The phonetic for Quaiche is Ki-Chee… at least in my head ;)

Sunnydale campus was typically a hive of busy activity, and Friday afternoon was no exception. There were probably hundreds of people on the grounds, either milling around before the start of the game or hurrying from one place to the next, and Spike was right in the thick of it. For the undead, he loved life, enjoyed the way it moved and flowed around him, color and light and energy that never stopped, hell, rarely ever slowed down. It was nice to be back in a crowd again, in a clean, steady rush of daylight activity being jostled along by people who weren't slick with the frenetic sweat of nightclubs or followed by the bitter, earthy scent of alcohol.

They'd gotten there early enough to snag prime seats on the bleachers, scaling the rungs to the top where Buffy leaned easily against the cool metal backing. As for him, he planted his boots firmly on the edge of the bench below, taking up more room than was his right, but hey – evil. The bleachers filled up quickly and players began to line up along the edges of the field; maroon on one side, white with purple piping on the other. For a minute he leaned back and tipped his face to the sun, marveling at where he was.

He'd have called any man a liar who'd painted him this picture.

He was a vampire for God's sake. He wasn't supposed to ever see the sun again, less'n he had a fancy for doin' himself in right proper. But here he was, on a hot, bright afternoon watching humans kick a football round some D-rated college campus. Next to the Slayer no less.

And why?

Because that was the question that plagued him, that drove him half-mad some mornings when he tried so hard for sleep and woke up worse off than when he'd started, shadows of dreams whispering just out of reach of full, conscious understanding. Why? Why was he doing this? Why was he letting the Slayer jerk him around, dress him up like an All-American douche and slap paint on his face like some five year old at a three-quid carnival?

Because she'd been right.

Called him on it at the very beginning hadn't she?

'All those things you wanna do Spike, are they any fun doing alone?'

And that was exactly it. He hadn't been alone, really alone, in over a hundred years. Not since he'd become a vampire, sire and family and nest-mates ready-made. Sure, they'd been shite for company, but they'd been there, sometimes helpful when he'd needed them, usually up for some wicked, deadly fun. But after Dru, that had all been gone. She was the last link, the last thread keeping him tied to that life, and when he'd cut that contact, he'd been alone for the first time in a long time.

It hadn't set with him well. Spike wasn't a loner like Angel and some of the others. No, he was a social creature, stoked to passion by words and calmed with a touch. Some of his fondest memories were of the good days with the Whirlwind, when Angelus had been halfway under control and they had had an established hierarchy within their little group. Sure, he'd been at the bottom of that hierarchy, and while he hadn't been entirely happy at the bottom, at the time he knew it was his place. He'd yet to earn better, and it was enough knowing that he was a part of a group, one piece of a cohesive whole that eventually spun into chaos when a piece was removed.

So yeah. That was probably why. He hated being alone, and the bint made for halfway decent company. He could mostly be himself with her, without holding back and without apology, as strange as that seemed. In her own way she understood him, knew mostly who and what he was, and wasn't too stupid or timid that she couldn't hold his interest and her own. He was getting to do things with her that he hadn't done in over a century, things he thought he'd never be able to do again, and damn it if he wasn't having fun.

Simple. Old fashioned. Fun.

A whistle blew shrilly and Spike almost jumped, just managing to keep his balance on the slick steel bench. He'd been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't even seen the kickoff, but it looked as if Sunnydale had dropped the ball, literally, and was already working to defend their goal from a fairly strong offense being delivered by whichever school thought it clever to dress their blokes in purple cleats and shin-guards. Beside him, Buffy had slid forward to the edge of her seat, ready to leap up at a moment's notice in support of her team.

"Woo, come on Sunnydale!" she cried with the crowd as the ball was reversed and brought back up the field to the away team's goal.

"Oh bloody hell," Spike groaned, a sudden deep dread coming over him. "Don't tell me you were a…"

"Cheerleader?" she beamed. "Since I was seven. Captain since I was ten," she added proudly. "You didn't know that?"

"I do now," he grumbled, clapping one hand over his near eardrum as Buffy shrieked, the black and white ball sailing into the opposing team's net.

The rest of the first half carried on in much the same fashion, Buffy bouncing in her seat and wailing like a siren whenever Sunnydale managed to sink a shot. Unfortunately for Spike, both teams were better than he had expected them to be, making for a tight game. A great match to watch sure, but hard on sensitive ears. By halftime he was ready to stretch his legs a bit, and he was hopeful that a ten minute break would leave Buffy hoarse enough that he could enjoy the rest of the match in relative peace.

"Grab a coke Slayer?" he asked, rolling easily to his feet and stretching out his spine.

"No thanks," she replied, and he could tell the reaction was instinctive, an easy response to what would normally be an unloaded question.

"Care to escort me to the concessions, or am I big enough to go on my own?"

"Oh!"

This time Buffy leapt to her feet, so fast you'd think he'd taken off at a dead sprint, not reminded her of the local vampire leash-law she'd enacted. She'd jumped up with such vigor that she lost her balance and started to topple, but he was fast and caught her easily around the waist on instinct alone, her mouth a little 'o' of surprise as her hands flew to his chest, clutching at the fabric of his shirt. He let her go quickly, as soon as she was steady on her feet; still, he automatically held up a hand to her, surprised by the old Victorian gesture. He watched, safe behind his dark shades, as she studied his proffered hand for the flash of a second, then took it firmly as if she were proving a point, to him, to herself, relying on him for balance as she descended the first two steps then letting go to trot down the remaining risers on her own. He followed close behind despite the discomfort he felt at the ease between them, and the two made their way silently through the dense crowd to the line at the snack cart.

They made a show of ignoring each other as they waited in the cue, Buffy looking off in every direction but his, him with his arms crossed loosely as he faced front, watching the people around them, listening in on this conversation, then that, more to distract himself than out of any real interest. In short enough time they'd made it to the front, and he paid for a large coke with money he'd gotten trading kittens to the floppy-eared demon Clem that he'd taken up with in recent weeks. Turning around, he was startled to find that Buffy had disappeared from his side and was well enough out of range that the constant thrum of the Slayer sensors he'd grown so accustomed to had actually died down for a change.

Ah, but she wasn't that far off, was she?

It was an almost effortless thing to find her again in the crowd, so attuned to her signature was he, and he zeroed in on her in seconds. She was only about thirty yards away, talking to the timid redhead he'd terrorized the last time he was in town, and some other blonde chit with a gentle face that he'd never seen before. She kept darting glances back over her shoulder at him, anxiety all over her face, and she finally looked one too many times, pointing the gazes of her friends in his direction. Quickly adjusting his own gaze, he turned half to the side and made a show of his own nonchalance, hoping that he wouldn't be recognized though he wasn't sure why. He knew that Buffy hadn't told anyone but her mum about their little deal; might be fun to spill the beans to the witch…

Suddenly Spike was knocked harshly out of his musings, a devious grin still at the corner of his mouth, by a broad-shouldered block of All-American farm boy, turning round and round as though he were chasing his tail, a small electronic device in his hand. Spike didn't miss the two other boys following close at his heel; he was quick to not the way their eyes scanned the congested field, their military hair-cuts and the way their movements all rotated around those of their good-ole Midwestern quarterback.

Interesting.

"Watch it corn-fed," Spike snarled, careful not to let his eyes flash.

"Sorry," the boy muttered, not paying him the slightest attention. He was too busy staring down at the remote in his hand, his face screwed up in a mask of confusion. Shaking his head, he gave a not-so-subtle hand signal then took off at a jog, pushing his way roughly through the crowd.

His two companions were quick to follow suit; one, with an open, honest face departed without preamble, but the other, the one with the coffee colored skin and the dark eyes, glared at Spike with a sneer before sauntering off slowly, keeping him in his sights as long as he could. For his part Spike sneered right back, but something told him to keep his fangs in check. There was something about that one he didn't like, something about all three that set him on edge, made him want to melt back into the crowd and disappear in plain sight. Something wrong. Something off…

"Ready? Game's about to start again."

Spike almost jumped, then shook off the warning that was buzzing at the back of his neck and faced the Slayer, one scarred eyebrow quirked above his sunglasses.

"Oh, um," she stuttered, cocking a thumb back over her shoulder as she rushed to explain. "Willow, she…" Buffy trailed off as he stepped in close, less than a foot of space between their bodies. "What are you doing?" she asked nervously, attempting to back away, but he snagged her wrist and held her fast.

"Hold still," he demanded. He found he quite simply didn't care that she'd gone off to leave him all on his lonesome without a threat between them.

Rolling his eyes, he popped the cap off of his drink and poured almost a third of the soda onto the ground between their shoes, slipping a small silver flask from the side pocket of his shorts. Using their bodies to hide the motion, he added a few shots of rum to the cup, shrugged and upended the flask until the last of the amber fluid had trickled out. Stowing the flask again, he gave the Coke a good swirl and tacked the cap back on. Taking a long pull on the straw, he hummed appreciatively before tilting the cup in her direction.

"You can't have liquor here!" she hissed under her breath, eyes wide as she darted furtive glances left and right. "We're on campus! I'm underage!"

"Well I'm bloody-well not," Spike snorted, turning away from her and leading them back to the bleachers. "And what's got your knickers in a twist anyway? Pick you out six different blokes with beer on their breath or Maryjane in their pocket, and that's just in this section. You know, for the savior of the soddin' world, think you'd try to have a bit more fun on your day off."

"I have fun!" she yipped defensively, but from the corner of his eye he saw her cross her arms and stick her lower lip out in a pout. "I have fun."

This time she sounded like she was trying to convince herself, not him.

"Right," he grinned, taking another long pull from his drink, enjoying the gentle burn on the back of his tongue, enjoying teasing her. "When's the last time you did anything bad Slayer?"

"This isn't bad enough?" she countered, gesturing between the two of them. She frowned a minute and he could practically hear the gears clicking in her head. "I burned down my old gym," she said finally.

"Yeah," he snorted, "For the greater good right? Take it from somebody who knows Slayer," he tossed her a smirk, "Bein' a little bit bad? The kinda bad you humans like to play at? It's bloody good times."

"I don't think my mom would be too happy if she found out you were pushing pot on her kid."

Spike laughed. No, the axe would probably look sweet if Joyce thought he was encouraging delinquency and illegal habits. Still…

"You should try it sometime," he replied mildly. "Might loosen you up. Pretend you're not such a vicious bitch for a few hours."

Turning to look across at her, he watched as she tossed her head in a classic Slayer eye-roll, her golden ponytail swinging as the sun caught in her hair and gleamed. She was pretty here, like this. Softer than when she fought, when she hunted.

Spike frowned and turned back to the game.


Dusk had fallen by the time the match was over, Sunnydale surprising everyone by taking the win in overtime. Buffy had leapt and cheered, jumping up and down and clapping with the rest while he merely stood, an easy smile on one side of his mouth. Truth be told he didn't really care who took the cup, but it was… amusing to watch her. She high-fived some of the students sitting around them, celebrating on common ground, and she had even turned on him with a wide, bright smile, moving forward as if she were about to leap up and wrap him in a hug before she caught herself.

The team eventually trailed off the field to a round of cheers and the thunder of boots rumbling applause on the benches, the celebration slowing down as people began to trickle off the bleachers and towards the parking lots. Spike jumped lightly down onto the grass, Buffy right behind, and pitched him empty rum and coke into a nearby trashcan with ease. They were still milling around a bit, waiting for a path to clear when Spike caught the whisper of his name on the breeze. Spinning round on his heel, his eyes scanned the crowd until he caught sight of a Lulla demon, a small, human-shaped male that he knew from poker, watching him with black eyes from the dark recess between two concession stands.

Without bothering to stop and ask permission, he moved quickly through the crowd to its side, a sudden shadow falling over him as his fingers went cold. Lulla demons were fairly timid and tended to stay in the background; if this one was looking for him now, here, in public, something was very wrong. Worse, if he was daring to use his power to plant his voice in a Master vampire's head, especially one as volatile as Spike, it was bad. He could hear Buffy behind him, snapping his name hard in a Slayer's voice as she became aware of his sudden flight from her side but he pushed on, shouldering stragglers aside until he stood towering over the Lulla with anger flashing in his eyes. For his part the demon looked him up and down but wisely choose not to comment on his appearance.

Buffy stopped about ten yards behind him and he caught the flash of her ponytail as she spun hard on her heel, hiding her face. He never thought he'd say it, but thank God for smart Slayers. He didn't know why she stopped, but whether she had just decided to let him handle his own business or was intuitive enough to know there was something more going on, he didn't really care. This would go more smoothly without her help.

"Quaiche," he intoned, making his displeasure clear in the way he spoke the Lulla's name.

"Spike."

It nodded its head, dipping its chin down low to its chest in a gesture of respect, and Spike dropped his shoulders, easing his stance.

"My wife," it spoke again without further preamble, its voice a gentle hum coming from the back of its throat, "She is gone."

"Tough break mate," Spike replied flatly, "But hardly my problem."

"She is missing," he insisted adamantly, his dark eyes narrowing to slits. "She is missing like the others."

Spike's head immediately snapped up, his teeth prickling at his gums as his sense of dread returned ten-fold. "Where?" he demanded.

"Not far from here. She left from the northern tunnels last night. There was a struggle."

"Can you track her?"

"I cannot." The Lulla demon's eyes flashed. "If she was unconscious…"

"Right," Spike acknowledged. Lulla lived by drawing energy from the dreams of humans and demons alike, and could influence those dreams as well, but their powers only worked during a natural sleep. Knocked out, drugged up, they got nothing. Darting a look back over his shoulder, he saw Buffy turned halfway in his direction, listening closely while trying to look like she wasn't.

"Give me a mo' mate, I'll follow you over there. Should be able to pick up something."

The Lulla nodded, and Spike slipped over to Buffy's side.

"What's going on?" she asked quietly, her Slayer mask firmly in place.

"Not sure yet," he replied, but apparently that wasn't enough.

"Spike, I'm the Slayer," she said harshly, "And I'm not stupid either! That guy's a demon, and if something's going on I should know about it."

"Told you I don't know what the bloody hell's goin' on yet!" he snarled, "And you just keep your stakes to yourself; demon he may be but he's hurt fewer people than you in his life, so back off! Get your jollies from somebody who deserves the beating."

He expected her to react badly, to lash out at him with words and fists, but he was surprised to see a stunned look come over her face, follow quickly by apology.

"Sorry," she murmured. "I just… is everything ok?"

"His wife's missing," Spike answered grimly. "And she's not the only one. Actually been meaning to talk to you about that, but it'll have to wait. I gotta go."

"Do you want my help?" she asked, and her voice was small and humble and honest, and he got the distinct impression that she would help if he said yes.

"No, I've got it for now," he answered. "Pick up my duster tonight, let you know what I find out."

She nodded, but she was shifting nervously on her feet, a protest on the tip of her tongue, and it actually took him a minute to remember. Sighing heavily, he wrenched the ring from his finger and held it out to her.

"Here," he grumbled, "Take it. Dark enough anyways."

"Spike…"

He didn't wait for her to finish. Turning on his heel, he strode over to the Lulla's side and followed him quickly across the field and into the night.