Buffy was walking down the sidewalk on her way to meet Faith at the motel she was staying in—the Slayers were supposed to do a crypt to crypt search for the Glove of Myhnegon. Buffy happened to glance across the street in time to see a certain platinum blonde vampire exiting the butcher's shop with a big paper sack in his arms.

"Spike?" Buffy called out. The vampire's head snapped in her direction. His eyes scanned the area before settling on Buffy with a flash of recognition. Buffy waved to him, then held up a finger, signaling for him to wait. She checked the street again to make sure it was clear then jogged across to meet him.

Spike held his breath while he waited for the Slayer to make her way over to him. He wished now that he hadn't cut ahead in the queue; if he had waited, he could have avoided this run in with Buffy. He hated keeping Angel's return a secret from her, but he also lived in dread of the day when she found out the truth.

Spike could feel the frown on his face and schooled his expression into a friendlier one as Buffy got closer.

"Hey there stranger," Buffy said as she came up to Spike's side.

Spike gave her a smirk. "Slayer," he returned with a nod. "How've you been?"

"I've been okay," she said. "What about you? Where have you been keeping yourself? I feel like I haven't seen you in forever."

Spike looked down at his boots and scratched the back of his neck. "Er, yeah, sorry 'bout that, love," he said. "Just been... busy."

"With that demon friend of yours?" Buffy asked.

"Who?" Spike replied, forgetting for a moment the excuse he'd used the last time when Buffy had asked him to do something. "Oh right, yeah, my demon friend. Clem, is his name," he said quickly. "Yup, been busy with ol' Clem, me."

"Good," Buffy remarked, forcing a smile. "I'm sure you're glad to be hanging out with your own kind of people—or, not people—instead of just having me around to keep you company."

Spike couldn't have felt worse if Buffy had socked him in the gut.

"Come on, pet, it's not like that," he said.

Buffy looked up at him then, her eyes large and begging for reassurance.

"I mean, it's not right to have my entire unlife dependin' on you," Spike reasoned. "I've got to have other folk to spend time with. Just like you've got your mates and a life outside of me to live, yeah?"

"I guess you have point," Buffy admitted a bit reluctantly.

"'Course I do," said Spike. "I've got to do something with myself instead of just collecting dust at the mansion while you're about doing your thing, slaying, going to school, to dances. Speaking of which," he segued. "How was Homecoming? Scooter ever come to his senses and ask you?

Buffy hesitated for a second, trying to catch up with the sudden shift in conversation.

"Um, yes, actually, he did," Buffy told him. "Only to tell me that he didn't think we should see each other anymore a few days later."

Spike winced in sympathy. "Wanker," he muttered. "Well, at least it's no great loss though, eh pet? The ponce wasn't nearly good enough to even whittle your stakes."

"Well the loss of a pseudo-boyfriend didn't bother me as much as the humiliation of being dumped just before the dance," Buffy said. "Humiliation that continued when I got to the dance late and was covered in dirt in a ruined dress after being chased through Millers woods by a group of Slayer hunters–oh, with Cordelia of all people. And I lost Homecoming Queen."

Spike blinked, taking it all in. He scratched the back of his head, his brow furrowed. "Certainly sounds like a hell of a night," he remarked. "Sorry about all that, love."

Buffy shrugged. "No big, really," she said. "The tiara was ugly anyway, and at least Cordelia didn't win either so..."

"Well, it's good to have a positive outlook," Spike quipped.

"I try," Buffy replied.

There was a brief lull between them.

"So, what's with all the blood?" Buffy asked. "Are you training for a marathon or something? You know, like carb-loading?" Buffy squinched her face and tilted her head to the side. "Wait, does blood even have carbs?"

Spike looked down to the bag packed with over double the amount of blood he usually ordered, the wheels spinning in his head to come up with an excuse.

"Er... well, they were havin' a special on Black Angus beef," Spike said. "So I got a good deal on the blood. Thought I should stock up. It's premium stuff, and it keeps well in freezer."

"Oh, well, good thinking," Buffy remarked. "Very... economical of you."

Spike chuckled. "Right."

Another bout of silence fell between them.

Buffy's stomach twisted, hating the awkwardness she felt with Spike; he'd been the person she felt most comfortable with just a couple weeks ago. She couldn't figure out what had happened that had caused a rift between them.

Buffy cleared her throat, trying to shake away her bleak thoughts, and forced a perky persona.

"So do you have plans with Clem tonight?" she asked Spike.

"Oh, er, yeah," Spike said, head bobbing. "He and some other blokes are comin' to the mansion for a poker game."

Buffy smiled. "Sounds fun."

"And you? The usual, slaying and whatnot?"

"Mostly whatnot," Buffy replied. "Faith and I are going on a sort of Slayer version of an Easter egg hunt," she informed. "Only instead of eggs we need to find the Glove of Munchausen."

Spike's brow furrowed, trying to work out what Buffy might mean. He couldn't recall there being that many 'Gloves of' anything–and only one that started with an M. "Do you mean The Glove of Myhnegon?" he asked.

"Yeah, that thing," Buffy said. "So you've heard of it?"

"Only just," Spike said. "Powerful little accessory, that. Let's whoever puts it on wield all sorts of power."

Buffy nodded. "So I've heard. According to Mrs. Post-"

"Who?" Spike interrupted.

"New Watcher," Buffy explained.

"New Watcher?" Spike echoed, incredulity etched in his expression. "Don't tell me good ol' uncle Rupert got the sack!"

"No, he didn't. Giles is still my Watcher," Buffy said. "Mrs. Post is Faith's new Watcher."

"Blimey," Spike said. "That's quite a shake-up you got goin' there."

"Yeah. You can miss a lot around here in just a couple weeks," Buffy commented.

"Apparently," Spike muttered. He sighed. "Sorry, what were you sayin' about the Glove, pet?"

"Right, well according to Mrs. Post, there's this really bad demon guy, Lagos, in town looking for the Glove. Have you ever heard of Lagos?"

"The name rings some fairly ominous bells," Spike replied. "I'd say 'really bad demon' is a bit of an understatement."

"Which is exactly why Faith and I need to find the malicious mitten before Lagos gets his evil hands on it—or in it, I guess."

"Well, you be careful, yeah?" Spike said.

"I'm always careful," Buffy replied. Spike's brows rose at the statement. "Well, okay, maybe not always, but a good 98 percent of the time at least," she amended.

Spike smirked, his chest feeling suddenly warm. God he had missed her. The last couple of weeks he'd been too busy babysitting his sire to spend any time with her.

Angel was getting better, but he still wasn't back to fighting form. He wasn't quite ready yet for Buffy to see him, which suited Spike just fine. He was selfishly wishing to postpone that reunion indefinitely. If Spike thought he wasn't seeing Buffy much now, he could only imagine what it would be like once her 'true love' was back in the mix.

"Right, well, I should get this stuff home before it goes off," Spike said, indicating the bag in his arm. "I'll see ya round, Slayer." He was just about to turn, but Buffy's voice stopped him.

"Really?" she asked. "Like when do you think? This weekend, next weekend, next month maybe? Or should I just call and schedule an appointment?"

Spike opened his mouth to reply, but shut it again without an answer and looked away. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, then looked back up to Buffy. "Er, listen Buffy, I know I've been–"

Buffy held up a hand. "Forget it, never mind. I'm glad that you have friends to spend time with, really. I just miss hanging out with you, I guess," she finished quietly, looking down.

"I've missed you too, pet," Spike admitted, his voice hitching slightly with emotion. "Maybe we could–"

"You know, I should really get going," Buffy said abruptly, cutting him off. "Later." With that, she spun around and took off down the sidewalk.

"Right," Spike mumbled. "Later."

XXX

"Hi honey, I'm home!" Spike caroled dryly as he entered the mansion. Within seconds, Angel jumped out at him and snatched the bag out of his hands. He took out a container, dropping the bag, and started gulping it down greedily.

"Take it easy there, mate," Spike said. "Gonna make yourself sick."

Angel suddenly stopped drinking. He froze and slowly lowered the container from his mouth, a thin line of crimson coated his top lip, making a blood mustache. He looked at Spike with narrowed eyes. Angel leaned towards him and sniffed. His eyes darkened. "You've been with Buffy." It sounded more like an accusation than a question or statement.

"Yeah," Spike huffed, bending down to retrieve the sack Angel had so carelessly dropped on the floor. "What of it? I ran into her on the way back," he elaborated as he headed for the kitchen.

"What did she say?" Angel demanded.

"Nothin' about you," replied Spike. "Jus' the usual pleasantries: How are you? How ya been? Heard about the new demon in town?" Spike placed the bag in the refrigerator, taking out a container for himself. He opened the door of the microwave and put the blood inside. "It's Lagos by the way," he said as he set the timer.

"Huh?" Angel asked.

"The new demon in town, it's Lagos." Spike informed.

"Lagos." Angel repeated the name with familiarity. "He's bad news."

"No kidding," Spike replied. "Even worse news is he's here searching for the Glove of Myhnegon."

Angel's body went rigid. "Glove of Myhnegon. This is really dangerous. Buffy is going to need help." Angel whirled around as if ready to ride out with the cavalry.

"Hold on there cowboy," Spike interjected, grabbing Angel by the shoulder.

Angel wheeled around with a snarl, throwing Spike's hand off him. "You're not going to stop me from helping her," he growled.

Spike straightened up to his full height, which was a good few inches shorter than Angel, even if he was hunched over menacingly in Spike's face. Spike held himself high and got in Angel's face with equal threat.

"You really think you're going to help Buffy by showing up out of the blue?" Spike asked. "The last thing the Slayer needs is to have her head spun right now. Which is exactly what seeing you will do to her. You'll knock her off kilter and she won't be able to think clearly. And though she may be one of the strongest people on the planet, Buffy's best weapon is that brain of hers. She's gonna need to keep her wits should Lagos get that Glove."

Angel's was grinding his teeth together so hard that Spike could hear them screeching. Angel didn't like not being able to help Buffy. In fact, he hated it. Almost as much as he hated having to admit that Spike had a point. If Angel showed up, he might get in the way. The shock of seeing him could end up hurting Buffy more than his presence in a fight would help her.

Spike held his stance, keeping ready in case Angel wanted to fight some more. His gaze slipped down to Angel's clenched fists and Spike prepared himself to block them should they come at his face.

The vampires stayed silent, locked in each other's personal space for a moment, until Angel finally flexed his hands out of fists and eased back.

"Fine," he grumbled. "I won't tell her I'm back–yet."

Spike gave a nod of approval and stepped back, glad to see that, despite over a century of evidence to the contrary, his sire was capable of showing some common sense.

"Good," Spike remarked as he made his way back to the microwave. The beep of the timer had gone unnoticed, the sound of it swallowed in the tension between the vampires. Spike opened the door and dipped a finger into the blood. He frowned, feeling that it had already begun to cool. He closed the microwave and re-set the timer.

"You know," Spike said to Angel, pausing to stick his finger in his mouth to suck off the blood. "It's not like the Slayer is all alone in this, she has her little Scooby gang helpin' her. Not to mention an extra pair of Slayer hands to dole out punches–which happen to pack quite a wallop themselves, mind you. Add to that, that apparently there's also a new Watcher in town... I'd say she's covered. And even if she didn't have back up, the girl's perfectly capable of handling herself. I mean, she did kill you after all, didn't she?" he added with a smirk.

Angel scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "New Watcher?" he asked, deciding to bypass Spike's comment. Angel was still trying to wrap his head around there being two Slayers–and two vampires with souls–now there were two Watchers? What was this, like some kind of Hellmouth-y Noah's Ark? Whatever it was, it definitely went against all the rules Angel had ever known and it made him uneasy.

The microwave timer gave a beep and Spike turned his back on Angel to open it and check the blood. He smiled, now feeling that the temperature was just right.

"Yeah," Spike said, reaching up into the cupboard for a mug. "It makes sense, I 'spose, now that there are two Slayers to have another Watcher about. Poor, old Giles can barely keep up with the Slayer he's already got, and the chit is quiet a spitfire. He'll be needing the help. But, I don't really think Buffy's quite too keen on this Mrs. Post." Spike slowly poured out some blood from the Styrofoam container into the mug. "Not that she said anything against her, just a feeling I got from the way she talked about the woman."

Angel's jaw clenched again at the thought that Spike knew Buffy so well that he could tell her feelings so easily just by talking to her. What made it worse was that Angel had never really been able to tell what Buffy was feeling no matter how close they had been, at least not the way Spike seemed to do. He still couldn't understand how the two of them had become so close. All Spike would say on the subject was that Buffy had helped him when he'd gotten his soul. That, Angel could understand. Buffy's heart was the purest he'd ever known. But still, helping Spike and becoming his friend were two different things. Soul or not, he was still Spike, after all. From what Angel had seen of his childe the soul hadn't changed him all that much.

"Oi! You want this or not?"

Angel blinked, coming out of his thoughts at the sound of Spike's voice. Angel saw that Spike was holding out to him the mug of blood he'd just poured. Angel eyed it warily.

Spike rolled his eyes. "Fine. If you'd rather have it cold, be my guest." He started to pull the mug bag, but Angel's hand quickly reached out and grabbed it.

"Thanks," the elder vampire mumbled, bringing the cup to his lips and sipping it at a leisurely pace, enjoying the taste, rather than gulping it down the way he had been earlier.

Spike turned away from him and took down a mug for himself. He filled it up with a more generous portion than the one he'd given Angel, smirking with satisfaction as he did so. It wasn't much, but he needed to feel like he was screwing Angel over in at least some small way.

The vampires enjoyed their meal in silence for a few moments.

"But, I am going to tell her soon," Angel said, shattering the quiet.

Spike paused mid-swallow and looked up at his sire.

"I'm going to be telling Buffy that I'm back soon," Angel repeated. "I'm getting better. It's time. Once things are settled with Lagos and the Glove."

Slowly, Spike finished swallowing the blood that was half-way down his throat. He let out a light cough. His hand was wrapped tightly on the handle of the mug, but other than that, he kept up a relaxed visage. "Well, that'd be your call, mate," he replied smoothly. "If you think it's time, then..." He shrugged, casually taking another drink.

"I can't imagine she'll be too pleased with you once she knows you've been lying to her," Angel said.

"Nope," Spike agreed. "Can't imagine that she will. So?"

Angel smirked at Spike's show of calm. "You don't fool me Spike," he told him. "I know you care for Buffy. I know that this weird friendship you have with her means a lot to you. So, what I want to know is, why?"

Spike sighed wearily. "Why what, Peaches?"

"Why are you doing this?" Angel clarified. "Why are you helping me? You know that once Buffy knows I'm back, this... thing, whatever it is between you two, is going to be over."

"Oh, do I now?" Spike countered, his ire starting to show now. "And why do I know that? What the hell makes you so damn certain that you coming back is gonna make her throw me over?"

Angel chuckled acerbically. "Come on, Spike. Even you're not that thick–unless all that bleaching has finally fried your brain."

You mean the bleaching that Buffy does for me? Spike thought, but for whatever reason–he certainly didn't know why–he held back from saying out loud.

"You know the kind of love that Buffy and I have is unbreakable," Angel continued in a softer tone. "We're soul mates."

"So bloody what?" Spike shouted, slamming his mug down on the counter-top and took to pacing. "All right, fine, okay, you win. I know Buffy is never going to feel about me the way she does for you, so what's your bloody point?"

"My point is," Angel said calmly, "Buffy never had to know about me. You could have staked me when I attacked you–no one could have blamed you. But instead you helped me. Why?"

"Because it's what she would have wanted me to do," Spike admitted, his voice almost a whisper. "It's what she did for me," he added, louder. "So you could say that I'm returning the favor. Paying it forward and whatnot."

Angel's brow furrowed at the unfamiliar expression. "Paying it forward?"

"You know," Spike nudged, "from that movie with Helen Hunt and that kid who saw dead people?"

Angel's expression remained blank.

"God you're bloody out of touch, aren't you?" Spike muttered. "You make Giles seem hip." He paused to sigh. "It's a film about a kid that starts this movement-somebody does something nice for you, then you do something nice for someone else and so on. Pay it forward."

Angel turned Spike's explanation over in his mind for a moment. "So Buffy did something for you, so you're doing something for me? Is that right?"

"That's about the long and short of it, yeah."

Angel was naturally inclined not to trust Spike. He still thought there was more to this than just repaying a kindness. But, he also knew how stubborn his childe could be and was too tired to try to force the entire truth out of him. Besides, Angel had already forced Spike to admit the hardest part: that Buffy would never love him the she did Angel. Angel figured that the rest of it he could just let go.

"Is it any good?" Angel asked after a tense few minutes of silence.

"What?" Spike replied, confused.

"The movie."

Spike shrugged. "'S all right," he said. "Kind of a tear jerker. I could rent it some night, if you want."

"Sounds good," Angel said. "Anything has to be better than that show with the whiny blond guy."

"Oi, it's a bit uncalled for, you insultin' what I watch on the telly," Spike shot back. "Do you hear me saying anything about those stuffy old tomes you like to stick your nose in?"

"Yes," Angel answered, not missing a beat. "All the time."

Spike's brow furrowed. "Oh right," he said. "I guess I do a bit." He shrugged. "Well, whatever, if you don't like what's on the television, you don't have to watch."

Angel crossed his arms over his chest and pouted. "I don't see why you get to be king of the remote," he groused. "It's my TV in the first place. I bought it."

"No," Spike argued. "You drained the owner of the electronics store and took it."

Angel looked sheepish. "Well, yeah okay. But I am still the one who acquired it–that makes it mine."

"Right, you acquired it," Spike ceded. "Then you died. And me as your only not-quite-so-living relative inherited it. So there."

Angel's lips pressed in an angry line.

Spike rolled his eyes at his sulking sire. "Fine," he said, giving in. "We'll share the telly time–but Wednesdays are definitely mine! I'm not going to miss seeing if Joey chooses Dawson or Pacey because of you. But, any other night is pretty much open. All right?"

"Fine," Angel mumbled in agreement. Then, after a pause asked, "Antiques Roadshow still comes on, right?"

Spike stared at Angel for a moment, his mouth agape. "You've got to be bloody kiddin' me."

TBC...