Disclaimer: Anything recognizable belongs to someone else. Anything that hints of crack probably belongs to me.

A/N: My apologies for the unpardonable delay. More explanation at the end of the chapter.

Three months. Linea surveyed the giant hamper of dirty laundry in the corner of her room. Three months. Three months of Slaying most nights, lying to everyone except Zoë, running with all engines go, go, go! I haven't slept properly in ages, my face is constantly breaking out, and not one of my socks has a match! Except my tube socks. And it's hardly as if I can wear those anywhere.

"Linea! Honey!" Her mother's voice sounded from outside the off-white bedroom door. "We're leaving in ten, okay?"

The ginger hurried to the door, only tripping once. Unless vampires were around, being a Slayer did nothing to curb her normal clumsiness. Unfortunately. Breathless, she opened the door, nearly whacking her mom in the face. Stepping backwards, Mrs. Parker slowly took in her daughter's unkempt appearance. One smoothly plucked brown eyebrow rose.

"Are you all right, darling?" she asked in concern.

Red hair frantically escaping her bobby pins, Linea knew she looked a mess in her gym shorts and ratty tank top. But jeez! Her mom didn't have to point it out. "Haha, yeah," she mumbled, rubbing awkwardly at the back of her neck. "Long day at school. Lots of homework, tests . . . I just crashed earlier."

The eyebrow crept ever so slightly higher. "Mmm. Well, love, Daddy and I are going out, and your sister's spending the night at Margie's. Are you planning on having friends over?"

"I hadn't really gotten that far." Homework, notecards, sleep, then Slaying. She had to get something done before the ubiquitous Slaying.

"What about that nice boyfriend of yours?" her mother pressed. Although her tone was gentle, it set Linea's teeth on edge.

"We broke up two weeks ago," she ground out. Slaying. Again. Poor James. He thought she was cheating. She wasn't. But maybe he had a right to be mad. He wasn't her first priority, not by a long shot. Not even her fifth. And that wasn't really fair to him. Nor was the fact that she hung out every night with gorgeous vampires. Gorgeous guy vampires. Not that anything could ever happen there. The Buffy/Angel story was taught as a textbook example of what not to do. And it wasn't as if James would have been a fan of the Slaying. Still, she had liked him. Now drumline was awkward, and her mother was asking questions. Lovely.

"I'm sorry, darling. Who ended it?"

Luckily, at that moment her father called up from the bottom of the stairs. If they didn't leave now, they would miss their dinner reservation. Sighing, Mrs. Parker left her youngest daughter to the mercy of her own introspection.

"Good night, dear. We're going to catch a show with the Milligans later, so we won't be back until very late. Text us if you decide to go out. It is Friday night, after all."

"Yes, Mom." Linea accepted her mother's hug with the reluctance that only teenagers can get away with. She watched out the window as her parents walked out to the car, her dad opening the door for his wife. Returning to her piles of laundry, the girl glared at them absent-mindedly. Another thing she had to do. Great. Zoë would be over later to pick her up before Slayage. She'd better get started on the cleaning and homework.

The dirty laundry found its way to the center of her bed along with a physics book, calculator, Rubik's cube, spiral notebooks, and half a dozen unfinished algebra assignments, Contemplating a copy of The Iliad, Linea added it to her pile.

Even Achilles could stop fighting and be justified, she thought bitterly. So why can't we Slayers?

Spike tried not to let change worry him. You couldn't control other people. So he didn't get too upset when change happened. Unless someone he loved died. Then he went postal.

He hadn't decided yet if he wanted to be upset this time. Angel had that distant look in his eyes constantly now. Blue oscillated between apathy, confusion, and killing every demon Faith let her get her hands on. Gunn was constantly off with Rona - not that Spike cared. He'd never really forgiven Gunn for being involved in Fred's death. As for Faith, the rogue Slayer had passed her G.E.D. test and recently gotten a job as a self-defense instructor at a nearby YMCA. She was also addicted to Zumba. So were the Slayerettes. If he had to listen to one more crappy Latin pop song, Spike was gonna hurl.

Speaking of the Slayerettes . . . it was a quarter to midnight, and here he was, slinking through an uptown graveyard to make sure they stayed out of trouble. Well, not all trouble. Just trouble too big for them to handle on their own. Which meant pretty big trouble, actually. The vampire was mildly surprised by Linea and Zoë 's ability to deal with bad guys while maintaining a constant stream of girl talk. Demon jumps out from behind a tree? No problem, just tackle him to the ground, interrogate, then release or eliminate as dictated by the situation and return to chatting. Vamp rises from a grave? Spin 'round, stake him, brush dust off clothes, gossip. Rinse, repeat. Both impressed by their synergy and discomfited by the efficient, impersonal way with which they disposed of monsters, Spike followed the girls at a distance. It wouldn't do to have their Slaying instincts turned on him.

Although out of earshot, he could still watch them by the light of a few lampposts scattered throughout the cemetery. Zoë had just finished dusting a male vamp who could have been the guitarist of a punk rock band with his green hair, glinting silver body jewelry, and black pants dangling chains. The slight brunette rose to her feet, swaying slightly. Probably concerned, the ginger moved closer to her. Spike filled in their conversation with his imagination.

"Oh no, Z! Are you okay?"

"Fine, fine. Chill, why don't you?" Zoë moved back, rubbing her palms on the fabric of her jeans. "Ow! I broke a nail!"

Linea took one of Zoë's hands in her own. "Not again! How tragic!" She examined the hand carefully. "You'll have to get another manicure. Stat."

The cheerleader tossed her head back, trying vainly to keep from crying. "I know," she sniffled. "That's the third one this month . . . If only Spike were here to kiss it and make it better."

Nodding furiously, the other girl giggled. "If only . . ."

"Spike! Spike! Hello! Earth to vampire!"

Shaking his head, Spike realized both girls had approached and were looking at him oddly.

"You okay?" asked Zoë. Her palms were red and scraped, but all of the nails appeared intact. "Zone out there for a minute, buddy?"

"Stalking us for Faith again?" Linea's voice was less than impressed. "Where is she, anyway?"

"Movies. With Peaches, Gunn, and Rona."

"Double date?" Zoë squealed excitedly, eyes wide and shiny at the thought of her favorite Slayer/vamp couple finally getting together.

"Figures," snorted Linea at the same moment.

Spike reached into his duster pocket for a cigarette and came up empty. Bloody hell. He hated being caught out by the little Slayers, hated even more their questions about Faith in judgment-laden tones. Sure, the Slayer had been a bit anti-patrol lately, but she'd taken that Tzarinki demon down single-handedly two days ago. Not to mention she tried to get Rona's Slayers to include her girls on the big stuff. But most of all, he hated when he ran out of cigarettes and forgot to steal Faith's.

"Nah. 'S not a double date. Blue went, too."

"And you go stuck on babysitting duty?"

If he hadn't known better, Spike would have been very tempted to ask Linea if it was "that time of the month again," she was that out of sorts and cruising for a fight. However, he preferred to keep his internal organs in place, and so kept silent.

"Did you forget to do your dishes again?" Zoë teased to ease the awkward tension.

"Something like that," the vampire smirked, grateful for the out.

"Well, we've patrolled all the cemeteries that we're supposed to. How about we go see a movie?"

"Too late. All the showings would have already started."

"Okay . . ."

"You all right, ginger?"

Linea forced a brittle smile. "Bit tired, Spike."

"We could watch a movie at the Halfway House."

"And have my parents come home wondering where I am? No thanks, Z."

Hmm. She didn't usually snap at the other mini-Slayer. The two were as thick as two ridiculously giggly thieves. Something was up. Spike heaved a mental sigh. He could ignore this or do something about it. He really should just let it go . . . but he was Spike, and she was a moderately attractive upset female. Crap. So he closed the distance between himself and the redhead, lifted her chin gently with one callused hand, and wheedled, "Tell me what's wrong?"

Linea jerked her head free, eyes glinting with fury and exhaustion and defeat all at once. "I don't sleep anymore, my boyfriend broke up with me, my parents are asking me questions about it, and all I ever do is kill like a bloody machine. I don't think I can handle much more of this. I'm freaking sick of Slaying."

There it was. Finally out in the open. "Zoë?"

"I feel the same. Well, maybe not quite so strongly, but yeah . . . it sounds familiar." The cheerleader shuffled her feet awkwardly.

"I'm sorry, pe–"

"Don't. Please. Can we just be done with this tonight? Can we pretend, if only for a little bit, that we aren't blood-soaked automaton murderers? Please?" Her bleak voice broke on the last word, and a single angry tear slid down Linea's cheek.

That did it. Never one to ignore a crying girl, the vampire opened his arms and gathered both Slayers into an awkward group hug. "Okay, luvs. Okay. We'll pretend. I just have one question."

"What is it?" Linea croaked.

Spike drew back a tad so that they could see his face. He winked. "My place or yours?"

When the Parkers got home later that evening, they went straight to bed without checking on their younger daughter. A lucky thing, too, for she would have been in serious trouble if they had found her and her best friend crammed onto her bed, snuggled up against an edgy-looking blond man as the credits for A Walk to Remember rolled across her TV. The vampire heard them come in and smirked as he pulled the two pajama-clad girls closer. When he left in a few hours, Operation Avoid the Parents would be a success.

Angel would never have approved of what he was doing, and Drusilla would have accused him of going soft, but Spike didn't mind a cuddle here and there. The girls needed a good cry and an "It gets better moment." To be honest, he wasn't sure it would get better. Slaying was brutal. But with so many Slayers, maybe these two could quit, if Buffy allowed it. The world didn't need any more broken girls. So he dropped hints about early retirement and sat through a silly movie and served as a pillow. Not all that different from comforting the Nibblet, really.

Neck starting to cramp, he scooted down further in the bed, careful not to wake the Slayerettes. Zoë mumbled in her sleep and rolled over so that her head moved to his shoulder. Linea simply slept on, one of her thin arms curled beneath her, the other draped across his chest.

"It'll be all right," he murmured softly, glancing at the pair of them, very much aware of the emptiness of his words. "You'll see. It'll all work out okay in the end." Spike hoped he wouldn't be proved a liar. "I promise."

The vampire closed his eyes, too weary to worry about nightmares of Angel's frustration when he didn't answer his phone or how embarrassed the girls were going to be in the morning. Enveloped in warmth, he smiled and slept.

Author's Note: And now for the real apology. It has been over a year since I updated this story, and I am so sorry. I can blame a crazy few semesters or Romania or the MCAT, but the truth is that I haven't been writing. Good news, I have an outline, and I am going to do my best to update every other week at least until I finish this tale. Thanks for sticking with me.