A/N: Thank you to my betas, and to the wonderful readers who refuse to abandon me.
It was suddenly very apparent to Buffy why Spike paced so frequently. Pacing kept her moving—kept her occupied. Pacing allowed her body to speed alongside her mind. Pacing made her feel like she was doing something, if only wearing down the floorboards beneath her feet.
"Again," she snapped mindlessly, not bothering to glance upward. "Tell me again."
Fred worried a lip between her teeth. "Buffy?"
"I need to hear it again." A long breath rolled off her shoulders. Her heels dug into the linoleum as she spun to aim her glare at Gunn. "Talk."
There was no hesitation. "We've been tailin' him for a few days…your boy. Briggs was convinced he was a vamp, and was none too thrilled 'bout lettin' a vamp walk away like we did. We got a rep, see. Word gets out that we were outsmarted by a vamp and his woman, and shit hits the fan."
"Who the hell would we tell?!" Buffy shouted. "We just wanted to be left alone!"
"I keep tellin' you, it was Briggs, not me."
"You can imagine how much that matters to me right now."
Gunn glared at her for a minute longer before ultimately releasing a long sigh and glancing downward. "Look, I came here to help, okay? I came to tell you what I know, and what I know is my men grabbed your boy outside a bar outside a bar on Crenshaw. You weren't there to come up with some bull story 'bout him being a slayer and it didn't take much for him to flash some fang. So we—"
Buffy's eyes darkened dangerously. "What did you do to him?"
"I did nothin', I keep telling you! He was buyin' blood."
The revelation that Spike hadn't fed on a live person was surprisingly anticlimactic. The alternative hadn't even occurred to Buffy until she noted the astonishment in Gunn's voice. If her vampire was out to get sustenance, it would be bagged. Spike had stopped hunting a long time ago. Spike had stopped hunting for her, and no matter what had happened earlier, no matter how she might have screwed up everything, he wouldn't do anything to hurt her now.
"So you decided to take out the world's only vampire who gets his supply from bags rather than necks." Buffy crossed her arms and barked out a derisive laugh. "You guys really couldn't leave well enough alone, could you?"
"You said you were both slayers," Gunn retorted, "and while you two definitely need to work on your act, I was willin' to buy it. I was willin' to leave well enough alone. You took out the vamps in the alley and you didn't look to be hurtin' nobody. Plus you got a tan. Not much of one, but more than a vamp. It wasn't me who decided to hunt ya'll down, all right?"
Buffy frowned and rubbed her arms self-consciously.
"I didn't get into this to be as bad as what's out there. I ain't seen a vamp worth savin' yet, but I've seen a fucking lot, so I was willin' to let you walk. It's my gang." He paused. "It was my gang. Briggs thinks he'd be a better leader 'cause he doesn't use his head."
Fred's nose wrinkled. "Charming gang you've got there."
"On the streets, it's act before you think, 'cause if you don't, you could find yourself at the wrong end of some ugly's fangs," Gunn retorted shortly. "Briggs doesn't think. He just acts. And havin' a vamp walk away had his shit all in a fury. It wasn't hard to track your boy down. We found and grabbed him, and now they're after you."
"Because I'm the Slayer and they think that's some sort of demon?"
Gunn grinned wryly. "No. They don't got no idea what a slayer is."
"And you do?"
"Let's just say I did my homework."
Buffy blinked in surprise. "You looked me up?"
Gunn favored her with a sideways glance. "Do I look like I got a library card?" he asked, spreading his arms demonstrably. "No. I just talked up the few vamps I found between meetin' you and grabbin' him. Said the Slayer was a girl—a few said her name was Buffy—"
Another surprised beat. She had no idea anyone out there—especially in the demon underground—knew her name. "What?"
The renegade demon hunter offered a lazy shrug. "Apparently, girl, you're all famous and shit. Word has it you took out somethin' called the Master…and while I got no idea what that is, it sounded like it needed taking out."
A small smile tugged on the corners of her mouth but she killed just as quickly.
"Also said," Gunn continued, "that you stopped some other asshole from endin' the world."
"They knew that?"
"Not all, but a few. Like I said, you're famous." He smiled grimly. "But your boy is not. Not as a slayer, anyway. Word is there can only be one at a time, and they never have dicks."
Buffy's surprise hardened into revulsion. "You're disgusting."
"Call it like I see it," Gunn retorted. "And as I've said, even if I ain't right 'bout all slayers bein' girls, there ain't no sense tellin' me your boy's a slayer. Slayers don't got fangs from what I've heard."
"I still don't understand why you guys even care about Spike," Fred offered before the Slayer's growing outrage could pour into words. "If you knew what Buffy is, then why not leave this one vampire to her?"
"For the thousandth time, it wasn't me!" Gunn's eyes shifted back to Buffy. "I had it figured out that night. Briggs did, too, but he wasn't so calm about it, was he? We trailed your vamp, saw him buyin' blood, and got him to flash his uglies. I don't get it, but he wasn't hurtin' nobody, so I figured he was on your leash." He paused. "Once again: you're the Slayer. Your vamp wasn't committing a crime. I guessed he was housetrained. Briggs thought differently."
"So he grabbed him."
"Spike is being held by a bunch of vampire hunters who are just waiting on me to do something stupid so they can stick something pointy in his chest."
"And you're here," Fred intervened, "'cause you think Briggs is wrong."
Gunn rolled his eyes. "I'm glad I'm finally getting through to you. Didn't realize I'd need a translator. I know I don't look it, but I'm pretty smart. The girl is what she says she is…" He waved generally at Buffy. "I figure if she says he's okay, then he's okay. And that, yet again, is why I'm here." A pause. "Spike told me where to find you."
Buffy nodded. "Yeah? And you know where to find him."
"He said he wants you to stay away. Don't wanna put you in danger and shit."
"Right," she agreed, rolling her eyes. "That's happening."
Gunn snickered. "He said you'd say that; he just wanted me to warn you. Briggs tossed me over officially before I left, using the cock idea that I ain't tough enough. He got backing, and 'cause he was right about blondie bein' a vamp. Letting you go cost me." He shifted. "So now they're all hot to string you up beside him. They just don't know where to look for you." A brief pause. "Your vamp hasn't told nobody but me where you are."
"Spike wouldn't give that information over lightly," Fred insisted, her voice shaking. "I mean, I don't know him well, but—"
"Yeah, he was stubborn as all hell," Gunn agreed, "but he also saw me and Briggs throwin' it down on what to do about her—" He pointed to Buffy. "—if we saw her. Guess the vamp thought I was trustworthy, but he strictly said you ain't to come after him."
"Like hell," Buffy all but growled. "Spike wanted you to warn me. Well, you did. Briggs or whoever can come at me with whatever he wants; I don't give a crap. Spike is mine, and I am sure as hell not leaving him there to be staked or tortured or God knows what else your men are doing to him."
"My men don't torture."
A placidly frightening smile split her lips. "Right now the fact that you know where Spike is and how many people stand between me and him is the only thing saving your ass from being thoroughly kicked, so let's not argue over semantics. You know I'm going after him."
Gunn glared at her for a long beat before breaking off with a nod. "Yeah."
"And if I find Briggs, I'll put him on life support."
"He's gonna have muscle."
"Wow. I'm terrified." Buffy shook her head hard, her pacing breaking for the bedroom, her voice carrying into the living area as she began a frantic gathering of her limited resources. For a vampire slayer in a big city, she was low on stakes and even lower on assets so far as weaponry. There were a few stakes and a long carving knife she honestly had no recollection of owning—but it was there in her stash, and she would use it. "As you mentioned, I killed the Master. I've stopped the apocalypse—twice, I might add. And I lived on the mouth of Hell for two years. A few little boys with weapons—"
"—are not going to intimidate me." Buffy stormed back into the living room with a bag of lethal goodies over her shoulder. She met Gunn's glare with a look of cold indifference.
"We're not little boys."
"Well, your friends sure as hell are acting like it," she snapped. "Spike wasn't hurting anyone—"
"And that's why I'm here!"
"And that's why you're going to take me to him." She drew to a sudden halt by the door, her hand diving into her jeans-pocket to ensure she had her key. "Let's go, hotshot." She glanced to Fred, who stood eagerly by the place on the wall where the previous tenant's television had stood. "You're staying here."
Gunn nodded. "She's right. You ain't goin'."
"Ahab here is gonna take me to Spike. He knows where he is, and while personally I could give a crap if I lose him, if I lost you, I'd be very upset."
"Anyone ever told you you're one hell of a people person?" Gunn grumbled, moving to open the door. "I didn't hafta come here at all, y'know. I'm doin' you a favor."
"And after my ma…after Spike is back here—back home—I'm sure we'll be the bestest of friends. Right now, you're the guy I'd shove in front of a bus if it'd help me get to my vampire." Buffy plastered on a brilliant smile. "Lead the way, Ahab."
"I'm not gonna like you, am I?"
Buffy shrugged. "You gotta get to know me. Let's go! Fred…" She leveled a warning glare at her friend. "You follow us and—"
"No. No following. Staying. I'll…ummm…I'll be here…though if you're not back by tomorrow, I will call the cops."
Buffy glanced back to Gunn, waiting for him to shuffle his way through the door. When he was a safe distance ahead of her, she turned to follow.
Watching him carefully with every step he took.
Hoping against hope they weren't too late.
It was largely rewarding to know he could still make grown men shake with fear simply by glaring, even if his yellow eyes were puffed and swollen. Briggs was a sadistic git, but he didn't like dealing with prey that could look at him. He wasn't the sort for long, drawn out torture sessions, even with creatures he considered subhuman. Several times already, he'd had to refrain from shoving a stake into Spike's chest. It was easier dealing with vamps when they were nothing but dust. When they were alive—or in a position to mimic life—they ran the risk of seeming human.
Honestly, Spike had gotten himself into hairier situations than this, and he always managed to escape. If not by cunning and wit, then most certainly by dumb luck. Last time, he'd had Buffy to draw the sword from his gut and thicken his blood with her rich taste.
She was coming after him. He knew it, of course. Knew telling her to stay away would fix her beautifully stubborn head to do the opposite. Knew because, even if she weren't linked to his blood, she cared for him. She cared deeply…even more than she realized.
The look in her eyes before she bolted down the hallway had told him as much. It was burning her from the inside—the need to touch and feel, to taste and savor. She wanted him. She wanted him desperately, but she feared getting hurt. She feared what would happen if she threw herself into the fray again. She feared him—not because of what he was, rather what he could do to her.
She needed distance and tenderness at the same time. She needed him.
Her name remained a mantra on his lips. A prayer of hope he sent into the swirling abyss. Buffy was his anchor—it seemed she always had been. Even in the time before he knew her, there was always the hope of something greater to keep him grounded.
There was always the hope of Buffy. Before he knew her name, her face, he knew her. For so long, he'd thought he'd found her in someone else, he hadn't even noticed how vacant his life was until the night he saw Buffy dance.
Until he saw her.
"Your girlfriend is comin', ain't she?"
Spike forced open his left eye, centering on the hazy form addressing him. "Not rightly soon enough," he drawled.
"You know what we're gonna do to her, don't you?"
He didn't reply; there was no need to reply. Briggs was trying to bait him, and he wasn't going to allow the wanker the satisfaction.
Though if he went into gruesome detail of his plans involving Buffy, he might find himself with his brains leaking out of a smashed skull the second Spike was freed. But from where he was—tied to a wire-fence which had been matted against the wall of the street gang's hideout—there was little he could do. Every inch of his body ached. His jaw was sore from clenching and his gums tingled with the need to fasten around a nice, ripe, juicy human throat.
He knew he was in bad shape. A few broken bones. A few scars courtesy of lazy swings with rusty knives. Large knots and welts doctored his legs and arms, and his chest likely resembled a patchwork quilt. He hadn't screamed, though. Not once. While it hurt like a bitch, the children had done little more to him than Angelus had in the early days.
"I know what you think you're gonna do," Spike replied with a bloody, lopsided grin. "Gonna be fun to have a front row seat."
Briggs's eyes narrowed. "She's gonna—"
"Be fuckin' fury in motion. An' she's gonna kick every inch of your ass."
"No little white girl ain't gonna get the better end of me."
"Call her that," Spike replied, breathing hard, "an' you'll jus' make her angrier."
"Think that worries me?"
There was no sense in offering a retort. None at all. Not with Briggs's eyes filling with fear. Not with his pulse leaping, his heart thundering just a bit harder. Likewise, there was no sense in talking up Buffy's legend.
She would be here soon. She would.
And she would tear these walls apart.