A/N: Thanks for all your kind reviews! On to the final chapter:


Chapter 4: Reaction
A week passed. Buffy's uneasy alliance with Spike held, and Riley was either lying low or had left town altogether. No one had seen him while patrolling, and Buffy crossed her fingers and hoped that he had left to become someone else's problem. Yes, he was an evil vampire now. She should have no compunctions about staking him out of hand. But she really didn't want to, even now.

Spike was a conundrum. Alternately sarcastic and solicitous, he gave her no clue what to make of him, or any idea about what game he thought he was playing. After a few days of no Riley, Joyce and Dawn had gone back home, and Spike began patrolling with Buffy.

She had to admit that it was nice knowing he had her back. She didn't have to worry about him like she did with Xander and Willow, because he was stronger than they were...and because she didn't really care if he got killed. At least, that's what she kept telling herself as he charmed and infuriated her, sometimes in the same five-minute time span.

Finally, she couldn't take it anymore. "All right, Spike," she said, hands on hips. They were out on patrol, and she turned and confronted him after another remark. "What is this?"

His expression was one of wounded innocence. "What's what?"

"This." She waved her hands around the graveyard. "It's like you're, I don't know, seeking me out to hang with, or something. Shouldn't you be doing, um, vampire things? Whatever it is that vampires do in their spare time? Instead of running around with the enemy?"

Spike hunted his duster pockets for a cigarette. He lit one and looked at her through the smoke. "Nothin' I'd rather do. Not like I can get a job at the local burger palace, and sitting around watching the telly all night gets right dull. I like patrolling with you, Slayer. 'Snever boring, and I can get a spot of violence without windin' up on your bad side." Plus, you're incredibly hot when you're Slaying, he didn't say.

"But..." She took a deep breath. "I've been noticing things. The way you look at me when you think I'm not looking at you. The way you'll do something nice, and then cover it up by saying something nasty. You're not even as mean to Xander as you used to be."

He tilted his head and slouched against a monument. "Not sure you're ready to hear it, Slayer. Not even sure I'm ready to tell you."

"Oh, God." All her suspicions came crashing down around her head. "You think you're in love with me, don't you?"

"What? No! Well..." he said more quietly. "How do you feel about that?"

"Eugh! You're a soulless, evil vampire. How am I supposed to feel about that, Spike? Honestly!"

"What? I can't love you because I don't have a soul? Utter bollocks. I stayed with crazy Dru for a hundred and twenty years. I loved her to distraction. And in case you haven't noticed, I've been a bit less evil lately."

She opened her mouth to say something, then snapped it shut. With the chip not working, he could have unleashed a reign of terror on Sunnydale the likes of which they hadn't seen for years. He hadn't. Point to Spike. "So, you...love me?"

He stared at the ground, dragging hard on the cigarette. "You're all I ever think about. I dream about you. Sometimes I think I'm drowning. I look at you, and I can't breathe. And I don't bloody need to breathe, so that's really an odd sensation, you know?" His voice faded to a whisper by the end. "The chip didn't neuter me. You did."

"Oh." Her legs didn't seem to want to hold her up anymore, and she leaned against a headstone, trying to wrap her brain around this new reality.

"Oh? Is that all you can say? Par for the course, I suppose." He pushed himself upright and flicked his smoke away, still not looking at her. "Guess I'll shove off. Maybe see what me old Grandsire is up to in LA. Unless..." His gaze met hers. "Unless there's a crumb you can throw me. Unless you can say that it's not completely hopeless."

"Spike--I--"

"Well, isn't this a touching scene?" Riley stepped from behind a mausoleum, applauding ironically. Other vampires came out of the shadows, until they were surrounded by eight, including Riley and Harmony. Armed with baseball bats and two-by-fours, they closed in on Buffy and Spike, growling menacingly. All the minions were large and male.

"I've got your back, Summers," Spike said.

She smiled crookedly. "And I've got yours. This discussion isn't over yet."

No time for talking after that. Riley's minions were young and inexperienced, but enthusiastic. Bagging a Slayer would be excellent for their street cred, if they could do it.

The problem was that this Slayer knew her business, and Spike was no slacker. Buffy staked one, after being punched once, and Spike exchanged blows with another before staking him. A third unlucky vampire, between them, found itself on the receiving end of a pair of stakes, one through his chest, the other through his back. Spike appropriated a two-by-four, Buffy grabbed a bat, and they smashed the ends of them across a headstone to make a pair of pretty serviceable stakes, better weapons than the small ones they'd been armed with originally.

"You all right, Slayer?" Spike swung at Harm, who spun out of the way and crashed into one of the minions, sending it into the splintered end of Spike's plank and killing it. A cut on his forehead bled freely.

"Couldn't be better." Another minion met the pointy end of her bat and burst into ashes. She was bruised but unbloodied. "You?"

"Right as rain."

The last remaining minion started for the Slayer, but Riley growled at him. "She's mine. Help Harmony with bleach-head over there." He bared his teeth at Buffy. "You know what? I've figured out what's wrong with you." He swung and missed.

"Yeah?" She aimed a blow at his head with the bat, which he ducked. "What's that, Riley? What's so wrong with me--" She hit him in the ribs on the backswing. "--that you had to go to a skanky vamp ho to get your jollies?"

"Thing is--" He spun and kicked her in the face. "--you're both anal-expulsive and anal-retentive."

"Really?" Her foot smashed into his knee, sending him to the ground. "How so?"

"You have under- and over-control issues." He rolled from side to side, dodging the blows she aimed at him. "Your under-control issues make you pushy and cruel. And your over-control issues make you stingy and stubborn," he said, hooking a foot behind her ankle and sending her crashing down next to him.

"Yeah?" She rolled to her knees and brought her improvised stake up. "You know what your problem is? You're evil." Down came the stake, pinning him to the ground. As he burst into dust, his face unbelieving, she said, "And I kill evil things."

She looked up to see that Spike had dispatched the last minion, and Harmony was running away. The vampire wiped his hands off on his jeans. "Well, that was a bit of all right." He noticed her lip trembling. "Maybe not, then. Buffy, you didn't have a choice there."

"I know." A tear spilled over her eyelid.

"You know that if he'd killed you, he would have gone after your Mum and the Niblet, right? And all your little Scooby friends? He wouldn't have stopped until they were all dead or vamped." He put a hesitant hand on her shoulder.

"I know," she said again. "I had to do it, much as I didn't want to." Heaving a huge sigh, she climbed to her feet, actually using his proffered hand. She half-smiled, sadly, at his surprised expression. "And, Spike? I'll toss you that crumb."

Finis


A/N: The Challenge: Buffy must be nice and non-selfish (NO spells allowed to explain this), Riley MUST prove some of his teaching credentials (ie - not being his usual, dopey self--sorry, Riley fans), and - the hard part - the plot: A big bad threat comes to Sunnydale (quelle surprise!) and Spike is in severe danger with the usual drinkie of the Slayer blood cure - does new, reformed Buffy (a) take this chance to let him die or (b) does she do what she did with Angel-poos? ALSO must feature all of the following: A bar of chocolate in a VERY strange part of Willow's anatomy; those plastic, Christmas reindeer horns; a blood-flavored milkshake; and a cameo role for Drusilla, either in flashback or returning.

And now for some possibly "inside" references. Way back when, a man whose spouse had cheated on him was referred to as having been "fit with a set of horns;" thus Angel's statement that Spike should be wearing the Christmas antlers. It's an old saying, but Angel and Spike would know it. I've also heard rumors that Spike's favorite book was "Alice in Wonderland," which is where the Red King/Alice remark in chapter one came from.

Feedback gives me warm fuzzies.