Written for a fic for art challenge; requirements can be found at the end of the story. It takes place in what will quickly be seen to be a non-canon Season V – the parts and the people are all there, but I do different things with them. As is common with my Season V fics, I manipulate the timelines and events to suit my purposes. In this case, Spike has not yet made his declaration of love to Buffy, although everyone is getting suspicious…

Thanks to my poor, long-suffering beta, Always_jbj, who took time from her writing own fic to beta this one for me. Any mistakes you see probably occurred after she finished with it and did my compulsive tinkering. Feel free to point them out. ;)


"You really like her, don't you?" Dawn's quiet question pulled Spike out of the book through which he'd been searching for some mention of a Hellgod called Glorificus. He shot a quick look around the shop, hoping that no one had overheard the teenager.

"Don't know who or what you're talkin' about, Bit," he growled.


"Watch your language, missy!"

Dawn's eyes rolled. "You're shocked, I'm sure. And you didn't answer my question."

"Not goin' to," he said quietly. "Got more important things to worry about right now, don' we?"

"You can tell me, you know," she whispered conspiratorially. "I won't tell her."

"Don't know what the bleedin' hell you're on about, Niblet, but it can't be more important than figuring out this bitch's weaknesses. Now get to work. It's not like you don't have good reason to want her gone."

The reminder that she was the reason that Glory was in Sunnydale was enough to cause Dawn to drop the subject for a while. She studied Spike's face as he flipped through reference books, his eyes scanning the pages rapidly for any trace of information about hellgods and Glory.

I don't know how Buffy can miss the hotness that is Spike. She was all over him last year when she thought they were getting married. Now she acts like she's doing him a big favor, letting him take care of Mom and me when she's not there.

Shaking her head at the stupidity of her older sister, Dawn put her own head down and began searching for more information about Glory and what she might want with a fourteen-year-old former Key.

"We're going to hide where?" Xander's voice went into a range that should have been impossible for a grown man.

Buffy sighed in exasperation. "Glory is going to be looking for anybody and everybody that she thinks might have information about the Key. You guys are around me all the time. Ergo, the need to hide until I can think of something to throw her off the track. My mom, Dawn, you, Willow and Tara and Giles. You're going to hide in Spike's crypt."

"Why Spike?"

"Because," she said tiredly, "he's the only one strong enough to fight Glory off long enough for you to get away if she does find you. And, besides, how likely is she to go looking for her "Key" in a cemetery? "

Ignoring the rest of Xander's grumbling, Buffy told him that he and Anya had a half an hour to pack up whatever they thought they would need or want to take with them and then they were to meet her in Restfield.

Willow and Tara were much more willing, only asking softly for some time to gather any herbs and supplies that they might need for a cloaking spell. Spike had become a favorite of Tara's ever since he proved to her that she wasn't a demon. Of course, it helped that she hadn't been around back when he was determined to kill Buffy and her friends; a fact that Willow had to point out to her frequently when she waxed too appreciative of Spike and his help.

"I swear, Tara, if I didn't know that you don't like guys, I'd be jealous of the way you talk about Spike," Willow grumbled, only half-kidding.

"You've got nothing to be jealous of, sweetie," Tara said with a blush. "You know I...I love you. And I don't think I'm Spike's type, either," she added with an enigmatic smile.

"You would be anybody's type, baby," Willow said loyally. "Even Spike would love you if he didn't have to worry that I'd turn him into a toad."

"Maybe," was all Tara said, her mind going to the way the vampire's aura warmed up whenever Buffy was near him.

"Are you sure this is all right with Spike?" Joyce continued to pack, even as she frowned at her oldest daughter.

"I told you, Mom. He's fine with it. It was practically his idea!"

Not really a lie. I mean, he did say that his crypt had a lot of room and a downstairs part to hide in. He just didn't say he was volunteering it for my family and friends.

"It seems like such an imposition," Joyce worried. "All of us? When he's so used to being alone..."

"Spike doesn't like to be alone, Mom." Dawn stuck her head in the door and held up her overnight bag to show that she was ready. "He'll be glad to see us again."

Joyce smiled uncertainly, but snapped her bag closed and went to pick it up. Buffy grabbed it before she could move, lifting and carrying it for her. She took the bag downstairs and put it in the back of the big SUV in the driveway. Getting tired of waiting, she went back to the door and yelled inside, "Mom! I'm going to go ahead of you guys and let Spike kno—and be sure that Spike doesn't need my help with anything. Meet you there!"

As she jogged towards Restfield Cemetery, she mulled over her decision to send everyone to the chipped vampire for safety.

Okay, on the plus side – he likes violence, so he won't mind if he has to fight off Glory's minions; he likes my mom and Dawn, so he won't mind that he has them to watch Passions with. I think he likes Willow and Tara, so he shouldn't mind having them around – and they just sit together and talk about spells anyway. So that's all good.

She bit her lip as she turned in the gate and continued her jog.

Let's see, on the minus side...he and Xander act like they hate each other...But Anya will probably keep Xander busy somewhere – no, wait! She can't do that in front of Dawn and my mom! Maybe Giles can...Gah!

Her arrival at the vampire's door coincided with her realization that not everyone who was coming to stay with Spike was necessarily going to be happy about it. Nor were they all among the very few people that he actually liked.

In an attempt to start off on the right foot, she knocked loudly on the door before pushing it open; and found herself very glad that she had. Although she couldn't be absolutely sure, she strongly suspected that the vampire now sitting up on a sarcophagus and glaring at her, had been lying down with one hand in his pants. As the door had swung open, Buffy was sure that she had seen him sit up quickly and snatch his hand from his open fly, which he was doing his best to hide under his tee shirt. She rolled her eyes and made a big production of turning her back to him, saying tightly, "Put that away and try to act civilized. My mother and Dawn are on their way here."

"Why don't you put it away for me, if it bothers you so much?" He managed to growl and leer at the same time, making no attempt to hide what he'd been doing, now that he realized she'd seen him. He slid off the stone slab and pulled up his zipper, pulling his jeans closed with an audible 'snap'.

"Ewww, Spike! Could you be more of a pig?" She whirled on him, face flushed and eyes blazing. "If you behave like that around Dawn, I'll..."

She stopped in the middle of her threat, reminding herself that she was there to ask him to take care of people for her so that she could concentrate on finding Glory. She reined in her temper, which wasn't easy, considering the wide grin on the vampire's face. Then he added insult to injury by laughing.

"Don't get your kickers in a twist, Slayer. You know bloody well I'd never say anything like that around the Bit, or Joyce. It's just that you're so easy to wind up, I couldn't resist."

Buffy tried to maintain her fury in the face of his obviously good-humored teasing, but found the boyish grin he was still wearing to be strangely irresistible.

"Well, you do have a knack for making me mad. Got to hand that to you," she agreed, fighting to keep the edges of her lips from curling up in an answering smile. "But now's not really a good time," she added, sobering as she remembered the purpose of her visit.

Immediately, Spike dropped his grin and walked over to her, barely refraining from laying a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"What's wrong, luv? Did you say Joyce and the Bit are on their way here?"

Buffy nodded. "Yes. I... you said... and you did it before, so I thought..." She stammered to a halt, remembering her mother's words about imposing on him and realizing that she was doing just that. Spike cocked his head and waited patiently for her to finish. When she didn't, but just stood mutely, staring at the floor, he lost the battle with himself and moved close enough to touch her chin and tip it up so that she could meet his eyes.

"You thought what, pet? That you could bring them here for old, harmless Spike to protect for you? That I've got nothin' better to do than babysit the Slayer's mum and sis?"

Her lip crept out in a small pout. "Well, you don't, do you? I mean, other than what you were—and that was—I mean, you aren't going to die if you can't-" Once again her face was bright red, and he dropped his hand and smiled.

"No, luv," he said softly. "I won't die if I don't get a good wank in every day. It jus' helps me pass the time. There's nothing like an afternoon fantasy to put a bloke in a good mood for the rest of the day."

"Well, you're easily pleased," she muttered, once again studying the floor intently.

"I take what I can get," he responded, moving away from her and sitting back on the sarcophagus. "So, how long are your mum and the Bit goin' to be needin' my hospitality?"

"About that..."

Before Buffy could say any more, there was another knock. Raising one eyebrow at her, he stood up and walked to the door, stepping back as he opened it, so as to avoid the rays of the sun. Instead of Joyce and Dawn, he was surprised to find Giles standing outside, a heavy bag in each hand.

"May I come in?" he asked, as Spike continued to stare at him. With an abrupt nod, he waved the man in and shut the door behind him. He watched Giles walk to his kitchen and put one of the bags down on the table, before moving to the beat-up couch and sitting down gingerly.

"Um... I can explain," Buffy said weakly, as Spike turned blue lasers on her.

"I'm waiting."

She looked around. "Is there someplace private we can talk? Downstairs somewhere?"

Spike looked startled, then said quickly, "Yeah, alright. Jus' give me a minute to clean up." He pulled the cover back from the entrance to the bottom floor of the crypt and dropped into the darkness below. Buffy watched curiously as the opening began to glow with the light from the candles that Spike was clearly lighting. When his, "Alright, Slayer. Be careful on the ladder," floated up, she waved at her puzzled watcher and peered into the hole. Seeing nothing but bare dirt below the ladder, she dropped in just as Spike had, landing in a crouch and staring around.

"Nicely done, pet," he appreciated. "Now, what else haven't you told me that you think you need to say somewhere away from prying eyes and ears?" His shrewd gaze pinned her in place, and she straightened up slowly.

"I've asked everybody to come over here to stay with you," she said bravely. "You're the only one, besides me, who can fight off Glory's minions. And anyway, I don't think they'll look in a crypt. Do you?"

Spike ignored her question in favor of asking, "And by everybody, you mean...?"

"MomandDawnandGilesandWillowandTaraandAnyaandXande r," she blurted out in one breath.

"Takin' a lot for granted here, aren't you, Slayer? Your mum and the Bit, yeah, you know I wouldn't refuse them, but Harris and his bird?"

Buffy didn't answer him right away, just chewed on her lower lip and frowned.

"Cat got your tongue, Slayer?"

She shook her head; then raised suspiciously bright eyes to his. "I'm just trying to decide what would work best – threatening to stake you if you don't do it, or asking you as a... as a friend to help me keep the people I care about safe."

He studied her face for a second, then turned away, giving her time to compose herself as he asked, "An' what will you be doing while I'm down here trying not to go crazy with a bunch of white hats living in my crypt?"

"I'm going to try to find that skank that wants my sister and send her back to whatever hell she came from."

"You don't think I might be more help to you with the killin' part than I would be as a watchdog?"

She couldn't tell from his tight voice if he was angry, hurt or just curious, but she sighed with exasperation anyway.

"I've already had enough macho crap from Riley, thank you very much," she snapped. "Don't you go all 'You need me to help you' on me. I'm the damn Slayer! Not you, not Riley, not anybody else. That's why the monks gave the Key to me."

"Alright, pet," he agreed immediately. "You're the boss. Got it." He looked around the large area they were in and said, "I suppose the whelp might be of some use in making this a bit more comfortable for everybody. They'll be safer down here than they will up there where everybody in the world thinks they can just bust in whenever they want."

Buffy winced a little at his calm acceptance of the way they all treated his home as public property, but before she could think of anything to say about it, there was a burst of noise from upstairs that indicated the arrival of the Scoobies. With a nod and an 'after you' gesture at the ladder, Spike began to follow Buffy to the upper level only to have her stop so abruptly that he almost ran into her. She turned to face him, surprised to find him so close, but meeting his questioning look with determination.

"Thank you," she said simply, trying not to respond to his proximity as inappropriately as her body seemed to want to. The way his eyes widened told her that he'd noticed the increased heart rate and the warm flush creeping up her throat, but he didn't say anything about it; only nodded his head and responded with an old-fashioned sounding, "'s my pleasure, Buffy."

Unable to respond in any way that didn't scream "wildly inappropriate", she continued up the ladder, now more than aware that he was right behind her, his face almost close enough to touch her butt. She stepped to one side when she reached the top and waited for Spike to join her before raising her hand to get everyone's attention.

"Okay, listen up, everybody. We know that Glory knows that I have her Key, but that she doesn't know what or where it is. She also knows who all of you are and that you're all close to me – which means you're all in danger. I want you to stay here, with Spike, until I can get rid of Glory. Between his strength and Willow's magic, I don't think the minions stand a chance – even if they figure out where you are. You'll be safe here, and I'll be able to concentrate on Glory without worrying about you guys."

"Leaving us here to worry about you," Joyce said softly as she and Dawn walked in, their arms full of bags of food.

"I'll be fine," Buffy said firmly. "She's strong, but I'm the Slayer. That bitch hasn't even begun to find out what I can do yet."

Chapter Two

Okay, this is not going according to plan.

Buffy struggled against the chains suspending her from the ceiling of Glory's lavish apartment and tried to control the fear that went through her every time there was noise outside the door. She almost blushed with shame as she thought about how easily the hell god had knocked her unconscious after only a few moments of exchanging blows.

I'm never going to hear the end of this from Spike, she groused. Stupid vampire will be all 'I told you, you needed me for backup, Slayer.'

One of Glory's minions came into the room, carefully staying out of range of the Slayer's still-deadly feet and whining, "The honorable Glorificus has gone out for the evening. I'm to tell you that when she returns, she is going to find her Key if she has to remove all your internal organs one at a time."

Buffy used the chains to swing her body towards the scabby little man, snarling when she just missed his head with her high heeled boot.

"She'll never find it," Buffy said, her voice firm and steady. "And it isn't in one of my internal organs, so good luck with that search."

The man shrugged. "She will enjoy the search anyway. Then she will suck your brain." He turned and left the room, locking the door behind him. Buffy squirmed and tugged, but she couldn't get the right leverage she needed to pull the chains out of their ceiling bolts.

Spike? Giles? Riley? Is anybody looking for me?

Spike's crypt was beginning to feel very small. Joyce and Dawn sat on the couch watching Passions reruns, and even though Dawn scooted over and made sitting motions, he wasn't comfortable joining them. Xander and Anya sat in his only chair, the ex-demon on Xander's lap. Their whispered arguments about whether or not they could explore the rest of Spike's crypt and find a place to 'have orgasms' were inaudible to the humans, but more than apparent to the vampire. Willow and Tara were sitting cross-legged across from each other on the sarcophagus playing with a deck of cards and giggling.

Spike paced around, his resemblance to a caged animal growing by the hour, as he listened to the chattering going on around him. As he made his tenth pass by the kitchen table, Giles glared at him, snapping, "Can't you, for God's sake, sit still?"

"If you'll look around," Spike said through clenched teeth, "you'll see that there is nothing left for me to sit on."

He glared pointedly at the lone kitchen chair that Giles had been using while he perused the reference books scattered across the table. With a resigned sigh, Giles reached for his other bag, pulling out an opened bottle of scotch.

"Here. Take this and go somewhere quiet."

"Are you tryin' to get me drunk, Rupert? You old dog, you." Spike's leering innuendo was half-hearted and Giles barely acknowledged it.

"You should get so fortunate," he said without looking up from his books.

Spike grabbed the offered bottle and headed for the ladder. "I'll be in my room," he said with as much dignity as he could muster.

"Don't get drunk. You're supposed to be our protection."

"I know m' job, Watcher."

Something in Spike's tone brought Giles' eyes up from his books; he studied the vampire, and then said quietly, "We do appreciate this, Spike. Contrary to how it must seem to you, I am aware that this is an imposition."

Spike didn't answer, just nodded and dropped down to the lower area. He settled down against the headboard of his bed and began taking long drinks from the bottle of scotch.

Upstairs, Dawn began to wander around the large, stone room, watching the witches for a few minutes, and then picking up one of Giles' books. She was scanning through the text, not sure what she wanted to find, but relieved that there was something else to do, when Xander said in a loud whisper, "Why is the evil undead doing this for us?"

Dawn looked up with genuine surprise, took in the thoughtful expressions on everyone else's face, and said calmly, "Because Buffy asked him to."

"Threatened him with a dusty funeral is more like it," Xander said. "I guess the Big Bad is still scared of the Slayer."

"I heard that!" Spike's growl drifted up from the lower level. "If you're going to talk about me, at least remember that I'm a bloody vampire with very keen hearing!" His head poked up from the hole in the floor and glared around the room. "And if I'd known what I was letting myself in for, there wouldn't be anyone here except Dawn and Joyce!"

His gaze went to the witches, taking in the hurt look on Willow's face and Tara's embarrassment.

"An' maybe Red and her bird – I like Glinda." He smiled at the two girls on the sarcophagus, his smile growing into a grin when Tara blushed and Willow narrowed her eyes at him.

"Ahem," Giles cleared his throat noisily, staring pointedly at the now almost empty bottle in Spike's hand.

"And Rupert," he added with a sigh. "Can't throw out the man what brings the whiskey."

"So, basically, you're all right with everyone except us. Is that it, Deadboy, Jr.?"

"Well, truth be told, I've got nothing against Anyanka there – 'cept for her terrible taste in men. She's welcome to stay if she'll just stop nattering on about shagging you into the ground."

Xander gestured grandly, saying, "Well, it looks like Deadboy, Jr. is okay with everybody except me." He turned to glare at Spike. "Too damn bad, fangface. Tell me, what did the Buffster do to you to make you include me in your little slumber party here?"

Spike stared back at the dark-haired boy, meeting Xander's laughing challenge calmly. "She asked me to help her take care of the people she cares about." Without waiting for a response, he walked over to Giles and handed him the almost empty bottle. "I'll be downstairs tryin' to sort out where to put everybody when they're ready to sleep."

Giles watched Spike disappear into the lower level of his crypt, mulling over what he'd said about Buffy's request. As much as he wanted to believe that Buffy had intimidated Spike into sharing his home with them, his reply to Xander, as well as Dawn's earlier remark indicated something much different was going on. He gave a mental groan as unwanted images of another vampire that had fallen in love with his slayer began to float through his head. He flashed back to Willow's spell the previous year and how comfortable Spike and Buffy had seemed to be while believing themselves engaged to be married. He shook the images from his head and went back to concentrating on his books, hoping vainly to come up with some information that would allow them to exploit any weaknesses Glory might have.

It was after ten p.m. and had been dark for hours when Spike finally permitted the Scoobies to descend the ladder and pick spots for themselves to put their sleeping bags. He saw Anya eyeing his bed and growled, "Over my dusty remains, demon-girl!"

"So," she sniffed haughtily, "You're going to sleep in comfort while the rest of us have to sleep on a dirt floor?"

"I'm a vampire, you twit. I'm not going to sleep at all. Joyce and Dawn can use my bed, and the rest of you can unroll some of those rugs over there." He gestured to a pile of rolled up oriental rugs, causing Giles to raise his eyebrows questioningly. "Don't get your knickers in a twist there, Watcher. Came by those legally – you'd be surprised what people put out for the dustman when they want to get out of town in a hurry."

Xander and Giles began to unroll the rugs, making several small piles of them around the large cavern until there was a makeshift bed for everyone to use. Anya tried very hard to get Xander to put their stack of soft carpet well away from everyone else's, but when Giles cleared his throat and muttered "sound carries" she gave in with little grace. She threw herself down upon her bed for the night and rolled up in her sleeping bag without saying 'good-night' to anyone.

Joyce and Dawn, after token resistance on Joyce's part and her insistence that they could just as easily sleep on the floor with everyone else, were just settling into Spike's bed when Dawn saw him freeze – clearly listening to something the humans couldn't hear yet.

With a terse, "Stay here" he bolted up the ladder and hastened to the door. He sniffed cautiously, frowning at the human scent coming from outside.

What kind of human walks through a cemetery at night and knocks on the door of a crypt?

He yanked the door open, full game face on as he glared at the tall, slender man just raising his hand to knock again.

"Oh, hello. I was wondering if I might have a word with Ripper?"

Spike blinked at the man's complete lack of fear and shook off his wrinkles.

"Don't know what you're talkin' about, mate. There's no 'Ripper' here." His ears picked up the faintest sounds behind him and he knew that someone had come up the ladder and was watching.

"Oh, come now, that was a perfectly respectable locator spell that I worked to find out where he was. And I risked my life walking into a Sunnydale cemetery in the middle of the night to get here. Surely, I'm entitled to a better answer than that?"

Before Spike could snarl an invitation that the man walk himself right back out of the cemetery, the watcher's voice floated across the room.

"What do you want here, Ethan?"

"Ah, there you are, love! Do ask short, blond and cranky here to let me in. It's quite chilly out here."

Spike remained stubbornly fixed in front of the open door until he felt Giles come up behind, a cocked crossbow in his hands.

"It's all right, Spike. Since he's found us, you may as well bring him inside. It will attract less attention."

With a curt nod, Spike stepped aside, shutting the door firmly behind the chaos mage. He used his lighter on a few candles, then stood leaning against the wall, arms folded, while he waited for the man he now realized was the sorcerer who had turned Giles into a Fyarl demon the year before, to state his purpose for being there.

"Found us?" Ethan asked, his eyebrows going up and his eyes running over the vampire appraisingly. "There's an us?"

"Not us, you git," Giles growled, refusing to meet Spike's interested and amused eyes. "I meant that there are more people here. You were not intended to be among them, so state your purpose quickly."

"Could you perhaps lower that nasty-looking weapon? It is really inhibiting my ability to think clearly."

"I believe I'll just keep it handy for a bit. Talk, Ethan."

"You sound so forceful when you growl like that, Ripper. Quite gives me chills it does..." One look at Giles' face and the way his finger was tightening on the trigger of the crossbow had Ethan hastening on. "I'm here because, as much as I enjoy chaos, the amount of it that Glorificus is planning to bring into this world is a little too much even for my tastes. Not to mention my physical safety."

"What do you know about Glory?" Spike and Giles spoke at the same time, but it was the vampire who got right into Ethan's face, his eyes flickering amber and blue.

"More than you do, I'll wager," Ethan said calmly. "I came to offer my assistance to the Slayer...Where is she, by the way?" He looked around pointedly.

"She'll be around soon," Spike growled, trying not to sound like he had no idea where she was.

"Yes, quite," Giles agreed quickly. "Anything you have to tell the Slayer, you can tell me – er- us."

If Spike was surprised at being included in Buffy's gang of helpers, he hid it well, just standing with arms folded while they waited to hear what Ethan had to say.

Chapter Three

"I see," Ethan said thoughtfully. "So, you have her complete confidence, then?"

He spoke to Giles, but his eyes were on Spike. Before he could answer, Giles spoke for him.

"Buffy has trusted Spike to help her protect her family and friends for some time now. I believe she would want him to have full information."

"Would she now? How interesting...But I digress," he added quickly when Giles shook the crossbow. "There are a number of things that one must understand about Glorifcus in order to thwart her plans—"

"Said plans being...?"

"She wants to use the Key to open the door to her own Hell dimension, so that she can go home. However, once opened, the only thing that can close the portal is another turn of the Key – so to speak."

"An' the portal leads to a hell dimension." Spike spoke flatly.

"Yes. One from which assorted unpleasant and deadly creatures and demons will pour once it has been opened. That's the bad news."

"There's good news?" All three men whirled to find Willow emerging from the floor.

"Yes," Ethan replied, his eyes focused on the young witch from whose body he could feel the power radiating. "There is good news."

Willow approached unhesitatingly, the confidence in her demeanor telling the mage that she was more than aware of her own growing power. He nodded and gave her a wink before continuing.

"Glory is only in her own, rather indestructible, body a portion of the time. The rest of the time, she is trapped in the body of an ordinary human. If you can find out who he or she is, you can eliminate her while she is vulnerable." He preened a bit before adding, "There was a city-wide memory spell in place when I arrived. One that caused humans to instantly forget if they happened to watch her change. It was amusing for a while, but it was making me twitchy, so I removed it." He frowned when no one thanked him or appreciated his expertise, but instead continued the interrogation.

"You say she impersonates a human – some other human than the woman that she appears to be?"

"No. Do pay attention, Ripper. I said she is a human. Her... essence... for lack of a better word, is trapped inside a human body. A human who walks and talks and does whatever normal people do – and then occasionally turns into a female Hellgod. All you need to do is catch her in her human form and—"

"And convince Buffy she has to kill a human," Spike growled, exchanging looks with Giles and Willow.

"It doesn't have to be Buffy, who does it," Giles said quietly.

"Well, willing as I am," Spike licked his lips, "I can't bloody do it, can I?"

"No. You can't." Giles's tone of voice indicated that the conversation was over.

Ethan's smile was growing wider as he watched the vampire absorb what Giles was actually saying. Spike's eyes widened and a look of admiration crossed his face before he schooled it back into his usual casual unconcern.

"Why have you chosen to share this information with us, Ethan?" Giles had lowered the crossbow, but not yet disarmed it.

"Again, you weren't paying attention. If that portal is opened, it will bring Hell on earth. We will all die – probably painfully. I am much too young and good looking to die yet."

"Why don't you just kill her, if you know when she's weak?"

"Ah, violence is not my way, Ripper. Surely you remember that? This is a job for your slayer, or her pet vampire here. Or someone else with a violent streak." He stared at Giles until the other man looked away.

"Be sure you remember that," Giles said quietly as he handed the crossbow to Spike. Giles began walking towards the kitchen and his bottle of scotch. "Would you care for a drink while you explain to me why it is that you are not currently residing inside an army prison?"

Spike and Willow watched the two British men as they carried their glasses to the couch and sat down at opposite ends.

"He makes me feel all... oooky."

"Can't say I'd want to have spend a lot of time around him, either. But the watcher seems to know him pretty well, doesn't he?"

"They're like old... friends... or something."

"Yeah." Spike grinned. "Or something."

"What? Oh... no. No! You don't... you think? Giles? Our Giles? And Ethan Rayne?"

"I wonder what old Ripper was like, before he became all tweedy and watcherly?"

Willow shrugged and shook her head. "We saw him when Ethan did the band candy thing – he was kind of a thug." She scrunched up her face. "Buffy's mom liked him, though."

"Rupert and Joyce? The things I've missed by not being around all the time."

Willow snickered and poked him with her elbow. "All you missed out on was being staked by Buffy. If you'd stayed around instead of popping in and out those first couple of years, she'd have staked you for sure."

"Or I would have killed my third slayer," he responded, turning to meet her eyes steadily.

"Well, yeah, or that."

They were quiet for a minute; then Willow asked, "Do you still want to kill Buffy?"

He cocked his head and studied her serious face. "What do you think?"

"I think that my spell that made you two want to be married, didn't say anything about being in love or playing kissy-face in a big chair all night," she answered without looking at him. When he didn't say anything, she turned her head and met his eyes firmly. "Riley is good for her, you know. He's probably as close to normal as the Slayer is gonna get."

"Normal's a bit over-rated, Red." He stood up and walked towards the closed door. "I wonder where she is? It's gettin' late and she's been gone since midday."

"I know." Willow allowed a trace of uncertainty to enter her voice. "You don't suppose..."

"She should be back by now."

"Maybe I should do a locator spell? I'll have to go downstairs and see if Dawn or Joyce might have anything that belongs to Buffy—"

"Don't bother them," he said quickly. "I think I've got something..."

Willow didn't say anything, but she raised her eyebrows when Spike took a familiar-looking scarf out of his back pocket. She took it from him, her "I want an answer now" expression never changing even as she wrinkled her nose at the blood stains on it.

"Don't look at me like that," he growled. "I didn't steal it. Got bitten pretty bad the other night, and the Slayer wrapped that around my arm until we—I could get back here and fix it up."

"Buffy used her scarf to bandage your arm?" Willow looked thoughtful. "Exactly how much time have you two been spending together lately?"

Spike shrugged. "It's not like that," he insisted. "With the boy scout all normal-human again, and the hell bint's minions out there every night lookin' for the bloody key, Slayer needs a bit of help sometimes. That's all."

"Uh huh." Willow didn't sound convinced, but she took the scarf and walked over to where Giles and Ethan had settled into a glaring contest from either end of the couch. "Um...Giles? I – we – think it might be a good idea to try to find Buffy. Or at least to know where she is. She's been gone a long time and we're – I'm – worried about her."

Giles shot Spike a hard look, but nodded in agreement.

"A good idea, Willow. I take it that piece of cloth belongs to Buffy?"

"Um... yeah... Spike just happened to have—"

"I'm sure he did," Giles said wryly. "All right." He turned to Ethan. "I don't suppose you have any materials with you that we can use without going downstairs and disturbing the others?"

"I can do better than that." The mage smiled confidently as he reached into the small bag he'd carried in with him. He pulled out an ordinary-looking mirror and set it carefully on the floor. "We can use this and actually see not only where she is, but what she is doing."

"Hope to bloody hell she isn't shaggin' Capt'n Cardboard," Spike muttered as Willow and Ethan quickly set up the spell. Willow froze and looked at him with wide eyes.

"Oh my god! I didn't think – you don't suppose? Maybe we shouldn't—"

With a glare at Spike, Giles said quickly, "I seriously doubt that Buffy is so irresponsible as to have gone off for a tryst with her boyfriend..." There was just the slightest emphasis on the word 'boyfriend', but Spike heard it and glared back. "...when she had such an important mission ahead of her."

Nodding dubiously, Willow looked at Ethan to see if he was going to begin the spell. To her surprise, he gestured at the mirror and said, "Why don't you do the honors, darlin'? It isn't often I get to see such a combination of beauty and power in action."

Willow colored visibly, even as she preened under Ethan's praise; completing missing the rolling eyes and disgusted looks on the other two men. She began her chant, and they all leaned towards the mirror, anxious to be the first one to catch a glimpse of the missing slayer. As the mirror took them on a rapid transit across the town to the large, expensive apartment building crowning a hill on the edge of the city, they all tensed. The visualization hurtled through the lobby and up the stairs, floating through a heavy oak door and into the room where a bloody and battered Buffy was hanging from chains.

Spike immediately whirled away from the image – snarling incomprehensible curses in two human languages and one demon. He went immediately to his weapons chest and began tossing out swords, crossbows and knives. Giles and Willow continued to stare into the mirror – the witch's horrified gasp the only sign that she had noticed the bruises and welts on Buffy's face and body. Spike was on his way to the door when Giles snapped out of his own stunned stupor to snap, "Where are you going?"

"Where the hell do you think I'm goin'?" Spike snarled back.

"Wait for the rest of us," the watcher insisted. "You won't be able to do anything if Glory is in human form."

"Not waitin'. I'm faster than any of you. I might not be able to stop the bint if she's human, but I can make a sizable dent in her minions before you lot get there. And I might be able to get the Slayer out of those chains."

Without another word, he was out the door, leaving it swinging behind him. Willow walked over and closed it, while Giles went downstairs. Ethan sat comfortably on the couch, seemingly unperturbed at the idea that the girl he had counted on to save the world was currently imprisoned and immobilized by the very Hellgod she had gone out to slay.

It took only a few minutes for the Scoobies to divide into two groups – Tara agreed to remain in the crypt with Dawn, Joyce and Anya. Although her magic was less powerful than Willow's, it was sufficient to provide some cloaking protection for the lower half of Spike's home. Xander and Giles quickly armed themselves with swords and crossbows from Spike's weapons stash, then stood at the door and looked at the chaos mage lolling on the couch.

"Come on, Ethan," Giles said curtly. "You know I am not going to leave you here to get up to who knows what kind of mischief. Your skills might be useful to us – in case Willow needs backup," he hastened to add as the young witch's eyes narrowed.

With an exaggerated sigh, the mage pushed himself up and lazily strolled to the door which Giles was impatiently holding for him.

"I really think I've done my good deed for the decade, Ripper," he grumbled as he followed them out into the cemetery. "I've told you how to kill her and now you know where to find her. I should be leaving town, content in the knowledge that your little gang of do-gooders will take care of the problem."

"You should be grateful that we aren't looking too closely into how Glory came to Sunnydale to look for her Key," Xander said, swinging his axe in a menacing fashion.

Ethan looked at him as though the boy was something he had found on the bottom of his shoe. "Ah yes, Anyanka's boyfriend. How the mighty have fallen..." Satisfied that he'd put Xander in his place, Ethan turned his attention back to Willow. "You know, darlin', with your power and my expertise, we could do wonderful things together—"

He was interrupted by Giles' hand gripping his bicep in a painful, if very familiar fist. "You'll walk with me," was all he said as he dragged the reluctant mage into a faster gait. When Ethan opened his mouth, preparatory to commenting on the manhandling, Giles snarled a short, "Shut up."

Ahead of them, Spike had reached the apartment building and was searching for a way in that didn't require going through the front entrance – which he could see was guarded by one of Glory's minions, doing his best to appear fully human as he huddled in his robes near the door. Spike shut his eyes briefly, picturing the images from the mirror and counting the floors to the one with the door behind which Glory was torturing the Slayer. When he was satisfied that he knew where he was going, he put the sword he was carrying on his back and began a stealthy climb up the outside of the building, using his arms and shoulders to haul himself up as he found his favorite boots to be a bit too stiff and clunky to give good footholds.

He paused to rest on the edge of a balcony, only to find an astonished and very naked woman staring at him with wide eyes. Spike gave her his best shy little boy smile and a wink before swinging away and up again. He pressed up against the side of the building, hoping the chimney to which he was clinging would hide him from the curious woman, now on her balcony and staring around for the man she still wasn't absolutely sure that she had seen outside her fourth story apartment. As soon as he heard her door slide closed, he pulled himself the rest of the way up to the balcony leading to Glory's apartment.

In the lower level of Spike's crypt, Joyce, Dawn, Tara and Anya huddled together on the bed.

"Do we know what's going on?" Joyce asked, her fear obvious. "Has Glory found us?" She pulled Dawn close in a protective embrace.

Tara looked uncomfortable, but before she could stammer out an explanation, Anya spoke up in her usual forthright manner.

"Apparently Glory has captured Buffy and the men – and Willow – have gone to rescue her."

Joyce's face went white and Dawn gasped as her mother unconsciously tightened her grip.

"Is that true?" The question was addressed to Tara, in spite of Anya's annoyed look.

"Y...yes. It seems that someone Giles knows—"

"Ethan Rayne" spat Dawn. "You remember, Mom. Band candy? Mini skirts and juvenile delinquent Giles?"

"Oh, ahem, yes. Why yes, I do remember him. So he is here?"

Tara tried again. "Yes, and he was able to help Willow do a spell that not only located Buffy, but showed what was happening to her—"

"What was happening to her?"

"I'm sure it's going to be fine," Tara soothed. "Spike left a long time ago, he's probably already rescued her."

"Sure," Dawn agreed quickly. "Spike and Buffy are probably kicking major Hellgod butt right now."

"I thought Spike couldn't hurt people?" Joyce sounded relieved and confused at the same time.

"Glory isn't human," Tara explained gently. "But she isvery, very strong."

"Spike and Buffy are stronger," Dawn said loyally.

"Not by themselves, they aren't," Tara said quietly, "but together I'm sure they will be more than enough. Their auras—" She stopped abruptly, casting a quick glance at Joyce and Anya.

"Their auras what?" Dawn refused to let it go. "What can you see when they're together? Do you see what I see?"

"What do you see?" the smiling witch countered.

"I see two people who were made for each other and are too stubborn to admit it."

Tara nodded slowly, glancing at Joyce again. "Something like that. They both have interesting auras – such a mixture of light and darkness – but together, they light up the room. I'm surprised everyone can't see it as easily as I can, really. It's that bright."

"Xander will never see it," Anya muttered. "If he thinks Spike wants Buffy, he'll probably stake him – even if he does secretly like it that he has another guy to shoot pool with sometimes."

"I don't think Spike 'wants' Buffy," Tara said, ducking her head. "I think he's in love with her."

To her surprise, Joyce agreed with a quiet sigh. "I suspect that you're right, Tara. As much as I like Spike and as much as I know that he likes us..." she gestured to herself and Dawn. "...I'm sure that it's the way he feels about Buffy that makes him so willing to stand up to a Hellgod to protect us."

All four women nodded their heads, each lost in her own thoughts about what might come of a vampire and a slayer who fell in love. If anyone remembered Angel and the disaster that was Buffy's relationship with the souled vampire, they didn't mention it. Anya was barely aware of most of it, Dawn had been too young to be allowed to know much about it, and Joyce's understanding ended with her gratitude that the vampire had left town. She felt a twinge of guilt as she remembered her own naive belief that without his presence, Buffy could have a normal life with normal relationships. Two more years of watching Buffy juggle a slayer's duties and life as a college student had given Joyce a much better understanding of exactly how not normal her daughter's life was and always would be.

Chapter Four

Buffy hung from her chains, biting back the moans that wanted to emerge from her battered throat. Her shoulders were screaming from hours of holding the weight of her body, and she was sure that even if she was released, she wouldn't be able to lift her arms for days. It was blissfully quiet and empty in the room – Glory having stopped in mid-beating to shudder and scream "No!" as she changed before Buffy's eyes into a good-looking young man. A man that Buffy remembered seeing somewhere recently. While she racked her brain for where she'd seen the very flustered man, he struggled to get out of the much-too-small dress that was barely covering his body.

He had given Buffy an apologetic smile and shrug, before running out of the room in his thong underwear. Since then, no one had come in. Buffy eyed the water pitcher across the room hungrily, trying to moisten her lips with a dry and swollen tongue. Shaking off the thirst and pain, she began to once again, writhe and swing, hoping against hope that the chains would pull out of the high ceiling.

The sound of glass shattering had her head whipping towards the only outside wall, to see Spike reaching in and unlocking the balcony door.

"Hello, cutie," he said cheerfully as he stepped into the room. "Miss me?"

"Took you long enough," she grumbled, unable to hide a grateful smile.

"Yeah, well. Made a few stops on the way – had a drink at Willy's, met a nice bird and—"

"Spike." Buffy's voice told him she'd played their little game as long as she wanted to, and he quickly dragged a table over to where she was dangling. Placing her legs on the table, he held her until she got her balance, allowing her arms to drop with a groan of relief. Without thinking, he began to rub her shoulders and arms briskly, until she nodded and indicated that the feeling had come back into them.

"Right then," he said, jumping down and beginning to search for the key to the manacles holding her bloody wrists. "D'you know where the bint put the key?"

"Over there." She gestured with her chin. "Right next to the water pitcher which, by the way? Would be really appreciated right now."

"Stupid git," he muttered to himself, snatching the water and the key and running back to her. "I'm sorry, pet. Too busy being all 'knight saves the damsel in distress' to think about what you needed. Drink up and let's get you out of here and find some medical help."

"Medical — That's it!"

"What's it?" He handed her the pitcher, smiling in approval when she tipped it up and poured water down her throat. He got sidetracked watching the smooth skin on her throat moving with every swallow she took, and it took her attempt to set the pitcher down to remind him that he held the key to her chains. With an apologetic smile, he quickly unlocked the manacles and helped her sit down.

"What's it, Slayer?" he repeated, watching carefully as she cradled one bleeding wrist in the other hand. He hadn't realized that his fangs had dropped and his eyes had shifted until Buffy didn't answer him right away. He ran his tongue over his lips, felt his fangs, and immediately understood why she wasn't responding. He glanced up apologetically, expecting her to hit him; instead, she held one wrist out to him in a gesture that could only mean one thing.

"Where I've seen that guy before. The one Glory turned into." Buffy watched carefully as his head lowered to meet her arm, his awed eyes never leaving hers.

"Where's that, love?" Forcing himself back into human face, he touched his lips to her wounds, licking gently until the blood had stopped and the cuts were pulling shut. Without conversation, she held up the other wrist while she answered him.

"The hospital. I think he works there."

Spike had finished licking the second wrist and couldn't prevent himself from brushing his lips across it in what he thought he could always deny was an actual kiss if Buffy called him on it. Which she didn't. She slid to the edge of the table and gingerly dropped her feet to the floor, allowing him to support her while she tried to stand up.

"Are you gonna be alright?" The way he was running his eyes over her face and body, a frown of concern easily visible, told her that she probably looked as bad as she felt.

"I think so," she said. "I guess I don't look so hot, huh?" Her lips twisted in a wry smile.

"Think you look bloody beautiful," he said with no attempt at his usual snark. "Was afraid we might be comin' to collect your dead body."

Trying to ignore his words as well as the look on his face, she blushed and asked, "We?"

He nodded, reluctantly releasing her arm as it became obvious that she was regaining her strength quickly.

"The cavalry's right behind me somewhere. Didn't want to wait for them – I was afraid..."

"You were afraid? For me? What kind of a Big Bad are you?" Her gentle teasing was belied by the warmth in her voice and the smile on her face.

"One that—" Whatever he was going to say was cut off as the outer door flew open and Glory's minions poured into the room. From the shouting behind them and the sounds of battle, it seemed that the rest of the Scoobies had arrived.

"She's loose! Get her! Glorificus will boil us in oil if she gets away!"

"Showtime, pet," he murmured, freeing up his sword and handing it to Buffy. "Are you gonna be alright to fight?"

She took an experimental swipe or two and nodded. "My shoulders hurt, but they seem to be working okay. But where's your weapon?"

"Brought mine with me," he answered through his elongating fangs.

He leapt into the first wave of minions, teeth and claws ripping and tearing, his battle roar echoing within the big room. Buffy turned her back to him and used the sword to hold the next wave at bay, decapitating them as often as she could. Stabbing, it turned out, would slow them down, but it didn't kill them. From the way Spike was snarling and biting without a twinge from the chip, it would have been clear that the minions weren't human, even if Buffy hadn't seen them survive multiple stab wounds.

Gradually, the flow of minions was slowing as more and more of them were killed or incapacitated. When Giles, Xander and the two magicians had worked their way to the door, they found Spike and Buffy fighting back to back, moving almost in tandem as they took out Glory's remaining helpers. It was obvious that neither the slayer nor the vampire needed or wanted any help, as Buffy took out her hours of pain on the creatures responsible for much of it. Spike was enjoying the first full-out battle that he'd had in years so much that he almost looked disappointed when the last minion succumbed to his fangs.

Spitting out the blood with a shudder, he turned to watch Buffy dispatch the last scabby little creature in front of her. He shook off his game face, so that when she looked up to meet his eyes, they were the same bright blue ones that had looked at her so warmly before the attack. Wrenching her gaze away, she turned to greet her Giles, her eyes narrowing with suspicion when she saw who was with him.

"Ethan Rayne," she growled. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, that's quite ungrateful, Slayer," he huffed. "Considering that I am solely responsible for your rescue." When everyone turned stunned eyes on him, he amended quickly, "Well, perhaps not solely responsible, but I assisted. Without my mirror they wouldn't have known how important it was to get to you quickly."

She looked to Giles for confirmation, which he gave with a reluctant nod. "It was of some value, Buffy. And he has brought us important information about Glory. For instance, she can change—"

"Into a man. A man who works at the hospital. Yeah, we got that memo."

"Oh. Well then. You seem to be up to speed," he muttered, eyes fixed firmly on the ground near her feet.

Beside her, Buffy could hear Spike's steady growl and she looked at him in confusion. "What?" He didn't answer her, just continued to glare at Ethan and Xander, his growl just audible to those closest to him. Buffy was suddenly aware that her shirt had been so destroyed by Glory's interrogation that the shreds had fallen off while she was fighting. She was now wearing only an also-much-abused lacy bra that was hanging on by one strap. Her hands went up to cover her chest just as Spike's "here" gave notice that he was shoving his shirt into her hands.

With a grateful smile, she pulled the shirt on and buttoned it securely, then turned her own glare on the unabashedly leering sorcerer and an embarrassed Xander. Before she could remonstrate with them for ogling her abused body, they heard a piercing shriek from the elevator at the end of the hall.

"What the hell is going on here?"

"Oops!" Willow said. "I think she's back."

"Time to mount up." Xander looked around the room for another exit, and saw nothing but the balcony, which dangled six stories over the parking lot.

Spike grabbed the chains and he and Buffy, pulling together, were able to yank them out of the ceiling. Quickly handcuffing them together, they began adding drapes and sheets off the bed until they had something that would get them close enough to the ground that they might be able to drop safely. The sounds coming from the hall indicated a need for haste and Giles began to work his way down the makeshift ladder muttering the whole time about being 'too old for this". Ethan whispered in Willow's ear, waved his hands at the doorway and then followed Giles over the railing. Xander was next, imploring Willow to come with him.

Willow, however, faced the open door of the apartment and began chanting. As they watched, a glowing barrier began to form just inside the door. Suddenly, on their side of the barrier they saw Buffy hanging from her chains, apparently unconscious, while minions scurried around the room. As soon as Willow was satisfied with what she and Ethan had created, she bolted out the door and scrambled down the chains as quickly as she could, eyes shut and repeating rapidly, "I am not afraid of heights, I am not afraid of heights."

"After you, pet." Spike indicated the balcony and Buffy nodded, then stopped. "What is it?"

"My shoulders," she said. "The adrenalin kept me from noticing in the fight, but when I try to hang by my arms..."

"Alright. Let me go first. That way, if you lose your grip, I'll have you."

He leapt over the railing, waiting until she was right above him before starting down. When he realized that she was grimacing and wincing with each movement, he paused and waited until she was between him and the chain.

"Just hang on with whatever doesn't hurt, Slayer, and let me support you. I've got you."

He wrapped his legs tightly around her thighs, holding her in place while he carefully worked his way down the chains, making sure to keep her close enough to it that she could grab it if either one of them slipped. When they got to the balcony where Spike had seen the naked woman, he paused and was rewarded when the woman, who had come out onto her balcony to watch the ragtag group of people shimmying down the side of the building, recognized the vampire and smiled warmly. Spike blew her a kiss, before sliding down quickly out of her sight.

"Who was that?" Buffy's calm tone was obviously forced, and he smiled to himself as he purred, "Jus' some bint I met on the way up. "Course she was naked at the time, so it was a mite more interesting than—"


Spike resisted the urge to rub himself against her as he responded with a cheerful, "That I am, pet."

There was no response while he continued to work his way down to the waiting Scoobies. When they reached the end of the would-be ladder, still a good fifteen feet off the ground, he stopped and held her tightly while he asked, "Are you ready, Slayer? Bit of a drop, but if the whelp didn't break both his legs, I'll wager you'll be fine."

"I'm ready."

He wrapped one strong arm around her waist, and hanging by the other hand, unwrapped his legs. Lowering her as far as he could, he gave a little squeeze and then released her to drop to the ground. As soon as she had rolled out of the way, he let go, landing lightly on his feet. The humans, all of whom had landed hard and rolled to the ground, glared at the grinning vampire.

Giles pulled up in his car, urging everyone to get in quickly before the glamour and barricade that Willow and Ethan had erected was overwhelmed by the god's power and she figured out what had happened. Her shrieks of rage at not being able to get into her apartment were clearly audible to the ears below and they spurred the humans to pile into the car. With Giles and Ethan in the front seats, and Buffy squeezed between Willow and Xander in the back, there was no room for Spike and he was preparing to walk home when, to his surprise, Xander pulled Willow onto his lap and Buffy scooted over, smiling an invitation at the vampire.

Shaking his head in disbelief, he quickly jumped in beside the Slayer, barely getting the door shut before Giles was speeding out of the parking lot and back towards Restfield Cemetery. With their shoulders pushed together, it was obvious that everyone was cramped and uncomfortable, so Spike very carefully raised his arm and draped it across the back of the seat, allowing Buffy to fit into the space now available at his side.

Chapter Five

The ride back to the crypt was fairly quick – too quick to suit Spike, who was enjoying Buffy's warm body pressed against his; but they were soon climbing out of the car and stretching cramped muscles. Spike got back in and showed Giles where he could hide the car behind a brush-covered mausoleum nearby. While Spike pulled the bushes back over the car, Giles began to walk back to the crypt – only to run into an angry Riley Finn.

"Giles! What are you doing out here? Where the hell is everyone? I've been trying to reach Buffy all day and night. Nobody answers at her house, I can't find Xander or Willow and—" He broke off as Spike emerged from the shrubbery to stand beside the watcher. "I was just about to go to Spike's crypt to see if he knew where she was – but I guess not."

Spike waited quietly, his desire to tell the ex-Initiative soldier to "sod off" tempered by his curiosity as to why Buffy hadn't told her boyfriend where she was taking everyone. Giles sighed audibly, then said with resignation, "Without knowing why Buffy chose not to tell you what she was doing, Riley, I'm afraid I'm not free to tell you where she is."

"You're joking, right? Giles, I'm her boyfriend. She would want me to know!"

"Apparently, she didn't," Spike said, shouldering his way past the much larger man and ignoring the way the chip complained. He was grateful that it was dark, and that the soldier wouldn't be able to see the blood staining his clothes and hands.

"Shut up, Spike," Riley snapped, then blinked as it sank in that Spike had come from the same direction as had Giles. And, that they appeared to be walking towards the vampire's crypt together. As Spike's comment sank in, Riley ran after him, yanking him around by the arm and slamming him against a tree. "Do you know?" he growled menacingly.

"Wouldn't tell you if I did," Spike easily broke the man's hold on him and walked away. He'd learned exactly what he could and couldn't do to set off the chip, and pulling away from someone was apparently not considered an act of violence.

"Wait a minute." Riley's voice was suspicious. "Where have you two been?"

In his haughtiest, Oxford-educated voice, Giles responded, "I believe our activities do not fall under the purview of the United States Army, and as such, are none of your concern."

The two Brits walked off, leaving Riley fuming as he watched them enter Spike's crypt. Muttering to himself, he turned to leave the cemetery, finding his way blocked by a newly risen vampire.

"Now is really not a good time," he snarled, pulling out his stake and plunging it into the vamp's chest before the unfortunate demon was even aware that he had his first meal in front of him. Riley brushed off the dust and left the area, vowing to catch Spike sometime when there were no Scoobies around to protect him.

By the time Giles and Spike entered the crypt, Buffy was downstairs where her mother was fussing over her bruises and wounds and vowing to take an axe to "that skanky bitch that wants to hurt my daughters".

Buffy laughed and smiled her appreciation, while Xander stage-whispered to Anya, "You see? It's not a Slayer thing, all this violence, it's a Summers thing."

Dawn glared and threw a pillow at him, earning a grin and a "case in point" from the laughing man. As the events of the day and night began to catch with everyone, and yawns were smothered unsuccessfully, Buffy stood up, saying, "Let's try to get some sleep. Tomorrow might be a long day."

"Where are you going?" Dawn was barely awake enough to ask.

"Upstairs for a bit. Spike and I will sleep up there. Just in case..."

"Just in case what?" Dawn asked, smothering a grin and earning a pinch from her mother.

Buffy colored lightly but held her voice steady as she responded, "In case anyone comes looking for you, of course. What else?"

"What else, indeed," Dawn mumbled, shutting her eyes and falling asleep almost before she was through speaking.

In no time, everyone's eyes were shut and their breathing was leveling out as Buffy climbed back to the upper level. She found Giles and Spike sitting on the couch, glasses of amber liquid in their hands, and an argument about Premiership football teams getting decidedly heated.

"Man U," Spike insisted. "No one can touch them this year."

"Rubbish," Giles argued back. "They are bloated and top heavy with overpaid has-beens. Ripe to be knocked off, I say."

"Uh, guys? What are you talking about?"

"Football. The real football."

"Oh, another soccer argument, huh?" Buffy lost interest and walked to the kitchen to root through the food that her mother had brought. She made herself a sandwich and carried it and a bottle of water back to the couch, saying to her watcher, "Why don't you go get some sleep? Spike and I will keep watch."

"Aren't you tired? After all you've—"

Buffy shook her head. "I've had plenty of sleep – mostly of the unconscious variety – but, hey, shut eye is shut eye, right?"

He shook his head, muttering, "I don't believe that being unconscious counts as having had a good nap," but finishing his drink and walking towards the ladder. As he started down, he suddenly remembered the encounter with Riley and looked up at Buffy, asking, "Buffy? Did you have a reason for not telling Riley where you were taking everyone?"

"Who? Oh! Riley! Oh crap! I forgot all about him. No, I didn't have a real reason – I mean other than he couldn't have come here."

"Why not?" Giles asked, ignoring the growls coming from the owner of the crypt.

"Well... he... Spike... I don't think...I. it just didn't seem like a good idea to include him," she finished firmly. "But, I didn't intentionally not tell him where we were going; I just kinda forgot about him for awhile."

Nodding as though she had confirmed his own opinion, Giles offered a "good-night" and disappeared down the ladder. Very shortly, the last candle was put out and only silence and the occasional snore could be heard.

"You forgot about him, did you?" Spike's tone was mild and gave no sign of the pleased laughter echoing in his head.

Buffy looked at him sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess I did. I mean what with running over here to warn you that I was moving my friends and family in on you, and then getting kidnapped... he just slipped my mind. That's all."

"An' you didn't consider him one of your friends and family?"

"Come on, Spike. You know he hates you. He would have refused anyway. And I would have had to listen to all kinds of crap about bringing my mom and Dawn here..."

"Don't know why the big git hates me. It's not like I stuck a chip into his head. If anybody has a right to do any hatin', it's me. I'm the injured party here."

"Well, you did try to get the chip out – and almost killed Riley while you were at it. That doctor was here to work on him; not to let a vicious vampire out of his electronic cage so he could kill me."

"Wasn't going to kill you," he grumbled.

"Funny, that's sure what it looked like from down there on the floor with you on top of me."

"I think bein' on top of you kinda distracted me," he said with a small grin. "I'm pretty sure I'd already lost my train of thought, even if the chip hadn't kicked in."

"Pig," she said almost affectionately.

"Oink, oink, love."

They sat in comfortable silence for a while, Buffy finishing her very late supper, and Spike nursing his drink. Once Buffy was finished, she put her bottle and plate on the table beside the couch and raised her arms to stretch, only to drop them with a muffled groan.

"What's wrong?"

"My shoulders are tightening up. I'm going to be really sore tomorrow. I hope I don't have to fight anything."

"Come'ere," he commanded, putting down his drink and turning to face her.

Buffy hesitated only a second, remembering how he'd rubbed out the numbness and pain so that she could wield a sword earlier that night. She scooted over so that she was facing him, and sat there expectantly, waiting for him to do something. She was still wearing his shirt, and he slid his hand along the sleeve until he reached her shoulder where the shirt had begun to slip off. He gently tugged the neckline back into place; then ran his other hand up her other arm until he was resting both palms on her shoulders.

"Looks good on you, pet," he murmured, rubbing the fabric between his fingers. "Course, you looked pretty good without it, too," he added, laughing when she tried to hit him and whimpered at the pain in her arm.

"Stop being an ass, and just fix me," she said imperiously.

"Yes, sir, Slayer, sir," he mock-saluted, then began to work her shoulders in earnest, murmuring the occasional "sorry" when he pulled a bit too hard on an already-stretched ligament. He primarily just stroked his hands over the whole shoulder joint, the friction between his palms and the shirt warming them up until there was no way to tell that the person providing relief was anything but human. Buffy's eyes drifted shut as she relaxed into the rhythm of his kneading and stroking. When she began to sway sideways, he slid off the couch and carefully laid her down on her stomach, continuing his gentle massage until he could tell that she was fully asleep.

With an effort, he removed his hands and stood up, bringing his duster over from its place on the chair and draping it over her sleeping form. "Good night, Buffy," he whispered, leaning down to brush his lips over her forehead.

He picked up his glass and drained it, then carried it and Buffy's plate to the kitchen, dropping them in a pan to worry about later. He debated about getting out a bag of pigs blood, but remembering how he'd been allowed to lick Slayer blood earlier, he decided he'd rather keep that memory and taste in his mouth as long as possible. He pinched out the candles still burning around the room and then threw himself down upon the sarcophagus in almost the same position in which Buffy had found him less than twenty-four hours earlier.

He was almost asleep himself when Buffy's voice drifted over to him.

"Spike? Why did you blow a kiss to that woman tonight?"

He raised his head and peered through the darkness. "Are you jealous, Slayer?"

"Don't be stupid," she mumbled. "I just want to know why you did it. Were you trying to make me jealous?"

"Actually, Slayer, I was thankin' her for not setting up a big stink when she saw me on my way up. Would have played hell with my rescue if a screaming woman had tipped off the minions that something was going on, wouldn't it?"

"Oh." It was impossible to tell from her voice if that was what she'd wanted to hear or not.

"But," he continued quietly, "If I thought there'd be a chance in hell that you cared enough to be jealous, I'd have jumped over that balcony and shagged her into the floor right in front of you."

She snorted, then, "Ewwww, Spike!"

"Pig, love. Never forget it."

"As if," she muttered. She was quiet for another minute and he thought she'd gone back to sleep, when she said softly, "If you'd done that – I would have been jealous. Maybe. A little bit."

"A little bit works for me," he said with a smile in his voice.

"Good night, Spike."

"Good night, Buffy."

Chapter Six

When Joyce came upstairs several hours later, she found Buffy and Spike sound asleep in their respective beds. She watched them for a few minutes, surprised at how alive Spike appeared to be, in spite of his paleness. His chest rose and fell occasionally, just as would a human's, although the vampire's unnecessary breaths came much farther apart than did Buffy's.

Searching around Spike's bare-bones "kitchen", she found an extension cord and plugged in the coffee pot that she had optimistically brought along. From their previous times hiding in the crypt, she had already known about the water available downstairs and had brought empty jugs with her so that she could bring it up with her. She fixed herself a bowl of cereal and waited for the others to wake up.

The scent of the coffee soon had Buffy stirring, and she sat up, blinking sleep-filled eyes at her mother.

"Good morning," she mumbled, tentatively testing her shoulders and wincing as they reminded her that even slayer healing didn't always work overnight.

"Good morning," Joyce whispered back. "Shouldn't we be quiet?" She gestured to where Spike had rolled over and put a pillow over his head.

"He's a vampire. He should be dead to the world at this time of the... morning? It is still morning, isn't it?"

"Yes. Not terribly early, but then, we were all up until the wee hours, so I guess ten can't be considered late."

Buffy groaned and stood up, staring at herself ruefully. "I'm a mess! I think I'll run home and get a hot shower and change of clothes. I need to give Spike back his shirt, anyway."

The now-awake vampire mumbled something into his pillow and Buffy walked over to lean down and ask, "Did you say something?"

He rolled over and looked up at her with eyes that were only half-open. The heavy-lidded look made Buffy tingle in very inappropriate places and she stepped back hastily.

"I said," he purred," I like my shirt on you."

"Oh." She blushed and glanced over to see if her mother had heard him. "Well, as much as I appreciate the loan, I think I should change into something of my own. I'll wash and dry it while I'm home so that—"


"Don't? Don't what?"

"Don't wash it. Bring it back just the way it is."

"Spike! It's all bloody and smelly and I slept in it. Why don't you want..." Her eyes grew big as she watched his intent face and understood why he didn't want it washed. "I think, I think that's kind of...ewwww," she said very softly so that her mother wouldn't hear.

"You think it is? But you're not sure?" His expression turned hopeful, and she took a deep breath.

"Look... I know I... and maybe... mixed signals... and I kinda do... but, I can't... and—" She broke off and met his eyes firmly. "I have a boyfriend, Spike. A nice, normal, human boyfriend who loves me."

"Who you forgot all about when you were roundin' up everybody who was important to you."

It was Buffy's turn to say, "Don't. Okay? I don't have time for this right now – so just... just don't. Please?"

He shut his eyes and nodded. "You're right, pet. Time and place. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," she whispered. "Just be... patient."

His lips curved into a smile; eyes still shut, he murmured, "I'll try, Slayer. But don't wash the shirt, yeah?"

"Yeah," she promised softly, before walking over to join her mother for some liquid energy.

"So," she said brightly, "what are you and Dawn going to do today?"

"I have a doctor's appointment at the hospital early this afternoon," Joyce said with a frown. "I think I'd better keep it. They're going to give me the test results."

Buffy's face fell. "The hospital? But that's the worst-—".

Giles' smooth voice interrupted her as he joined them. "It will be fine, Buffy," he said quietly. "I'll go with your mother. It's possible that we can kill two birds with one stone." His eyes were hard, and colder than she had ever seen them.

"Giles – I can't..."

"Nor do I expect you to," he continued. His expression and voice softened. "Let me do this for you, Buffy. In return for all you've given the world."

"Maybe Spike..." Buffy cast a look at the vampire coming to join the conversation.

"Would if I could, love. Will, if I have to," he added, exchanging a look with Giles. "Not gonna let her have the Bit."

Joyce watched the exchange with a puzzled frown, having no idea what they were talking about, but feeling somehow reassured that both Giles and Spike would be accompanying her.

"Okay then." Buffy let out her breath with a loud sigh. "I'm going to finish my coffee and head home for a hot shower and clean clothes. I'll meet you at the hospital."

After Buffy left, smiling to herself at Spike's "no" head shake when he pointed to the shirt she was wearing, Giles began to organize the others for the day. When he told Ethan that Riley had been in the cemetery the previous night, the mage was immediately ready to leave.

"So, you really did escape then, did you?" Giles asked wryly. "They didn't let you go because you were driving them crazy?"

Ethan grinned, looking briefly very much like the handsome young man Ripper had met so many years ago.

"I did my best," he said proudly. "I'm not sure how hard they actually tried to find me once I made it outside. But, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not find out the hard way that Buffy's incredibly dense boyfriend isn't aware that they'd rather not have me back."

"He is a bit thick, sometimes," Giles agreed without meaning to provide the other man with information that he could use against them.

"If he can't see that his girlfriend is much better suited to spend whatever time she is allotted on this earth with that delicious blond thing over there, he isn't just thick, he's a bloody piece of granite."

"Considering Spike's inability to defend himself, I suspect it is in everyone's best interest if that thought never occurs to Riley."

Ethan gazed speculatively across the room; then shrugged and, with a courtly 'good-bye' to Joyce, he walked away. Before he opened the door to allow the deadly sunshine into the crypt, he motioned to Spike to join him there. He handed the vampire a small card, whispering as he did so, "When you're ready to be rid of that chip, call the number on here."

He waved and opened the door, slipping out quickly before the astonished vampire could say anything. Spike calmly put the card in his pocket and closed the heavy wooden door before turning to find Giles staring at him suspiciously. He sauntered over to the kitchen and took his blood out of the refrigerator, ignoring Giles as he poured it into a mug and put the mug in the microwave.

"He can't be trusted, you know," Giles finally said. "No matter what he told you; you can't trust him."

"'m not stupid, Watcher," Spike said quietly. "But I'm keepin' the card. Just in case."

Buffy reached her home just as Riley's big SUV pulled into her driveway. She smothered an exasperated sigh and waited for him to get out, a smile plastered on her bruised face.

"Buffy! Where have you been? I've been looking all over for you."

She winced with guilt at the hurt tone in his voice.

"I'm sorry, Riley. I took everybody over to Spike's yesterday, and then Glory kidnapped me and I just never had time to call you."

"You had time to go to Spike's, but not time to call me?"

She rolled her eyes and walked up to unlock the front door. "Which part of I took everybody over there didn't you hear? I was busy rounding up everybody I thought Glory might go after."

"You didn't think she'd go after me?" He sounded so indignant that Buffy almost laughed aloud.

"I don't think she's seen you with me enough to know that you might make a good hostage," she said soothingly. "Besides, how would you have reacted if I'd asked you to stay with Spike so that he could protect you from Glory and her minions?"

Riley followed her in the door, having the grace to look ashamed as he admitted, "I would have refused – and been pissed off that you suggested it."

"There you go," she said with a smile. "And the rest of the time I was kinda busy – what with the being chained up and beaten, and all."

"You were—oh my god! I just realized how awful you look. I'm sorry, Buffy. I should have noticed sooner. You look terrible!"

"Thanks," she said, making a face and trying not to compare Riley's appalled expression with Spike's grateful "You look beautiful. I was afraid I'd be rescuing' a body."

"I'm going to take care of that right now. I'm going to have a nice long hot shower, wash the scabby little creature blood out of my hair and then go meet my mom at the hospital."

"I could help you out with that," he said with smile, reaching for her. "It's been a long time since we had a chance to share a shower..."

She bit back her "I don't need any help," and said instead, "I'm sorry, Riley. But I'm really tired and beat up. I think a hot shower – by myself – is the way to go today. Some other time, huh?"

"Yeah, sure. Some other time." He watched her walk towards the stairs and asked quickly, "How did you get away? If Glory had you chained up?"

"Oh, the Scoobies formed a posse and came to get me. Eth—" She stopped, remembering that Ethan had escaped from military prison.


"E..eek! I thought I saw a mouse run into the kitchen – and I said 'eek'."

Riley nodded dubiously, looking at the kitchen floor suspiciously. "So, the Scoobies came to get you? Why didn't they call me to help?"

"I guess there wasn't any time. They saw what Glory was doing to me and just took off. There's no phone in Spike's crypt, you know."

He shook his head. "I don't understand why you guys don't get cell phones."

"Look, I'm going to go get cleaned up, okay? Why don't you wait down here and you can give me a ride to the hospital?"

Looking a bit disgruntled at not being invited to wait for her in her bedroom, he sat down on the couch and flipped on the television while Buffy went upstairs. He watched with interest as the noon newscaster talked about an overnight disturbance at a high-end apartment building on the edge of town. Apparently there had been a huge commotion on the top floor, and residents were insisting that people carrying swords had run through the lobby. One woman smiled as she indicated that she had seen someone climbing up the outside of the building before the disturbance began. She waxed quite enthusiastic about the man's blond hair and incredible strength, and Riley's eyebrows began to pull together in a frown. When she got to where she talked about seeing several people climbing down a rope made of chains and sheets, including the first man who seemed to be carrying a small woman as he descended, Riley began to curse.

Happily oblivious of her boyfriend's growing anger, Buffy carefully put Spike's shirt on the counter in the bathroom and stepped under the hot water. She luxuriated in the heat for several minutes before beginning to wash the dried blood from her hair. When she had scrubbed herself clean, and let the hot water beat down upon her shoulders until they felt almost normal, she turned the shower off and got out.

Once she was dried off and dressed again, her wet hair combed and held back in loose ponytail, she picked up Spike's shirt and shook her head at it. The idea of not washing it was not very appealing, but she had promised; she grabbed a trash bag from under the sink and stuffed the shirt into it, then went downstairs.

Where she found Riley fuming on the couch.

"I thought you said the Scoobies rescued you?" he accused before she even got into the room. "Didn't you leave somebody out? Or something?"

At first Buffy thought he had somehow figured out that Ethan was there, then she realized who he was talking about.

"It was a group effort," was all she said, wadding the bag with Spike's shirt into a very small ball and dropping it into a nearby wastebasket.

"Since when is Spike part of the group?"

"Since he allowed himself to get beaten up several times already, trying to help me take Glory out," she snapped. "What the hell is wrong with you? Spike is the strongest ally I've got right now. Even you should be able to see that," she muttered.

"Oh, that's right," Riley said quietly. "I remember now. 'If I wanted somebody with superpowers, I'd be dating Spike'. Yeah, I think I see it, all right."

Guilt at the way she was beginning to rely on Spike for more than just his added muscle kept her from continuing the argument.

"Look, Riley. I'm sorry that I didn't mention Spike. I assumed that since everyone was staying in his home, you would know that he was there too." She sighed and met his angry eyes sympathetically. "I have a Hellgod to find and slay, and my mother is getting her test results this afternoon. I just don't have time to deal with your jealousy. I'm sorry, all right? When this is all over, we can talk about it. Right now, I just need to get to the hospital quickly."

He nodded, holding the door open for her. "Fine," he said tightly. "Just answer this for me – is there something to talk about?"

She thought about Spike's gentle hands, his soft lips as he'd cast off his demon to stop her bleeding wrists, and the way she'd felt when she saw the woman staring at him like he was something to eat.

"I don't know," she said quietly. "I don't know, Riley."

Chapter Seven

They rode to the hospital in an uncomfortable silence, not speaking until they were in the waiting room where Dawn, Willow, Tara and Xander were waiting for her.

"Where's mom?"

"She's with the doctor now," Dawn said, glaring at Riley as if he had interrupted her in the middle of something important. "Um... Giles is with her, and..." She let the 'and' lie there, hoping Buffy would understand who else was with her mother. Just then, the doors opened and Ben came into the waiting room, smiling and asking, "Are you Buffy? Your mother would like to see you."

Buffy stared at the smiling man, who clearly had no recollection of seeing her hanging from chains in his apartment, and tried to catch her breath. She wanted desperately to see her mother and to hear what the doctors had to say, but there was no way that she was leaving Dawn in the same room with Glory's human host. While she struggled for something to say, Ben began to quake and shiver, shaking so hard that if you hadn't known what was happening, you might have wondered where he went and why there was a woman standing in his much-too-large scrubs.

"Well," Glory said with delight. "Isn't this a nice surprise? The Slayer and all her little playmates all in one place. Let me see, which one shall I kill first?"

She grabbed at Dawn, only to find Buffy's fist buried in her stomach. She straightened slowly, glaring at the girl who had so recently escaped from her. "Now that wasn't nice at all. And you know how it ended last time." She hit Buffy, knocking her back against the wall and following up with a kick to her side. She was drawing her foot back for another kick when Spike and Giles came barreling through the swinging doors, followed closely by Joyce.

Spike didn't slow down, but allowed his momentum to carry him into the Hellgod's back. He managed to knock her sufficiently off balance to allow Buffy time to get to her feet and hit Glory with a nearby chair. Shrugging the snarling vampire off, the god laughed as she backhanded Buffy away and turned her attention back to the group of humans shrinking back against the far wall. Spike threw himself upon her again, this time sinking his fangs into the side of her neck and hanging on like a bulldog as she twisted and turned in an effort to shake him off. Buffy had charged back, and was keeping Glory's hands busy blocking punches and kicks that were meeting their targets more often than not.

Willow and Tara joined hands, and putting Dawn, Joyce and Anya behind them, they began a soft chant that brought up a shield of light between them and the struggle going on in front of them. Xander picked up the broken chair and used one leg to bang on Glory's head, missing once and accidentally hitting Spike who was still clinging to the side of the hellgod's neck.

"Sorry," Xander muttered as the vampire's snarls increased dramatically. Giles had moved behind Spike and with a knife that he produced from a strap on his ankle, he attempted to stab the furious god in something that might be a vulnerable organ. All of the combatants fell to the floor, rolling around in a screaming, snarling mass, with Xander still wielding his chair leg and attempting to do some sort of permanent damage to the powerful god. Suddenly, there was a furious, ear-piercing shriek as Glory began to shake and quiver, trembling until once again, the young doctor was lying in her place.

With a scream of his own, Spike rolled off, his chip having recognized the human blood in his mouth and fired off immediately. Xander stood over the dazed man, the chair leg still in his raised hand. Buffy was staring at the bloody human looking back at her with confused eyes, her rapid breathing more than audible to her watcher. She remained sitting on the man's chest, all the fight gone out of her as she saw his bloody face and neck.

"Xander," Giles spoke with authority, "would you please get everyone out of here? Now? Before the entire hospital security force descends on us?"

With a nod, Xander dropped his makeshift weapon and helped the moaning vampire to his feet. He put one arm under Spike's and half-dragged, half-carried him to the door. Riley watched in bewilderment as Dawn rushed to Spike's other side to support him, and the witches quickly opened the door and shepherded everyone through it and into a long hallway.

Buffy was still staring at Ben, her face the picture of anguish as she struggled to deal with what she knew needed to be done. Giles pulled her to her feet and pushed her towards Riley and the door.

"Will you please accompany Buffy, Riley?" he said calmly. "I will join everyone shortly."

Still looking back at the man lying on the floor, Buffy allowed herself to be pulled out of the room. Once she was away from the sight of the man whose battered condition was a direct result of her assault on Glory's body, she seemed to recover herself, and she focused on the people waiting in the hall. Her eyes went to Spike, now standing on his own, although with a worried Dawn and Joyce hovering close by.

"Are you okay?" she asked, watching blood seep from his nose.

"I will be," he said hoarsely. "Seems the chip really doesn't like it when I have my teeth in someone."

"That's its job," Riley said coldly. "You were trying to kill that man."

"Uh, technically..." Willow began.

Ignoring her, the soldier turned to Xander. "Why didn't you just leave him there? I would have taken care of him." His glare at Spike left no doubt as to what he meant by 'take care of him'.

"He was hurt," Xander explained. "And Giles said to get everyone out. Spike's... well, he's kinda one of us now. An honorary Scooby. He needed help, so I helped him. It's what we do – we help each other."

Before the conversation could turn into an argument, Giles emerged from the small waiting room. He met Spike's intent eyes and nodded once, then began to usher the group towards the exit.

"I believe Joyce has all the information she needs; I suggest we retire to someplace more comfortable to discuss the events of the day."

"Magic Box!" Willow said quickly. "We can send out for pizza."

"Sounds like a plan. Who's riding with the G-man?"

"I'll take Joyce and Dawn with me. If you will take Willow and Tara?"

"I have to get back to the university," Riley said stiffly. He turned to Buffy, who was looking very uncomfortable. "I can drop you off on my way." He pointedly ignored the vampire waiting quietly for Buffy to tell him what to do.

"Spike—" she began, only to be interrupted quickly.

"I can't go out there yet, Slayer. I'll take the sewers and meet you later."

She chewed her lip, her indecision plain to both men. Riley spoke first.

"Or, I can just leave you here with this thing that seems to be as important to you as your friends and family."

"Spike is one of my friends," Buffy said, a warning edge in her voice. "I don't know why you can't accept that the way everyone else has."

Riley sighed and took a different tack. "Buffy, I don't know if it's whatever makes you the Slayer... or just being around them so much... or what. But, there are people who can help you. Trained people, who can help you work through this thing you have with vampires. Who can help you see how... wrong... it is."

Behind her, Spike was maintaining a barely heard growl, and without thinking, Buffy reached out to put a soothing hand on his arm.

"Why are you touching him?" The understanding tone that Riley had used just a second ago was gone, replaced by an icy calm. "Do you touch all your other friends?"

The very tired slayer stared at her boyfriend, the astonishment clear on her face. Then she shook her head and said quietly, "I told you, I can't deal with this right now, Riley. I need to get to the Magic Box and see what my mom found out – and what Giles did with Glory. And," she added, as she turned to walk away with Spike, "I do touch my other friends when I need to. Or when I want to. All of them. There's no reason to treat Spike any differently. But there might be, if you keep behaving like such an ass."

Without another word, she followed Spike into the elevator that would take them to the basement and access to the tunnels that ran underneath Sunnydale.

When the doors had slid shut, hiding Riley's angry face from them, Spike looked at Buffy from the corners of his eyes, asking, "What did you mean by that threat, Slayer? You're going to let his jealousy change how you act around me?"

"I'm too tired to talk about his right now," she sighed, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes. "With either one of you." She opened one eye and saw the way his face was shutting down. "But, just so you know? I didn't mean that I wasn't going to touch you any more – if I need...or... or want to." She quickly closed her eye again, but not before she saw the way his eyes lit up. She kept her eyes shut and her head against the wall until she heard the slight 'thud' that indicated they'd stopped. She followed Spike out of the elevator car and through the bowels of the hospital until he held an old door open for her.

It took only a few minutes at vampire/slayer speed to arrive in the basement of the Magic Box. Before they went up the stairs, Spike touched Buffy's arm and asked, "So, where's m'shirt, Slayer?"

She rolled her eyes. "I had to leave it at my house," she answered. "Riley didn't know it was your shirt I was wearing, and I decided that it might be a good idea to keep it that way..."

He nodded. "Reckon you're right, love. Wouldn't want the big git gettin' the wrong idea, would we?"

"The idea's already there, Spike. I just don't want to feed his paranoia right now."

"Can we feed it later?" he purred, moving close enough for his breath to stir the hair on her neck. "If he's gonna be all jealous and stake-happy, I'd really like to think I'd earned it." He ran his lips down the side of her neck and pulled her back against his chest.

Buffy giggled and squirmed within his semi-embrace, gasping, "Stop that! It's not funny. I'm afraid he really will try to stake you." She turned around and met his dancing eyes with her own serious expression. "You'll be careful, won't you?"

"I will if you want me to, Buffy," he replied, equally seriously. "But I'm not gonna hide from him. And," he continued, "I'm not gonna hide the way I feel about you. Not from him, not from anybody."

"Okay, see? That's another one of those conversations I don't want to have right now." She tried to turn away from the eyes boring into hers, but he held her chin with his fingers long enough to brush his lips across hers.

"Nothin' to talk about, love. It is what it is. Not askin' you for anything. Not right now, anyway. Your watcher took care of the hell bint, now we jus' need to get your mum's health sorted and you can take the rest of the year off."

Buffy gave a shaky laugh and let herself lean into him for a second. "I don't think the Slayer gets time off, Spike," she said almost sadly. "But thank you for not pushing me."

"Wouldn't do that to you, pet." He followed her up the stairs, waiting until she was ready to open the door before saying, "But I still want my shirt back. Unwashed."

They entered the Magic Box laughing together; then halted when they saw Dawn facing Riley in what was clearly a stand-off of some sort.

"Joyce," the ex-soldier appealed to Buffy's mother, "surely you can see that this is some sort of slayer-related psychosis? I know people who can help her. Why won't you let me do that?"

"The only one with a psychosis here is you, Riley," Dawn was almost screaming. "The rest of us are able to see Spike for what he is."

"I see him for what he is," the big man growled as he spotted Buffy and Spike. "An evil, soulless thing that has somehow convinced all of you that it's safe to be around him. But I know that it's only that chip that keeps his bloodlust in check."

Her face tight, Joyce came up behind Dawn and gently pushed her away.

"Riley, I understand that you think you have Buffy's best interests at heart, but I think there are some truths that you need to hear." She took a deep breath. "Spike had no chip when he saved Buffy from being arrested and asked her to join him in defeating Angelus and saving the world. He sat in my living room and was a perfect gentleman. Some time later, he sat in my kitchen drinking hot chocolate and telling me how broken-hearted he was that Drusilla had left him. Again, perfect gentleman and not a trace of fangs." She stopped and glared at him. "And just so you know, Dawn and I were alone in the house. Buffy wasn't home when he arrived. His invitation has never been revoked. He could have killed us at any time."

"And, as far as allowing you to take my daughter to a psychiatrist..." There was a gasp behind her as Buffy understood the full scope of the argument. Joyce bowed her head and said softly, "Her father and I did that to her once because we didn't understand her calling or the things that she had to do. I will never allow it to happen again."

"You wanted them to have me committed?" Had Riley known Buffy better, he would have realized that the calm quality of her voice was much more dangerous than a scream would have been. "Because I haven't staked someone who can't fight back? Someone who is always there for me if I need him? Because I don't repay rescue from torture with the death of the rescuer? Does that make me crazy, Riley? Is that what you're saying?"

"I'm saying that you spend an unhealthy amount of time with something you shouldn't suffer to live. And it wouldn't be the first time – you have a thing for vampires. If you won't recognize that you have a problem and do something about it, then... I can't... we're through, Buffy. You're not the girl I thought you were and I can't stay with you. You need to choose – the vampire or me."

He finished speaking and waited for her to tell him he was wrong, to beg him not to break up with her. Instead, she waited for the gasps from the other people in the room to fade before she said simply, "I'm sorry you feel that way, Riley."

Without looking at him again, she walked over to the table and sat down, picking a piece of pizza out of the box and beginning to chew. There was dead silence while everyone absorbed what had just, so publicly, happened. Then Riley drew himself up and threw his parting shot.

"You are one cold bitch, you know that, Buffy? I guess that explains why you get off fucking the dead."

Spike was already moving when Giles and Xander reacted and grabbed him before he could hurl himself at the eagerly waiting soldier. While Giles struggled to hold the snarling vampire, Xander pushed him back and said, "You'll just get hurt again, Deadboy, Jr. Allow me."

He turned and drew back his fist, only to have two Summers women fly past him.

"No," Joyce said firmly. "Let me." She walked up to the much taller man and slapped him across the face hard enough to rock him back on his heels.

"Get out," she said coldly. "And don't ever come near my daughter again."

In case he wasn't getting the message, Dawn walked around her mother and kicked Riley in the shins as hard as she could; smiling happily as she realized that she was wearing hard-toed boots rather than her usual sneakers.

With a final glare at the roomful of equally angry people, he whirled and limped from the building, slamming the door behind him as he did so.

With Riley gone, Giles let go of Spike; there was an embarrassed silence during which time no one knew where to look. Finally, in a strained voice, Buffy said, "Well, I've got to say, as Buffy relationships go, that one ended with a bang, didn't it?" She thought for a second, then added, "Well, okay, maybe not as big a bang as when I blew up the school the night Angel left me, but still... points for public humiliation, right?"




"Nope!" She held up her hand. "We're all just going to pretend this never happened. Pizza anyone? Mom? You want to tell me what the doctors said?"

Very slowly, they made their ways back to the table, everyone finding a chair until the only seat left was the one on Buffy's right. Spike waited until everyone was settled before turning the chair around and straddling it. Joyce was on Buffy's left, and she waiting until all the squirming and fidgeting was done before saying quietly, "I have a tumor in my brain. It appears to be benign, but it has to be removed immediately. Surgery is scheduled for the day after tomorrow."

There was a lengthy silence, and then everyone began to speak at once. She allowed the platitudes and assurances of success to go on for a while, and then raised her hand for quiet. "I appreciate your good wishes and support – all of you. But right now, I think I'd like to go home with my daughters and spend some quality time with them before the operation."

There was rapid agreement all around the table, and Giles immediately offered to drive the Summers women home. Joyce pointed out that they needed to go by Spike's crypt first and collect their belongings, leading to a mass exodus as the others remembered that they also had things in the vampire's crypt. As they all started out the door, Buffy hung back, saying, "I'll walk back with Spike. We'll meet you there."

As the door closed behind the chattering Scoobies, she led the way to the stairs and descended to the basement and its access to the tunnels; then she gave way to the vampire, whose vision and knowledge of the underground byways could get them to Restfield more quickly than the others could by car.

They walked in silence, broken only by the occasional drip of water or the sound of something sloshing through the sewers in one of the side tunnels. In what seemed like no time, they were approaching the back of Spike's lower level and could see by the light of a guttering candle that had not been extinguished when everyone left that afternoon.

"Tryin' to bloody burn m'place down," he growled, pinching the candle out and then quickly lighting two others.

"Technically, I don't think dirt burns." Buffy made an attempt at her usual humor after a pointed glance at the dirt floor and walls.

"I have stuff, Slayer. And stuff burns," he responded indignantly.

When there was no reply, he touched her arm gently and asked, "Are you alright, love? 's been kind of a rough couple of days – even for a slayer."

She shrugged, careful not to do it hard enough to dislodge the hand resting on her arm.

"Well, let's see – got beat up, but we killed all the little creeps, so that one comes out even. We got rid of a Hellgod, my boyfriend broke up with me in front of my friends and family, and my mom's been told that with a little brain surgery, she'll be fine." She shrugged again. "Two out of three. I can handle that."

"You are an amazing woman, you know," he said, taking a chance and pulling her in to a loose embrace. "I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like you."

"Ah, that's what they all say," she mumbled. "Usually just before they dump me."

"Then they're all too bloody stupid to live," he growled, tipping her chin up.

"Any man who would leave you is crazier than Dru ever was."

"If this conversation is going where I think it is," she looked up at him with a small smile, "do you think we could have it without any mention of anybody's exes? Yours or mine?"

"I can do that, love," he grinned, pulling her in more tightly and dipping his head towards hers.

"Good, cause I really don't—" The first touch of his lips on hers stopped her words; the second one stopped her train of thought, and the third one had her sighing happily as she began to kiss him back. Any thoughts they may have had about exploring this new relationship any further were interrupted by the noisy arrival of her family and friends. With a rueful smile, she pulled away and gathered her mother and Dawn's things, carrying them up the ladder with her.

Spike was standing where she'd left him, his face wearing a beatific smile when Dawn stuck her head down the hole and smirked at him.

"I knew it," she crowed. "I told you so."

He just laughed and waved at her. "Get out of here, Bit. Go home and take care of your mother."


Once Joyce's surgery had been completed and she was resting comfortably with good vital signs, Buffy let herself relax and lean against the strong shoulder beside her.

"The doctor said she should be fine now," she said with relief. "He said something about some possible, very rare, side effects of the surgery, but he'll tell Mom all about them when she's ready to be released."

"Too bad your mum doesn't have slayer healing," Spike replied with a smile. "She'd be up and about by now."

Dawn spoke up from his other side. "It isn't going to be too long, is it, Buffy? Didn't the other, not-Ben, doctor say that it would only be a couple of days? Then she can come home?"

"Yep, that's what he said. If she still looks good by day after tomorrow, we can take her home. She has to rest for a week or two..." She fixed Dawn with a hard eye. "Which means you and I are going to be taking care of the house – without any whining."

"I don't whine! Do I, Spike?"

"Oh no, you don't, Bit. You're not putting me into the middle of this. Now that I know that your mum is alright, I'm heading back to my nice, peaceful crypt." He turned to Buffy and gestured to the bag she was holding. "Does that belong to me, pet?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. It does. Sorry, I almost forgot about it." She handed him the wrinkled bag containing his still-dirty shirt.

He sniffed appreciatively, causing Dawn to frown with confusion and Buffy to blush and smack his leg. "Ewww," she muttered. "I don't even want to know what you're planning to do with that..."

He leaned in and whispered in her ear, smiling at the way she shivered. "I think you know exactly what I'm goin' to be doin' with it, love. An' I'll be thinkin' about you the entire time..."

Still bright red, she pushed him away and stood up. "On that disturbing and embarrassing note, I'm going to go in and visit with my mother. Come on, Dawn, let's let the disgusting vampire go back to his hole in the ground."

Still puzzled by the whole conversation, Dawn obediently followed Buffy into the hallway, waving her good-bye to a grinning Spike.

It was hours later, well after dark, when Buffy knocked softly on the door to Spike's crypt. It was quickly opened by the vampire standing on the other side with a glass of blood in his hand. He was shirtless, his low-slung jeans barely clinging to his hips. She quickly averted her eyes – which wanted so badly to linger on the smooth chest and flat stomach in front of her – and entered the room.

"What's with the knocking, Slayer?" He asked with a grin. "If I'd known letting you catch me wankin' was all it took to get a little courtesy out of you, I'd have done it years ago."

"Very funny," she muttered. "If I'd known that's what you did in your spare time, I would've started knocking a long time ago."

He sat his untouched glass down and ran one hand gently down the side of her face. "It's all I've had for a while now, love."

She rolled her eyes, even as she leaned into his hand. "That's crap, and you know it. You had Harmony. And don't think I haven't seen how the girls look at you when you strut through the Bronze. You could've had plenty of the real thing if you wanted it."

His hand cupped her chin, while the other one circled her waist. "Didn't want it, did I? Rather have my dream of perfection than a substitute. Only one girl I'm interested in shaggin' and if I can't have her, I'd prefer my hand to a cheap imitation."

Buffy closed her eyes as he brought his lips closer. "I'm not sure if that's really flattering or really ewwww," she whispered against his mouth.

"Was meant to be flattering," he whispered back, finally fastening his mouth on hers. With no worries about being interrupted, or having to rush off to somewhere, they let their lips and tongues do the exploring that they had both been wanting for days. When Spike's tongue gently ran across her lower lip, then tickled her upper one until she parted her lips with a sigh, she melted into his body and allowing the kiss to deepen into something that turned her bones to liquid.

He picked her up, holding her tightly against his body and never taking his mouth off hers as he walked backwards until he felt the edge of the couch behind his knees. He sank onto the cushions, pulling Buffy across his lap and ghosting his free hand over her body. Whispered words of adoration and devotion made a soothing background for the sensations he was creating with just his lips and a hand that was barely touching her.

Oh my god. Is this what I've been missing by trying for normal? No wonder Drusilla stayed with him for over a hundred years.

Buffy was struggling to maintain coherent thoughts as she lost herself in Spike's bone-melting kisses and soft caresses that left her body on fire. She was very conscious of the muscular, bare chest in front of her, and tentatively ran her own hand from his collarbone down to the taut abdomen just above his open jeans. His sudden gasp and muffled groan reminded her that she was not the only one being affected by their kisses and she smiled into his mouth.

"Playing with fire there, pet," he growled, nipping at her lower lip with his blunt human teeth.

"Oh," she said, batting her eyes innocently. "Then you don't want me to touch you? You wouldn't like it if I...?"

She lowered her head and brushed light kisses over his shoulder and down to his chest, just trailing her lips over his nipple. Instead of answering her, he groaned again, sliding down on his side until they were lying side by side on the narrow couch. The new position allowed her to feel the hard bulge now pressing tightly against her upper thighs and indicating just how badly he wanted her to touch him. He groaned again, straining against her and burying his face in her neck.

"Makin' me crazy here, love," he murmured into her throat. "I'm like a kid feelin' a real woman for the first time. Want you so bad, Buffy, let me touch you, love. Please let me touch you."

"I don't think I could stop you if I wanted to," she gasped, wrapping one leg around his. "And I'm pretty sure I don't want to," she added with a blush.

"You mean that, Buffy?" He pulled his head back to meet her suddenly shy gaze. He raised his hand and pushed her hair back off her face, as he continued. "Want you more than anything, love. You know I do. But I don't want to push you. Don't want you to be sorry – don't ever want you to be sorry," he whispered, dropping his mouth back to her neck and sucking on the skin there. "It would kill me if I thought you were regretting..."

"I don't have anything to regret, yet," she said, nudging the side of his head. "I'm beginning to think you're all talk and no action man—" She got no further; Spike rolled until she was beneath him, his hard length slipping between her thighs to press into her warmth, eliciting a small whimper of need.

"That's it, Slayer," he growled. "I've been more than a gentleman – given you every chance to change your mind. Now I'm gonna take you downstairs and show you just how much I'm not just all talk."

"Promise?" she whispered, arching into him and distracting them both for several minutes. He pressed into her, rotating his hips as she began to pant and whimper against him, her breath coming faster and faster as she rubbed against him. He waited until she had shivered with a final whimpering cry before pushing himself away.

"Not doin' this here where anybody might come in," he growled, pulling the dazed-looking girl to her feet. He steered her to the entrance to his bedroom and pointed down the ladder. "Go on down, love. I'm gonna shut the door."

Buffy gave him a puzzled frown, then dropped into the lower level and stared up to watch him pull a large slab of stone over the opening. From the exertion she could see on his face as he held it over his head, she knew that no human was going to be able to surprise them. As soon as he had adjusted the cover to his satisfaction, he came the rest of the way down and smiled like the predator he was.

"You're at my mercy now, Slayer. You're all mine."

He prowled towards her, backing her up until she ran into the bed, and then running his hands over her body in a way that he hadn't permitted himself to do before. It took only a few seconds for Buffy to find herself out of her clothes and lying on the bed, an equally naked Spike lying on top of her.

"We're gonna do this, yeah?" he whispered, staring intently into her wide eyes. She nodded, wrapping her arms around his torso and her legs around his hips. "I think we are," she whispered back, never taking her eyes off his. Neither of them pretended that they were referring only to the lovemaking that was going to occupy them for the rest of the evening, although neither of them said the words that would change their relationship forever. Some things were better left for another time.

The End

Writer con Fic specifics:

Characters to be included: Any of the Scoobies and Spike

Rating: R

Season: BtVS season 5

Must Have: (1) Dawn/Spike friendship (2) teamwork (3) an old friend revisiting

Can't Have (1) major character death (2) Angel