"I wish Buffy were here."

Buffy rushed in, immediately followed by Tara. "I'm here," she announced.

Willow was startled at her friend's entrance. "I wish I had a million dollars." Sheepish as the others checked her and wondered over her bizarre deviation from the problem at hand. "Just checking."

And then all hell broke loose, and not even the quick grope Spike was able to get as Buffy was tossed on top of him was enough to get her to even look at him. He'd need to do something else, something big. Something monumental.

Something that could show her he was changing, even if it was the slowest bloody process in the world and one he was kicking to an inch of its existence. Wasn't like he wanted to change, wanted to become less of who he was. But loving a girl like the Slayer—like Buffy—really did a number on a fella's head.

Then he was confronted with this challenge—almost like his worst nightmare. Bloodied victims lying around the Bronze, some still caught under the building's debris from when the troll had decided to wreak a little damage. At first it made his nostrils twitch and Spike started looking for the ones that bled the most. But once he reached them, something else came over him and he found himself not wanting to lick up their life, refusing to let himself waver and have a little taste.

He felt something move inside his chest as he stuffed someone's jacket under a woman's head, her moaning a clear indicator of her pain. And he could almost feel something.

"What are you doing?" Buffy asked him, and he thought it was a good distraction from the confusion of his actions.

"Making this woman more comfortable." He looked up at Buffy and felt hope. If this change he could feel occurring—the one that twisted his insides and made him feel a little sick—could help him with Buffy, then, well, it still left him feeling a little queasy. "I'm not sampling, I'll have you know," he told her with a quick darting glance around the room. Hmmm, Harris appeared to be missing with the two Scooby birds. And just as he was starting to actually enjoy the little interaction he'd been involved in. "Just look at all these lovely blood-covered people. I could, but not a taste for Spike, not a lick. Know you wouldn't like it."

He could see the distaste on her face as she curled a lip. It infuriated him. Wasn't like he could help that he was now toothless, at the mercy of humans and a slayer as well. All he wanted was a bit of credit for making an effort. So what if Rupert had twaddled something about opportunity and he'd flung it back in the silly old git's face. Now he was living it. Changing against his desire. Against his commonsense.

"You want credit for not feeding on bleeding disaster victims?" Buffy asked, her voice dripping with incredulity and disgust.

Would it kill her to see the good in what he was trying to do? Did she even have a clue how monumental this was for him?

"Well, yeah."

"You're disgusting." And she made to trounce off, leaving him in festering anger that he could hardly take out on anyone.

"What's it take?" he sighed as he tried to help the woman lying injured on the floor some more. Then he just forgot about the silent martyr routine and decided to make her understand. "Don't you walk away, Slayer. Tell me, just what does it take? Do you even know how hard it is to resist the stir of the demon inside me and try and protect these people instead of trying to feed on as much of their blood as I can? Is there enough heart inside you to even get it?"

He could see the confusion clouding her eyes and despite everything, he felt a little sorry for her. She didn't. It was as plain as day. She didn't see him, let alone see him in his struggle against his nature. She was trained to kill the vampires, not fraternise with them, even if they were as harmless as little kittens.

"Forget it. Where'd you send the whelp?" As boring as his nights were, if he was on the way to some monumental change, he may as well follow the one in the group who was entirely bloody hopeless in looking after himself and anyone else. At least he'd be likely to get a laugh out of it.

"He went to follow the troll. Willow and Anya went back to the Magic Box to find a spell to send the troll back wherever it came from." It was obvious that he'd shocked her with his confrontation, but other than throw another tantrum, he'd lost interest in dealing with it. And she'd treated her friends like honey to the bee and they were now defenceless. He couldn't stop it when he felt his eyes roll.

"Well, that was a smart move. Bet the troll never thought of following the witch that's trying to send him back, or the ex-girlfriend that turned him into a beast in the first place. What did Harris ever do to you?" He couldn't even be bothered waiting for her usual arguments, wasn't in the mood for her witless wittiness.

He left her with her jaw hanging open and a club full of patrons to tend to. For some reason he felt a sincere need to go and make sure her friends were alright. Even if it had never occurred to her that it might be necessary.

It didn't even feel wrong that he utilised vamp speed—something he rarely did these days—simply to get to the Magic Box that little bit quicker to prevent the usual carnage that followed Harris and his little tribe of women.

He came to an abrupt halt at the door of the shop, almost giddy that he'd been right. There was the troll, and Harris and the beginnings of the mess. An out of control witch and a meddling, vindictive ex-vengeance demon. Not that any of them looked like they were having any fun, except for maybe Olaf the Troll. Spike grinned—until the troll caught Harris and had his hand in a backward twist, trying to make him choose which girl he got to save. Bloody hell, the great oaf was going to break the boy's wrist.

And that just wasn't on. Red had smarts, was bloody useful in a fight even if you did have to watch your step and make sure you didn't end up in some scary dimension where they didn't have all their limbs, or where living in trees was the norm. As for the other, the born again shopkeeper, she was a bit of all right. Bit annoying on occasion, but she spoke her mind and he liked that. Amongst a group that was all about the doom and gloom and keeping it all under wraps until it blew up in their face, she was like a refreshing little sun shower. Yeah, she didn't really deserve to die. She was human now, after all. And besides, no man should ever be forced to choose between his mate and his woman. And Harris was the last one on earth who could even manage it.

"Oi, get your stinky bleeding mitts off the boy. He's just another sucker like you. Why don't you fight someone that can actually defend themselves? Or does it make you feel all manly breaking the bones of a poor little boy that's barely bigger than your thigh?"

It was a risk; Spike knew it. Not like he was bloody blind along with toothless. He'd seen the thumping big hammer, and he nearly goggled in jealousy. Nobody gave him any big manly weapons like an enchanted hammer.

"You! But you are not human. Why would you seek to protect these that are unworthy of your importance?"

Spike couldn't help the cocky swagger—his body just fell into as he made his way in from the trashed doorway, nodding his head in agreement. "They aren't, are they?" Then he sobered as he got closer to the seething Harris and he looked the boy in the eye, weathering the fury and obvious desire to dust him on the spot. "Thing is, these human's are loyal, and they've helped me a time or two over the years. An' let me give you a tip for free. You don't wanna go messin' with the Slayer's friends. Big no no in this town, mate."

"You will not talk me out of hurting these humans. Anyanka must pay for what she has made me become." The troll was nothing if not determined.

"Yeah, right. 'Bout that. Girl's human after being immortal for over a thousand years. Plus, she's hooked up with Harris. You don't think that's punishment enough?"

Xander looked like he didn't know whether to be grateful for the attempt to free him, or furious at how Spike was attempting to free him.

Olaf looked like he was considering the vampire's words, letting his crushing grip on Xander's hand go as he quickly swung his hammer at Spike and knocked him across the room. Xander winced even as he ran to hide behind the counter, cowering just as well as Willow and Anya, if not better. He quickly checked them over, heaving a great sigh of relief that they only had small wounds, then elbowed Will to get with the spell finding and casting.

When he finally looked up—having blocked out the loud crashes of the shop being destroyed right in front of them—Spike was looking a lot worse for wear. Buffy had finally rushed in, and Xander was almost ready to beg her to save Spike before that hammer made his brain turn to mush. Losing Spike now would make that whole metamorphosis into pool shark a whole lot more difficult, considering he was only just learning how to play from the bleached wonder.

"Look out," he called in impulse and Spike's eyes went wide before he hit the deck, knocked senseless and now sprawled over broken glass and splintered wood. Xander could just see the bruises under a flood of blood and Spike looked so uncomfortable in his unconsciousness that he was willing to bet the pet vamp had a few broken bones. But at least he'd managed to stall the big guy and protect Xander's body parts until Buffy showed up.

Except now things weren't so with the good for her either. The hammer seemed to wipe out any attempt to take the brute down, and despite calls to Buffy to separate him from his own hammer; she still managed to get pummelled.

Spike made a murmured protest as he wakened; hearing more carnage around the shop despite his own blessed stillness. Which must mean someone else was getting the stuffing beaten out of them. He launched himself unsteadily to his feet, one side of his head feeling very sticky and hurt like a bitch. When he saw Buffy take a knock from the all powerful hammer, he got a mite pissed off.

Spike stumbled over to the girly brigade and hissed them to hurry with the spell mixing. Willow called for distraction, pushing Anya forward, despite her protests of being able to distract the troll enough from Buffy.

"Bloody hell, just piss him off." Spike was getting concerned with the number of times bloody big Olaf was connecting with his slayer.

"I don't know how," she objected, suddenly shy in the face of something she'd been an expert at for centuries.

"Anya, I have faith in you. There is no one you cannot piss off," Willow confirmed in obvious delight.

The ex-demon grinned in obvious pleasure at the compliment and began her assault.

"Hallej-bloody-lulljah," Spike expressed in relief, his beaten body slipping down to the floor as the witch went about mixing ingredients.

"Hey Olaf! You're as inadequate a troll as you were a boyfriend!"

Harris caught his eye and they both cringed in agreed discomfort. "Ouch," was heard in unison as Anya checked back for approval, a big smile overtaking her face. Spike nodded and gave her a thumbs up. Particularly when he saw Buffy get in a shot and make the overly large ox rethink his strategy.

"Uh, y-you're hairy, and unattractive, and even women trolls are put off by your various odours."

Spike hid a smirk even as he heard Red finally fire up behind him and start her incantation, hoping to hell it would get rid of the blighter and he could curl up amongst the debris and heal. Then his eyes hurt as he stared at the troll holding Buffy by the neck and preparing to thump her with the hammer. Spike pushed himself to his feet again, ignoring as best he could the agony that came with the effort.

"Your menacing stance is merely alarming!"

And then the hammer hit and Buffy went flying, Spike feeling her pain almost like he'd been beside her and took the blow as well.

"And your roar is less than full-throated!"

"Desist! My god, woman, it's been a thousand years, and yet you are as aggravating and emasculating as ever you were."

Spike had almost made it to Buffy during the distracting conversation, almost relieved that good ol' Olaf managed to get the bird to shut her trap for a mo as her insults were a tad on the itchy male castrating side.

Thank God for the witch and her magicky efforts.

"Vola cum viribus, dominum tuum nega. Vola!"

Spike almost gave an elated whoop as the hammer glowed a lovely fluorescent green and jolted out of the chubby hands that had held onto it.

"Thank bleeding Christ. Well done, Red." Spike was relieved to see Buffy jump to her feet, bear down on the troll with confidence vibrating around her.

"So, your power's in your hammer?" And promptly got belted across the store, to land next to Harris and right where Spike HAD been minutes earlier. He felt like an old man trying to make his way across the floor.

"Oh, yeah! I forgot he still has all that troll strength," Anya confided almost embarrassed, a condition she didn't succumb to very often.

Spike felt his eyeballs on constant spin cycle as they rolled again and again to the antics of these people he'd sought help from. He could just see where this was going. They were all tired, seemingly defenceless against the strength of Anyanka's ex. Spike was bloody exhausted and a little pissed at what he'd willingly put himself in the middle of.

Then the giant git was mouthing off again and Spike was getting pretty fed up with it. With being beaten up, with being treated like he was less than the evil master vamp he was. It just wasn't right; it wouldn't do.

"You shall all die! I will dispense no mercy now!" Olaf preened as the human's seemed to quake from the threat, but Buffy stepped forward and punched him in the face a bloody brilliant three times and then twisted his arm behind his back. Pity she couldn't hold it there as the troll spun her once again across the room.

"What are you fighting for, minuscule blonde one? Your friends? These two?" he asked, chuckling as he pointed out Xander and Anya. "They will never last."

Spike saw Buffy's lip begin to wibble and he felt like smacking the lot of them. Didn't she know that the git had worked out her weakness in seconds flat and was aiming to wipe the floor with her bloodied body?

"Anyanka is very difficult to live with, and he..."

Again Spike felt like groaning as Buffy's eyes were drawn to Harris being mollycoddled by two women.

"He's ludicrous and far too breakable. Their love will never last." And Olaf was finished, feeling very proud as the Slayer seemed to get teary before his eyes.

"Oh for God's sake, Slayer. Pull yourself together and knock his bloody big block off. Those two are way too nuts to do anything but stay together. Don't compare everything to your dumb relationship with Soldierboy. It was doomed from the getgo."

Spike was proud as he saw her bottom lip straighten out and her eyes get all flinty and pissed off. Now he'd see some action, and he ducked as Olaf came close to squishing him like a bug as Buffy set to grinding his bones into the floor. Spike could feel his chuckle rise in his throat, one that felt rather abused come to think of it. Pretty much like the rest of his body. Then he was feeling the pressure on all his bones as he lost concentration and ended up beneath the clod, hoping that not every single one of his bones was now busted to pieces. His head cracked into the floor, and Spike was again out for the count.

Willow opened her mouth, about to finish the last of the incantation when Buffy looked alarmed and shouted to 'wait'.

"Maybe we should get Spike out from under him in case he accidentally gets sent along with Olaf. Don't think they'd wake up on the friendly side of the situation." Buffy started tugging the unconscious troll enough to see that Spike looked thoroughly trashed by his earlier encounter with the beast.

Xander was on the brink of asking where the bad was in sending Spike to some unknown place, and then remembered the broken wrist Spike probably saved him from, and saw the thrashing he probably would have received if Spike hadn't swooped in in the nick of time. He quickly made over to help Buffy get the vamp out of his predicament.

As soon as they were free and enough distance away, Willow opened her mouth and banished their night's entertainment to somewhere that was elsewhere.

"Let the transposition be complete." Willow heaved a huge sigh of relief as the enormous figure just wasn't there anymore, and prepared to accept the many thanks…that weren't so with the coming. She pouted, though remained in high spirits about her accomplishment. Well, the second half of it. Not so much with the releasing the rather violent troll, but yay points for removing him. Maybe?

"Where did you send him?" Buffy asked, her interest already waning as she took in the bloodied and gory mess that was Spike.

There was talk, of special troll dimensions and the hope that he'd actually ended up there like Willow and Anya had intended. But Buffy couldn't take her eyes off Spike, couldn't get his words from earlier out of her head.

As much as she hated to admit it—and as gross as it still was—he did deserve points for not feasting on the disaster victims. He'd been forced to go against his nature ever since he sought them out on Thanksgiving for help. This far into their non-evil association and he was actually trying; changing before their eyes and with no acknowledgment or encouragement.

She almost felt ashamed.

Before she could turn her back with a shrug of 'oh well,' he moaned. Unconscious and yet the pain reached him enough to result in an audible burst. And she couldn't ignore why he'd been hurt in the first place. She could shun the look on his face as he tried to help that woman, appealing to Buffy like a dog desperate for praise for not digging holes in the backyard. She could see that as a pathetic attempt for attention, especially as he went to the trouble of pointing it out to her. But this…

She couldn't deny that he'd come here solely because she'd been so thoughtless of the danger she'd put her friends in and sent them into battle without any strategy or weapon. He'd become their weapon. Used himself to batter away the pudgy troll hand before it managed to pulp Xander to death, diverted attention from Anya and Willow so they could find the right spell and start the process of getting rid of the oversized damage-bound troll.

He'd saved her friends—maybe not their lives but certainly from a lot of pain. Taking the brunt hadn't done him any favours, now resembling sausage mince himself. So it was up to Buffy—to show gratitude and actually have a heart. Like he'd requested.

"Xan, can you help me get Mr. Hero here back to his crypt?"

Without argument Xander was beside her, getting ready to take Spike's feet as Buffy hefted the vamp under the arms. And they began their long trek to the cemetery in silence.

"What he did—it was pretty cool, you know?" Xander wouldn't meet her eyes as he spoke, instead staring at the dirty black boots he was trying to not touch too much as he helped transport dead weight from the shop to a crypt.

Likewise, Buffy kept her eyes down, hoping that she could rely on her spidey senses to tell her if anything crept up on them from behind and hoping slayer reflexes would keep her from crashing into anything on the way.

"Yeah. Never really thought Spike would go out of his way for any of us, but least of all you. He seemed to head out specifically after you though, thought I'd sent you out as bait. I-I guess he ended up kind of…right." God it galled her to admit that she hadn't thought of that possibility and was shown up by a vamp.

"I feel kinda guilty," Xander ventured, looking up in the hope she might do the same, even though he absolutely hated what he was saying.

Buffy looked like a deer caught in headlights, and her whole body froze.


"I mean, he's so thrashed. And he really didn't even have to come and do anything. If he was normal Spike he would have just stood in the doorway and shouted oafy Olaf directions on breaking my bones. Instead, he saved my chances of one day fulfilling my dream of being a brain surgeon." He grinned as he used Spike's body as leverage to get Buffy moving again, wondering what this guilt meant with each step closer to the vamps home.

"You feel guilty? So, you…think he might be trying and we just kinda missed it with the whole 'Spike evil, Spike bad' thing?" Buffy held her breath, hardly knowing why but guessing their whole belief system in regards to Spike might be about to be pounded hard with something akin to the troll hammer.

"Yeah, I think he might be. I mean, it must be kind of hard for a vamp to do that around us. If he ever asked for help or advice about how to go about something, we'd probably laugh at him and tell him he's evil and what's he trying to prove. But it's been his nature to murder and hunt and feed for a century. To now have his life amongst humans that treat him worse than an ugly bug…I mean, we're not even friendly. Ever. Must make it kind of lonely for him. But being surrounded by us all this time; must be altering him in some way, right? I mean, the guy came to my rescue. He made sure ugly troll guy didn't hurt any of us while he got uber squashed." He stopped, took a breath, and looked at Buffy expectantly.

Buffy's eyes goggled at the speech, wondering at that earlier attitude that easily brushed over his efforts, more than happy to see them as gross and disgusting if he needed to make sure she knew he was refraining from feeding on the bleeding casualties of troll warfare.

"He's gonna need blood to heal, isn't he?" Xander asked, and Buffy really wasn't liking that thoughtful look that was furrowing his brow.

"Stop right there, Guilt Boy! Don't even say what I think you're gonna suggest or I'll kick you all the way home."

Xander actually half-pouted and Buffy looked at him in semi-shock. They continued on in silent contemplation until they had to stop for the closed wooden door of the crypt. Buffy kicked it viciously with her foot and grinned; satisfied that something in her day was still working like it always had. They ended the trip with putting him on the stone sarcophagus, Buffy not even looking at him as her eyes grew wide and incredulous as Xander appeared to start rolling up his sleeve.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, her voice cracking in desperate reaction. She didn't wait for his answer, just shoved a stake in his face and pushed him to the door.

"But Buff, he needs something to help him heal," Xander wheedled as he windmilled his way to a stop in the doorway.

"No worries, Xan. I'll fix him all up." One final thrust and Buffy dislodged her friend and pushed him out into the night, banging the door closed behind him.

She found herself back at Spike's feet, watching him as he lay there looking deader than dead, and wondering what the hell she was going to do. She'd half promised to replace Xander as Spike's blood cow, and why didn't that thought gross her out more than it seemed to?

Buffy looked at her wrist almost angrily, rolled her eyes and rolled up the sleeve. She stared at the unmarred skin almost reproachfully, almost blaming cells that had no grey matter. In a burst of resignation, she left his feet and went looking for something sharp, returning with a suspect looking flick knife. She stood closer to his head, eyeing the blade as she placed it close to the vein in her wrist. Just before she was about to sink it into her skin, he spoke and startled her into dropping it.

"What in bleeding hell are you doing, Slayer?" He was angry, despite the weakness evident in his voice.

"I owe you," Buffy answered, ducking down to retrieve the knife and about to try the cutting of the skin again.

"Too right you owe me. Insulted me an' all tonight. Think I deserve a bit more than your impersonal wrist, though." He attempted to leer at her neck, but the pain of his crushed bones made him wheeze from the effort, his eyes crossing in pain.

"You're joking, right? What, you want me to donate my neck to the cause? Give a neck to the soulless yet redemptive vamp 'cause he took one for the team?'" Could he get any more unbelievable tonight?

But then she looked at his lips and Buffy nearly fainted from the pounding beat her heart started thumping to. It wasn't like she hadn't done it before, despite the fact that it nearly left her dead and in hospital. But Spike wasn't poisoned out of his mind, so maybe it wouldn't end up in tragedy.

"W-will you be able to stop?" She could have slapped herself for the small strain of vulnerability she couldn't help but let seep into her voice, her eyes drawn to his and feeling calmed and reassured at the humane blue that he watched her with.

Spike tilted his head to the side best he could while he lay slightly mangled on the flat stone surface and watched the fear on her face, finding for the first time that its existence did not move him toward the kill.

"I'm not Peaches, Buffy. I might need to heal but I know when to stop."

"And that's not when I'm dead on the floor, right?" Because she just couldn't stop with the natural balk of having a vampire at her neck, despite knowing that they owed him. That she owed him.

He looked at her like she'd insulted his vampy manhood.

"Alright already, just stick 'em in and get it over with." Buffy stopped dead at her words, feeling her heart escalate even more. "I mean your fangs. Do the sucking evil thing so I can get home." She stood at his head and looked to the side, brushing her hair from her neck and shaking on her feet.

He roughly cleared his throat and the erotic tone made her body shudder. "Um, pet? Might want to bend down a little so I can reach. Feel kind of kittenish, what with being turned to mush by your mate's ex."

Buffy blushed, feeling embarrassed for not thinking how his injuries left him far from zippy and energetic—which is why she was doing the juicy neck thing in the first place.

"What should I do then?" she asked, almost hoping he'd say to forget the whole thing so she could rush out of there and stop thinking how this moment was making her blood feel extra hot.

"Get up here, Slayer." He weakly patted the stone at his side and grinned as Buffy heaved a very deep put upon sigh and climbed up on the sarcophagus, groaning when the lack of room gave her no option but to straddle him.

Her skin flushed red hot when his hands took a weak grip around her waist as he positioned her more comfortably against him, pulling her slowly down to rest on his crotch. He felt so crushed that he couldn't even be buggered that she was sitting hard on his erection. He ignored the almost livid colour of her cheeks as his bruised fingers slid up under the fabric of her shirt.

"Wh-what the hell are you doing?" she protested, the majority of the power of it missing as she took a very deep breath, stealing herself against the coolness of his touch.

He pulled her closer to his body, lowering her as he slid his fingers over her ribs, stopping with enough room for his thumbs to rub the goosepimples under the delicious weight of her breasts.

"No point making it all impersonal, pet. Now come here." And his breath on her throat raised her flesh, making her almost eager to feel his tongue as it stroked and prepared a spot on her vulnerable skin. He took a mouthful and sucked, scraping blunt teeth over it as his hands moved further up and cupped her breasts. His fangs dropped and he pierced her throat slowly, his hips lifting slightly as his fingers curled over the edges of her bra cups and tugged them down, lifting her nipples out of the protection until they were exposed to his squeezing finger and thumb.

She moaned her pleasure and he finally let his fangs slip into her all the way, almost fainting as the power of her blood exploded in his mouth, his tongue over-sensitised to the treat of slayer blood once again. This had a different flavour though; a different meaning and he took care in the volume of gulps he took down his throat. This blood told him a story—of devotion, of loyalty, of love that was more than overwhelming when directed wholeheartedly.

And he wanted it directed at him. If being good was what he would have to do, then he was going to be the most white-hatted, house-trained and slayer-whipped vamp in the history of demons.

It meant he had to stop, release the heaven of her essence so she could recover. He could feel the heat of her skin almost light his hands to burning. Could feel her ragged breaths as they made her body shake and shiver. He could feel the strength of her arousal by the grinding against his pelvis, and he never wanted it to stop. The only way to ensure that it wouldn't, was to let her go for the night.

Let her go home and think about what she'd allowed, what she'd given.

And realise she was free.

And he'd be right there waiting.