Five Words or Less

Author: AGriffinWriter

A/N: Thanks for every single review! =) Feedback is always appreciated! This chapter is part fluff, part plot, dash of "lusty wrong feelings".

I've been nominated in the Sunnydale Memorial Fanfiction Awards, round 28! Voting continues until June 30, 2013. Here are the categories I'm in: Best New Author – AGriffinWriter; Best Episode Re-Write, Conventional Pairing, and Unfinished – "Five Words or Less"; Best Fluff and Post-Series Finale – "Chosen for More". Thanks ever so!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. This chapter adapts "Checkpoint", including both direct and altered quotes. Also quotes from "Once More with Feeling", "Touched", "Doomed", "Intervention", "Helpless", and "Crush", and one priceless quote from Angel: "The Girl In Question". I couldn't resist.

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The troll is poofed off to another dimension, Spike noms anchovy pizza, Giles reports that the Watcher's Council members are ignoramuses, and Buffy has a naughty dream about Spike (in case clarification is needed, only the very last scene was a dream. The kissing and the mutual lusty wrong feelings are real).


Chapter 15: Under Watchful Eyes

"Oww! Bloody buggerin' hell!"

Spike leaps back from the wires and shakes his electrocuted hand, then puts the two worst-burned fingertips in his cool mouth. Soddin' city utilities with their soddin' exposed cables! 'Course what's to be expected from a town with more maneuverable sewer lines than streets and a near-third of the population bein' of the non-human variety?

Since leaving the Summers' house, he's spent a good four days doing little else but working in the basement level of his crypt, trying to make it... habitable. The very first task was to take all of the nicked clothing articles, photos of Buffy, and pieces of the mannequin, and stash them from a cardboard box hidden under his bed – after how close Dawn had come to sneaking downstairs and seeing his shameful collection, he wants it well concealed. Then the real work had begun: sweeping, dusting, prying the skulls and bones from the walls, rearranging the empty coffins into makeshift shelving units... he feels like a ruddy Molly Maid.

By comparison, the maintenance-type labors are less emasculating. Aside from the extension cords running power up to his television and refrigerator and a faucet over the crude sink he'd already installed, by now he's reinforced and dead-bolted the sewer entrance, manipulated both hot and cold water pipelines into a shower – not much more than a glorified conduit outlet with a sprinkler-head screwed on it, jutting from the cave wall about six feet off the ground – and nearly completed his last wild scheme: jerry-rigging a phone line.

"That'll be one hell of a conversation starter," he grumbles to himself, stomping over to the sink to run cold water over his blistered fingers. "Evenin', Buffy. Got anythin' I can scribble my number on? Ring me up anytime. N'case you want... want to talk. Whisper in a dead man's ear..."

He sighs, watching the water trickle over his hand. "Who am I bloody kiddin'?"

Once he finishes digging out the necessary cables and attaches the corded phone he swiped from the junkyard, Spike sidles up the ladder and over to the fridge. Opening it, he takes a jar from the top shelf and just tips his head back, chugging deep gulps of the swine-flavored stuff. Until the blood had touched his tongue, he hadn't realized how thirsty he...

Spike pauses and tilts his head, staring at the Mason jar he's just drained. Had he eaten at all that day... or the day before? Come to think of it, when had he last slept? The second day he'd been back from Buffy's house, he'd woken in the mid-afternoon with a crick in his back and a sharp ache in his healing thigh, having zonked out on his floor in the crypt lower level. Had he caught a wink since then?

"Blimey... what's happenin' to me...?"

The answer comes to him almost as soon as he whispers the question into the semi-dark mausoleum. Love-sick. Hadn't seen his girl in four bleedin' days, and he was already halfway to balmy, not sleepin', not eatin', turnin' into a regular broodin' ponce.

"Well, bugger that!" he scoffs, slamming the jar onto the stone coffin closest to the fridge. It's time to kill something, purge the restlessness from his system. Shrugging on his duster, Spike strolls out into the cemetery, a stake in his pocket. In less than a minute, he hears the rustle of freshly laid earth being disturbed, then punching and yelling... the voice that makes his undead heart flutter.

"Miss Summers!" Buffy shouts, just out of his sight.

Why in blazes is Buffy callin' her own name, or it Dawn she's scoldin'?

"Some of us are here to learn, professor!" she continues irately. He can see her now, duking it out with a newly risen vampire whose funeral clothes are still dripping clumps of dirt. "Maybe you'd like to teach your own class!"

"Who are you talking to?" demands the confused vamp. A second later, he lands a punch into Buffy's face.

Rage boils under Spike's skin. Vaulting over a headstone, he grabs the soil-encrusted vampire by the back of his collar, spins him 180-degrees, and plows a knee between its legs. Touch my girl, will you?! Like that, eh?!

The fledgling tries to stand back up, but Spike kicks his knees out from under him, yanks his stake from his duster pocket, and drives it home. As the dust settles, Spike looks over at Buffy, who's still seated on her bum on the cemetery turf where she'd been knocked down.

"You okay, pet?"

She just scowls fiercely. Crossing to her, he offers his hand and pulls her back up to her feet. When he releases her fingers – holding on for just a moment longer than necessary – she humphs and pats grass bits off her black leather trench coat.

"Why'd you do that?" she grumbles.

"What, save you?" He shrugs, perplexed by her mood. "Just for an inklin' of your heartfelt gratitude... I expect I'll be getting that any moment."

"I was regrouping."

Spike's grin widens. "You were about to be regrouped into separate piles. You needed help."

"My hero," she mutters acidly. "Now find me something else to kill. Buffy smash."

"Tsk tsk. What's got your garters in a twist, Slayer?"

"Nothing."

"Oh no. You're not getting' off that easy, luv. I already tried the 'nothin' card on you, and you called me out on it. Tell Ol' Spike what's wrong."

She ducks her head into her shoulder and grumbles under her breath, looking so positively adorable that Spike clenches his hands behind his back to help himself resist sweeping her into a bear hug and smothering her with his lips. Come to think of it, she still owes me a goodnight kiss... perhaps I ought'a charge interest...

"And he said Speculation 101... Intro to Flights of Fancy..." she glowers, faintly whispering.

"Come again, luv?"

Giving the starry sky a pouting scowl, Buffy finally looks Spike in the eyes.

"Stupid history professor made a fool out of me, just 'cuz I asked a question about Rasputin being almost unkillable."

Spike couldn't stop smiling right now if his unlife depended on it. "Well I'm sure he's a smarmy git who's got no appreciation for the occult and supernatural, luv. Wouldn't know a real vampire 'nless it bit him in the arse."

He glows triumphantly as Buffy finally cracks a smile.

"Almost wish you would."

"What, bite his unbelievin' arse?"

"Maybe just scare him."

"Say the word, pet. I'll make him so terrified he'll wet himself. If I didn't have the chip, I'd do a real number on him. Make it look like a painful accident."

Buffy's eyes shoot him a warning.

"A'course..." he shrugs, backpedalling, "I still wouldn't do that... 'cuz I bat for the other team now."

"You're gay?" Buffy snickers.

"The white hats," he retorts. "The good guys. Justice an' puppies an' Christmas, or whatever. B'sides, you know full well who I've got the hots for, luv."

He sticks his tongue between his teeth and his thumbs through his belt loops, sweeping his eyes appraisingly down her whole body. To his astonishment, Buffy doesn't recoil, smack him, give a disgusted "Ugh!" or show any of the responses he expected. Instead she looks... flattered, blushing coyly, almost goading him!

Her demure expression only lasts for a moment; she seems to catch herself, shakes her head slightly, and stomps away in search of other slayable demons. Spike keeps pace with her, debating how to steer the conversation toward his refurbished domicile.

"Spike," says Buffy glumly after a few minutes, "Rasputin was a vampire, right?"

Spike shrugs, kneels over a fresh grave, and twists off the head of the emerging vampire before it can even get its shoulders out of the dirt.

"Don't rightly know, luv. Ol' Raspy wasn't famous during the years I spent in Russia, and by the time he'd made his unholy name known, I was halfway 'round the world. You said he seemed nearly immortal?"

"Yeah, they poisoned him, and beat him, and shot him, and drowned him, but there are reported sightings of him as late as the 1930s."

"Sounds to me like he must've been some manner of demon, if it makes any difference."

"Not so much to Professor Roberts, dark master of mean red grading pens."

"My arse-biting offer still stands."

This time, Buffy giggles openly. As he's standing back up, brushing dust from his knees, in the very corner of his eye he sees her gaze flit across him, mirroring the way his blue orbs had brushed over her. Well, well! Guess I don't have to be flashin' the goods to get a lusty look-over from my girl...

"Nah. You probably wouldn't be able to get the awful taste out of your mouth for years," Buffy finally answers, looking around the graveyard. "How about we just beat up demons until the cows come home? And then maybe beat up the cows."

"My kind of date, Goldilocks." There's that teasin' naughty look again! What's goin' in that silly brain of hers?

They slay their way through several more rising vampires, whom Buffy treats as though they're all wearing name badges with "Professor Roberts, Bigot Extraordinaire". Spike leaves the actual staking for the Slayer, assisting by hamstringing the vamps or flinging them head-first into tombstones until they're out for the count. Once her anger at her mean instructor is mostly abated, Buffy opens up about the most-recent Scooby meeting.

"And then Giles said the Council of Watchers figured out something supposedly important about Glory that they didn't bother to rustle up a week ago. And then he said they're arriving, as in coming here to Sunnydale any day now."

"What, they think the super-skank would tap their phone line?"

"That's exactly what Xander said, except he was more, like, 'Ello, Buffy, 'ere's some stuff we know, pip pip."

Spike winces, unsure whether the blame for the atrocious imitation of a British accent is Xander's fault or Buffy's in the relay. But... speaking of phones...

Before he can divert the discussion, Buffy turns glum. "And Dawn walked down the stairs just then and overheard stuff."

"Nothin' about her, right? Just the Council nasties?"

"Yeah, just me bumming 'cuz of all the scary, horrible versions of Giles who are gonna show up in my town with a high probability of screwing it up, it has to be Travers. He's the one who put me through the Crux-a-mental."

"Cruciamentum?"

"Yeah, that thing. The last time I saw Travers, he fired Giles and congratulated me for surviving being attacked by a mangy serial-rapist-turned-vampire who kidnapped my mom and nearly killed us both." Remembering something, she grins. "Then I told him to bite me."

Spike laughs and – pushing his luck – slips an arm around Buffy's shoulder as they continue strolling slowly through their third cemetery of the night, scouring the grassy knoll for the undead. She's warm, thrumming with energy from fighting and slaying. He expects her to shrug him off, only to nearly trip in amazement when Buffy's arm crosses behind his lower back, snugly anchoring him to her side. She sighs, staring around at the starlit gravestones, crypts, and figures of angelic beings, while Spike just savors her touch, enraptured by the half-embrace she's bestowing on him.

"You distracted me," she mutters, squeezing his waist a little tighter.

"I'm a distractin' sort. Maybe it's the hair."

"No... it's 'cuz I love talking to you, Spike."

Thankfully she can't see his face, Spike lets out a tremulous breath through barely-parted lips, as though she's caressed him intimately, speaking words so very close to the ones he's longing to hear. Pulling unneeded air back into his lungs, he tries to refocus on her next phrases.

"You were right, what you said a while ago. I'm scared to be honest with my friends. Not just about Dawn and Glory and how sometimes I wish I could just say 'hit the road' to slaying and destiny... I'm scared to be me. I have to be tough, the prom queen of evil-fighting. Sometimes it's so hard to keep all these stupid secrets and problems from everybody."

"You can tell me anything, Buffy. I'll always listen, always be here for you."

He didn't mean for his voice to suddenly become so intense, almost pleading for her to get closer to him, confide every bit of her being.

"You're sweet," smiles Buffy, before double-taking. "And... and boorish... and evil... and totally stuck in the 70s when it comes to fashion."

Spike smirks and chuckles. "Got me labeled to a T. God, woman, I love you."

Buffy stops walking, blushing. He's never called her 'woman' before, quite like that. It's... possessive, but nice, and it reminds her of what dream-Spike said, the two halves of her coin: Slayer-Buffy and normal-girl-Buffy, sharing herself equally with the vampire she's side-hugging. In fact, isn't that what she's doing right this very moment, the double-sharing? She's been staking vampires with him while complaining about her horrid class and her domestic troubles, though to be honest the later are more aligned with her Slayer side.

"You feelin' a'right, pet? Eyes just got all far-away lookin'. You still here with me?"

"I'm good. Just thinking about... a dream I had."

"Slayer vision an' what-not?"

"No... a regular person dream... can vampires really dream, Spike?"

"Can't say for sure it's a species-wide experience, but I do." Dream about you, pet, can't much help myself after seein' you in that red number few days ago... dream of holdin' you, pressin' you against me...

"Bet I can guess what you dream about," Buffy smiles. If it's the same kind of dream as mine...

Until this week, she'd only ever had one dream about Spike – of sitting beside him at the hospital, the gentle rub he'd given her neck – and had woken up to find the real Spike concerned and agitated in her room, ready to break the news of Riley's betrayal. But that first one was innocuous compared to the recent nightly thrills, impressing herself with the naughtiness she had no clue she was capable of. She'd avoided slaying in Restfield for that reason, afraid evidence of her mind's suggestions would somehow be revealed in Spike's company.

"Oi! Why're you smirkin' at me?" he demands, confused and a little miffed.

Buffy can't help it. Pondering what dream-Spike does to her is just too much fun... and way too hot, especially for post-slaying contemplation.

"Uh... I, um, should probably get going, see if Giles has heard anything from the League of Extraordinary Gits."

"Oh. Right. Course, you should."

Noting the dejected tone of his voice, she slips her arm out from around him and faces him, feigning timidity.

"Do you... do you want your goodnight kiss now?"

His disappointment evaporating instantly, Spike gapes, blue eyes popping. She's OFFERING? Got to be a dream... must've passed out again. Come to think of it, probably got a worse electric shock from that stupid cable than I thought, fried my noggin into mush...

"Spike?" says Buffy, puzzled. "You look kinda... like someone pushed the 'pause' button."

"Just... never thought you'd ask me that, luv. Didn't think you remembered."

"You underestimate how a good a kisser you are, then. Now forget I said that, before it goes to your head."

Refusing him any chance to turn her down – a ludicrous implausibility anyway – Buffy threads her arms around Spike's neck and ensnares his lips, drawing his taste into her, all copper and menthol and spirits and leather. He keeps his hands firm at her waist, afraid of where they might explore if left to wander. Hers move unbidden through his white-blond hair, down the back of his neck, and across the width of his shoulders, slim but just as powerful as the burly types she's more accustomed to.

"I'm not a statue, silly," she smirks into his lips, trying to draw herself against him. "Hold me..."

"Buffy," Spike groans, his jeans so tight it aches. Fearing she'll spring out of his arms as soon as she feels how aroused he is, he pulls her closer, one arm slipping up to her shoulders, the other lower around her hips.

She tenses up for a half second, then softens, molding herself to him, her mind wrapping itself around three hitherto unappreciated facts: Spike dresses left... and goes commando... and is very well-endowed... whoa... Had he reacted as strongly the two times in her kitchen when they'd almost gotten carried away?

Shesh, self-absorbed much, how could you have missed a hard-on like that during all the straddling and grinding? a peeved inner voice chastises her.

"Comparin', luv?" Spike whispers, grinning as his lips caress the cleft between her jawbone and her ear.

"No-mmm-not," she protests, her words slurring as his mouth returns to hers and kisses deeply. "I'm... enjoying."

Enjoyin'? Enjoyin' me... not as the distraction to all her worldly and other-worldly woes, just me... Spike and Buffy... Buffy and William... the poncy poet with the vampire upgrade and the Slayer... My God. Hell has frozen over, and Heaven has come to earth.

She feels the shift in his caresses, the desperation and hesitancy fading away completely, replaced by unbridled bliss. Her large cross pendant sizzles against his t-shirt, but he ignores it, entirely focused on Buffy – her lips, her hair, his arms threading inside her coat to squeeze her back. Neither of them have any desire to stop, and their lip-lock is getting more and more vocal, soft gasps and heady groans.

"Do you... want to come back... to my place?" he murmurs, realizing how unguarded and foolhardy his suggestion is the moment it leaks from his lips. Buffy inhales, and he can already tell a refusal is coming next.

"Spike, I... I want... minions!"

"You want what?"

"Minions! Glory's goons! Look!"

He turns around to spot two scabby, gray, pygmy demons in burlap robes, watching them inquisitively from a sheltering patch of shrubs. As soon as Buffy calls them out, they burst into shrieks of terror and flee for the closest street.

"Hey! Come back here, you little pervs!" she shouts, shoving herself free of Spike's arms and rushing to pursue. Spike remains, unsure if he's welcomed to join her until she glances back over her shoulder. "What? Let's get 'em!"

Together they break into runs, bolting around the hedge and down an alley, but by the time they reach the main thoroughfare, a horde of happy movie-goers are emerging from the theater, and the two skin-diseased flunkies are nowhere in sight.

"Of all the nerve," she huffs at the populated street between the Magic Box and the Espresso Pump. "What's Glory up to, trying to impugn my honor by sending out the midget-y peeping toms? Buffy the Vampire Smoocher?"

Spike chortles. "Maggoty blighters. Say... look, luv, lights are on in Scooby headquarters," he notices, gesturing at the shop. "Rupert's burnin' the midnight oil. Shall we go tell 'im about the canvas-clad moles, eh?"

"As long as we don't tell him what they caught us doing," Buffy smirks at Spike. She starts to walk toward the shop, and he saunters behind her to wrap one arm possessively around her waist.

"So... we shouldn't walk in like this, then," he whispers, burying his face in her warm golden tresses, lips tracing down her neck.

"Spi-i-i-ike..." She murmurs his name in a long, throaty breath. "Be good..."

"Must I?" he entreats, reluctantly loosening his hold and brushing one hand through her hair, arranging the silky strands back into place so that no one would be the wiser. "I like being bad..."

"Be good for now," she smiles, reaching for the Magic Box's front door.

"Tease."

"Sap," she retorts, smirking.

"Vixen."

"Slayer-phile," she answers, barely reining in giggles as she turns the handle.

"I-I think you'll see that your review isn't strictly needed..." says Giles's voice nervously. A customer, still here so late?

Buffy takes one look into the shop, sees way too much tweed, and starts to back out into a very confused Spike.

"Bad day... bad baaaad..."

"Miss Summers?" says Quinton Travers coolly, and Buffy freezes, halfway out of the door, "good to see you again."

"Must be gettin' you confused with another Miss Summers livin' in Sunnydale who happens to be the Slayer," Spike attempts to joke, his voice low in her ear. "That or his memory's failin' in his senile years."

Buffy snorts and then quickly composes herself, while Travers and his suit-clad colleagues look on, their faces ranging from unreadable to impatient to calculating. Reluctantly, Buffy reopens the door and steps into the shop, and Spike closes it as he crosses the threshold.

"Behind her! Vampire!"

Three armed crossbows appear as if by magic. Buffy shields Spike, arms up, waving their weapons down, her back to his chest, his back to the door.

"No! Spike is..." My ally? My friend? The soulless creature whose sinisterly attractive, cold, and muscular body is the subject of my increasingly-less-secret fantasies?

"He's harmless," she finally says, rather lamely.

Spike opens his mouth to protest, but then all his focusing ability vanishes as Buffy presses slightly closer to him, the curve of her backside against the front of his jeans. Oh bugger... she's gonna make me get it up in front of Tweedy and Co... Don't... Ohhhh... Oh soddin' hell, baby, don't move...

Buffy draws in a surprised breath as she feels the reaction he can't suppress. Travers says something, but Buffy's mind is far too pleasantly occupied. Feeling daring, she pushes back infinitesimally more, and hears his repressed intake of breath, sees his hand tighten on the doorknob out of the corner of her eye. I'm grinding my ass into William the Bloody in front of the leading members of the Watcher's Council... and dang, it is hot!

Completely oblivious to the paralysis between the Slayer and the aroused vampire she's defending, Travers hands the floor to another Watcher he introduces as Nigel, an Indian man, mid-forties, conspicuously self-important.

"It's an exhaustive examination of your procedures and abilities," says Nigel stiffly. "We'll observe your training, talk to your friends..."

"Talk to my friends?" Buffy interrupts, finally releasing the pressure on Spike and hearing him give an almost inaudible sigh of relief.

"Yes," Travers nods, "we understand you're still taking civilians out on patrol."

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Buffy huffs.

"Buffy, I sense your resistance, and I –"

"Oh, quit with the Darth Vader act," Spike huffs, folding his arms – and, conveniently, his coat flaps – across his body. "Can't scare this girl into gettin' whatever the hell it is that you tweedy birds want. 'Nless you have her poisoned again, like the scum-sucking rat you are..."

"Spike," Buffy murmurs in warning as two of the watchers heft their crossbows skittishly.

Travers just humphs loudly and keeps his eyes fixed on Buffy, ignoring Spike's interruption. "I think your Watcher hasn't reminded you lately of the resolute status of the players in our little game. The Council fights evil. The Slayer is the instrument by which we fight. The Council remains, the Slayers change. It's been that way from the beginning."

"Well, that's a very comforting, bloodless way of looking at it isn't it?" Giles asks with scorn.

"Giles, let me talk to Buffy, because I think she's understanding me."

Buffy also crosses her arms, sending Travers a sneer as he prattles on.

"Glory is stronger than you. We can help you. We have information that will help. Pass the review, and we will give it to you without reservation. Fail the review, either through incompetence, or by resisting our recommendations –"

Giles and Spike burst out with arguments at exactly the same second.

"Resisting your recommendations? She fails if we don't do what you say! How much under your thumb do you think we are?"

"She's not your bloody instrument, you pillock! Oh, go ahead," Spike growls as the subservient Watchers lift their crossbows again. "Take your best shot! I'll snatch your little sticks out of the air and spend the next fortnight shovin' 'em slowly up your arse!"

A visible tremor of terror runs through every tweed-wearing person in the shop. Giles looks like he might burst into laughter, while Travers' face is slightly green.

"I... understand you think this is... unfair," the head of the Council finally resumes speaking, his tone missing much of its former intimidation. "But there are factors which should motivate you to go along with the review. We could shut this place down permanently."

"You can't do that," says Buffy, her eyes flicking around the shop once before zeroing in on Travers again. "You don't have that kind of power." Does he?

"Of course we do, and a great deal more. In fact, if you insist on fighting us, we'll arrange to have Mr. Giles deported within the day, never set foot in this country again."

Spike looks momentarily to Giles, hoping something in the familiar Watcher's eyes will call Travers' bluff, but Rupert just continues staring stonily at the human who has brought as much harm to his charge as almost any demon.

"Now, perhaps you're used to idle threats and sloppy discipline, Miss Summers. But you're dealing with grownups now," Travers concludes pretentiously. "Am I making myself clear?"

Buffy continues glaring, afraid if she looks at Spike or Giles she'll lose her resolve.

"I... I assume Giles has shown you the Training Room?" she asks, voice stiff.

"Yes."

"Good. Will you and your people wait there while I speak with Giles and Spike?"

"With the vampire?" queries a bespectacled female watcher who looks like she invented the word 'bookish'.

"Let her have her way, Lydia, temporarily," says Travers, standing up. The Watchers file into the back room, still training their crossbows on a sneering Spike until they're all within and the door closes. Buffy sinks into the bench around the back-lit table, and Spike lights up a cigarette and paces over near where Giles is standing, looking defeated.

"It's a power play, that's what it is," the older-looking Englishman sighs. "It's about who has the power."

"Big power outage in Buffy County," the Slayer says glumly.

"I should have set the two of you loose on them, that's what I should have done."

Spike grins and draws on his smoke, while Buffy just exhales miserably again. "Giles, that Travers guy is like sixty. I can't hit him." She looks up, seeking encouragement. "Can I?"

"I could... if I could, you know" Spike grumbles. "Buggerin' chip."

"Can you really do that?" Giles inquires of Spike. "What you implied?"

"The arrow thing? I don't know," he shrugs. "Never tried. Threat always seems to get good results, though."

"Can they really do the stuff they threatened? Kick you out of the country?" Buffy whispers.

"In a heartbeat," sighs Giles, removing his glasses and extracting a kerchief. "Bureaucracy, pulling of political strings, they're the best in the world. They can kill you with the stroke of a pen. Poncy sods."

Crunch. A lens snaps free, polished right out of the frame. Giles eyes his broken glasses and then sets them down on the table, sitting beside Buffy.

"Giles... am I gonna be able to get through this review?" Buffy asks softly, fear laced through her voice.

"I suppose they'll make it as difficult as they want to. The physical stuff could be a bit of a challenge."

"That's not what I'm worried about. It's the other stuff. Examining decisions I've made. They're gonna expect me to... to be like a Slayer, and... and know stuff, but I'm just me and I don't know anything, and they're gonna go away, and they're not gonna tell me how to fight Glory, and I'm not gonna be able to protect Dawn..."

"Buffy, calm down. The scandal here is not anything you've done wrong, it's the way they're behaving. Holding what they know hostage... with a gun pointed at my bleeding green card, no less. It's humiliating."

"Don't worry, Gramps," Spike says cheerily, stomping out the butt of his cigarette. "They won't send you back to the Isle unwillingly 'nless it's over my dead but still-kicking body."

"They did pick the perfect thing," Buffy heaves another sigh and squeezes Giles's hand. "I can't lose you."

"Thank you."

"I... I guess I should be getting ready." She stands and reaches for her coat. "Spike, a word."

"Of course, luv."

He follows her through the door beside the counter, past the basement door, and into the alley. For almost an entire minute, they stand together, not touching, just lingering, glad to finally be alone to clear their heads.

"Sorry 'bout... goin' stiff on you," he murmurs, chagrinned.

Buffy's eyes flick down to his belt, and then back up guiltily – but her womanly pride is too swelled up to feel truly embarrassed.

"Oh... that... I didn't mind," she says when he continues staring at her as though waiting for an angry backlash. His eyes widen. Uh-oh, brain-to-mouth filter disengaged. Prepare for Stage Two: foot-in-mouth syndrome. "That really didn't come out right."

Spike's concerned look morphs into a grin. "Want to try it again, see how you really feel?"

"Spike!"

"Kiddin', sweets. Sort-of..." He shakes his head as if to regain focus. "So... I'm harmless, am I?"

Buffy sucks in her lower lip, realizing how much her careless label hurt him.

"I... I couldn't think of anything appropriate to say."

"Appropriate?"

"Yeah, I mean, I didn't think blurting out 'Hi Watcher people. This is Spike, also known as William the Bloody, slayer of Slayers. He's been living in my house after getting thrashed by my demon-hating ex-boyfriend, who thought that he and I were having sweaty, naked, crazy-good sex' would make a really good impression. And I definitely just channeled my inner Anya, didn't I?"

"You're the new poster girl for 'Too Much Information', pet," he agrees with a smirk. "Though... I'd love to hear about this sweaty... naked... crazy-good sex we supposedly had."

Buffy's face turns flamboyantly pink, noticing how he stretches out the words, making them sound far dirtier and more alluring than she had.

"Pig," she mutters instinctively.

"Oink," whispers Spike, mouth set in a cheeky grin. "Still, I'm better than that odious tweedy bastard who tried to murder you on your eighteenth, aren't I?"

"Totally."

"If he or his minions do anything to hurt you or Dawnie, I'll lop off their heads and string their intestines all over town."

"Ewww," Buffy grimaces, resisting a laugh. "Head-lopping and intestine-stringing are not okay, and besides, your chip would headache you into next year." How does he always manage to make everything seem... well, maybe not 'all right with the world', but at least... less overwhelming and doom-causing, like the bad guys really do have weaknesses?

"Yeah, well, I'd fight them off bitin' and scratchin' until I blacked out, sod the pain," he mutters. " 'Course they'd probably dust me first, outnumbered an' all."

"No dusting!" Buffy whispers hoarsely, unable to stop the sudden surge of panic that floods her system. "You... you're not allowed to get dusted! Y-you have to stay un-dusted."

"Buffy..." Spike gapes, watching her lips tremble, eyes fill with water. "Luv, I didn't – "

"You can't leave me! I n-n-need you. I c-c-can't beat Glory, and if you l-l-leave, and s-s-something happens to m-m-me, then there'll be n-n-no one to protect D-D-D-Dawn!"

"Buffy, sweetheart..."

He pulls her into an embrace, squeezing her shoulders tightly, her hands on his chest. A neighboring shopkeeper pokes his head out the back door of his establishment, but Spike sneers and gives him the two-finger salute, and the man scuttles back out of sight.

"Shh... It's alright, my love... dearest love... a'course I'll never leave."

"Men always leave me. Dad. Angel. Stupid boys."

Spike smiles into her hair, pleasantly surprised that she lumps Soldier Boy in with that ass Parker, and any of the brats she might have dated in high school.

"Well, I'm not a man, livin' one that is. I'll be by your side 'till you decide to be rid of me. Pro'ly not even then. I'll come back as a ghost and haunt you."

Giving a weepy chuckle, Buffy runs a hand down the lapel of his duster, feeling the familiar leather. "No dusting. Ever."

"Only one unstoppable force in this world could ever take me out, and that's you, honey."

"Then you're gonna live to be one crotchety old vampire," Buffy whispers with a teary smile. On a whim, she tilts her head and kisses him on the neck. A shudder of longing courses through Spike's cold veins.

"Not if you do that. I'll combust inside-out," he says shakily, matching her movement by pressing his lips to her hair.

"We... we have to be good... until they go."

"As in, no more cold cuddlin' until McTweedy and his hired help hit the proverbial road?"

"Uh-huh."

"And then?" he urges longingly. He feels her smile against his neck.

"Then maybe I will come to your place sometime."

"You've got to stop doin' that, luv. Teasin' me, makin' promises."

"Then promise me something." She pulls away and meets his gaze. "Promise you won't provoke them... if they come do their twenty questions thing. Just tell them whatever they want to hear and don't give them any reason to hurt you. I'd feel so awful if you got hurt again because of me."

"Hey now," Spike leans forward slightly, his voice a reassuring whisper. "Haven't ever been hurt because of you, sweets."

"Riley..."

"...Was a spoilsported son-of-a-bitch who got what was comin' to him..."

"Promise me, Spike."

He heaves his shoulders, bristling that she still blames herself for the tortures he experienced at her dead ex's hands.

"I promise not to be cheeky to the trigger-happy tweedy morons," he says, whingeing a bit before the corner of his mouth turns up into a smirk. "Kiss on it then, Slayer?"

"No cheek," Buffy warns.

"Just lips this time," he winks, closing in before she has time to rebuff him. One hand swooping around her mid-back, he tips her into a low dip and takes her mouth prisoner, but with a gentleness that surprises her. She clings to his duster lapels, half afraid of falling over backwards. After a long, languid kiss, he straightens, lifting her up beside him.

"You know where to find me," he murmurs, sealing her forehead with another kiss. "Hang on... just 'membered somethin'. Got a pen on you, luv?"

"What?"

"Pen. Ballpoint... fountain? Or a pencil?"

"Uh... yeah, from school..."

She fishes in her coat pocket and hands him a No. 2 pencil. Spike snatches up a scrap of newspaper from the alley cobbles and scribbles seven numbers on it before shoving the paper bit at her.

"What's this?" Buffy asks, completely at a loss.

"Phone number for my crypt," answers Spike. He'd triple-checked the city maps and records to make absolutely sure the number from the damaged street payphone corresponded to the wires he'd decoupled.

"You have a –"

"Complicated," he huffs. "There was minor vandalism involved. Thought you might not like it."

"No... I feel safer knowing I could get in touch with you faster."

"Music to my ears, luv. Well... guess you'd better go back inside before they s'pect I've eaten you."


To be continued...