A tall woman with tattoos covering her arms makes lewd gestures, and I half-jump as another woman lifts her ragged prison shirt to press her bare breasts against the translucent glass. I try not to think about how I'm dressed like them.

Gunn's tall form appears at my shoulder, and he gives me a side-whisper, "Geez. You think these women never saw a guy before."

Continuing to move forward, I give him an ironic smile and try not to stare at the women at the windows. "They probably haven't seen one in a while."

"Just not one that good looking," a familiar voice says.

I halt and focus on the cell that I've almost passed. Before I can remind myself that I'm supposed to be holding a grudge toward the owner of said voice, the corner of my mouth quirks up. "Faith."

"Damn, B. Where'd you find this tall hunk of Hershey goodness?" Faith's eyes rake over Gunn.

"Apparently, she hasn't seen a guy in a while either," Gunn says to me as he fiddles with the cell keys.

I cross my arms and regard my dark-haired counterpart as Gunn works to open Faith's cell. "His name is Gunn."

Gunn twists the thick key in the lock, and Faith ignores me. "Nice name. There must be a story behind it. You'll have to tell me 'bout it sometime."

Raising an eyebrow, he conveys his distrust, "A gun's a weapon, you know. In the right hands, it beats Slayer strength any day of the week."

Faith snorts and plants her hands on her hips as the door springs open. "What're you guys doing here anyway? Breaking me out of jail early isn't exactly letting me get what I deserve. I killed a guy, after all."

I roll my eyes at her. "We'll explain. . . but not here. Just know that your life is in danger, or we wouldn't be doing this."

She regards me evenly. "And I didn't exactly treat you so well either."

I'm unsure how to take her admission. "Don't worry. When we're sure you're safe, we'll be bringing you back here."

Faith's eyes flash as she brushes past me, sleeves of her prison uniform neatly rolled up. "Kind of figured that."

As we're heading back to the rendezvous point, Faith strides in front of me. "So what's going on?"

"You'll find out soon enough." I meet her brown eyes purposefully. "Your. . . our lives are in danger, and we have to keep you safe."

"Who're we?"

"The Slayers. You and Buffy," Xander informs her.

Walking backward, Faith affords Xander a glance. "Oh." Then, her attention is back on me. "So, obviously, Angel knows what's going on, or tall, dark and delicious wouldn't be here with you."

"Hey," Gunn interrupts. "Quit talking about me like I'm not here. I don't know you except for the stories Wes has told me. Never met you. Never want to meet you alone, without a weapon or three."

"Angel's told me about you."

Gunn frowns and grips his tazer. "When?"

Faith raises her hands in annoyance. "When he visits me. He's been doing it once a month for, like, forever now. Don't you guys communicate?"

Before Gunn can reply, I push in, "Angel visits you?"

"Yeah. He does. Never talks much about you though. Wonder why that is?" Faith challenges. "Maybe it's cause he has a life without you now? You do know he has a kid, right?"

"I do. And Faith, I do have a life outside of Angel."

Faith spins back into place beside me as we approach the elevators. She punches the down button. "So how's. . . what's his name. . . ? Roger? Richard?"


"That's right. Riley."

"Bad topic to bring up, Faith." Considering how you slept with him in my body.

The elevator dings, and the doors glide apart.

By the look on her face, I can tell that Faith surmises that Riley is no longer part of my life. She's good at that. "Same old B. Still can't handle an honest discussion about the truth even with someone who is trying to reform."

"And who's in prison and who's not?" Why does she push all of my buttons?

"Yep. Still the same. Probably still trapped by your outdated black-and-white notions about what's 'good' and what's 'bad.' You sure you don't belong in here with me? You got the outfit and everything."

My grip on the weapon in my hand tightens, and all the muscles in my body tense as the pent-up anger and frustration at Spike soars through me. Gunn touches my forearm and sidles between Faith and me.

"I think we should. . . not talk until we get out of here in one piece," he says firmly.

Xander silently colludes by pushing up on Faith's other side.

Faith grins at Xander, who squirms under her gaze. "Surrounded by boys. I'm already starting to feel at home."

Gunn jabs a finger at the control panel. "Get used to it. I'm not gonna take my eyes off of you until you're back behind bars."

"Says the guy breaking me out of prison."

With Faith's attention on Gunn and Xander, I manage to calm my temper; as we ride down the elevator in silence, I wonder. . . is she right? Am I trapped by my own views of what's right and wrong. . . good and evil?

I'm betting I know what Spike. . . and Lorne would say, and suddenly, the urge to see Spike again, to talk with him overrides all else.


I'm the first one through the doors of the Hyperion Hotel.

No Spike.

I was sure he would be the first person I'd see. No matter how mad or hurt he is with me, he's always there when I get in from a mission. He wants to know how it went, even if we retreat to our own corners. . . me to my garlic-laden bedroom, him to his crypt. Well, except for lately, we've been crashing in the same bed.

"Where is Spike?" I enunciate the three syllables, so there's no mistake about what I'm asking.

Angel stands in the dimly lit lobby, cradling his sleeping son against his chest. His wide, dark eyes tell me that he's surprised by my question, but he really shouldn't be. He stares at me anyway, not saying anything.

The door re-opens behind me, so I stride toward him, never removing my gaze from him.

"What happened to your face?" I wonder aloud, taking note of the gash on his cheek and the bright red mark over his right eye that will probably turn into a bruise. Then, I note that he's leaning on the doorframe of the main office and favoring his ankle.

The truth hits me.

"I was right!"

"Right about what?" He's earnest in his confusion.

"I knew you were taking. . ." I'm mindful of the troupe of people filing in behind me, "things way too easily, and it wasn't just to make sure I was understanding about the Connor thing! It was. . . it was so. . ." I can't even say what he's done; I'm that angry with him. I don't ever recall being this angry with Angel. . . except when he tried to kill himself with the sunrise at Christmastime.

"Taking what too easily?" Xander pipes from behind me.

Oh, crap. Xander doesn't need to find out about Spike and me right now, so I ignore the query. "You know what I'm talking about," I say pointedly to Angel, clenching my fists. "Again, I repeat. . . Where. Is. Spike?"

No one speaks until. . .

Faith's voice rises from the silence as she steps up beside me, "Ohhhh. I think I know what's up with you now, B. Now it all makes sense. Something's going on with you and Spike and Angel. If I had to hazard a guess, it probably has something to do with. . . . Hey, is that baby Connor?"

Angel responds with an affirmative.

Saved by the baby. Who knew the little boy was already so powerful?

Faith hurries to Angel's side, and he smiles softly at her. Not bothering to hide the fact that she's monitoring Faith's every move, Cordy meanders up at the same time.

The monopoly I had over the floor evaporates with Faith's intrusion, and the members of the rescue-Faith team pour around me. As Angel, Cordy, and Faith wander to the circular sofa in the center of the lobby, Fred, Wesley, and Gunn head to the main office area where Lorne stands to greet them.

"Can I just say, 'Huh?' Anya, honey? What was Faith talking about? What thing with Buffy, Spike, and Angel?" Xander tails Anya as she leads him toward the staircase.

Anya pauses on the bottom step and faces him, putting her hands on his shoulders. "Nothing's going on with Spike and Angel and Buffy, especially nothing between Spike and Buffy." She catches the alarm on my face, and I rapidly shake my head.

Before Xander has time to process what she's said, Anya hurriedly continues, "We don't have time to worry about them. Right now, I need some rest and relaxation before we start with the spell to help restore the balance between good and evil in the universe that we partly caused by resurrecting Buffy."

"Huh?" is Xander's response.

Anya sighs and kisses him on the forehead before pivoting and dragging him up the stairs. "I need sex."

"Now that's a need I can fulfill." Xander punctuates his statement by jabbing his finger in the air. "Lead on."

"We can play 'cops and robbers,'" she says, suggestively thrusting her hip out at him.

"Oooo. . . I like already."

I sigh in relief.

On the landing, Anya gives me a surreptitious wink, which I acknowledge with a terse smile.

The gang in the office doesn't seem to notice that I'm aiming for them, and Angel's glad I've stopped noticing him. I actually don't mind that everyone's distracted with his or her own stuff.

I have one objective: find Spike.

I lean on the reception countertop, and immediately, Lorne glances up at me from the wall where he's taken to reclining because the desk is overrun by a set of ancient-looking books and scrolls. Wes reads aloud out of one of the books, and Gunn listens intently. With glasses perched on the tip of her nose, Fred takes notes in a wire-bound notebook.

I don't even have to give breath to my inquiry.

Lorne merely says, "His room."

I mouth a "Thank you" at him, which he acknowledges with a nod and lift of his hand. I barely catch Fred looking up from her work to give me a brief thumbs-up sign for good luck. She is way too perceptive for her own good. . . either that or I'm way too obvious.

At least, now I know where Spike is.

I pass Angel on the way to the staircase. Touching his arm as Cordy lifts the baby from his arms, I whisper, "We are going to have a talk about this later."

I don't believe I've ever conveyed that much anger in such a quiet statement.

"Damn, B. I think I'm gonna have to be present for that little conversation," Faith says without glancing my way.

Faith doesn't know it yet. No way in hell will I let her be present for my private conversation with Angel.

"No cussing in front of the baby," Cordy warns.

Angel looks a little panic-stricken. He should be.


Spike's door is cracked, and light from the lamp beside his bed arcs across the shadows in the hall like a tiny beacon beckoning me into his harbor.

My fingers curl around the door, and I poke my head into the room tentatively. My approach is such a contrast to how I normally barge into his space that it feels a little foreign when I gently call his name.


"What do you want, Slayer?" comes the growled response.

At my entrance, Spike swings his legs from where he's been lying on the bed so that his back is to me and the ocean of the bed is between us. Not that I don't deserve his distance.

"Are you okay?" I step into the room like I'm an intruder, shutting the door with a low click behind me. I mentally note the suitcase open on the bed, my clothes in a neat pile on the nearby dresser top, and his packed into the half-empty cavern.

"No, but I don't want you in here, so go away." He sounds so defeated, and my heart aches at the way his shoulders slump.

I climb atop the disheveled bed covers and crawl across the bed to him, balancing my chin on his left shoulder. My knees press into his lower back. "Since when do I ever listen?"

"And now you touch me." Spike's words are softer, and he turns his head briefly to peek at me, a flash of blue catching my eye. I note the tears in his wrinkled black T-shirt and the scratches on his arms. Spike's blood isn't flowing, but as with Angel, I can tell where bruises will eventually form under his pale skin.

Bringing my arms and legs around his midsection as though I were a monkey, I hold his larger frame against my own, pressing my cheek against his back. "Yeah? I guess I am."

He doesn't say anything, but his body slowly relaxes, tense muscles unfurling when I don't move away.

"I'm sorry. . . again. See? Buffy can apologize when she wants to."

He laughs, and I enjoy the rumble of mirth in his chest. "More than once, too, eh, pet?"

"Uh huh." I nod so that he can feel the movement.

Ever mindful of how I'm doing, he asks, "How did it go? From the way you're acting, I take it that picking up the Faith bint was a rousing success."

"Fine as it can be where Faith is concerned. Angel seems convinced that she's changed, but I have my doubts."

"It bothers you that he trusts her," Spike observes, taking one of my hands in his.

"After what she pulled when she woke up from her coma, yeah, I don't trust her, and I think Angel's a fool for having so much. . . well, faith in Faith."

Spike's thumb strokes my palm. "What happened?"

I thought he knew. "You don't know?"

"Knew that she woke up from her coma and that she had it in for you. Ran across Rupert and Harris when they were out searching for her." The small laugh returns. "Think I might've told them that if I found her first, I'd tell her right where you all were, so she could kill you all."

I lift my head, but I don't pull away. I've done enough of that. I can still protest though, and I do. "Hey!"

"That was all before. . . I chose. . ." He doesn't finish his sentence.

In a sudden motion, he twists and brings me around to sit in his lap. His shoulders aren't slumped anymore, and his sapphire eyes search my face with an intensity that makes my heart pound. His hands settle around my hips, and my uncertain hands land on his chest.

"Pet, do you honestly believe I would hurt you or yours?"

I open my mouth, but nothing comes. Taking in the evident cuts and scrapes on his face and bare arms, I glide unsure fingertips over each wound. With unblinking eyes, he watches me studying him.

He takes my chin in his hand and guides my gaze into his. "You know, love, that I wouldn't. That's my choice. . . my conscious choice. As long as you breathe. . . hell, even if you. . . stop again, I'll abide by my choice."

I'm not sure what to say. . . I'm not sure I'm ready to completely believe him. Good, bad, soul, no soul. . . how solid are the concepts in my head? Not very. In fact, they're kind of fuzzy around the edges, and they're getting fuzzier the more I get to know Spike.

Maybe I need glasses.

I don't want to confuse him by saying I believe him and by then questioning him further, so I say, "I'm mad at Angel."

He seems satisfied that I've let him say his piece, so he follows my change of subject. "What for, love? For having Connor with Darla?"

"Actually, for hurting you."

"Oh." He's stunned for a second.

My next words snap him out of it, "What happened anyway?"

Spike shrugs. "Was mindin' my own business when he attacked me." I'm skeptical, and Spike can tell, so he adds, "Well, maybe I did provoke him a little. Not even sure who threw the first punch. Things got a bit out of hand after that. You could probably tell from the state of the lobby."

"Um, no. It was spotless." And it had been. The blank expression on Angel's face must have been a mask for guilt. If anyone knows anything about managing guilt, it's Angel.

"Oh. They must've cleaned it up then."

"He knows," I insert before I realize what I'm saying.

"Knows about what?"

"You and me. Us," I emphasize.

"Figured he would." Spike gives me a self-satisfied smirk.

"You jerk!" I lean back and propel myself forward so that we both fall back onto the bed, me over him. He grunts on the impact, and my face comes dangerously close to his. I'm half-tempted to hit him and half-tempted to kiss him. He acts for me, rubbing his nose against mine.

The gesture is so familiar. . . so intimate that I unintentionally balk.

Is this how things are supposed to be with Spike? Is this how I want things to be with Spike?

To distract him from my shifting thoughts and emotions, I shove at the suitcase near his hip. "Were you leaving?"

He pushes on it, too, and keeps his tone casual. "Thought about it."

"Don't go. Please." I'm relieved that my words come out as statements and don't sound like I'm begging.

"Buffy. . . ," he whispers as my legs tighten around him.

I cut his speech short by bringing my lips over his and kissing him with all the tenderness I allow myself to muster. He hesitates at my kindness but then responds by kissing me back, lips pressing into mine, sending blood rushing through my veins in my growing excitement. His hands re-find and grip my waist as my hips and legs begin to move of their own accord, and he audibly groans as my lips leave his so that I can catch my breath.

"Pet," he manages, "you do know where we are?"

Nodding, I slide my fingers into his jeans and tug up on his shirt, my bare fingertips slipping over his naked abdomen. I hold his gaze with my own. "I know what I'm doing." I strip the bit of clothing over his head and raised arms and then sweep off the top of my prison attire.

"I'm making a conscious decision, Spike." I wiggle my hips over the growing evidence of his arousal.

He smiles at me, a finger dipping beneath the waistband of my pants. "My own little inmate."

I reflect his happy expression with one of my own and continue my ministrations, showing him just how much I want him there with me. . . even on Angel's turf.

To my amazement, I find that for the moment, I'm content that I've cracked the door on the prison of my beliefs about good and evil and overturned the repercussions of running away from him this morning. I've been honest with Spike and myself, and I no longer have a pit in my stomach.

I think I'm going to let myself enjoy things for the next few. . . make that several minutes.

TBC. . .

Thanks so much for all your support and the sweet reviews on the previous chapters! hugs