Post Season 8, issue #40. I'm not sure how much or even if I should try to provide a summary of the whole comic season for readers who are going to be going "huh?" "who?" "what?" "why?", but I think I'll just say it's a future fic in a future that didn't happen now that we're well into season nine. Quick recap of important events from season eight for those who aren't familiar with them: Buffy and her slayer army fought a long war against something/somebody called "Twilight" - which turned out to be Angel under the influence of something-or-other. It was a long, unhappy battle near the end of which Buffy became enhanced in many ways, including being able to fly. Angel, who also has enhanced powers, explains that they are meant to be together to bring about a new (less evil?) universe, and he and Buffy have epic (and very public and ugly) sex during which they begin to tear apart the universe everyone else lives in. Buffy goes back to help out against the demons pouring into the tearing world and Angel reluctantly goes with her. Other important details = Spike shows up in a steampunk space ship with a crew of giant bugs, he joins the fight, Buffy destroys "the Seed" which destroys all the magic in the world, Angel is still under the influence of Twilight and kills Giles, who it turns out left all his belongings to Faith. The season ends with Buffy living in San Francisco with Dawn and Xander, working in a coffe shop, and fighting off angry ex-witches and unhappy don't-want-to-be-slayers. Spike pops in and out occasionally to talk to her, but they meet on the fire escape rather than in the apartment. It end with her staring wistfully at the ship as Spike leaves again.

EVERY TIME YOU SAY GOOD-BYE

Chapter One

Buffy chewed her lip and looked over her shoulder before sliding open the window. She climbed onto the sill and looked around for the best place to put her note. Taping it to the window was out; Dawn would see it if she went into the room for anything.

Maybe I should have just told them Spike was coming by a couple of times a month…It's not like Dawn wouldn't have invited him in. Oh well, too late now.

With the window out, she looked around for another place to tape her note where the weather wouldn't be likely to destroy it before Spike's return, and where he'd be sure to find it. She finally settled on the frame of the window at eye level, but not visible through the glass. Using heavy-duty duct tape, she taped the folded piece of thick paper on, giving it a final pat as she tore off the last piece of tape.

"Now, you just stay there till he sees you, 'kay?"

She was just putting the window back down when Dawn stuck her head into the room.

"Are you ready? Xander's got everything in the truck except whatever you still have in here."

"Yep. All ready." Buffy swung the two bags off the bed and carried them through the door. "Grab my purse, will you, please?"

It was only a few blocks to the tiny furnished apartment that one of the boys who were regulars at the coffee shop had told her was going to be available as a rental. Buffy couldn't believe her luck and had said she'd take it, sight unseen. The owner of the condo was leaving for two years in Europe and hadn't wanted to give up his home while he was gone. He was more than happy to know it was going to someone he sort of knew.

When the last of her meager belongings had been deposited in the small, but tastefully decorated, living room, Buffy hugged Dawn and Xander fiercely. "Thank you guys so much for taking me in. I know it was probably a pain having me there all this time, but I just…."

Dawn stroked her hair as if she were the older sister. "You just needed time to get your head together and figure out what you wanted to do. We get that. Besides, it's not like there were a lot of jobs out there for ex-slayers."

Buffy winced. "Not sure I'm exactly an 'ex-slayer'. Seems like I'm the only one still working in this city."

"And on that cheerful note…."

Buffy stood in the doorway and waved as Xander steered Dawn down the hall to the stairs. When she could no longer see or hear them, she closed the door and, after a moment's indecision, engaged the dead bolt and the security chain.

"A girl can't be too careful," she assured herself, trying not to feel silly that someone with her strength and fighting skills was depending on mechanical things to keep her safe while she slept. She carried her suitcases into the bedroom and began taking things out and putting them into little stacks on the bed.

Spike dropped onto the fire escape landing, and frowned into the dark room on the other side. He'd been sure that coming by this late at night would allow him to catch Buffy after patrol, but before she fell asleep. He listened carefully, but heard no heartbeat from the other side of the glass. He sat down, lit a cigarette, and began muttering to himself.

"Wonder if I stayed away too long this time? Maybe she's found herself somethin' better to do with her nights than mope in her room. Stubborn bint. If she'd just—"

His angry muttering broke off as his eye caught the fluttering of a torn piece of tape on the side of the window. Dangling from the wind-torn tape was a piece of equally abused paper with "Spike" written on one side. He snatched it off the wooden frame and peeled back the tape so that he could unfold the paper, going into gameface so he could read the lettering there. There was no message, just an address.

He was staring at the address, frowning and not paying attention to the other side of the window when his ears picked up a soft sound. He raised his head in time to see Dawn unlatching the window and pulling it up.

"It's about three blocks that way," she said, pointing to the right.

Spike nodded and gave her a small smile. "Thanks, Bit," he said. "Guess she wasn't as sneaky as she thought, huh?"

"Pulease! The day Buffy can outsneaky me… Well, that day just isn't going to come." She shrugged. "You've been gone a while, haven't you? I was thinking I was going to have to retape that thing if you didn't show up pretty soon."

"Got held up. Couldn't be helped, but I've got some info for Bu- the Slayer. Guess I'd best get it to her, yeah?" He stood up and reached up to the metal ladder over his head. "See you, Dawn. Make a rude gesture at Harris for me, will you?"

"Yeah, yeah. I'll do some manly posturing for you. Go find Buffy."

After making a quick side trip, Spike found the building he was looking for and stood out front staring up at the top floor. He waited for several minutes, listening, until he finally gave up trying to identify Buffy's heartbeat and went up the steps and in the door. The inner door, which theoretically required either a key or a buzzer from one of the apartments, was not much of an impediment and he was soon on the stairs, moving up at a rate that would have shocked anyone still awake to see him.

Reaching Buffy's floor, he double checked the apartment number on the paper and went directly to her door. Where he stood for several long minutes, just staring at it, his hand resting on the doorknob, until it was flung open to reveal a pajama-clad Buffy clutching a stake.

"What kind of idiot vampire wakes the Slayer up in the middle of the— Oh."

"Just the usual idiot, love." Spike held out the bag he was holding. "Housewarming gift?"

Buffy reached through the barrier and took the bag and the bottle of wine it contained from him. She stared at him, the corners of her mouth twitching at his unsure expression.

"Well, I guess if we're going to drink this, we shouldn't do it in the hallway." She turned around and walked away, throwing over her shoulder, "Come in, Spike."

With a sigh of relief he stepped through, closing the door behind him. He stood, irresolute, until Buffy said with some impatience, "Well, take your coat off. Or are you just going to stand there all night?"

Without response, he shrugged his coat off and dropped it on a chair near the door, then moved to the small galley kitchen where Buffy was looking for something to open the bottle of wine he'd brought.

"Don't have to drink it now, pet. If you'd rather save it for an occasion of some sort…"

Buffy's eyes flew to his. "I have an apartment of my own – finally – and you're in it. That's not an occasion?" She waved the corkscrew in the air to emphasize her point.

"When you put it that way…." He walked around the narrow counter and took the corkscrew from her. "I seem to remember you aren't very good at this. Let me do it for you, yeah?"

"I could have done it," she said, her lip almost making it into a pout.

"Know you could, Slayer. But the object is to still have a bottle left when the cork comes out." He smirked at her and skillfully removed the cork, setting it on the table. "See?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Remind me again why I invited you in?"

He just smiled and began opening cabinet doors until he found the glasses. He raised one eyebrow as he held two wine glasses up. At her nod, he poured some in each glass and handed one to Buffy.

"To your new home and life, pet," he toasted, waiting for her to touch her glass to his before drinking.

"Yay me," she agreed, taking a small swallow and walking to the couch. She sat on one end and watched as he briefly lost his cocky expression. When he didn't move, she nodded toward the other end of the couch. "Sit down, Spike. It makes me nervous when you just stand around."

"I make you nervous? Since when?"

"Since I never know if or when I'm ever going to see you again," she snapped. "If you're not sitting, it… it makes me think you want to leave already." His eyes grew wide and she swallowed hard. "I said that out loud, didn't I?" she whispered, her eyes flying to his. He was staring back at her with astonishment and just a trace of hope, his mouth open and his eyes bulging. Who knew eyes could really do that?

"I… I didn't mean… it's just that you were gone so long this time and I…."

"'S alright, pet," he said gruffly, his expression settling back into the hard-to-read face that was all he'd shown her since arriving in the nick of time with his ship and its crew of bugs. "I'm not making it… anything." He took a deep breath while Buffy buried her face in her wine glass. "Didn't mean to be gone so long. Ran into a bit of trouble and had to go hide on the other side of the moon for a while. Came back as soon as it was safe to—" He bit off what he was going to say, taking large swallows of his own drink.

Seeing that they had both emptied their glasses, Buffy grabbed them and went to the kitchen, covering her nervousness by pouring more wine and staring at the kitchen counter. When she couldn't avoid it any longer, she walked back and handed him his glass before returning to her seat on the other end of the small sofa.

"So, what were you running from? Can I kill it?"

He smiled at her. "Appreciate the offer, pet, but I handled it already. That's one vamp won't be plotting world ending any time soon."

"World endage? Vamp plotting? Why didn't I know about this?"

"Was gonna bring you in, but I thought I could handle it myself. Did alright, too, until somebody ratted me out. Still managed to kill the bugger, but his minions were right brassed off, so I had to disappear long enough for them to lose interest."

"And did they? Lose interest?"

"Mostly. By the time I've killed a few more, they'll all see the error of their ways and leave me alone."

"Why didn't you want me to help you?" Buffy's voice was soft and uncertain. "Did you think I'd screw it up like I—"

"Bloody hell, Slayer! When are you going to get over beating yourself up over that mess your ex got you into? You did what you always do – the best you could." His voice softened. "Please, love. Tell me you aren't going to keep blaming yourself for doing what you had to do."

She peered at him. "I didn't have to have epic space—"

"If it's all the same to you, I'd just as soon believe you didn't have a choice," he growled. "And I don't want to talk about it. Ever."

Buffy shrugged. "Fine. It's not my favorite topic of conversation either." She swallowed some more wine, seeking to come up with a conversation topic that wouldn't lead to another uncomfortable silence. Remembering her latest run-in with a powerless witch and her untrained slayer partner, Buffy sighed.

"But that's not all that's wrong. All those girls I made slayers without asking them—they… they hate me." She stood up and threw her arms into the air. "They keep trying to fight me! Like they think just being strong means they…" She stopped and her shoulders slumped. "I'm not supposed to hurt humans, Spike. Unless they're really, really evil."

"If they're tryin' to hurt you, Buffy, they are evil."

She fell back onto the couch, closer to him and resting her head on the cushion. "No, they aren't evil. They're just really unhappy about not having been given a choice." She shook her head. "I can't fault them for that. I'd feel the same way. I did feel the same way when I was first called. I was all 'Why me?' and 'I don't wanna do this'."

"But you did do it, love. And you did it better than any slayer ever has. These spoiled bints just need to suck it up."

Buffy rolled her head over to smile at him. "Always on my side, aren't you?"

"Always," he agreed, smiling back. "'less, of course, you're publicly shagging—never mind."

"Thought you didn't want to talk about that."

"Don't. Just pops into my head sometimes." He turned his head away so she couldn't see his face, flinching when she touched his arm.

"I'm… I mean, I know you know I'm sorry it happened… But I'm really, really sorry that you had to… know about it."

"Didn't 'know' about it. I saw and heard it," he gritted out. "Just like everybody else in the bloody world."

Her anger rising to match his, she snapped, "Well, that makes us even then, doesn't it?"

"Even?" Spike's roar was so loud she put her hand over his mouth, removing it the instant he got quiet. "Even?" he repeated more quietly, his eyes flickering yellow.

"Have you forgotten the little performance you and Anya put on in the Magic Box? How do you think I felt then? All my friends and my little sister watching you—"

Spike shook her off and stood up, holding up a hand and counting on his fingers: "A – you'd broken up with me. Kicked me to the curb and told me to move on, as I recall. B – your friends had no idea we'd been… whatever the hell we were. So no humiliation factor there. C – Didn't know there were cameras. Never meant for anyone to see or hear it. And D – Wouldn't have done it if I'd had any idea you would know… or care. " He looked at his hands and held up the rest of his fingers. "I'm sure there's a lot more alphabet to cover, just can't think of it right now."

Buffy jumped to her feet, her own eyes flashing. "Fine! A – I had no idea where you were. Hadn't heard from you since you pulled Sunnydale down around your ears. B – You couldn't be bothered telling me you were alive when you came back, so why should I think you'd care if I… and C… C… there was gold, misty, glowy stuff involved…."

They stood a few inches apart, breathing hard and glaring at each other until Spike's face broke into a reluctant smile.

"God, I've missed this," he said, brushing a hand over her head. "Nobody can make me as mad as you can."

"Right back atcha," she said, shaking her head and smiling back at him. "I think I've missed it too. It feels good."

Realizing how close they were standing at the same time, they each dropped their eyes and turned away. There was another uncomfortable silence that lasted until Spike cleared his throat.

"Guess I'd better let you get your sleep, yeah?"

"Yeah, I guess so." Her eyes went to his. "Where's your ship?"

"It's still on the roof of the Bit's building. It's a good place for it. Nice and flat and it's hardly visible behind the mechanical stuff. I'll check this roof out tomorrow night, but I don't mind the walk."

"So, you're coming back tomorrow?" Buffy's voice was deliberately casual.

"If you want me to, love. Might go with on patrol. Watch your back? It'll be like old times."

"I'd like that," she said softly.

"Then that's what we'll do." He picked up his coat and paused at the door. "Good night, Buffy."

"Good night, Spike." After a brief hesitation, they both stepped away from their own side of the door so that Buffy could shut it. She leaned her head against the door; on the other side, Spike rested his head against it briefly, then shook himself and headed for the stairs. Inside, Buffy slid the locks in place and went back to her bedroom, turning off the lights as she went.

Chapter Two

Buffy came home from her shift at the coffee shop and went straight into the shower, telling herself it had nothing to do with seeing Spike later and everything to do with it having been a busy day. Including another run-in with the slayer not-wanna-be who seemed determined to make Buffy's life miserable. She'd made no more attempts to hurt or kill Buffy, but she appeared in the shop at least once a week, always complaining about the service or Buffy's clumsiness. Fortunately, she was no better at being subtle than she was at fighting, and Buffy's manager had told her not to worry about "that jealous bitch" and her attempts to get Buffy fired.

She dressed carefully, limiting her cosmetics to deodorant, moisturizer and lip gloss. She wore comfortable pants that looked good but allowed movement, and a long-sleeved red sweater that accentuated the new curves she'd added now that she had some stability in her life. When Spike knocked on the door, she was ready, opening it before the echoes of his knock had faded away.

"Hi."

"Evenin', Slayer. Ready to go?"

"Mmmm hmmmm. Just let me get a jacket and some stakes."

"No other weapons?"

"Turns out, if it's not Sunnydale, they frown on people walking around with swords. Don't need them all that often, anyway. The upside of it not being Sunnydale is that demons don't blend very well, so they aren't real common."

Buffy put on her jacket, frowning when Spike kept his eyes on the bookcase instead of on the way her sweater stretched across her breasts when she reached back for a sleeve. Okay, that's not where we are – he's not likely to forget about the whole Angel/Twilight sexcapades that fast. And I don't want my life complicated right now, anyway. She glanced at his impassive face as he held the door for her and sighed inwardly. It's really not like him not to look, though. He looked at me even when he hated me.

They trotted down the four flights of stairs and out into the night without more conversation. It wasn't until Spike turned his head to follow a beautiful girl's progress past them that Buffy spoke.

"Was that a vamp?"

"Who, what? Where?" He stared around, clearly extending his senses.

"The girl you're looking at. Is she a vamp? Is that why you were looking her?"

Spike stopped. "No, she was just really easy on the eyes." He stared at her with his head cocked to the side. "Is there a reason I shouldn't be looking at pretty birds when I get a chance?"

Buffy winced, wondering if he'd been deliberately reminding her that he hadn't looked at her carefully-chosen outfit. "No," she said quickly. "No, of course not. You're a man… pretty girls… yeah, silly me."

She whirled and began walking down the street, hoping her flaming face wasn't visible in the dark. Spike caught up with her within two strides, catching her arm and pulling her to halt. "If there's a reason why I shouldn't, say so now, Slayer."

Buffy refused to meet his eyes. "I said 'no', didn't I?"

He stood there, his hand on her arm, then fell back into the detached manner she was still trying to get used to. "Alright, then," he said finally. "Let's find ourselves something to kill."

They kept walking, passing Buffy's coffee shop on their way to finding 'something to kill'. She waved one hand at it, saying, "That's where I go every day to be tormented by… oh, look, there she is now." She pointed at the brown-haired girl who had made annoying Buffy her life's work. Spike studied the girl, smiling when he saw her hesitate and stare around.

"May not want to be a slayer, but she's knows when there's a vamp around," he whispered to Buffy.

"Do you want to eat her?" Buffy growled, glaring at her nemesis. "I promise I won't care."

His rich chuckle echoed in her ear. "You know that's not true, pet. And I know it's not true, so I reckon she's safe… for now. Not making any promises if I catch her trying to hurt you," he added. Buffy's smile was quick, but genuine, and they were suddenly comfortable with each other again.

"Where do you s'pose she's going? It's getting a bit late for a bird who refuses to do her job to be out and about."

"Probably going to meet up with her we're-not-slayers or used-to-be-witches friends and come up with new ways to make my life miserable," Buffy grumbled. "Who cares?"

"Think we're going to have to, pet. I'm not the only vamp around…" He nodded his head towards three men who had begun following the girl down the street. With a sigh, Buffy nodded her agreement, and they began to trail the little group that was trailing the slayer. Every once in a while, the girl would turn around with a frown and then shrug off the feeling and continue walking. Buffy shook her head.

"I don't care if she doesn't want to slay; she ought to at least listen to what her senses are telling her and get someplace safe. Dumbass," she added, when for the third time the girl shrugged and ignored what her slayer senses were trying to tell her.

"Maybe vamps are just so common now, she's used to it," Spike said mildly. "There are still people want to believe we're just misunderstood."

"Yeah, I have to save at least one or two people like that a night," Buffy muttered. "You'd think by now, people would have noticed that vampires bite."

They sped up when their prey increased speed to get closer to their target, who was now now jogging toward two girls waiting at a bus stop. She greeted the girls and sat down beside them. Spike's hearing was just able to pick up bits of the conversation.

"Hey, Julie. We've been waiting for you."

"Hey, to you. Sorry I'm late. I kept getting weird vibes on the way here."

"Vibes?"

"Yeah, you know, like you feel when you know somebody's watching you or something?"

"I used to be able to feel things," a tall, slender girl said bitterly. "Before that bitch took my magic away." She looked around, not seeing the vamps that had melted back into the shadows of a building, nor Spike and Buffy, who were standing with their backs turned, as though planning to get in the car parked in front of them.

The other girl stood up and stretched. "Well, what are we going to do tonight? There's a new club over on Fifth, we could check it out."

As the girls began to move away, Julie narrowed her eyes when she looked toward Buffy, frowning as if trying to make out her face in the dim light. Buffy immediately grabbed Spike's lapels and pulled him down. "Kiss me," she hissed. Spike put his arms around her, hiding her with his coat. He hesitated only briefly, then applied his lips to hers in a chaste imitation of a kiss. The girls strolled past, giggling to each other at the seemingly oblivious couple now so engrossed in their kissing that they paid no attention to passers-by. So busy were they, talking and laughing about the couple making out on a parked car, that they never noticed when the vampires emerged from the shadows and began following them again.

As they walked past Spike and Buffy, one of the young vampires hesitated and looked in their direction. "Hey, guys, do we want to have a snack first?" he said, pointing at the still seemingly-engrossed couple. When Spike raised his head and flashed his true face at them, his snarl saying as much about his age and power as did his vampire features, they quickly moved on, muttering apologies for disturbing him.

"Sorry, Slayer," Spike said once they were alone again. "Didn't figure you wanted to give it away yet by dusting those gits in front of the bitch."

Buffy shook her head no, stepping back from his embrace with forced casualness. "Good… good call," she said. "I think we fooled them."

"Expect we did, luv. It's not like we're amateurs at…."

"No, we aren't, are we? Fooled the hell out of them." Suddenly uncomfortable again at his proximity, she added, "I guess we'd better catch up before we lose them."

"I'm on it, pet," he said, tapping his nose. "But yeah, doubt those vamps are going to stalk them all night. Soon's they get somewhere dark or secluded…"

They began to jog, moving swiftly and silently down the sidewalk, dodging the occasional late-night pedestrian, until they were close enough for Spike to smell both vampires and girls. As the girls entered an area where the overhead freeway provided an unintentionally dark area, the stalkers suddenly moved close enough to be seen and sped towards the girls. Her slayer senses provided just enough warning for Julie to whirl around with a "What the—" before the vamps were upon them.

There were muffled screams from her two companions as Julie shoved her own attacker off with a strength that caught the young vampire by surprise.

"Hey! Are you one of those slayer-bitches? Dudes! We got us a slayer here."

The other two vampires dropped their intended victims to the ground and spun around to stare at Julie.

"No shit? Man, I wonder what she's going to taste like? I hear it's awesome…" Licking their lips, all three advanced on Julie who was shrinking against the wall in fear. Her eyes darted around, seeking a weapon of some sort, but there was nothing to be found on the dirty sidewalk.

Suddenly, there was a small blonde woman between Julie and the slobbering vampires. They hesitated only briefly, then advanced on Buffy. "Are you one of those slayer-bitches too? Man, this is our lucky night."

Buffy gave a toothy smile that made them all hesitate and take a step back. "Wrong, morons. I'm not a slayer-bitch; I'm the Slayer Bitch. Capital letters. And it is definitely not your lucky night."

Before they could decide whether they were going to fight or flee, Buffy had kicked one of them in the knee, dropping him to the ground howling in pain. Without looking down at him, she leapt over his body and sank her stake directly into the chest of another one. The third had already made his decision and was turning to flee when he ran into Spike's left fist. He fell to the ground beside the still-moaning vampire trying to crawl away from Buffy and toward Julie.

Buffy looked at Spike and asked cheerily, "What do you think? Leave them or put them out of our misery?" She glanced at Julie. "Think you can get your friends out of here before they get mobile again?"

"You're going to let them go?" Julie's eyes were wide and she began to hyperventilate. "They're monsters!"

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "What? Monsters? Not misunderstood differently-abled people? Are you sure?"

"Kill them!"

Spike chuckled. "That sounds more like it. Knew there had to be a slayer in there somewhere."

Julie gave him a glare, then turned back to Buffy. Staring at the one that had invited his friends to feast on her, she held out her hand saying, "I'll do it."

Buffy shrugged, handing her a stake. "Knock yourself out. But make it a clean kill. You'll have to get close to him to do it, and I don't think he's real happy right now."

Julie hesitated, then stepped closer, muffling a scream when the vamp grabbed her by the ankle. She used her other foot to kick him in the face, then drove the stake, with more enthusiasm than expertise, into his heart. He dusted immediately and she stood up straight, smiling in satisfaction. "Hah!"

Buffy pulled out one of her other stakes and dusted the remaining vampire before he could regain consciousness. She smiled at Spike in approval. "That was quite a punch."

"I try," he said with uncharacteristic modesty. "He walked right into it – stupid git."

"Who are you?" Julie stared at Spike, then looked into the shadows of the underpass. "Why do I still feel those weird vibes? Are there more of them?"

"Not that you need to worry about," Buffy said without more explanation. "Get your friends out of here and try to stay in places with people and lights. You can keep the stake," she added as she began to walk away with Spike. "But you probably ought to learn how to use it." They walked away without waiting to see if the girls were going to follow their advice.

They walked in silence for several blocks before Spike said, "Do we have a destination, Slayer?"

"We do, sort of. There's a nest I've been wanting to take out, but they're using humans as guards and I haven't quite figured out how to get around them without really hurting anybody." She glanced up at him. "Not that I'm as fussy about that as I was before… before…." Her voice trailed off as memories of the past several years clearly overwhelmed her.

"If you're about to go all boo hoo, bad, bad Buffy on me again, can you just hold that thought for a bit?" Spike was speaking to her, but staring into an alley from which emerged several vampires, clad in identical black uniforms.

"Spike," the over-weight leader said from his position behind his minions in the alley.

"Dust," he replied.

"You wish." The vamp turned his attention to Buffy. "Is this your dinner?"

Spike's delighted laughter caused them all to frown at him. "You wish," he said, grinning as Buffy stepped up beside him.

"Hi guys," she said with her best cheerleader smile. "Have we met? I'm Buffy. The Vampire Slayer?"

"She's dead," the vamp snarled.

"Sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not. You just never know with me." She glanced at Spike. "Are these the minions?"

"Some of 'em," he said. "Which ones do you want, Slayer?"

"Um… all of them?"

"Uh-uh, pet. I owe big, wide and ugly here. Tell you what, you keep them off my back while Jake and I sort out our differences, and then we'll share."

While they'd been talking, some of the vamps had been moving to the sides in an attempt to encircle Spike and Buffy. With no more communication than a "Let's do it" they split apart and flipped over the approaching attackers, staking two of them as they landed. With a whoop of joy, Spike swung into action, punching, kicking and staking his way through the minions to the object of his ire. Buffy was content to take out those foolish enough to think she was the lesser of two evils, pausing occasionally to admire the way Spike was working his way toward the pudgy leader, now beginning to look a bit worried.

When all the minions were either dust, or temporarily immobilized bodies moaning on the ground, Spike stood in front of Jake, the light of battle blazing in his eyes.

"You were sayin'…?"

"Wait. We can work this out. We can share the—" He stopped with a gurgle as Spike grabbed his neck and lifted his much larger and heavier body into the air.

"I don't share," Spike said in a deceptively mild tone of voice. "Specially not with wankers that have been braggin' how they're going to make me dust." He looked over his shoulder at Buffy. "Are we in a hurry, pet?"

She made a face. "Really not in the mood for torture, Spike."

He sighed and looked back at his captive. "Your lucky night, Jake. 's what happens when you hang out with white hats – they feel sorry even for things like you." He brought his other hand up and buried his stake in Jake's chest before he'd even realized what was going to happen. "Let's finish them off, Slayer."

With deadly efficiency they dusted all but one of the remaining injured vampires. Spike paused over a girl whose yellow eyes held nothing but terror. "Let this one go, pet. She's too dumb not to get herself dusted soon anyway, and she can spread the word that I'm here and looking for any minions stupid enough to still think they can take me."

Buffy shrugged. "Okay. But if I catch her trying to bite anybody…"

"Understood." He yanked the quivering girl to her feet. "You hear that? Get yourself out of here and don't bite anybody. Ever."

As soon as he let go, the girl took off, running with a speed that made her almost invisible to the few humans remaining on the streets so late. She was soon out of sight and Buffy and Spike were left standing, surrounded by dust gradually wafting away to become part of the landscape. He stared at it, hands in his pockets, then spoke, almost to himself. "Hard to believe that's all we leave behind, isn't it?"

"Not you!" Buffy's response was immediate and shrill. He frowned at her in surprise. "It's what I am, love. Won't be leaving that good-looking corpse that we all want if we die young."

"You have your soul. It has to go somewhere."

"Think we all know where that's to be, don't we?" He put his arm around her shoulders and led her away, back to the sidewalk and away from the reminders of what he was. "The great poof may believe in redemption, but I know there's no way to make up for the first century or so of my unlife."

Just as he was letting go, Buffy shocked them both by putting her arms around him in fierce hug that brought a grimace to his face. She released him as quickly as she'd grabbed, saying, "I guess I'll just have to keep you alive then, won't I?"

She walked off without looking at his face. If she had, she would have seen more emotions flying across it than she had seen from him yet. Shaking himself, Spike schooled it back into a mildly interested expression and walked after her.

"Sounds good to me, Slayer."

Chapter Three

Buffy's shift the next day was, as usual, interrupted by Julie's daily visit for a latte and harassment. This time, however, instead of finding ways to annoy Buffy, she waited quietly until it was her turn to order, then asked softly, "Can we talk?"

Buffy blinked at her, not sure what the girl was up to. She looked at her manager, who waved his hand dismissively. "Take ten, Anne," he said, using the alias Buffy seemed to fall back on any time she was trying to hide from who she was. She nodded her thanks and, keeping a wary eye on Julie, led the way to a back table.

They sat in silence for several minutes before Buffy looked pointedly at her watch. Julie nodded and said, "Thank you. I didn't thank you last night and I… I should have. You had every reason to leave us there."

Buffy cocked her head at the other girl. "You still don't get it, do you?"

When Julie looked confused, Buffy gave a sad smile and continued, "What slayers are, what we do. We don't let people die. It doesn't matter if we like them or not. Our role is to protect the world and the people in it." Buffy looked down at the table and fiddled with the napkins there. "Sometimes we have to do things that… sometimes it doesn't work out quite like we expected it to… or hoped it would. But…" She shrugged and raised her eyes to Julie's. "… but we do what we have to do, when we have to do it, and we deal with the consequences later." When Julie just stared at her, Buffy added quickly, "Not that you need to do any of that if you don't want to. That's the whole thing about us now – you have choices. You can be a slayer and join the fight against evil, or you can just go through life being a really strong, athletic woman who minds her own business and stays out of anyone else's."

Julie visibly winced. "You're saying I can have the… the powers… but I don't have to use them for good."

Buffy gave a small grin. "Well, I wouldn't think too much about using them for evil. There are still a lot of us on the other side, and we're all better trained than you are. You'd get your butt handed to you pretty fast."

Julie snorted a laugh. "Yeah, think I got that message a few weeks ago when we tried to beat you up." She tapped her fingers on the tabletop, then raised her head. "That guy. The one that was with you last night? He cold-cocked a vampire with one punch. Is he a slayer too?"

Buffy laughed, then frowned and sobered. "Maybe… in some ways, I guess he is. But, no, not the way you mean it. He's on our side, he helps us when he's around and fights the good fight elsewhere when he isn't."

"Is he… are you…?"

Buffy's face grew still. "We were, once. We're not now. We're just really old… friends… who fight well together." Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Which, by the way, is really none of your business."

Julie shrugged, some of her natural attitude coming back now that she'd made her semi-apology and thank you without causing Buffy to throw her out of the shop. "We were just curious. He's kind of hot – in a scary way."

"You and your friends need to focus on the 'scary' part of that and not on how hot Spike is." Buffy's eyes made it very clear that her patrolling partner was not on the menu, and Julie backed off quickly.

"Yeah. Right. No problem… we were just curious, that's all. I mean, if you guys aren't still an item then…." Her voice trailed off as a muscle began to twitch in Buffy's jaw. Julie swallowed hard and quickly sought another topic of conversation. "So. This 'training' that you were talking about, how do I get it?"

Buffy blinked in surprise. "You're interested?"

"Well, I don't know yet. But what I saw last night… let's just say if something like that ever happens again, I want to know how to handle it."

"Oh." Buffy's disappointment was obvious, but she shrugged. "If you really wanted to step up and be a slayer, there's a school you could go to. It's in Cleveland, but—"

"Cleveland? Ohio?" Julie's face showed exactly how likely that was to happen.

"It's only for girls who want to be real slayers," Buffy said with a huff. "If all you want to do is learn how to use the stake without getting yourself killed, I guess… I guess maybe…."

"You could show me! Awesome! That would be great. When do we start?"

Buffy looked like she'd just swallowed a bug. "I… but… I can't… Gah!"

"Today? What time do you get off? I don't have any classes today. I can—"

"Whoa! Calm down. I already have plans for after work tonight."

"Oh. What are they? Maybe I can come and watch."

Buffy shook her head. "Oh no. This isn't going to be a 'show and tell' kind of thing. It's a big nest, with possible hostages and guards, and… yeah, no place for spectators."

"Maybe I could help. I staked that thing last night."

Buffy gaped at her. "You staked a crippled vamp that was already on the ground, and you almost missed his heart anyway." She shook her head. "The only one I'm taking with me tonight is Spike. You… no… just… no way."

Julie's eyes glared. "You just don't want me near your precious 'friend'," she sniffed. "You're just jealous cause I'm the same as you and he might like me too." As she finished talking, it occurred to Julie that Buffy was probably capable of killing her without even breaking the furniture and she snapped her mouth shut and sank down in her chair. "Not that I think he…." To the girl's surprise, rather than getting mad, Buffy began to snicker. Genuine giggles that turned into full-fledged laughter.

Without bothering to explain why she found that so funny, Buffy just stood up, still smiling, and said, "I have to get back to work. Come by tomorrow and we'll figure out a time and place for you to get your first lesson."

As Buffy and Spike walked in the direction of the nest Buffy wanted to take out, she told him about Julie's visit and her subsequent promise to teach the girl some basic skills.

"Not afraid you're just going to send her out thinking she's all that and get herself killed straight away, are you?"

"I can't be responsible for what she does. She doesn't want to be a real slayer, so if she goes and does something stupid…."

"If she goes and does something stupid, you'll blame yourself for it and that hair shirt you're wearing is going to get even hairier."

It took Buffy a few seconds to get what he was saying… then she exploded.

"Stop telling me what I can and can't feel bad about! You don't know anything about it… about what my life has been like the past four years. The things I've had to do, the people who got hurt—You don't know!"

He grabbed her shoulders and shook her once, before stepping out of reach. "No, I don't know," he agreed. "I wasn't here, and I'm sorry for that. But there really wasn't much I could do about it. I came as soon as I could. Got here just in time to watch you and my grandsire defying all the laws of physics… and common decency. Came to help you anyway, didn't I?"

"Why? Why did you try to help me? You could have just taken your bugs and your space ship and gone someplace safe. Why did you risk your life to help us?"

He just stared at her, then turned away and started walking again, muttering to himself, "Just when I think she's not as dumb as she looks…."

Buffy glared at his disappearing back, frowning and running over what she thought she'd heard. She broke out in a small smile as she ran to catch up.

"Where are you going? Wait for me; you don't know where the nest is."

"I do, actually," he said, his voice once again calm and uninflected. "Asked around a bit after I left you last night." He looked at her from the corners of his eyes. "It sounds like we might be taking on a bit much, Slayer. Are you sure you don't want to bring in some help? Might make things easier."

"You don't think we can do it? Just us?"

He touched her hand briefly, squeezing her fingers before letting go. "Think the two of us can do damn near anything we need to, love. But if there's help available…."

Buffy nibbled on her lip, then shrugged. "Okay, we'll take another look at it and if you think it would be easier, I'll get a few more girls here to help out. Faith might even want to fly over for it. I think she's getting bored running things back in England." Buffy nodded her head as she thought more about it. "While we're waiting, maybe we can pick some of them off one at a time and keep them from getting any more hostages."

"That's my girl. See, you've learned stuff from these past couple of years."

"Says the vampire who never, ever wanted to do things 'the easy way' back in the day."

"We've both had to learn a lot since…. We've both had to learn," he finished quietly.

They continued walking, keeping to the shadows now that they were approaching the area where they might encounter some of the vamps or their human bodyguards. They stopped in the shelter of a boarded up apartment building and watched as a trio of scruffy-looking men came out of the old factory across the street.

"Only two heartbeats, Slayer," Spike whispered. She nodded and pointed down the street. Moving more silently than the three confident men across from them, Buffy and Spike waited until they were too far away for any commotion to be heard from the main nest. At his signal, they crossed the street a block ahead and waited for their prey to catch up.

When Spike's ears told him they were almost at the corner, he and Buffy stepped out to confront the cocky vampire and his human bodyguards. There was a flicker of fear on the vampire's face, quickly replaced by curiosity as he stepped behind his human escort.

"A slayer," he hissed. Buffy rolled her eyes.

"THE Slayer," she growled. "Why do I have to keep telling you morons that?"

"Prob'ly, luv, because you never leave any of 'em undusty long enough for the word to spread," Spike said with a grin. His grin faded as he saw the human guards pull out handguns and point them at Buffy. Moving with a speed they'd never seen from their much younger employers, he had taken the guns from their hands before they even saw him move. In front of their wide eyes, he bent the barrels, emptied the clips, and then handed them back.

"Here you go, boys. Not very manly of you, trying to shoot a woman."

The vampire behind them, still unaware of who Buffy was, stared at Spike. "Who are you?" he demanded. "And what are you doing with her? Is she yours?"

Spike's eyes shot sideways, only to meet Buffy's own quick glance. They both looked away without acknowledging the eye contact.

"Belongs to herself," Spike said. "And as for who I am… name's Spike, William the Bloody to you."

"He's dust," the vamp scoffed.

"Welcome to my world," Buffy said with a nudge. "Now we're both imaginary people." Spike snorted and bumped her back. "Speak for yourself, pet. I feel pretty solid." Buffy frowned, trying to figure out if he was making an innuendo, but her attention was drawn back to the group in front of her.

"Take her, boys," the vampire ordered. "If she's a slayer, she won't hurt humans. I'll take care of her boyfriend here."

With matching feral grins, Buffy and Spike settled into fighting stances, Spike on her left, as always. Unafraid of the small, unarmed woman facing them, the bodyguards stepped forward to earn their money, reaching for her arms. They were surprised to find her arms not there, and Buffy no longer in front of them, but behind them, burying her stake in the vamp's chest.

"No fair, Slayer!" Spike growled. "He said I could have him. Now what am I goin' to do for fun?"

The unsuspecting guards were blinking at the dust drifting away on a small breeze, taking a few precious seconds to realize what had happened. When they did, they charged at Buffy, fully expecting to overwhelm her. Buffy stepped in front of the smaller one and allowed him to bowl her over. As she went down, she grabbed the front of his shirt and bent her knees, planting her feet in his stomach and flipping him over her head and into the wall behind.

The second guard found himself dangling from Spike's hand. He was just beginning to realize that what he had taken for an extremely fast and strong man was, in fact, one of the creatures he worked for, when Spike went into gameface and snarled at him.

"What do you say, Slayer? I'm feeling a mite peckish…."

Buffy stood up and dusted off her jacket, glaring at the moaning man on the ground and then back to his now-terrified companion. Spike was licking his lips as he waited for her answer; the smell of urine filled the air when the man he was holding so effortlessly stared certain death in the eyes.

"Dammit!" she said, bending over to pick up the ruined guns. "If you'd given them time to take a shot, I'd be okay with killing them. Self-defense and all that." She sighed. "But now that they're helpless…."

"If I'd given them time to get a shot off, you'd be… shot," he protested.

"Good point. Okay, take what you need, but don't kill him." The captive's eyes bugged out even more at her casual response. "We'll have to dump them somewhere so they can't get back to tell their bosses about us. Not until we're ready to go in, anyway."

"Seriously?" Spike's eyes lit up. "I can eat him?" The man he was holding began some serious wriggling and gurgling.

"Not while I'm watching!" she shrieked when Spike's fangs were poised over the man's throat.

With a growl, Spike shook himself back to his human face. He set his captive down and, before the man could think to run, punched him unconscious. Then he took out a communicator and tapped in a number. After a short conversation, he grabbed the man by the collar and walked down the deserted street to an alley. "Bring yours, pet," he yelled over his shoulder. "The bugs will watch them for us until we decide what we want to do with them."

As he spoke, his ship appeared and hovered silently above the buildings on either side. A long line with a harness on the end came down and Spike quickly wrapped up his burden. He held out his hand and Buffy shoved her protesting attacker toward him. Ignoring his cries of 'Space Ships! Aliens! Help!', Spike strapped him in next to his still unconscious partner, then jerked the line in signal. The heavy cable with its squirming burdens disappeared into the ship, which lifted up and moved away as silently as it had come.

"Huh!" Buffy said, impressed in spite of herself. "That's pretty handy."

"It has its moments," Spike admitted. "Now, what say we take a look at that nest and make a plan…."

Chapter Four

"So, what do you wanna do, Slayer?"

Buffy sighed. "I want to go in there and turn the whole place to a pile of dust—which I would, if I was sure there weren't any still-alive victims in there." She looked at him from the corners of her eyes. "Did I ever tell about burning down the gym at my first high school to get rid of the nest of vamps under it?"

Spike gave an appreciative laugh. "No, pet, you never did. Knew what you did to the bite houses back in Sunnyhell, but I'd no idea you started your career as a pyromaniac before that."

"I'm a slayer of many talents," she said with mock smugness, blushing when he agreed with a leer. "And, anyway, fire–pretty." Her smile faded when she remembered how he'd died the second time. "Oh, God, Spike. I'm sorry… I didn't mean to…."

"'S okay, Slayer. I'm not touchy about it." When she continued to breathe hard and whimper, he stopped walking, held her shoulders and turned her around to face him. "Buffy, stop it. I know bloody well you didn't mean to imply you enjoyed watching me burn up. I know you were talking about the good memories, not… not bad ones. Saw the tears for myself, didn't I?"

She nodded, leaning into him just enough to rest her hand lightly on his chest. "I know that. But still, it was too much 'yay, fire good' to be celebrating in front of somebody I was responsible for—"

He dropped his head and sighed before pushing her away. "Don't hold you responsible for anything, love. You didn't know what was going to happen, and even if you had, the smart thing would still have been to use the weapons you were given. I've never faulted you for that, and I won't have you adding my choice to wear that ugly hunk of jewelry to your list of 'Things Buffy wishes she'd never done'."

"You're not a weapon!"

"I was a weapon, Slayer. That was my role, and you used me just the way you should have. It was my choice to fulfill the role. We both did what we had to do."

"Sometimes being the hero sucks," she muttered, giving him a grateful smile.

"Sometimes it does," he agreed, beginning to walk again. "And sometimes it's bloody brilliant." He nudged her arm. "Women tend to be very grateful when a handsome bloke saves them…."

"Ha, ha, ha." Buffy glared at him, her face softening into a smile at the playful twinkle in his eyes. "So, I guess I should concentrate of saving eligible bachelors from now on? You know, just in case I ever have a life that allows me to go out on an actual date someday…."

"Touché," he laughed. "Grateful victims aside, I expect you've got a better chance at that than I do, pet."

"How do you figure that? I spend my days serving coffee to gay guys, and my nights slaying things and getting covered in dust and goo!"

"I live with giant bugs."

"Right. You win." She gave a theatrical shudder and they both laughed. Buffy stopped in front of her apartment building, shuffling her feet and looking at the ground. "Do you… I could…." She stopped and looked up at him, setting her jaw firmly. "I got blood today. It's in the fridge. Just in case you…."

Spike shook his head, regret mingled with some emotion she couldn't identify on his face. "I can't tell you how much that… I appreciate it, Buffy. I truly do. But I've got to go away for a bit again. Was going to tell you earlier, but then we got busy with strategizing and fighting and what not. The ship is waiting for me." He pointed overhead and Buffy looked up to see the cable dangling from what looked like thin air. "I've got to go. You round up your soldiers, and I'll be back in… two days. Three, tops."

"You're leaving again?" A silent "already?" hung in the air between them.

He tried to touch her face, but she flinched away. Spike sighed and put his hands in his pockets. "Got a… a life, pet. Responsibilities, things that need doin'. I'll be back soon. I promise you. You wait for me before you go in there. You'll need at least one person who can't be killed with bullets."

"Don't tell me what to do," she said through clenched teeth. "We'll go in when we're ready to go in; whether you're here or not."

He rolled his eyes up to the heavens. "You are the most stubborn…." He took a deep breath. "Not trying to tell you what to do, Slayer. I know you've been running your own army for years, and don't need me to tell you how to do it. Not that you've ever listened to me anyway…" he muttered mostly to himself. He shook his head and faced down her steadily growing anger. "I just want you to make use of all your resources, Buffy. The world isn't going to end if you have to wait for me to get back."

"Is that what you think you are? A resource?"

"Could be. If you'll allow it."

Buffy held his gaze long enough to see that he wasn't going to be swayed by either her anger or a full-fledged pout—not that she had any intention of pulling out any feminine tricks to change his mind. She shrugged. "I'll give you three days. If you're not back, I'm going in with what I've got by then."

Spike's shoulders relaxed and he exhaled. "I'll be here, love. If I'm not you'll know I'm—" He bit off his words as her eyes widened in fear. "I'll be here. Just put that blood in the freezer for a while."

The cable dangling from the still-cloaked ship moved over and hit Spike on the head. He glared up at the sky and yelled, "I'm coming, you overgrown roaches. Just keep your exoskeletons on!" He turned back to Buffy. "Got to leave, Slayer. I'll come back."

"You always have," she said, trying for a smile. "Don't break your streak."

"Wouldn't think of it."

There was an awkward moment when he moved toward her, then stopped and put his hands in his pockets. Buffy stepped back and put her hand on the railing of the front stoop.

"You'd better go. Your bugs are waiting."

He grimaced. "Yeah. See you soon, Buffy."

"See you," she echoed. Buffy went up the steps, halting at the door and watching as Spike was pulled up so quickly, he seemed to have vanished into thin air. "I hope," she added softly as she opened the door.

Buffy had almost forgotten about her promise to give Julie some training, groaning when the excited girl showed up just before the end of Buffy's shift.

"I'm ready!" Julie said, waving her stake in the air. "Are you ready?"

"Put that away," Buffy hissed, pushing her out the door. "Just wait here for me. I'll be right out." She took off her apron, put it away and took her purse and jacket from her cubby in the back. "See you tomorrow, Mike," she said, waving to the night manager.

She left the coffee shop and looked around for Julie, finding her leaning against the wall and pouting. She straightened up when she saw Buffy coming.

"Are you always this bossy?"

"Yes," Buffy replied, striding off and leaving it to Julie to catch up. The other girl sped up until they were walking side-by-side.

"So, where are we going? Are we gonna kill vampires?"

"Slay. We slay them, and no. We're going up on a roof where we can work out without attracting attention." Turning into an alley, Buffy jumped up and grabbed the dangling piece of an old metal fire escape. She swung up onto the first landing and looked down at Julie. "Come on. I know you can do that." When Julie continued to stare dubiously, Buffy added, "Unless, I mean… maybe you can't… or you're too afraid…."

With a reasonable effort at a growl, Julie jumped and, while not as gracefully as Buffy, pulled herself up with a minimum of effort. Buffy didn't say anything to her, only started climbing without looking back. She stepped out onto the flat roof of the building and waited for Julie's head to appear over the wall. She didn't even try to hide her smirk at the way the other girl was breathing hard when she dropped to the surface of the roof and glared at Buffy.

"What the hell was that? Some kind of test?"

Buffy shrugged. "Not really. Just something you ought to know how to do in case you need to use it someday. Anyway, I thought you liked it on the roof? That's where you were when you jumped me."

"We used the stairs and went out a door," Julie said. "And my friends wouldn't have been able to do what we just did."

"Actually, they probably could if a vamp was after them. It's all about the motivation…. Wouldn't do them much good, of course. The vamp would be able to do it faster and easier, but still…"

Julie rolled her eyes. "So, what do I need to know about vampires to kill them? And how do I know which ones need to be killed?"

"Pretty much any vamp that looks hungry," Buffy said, sighing when Julie gasped, "But…" "There are no 'buts', Julie. All that stuff about vamps being harmless and misunderstood is just… it's just crap."

"I can't believe that. I saw that blonde girl on TV when I was still living at home. Heather, Holly… something like that. She seemed okay. Not very bright, maybe, but she didn't seem dangerous."

"Harmony. Her name is Harmony. I went to high school with her. And you're right, she's stupid, but she's still killed her share of people. She isn't very good at it, and Spike claims she…. Never mind. It's complicated."

"You went to high school with a vampire?"

"She wasn't a vampire then!" Buffy said. "She was just a snotty, stuck up…." Buffy threw her hands up. "Fine, if you run into Harmony, don't stake her. Unless she looks evil, or hungry, or says something catty about your clothes. But if some guy with no pulse tries to pick you up in a bar, you better have your stake with you when you leave with him."

"Are there any good vamps? Any guys who are safe to go out with? That I shouldn't stake?"

Buffy's face clouded and she squeezed her eyes shut. "Well, there's…. he used to… but then he…." She raised her head and met Julie's eyes. "There's only one now. And you couldn't stake him if he was unconscious. Don't bother wondering if they're evil. If you wait until they show you they are, it could be too late."

Julie shrugged. "You could say that about a lot of human guys."

Buffy smile wryly. "Well, there you go, Y chromosome and a vamp – double evil."

"Okay. So, I spot a vamp in a bar. What do I do?"

"You call me," Buffy said. "I'm going to teach you how to defend yourself if you ever have to again, but I can't turn you into a real slayer in a couple of hours on a roof!"

Julie glared, then shrugged. "Fine, it's not like I want to spend my time looking for something to kill. I've got better things to do with my nights… sometimes."

"Good for you," Buffy said tersely, dragging an old mattress from behind some machinery. "Now let me show you where the heart is and how to get to it."

An hour later, Julie was sweating, out of breath, and rubbing her right arm. Buffy, looking as calm and cool as she had after scampering up the fire escape, smothered a smile and said, "I guess that's enough for tonight. You know where to strike and how hard to do it."

"But…" Jules panted, "I never even touched you." She pointed at the old mattress Buffy had been holding for her. "I barely even managed to stake a moldy mattress!"

"I'm not a vampire," Buffy said. "I'm faster and stronger. If I'd been a fledgling vamp, you could have had me. You just need to remember not to get into a fight with one until you've learned how to kick and punch. Just go for the heart, first chance you get."

"How am I supposed to learn that? Watching ninja movies?"

Buffy sighed. "There's a dojo – a mixed martial arts school – a few blocks from the coffee shop. You can pick up some stuff there. A kick boxing class would be good – just be careful not to hit anybody for real. You'll hurt them."

Julie gave a tired giggle. "Yeah, I already know that. I slapped a guy once, he was out for ten minutes."

"Okay, let's go. I've got to slay a few vamps tonight before I go to bed."

Julie eyed the fire escape unhappily. "My arms are tired," she complained.

"Oh," Buffy said innocently. "There's an elevator. We just have to go through the door and down the stairs."

She walked to the small building in the middle of the roof and twisted the doorknob until it popped off in her hand and the door swung open. Without looking back at the shocked Julie, she walked into the dark space, waiting until her eyes adjusted to the dim light. When she could see the stairway leading to the top floor of the building, she walked to it and started down, not waiting for Julie. Who was moving quickly to not be left alone in the dark.

Chapter Five

"So, tonight's the night?"

Buffy sighed heavily, sneaking a glance at the window of her bedroom before giving a reluctant nod. "Yeah. We can't wait any longer. I think we've taken out enough minions in the past couple of days that the numbers are going to be reasonable. Anyway, the way they've been letting their humans do all the work for them, I think they're probably pretty soft. Not used to working for their meals."

"They have been pretty easy to take down," Rachel agreed, stretching her arms over her head. "When you said you wanted help, I figured they were going to be tough."

Buffy made a face. "A vamp is a vamp," she snapped. "Any one of them can have his one good day if you get careless. For all we know, we've been dusting expendable fledges and the nest is full of hundred year old masters."

Faith raised a skeptical eyebrow, and Buffy muttered, "You don't know. It could happen…."

"I'm pretty sure we know most of the old vamps in this part of the world," Faith said. "You know these aren't going to be anything but smarter than normal bloodsuckers." She stood up and yanked Rachel to her feet. "Let's do this."

Giving the empty window one last glance, Buffy picked up a bag of weapons and hefted it over her shoulder. Allowing Rachel and another trained, but new, slayer to precede them, she and Faith walked slowly down the stairs.

"How… how's he doing?" Buffy asked, the quaver in her voice belying the casual words.

"'Bout the same. Broodier than usual, but he seems sane enough." At Buffy's gasp, she raised a cautioning hand. "Not saying we're not keeping a close eye on him, and keeping him under lock and key when we can't. But he's been really helpful to the Council. You know, he's old, and he knows lots of stuff… and he's being a little more willing to tell us about the whole Twilight mess. How he got into it, why he got into it—stuff like that."

Buffy nodded. "I'm glad he's doing okay," she said quietly. "Does… does he ever… never mind."

"Does he ever talk about you?" Faith said bluntly. "Only one time. He asked if you hated him now."

"And you said…?"

"I told him we weren't BFFs, and you didn't talk to me about your feelings. He never asked me again, and it's not like there's anyone else he could—"

"There's Willow. He could have asked her."

Faith shook her head. "Will is getting better about the no magic thing, with having so much to do without…." she choked just enough to make Buffy flinch, "…Giles around to run things. But she blames Angel for the whole debacle. And he knows it. Asking her would be asking to hear something he doesn't want to hear." She shrugged. "He's stuck with me, and I wouldn't tell him the answer to that question if I even knew it."

"I don't hate him," Buffy said, her voice small and too soft for the other girls to hear it. "But I hate what he did—what we did together. I don't want to see him… ever again. I can't… I'll never be able to trust him again."

"Speaking of trusting vamps…." Faith's face lit up as she pointed to a figure dropping down from a nearby roof. The vampire landed in front of Buffy and cocked his head.

"You gonna tell those two not to stake me, or do I need to defend myself?"

As he spoke, he whirled to face Rachel and the younger slayer whose name, Buffy had to keep reminding herself, was Janie. The two girls were running toward him, stakes raised; but they hesitated when neither Buffy nor Faith seemed to be concerned about the vampire standing in front of them.

"Don't try it, girls," Buffy said, shaking her head. "He just wants a chance to show off."

"Party pooper," Spike said as the other slayers lowered their arms. He turned to Faith, a grin splitting his face. "Lookin' good, Slayer Two," he said with wink. "Fancy trading baby-sitting old broody pants for a real vamp?"

Faith laughed, enjoying the way Buffy was trying to hide her jealousy and appear cool and casual in front of the other girls. "Tempting thought, blondie. But the last time I got between B and her vamp, I got a knife in my gut. I'll take a rain check."

Spike gave Buffy a quick glance, obviously reading her as well as Faith had. "Ah, Slayer knows I'm just—"

Buffy cut him off. "The Slayer knows that we're about to see what's hiding in that building and we don't have time to watch you flex your flirting muscles. Let's go."

She strode toward the warehouse, now only a half-block away. Faith met Spike's gaze and shrugged, waiting until Buffy was too far ahead to hear her before whispering, "I don't know what that's all about, but if you need a place to stay tonight, my couch is all yours."

Spike shook his head. "It's not like that with us," he whispered back. "I'm not sure what she's so brassed off about. I said I'd be back in three days, and here I am."

"The last time she gave me that look, I was sitting next to you on a cot and we were having ourselves some verbal foreplay. Don't tell me you don't know what she's pissed about."

Spike stared thoughtfully at Buffy's stiff back, eventually letting a small smile touch his lips. "She never did like to share her toys," he said, moving into a jog. "Doesn't mean she wants me, just means you can't have me."

"Big surprise there," Faith snorted, increasing her speed to catch up with him as he joined Buffy at the front of their little slaying squad.

Buffy shot her a puzzled look, but remained focused on the warehouse. "Okay. I want to spread out around the building first, take out any guards you find. If they're armed and human and you can't get the guns away safely, wait for Spike." She turned to him, all business. "You can circle the building, listen for the heartbeats or whatever, and step in if the guard is human."

"Whatever you want, lo—pet."

Buffy pointed in four directions, indicating which side of the building each slayer would take. Moving like the predators they were, all four women moved silently into position at each corner of the building and then began to move from shadow to shadow, eyes alert for movement. Spike waited for a few seconds, then shadowed Buffy until they reached an outside fire escape. Pointing silently to the roof, he waited for Buffy's nod before leaping to the first level and disappearing up the wall in blur of movement. She watched him go, wondering for a second if perhaps she and Angel hadn't been the only ones to get new powers.

I wish that dumb Julie could have seen that.

Turning her attention back to her job, she stashed the extra weapons under the fire escape and continued down the front of the building, clinging to the walls and using the shadows to keep herself invisible. When she saw only one guard on the main door, she stepped out of the shadows and sauntered up him.

"Hey there, big boy, did they leave you out here all by your lonesome?"

The vampire gawked at her, then quickly pulled a human man holding a shotgun out in front of him. Swearing silently, Buffy kicked the gun out of man's hands and stepped close enough to knock him out with one punch.

Unfortunately, that gave the vampire a chance to yank open the door and begin to shout a warning.

"Hey! We've got—" was all he managed to get out before Buffy slammed the door on his head, effectively decapitating him. As his dust settled onto the sidewalk, she picked up the guard's shotgun and threw it as far as she could, confident that even if the man woke up any time soon, he would never recover his weapon. Spike dropped almost silently onto the sidewalk beside her, his eyes chilly as he checked her over.

"Thought the plan was to let me handle the wankers with weapons?"

"You weren't here," she said with a shrug. "And anyway, I didn't see him. I thought it was just the one vamp."

"I would have known," he muttered. "Could have told you there was another heartbeat here."

"It turned out okay," she said with a trace of impatience. "The other slayers needed you more than I did."

"Not as concerned about what happens to the 'other slayers'," he grumbled. "But we got—" he stopped when his hearing caught the sound of scuffling on the other side of the door. "Incoming, pet," he hissed, stepping to one side.

Buffy quickly moved to flatten herself against the wall on the other side of the entrance, holding her breath and wishing she had some way to stop her heart from beating. The door burst open, a small group of men and minions got shoved out and the door slammed shut behind them. Before they could look around, Spike had already wrenched the guns away from the human guards, leaving Buffy free to stake the two vampires that had been pushed out with them.

Two of the men tried to run away, only to be clotheslined by Faith as they brushed past her. Spike picked up the only one left and shook him, letting his true face come to the fore. "How many of you lowlifes are in there?"

The man grimaced with pain as Spike's claws (something Buffy stared at with curiosity) dug into his neck. "Urk," he managed to get out before Buffy touched Spike's arm, causing him loosen his grip just enough. The man gave her a grateful glance, saying, "There are two more human guards on the back doors—"

"Not anymore there aren't," Spike said, his cheery grin all the more frightening for it being on the face of a monster.

The man's eyes widened and he nodded his understanding. "Then there's only the masters left in there…." He frowned when Spike laughed and Buffy snorted at hearing his employers referred to as "masters", but continued on, "… but some of them have shotguns too."

Spike shook him again. "Which ones? Describe them."

"Um… big guy, red shirt and a cowboy vest. He has a six-gun too." Spike rolled his eyes and almost dropped the man in disgust. "And the two guys wearing cammo—they have guns."

Faith came strolling up, eyeing the man still dangling from Spike's hand. "Hey, blondie, we've still got work to do. You can snack later." The man began to struggle, pleading, "I told you everything. I did what you wanted! You have to let me go!"

Spike laughed, fading back into his human face. "You've been working for vamps and you still think you can trust one of us? "Sides, I never promised to let you go. That was just wishful thinkin' on your part." He leered at the man, licking his lips until Buffy poked him.

"I've got a better idea," she said when he looked at her and raised his eyebrow.

"Better than eating him?"

"Yes. He can get us in."

"He can get me in," Spike growled. "You heard him, there are still guns in there."

"News flash, fangface. You might not be killed by bullets, but you aren't going to be very useful if you're lying on the floor full of holes. We're all going in together. If it makes you happy, you can go in first. Maybe if the first thing they see is another vamp, it'll slow them down for a second or two."

Spike lowered the man to the ground, keeping his hand around the man's throat as a reminder. He broke off his staring contest with Buffy to ask his captive, "How many vamps—and don't call them 'masters'— are in there?"

The man shrugged. "Probably twelve or fifteen. Depends on how many went out hunting tonight. The Mistress was having a hard time getting anybody to go – seeing as how nobody's made it back the past few nights…" He gave Buffy and Faith a sharp look, his eyes widening when the other two girls came walking up. "Guess that's why, huh?" he asked, looking back at Spike.

"More than likely," Spike agreed smiling at the four slayers. "Now who or what is 'the Mistress'?"

The man shuddered. "I don't know exactly," he said. "I try to stay away from her. Crazy bitch scares the shit out of me—Hey, you know, you look a lot like the guy she keeps in her room…."

"Bloody buggering fuck!" Spike began to swear in several languages. Buffy's lips were compressed into a straight line and her eyes narrowed.

"Skinny, crazy, dark-haired ho-bag of a vamp?" she asked, getting up in the man's face and glaring into his eyes. "Wears a lot of nightgowns and talks to stars?"

The man peered at her and nodded. "Sounds like her. Like I said, I stay away from her. She only comes out when she's hungry."

"Comes out from where?" Spike's voice was calm and controlled as he tried to figure out where the biggest danger was going to be and how he could get to her first.

"She's got herself a lair in the lowest level. Got her own entrance and everything. That's where she keeps her 'pets'."

"Pets?"

"Yeah. Like the guy that looks like you—she calls him her 'pet'. Won't let him out of the room. We have to bring him take-out all the time."

"He's human?" Buffy and Spike spoke at the same time, exchanging looks.

"Yeah. Weird, huh? But he seems happy—follows her around like a puppy dog, calling her 'princess'."

Buffy looked at Spike, whose expressionless face did not give away what he was thinking. "Are you going to be okay with this?" she asked. " 'Cause if you don't want to…."

"Just another vamp, pet," he said. "And one that we don't want to be sending baby slayers up against. She's just another vamp."

Buffy studied his distant eyes and the muscle twitching in his jaw. She shook her head, but said, "Okay. But why don't you let me take her out?"

"Would you two like to share with the class?" Faith broke into the tense discussion, gesturing toward the door. "Cause we've got a nest of vamps in there and we're giving them time to get away"

Buffy looked at Faith and said, "It sounds like the head vamp in there is Spike's sire. Drusilla."

"Bummer." Faith gave Spike a surprisingly sympathetic look. "But we're going in. Now." She aimed one of the captured shotguns at the doorknob and blew a hole where the locks used to be. With a shout of "Go!" she yanked the door open, flinging herself into the room right behind Spike and Buffy.

Chapter Six

Without discussion, Spike and Buffy split to either side as they came through the door, their speed making them almost invisible even to the vampires within. Faith's grunted "huh!" as she hit the floor and rolled under the anticipated shotgun blast was the only sign that anyone else had noticed that speed.

"Stay down!" Rachel yelled as she and Janie fired the remaining captured shotguns into the room before dropping them and pulling out their stakes.

In the confusion brought on by the multiple blasts, it was easy for Buffy and Faith to take out the closest minions. Spike headed straight for the tall vampire now fumbling to get his handgun out of the holster. Spike grinned as he began to crush the hand on the gun. "Bad choice, mate. I'm faster on the draw than you are." He made his point by bringing his other hand up and running a stake through the startled minion's chest.

He glanced around the room, seeing that Buffy and Faith had not bothered to approach the cammo-clad vampires trying to reload quickly, but waited calmly for them to finish. The slayers thrown stakes went unerringly into the hearts of the two vamps just as they straightened up to take another shot. Their fingers crumbled to dust before they could pull the triggers. One of the guns did discharge as it hit the floor – fortunately hitting only the legs of one of the few remaining minions. Rachel stepped up and dusted him before he had even figured out why his legs had suddenly given out on him.

Buffy looked around the room, now containing more dust than vampires, and narrowed her eyes at the remaining minions trying to protect a door marked "Exit" and "Stairs". She moved toward them, deadly purpose on her face.

"Do you really want to die for that crazy bitch?" she asked, waving her stake around. "Oh, my bad!" she said as one shook his head and moved away from the door. "Did you think I meant it was optional?" Her stake went in and out of his heart so quickly he had time to say, "But…" before crumbling in front of her.

Buffy shoved the other guard away from the door, confident that one of the other slayers would see that he didn't leave the room, and yanked the door open. The stairs leading down were dark, the smell of death coming from the lower level almost overwhelming.

"Let me go first, Slayer," Spike said. "I can see better, and I'll know where she is."

Buffy nodded, reluctantly ceding her place in the front. Spike moved quickly, if cautiously, using all his skills in an attempt to prevent an ambush by his former lover or one of her "pets". He needn't have worried. When they reached the bottom and Buffy hit a light switch, all they found were the bodies of Dru's latest victims and a short set of stairs leading up and out an open door.

Spike ran out the door and sent his senses searching, but came back shaking his head. "Can't even smell her any more. She must have bolted as soon as we got in—if not before. Her pixies probably warned her we were coming."

"Damn, stupid pixies," Buffy said, kicking a table containing the remains of one of Dru's tea parties. "She's just going to set up somewhere else now."

Spike sighed. Nothing about his face revealed if he was sighing in relief or in disappointment. "With luck, Slayer, she'll move on to somewhere else to do it. Now that she knows you're here."

"If that's supposed to make me feel better—it doesn't."

Rachel entered the underground room before he could respond, looking at the dead bodies in various stages of decomposition and gagging. When she found the still mangled corpse of a young child she whirled on them.

"Oh my God! What lived down here?"

Spike's wince didn't go unnoticed by Buffy, but she let him respond, blinking in surprise when he said, "A monster. A monster lived here, and we let her get away."

He began to walk out of the room, getting almost to the stairs before noticing the boy gasping in a corner. He walked over and stared at the young man, at the bleached hair, black eyeliner, and leather coat. As Buffy ran up behind him, he knelt down and gently turned the boy's head to the side, showing her the old and new bite marks. He pointed to the blood on the boy's mouth, saying, "Guess she was trying to make herself another Spike."

Rachel watched, her brow furrowed as neither Buffy nor Spike made any attempt to help the boy.

"Why aren't we getting him to a hospital?" she finally asked, glaring at them. "He's alive, isn't he?"

"For now," Spike replied as he lowered the boy's head to the floor.

"We need to help him," Rachel said, moving past them and putting pressure on the still-oozing wound. "Come on, what's wrong with you two?"

"He's dying, luv," Spike said gently, moving back to give her room. "And he's been turned. We can't save him."

"He's not dead, till he's dead," she insisted stubbornly, tying her scarf around his throat and picking him up. "I'm getting him to a hospital." She struggled up the stairs, holding the boy awkwardly over her shoulder as she did so. Spike shook his head and gestured for Buffy to go ahead of him.

"We'd best go with her, Slayer. If he dies on the way there…"

"If he dies after he gets there, we're going to have to wait in the morgue," she sighed. "Like there hasn't already been enough to do tonight."

"If Bossy there is so set on saving him, let her stay around to make sure he doesn't make a miraculous 'recovery' and start eating the nurses," he said. "You done enough for one night."

Buffy sighed and shook her head. "No, it's my responsibility. These girls have been here long enough. They've got their own vampires to worry about. And she's right. As long as he's alive, we should be trying to save him." She shook herself, as if throwing off her lack of concern. "The last year or two has made me hard… I don't want to be like that anymore." They walked the rest of the way in silence.

To everyone's surprise, even Rachel's, the boy did not die on the way to the hospital. Nor did he die once he was there. Buffy offered a vague explanation of having found him lying in the park, bleeding and unable to speak, and they were allowed to leave the hospital once it became clear that he was going to live. Buffy gave the hospital her phone number and agreed they could call her if there was any change, but she reiterated that she did not know the boy and was not responsible for his bills.

As she and Spike were walking out, one of the ER nurses ran up and touched Buffy's arm. "Could I talk to you a second?" she asked, sending a nervous glance at Spike. Buffy shrugged and gestured to Spike to go ahead with Faith and the other two slayers. Then she turned to the fidgeting nurse and raised an inquiring eyebrow.

"Look, I know who you are… and I know those other girls…." She stopped and started over. "My sister is… she's one of you. She works in New York. So, I know what probably happened to that guy."

"Oh," Buffy said. "That's… that's good, then. You'll keep an eye on him for me and let me know if he…."

The girl nodded. "I think he's going to be fine. We had to put a lot of blood into him, but he seems much better. Once they've got his throat sewn up and bandaged, he should be able to tell us who he is and we can try to find his family."

Buffy winced. "Uh…. just so you know, there's a good chance he doesn't have a family anymore…." A sudden thought occurred to her. "Oh my God! I didn't even think—if Dru knows he's alive…." She grabbed the girl's arm and squeezed it. "You be very careful around him," she said. "And call me right away if you see or hear anything… strange. A woman with dark hair who wants to visit him… anything like that. 'kay?"

The nurse nodded, her eyes wide as she realized what Buffy was saying. She began to back away, shaking her head. "You think they'll come here? The vampires?"

"There's only one left," Buffy said grimly, "but you don't want to meet her. And she's going to want him." She took a deep breath. "Look, I need some sleep, but I'll catch it sitting up with him, okay?" Buffy glanced at the waiting area. "And he might stay with me," she said, pointing at Spike. "Is that okay?"

The girl nodded. "Yeah. Is he the kid's brother or something? They kind of look—"

"Or something," Buffy broke in. "Just tell us where you're going to be putting him and we'll make ourselves comfortable there."

Buffy walked toward the curious group waiting for her and explained what the conversation had been about. When she got to the part where she was afraid Dru might come back for her 'pet', Spike snarled and punched the wall. "I should have thought about that," he said. "Of course she will. Sooner rather than later, I'd guess."

Buffy rested a hand on his arm briefly. "I don't… I mean I know you probably have stuff to do… but…."

"Way ahead of you, Slayer," he said, covering her hand with his and squeezing it. "You go on home and get some sleep. I'll keep watch here."

Buffy shook her head. "I told them we'd both be staying until morning. Maybe he'll be able to talk by then and he can tell us where Dru might be."

"Wouldn't expect much from him," Spike said. "Dru prob'ly had him in a pretty deep thrall all this time." Buffy nodded.

"It's worth a try, anyway. You go on up. I need to thank the girls and figure out what to do next."

"Do you really think Loony Tunes is going to show up here?" Faith's question was only half-serious as they went back out into the night. The light coming from the windows of the large building was illuminating the lawn in front, leaving shadows where there were large trees, but a clearly lit sidewalk.

"I don't know, but I already feel guilty enough for being so sure he was dead. There's no way I'm going to let her have him back."

Faith snorted in agreement as they trailed the two younger slayers through the parking lot and out onto the street where they all stopped. Buffy nodded and spoke to the other two girls.

"Good night's work, girls," Buffy said. "I appreciate the help. If you ever have something you want some extra hands with, just let me know." She hesitated. "… Don't forget what you saw tonight, or that Dru's still out there somewhere."

"You don't think she left town?" Rachel looked around, clearly hoping to run across the vampire that had brutalized a child and left a young man to die.

"I don't know. Spike doesn't think she'll go without the guy we rescued, and he knows her better than anybody." Buffy stared at Rachel's eager face and said, "You're a good slayer, Rach. That's why I picked you tonight. But Dru is very old, very strong, and she has a thrall. Please don't try to take her out by yourself. Go home. Take care of your own vamps. Let us worry about Dru."

"And what about me?" Faith asked quietly as the other two slayers waved good-bye and walked away.

Buffy grimaced. "I was hoping I could tell you we didn't need you anymore and you could catch a plane tomorrow…." There was silence as they both tried to avoid thinking about Faith's financial ability to hop back and forth across the Atlantic – and why she now had that ability, as well as a room in the city's nicest hotel. After several coughs and nervous laughs from both of them, Faith nodded. "I guess that's out for now. The more of us the merrier when it comes to tall, dark and crazy. "

"Have you ever met her?"

"Oh yeah, we went out for drinks one night. It was a bonding experience." She made a face at Buffy. "No. But I heard plenty about her, especially after she turned Darla back. Angel sure can pick 'em." She shuffled her feet. "Present company excepted," she mumbled.

Buffy snorted. "Yeah, right. So, you don't mind hanging out for another day or two?"

"Are you kidding? That hotel is wicked lux. I could stay here all week."

Buffy gave a weak laugh that lacked any trace of humor. "Right. Forgot for a minute. Sorry, rich girl." When Faith's face shut down, Buffy realized how bitter she sounded. "I am sorry," she said, touching Faith's arm. "It's not your fault. You deserve whatever you got. And I am glad you came to help out."

Faith looked dubious, but nodded her acceptance of the apology. "It's five by five," she replied. "Any time. Hey, and anytime you and short and sexy want to hop in his space ship for a visit…."

"We're not a 'we', Faith. You know that. He just shows up sometimes with his space ship and his bugs."

Faith shook her head. "You keep telling yourself that, B. If you say it often enough, you might get to believe it." Without waiting for a reply she began to jog toward her hotel. "You might even get him to believe it."

"Smartass," Buffy muttered as turned to go back into the hospital. She tried not to compare the uncomfortable chair she was undoubtedly going to be sleeping in with the luxury hotel room where Faith would be resting, and swallowed the bitterness that appeared without warning anytime she was reminded which slayer Giles had been thinking about when making out his will. "I don't need his money," she said to herself. "He knew that, that's why he gave it to Faith. He knew I wouldn't need it." She continued to chant those words until she entered the hospital and went looking for Spike.

Chapter Seven

She went directly to the floor where she'd been told they were taking Dru's victim, walking slowly down the halls until she heard a low, "In here, Slayer." She ducked into the room to find Spike leaning against the window, staring out into the darkness.

"Hey," she said softly. "How's he doing?"

He shrugged. "Heartbeat's strong. Guess he's going to make it – at least as long as we can keep Dru away from him."

"Do you really think she'll try to come here? Tonight?"

"Prob'ly not tonight," he admitted. "She won't know he's still alive yet, and she'll expect you to be hunting for her." He straightened up. "But, by this time tomorrow, she'll have a minion or two out looking for any information she hasn't already got from her pixies, or the stars, or Miss Edith… Yeah, by this time tomorrow, she'll know he's alive, and probably just where he is. The sooner we can get him out of here and into someplace vamp proof, the better."

Buffy studied the still figure in the bed. He looked very young, his pale face accentuating the eyeliner still circling his closed eyes. She wondered briefly if his eyes were blue, like Spike's. She couldn't smother a yawn, and looked away, embarrassed at seeming weak in front of Spike.

"Get some rest, Buffy," he said, pointing at the chair. "I'll take the watch."

"Aren't you tired too?"

He shook his head. "Slept a bit in the ship on the way back from— on the way back. Anyway," he said, with a smile in her direction, "creature of the night, remember? I'll be fine."

"Okay. I'm not going to argue—" She paused to throw a paper cup at him when he pretended to be shocked. "Just wake me up if you need me, 'kay?"

"Alright, love. Get some rest. I'll be here."

With that comforting thought, Buffy drifted off to sleep, her head on an extra pillow she'd found in the cupboard.

She stirred once or twice, hearing whispers as nurses came in to check on the patient and had short conversations with Spike, but she didn't really wake up until she felt bright sunlight on her face. She got to her feet and stretched, looking around for Spike. She found him pinned in a corner, glaring at the sunlight streaming through the large window and filling the small room. Moving quickly, she crossed the room, lowered the blinds, and tilted them to keep the sun's deadly rays out of the room.

Spike sighed with gratitude and walked over to her. "Thank you, pet. Really didn't want to be explaining to any nosy nurses why I needed them to keep the sun out while I'm supposed to be keeping the big bad vampires away." He looked at his hand, which she could see was reddened. "Or why I needed all the sunblock they could find. Thought I was going to lose my hand before the silly bints left and I could stop trying to fake enjoying the morning sun."

"Nurses? Plural?" she asked as she took his hand and frowned at what looked like a very bad sunburn.

He nodded. "Seems like they've had enough throat trauma victims in here lately that they're all sporting crosses around their necks and garlic perfume. They didn't mind a bit that I was standing guard… although I suspect they would have been less happy about it if they'd known."

"Oh. Well, that makes things a little easier, doesn't it? I mean as long as they don't figure out that you—"

"Yeah. I figured watching me go up in flames might have been a dead giveaway," he said. "Emphasis on 'dead'."

"Not funny, Spike."

He shrugged. "Not feeling all that funny this morning," he said. "Bit tired, a lot hungry, and," he nodded to the still body on the bed, "I think we've got a problem."

"Is he all right?"

"Depends on your definition of alright. He's alive, and he's conscious—" Spike kicked the bed. "Open your eyes, wanker. Quit pretending you can't hear us."

The boy on the bed opened clear blue eyes that glared at Spike and then turned on Buffy.

"Where… where's my mistress?" he croaked, putting a hand on the bandage around his neck. "Why did you take me—"

"You're welcome," Buffy said, glaring back at him. "We don't know where she is, but we'll find her, and when we do—"

"I want to go back," the boy said, a note of hysteria in his voice. "I need to go back to her. She said we would be together forever. I have to find her."

"Yeah, well, I already told you, Dru's idea of 'forever' can be a mite shaky," Spike said in disgust. "She could be on her way to South America by now; but just in case she isn't, we're keeping you safe."

"Why? I want to go back. She loves me!"

Buffy grabbed Spike's sleeve and pulled him toward the bed. Even without the eyeliner and nail polish that he hadn't worn in years, the resemblance between him and the boy in the bed was remarkable. "Do you see this… man…?" Buffy said. There was no answer, but she went on anyway. "This is why she tried to turn you. If she can't have you, she'll just go get herself another guy who looks like Spike."

The boy stared at Spike as if seeing him for the first time. "You… you're like me," he breathed. "You're hers!"

Spike shook his head. Instead of the anger Buffy had expected, he seemed sad. "No, mate. I'm not like you. And I'm not Dru's. Haven't been hers in a very long time."

"But…" The boy frowned. "But you feel like…" He closed his eyes in despair. "You feel like I should belong to—"

"What the hell is he talking about?" Buffy stared at Spike, her eyes wide as she waited for him to tell her she was wrong.

"Seems like she got enough blood into him, and he was close enough to dyin' that he thinks he's a vamp. Sun didn't hurt him, not that I could tell, but he knew what I was right off. And he's picking up on the family connection."

"Awesome." Buffy fell into the chair and stared at the boy on the bed. "What the hell am I going to do with him?"

Spike shrugged. "Nothing till he gets a little stronger. After that…." His voice trailed off and he shrugged again. "No idea, Slayer. Maybe the effects will wear off after he's had human blood and food running through his system for a full day."

"Uh huh. And maybe pigs will fly." She shook her head and sighed before glancing up at him. "I've got it now, if you want to go… wherever you go to sleep in the daytime."

He didn't answer her unspoken question, instead saying, "I doubt Dru will come 'round during the day. She's terrified of the sun." He turned to stare at the worried-looking boy, then walked closer, picking his chin up to study his neck. "Don't see any sign of accelerated healing," he mused. "Got a good strong heartbeat…. It's probably okay to leave him here for the day. Give us a chance to figure out what to do with him." He gave the boy a hard look. "Where's your family?" he asked. The boy's eyes glazed over and he shuddered.

"I don't know," he whispered. "The mistress told me she was my new family. And you…" he added, staring at Spike like a lost puppy. "You feel like family."

Spike turned away, swearing under his breath, as Buffy moved closer to the boy. She touched his warm hand and extended her slayer senses before nodding and walking back to Spike.

"He feels human to me," she whispered. "I'm not getting any vamp vibes off him." She turned back to the boy in the bed. "We're going to go out for a while," she said, "but we'll be back before dark. You call the nurses if you need anything, 'kay? And do what they say."

He looked at Spike for confirmation and at his nod, he said, "Okay, but—"

"No buts, mate. You get strong again and we'll… well, we'll worry about anything else later." He narrowed his eyes at the boy, who, realizing they were leaving him, suddenly looked very young. "What's your name?"

"The mistress called me 'Little Spike' or 'Little William'."

Spike growled at Buffy's snicker. "Is that your real name?" At the boy's head shake, he said, "Well, what is it then?"

"B… Bobby."

"Alright, Bobby. You just be a good boy and do what the nurses tell you until we get back."

"Can I stop doing what they tell me when you get back?" Spike's lips twitched at this small sign of independence, but he kept his face stern.

"Depends on what they tell me about your behavior while I'm not here," he said. He waited by the door for Buffy to reopen the blinds, flooding the room with sunlight, and followed her out of the room.

"So, what are you going to do now, 'Big Spike'?" She smirked at his low growl. "Don't you want to get some sleep?"

"Need sleep," he agreed. "But I need blood more. Don't suppose you'd stand watch for me while I—"

"No! There's perfectly good blood in my freezer. You don't need to steal it from other people who need it."

"You're no fun," he said, only half-seriously.

"Yeah, I get that a lot lately."

She was quiet for several seconds, the events of the past few years never far from her mind. He finally nudged her arm and when she turned to look at him, he smiled. "Fancy a ride in a space ship, pet?" he said as they walked toward the elevators.

"I've been for a ride in your space ship," she muttered. "It's full of bugs. Big bugs."

"It is," he agreed, punching the 'up' button. "But it can get me from here to your place without setting me on fire."

"Your ship is here?" She stared around as if expecting to find it hovering outside the window at the end of the hall.

"It will be, when I call them to come pick me up. Come on, Slayer. Live a little."

"I know I'm going to regret this," she muttered as they got into the elevator car and Spike pushed the button for the top floor.

Fifteen minutes later, they dropped gracefully to the roof of Buffy's building and watched as Spike's ship whisked away.

"I can't believe nobody notices that thing in the daytime."

"People see what they expect to see, Slayer. You should know that from living in Sunnyhell all those years. They just think they're seeing a really ugly blimp." Spike ducked into the shade of an air conditioning unit as his coat began to smolder. "Can we finish this conversation indoors?"

"Oh, yeah! Sorry!" She grabbed the door and pulled it open for him to dash into the dark stairwell. " Sometimes I forget how flammable you are."

"I'm probably not as easily set fire to as I was at one time, but I've still got a bloody strong sun allergy," he responded as they started down the stairs.

"I'll try to remember that," she said with less seriousness than he expected from her, given the circumstances. "Don't take Spike out for picnics at the beach."

"Were you planning to?" he asked. "If you were, you should have warned me to grab my swimming trunks…"

"You have swimming trunks?" She stopped so abruptly he bumped into her back, putting his hands on her shoulders to steady them both.

"Well, not as such, no. But I'd find some. There are certain body parts I definitely wouldn't want to get singed."

"I don't think they make asbestos jock straps," Buffy snorted.

"Well there you go, then. No picnics on the beach."

Neither one mentioned the possibility of having a picnic by moonlight, although the tense silence spoke volumes. He took his hands off her shoulders, and she continued down the stairs. Spike followed silently, holding the door for her when they reached her floor and waiting patiently while she dug out her key and unlocked it. There were no windows in the small living room or kitchen, so he came in and went straight to the refrigerator, pulling out the blood packets and setting them in the microwave to thaw.

Buffy went into the bedroom and pulled the curtains across the window, even though the sun did not come directly in until much later in the day. She glanced at the bed, wishing she'd taken the time to make it, then shrugged and walked back out to the kitchen. Spike had just poured one of the thawed blood packets into a mug and was setting it back in the microwave. He fiddled with the controls before turning to face her.

"I can call the ship back, pet. No need for you to give up—"

"It's no biggie. I've got to go to work in a couple of hours anyway. You can catch some sleep in my bed and pick me up at the shop when it starts to get dark. We'll go back to the hospital and see how your little brother is doing."

"Not funny, Slayer."

"It's what he is, isn't it? You have the same sire—or you would have if she'd finished the job. And he looks enough like you to be a brother."

Spike carried his mug of blood to the couch and sat down. "I don't need a brother," he mumbled, raising the mug to his lips.

"Did you ever… when you were human, did you have any brothers or sisters?"

"Was before the days of antibiotics." When she frowned, he explained, "No bothers, two sisters. Both died when they were just children."

"Oh. I'm sorry!" Buffy touched his arm, withdrawing her hand when he raised an eyebrow at her.

"It was a long time ago, love. 'Twas the way things were then. Mothers didn't expect all their children to live to grow up." He took another deep drink. "Probably why my mum spoiled me so much. I was all she had left of a family of five."

"Spike, that's terrible! Your poor mother… You were all she had, and then…."

"And then Dru found me," he finished for her, standing up and going to refill his mug. "Can we talk about something else now?" He kept his back to her as he readied the rest of his meal.

Buffy stared at his rigid backing, wondering what else she didn't know about this man who had played so many roles in her life.

"Sure," she said finally. "I've got to get ready to go to work anyway. I'll just go change, and you can finish your—"

He turned back to look at her. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I—"

"No, it's fine. I'm sorry I asked." She turned away from the eyes that managed to hold so much sadness and anger at the same time. "I'll be right back." She walked into the bedroom and changed into a nicer shirt and better jeans, not bothering to shut the door, confident that Spike would not be standing where he could watch her. A new aspect of his behavior that she was not sure she approved of….

She pulled on a jacket and her comfortable, but stylish, shoes and walked toward the door. As she'd expected, Spike was still in the kitchen, only glancing up when she entered the room.

"I'm going to go now. It's only a half-day shift, so if you're there by 5:30 we should be able to get to the hospital before it's too dark."

"You go on, pet. I'll have to meet you there. I can't handle that long a walk in the daylight. I'll leave here as soon as it's dusk, but one of us needs to get there before Dru can be out."

"Oh. Okay. I guess that makes sense… What the hell is wrong with me? I'm thinking more about spending time with Spike than I am about keeping that boy safe. Aloud, she said, "I'll see you later, then," and walked out the door.

Spike stared at the closed door for a full minute, then sighed and drained his mug of blood. Shrugging out of his coat, he dropped it on the couch and started toward the bedroom. He hesitated, staring at the sheets, then turned back and sat down to take off his boots. That done, he walked back into Buffy's bedroom and fell face down upon the sheets and pillows that were drenched in her scent.

Chapter Eight

"I can't tonight." Buffy cut Julie off before she could say anything. "I'm still dealing with last night's problems."

"Maybe I could help," Julie said, smirking at Buffy and waving her stake.

"Maybe you should decide if you want to be a slayer or not," Buffy snapped. "If you do, you need to go to school for it. And if you don't, then you need to stay out of my way when I have slayer business to take care of."

"Fine! If you don't want my help, just forget it!"

Buffy sighed heavily and stared at the girl's hurt face, reminding herself it was one of her decisions that had put Julie in her present situation. She shook her head and tried to explain.

"Julie, look. We… there's an old, crazy, but very strong vamp out there somewhere. If I take you with me while I hunt for her, I'm just going to be distracted by worrying about you… and that could get us both killed."

"I could help," Julie repeated stubbornly. "You don't know that I couldn't."

"Yeah, I kinda do, actually. The last time a slayer I knew went up against Drusilla, she died. Without even getting her stake out. And she was trained. She'd spent her whole life practicing to be a slayer, and then…." Buffy shook her head. "Drusilla is going to be all I can handle. You—"

Julie frowned, then her face lit up. "This 'Drusilla', is she kinda weird and old-fashioned, with dark hair?"

"Weird, no fashion sense, bat-shit crazy—Why?"

"I think I saw her…." Julie looked momentarily confused. "I think she talked to me, but I don't remember what she said… It was last night and I…." She raised frightened eyes to Buffy's. "I don't remember. Why don't I remember?"

"She thralled you," Buffy said, grabbing Julie and wrenching the scarf off her neck. "She wanted Slayer blood." Julie's hand followed Buffy's gaze to the holes on her throat.

"She bit me?"

"She did. And she didn't kill you, so I'm guessing she's gonna want to come back for more." Buffy sighed. "All right, I guess you'd better come with me. I can't put you back out there to be Dru's personal blood bank. Already got one of those on my hands."

Without explanation, Buffy grabbed her jacket and walked out, gesturing for Julie to follow her into the setting sun. She showed no mercy as she began to walk at a pace faster than most people could run, only making impatient "come on" gestures whenever Julie fell too far behind.

"Slow down! I can't do this!"

"Yes, you can," Buffy replied. "I'm not using any physical abilities you don't already have. You just aren't used to having to, you know, use them. Everything seems easy to you, doesn't it? Being faster, stronger, more coordinated than everyone else? But guess what? The only way to develop those abilities into what they need to be, is to work at them. Slayers need to be fit, not just strong…. and oh my God, I'm turning into Giles!" Buffy groaned and slowed down just enough to shake her head at Julie and give a small snort of amusement. "Sorry about that. Sometimes I channel the man who trained me. It's scary. And kind of disturbing…."

"Could he maybe train me? Does he live around here?"

Buffy's amusement vanished. "He's dead. So that would be a no."

She pulled ahead again and jogged the rest of the way to the hospital, listening carefully to be sure Julie wasn't falling too far behind. She was beginning to have a grudging respect for the girl, who didn't quit, in spite of being obviously out of shape. They reached the hospital just as the sun vanished and dusk made the surrounding area a mixture of shadows and deceiving shapes that seemed visible, but sometimes weren't.

Taking pity on Julie, who was uncomplaining but still trying to catch her breath, Buffy headed for the elevators. The ride to Bobby's floor was quick, and they were soon entering the room where he glanced up in surprise from the dinner he was picking at.

"Where's Spike?" he demanded, trying to see past her and ignoring Julie who was staring at the rather large bandage on his neck.

"Why, yes, thank you. I did have a good day. It's nice to see you again too," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. "He'll be here as soon as it's dark enough." She went to the windows and the still-open blinds, staring out into the darkness and wondering if Dru was staring back at her. With a mental shake, she turned back to the two younger people in the room, to find them eying each other with mutual curiosity and suspicion.

"Who's he?"

"Who's she?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You two have something in common – the ho-bag wants both of you. It's going to be easier to keep you away from her… and alive… if you're in the same place. Introduce yourselves." She moved away from the window and took up a position near the door, stiffening when she heard heavy footsteps. She relaxed when the heavy tread revealed itself to be the sound of Spike's boots approaching.

"Hi," she said as he entered the room.

"Slayer," he replied, his eyes going to Julie and widening in surprise. He raised an inquiring eyebrow at Buffy and she shrugged, gesturing for Julie to move her scarf. Bobby gasped when he saw the marks on Julie's neck, straining to see better without knocking over his tray. Spike stepped closer to her, asking silently if he could touch the marks. Julie gave a hesitant nod, muffling a shriek as he touched them with his cooler than normal fingers. He shook his head in what, to Buffy, appeared way too much like admiration.

"Leave it to Dru to find herself a source of the good stuff," he muttered, not noticing Julie's widening eyes as her undeveloped slayer sense brought crashing home exactly what Buffy's mysterious "hottie" was. With a whimper, she brought out her stake and raised it.

Spike caught her arm without seeming to even look at her, squeezing gently until the stake fell from her numb fingers, then releasing her with a smile. "Good instincts, pet," he said, bending to retrieve the stake and hand it back to her. "But don't waste your energy on me. I'm on your side."

"But… but… I'm a slayer. You should want to kill me. Aren't you afraid of me?" Julie looked from Spike to the stake now back in her hand. "You should be afraid of me!" She looked seriously offended, growing even more so when Buffy and Spike both laughed.

Still chuckling, Spike snatched the stake from her with such speed it could have been telekinesis. "No, luv," he said, handing it back for the second time. "I'm not afraid of you. I love fighting slayers… and there's only one's ever given me any reason to doubt the outcome." His eyes slid to Buffy, then back to Julie, who managed to look annoyed and awed at the same time.

He took his attention off Julie. "So, what's the situation, Slayer? Was Bobby a good little bite victim?"

Buffy shook her head. "We just got here," she said. "I haven't had a chance to ask anybody about him, but now that you're here…." She moved past him and out the door. "I'll be right back after I find out when he can go ho—when he can leave."

Spike watched, his lips twitching in amusement as Julie and Bobby stared at each other with suspicion. Finally, Julie approached the bed.

"So, how'd she get you?" she asked, pointing to the big bandage on his neck.

"I belong to her," he said stiffly, with a sideways glance at Spike who snorted in disgust. "It was freely given."

Julie stared at him, her eyes wide and scornful. "You gave it to her? What's wrong with you?"

"He was in thrall," Buffy said, coming back into the room. "Just like you were when you gave it up."

With a glare at Buffy, Julie sniffed and walked over to the chair, sitting down and studiously ignoring Bobby's triumphant smirk.

"So, what's the deal, Slayer?" Spike's question brought everyone's attention back to the matter at hand.

"She said we can probably take him out in the morning. He didn't have any ID on him, so they can't be sure how old he is. I guess there's some question of where he can go if he's underage." She turned her attention to Bobby. "How old are you? And don't lie!"

"Seventeen," he mumbled. "But I can look older."

"Good. So, when they ask you about it, tell them you're eighteen and that whoever did this to you took your wallet so you can't prove it. Maybe they'll believe you and let you walk out."

"What if they don't? What if they want to put me in the Shelter or a foster home?"

Faith strolled into the room just in time to hear his question. "No prob, munchkin." She stopped to laugh at her own joke. "I'm the expert at breaking out of youth shelters and running away from homes that aren't. We'd have you back in no time."

She noticed Julie and raised an eyebrow at her. "And you are…?"

"Not-a-slayer, apparently," Julie muttered. "Who the hell are you?"

Faith took in the girl's defiant expression and the awkward way she was clutching her stake. Instead of the reaction Buffy had been expecting, Faith just shrugged and walked over to her. "Another blood donor?"

Buffy nodded. "Dru found her last night and had dessert at Julie's expense. We figured we'd better keep these guys together for a while. It'll be easier than if we spread ourselves too thin."

Faith nodded and glanced back at Julie. "What does she mean, she's not a slayer?"

"She's one of those stupid bints thinks Buffy ruined her life," Spike said. "Was all anti-slayer until the other night when a vamp tried to have her for dinner and she got to watch a real slayer in action. Now she thinks she's gone from meal to avenging angel in one short lesson." He smiled at Faith's rolled eyes. "Already met Dru and found out the hard way what a thrall is."

Julie stared at Faith, at the relaxed way she joked with Spike, the way she moved around the room so effortlessly, and the stake just visible in the waistband of her jeans. "You're one too!" she blurted. "Why did you join them?"

Faith laughed out loud while Spike and Buffy snorted their amusement. "Was already there and wearing the tee-shirt," she said, giving Julie her cockiest smirk. "After Buffy, I'm the oldest Slayer on the planet. All the rest of you are newbies." She turned away to let Julie chew on that information and walked over to the bed. She shoved the remains of Bobby's meal out of the way and bent down to stare at him. He blushed and squirmed as she ran her eyes all over his face and body.

Glancing over at Spike, Faith grinned. "Got to say, she did a good job of picking out her new bitch. He looks just like you – if you were young, good-looking, innocent… and alive." She laughed when Spike growled.

"I am good-looking," he said. "And I'll be young a lot bloody longer than you will."

"Touchy about that, are you?" Faith continued to bait Spike, really getting into it when she saw Julie and Bobby staring at her with wide eyes. "I think you're a little past your prime, Billy Boy. Want to go a few rounds?"

Instead of leaping to take her up on the offer of a fight, Spike said quietly, "You don't have any idea what my prime is." He put his hands in his pockets and went to stare out the window into the night. Faith frowned and looked at Buffy for clarification, but she was staring at Spike's profile, remembering his speed, the claws, his sunburned hand, and his comments about not being able to walk "that far" in the daylight. She walked over to him and got close enough to speak without being overheard.

"Is there something you need to share with me?"

He met her eyes steadily. "Could share? Yes. Nee to? I don't know. Do I?"

Trying for a light tone, she said, "I'm just wondering if maybe I don't know as much about my resources as I should."

"Later." He glanced at the other people in the room, all staring at them with various amounts of curiosity. "I'll tell you later."

Buffy studied him for a few seconds, then nodded and turned back to the others. She gave Faith a shrug, and said, "Okay then, where were we?"

"It looks like we're sitting here like bumps on a log, while her royal nuttiness is out and about. This is way too much inactivity for me. How about if I do a quick patrol of the grounds and parking lot? Maybe cruise through the lobby?"

Buffy frowned. "I don't like sending anybody out alone. I know she can't take all three of us, but…."

Faith 's face darkened. "You aren't 'sending me' anywhere. I'm telling you what I think I should be doing." There was a brief staring contest, broken when Spike said quietly, "I'll go with her. Between the two of us, it shouldn't take long to make sure there aren't any vamps lurking."

Buffy's eyes went back and forth between Spike's expressionless face and Faith's suddenly more interested one. She kept her own expression painfully neutral as she said, "Sounds like a plan. Just don't be gone too long."

"Only as long as it takes," Faith said with a wink, her good humor back. "Come on, blondie."

Spike glanced at Buffy, opened his mouth to say something, then snapped it shut. He followed Faith to the door, pausing only long enough to say, "We'll be back in a bit."

Bobby's wistful gaze followed them out the door. He fell back on his pillows, shutting his eyes briefly. When his body stiffened, and his eyes flew open, Buffy and Julie were too caught up in their conversation to notice.

Chapter Nine

"You just let him go with that hoochie-mama?"

"Spike doesn't belong to me. And I'm not Faith's boss. They can do whatever they want." Buffy's expression made it clear she did not want to discuss it anymore. Which had the usual effect on Julie.

"I thought you were the boss of all the slayers?"

Buffy shook her head. "It's way too complicated, and you'd never understand it. I was the… leader… for a while… And then we had an army. Somebody had to make decisions and do the fighting and I… Look. I'm nobody's boss. Not anymore. I offer… suggestions. But I'm retired from any kind of leader stuff. I slay. That's all I do. If anybody is the Slayer boss, it's Faith. She's the one who oversees the active slayers and works with the Council."

Julie mulled that over for a minute, then said, "So, what's with the vampire? If they're all so bad and dangerous, why do you let him help you? I mean, aside from the whole 'he's awesome sexy' thing."

"Spike's different," Buffy said shortly. "And that's all you need to know."

From the bed, Bobby spoke up, seeming embarrassed, but determined. "I need to pee," he said, blushing when both Julie and Buffy turned to stare at him.

"TMI," Julie said, tossing her head.

"Do you need a nurse?"

"No. I just need to walk to the bathroom – without displaying my butt to two girls I don't even know."

Buffy frowned at him, wondering why he seemed so nervous about just going to the bathroom. It wasn't as if there was no door on it or something. She looked at the dark window, a safe four stories from the ground, and around the room. She walked over and dropped the blinds, angling them so that anyone looking up from the ground wouldn't be able to see into the well-lit room. She frowned again at the very faint tingles she thought she might be feeling.

"Hold on. Let me check the hall." She stuck her head out, but saw nothing amiss. The nurse at the station at the end of their wing waved at her. She didn't see any sign that Julie was feeling anything, so Buffy shrugged off the faint prickle at the back of her neck as being left over from Spike's presence, or maybe something about Bobby's still-undetermined status. "Okay, we'll just wait out here in the hall. Be quick about it."

She herded a reluctant Julie out the door, leaving it open far enough that she could hear Bobby's unsteady progress toward the bathroom. She leaned against the wall, concentrating on listening to the sounds from inside the room. Beside her, Julie was staring at the floor and tapping her foot impatiently. It took Buffy a few seconds to notice that her vamp tingles had ratcheted way up. She spun around and saw several vampires wearing bloody scrubs making their way down the hall toward them. The nursing station was now vacant, and Buffy swore under her breath at the deaths that had probably occurred right under her nose. She turned her head to find more vamps running toward them from the other, far end of the hall.

"Dammit!" She shoved Julie back into the room with instructions to lock herself in the bathroom with Bobby, then slammed the door and turned to meet the first of the newly-risen vampires. Buffy's enhanced powers, much diminished after the end of Twilight, but far from gone completely, allowed her to take out the first four vampires with minimal effort. The remaining two gave her just enough trouble to prevent her from noticing that another one had slipped past the fight and into the room.

She finished dusting the last two vampires and turned around to find the door standing open. Julie was standing in front of Bobby, stake in trembling hand, facing a snarling fledgling that was still wearing the clothes he'd been killed in.

"They are mine, Slayer," cooed a voice from behind. Buffy whirled to find Dru holding one of the nurses up in one hand, while the other hand ran a sharp nail around the girl's throat. "Unless you want to watch this pretty dolly become all red and shiny… you must allow me to take my pets with me."

Buffy's growl came very close to matching the ones coming from the room behind her, where Julie's inexperienced stake wielding was proving to be just enough to keep the fledgling minion at bay.

"Over your dusty body," Buffy said, avoiding Dru's eyes and setting herself in front of the open door. Behind her she could hear Bobby calling for his 'princess', followed by the sound of a fist striking flesh and then silence except for the minion's continuing frustrated snarls.

Spike paused outside the hospital's main door and sniffed the air like a dog. "This way," he said without explanation, breaking into a run toward the parking lot. Faith followed without question, her stake already in her hand when they intercepted a large group of newly-risen vampires shambling toward the hospital. While Spike began to effortlessly snap necks, Faith staked the slow-moving vampires one at a time, not even bothering to try to fight them. When there was nothing left but piles of dust, she looked at Spike, who was searching with all his senses for any sign of Drusilla.

With a disappointed sigh, he turned back to her. "Nice clean-up, Slayer Two."

"It wasn't exactly hard work. They were more like zombies than vamps. What's up with that?"

He shrugged. "Dru only had one day to make herself minions. I'm guessing she did the least she could get away with and still have fledges that could walk. She needed them to be ready by tonight, so she went with numbers and quick rising, not quality."

"Don't see the point in that. We dusted all of them in like, no time."

Spike swore and took off running, too fast for Faith to even think about keeping up. "They took us away from the building, and kept us busy for a few minutes," he shouted, flying toward the hospital. Faith watched with her mouth open as he disappeared in a blur that ran up the side of the building and burst through the glass into the room where they'd left Buffy to protect Drusilla's two victims. Unable to duplicate his feat, and very grateful that he hadn't taken her up on her offer to fight, Faith flew up the stairs and through the long hallways to the wing from which she could hear the sound of screams. She slowed as she neared Dru and the terrified nurse, hefting her stake as she approached.

"Collateral damage?"

Buffy shook her head. "Not if we can help it; I've had enough collateral damage to last me the rest of my life. Anyway, I think the cavalry's here—" Her words accompanied the sound of Spike bursting through the window in a spray of heavy-duty, shatterproof glass and broken blinds. He didn't even pause, shoving the minion aside hard enough to stun him when his head impacted the wall.

"Get him," he said to Julie, continuing through the room and into the tense tableau outside. "Let her go, Dru," he said. "You know you can't fight all three of us."

She cocked her head and stared at Spike and then at Buffy. Faith's eyes narrowed at being ignored, but it was obvious that Buffy and Spike were the ones of real interest to the crazy vampire. As long as Drusilla held the nurse, she was in charge; all Faith could do was follow the lead of those who knew the vampire best. Dru continued looking back and forth between Spike and Buffy, her face undergoing a sudden transformation as understanding grew behind her horrified eyes.

"What are you?" she whispered to Spike. "Where is my black prince?"

"I'm what I've been for years, Dru," he said, keeping his voice as soothing as possible. "Not your black prince, not anything of yours. Let the girl go and we'll go outside and talk about it, yeah?"

Buffy's swallowed her silent "Like hell you will" – wondering what he was trying to do. There was no reason for him to worry about a thrall, and if he kept Dru busy talking, either she or Faith might be able to stake her.

Dru began moving slowly away, still holding the nurse in a manner that would allow her to plunge a taloned nail into the girl's throat before they could stop her.

"You're ruined. She ruined you, just like she ruined Angelus…" Her eyes turned to Buffy and she brought her vampire face to the fore. "Why do you want to destroy my family? My two princes, tainted and ruined." Her expression changed, and she looked sly. "But you're not my Spike's sunshine any more, are you?" She turned her head to smirk at Spike. "The Slayer and Angelus. The things they did, my prince…." She waited for Spike's response, but when he remained unmoved, she returned her glare to Buffy. "I should kill you," she said, seeming to lose interest in anything else but the slayer responsible for the loss of her family.

"Give it your best shot, ho-bag," Buffy replied, readying herself for an attack.

Dru seemed to think for a second, then shook her head. "Another time. When you are not so strong…" She whirled and ran for the elevators, dragging the hapless nurse along with her. Spike ran after her, once again showing speed much enhanced over an ordinary vampire's. He was in front of Dru by the time she got to the elevator, blocking the door with his body. "Let the girl go, pet. I'm not going to let you take her out of here."

She cocked her head at him, shifting sideways so as to keep an eye on Buffy who had followed them with a speed that equaled Spike's. She dropped back to her human face and stared at him with mournful, but rational, eyes. She seemed very sane as she took in her situation. With an abrupt movement, she threw the nurse at Buffy, hissing, "Only my sweet William can slay his princess. Only him," and turned her eyes back to Spike. "Can you do it, sweet William? Can you kill me? Can you kill your princess for the sake of sunshine that has lost its luster?"

"Sorry, princess. The answer to that is the same as it's always been." Without further speech, he grabbed her head and twisted until it joined the dust at his feet.

The elevator next to them opened and a SWAT team burst out into the corridor, blinking in surprise when they saw nothing but the "private security" team they'd been told to watch for, one hysterical nurse and a very dusty hallway. "What the hell happened here?" the leader demanded, staring around at the wreckage of Buffy's fight with the minions, as well as the blood-soaked nurse's station. "Who did this?"

Buffy gave him a half-hearted smile. "Try 'a gang hopped up on PCP'," she said. "That always worked at my high school." She turned the nurse over to the other medical staff now moving into the area and began the walk back to Bobby's room.

Buffy touched Spike's hand as he fell into step beside her. "I'm sorry you had to do that. Are you all right?"

He stopped, put his hands on her shoulders, and turned her toward him. "Buffy, I offered to kill her for you years ago. Long before I had any reason to think—" He shook his head. "Did you really believe, after all these years and the soul, that I couldn't—wouldn't do it?" His face began to settle into the resigned, stoic lines that were becoming so uncomfortably familiar to her. She reached up and cupped his cheek, stroking it softly.

"I knew you could do it. And I knew that you would. I never doubted you. I just thought… I remember how it felt to send Angel to Hell, and I… I didn't want you to… I just thought it would hurt you less if I did it."

Spike's expression softened and for the first time in years, she was once again looking at the face of the man who loved her. He put his hand on top of hers and held it to his cheek for a second before turning his head to kiss her palm. "And that's why it was easy," he said. "I lost any lingering feelings I may have had for her when you took me out of that basement and made me part of your life again. Never deserved you, and still don't, but I'll be yours till I'm dust in the wind."

There was a gagging noise from behind them and they both whirled to glare at Faith, who laughed while Julie said, "Hey! Remember us? The reason you're here?" Spike and Buffy glowered at her, but walked into the room, staring at the glass-covered floor and bed.

"I guess you won't be staying here tonight," Buffy said to Bobby, looking at the destruction. "Maybe they'll let us take you out."

The expression on Bobby's bruised face was confused and wary. His eyes flew to Buffy. "You killed her!"

"No, mate, I did. Had to be done." Spike's voice was soft and surprisingly sympathetic.

After a long minute, Bobby managed to say, "Oh." He raised his eyes. "Does that make you my sire?"

"Fuck, no!" Spike's sympathy evaporated. "Doesn't make me anything except an old vamp who was turned by the same one that bit you. Get over it. You're free of her now. Stop acting like something you're not."

Bobby sat down in the chair, his shoulders slumped and his forehead wrinkled. He looked for a moment like he might cry, but then Julie moved and he remembered her presence. He sat up straighter, and raised his chin, now staring at Julie with the same worshipful eyes he'd previously stared at Spike. "She saved me," he said, pointing. "She's amazing!"

Spike snorted; Buffy and Faith exchanged eye rolls, but didn't bother to remind him of how he'd gotten to the hospital in the first place. As Julie blushed and preened under his admiring gaze, Faith said, "Not bad for a not-a-slayer. Are you sure you don't want a job?"

"Is it true that you're the boss of the slayers?"

Faith shot Buffy a startled glance. "I am? I mean, yeah, I am. Why?"

"I think I might… maybe, if you think I could… I mean, I know I need training, but…." She looked at Buffy. "Do I have to goto Cleveland?"

"What's wrong with Cleveland?"

"It's cold. And windy. And it's in Ohio… where my foster family lives…."

"And where Social Services is probably looking for you," Faith sighed. "Got it." She shook her head, took a deep breath, and said, "Don't make me sorry I did this… How about England? What if you went to England to get trained?"

Julie's face lit up, then fell again. "I can't afford that. How would I get there?"

Faith waved a hand at Spike and Buffy, took Julie by the arm, and began to lead her out of the room. "Well, see, here's the sitch…"

Bobby's face fell as Julie walked out without looking back, her attention on Faith and the explanation of how Julie would get to England. Spike walked over and punched him on the arm. "Cheer up, mate. Slayers don't make good girlfriends – they're always out and about, saving the world and whatnot." Studiously avoiding Buffy's narrowed gaze, he grabbed Bobby's clothes from the closet and threw them at him. "Get dressed. We're going to leave here and find someplace less vamp-friendly for you to spend the night."

In spite of all the evening's events, it was still not very late when they worked their way out of the hospital, using stairs whenever possible and doors that didn't lead past a lot of people. In the chaos left in the wake of the vampire attack, no one noticed the three people walking toward the parking lot. Spike pulled out his communicator and muttered a few words and clicks into it, bringing the ship within seconds. It hovered over them, just high enough not to hit any cars in the parking lot. When the ladder dropped, Bobby's eyes popped and he began to babble about aliens and space ships, edging his way back toward the relative safety of the hospital. Spike grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and tossed him toward the ladder.

"Get your arse up there before you make me sorry we took you with us."

Once inside the ship, and properly introduced to Bugs One and Two, Bobby relaxed and ran around like a toddler, wanting to touch everything. Buffy couldn't resist pointing out to Spike that Bobby's sudden changes of mood and hyperactive behavior reminded her a whole lot of someone she knew. She snickered when he growled, "Bite your tongue, Slayer, or I'll bite it for you."

"Promises, promises," she said, laughing and not noticing the way his wide eyes followed her as she flipped her hand and walked over to peer out the window.

The trip to Buffy's building took only a few seconds, but Spike had the ship hover well above it while he found some less bloody clothes for the boy to change into. While Bobby was changing, Buffy sat on the bed looking up at Spike.

"Are you going to tell me what's going on? When did you turn into super-vamp?"

He shrugged. "Don't really know. The bugs are from another dimension, and while I was there I… changed. Not right off, but a bit at a time. I got faster, stronger…" he held out his hands, claws extended, "… grew these things. Not over my sun allergy, but I can handle more of it than the average vamp my age." He cocked his head at her. "Best I can figure is, time passed differently there and I'm now a lot older than I was when Blue whisked me off without so much as asking if I wanted to see the universe."

"Huh. So I guess that's why Angel was having such a hard time killing you when he was all super-powered…."

He coughed. "Yeah, well, I don't think that was going as well as I'd hoped. I was bloody grateful to have those extra years when he dragged me out into the sun, I can tell you. And never so glad to see the bugs and the ship."

"I was so afraid he'd—we'd—killed you," she whispered. "I wasn't sure if the ship managed to catch you or not. Not till the first time you showed up at my window." She gave him a small smile. "Thanks for that, by the way. I was getting pretty close to grieving all over again. It had been so long since—"

"Had to see if you were doin' alright, didn't I?" he said, running the back of his hand down her cheek. "You'd had a lot thrown at you. Things I knew you'd take to heart… Knew you'd come out the winner," he added quickly when she began to frown. "But I was afraid—"

"You were afraid I'd be all depresso Buffy again."

He looked embarrassed. "I don't mind depresso Buffy as much as you might think... But I never want to see you in that much pain again."

"Depresso Buffy treated you like shit!" she said, disbelief in her voice. "She—I almost killed— What's wrong with you?"

He gave her his best "Duh, vampire" look, then opted to take her question seriously. "You also trusted me enough to turn to me for comfort and companionship," he pointed out. " And you let me be your distraction from the pain… Gave me some of the best—" He stopped himself and cleared his throat. "Was worth every bump and bruise," he finished, not meeting her gaze.

At that moment, Bobby emerged wearing Spike's slightly too big jeans and a black tee shirt.

"Oh my God, he looks so much like you." Buffy stared at the boy standing there with bewilderment on his face. She walked around him, ignoring his embarrassed squirming. She glanced back at Spike. "Is there something you need to tell me?" she asked, her lips twitching. "Were you by any chance human for a day, say about eighteen years ago?"

Spike frowned in confusion, not having heard about Angel's brief bout of humanity.

"Pretty sure I'd have remembered it, pet," he said. "Doubt it would have lasted long, anyway. Dru would've turned me right back, I've no doubt."

"I was just kidding," she said. "I'll explain it later."

"I got it, Slayer. But I wouldn't have had to be human if there were prophecies and such like involved, would I?"

It was Buffy's turn to look puzzled. "Prophecies?"

"Yeah, you know, like the poof and the whore—" He froze. "Bloody hell," he breathed. "He never told you…."

"Never told me what?"

"Nothing," Spike said firmly. "Nothing at all. If it ever comes up that you need to know, I'll tell you about it. Promise."

Buffy's expression made it very clear that she expected him to tell her about it now, but before she could work up a good head of steam, Bug One came in and began clicking at Spike. He sighed and nodded, gesturing the insect out of the room. Buffy watched the bug walk out, her face expressionless. Before Spike could decide how to phrase what he had to say, Buffy said tonelessly, "You're leaving again."

"I am," he replied with a sigh. "Got my responsibilities to the… got my responsibilities to tend to." Ignoring Bobby's curious eyes, he stepped closer to Buffy and tipped her chin up. "I don't like leaving yo—leaving all the time, not knowing when I'll be able to come back. I'm thinkin' it might be time to give up some of those responsibilities," he said softly. "But I'd need to know if there's a reason to do it."

She bit her lip and stared into his eyes, blinking hard. "Would the fact that I really, really hate saying good-bye to you be a good enough reason?"

"Best one I can think of," he murmured, leaning in and kissing her until Bobby's frantic throat-clearing got their attention. They broke apart, laughing—Buffy with embarrassment, Spike with joy. "Sooner I get out of here, sooner I'll be back," he said, steering Buffy and Bobby toward the door where Bug Two and the ladder awaited. With a final wave, he watched them go down the ladder, then pulled it in and shut the hatch.

Buffy and Bobby stood on the roof and watched as the ship disappeared into the night sky.

"Were we really just in a space ship?"

"Yep. We were. Now come on. I don't know about you, but I'm tired and I have to work tomorrow, so let's get you settled on the couch so I can get some sleep."

The adrenaline of the night's events was wearing off, and the boy nodded obediently as he followed her down the stairs to her apartment. He was asleep a few seconds after he settled down on the couch that Buffy had quickly converted to a makeshift bed. Leaving the decision of what to do with him until later, Buffy washed her face, brushed her teeth, and stumbled into her bedroom, dropping her clothes as she went. She slid into bed and pulled the covers up, smiling to herself at the remaining traces of tobacco and Spike's unique scent that lingered on the sheets.

Chapter Ten

AN: I'd always intended to get Spike out of the ship, but was pondering what my explanation might be, not only for how he got his enhanced vamp powers, but how he got the ship and how he would get rid of it. There may have been unnatural relationships with bug queens involved… and perhaps even some need for Slayer save-age. But the fic would have ended up being much longer that it is now. Then lj user=angearia wrote this great little ficlet about Spike and the bugs and the condition in which he came back from a trip and… there it was. The solution. So this chapter owes everything to Angearia. She kindly gave me permission to use her idea.

"So, let me get this straight." Xander leaned back in his chair and stared at Buffy. "You want me to take in this Spike wannabe – who may or may not be some kind of semi-vampire – give him a job, and your old bedroom. Is that it?"

"It doesn't sound like nearly as good an idea when you put it that way," Buffy grumbled. "It's not going to be a problem, is it? I mean, he seems like a nice kid, he's got no family, and no place to live. And he's not any kind of a vampire. All that I can see that's left of Dru's attempt to turn him is some ability to sense vamps and an attachment to Spike." She turned her pleading gaze on Dawn. "It's just until he figures out what he wants to do, or I figure out what to do with him."

"It looks to me like you already figured that out," Dawn said, keeping her voice down so the boy sitting in the living room wouldn't hear her. "Dump him on us. Why do we have to keep him?"

"He can't keep staying on my couch," Buffy protested. "Faith didn't want to take him back to England with her. What else am I going to do with him?"

"Here's a thought, let the guy he looks like take care of him. Maybe Spike can make him an honorary bug."

"I don't know when Spike's coming back," Buffy said, her expression saying more than she meant it to about long he'd been gone. "And even if he was here, he doesn't have a place to live either. Except for that space ship, and he… he might be giving that up." Buffy spoke with exaggerated casualness and looked out the window instead of at Dawn and Xander.

They stared at her with equal parts amusement and disbelief. When the silence became uncomfortable, Buffy flushed, saying, "What? He might be. He said—"

She was interrupted by the sound of rapping on the apartment door. Xander stood up. "You expecting anyone?" he asked Dawn and Buffy. When both shook their heads, he picked up a sword from behind the refrigerator before moving into the living room. Bobby stared at the sword, his eyes darting around as though seeking another way out of the apartment where even the seemingly normal people answered their door with a weapon in hand.

The knocking repeated, louder this time, and Xander and Buffy went to the door while Dawn waited near the couch, as much to give Bobby some confidence, as because she was worried about what might be outside. She gave him her best reassuring smile and a, "Sorry, this isn't what it looks like. It's just that old habits die hard," while she waited to see what might be knocking on their door.

Xander yanked it open, sword hidden behind his back. He blinked at the swaying vampire staring back at him and stepped back. "It's for you," he said to Buffy as he walked away, adding over his shoulder, "Come in, Fangface."

Spike stepped through the door and into Buffy's supporting arms. "What happened to you?" She guided him to the couch, motioning for Bobby to get out of the way. Spike sank down gratefully, and rested his head against the back of the couch. "'lo, Bit," he said, smiling at Dawn.

"Hi," she replied. "You're not going to get blood and icky stuff on my couch, are you?"

"Nah. Blood's all dried up, wounds are almost healed. I'm just a bit knackered…"

"What happened?" Buffy repeated, looking very much like a slayer in homicidal mode.

"Those responsibilities I had? Don't have 'em anymore. Not really, anyway."

Xander wandered in with a mug of what looked surprisingly like blood of some sort. He handed it to Spike at the same time as he asked, "So, what, the bugs fired you?"

"In a manner of speaking…" He paused to sniff the liquid and raise an eyebrow at Buffy. She shook her head and looked at Dawn who cleared her throat, saying, "Just a little something I keep on hand for unexpected guests."

Spike toasted her with the mug and drank deeply. When he'd had half of it, he set it down and smiled with pleasure. "Thank you, Bit. Was just what the doctor ordered."

"So back to the bugs," Xander said. "Which one did you piss off?"

"All of 'em," Spike admitted. "Turns out they're tired of popping in and out of here so that I can… They're tired of having to help out if it's not a world-ending kind of situation. So, we agreed that I'd give up the ship unless there's an apocalypse kind of thing going on."

"Who beat you up?" Buffy was not letting it go.

"Well, here's the thing, pet. I was sort of the… ruler… of the hive that is the ship. And the only way to stop being the… ruler… was to lose a fight with the next in line to be queen. So I had to fight Bug Three… and lose… if I wanted to be allowed to stay here."

"So," Xander kept his voice carefully under control as he asked, "Bug Three is now the queen of the ship?"

Spike narrowed his eyes at him. "You'd better not be going where I think you are with that, Harris," he growled.

"Oh, hell yeah, that's where I'm going with it!" Xander quit trying to keep a straight face. "The old queen is dead, long live the queen!" He danced around the room, chanting, "Spike was a queen. Spike was a queen, Spike was…." He stopped when Dawn punched him on the arm and muttered in his ear.

"Fine," he said. "I'm done. But admit it. It had to be said."

Buffy was staring at Spike. "So, you threw a fight so you could stop being…" She watched his eyes and swallowed the next word. "So you could stop being the leader? Then why are you so beat up?"

"Had to make it look good, didn't we? Bug Three wanted to be sure nobody else was likely to challenge her, so I had to defend myself. I'm not sure she wasn't really tryin' to kill me, now that I think about it…." He shook it off. "Well, no matter, we worked it out; I pretended she'd won, and I was allowed to leave. They'll come back with the ship if we need it for something really big, but in the meantime they're looking for someplace warm and isolated to park it for a while. Mars didn't suit them."

"Here? On this planet?" Dawn's expression showed exactly what she thought of having giant bugs living on the same planet she made her home.

"Not to worry, Bit. They aren't eager to have everyone on the planet trying to exterminate them. They'll be far away from anywhere humans live, and very careful not to be seen. It's not like they can go home," he added. He picked up his mug and finished it off. "Thank you, luv. Much appreciated."

He turned his tired gaze to Bobby, then looked a question at Buffy. She shrugged and gestured at Dawn and Xander.

"We were just talking about him. I feel like I'm kinda responsible for him, and…."

"And I'm going to give him a job. Till he figures out what he wants to do and where he wants to do it." Buffy blinked at Xander in surprise, then smiled.

"Thanks, Xan," she said, kicking Bobby in the ankle until he stuttered out, "Yeah, thanks, bro. I appreciate it."

"Okay, I am not your 'bro'," Xander said firmly. He pointed at Spike. "He is your 'bro'. I'm just… 'Boss' works for me."

"No problem, du—Boss."

Xander and Dawn exchange silent communication and then she sighed. "Okay. Here's the deal. You can stay here until you find someplace else, 'kay? But it has to be pretty soon, and you have to pay rent. It's not like we're adopting you or something."

Bobby nodded, but looked at Buffy and Spike. "So, you guys don't want me?" he said, just the faintest trace of a quiver in his voice. "I mean, that's cool. You've got the whole 'saving the world' thing going on, and I'd just be in the—"

Buffy stopped him before Spike's growl could turn into something lethal.

"It's not that we don't want you," she said quickly, squeezing Spike's arm when she felt him stiffen. "We'll be around all the time to make sure you're doing okay. But you've seen my apartment. It's tiny. And I doubt the couch is that comfortable. Here you'd have your own room and—"

"And you guys would have your privacy," he muttered.

"Exactly," Spike said before a blushing Buffy could speak up. He slid his eyes to her, and amended, "Not that we need the privacy for anything…. anything…." Dawn coughed so hard Xander had to pat her on the back. Buffy and Spike both glared at her. "We need to talk, the Slayer and me. Got things to work out. Don't need a stranger listenin' to all that—"

"Not to mention," Xander said, "if Buffy didn't like the way it was going, you wouldn't want her having a replacement handy. It might make her stake-happy." He grinned to show he didn't mean it, but Buffy responded with great firmness.

"I'm not Dru," she said quietly. "I know Spike can't be replaced that easily." She rested her hand on his thigh, smiling when he covered it with one of his and stared at her with eyes that said everything she needed to hear. "I'm not Dru," she repeated, willing him to understand the entire message she was sending – a message that included her complete willingness to keep his grandsire out of her life.

"No," he whispered, raising her hand to his lips. "No, you aren't. You're nothing like her."

"Okay, okay," Xander broke into the exchange of meaningful looks going on. "We all get it. Spike and Buffy, sitting in a tree, blah, blah." He gestured at Bobby. "Guess you're ours for a while, kid. I don't think you'd want to be around them anyway."

Dawn nodded her agreement. "Thing about Spike and Buffy is, it's not a good idea to be in the way, whether they're fighting or—" She broke off as they turned identical glowers of disbelief in her direction. "Or so I've heard," she finished quickly, going to the door and holding it open. "So, bye now! See you guys tomorrow." She smiled and remained holding the door until Buffy and Spike stood up and walked toward it.

"Think we're being thrown out, love," he stage-whispered to Buffy.

"Ya think?" Buffy smiled and pulled Dawn into a sudden hug. "Thank you," she whispered, then followed Spike out the door.

"Are you okay to walk from here to my place?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine. Glad I don't have to run it; but that blood Dawn was keeping for 'unexpected guests' really hit the spot." He took Buffy's hand and squeezed it. "Little sis has turned out to be a bit of alright. Nice to know she doesn't still want to set me on fire."

Buffy moved closer to him, hanging on to his hand and letting their shoulders brush. "I think going up in flames to save the world earned you a pass for anything else she thinks you've done. She just hasn't had time to tell you so since…."

There was silence, each lost in thoughts about those months after the fall of Sunnydale and before the battle in L.A. Those months when Spike was first trapped in the amulet, then a ghost, and then as alive and solid as someone undead could be. After a moment, he took a deep breath and expelled it forcefully before he spoke.

"Always thought there'd be time, you know? Thought I could hang out with Peaches and his gang of do-gooders, fight some evil, get my head on straight, let you enjoy—" When Buffy scoffed he shook his head. "Well, I thought you were enjoying yourself. Didn't know about the decoys and all, did I?"

"I guess we were both keeping secrets," she admitted. "I just didn't trust Angel to…." She shrugged. "I guess I just didn't trust him. Period. Not after he took over that… place. But if I'd known…."

"I was an idiot, love. No excuses."

"I'm just glad you got out of there before Angel went all Twilight on us."

"Can thank Blue—Illyria—for that. She dragged me with her when she decided to blink all the demons off to another dimension. Of course, then she left me there with nothing but giant cockroaches for company… It's a good thing I'm a friendly sort, and that I pick up languages fast."

"Yeah, well, someday you're going to have to tell me how you became the 'queen' of your own hive and spaceship."

"Someday. Not today."

"Not today," she echoed, releasing his hand to dig out her keys and open the inside door of the building. They walked up the stairs in silence, Buffy watching for any sign that Spike was struggling with the four flights of stairs. But he seemed fine, his long strides having no trouble keeping up with her shorter, faster, steps. When they reached her apartment, she opened the door and walked in, collapsing on the couch and sticking her feet up on the coffee table. "We're home," she sighed.

Chapter Eleven (A)

More AN: This chapter has two parts – Part A ends where it seemed to me a good place to stop. Part B continues on from there with some not terribly graphic R rated sex and some more talking that may or may not matter to anyone except Buffy and Spike. Part B is optional. You can skip it or read it. Won't hurt my feelings either way.

Spike stood uncertainly just inside the door, then joined her on the couch. He dropped his coat to the floor, took off his boots, and put his own feet up.

"You're home, pet," he said, putting an arm around her. "I'm homeless until I can find myself a nice little crypt or basement apartment."

"You're welcome to stay here," she said, snuggling into his side as if they cuddled on the couch every night. "I mean, if you want to."

"Don't be daft," he murmured, resting his chin on her head. "You know I want to. But I don't want to be putting you out or interfering with your life."

"Okay, who are you, and what have you done with Spike?"

He laughed and put both arms around her for a brief hug. "He's right here, love. Just don't want to presume…"

"Presume away," she said, waving a hand in the air. "There is absolutely nothing for you to interfere with." She was quiet for a minute, then said timidly, "Can I… can I talk about… what… happened? Just for minute? To explain?"

She felt his body stiffen, but he gave a short nod and she began. "Those last few nights – before we went down into the hellmouth. Do you remember how you held me? How we held each other?"

"Could never forget that, Buffy. The best nights of my life, they were. Told you that then."

She nodded and rested her head against his chest. "You did. Do you remember how long ago that was?"

He shrugged. "Not exactly, but I guess I could figure it out, if it's important to you. Was a good bit ago, I know that. I'm not really sure how long I was off in bug world, though. Time was different there."

"It's important to me because that was the last time anyone touched me with… with affection. Well, except for Sat—but she—that doesn't really count. I mean, it was nice, but it was only a couple of times, and it was more about the—"

"She?" Spike stared at Buffy, his eyes visibly glazing over as his mind tried to absorb what she'd said. Buffy snapped her fingers under his nose.

"Earth to Spike. We're having a serious conversation here. Try to focus!"

"Oh, I'm focusing, Slayer, trust me! You can't throw something like that at me and then expect me not to follow the conversation. Come on, love, be fair. I'm only… well, not human, obviously, but I'm only a man…" He peered at her hopefully. "Will there be details?"

"You're only a pig, you mean." She sat up straight, glaring at him until the lust disappeared from his face and he apologized. When she was sure he meant it, Buffy snuggled back into his side and continued. "The point is, except for that little… experiment… no one had touched me except to try to hit me, in years. No hugs, no kisses, no… no nothing. I was turning into a stone woman."

She looked up at him with eyes suspiciously damp. "So, when Angel asked me if I wanted to be happy…." She took a deep breath. "I'd like to tell you that it was all the glowly stuff's fault, but I don't know. I didn't have any idea where you were, or even if you were still alive. And it's not like when you were alive again you gave me any reason to think you still… okay, not going to beat that dead horse. Sorry. The point is, I was starved for affection and had no reason to think I was ever going to have it again. And all of a sudden, here was somebody who loved me… I thought… and he…."

Spike put a finger on her lips to stop her. "Don't. I was a cowardly wanker. You were manipulated by forces beyond your control. Hell, even old grandpa wasn't totally in his right mind all the time. It's over. Done. It's a new day. Same old vamps and demons to worry about, and I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't some sort of mini-apocalypse come spring. But all that other stuff – it's just a bad dream."

"It wasn't, you know. It was a nightmare, but it was real."

"Work with me here, Slayer," he growled. "What I'm trying to say is that you and me… we're okay. We're better than okay; we're good. And we're here. Alone. Together. And I think that bed is calling our names…."

"You are getting old," she breathed, brushing her lips across his as she got to her knees and straddled him. "What makes you think we're going to make it to the bed?"

The (original) End

Chapter Eleven B (Optional)

AN For those who want to see the Spuffy lovin' (such as it is, only R, you know), it continues below.

Epilogue

With a shout of laughter, he pulled her against his body and captured her mouth in a kiss that lasted until they were lying on the floor, tearing at each other's clothing. They came very close to getting into a fight over who was going to be first to kiss the other all over, and who was going to be the recipient of said kisses; finally compromising by taking turns until they were both breathing hard and Buffy was giving needy whimpers.

With a growl to rival one of Spike's own, Buffy threw him down and lowered herself onto his cock. "Foreplay later," she ordered, closing her eyes in contentment when she felt him filling her. His fingers on her hips left bruises as he arched up off the floor, pulling her down at the same time. Buffy was squeezing him with each thrust, smiling when he began the familiar litany of praise for her skills. With a sudden movement, he flipped them over, never breaking his rhythm as her arms and legs came up around him in a powerful embrace.

Their lovemaking was a combination of sensations from so long in the past they felt new, and the achingly familiar. The resulting mixture of experience and novelty brought them both to panting completion in no time. They fell still, remaining entwined and enjoying being surrounded by the taste, feel and scent of each other – until Spike's cock made it known that he wasn't done yet.

"That was kind of a record, even for us," Buffy said, wriggling happily as she felt him swelling within her.

"Been storing that up for a long time," he said, beginning to move slowly as he gazed down at her. "Never thought I'd ever be here again."

"I've been waiting for this since you picked us up in your ship," she said, dropping her eyes with uncharacteristic shyness. "You know, I never heard your explanation about the egg because I was too busy fantasizing about what I needed to say to you and having wonderful make-up sex."

She felt his chest move against hers as he chuckled. "Wondered why your eyes glazed over," he said. "But I just thought you were having one of those 'Buffy only wants to know how to kill it' moments. Didn't know you were tuning me out so you could—" He stopped moving and kissed her, settling his hips down a little lower. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Buffy blushed with remembered shame. "I thought it was just the glowy stuff still making me act like a ho," she admitted. She wriggled against him, and bumped his chin with her head. "And anyway, you probably were too pissed off about the… about Angel… to want anything to do with me."

He nodded. "You're probably right at that. I'd have been right offended to think you'd go from him to me… and then back to…." His expression darkened and his eyes flared yellow. "Yeah, it was probably for the best. One of us might have ended up dead."

"Are you still mad at me?"

He shook his head, losing the yellow eyes and any trace of demon. "Was never really mad at you, love. I knew you didn't know where I was—hell, I didn't know where I was until we popped out here—and I had no reason to expect you to wait…." He gave his head another shake and lowered it to nuzzle the side of her neck, inhaling her scent without making any attempt to hide what he was doing. "Wasn't mad, Slayer. Just… jealous. And it hurt. Watching you kiss the big poof 'hello' back in Sunnydale was a pat on the cheek compared to what hearing the two of you breaking the sound barrier did to…." He stopped moving his hips, remaining still with his head hidden against her neck. "It hurt, Buffy. More than I could have ever imagined." He raised his head and met her now-brimming eyes.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, a tear slipping down her cheek. "But you still came to help." She brushed one hand across his forehead. "You still came to help me."

"Always will, love. If you don't know that by now, you haven't been paying any bloody attention at all."

"I don't deserve you," she mumbled into his shoulder. She felt him snort with laughter.

"No," he agreed. "You don't. The Chosen One doesn't deserve to be saddled with an old vamp for the rest of her life."

"That's not how I meant that!" She nipped on the muscle running from his shoulder to his neck, smiling when he moaned and began to move almost against his will. "And you know it!" She bit him again, harder, and the moan became more of a snarl.

Rather than answer, he fastened his mouth on hers, letting his body speak for him. Buffy's legs were wound around his, pulling her hips against him as her hands moved around the skin on his back and sides. Using her nails, she clutched him to her, knowing he wouldn't mind the pain or the blood. When he went into his demon face and she felt his body change, she responded with an urgency and need that surprised her.

The quiet beginning evolved very quickly into a growling, biting, scratching, quest for completion that resembled a fight to the death more than it did sex between two people in love. While the Slayer and the old vampire clawed and wrestled their way to fulfillment, the rug and the coffee table suffered the consequences of being in close proximity to the action, ending up as tattered carpet and random pieces of wood.

"Whoa. Wow."

"Bloody brilliant wow."

Buffy turned her head. "We broke the table."

"I'll buy you a new one."

"It wasn't mine! It belongs to guy whose apartment this is."

"I'll buy him a new one. I'll buy him two new ones. Worth every penny, that was."

"It was, wasn't it?" She gave him a sated smile and stretched. "Do you think it's safe to take this to the bed yet?"

He smiled back at her and rolled off, kissing her mouth when it went into an unhappy pout at the loss of his weight and cock.

"I think it could be. Still haven't made love to you the way I want to."

Buffy kissed his chest, nuzzled against him, then sat up. "We've got time," she said.

"We do," he agreed, sitting up with her. "All the time in the world."

"No more good-byes?"

"No more good-byes. Not going anywhere that I can't take you with me."

"'kay, then." She stood up, blushing when he ran appreciative eyes up her body. "Come on." She held out her hand and led him into the bedroom.

The (second) End.