Put it all on me. Yeah, brilliant fucking idea there, William. Encourage the depressed supergirl with a history of projection and violence towards your nose to use you as a punching bag. Maybe not number one on your list of all-time stupids -- falling in love with said supergirl likely having a permanent place at number one -- but it ranks, mate. It ranks. And in case you hadn't noticed? It's almost dawn, and you can't move. Edging up the charts there, isn't it?

It was definitely ranking up there on his Buffy beatings; nice to know his girl didn't need any assistance from a pipe organ to make Vampire Smoothie with extra lumps.

Your girl? Weren't you listening? As signals go, that was rather un-mixy, don't you think?

Hell, now he was even thinking in her brutal-massacre-of-English sub-language. Had he said he was drowning in her? What an utter crap verb choice -- vampires couldn't drown. Should have said he was sunbathing in her, or...

If that bitch had broken his back again, he was gonna...

Do what? Buy her flowers? You're her lapdog and you know it, ponce.

"Well," a low voice chuckled from somewhere behind him. "I gotta say... the new look suits you."

So that's it. She's dusted me, and I'm in hell.

"If it isn't Captain Cornfed, back from the jungle. An' I'd so hoped you'd gotten malaria. Do a hostile a favor and stake him, yeah?"

"It's nice to see you again too, Spike."

"Look, mate, think the suck-house is a few blocks down. If you'll just piss off, I'm busy workin' on my tan here."

"I can see that." And there he was, looming over him like a camoflauge prime steer. "Up you go."

Oh no. No, he isn't...

And yes, yes he was... Spike found himself rising through the air, flung over Riley's linebacker shoulders in a way that made his broken ribs grind together most unpleasantly.

"Ow! Bloody hell! You're not carryin' me over your shoulder like a sack of potatoes!"

"Oh, I don't know. Gotta carry you somehow, right? And this way's more humiliating."

"Put me down, you pillock!"

"Sorry, Spike. Fun as it would be to watch you dust, I think rescuing you might actually be just a little bit worse for you. Oh, and hey -- don't blame yourself for the body washing up. It didn't so much wash up as get dragged out of the river after you left by someone who watched you dispose of it. It was nice work, though. You've still got it, man."

Spike's face bounced painfully against the small of Riley's back. "Just realized -- think I actually hate you more than Angelus. Didn't think that was possible. Good on you."

"See, this is why you're fun to rescue. None of that boring, repetitive 'thank you' stuff that gets so old."

"You hate me."

"Well... yeah."

"So what the bleedin' hell you doin'? Told me once you'd stake me if I ever touched Buffy... and hate to break it to you, mate, but I've touched her all right. Many times, many ways, some of which are probably still illegal in this state..."

"I'm aware of your relationship with Buffy. My team's been in Sunnydale for a week, tracking a Suvolte demon... and you two aren't exactly subtle."

"Managed to keep it nice n' quiet from the Scooby Club..." Spike said bitterly.

"It's easy to hide things from people when they don't want to see them."

"Look, where are you takin' me? You army buggers tired of just havin' a chip in my head, now you want to shove one up my..."

"I'm taking you back to your crypt. Do you have blood there, or should I stop and get you some?"

"Have you been replaced with a hulkin' pod-person? Should I be on watch for Donald Sutherland?"

"I feel a little sorry for you, Spike. I didn't think I was even capable of it, but there you go."

"Sorry for me? What are you on? Look, soldier-boy, I don't..."

"To be that close to her and not have her. To be all alone, even when you're holding her. Feeling her, feeling her beneath you... isn't that what you said?"

"Said a lot of rot back then," Spike growled.

"And now you're the one," Riley continued in the same pleasant tone. "You think I haven't kept up with what's been going on here? You got my job. The guy who worships her, who'd do anything for her. The one she keeps on call and pushes away when she's done with you, takes whatever she can dish out and just keeps on coming back for more. Dependable backup. Convenient."

Spike was silent, and Riley let out a little angry chuckle. "Struck a nerve, huh? I guess she's a little more open about it with you, since you're evil and all."

"I'm not havin' this soddin' conversation."

"Well... you're in luck. We're here." Riley kicked open the crypt door, hauling Spike inside and laying him somewhat gently across the sarcophagus. "Place looks nicer than I remember."

"Yeah, well, got some decoratin' tips from that episode of Martha where she raids the dump. She makes fetchin' Easter wreaths out of old pizza boxes, tune in sometime."

"Right. Got a fridge, comfy-looking chair, clutch of Narvlex demon eggs incubating in the basement..."

"Holdin' those for Clem. You know damn well that..."

"Narvlex demons are harmless? Yes, I know." Riley paced the crypt casually, studying a bank of candles. "Look, if we haven't found the Suvolte in a week or so, I'm going to ask for Buffy's help... and you're going to be surprised to see me, okay?"

"Suppose I could do that." Spike touched his ribs experimentally, letting out a groan. "Look... serious now, why the hell you helpin' me? Never been any love lost there... last time I saw you, you staked me."

"Yeah... I was mad. Really mad. Buffy was everything, she... she was so bright, I couldn't see anything else. Did I tell you that I'm married now?"

"Mazel tov," Spike drawled.

"Sam is... Sam is great. She loves me, y'know? All of me. Really understands me, cares about me... lets me care about her, care for her. It's a wonderful feeling. And I never would have given her a second glance if Buffy had been anywhere around."

"Stop it, farm boy, I'm mistin' up here."

"So you see, Spike... you did me a favor. Sure didn't look like one at the time, but everything I have... a wife I adore, a job I love, a life that really works for me... in a way, I owe it all to you. I was on a downward spiral, and you were the one who yanked me out of it."

"So you yanked me out of the tannin' booth. Ta, mate. Back you go on the Christmas card list. Best of luck on your blessed union, many happy sprogs, now bugger off."

Riley smiled, heading for the door of the crypt. "Sure thing. Just remember, Spike... you did me a really big favor in the end."

Spike made a noise that was half-growl, half-grunt, and Riley shut the crypt door behind him, stepping out into the cemetery.

"A really big favor," Riley sighed into the night. "And Spike? I'm going to repay it."

THE END