A Very Strange Vampire

Buffy tried hard to meet the vampire's yellow stare with her own best "I'm the Slayer and you can go… something more ladylike than fuck yourself" look, but inside she was quailing. Spike had always been one of her toughest opponents – including the Master – and he'd just proven why. The stake that had been so useless against his suddenly invulnerable body was long gone and she was exhausted. She had no idea how long they'd been fighting, only that the sun – to which it seemed he was also now immune – that had been high overhead when they'd begun was now dropping to the horizon.

With no way to cripple or dust him, she'd been reduced to fighting at his whim, using every trick she had just to remain alive. She was bruised, exhausted, and suspected she had more than one broken bone. Spike's last punch had knocked her briefly unconscious and she'd opened dazed eyes to find herself restrained by some sort of carelessly tied electrical cable. Lying atop her inert body and growling, Spike lowered his head and ran one fang over the skin on her throat, licking the trickle of blood that followed its path.

He lifted his head and shifted back to his human mien. "Just as delicious as I knew you'd taste," he said, leering at her. His motion pushed the erection she'd just noticed into her stomach. Her face contorting in the first fear she'd shown, she willed her exhausted muscles to struggle again. He frowned down at her. "What the bloody hell got into you?" Something about the revulsion and terror on her face made him draw back slightly, which drew his own attention to the hard-on he always sported when fighting Buffy. Sudden understanding widened his eyes, and he growled at her with what almost sounded like disappointment.

"Relax, Slayer, raping little girls is your ex's MO, not mine. Can't help what fighting you does to me, but I'd never take advantage."

She blinked at him, temporarily stilling in surprise. "Wha—?"

"Want to kill you, luv. Want to drink your blood. Wouldn't deny it if I could. Definitely can't deny what fightin' you does to me." He nudged her just to see the revulsion cross her face again, then lifted his hips away. "But I wouldn't humiliate you like that. You're a warrior – best I've ever faced. You don't deserve that. You deserve a good death after a fair fight. And I'm just the vamp to give it you," he added, shifting back into his true face and reaching toward her, fangs out. "It's been fun, Slayer, but—"

"Cheater!"

He halted, fangs just barely touching her throat again.

"I beg your pardon?"

Shaking off the incongruity of hearing the thuggish vampire begging her pardon, Buffy followed up quickly. "You've got the gem. I can't kill you. I can't even hurt you; so you cheated. It wasn't a fair fight."

"Fuck!" Spike's weight was gone as he leapt to his feet and began to roar his rage. "Bloody, buggering fuck!" He glared down at her, looking more dangerous than at any point in their conflict. "You fucking bitch!"

"I'm just saying…." she responded, too exhausted to control the quaver in her voice, and too surprised to take advantage of the break to test her hastily-tied bonds.

"This isn't over, Slayer," he snarled, turning his head as a car skidded to a halt and her Watcher stepped out. He watched Giles aim a crossbow at his chest while Xander and Willow backed him up with holy-water filled Super Soakers. Facing the would-be rescuers, he smiled when the bolt flew toward him, although he did wince when it struck his chest. "We're not done here." He plucked the bolt from his chest and, snarling at Gilles whose horrified expression made him laugh, he broke it in half and threw the pieces at Buffy.

She batted them away with the hand she'd just freed. "We're not done, Spike," she assured him. "I can't let you keep that ring."

"Well, unless you're planning to steal it from me while I'm sleepin'…." He began to edge away, keeping a wary eye on the advancing would-be rescuers. "Till next time, Slayer," he said, blowing her a kiss and jogging off without bothering to worry about the humans staring after him with their mouths open.

"Buffy! Are you okay?" Willow ran up to Buffy while Giles stood guard, hoping he'd missed with his first shot and not that he'd really seen Spike pluck the quarrel out of his heart with only a small grimace of pain. Willow worked with Buffy to get the rest of the cables off and helped her to her feet. Buffy staggered once before pulling herself up straight, holding her painful ribs with her one good hand.

"Let's go," she gasped. "We need to get out of here and into someplace safe."

They hastened to Giles's car and dove in, casting nervous looks over their shoulders as they did so. They did the same hasty in and out in reverse when they reached the apartment complex, hustling from the car to Giles' apartment. Buffy collapsed on the couch, holding her side and shutting her eyes, while Xander and Willow stood around, looking uncomfortable as they watched their inhumanly strong, demon killing friend lie on the couch with an ashen face and her eyes closed in pain.

Giles knelt beside Buffy, holding a first aid kit and asking, "May I help you get cleaned up?" Without waiting for her nod, he began washing the cuts on her face – stopping when she held up her hand.

"I'll do it," she said, "just give me a minute… and maybe some aspirin?"

"This will work better." He handed her two small white pills and signaled Willow to get her a glass of water. He sat back on his heels and frowned at her with worried eyes. "I take it Harmony told us the truth about the Gem of Amara," he said. "Spike now has it?"

Buffy nodded, throwing the pills back and taking the glass of water from Willow. She swallowed, then said, "Oh yeah. And it's everything it's supposed to be. The sun didn't burn him, my stake didn't dust him… nothing I did could do anything but make him laugh. I even tried to get it off his finger, but it was stuck too tight." She put the glass down and winced at the pull on her ribcage. "I hope it cuts off his circulation and his finger falls off."

"I thought vamps didn't have any circula—ah, right. Metaphorical wishful thinking. I knew that." Xander turned away, the sight of Buffy so badly battered bothering him more than the thought that Spike was now invulnerable.

"Why aren't you dead?" Willow blurted out. "I mean, not that you're not… kinda damaged-looking… but he had you tied up. Why didn't he bite you?"

"Because he's batshit crazy? I don't know. He was about to bite me – for real, this was just a taste." She pointed to the long scratch on her neck. "I thought I was about to be dead – I was too tired to try to get loose and I don't know if I could have kept fighting if I did – but I told him he cheated by using the gem and he…." She shook her head. "He jumped up and started yelling and calling me a bitch. Then you guys came and he told me he wasn't done with me and he left."

She dropped her head back and closed her eyes. "I need to get that ring away from him. An unkillable Spike is just…" She shuddered. "I've got to get it away from him."

"We'll do more research!" Willow said. "There's got to be some way to kill him… or at least hurt him."

"I think stuff hurts him, just not for very long. He just shakes it off and heals up, like, immediately. I need to carry a sharp knife. Maybe I'll get a chance to cut his finger off."

"I want you to be careful for a while, Buffy," Giles said. "Don't go up against him again until you've recovered from this battle."

"Battle… warrior… that's it!" All three people stared at her. "That's why Spike didn't kill me. He was telling me— okay, never mind what he was telling me, it was gross and disgusting— but he said he'd never treat me like that because I was a warrior. The best he'd ever fought. So when I told him he used an unfair advantage to beat me…."

"A vampire with a sense of honor?" Xander scoffed and rolled his eyes.

"No," Giles said, picking up on what Buffy had instinctively understood. "Not so much honor as an overwhelming need to prove himself against the best. Don't forget, this is a vampire that has already killed two slayers – one of whom was purportedly quite good and had several years' experience."

Buffy nodded, then winced as it reminded her of how many blows she'd taken. "That's it. He said I deserved a clean death after a fair fight. When I told him it wasn't a fair fight, he got mad, but he stopped trying to kill me."

"So now what?"

"I don't know," Buffy admitted. "I couldn't fight him again right now even if he took the ring off. And why would he do that? If he takes it off, I'll dust him… probably. If he keeps it on, he's always cheating, so he can't kill me." She perked up. "Maybe he'll die from frustration?"

"Not bloody likely," Giles said with a sigh. "We will all have to be extremely careful for a while. We don't know if he might try to lure Buffy into another fight before she's ready by kidnapping or killing one of us."

"Well there's a cheery thought," Xander said. "I foresee a lot of prime time television in my future."

"And a lot of time for homework in mine," Willow agreed.

"As much as I hate to say it, that's probably a good plan, guys. Until I know I'm 100% again, I really don't want to have to rescue anybody."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Spike watched from the roof of a nearby building as Buffy and her watcher followed the two young humans to the car. He had to grin at their obvious fear and haste. You'd think I was chasing them. He frowned when Buffy stumbled, watching closely when she grabbed her rib cage.

"Poor little Slayer," he said. "Met her match this time, didn't she?" Then he remembered that she would have had him several times if not for the ring, and he slammed his fist onto the low wall in front of him, breaking the bricks into powder. The sight of his smooth, undamaged knuckles was a reminder of exactly why he'd been able to inflict so much damage on the Slayer and he hit it again. "Fuck! Got to find a way to kill this slayer without cheating – not any more than is proper in a good fight, anyway," he added as he thought about all the little tricks and moves that he and Buffy used against each other every time they fought.

"I'll come up with something. Not going to take a chance on her staking me, but I am going to find a way to kill her fair and square."

It was several weeks later when he saw Buffy, now clearly recovered from the beating he'd given her, toying with a young vampire as she complained to him about something. He was so enjoying watching her play and quip, he never noticed the men sneaking up on him until the net went over his head. He saw Buffy turn her head at his roar, and their eyes met briefly before he was hit with something that sent pain shooting through his body. She set me up! That bitch!

With another roar, he tore the net off and slammed one of his attackers back against a tree. He was immediately hit with several more tasers, all at the same time, and fell to his knees, shuddering with pain and unable to make his muscles respond immediately. He was just recovering when two of the black-clad men approached to pick him up. Buffy's scream of "Watch out! He's not really down!" wasn't quite enough to keep them from being knocked unconscious, but it did alert the remaining men and they backed away, weapons held in front, eyes disbelieving above their masks.

Buffy came running up the hill and got between Spike and the sinister-looking, but still to be protected, humans. She looked back and forth between the men and all their equipment, and Spike, who, while getting to his feet and snarling, was still visibly recovering from the effects of multiple taser hits. Taking her opportunity, she grabbed his hand and pulled on the ring until it slid off his finger and onto her thumb. She frowned as the commandoes approached, holding the net, their intent obvious.

Spike's snarls increased as he began swearing. "You bloody cheatin' … Couldn't take me on your own, could you?"

"What?" Buffy stared at him, genuinely confused. "You think I…?" She stared from the furious vampire to the commandoes preparing to throw another net over him. Something about the idea of netting vampires rather than dusting them sent her slayer alarms blaring.

"What are you guys doing?" She frowned at them. "We don't catch vamps here in Sunnydale, we stake them"

"Out of the way, blondie," one of the men growled. "This is our vamp. We owe him"

Buffy glared, his dismissive words and the implied threat to Spike helping her make a quick decision. Putting one hand behind her back, she gestured to Spike to come closer. When she felt his presence sending her senses off as he moved uncomfortably close, she turned her head just far enough to keep her lips invisible to the soldiers lining up in front of her.

"Run!" she hissed. "Get out of here. I'll stall them."

With no time to argue, and no Gem of Amara to help him resist, Spike turned and sped for the nearby woods at a speed no human could hope to match. Buffy faced the men who now seemed intent on taking their anger out on her. She kept her thumb tucked into her fist and hoped she wouldn't have to hit anybody before she got the ring someplace safe.

The tallest of the commandoes hesitated, saying, "Buffy? Is that you?"

"Riley?"

"Stand down, men," he said. The small squad grumbled, but halted their tentative approach to Buffy. "What are you doing here? And how did you know he wasn't unconscious? He should have been down for the count." Riley pulled off his black mask and frowned at her.

"Heh. Well, that's the funny thing about Spike – you never know what he's going to do next."

"Spike? It has a name?"

Buffy shrugged. "That's what he calls himself. He's really William the Bloody." She waited, but there was no reaction from the men other than puzzled frowns. She cocked her head. "So… I'm guessing you don't really know much about vamps and demons?"

"I know that as many hits as that one took, he shouldn't have been able to move for hours. We need to get him for—I mean, he'd be an interesting subject— You know what? It doesn't matter. We'll find him again and we'll be ready for him next time."

"Next time he might be easier," Buffy said, keeping her fist clenched around the ring. "But I'd rather you left Spike to me. He's mine. I owe him."

There were chuckles from the men and a cough from Riley. "Buffy, I'm just… well, honestly, I'm kind of flabbergasted at your courage. And really, really confused about what you're doing out here by yourself at night… But, whatever it is, you need to leave the vamp hunting to us. We're equipped for it, you're not."

In response, Buffy lifted one of the still-unconscious men off the ground and tossed him at Riley, snickering to herself when he staggered under the weight.

"What are you?" She couldn't tell which of the men the question had come from, but directed her answer at Riley.

"I'm the Slayer. Couldn't you figure that out?" She was greeted with more blank stares. "Slayer, the. Look it up. And leave Spike alone. I'll take care of him."

She waved her hand and walked off. Her eyes narrowed as she passed by the woods and felt the unmistakable tingles on her neck. She stopped and pulled out her stake, waiting to see if the lurking vampire would be as stupid as the commandoes, but the signature faded away. "Smart decision," she muttered, tucking the stake away and jogging toward her dorm.

Chapter Two

"So, Giles, that's what happened. Turned out great for me, but I'd sure like to know more about those ninja-soldier guys. They were definitely after vamps, and they must have some experience because they all knew Spike shouldn't have been able to shake off their tasers like he did." She chewed her lip for a few seconds. "I guess that explains the lack of slayees lately. If these guys are out there collecting vamps and demons…"

"Did you say you know one of them?"

"Oh, yeah, Riley. He's the TA in our Psych class. Except, I guess he's not really…."

"How well do you know him?"

"Not as well as I thought I did," she said with a grimace. "Of course, I guess he could say that about me too." She sighed. "I think we were sort of, kinda, beginning to date? Probably not an option, now that I've thrown one of his men at him…."

Giles nodded and sat back to ponder this new information. His relief at hearing that Buffy now had the Gem of Amara was obvious.

"What are your plans for that ring?" he asked, watching her twirl it around on her thumb. "Does it have a similar affect on you? Or have you not had an opportunity to find out?"

"Oh, wouldn't that be cool!" Her excitement faded. "But didn't the books all say it was made just for vampires? They don't even say that it's useful for other kinds of demons. Why would it work on the thing meant to kill them? It's not like I've got a demon in me."

"Quite true. Ah well, it was just a thought. It would have been nice to be able to send you out knowing you could not be harmed in any way." He got up and went to his desk, rummaging around until he came up with a substantial-looking silver chain. "I'd suggest, until you decide what to do with it or where to hide it, that you conceal it about your person. It slides off your thumb too easily to suit me."

Buffy took the chain and watched it sparkle in the light. "Oooh, shiny!" she said as she slid the ring onto it and dropped it over her head. She tucked the chain and ring inside her shirt and brushed her hands together. "There we go. All safe and sound and touching Buffy."

"May I try something?" Giles asked, holding out a slender knife. "Just so we know for sure?"

Buffy frowned from him to the knife and back again. "You're going to stab me and see if I die? Not seeing the benefits here, Giles."

"Of course not! But if we make a small cut on your arm, we can see right away if it closes up more quickly than normal."

"Yeah, okay…" She held out her left arm, watching closely and wincing as, with a mumbled apology, he sliced a shallow, two-inch gash down the inside of her forearm. They both watched with mingled disbelief and joy as it began to close up almost immediately. They watched for several minutes until it had completely healed, leaving no trace of the cut, not even a scar.

"Huh! That's pretty awesome. I don't think it took Spike that long to heal, though. He just pulled the stake out and presto, he was all better."

"May I try it again?"

"Yeah, okay, I guess. But it's not like it didn't hurt, you know," Buffy said dubiously. "It just got better faster than normal."

"I'm sorry, but before I allow you to leave here thinking you've become as invulnerable as Spike was, we need to be sure that it's working the same way on you."

"Giles, the only way to know that for sure is to try to kill me. Not really interested in testing that part of it."

"I just want to try a deeper wound – not a fatal one, but one that could be incapacitating perhaps..."

"No!" Buffy snatched her arm back. "Are you crazy?" She glared at him, shaking him out of the research fog into which he'd been led. He looked horrified and began to stammer an apology.

"I am terribly sorry, Buffy. I... I'm afraid my curiosity about the qualities of the gem made me forget... I am sorry. It was unforgiveable of me, but I beg your forgiveness in spite of that. Of course it is unacceptable that we test this any further. We know it seems to provide some assistance with healing. That will have to do."

"Damn right it will," she muttered. "Cheer up, Giles. My job being what it is, I'm pretty sure I'll get a chance to test it again. Probably sooner rather than later if I run into Spike again."

There was a loud pounding on the door, followed by "Come out of there, Slayer. I know you're in there!"

"Speak of the devil…."

Buffy walked to the door and threw it open. From the corner of her eye, she could see Giles loading his crossbow.

"Shut up, Spike! You're going to bother the neighbors!"

"Give my ring back, Slayer. I need it." He glanced over his shoulder nervously. "And let me in. I think they're chasing me."

"Who's chasing you? And fat chance. Finders keepers."

"You didn't find it, you miserable bint. You stole it off my hand."

"And I should give it back to you… why? So you can beat me to a pulp again? I don't think so, Spike. Just be grateful I didn't leave you to those vamp-hunting soldiers."

He appeared nonplussed, but quickly recovered. "Okay, you let me go. So we're even, right? You can give my ring back and I'll go away. You have my word."

"Um…. I can't do that." When he blanched and clutched the doorjamb, saying, "You haven't….?" She quickly shook her head. "No, I didn't destroy it. I probably should, but…" She glanced at Giles, still holding the crossbow pointed at Spike's chest. Her watcher shook his head and she nodded. "But I haven't… yet. But I'm not giving it back to you. You're dangerous enough without it."

He seemed momentarily pleased and began, "You think I'm—" The smile left his face and he threw up his head to listen. "Let me in, Slayer," he begged. "They're getting closer."

"Who's getting closer? You mean the—come in Spike," she said, ignoring Giles's gasp. She grabbed the lapels of Spike's coat and yanked him into the room. She slammed the door behind him, but not so quickly that she didn't see black-clothed men moving into the parking lot and spreading out.

There was tense silence as Spike stood just inside the door facing Giles who was still pointing the crossbow at him. Buffy looked back and forth between them and sighed.

"Okay, you," she pointed at Spike, "stay over here so you don't make Giles nervous. And you," she pointed at Giles, "put that thing down, or at least stop pointing it at Spike."

Glaring at each other with suspicion, the vampire and the watcher slowly obeyed, Spike sinking into a big chair near the door, and Giles lowering the crossbow, but keeping it loaded and cocked. He stood behind his desk and stared at Spike. Buffy put her hands on her hips and stood in front of the nervous vampire.

"All right, Spike, what's going on? What are you doing here?"

"Know somethin' about those ninja wannbes," he said, casting a glance at the curtained windows. "They tried to get me again and I only got away because they didn't know about the gem and some of 'em were still afraid to get near me."

He ignored Giles to speak directly to Buffy. "And I learned a bit more from the demon grapevine today."

"What do you know about them?" Giles demanded.

"Know the Slayer needs to stay as far away as I do," he muttered. "Heard them talking. They think she's some kind of vamp or demon."

"What? That's crazy! Riley knows me. He… he grades my papers! He buys me lunch…"

"I'm telling you what I heard, Slayer. Whoever it is they report to, they think you'll make a nice prezzie for her. Yours truly, too, I guess. They've got no idea why I was able to shake them off the first time, so they want to find out what makes me different from the other vamps they've captured."

"Captured?" Giles looked up sharply. "Not staked?"

Spike shook his head. "If they'd been trying to dust me, they would've just shot me with one of their stake-shooting penis substitutes." He paused to snort at Buffy's disgusted face. "Come on, Slayer. Tell me you weren't thinking the same thing when you saw those big guns." He grinned when she blushed and looked away, sobering when he turned his gaze back to Giles. "There's been rumors in the demon community – family members disappearing, sometimes they find a body with parts missing…." He glanced at Buffy, then back at Giles. "Harmless demons, most of 'em. Know that's not the Slayer's doing."

He glanced at Buffy, almost apologetically. "And a lot of vamps went missing just after the Slayer and I had our little… dust up. I know for a fact she wasn't up to going out slaying after that. Slayer healing, or no slayer healing. So if it wasn't her doing…."

Buffy's groaned. "I don't know why I think I'm ever going to have a normal boyfriend…."

"Buffy, is there an chance this man has been dating you as a way of learning more about you?"

"Gee, thanks, Giles. Just what I needed to boost my self-esteem." She glared at him, then sighed. "I don't think so. They asked me what I was, and when I told them, they all just stared at me like I was speaking Swahili. I told them to go look it up, but it doesn't sound like they did."

"Perhaps they will when they've reported back to wherever they report." He glared across the room. "Although, we have only William the Bloody's word that they are also after you. I'm not sure why you are so quick to trust the demon that was trying to kill you only a few weeks ago."

Spike snorted and shook his head. "Slayer and I have a history, Watcher. I don't lie to her, and I keep my word."

"Well, when they find out who—what I am, then they'll stop wanting to catch me, won't they?"

Giles and Spike made identical scoffing sounds.

"What?" Buffy glared her indignation. "They might. And then they'll know that I'm on their side—" A snarl interrupted her. "Okay, maybe not totally on their side, exactly… but that I'm not a demon, I just slay them."

Spike rolled his eyes, and even Giles looked at her with disbelief.

"I want you to stay away from anyone connected to this quasi-military group until we can learn more about them," he said.

"So, I can't go to class tomorrow? 'Cause Riley will be there."

Giles sighed. "I presume that will be safe enough. But you should probably try to stay in crowds as much as possible until we know more about this group."

"Well, I don't see how we're going to learn about them if I don't get to go where Riley is and talk to him about it."

"I'm simply asking you not to be alone with him until we know if he and his fellow commandoes pose a threat to you."

"Yeah, Slayer. No shaggin' the big lump."

"Shut up, Spike."

He shrugged. "Listen to the Watcher-wanker, Slayer. Those freaks were packing some heavy-duty weapons."

"Freaks?"

Spike looked embarrassed before saying, "Didn't get to study them, exactly, but between hitting those two last time, and fighting my way out tonight, I can tell you that they aren't normal humans any more than you are. Don't have your strength or speed, but they aren't normal. You be careful, Slayer."

"Okay, thanks," Buffy mumbled. "You too, Spike."

Giles rubbed his forehead. "Have I missed something? Are you two sworn enemies or not?"

Buffy and Spike exchanged looks.

"Well, we…."

"Wouldn't' be the first time the Slayer and I have called a truce," Spiked said.

"Is that what we're doing? Calling another truce?"

"I'm willin' if you are. Seems like if they want both of us, we might have common cause again, yeah?"

"Is anyone interested in my opinion?" Giles said, giving Buffy a pointed look.

"No." Spike returned Giles's glare with a hard stare of his own. "It's the Slayer's decision."

"It's okay, Giles. Spike keeps his word. If he says we have a truce, we have a truce."

He frowned at the two natural enemies in front of him. "Why do I have the feeling there is more going on here than I am aware of?"

"'Cause there is." Spike stood up and looked around. "Do you have a basement? Or a guest room?"

"I beg your pardon?"

Buffy flinched, both at the similarity between Giles' speech and Spike's use of the same phrase, and at the shock in her Watcher's voice.

"I think what Spike means is, we're both stuck here until we know the commandoes are gone. I'd like to get a couple of hours sleep before I have to go to class and pretend I don't know my boyfriend is planning to capture me and… do whatever it is they do."

"And I can't go back out until it's dark again," Spike said cheerfully. "Unless you keep a lot of sunblock in your medicine cabinet."

"I can lend you a brolly," Giles said. "There is no way you are remaining here if Buffy isn't present."

"You don't trust me. I'm hurt, Watcher." Spike grinned as he clutched his chest.

"Don't bait the nice man who's letting you stay in his house, Spike," Buffy said, cuffing the vampire on the side of his head with no real intent to harm.

"Spoil sport," he muttered. "If I can't eat him, at least I can annoy him. It's only fair, Slayer."

"Act your age," she said, laughing when he began to crouch over and pretend to be using a walker. Giles just stared at them, too bewildered to speak. His slayer and the vampire that had sworn to kill her, and had almost succeeded, were laughing at each other like old friends.

"Buffy, I really don't think..."

"It's okay, Giles. Go to bed. I'll watch Spike for a while and I'll tie him up before I go to sleep." She ignored Spike's sputtered snarls, waving Giles toward the stairs.

"You're not tying me to anything," Spike said when Giles had reluctantly left the room. "Unless it's to your bed?" His expression brightened considerably. "Was that what you were thinking?"

"Ewwww, Spike! And no." Her blush spread from her hairline down into as far as he could see of her chest.

"Was just a thought," he said with a shrug. "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it."

Buffy shook her head and walked over to the couch, sitting down and patting the cushions. "Let's compare notes on these guys and see what we know, 'k?"

He sprawled out at the other end, putting his feet up on the coffee table and leaning back. "Tell me what you've got, luv."

"You first!"

"Bloody hell, Slayer. Can't you let me win anything, even a 'who goes first' conversation?"

"If I remember right – which it's possible I don't on account of getting whacked in the head so many times – you did win the last time we had a serious... argument."

"I'm sorr—Fuck!" He glared at her. "We weren't arguin' then, I was flat out trying to kill you. And now you've got me almost apologizing for any damage I did." He fixed his eyes on her, and she watched with mild trepidation as they flashed between a pretty blue and a fiery amber. He was taking quick, unnecessary breaths as he visibly tried to control himself.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she snapped back. "I didn't mean to remind you that you used an unfair advantage to beat me to a pulp. Think nothing of it." She waved her hand in the air and met his eyes glare for glare. "Occupational hazard."

"It is a soddin' occupational hazard, you stupid bint! You're a slayer! I'm a vampire. We're supposed to try to kill each other."

"In a fair fight! You cheated!"

They had moved closer together as their tempers escalated and finished only inches apart, both breathing hard and eyes locked in glares that would have sent anyone else into a quick retreat. Buffy was just wondering if she should reach for her stake when Spike's expression softened and he said, "By God you're beautiful when you're brassed off. Already knew that, of course, but I'd forgotten what it's like to see it up close like this."

Speechless, Buffy could only stutter "wha? huh?" as she drew back from him. She suddenly remembered what he'd felt like when he had her pinned down, and what he'd said she did to him. She shoved herself farther away and blushed furiously. Trying to pretend she hadn't heard him or seen the way his face had softened, she coughed and said, "Okay. I don't know much of anything, except that the guy who was in charge last night is the TA in my psych class."

"And that he's dating you." Spike's voice was oddly harsh as he repeated what Giles had said.

"Well... yeah, kinda. I mean we're not... but I thought we might be..." She sighed. "Pretty sure he's not dating me now that I've tossed one of his big buddies at him. Guys tend not to take that kind of thing well."

"Some blokes wouldn't mind. Must be an insecure git if he'd let that keep him from—" Spike stopped himself, his expression more frightened than Buffy had ever seen it. His eyes darted around the room, seeking something else to talk about, while Buffy stared at him and tried to tell herself she was misunderstanding his last few remarks. When Spike remained tongue-tied, she tried to summon up her own change of subject.

"You know, now that I think about it, everybody in Riley's frat house is big, strong, and has a military haircut. I can't believe I never noticed that before. These guys have been right under my nose all the time!"

"Have you been in that house?" Spike was more than happy to talk about something else besides how pretty Buffy was and how grateful Riley should be for her company. "Is there anyplace they could be keeping demons or vamps?"

Buffy shook her head. "I don't think so. Of course, I've only been in there for parties and stuff. It's a big place... but I would've felt it if they had vampires. My slayer senses would have gone crazy." She slumped back against the couch back. "So much for that idea."

Spike shrugged. "Still, you're probably right about where they live. Makes sense they'd all be in the same building... I wonder what's underneath it?"

"Underneath it?"

"Yeah. When I was looking for my Gem..." he glared at her briefly... "I had plans showing all the tunnels and whatnot under Sunnydale. There's practically a whole other city down there. Plenty of room to store vampires and demons where nobody'd find them."

"Do you still have all that stuff?"

"Should have. Would be back in my hide-out. We can go look tomorrow – tonight."

"Sounds like a plan..." Buffy yawned several times in succession. "Please tell me it isn't already tomorrow."

"Fraid so, luv. You need to get to bed if you're going to get any sleep at all."

"I told Giles I'd watch you." She glared at him as if he was directly responsible for her lack of sleep.

"You know you can trust me, Slayer. Go to sleep. You've got my word I won't go anywhere. Came here for help, didn't I? Be bloody stupid of me to go back out there until I think it's safe."

"I'm not worried about where you go – I'm thinking more about waking up and finding Giles growing fangs or something."

"Not worried about yourself? Is there a reason for that?" he asked, giving her a shrewd once-over.

Buffy met his suspicious eyes, then looked away. "No, of course not. Except that you don't have the gem anymore and I can kick your ass." She could feel his intent gaze on her, as she squirmed around and pretended to be making herself more comfortable. "I'll just catch a nap here, where I can keep an eye on you, and—"

"You wouldn't lie to me, would you, Slayer? You wouldn't be planning to keep that gem for yourself, would you? Thinking maybe it would work on something supernaturally good just as well as it does on supernaturally evil creatures?"

Buffy tried to meet his eyes without flinching, but couldn't. With a sigh, she sat up again and glared at him. "Fine. It kinda works for me too," she said. "Is that what you wanted to hear? I don't know if I can't be killed, but you can't hurt me like you did then."

"Bloody, buggering fuck!" His eyes were flashing amber and Buffy forced her tired body to sit up straighter. "You lying bitch..." He went off onto a lengthy vulgar and profane bout of cursing, most of which Buffy didn't even understand.

When he finally ran down, and stopped, glowering at her and panting, she said, "Look, Spike, it doesn't matter. I wouldn't give it back to you anyway. I'm the Slayer, for cripe's sake. I'm supposed to be making you dusty, not providing you with a way to be unslayable."

"Then why don't you just do it now?" he said, holding open his coat and exposing his tee-shirt covered chest. "Put me out of our misery." He waited, posing dramatically until he realized she wasn't going to move. Instead of staking him, she yawned again. "Didn't really mean that," he mumbled, closing his coat with an embarrassed sigh.

"I knew you didn't." Her lips twitched. "You are such a drama queen."

"Hey!" His indignation ended quickly as he shook his head and gave her an abashed smile. "Was a bit over the top, wasn't it?"

"Ya think?" She sighed. "Seriously, Spike. I really need to get some sleep. What am I going to do with you?"

"Forget about me, luv. I won't try to kill you, or your wanker of a watcher. You've got my word. Just get your beauty sleep. I'll wake you if I think there's a need."

"You're going to keep watch?"

He looked embarrassed. "Well, seems like somebody should – just in case those soldier boys decide to bust in here or something."

Buffy studied him, her head tilted to one side. "You are one very strange vampire, Spike."

He gave what could only have been called a shy smile, which quickly morphed into his usual cocky smirk. "Not like anyone else you've ever met, Slayer. I can guarantee you that."

She nodded, slipping down into her corner of the couch. "You can say that again. Good night, Spike." As her eyes drifted shut, she said, "And don't think you can find the gem without waking me up."

"Thought never crossed my mind, luv," he said, his disappointed tone putting the lie to his words. He studied her for a few seconds, trying to see if she was wearing the ring or if it was in a pocket, but he saw no sign of it. He sighed as she squirmed around, trying to get comfortable without touching him. He reached for her feet and pulled them onto the cushion he was sitting on, standing up and saying, "Stretch out, pet. I can sit in the chair."

"Very strange vampire," she sighed gratefully. She rolled onto her side and slid one hand under her shirt to stick her thumb though the ring. Just in case...

CHAPTER THREE

Buffy woke up to find herself covered by a lightweight blanket and Spike sprawled in the chair, eyeing the approaching sun with apprehension. She stood up and stretched, blushing at the way he was running his eyes over her body.

"Stop perving on me and come over here," she ordered. "You can sleep where I was and the sun won't reach you." She waited while he obediently approached the couch and stretched out upon it, smiling up at her as he put his arms behind his head. Trying to ignore the bulging biceps and flat stomach his tight tee-shirt was showing off, she tossed the blanket at him. "Promise me you won't do anything to make Giles stake you before I get back," she said.

"Don't think that's likely to happen, luv. Do you?" The look he gave her was cold and calculating, with no trace of humor.

She shook her head. "If you're asking me can you beat him in a fight, of course you can. But Giles has... hidden depths. And he's an experienced Watcher."

"And a brave man," he said, nodding as he remembered watching Giles come after Angelus with only a torch and a stake. "You're right. He could get lucky. I'll be on my best behavior."

"Probably do you more good to be on somebody else's best behavior. I'm not sure yours would qualify..."

"You'd be surprised, Slayer. I'll have to show you someday, how good I can be." He gave her a lascivious grin, curling his tongue up to the roof of his mouth.

Before she had stopped glaring and blushing, he winked at her and rolled over, putting the blanket over his head and going completely still. Mentally scolding herself for letting him get to her, she left the apartment and jogged toward campus.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Giles came down several hours later, running a quick eye over the shape under the blanket before going into the kitchen. Spike's coat was still draped over the chair he'd sat in, and the body under the blanket was too long to belong to Buffy and the scuffed boots sticking out were something that even Giles knew she wouldn't be caught dead in. Bad choice of metaphor there, Rupert.

As the morning wore on, Giles became so accustomed to the still figure in his living room, that he eventually dropped his wariness and stopped reaching for a cross or holy water every time there was a sound. It wasn't until well after noon that Spike stirred, throwing off the blanket and stretching before sitting up.

"Don't suppose you keep blood in your fridge," he greeted the other man. "Could do with a spot of breakfast."

"I do not," Giles replied. "I am unaccustomed to hosting guests with such unusual nutrition requirements."

"Ah well, then. I'll just have whatever you're havin'." Spike walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, taking out a piece of raw meat and beginning to tear into it. "This will do nicely," he growled around his fangs, ignoring Giles' horrified stare.

"That piece of very expensive steak was meant to be my evening meal!" Giles finally recovered enough to say.

"It's loaded with fat. Bad for your arteries," Spike smirked, licking his lips and fingers until there was no trace of blood. "I did you a favor. You can thank me later." He strolled past the vigorously cursing man and threw himself back down on the couch, grabbing the TV remote as he did so. "I hope I haven't missed Passions. I think Timmy is still down the well..."

"Remind me to have Buffy stake you when she returns," Giles muttered.

"Hey! She made me promise not to do anything that would make you try to stake me. Really not cricket to be throwing it back on the Slayer, is it?"

"I feel certain she will forgive me," Giles said, sitting behind his desk and fingering the crossbow resting on it. "Given the provocation..."

"I ate a piece of meat," Spike scoffed. "Instead of sampling some of the, no doubt tasteless, blood flowing so visibly through your veins. Your face is really an appetizing shade of red just now..." Spike looked wistful for a moment, causing Giles to blanch and hold up the large cross in his other hand. "Oh relax, old man. Promised the Slayer, didn't I? That steak will hold me until I get a chance to have the real thing."

"You don't seriously expect Buffy to send you out to dine on the population of Sunnydale, do you?"

Spike sighed. "I s'pose not. Being the goody-two-shoes Slayer that she is. I'll probably have to bag it until we sort this out."

Choosing to ignore Spike's willingness to drink bagged blood, as not being within the realm of possibility, Giles instead tried to get clarification of the second part of the vampire's remark.

"Until you sort what out?"

Spike looked surprised. "Until we sort out how to discourage the demon-hunting soldiers from thinking that the Slayer should be on their list, of course. Or were you just planning to hope they'd forget about her?"

It was Giles's turn to look surprised. "What do you care what happens to Buffy? I'd think you'd be on your way out of town as soon as it gets dark."

Spike coughed and shifted his eyes around the room before admitting, "Kind of promised one of my mates I'd look for his brother. Plus, Slayer and I have a truce now – common enemy and all that. Wouldn't leave her here to take them on all by herself." He looked offended for a moment, then realized the Watcher was staring at him with eyes that were much too perceptive. "Bloody bitch is mine to kill," he said quickly. "Where's the glory in runnin' off and leaving her to fight men with guns?"

"You are a very strange vampire," Giles said, shaking his head. "So very different from An—"

A guttural snarl interrupted him. "If you are about to compare me to my wanker of a grandsire, I will rip your throat out and square it with the Slayer later."

"Point taken," Giles said with a sigh. "I didn't mean of be offensive."

"Never do that again," Spike said, his voice cold and his expression more frightening than the snarl. "I am not like him and I never will be... with or without his soul." Giles studied the vampire's face for a moment, then nodded at what he saw there. "My apologies," he said. Without further comment, he reached for a tablet and pen. "While we await Buffy's return, would you object to clearing up some discrepancies in the Watcher's Diaries?"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Buffy left campus, dressed for the evening's planned excursion to Spike's former hide-out. "Wherever that is," she muttered, turning into the butcher's at the last second. She was soon on her way again, a bag of fresh pig blood in her hand. She entered the apartment and handed the bag to Spike without comment, her expression daring him to say anything. Giving her a small smile, he took the bag into the kitchen and began searching the cabinets.

"To your right," Giles said, earning a nod from Spike and a startled "whoa!" from Buffy.

"I kinda thought I'd find you guys trying to kill each other," she said, glancing from Giles to Spike and back.

"We got over it," Spike said without looking up from the microwave's dials. Buffy looked at Giles, who nodded in agreement.

"It's been a rather productive afternoon," he said, patting the tablet that was now covered with notes. "Even allowing for some exaggeration and... some omission .." Giles gave a growling Spike an "oh please" before continuing. "Even allowing for those things, Spike has been very helpful about filling in missing data in the Council's accounts."

"Huh!" Buffy sat down and shook her head. "Who knew?" She waited for Spike to come back and sit at the other end of the couch, sipping his mug of pig's blood and making a face. "Would you rather have gone hungry?" she snapped when he visibly forced himself to drink the warm animal blood.

"Sorry, luv," he said, shocking her into silence. "Don't mean to appear ungrateful. It's just..." He sighed. "Thank you, Slayer. You took your time and spent your money to buy me something to eat, and I'm being a wanker about it."

"Okaaaay. Who are you and what have you done with Spike?"

A muffled growl was the only reply as he tilted the mug up and drained it. Buffy walked to the window and peered out from behind the shade. It had become dark enough that it would be safe for Spike to go out, but was still light enough for Buffy to see that the parking area held no armed men looking for vampires and demons.

"Let's go, Spike. If we find those maps soon enough, we might have time to go looking for whatever it is we're looking for..."

Giles stood and followed Spike to the door. While the vampire shrugged into his coat, Giles asked Buffy, "What are your plans?"

"Well, if Spike's right and he's got maps of underground Sunnydale, I'm hoping we can find where these guys might be hiding the vamps and demons they're catching. If we can do that, we'll be able to get a better idea of who they are and why they're here. That's the plan, anyway."

"Just so the plan doesn't include your own capture," Giles said with a sigh. "Speaking of which, how did your classes go today?"

Buffy shrugged. "Pretty much like usual, if usual meant Riley or one of his 'fraternity brothers' was always hanging around watching me. It got so I thought they were going to follow me into the ladies room at lunch time." She frowned. "Funny thing was, none of them talked to me. They just were always in the same places. Even Riley only said 'hi' and then went to stand by Professor Walsh. I'd swear they were talking about me, but that would be crazy..."

"Well, be careful and report back to me if it isn't terribly late."

"'k, let's go, Spike."

Giles frowned as Buffy and the vampire who'd already killed two slayers walked off like old friends.

"So, where is this 'hide-out' and why didn't I find it?"

"Didn't know to be looking for it, did you? You thought I'd scampered off like a good little vampire when you threatened me at that party. Didn't do it. Went looking for my gem instead. And found it."

"Stop calling it yours. It was never 'yours', it was something really old that you found. And now it's mine."

"I spent weeks looking for that ring!" he growled. "Putting up with incompetent minions, Harm's mouth—"

"Speaking of Harmony, where is she? Is she going to be looking for you?"

"Doubt it," he said without explanation.

"Oh." Buffy remembered Willow telling her about finding Harmony crying in the crypt full of jewelry. "That's right, you staked her. " She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes. "There are easier ways to break up, you know."

"Easier than making the ex go 'poof'? Kinda doubt it, Slayer. Anyway, she had the ring on. Didn't dust. I was so happy to have it I didn't bother to try again. Pretty sure I'm not on her list of exes she's anxious to see though."

"Yeah, I can see where that would be a real relationship killer."

"That wasn't a relationship," he growled.

"No? What was it then? She called you her boyfriend."

"She also thinks unicorns are real," Spike said.

"Point."

"Too bloody right. If those ninja wankers snatched up Harm, I can just about guarantee after an hour of her incessant prattling, they'd either cut her loose or dust her." They walked in silence for a few minutes, Buffy trying to decide if Spike was really as unfeeling as he seemed. After a few minutes he nudged her arm. "You're thinkin' I'm the poorest excuse for a man as you've seen since that wanker that dumped you, aren't you?"

Buffy winced at the reminder about Parker. She'd forgotten that Spike had witnessed her humiliation that day. "Pretty much, yeah," she admitted. "You're both pond scum."

"Admit it, luv. I had a lot more reason to want to be rid of my 'ex' than he did. He had you. All I had was... Harmony."

Buffy frowned, trying to decide if she'd just been paid some sort of compliment. While she was thinking, Spike spoke again.

"How did you know I tried to stake Harm?"

"Oh, Giles and Xander and Willow were right behind you. I guess they must have found your hideout... Anyway, when they got there she was crying and saying what a jerk you were. That's why they looked so frantic when they came to rescue me. Giles figured out you had found the Gem."

"The watcher didn't stake her?"

Buffy looked away and cleared her throat. "Well, no. I mean – it was Harmony. I guess he just figured she's so stupid she'll walk into the sun or something." She looked at him from the corner of her eye. "She was crying and looking for sympathy. It would have been like... like..."

"Shootin' fish in barrel?" She could hear the grin in his voice. "Takin' candy from a baby?"

"Something like that, yeah." She sighed. "I told him I'd do it later, when I... felt better... But I haven't done it yet. I guess that makes me a bad slayer, huh?"

"'Bout as bad a slayer as letting you go when I had my fangs on you makes me a miserable excuse for a vampire," he agreed. "Bad as we are at our jobs, it's a wonder anybody's afraid of us." He bumped her with his shoulder. "Isn't that right, Slayer?"

Buffy laughed and pushed him off. "Speak for yourself, William."

"Here we are, pet." He gestured for her to go ahead of him into the side of the hill.

"Hey? Isn't this...?"

"Yeah. Is. Quickest safe way I know to get back to my lair. We'll just drop down into the tunnel and follow it back to the cave."

True to his word, and ignoring the piles of treasure around them, Spike dropped down through the ceiling of the tunnel and began walking back toward Sunnydale, Buffy hastened behind him, her own eyes unable to see in the now perfect darkness. When she tripped and stumbled into him, he whirled and growled at her before realizing what was wrong. "Sorry, Slayer. I forgot you can't see like I can. Here, give me your hand."

Without waiting to see what she would say, he took her hand and pulled her close to his back, putting her hands on his waist. "Just hang on and stay right behind me," he said, setting off at a somewhat slower pace to accommodate her shorter legs. Through the soft leather of his coat, Buffy could feel his muscles flexing and releasing as he turned from time to time to scent the air and be sure they were heading the right way. When they noticed the dim glow ahead, he stopped and she bumped into his back.

"If you wanted to get closer, pet, all you had to do was say so," he whispered over his shoulder.

"In your dreams... Why did you stop?" In spite of her question, she kept her voice just as low as his, trusting he had a good reason for being quiet.

"Lights ahead," he said, "and thought I heard voices."

"Oh." Buffy peered around him, seeing the glow some distance away. "Is that your... lair?"

"Should be. Best let me go ahead and see what's what," he whispered. "If there are vamps there, they'll hear your heartbeat before you get close enough to do any damage."

"I don't care if they know I'm coming. And I'm not staying here by myself." Buffy renewed her grip on his sides. "Let's go."

Spike's only response was a sigh as he began moving forward. They made it all the way to the hole leading into the lair before any of the vampires in there noticed them.

"Blondie Bear!" Harmony's piercing shriek had even Buffy holding her ears.

"I thought you said you were done with him," a big vampire in a letter jacket growled, glaring at Spike. "Oh. Look he brought his own blonde. Good thing," he sneered as Buffy stepped out from behind Spike.

"Buffy? What are you doing with Spike? You can't come in here. It's my lair. No slayers allowed."

Buffy rolled her eyes and muttered to Spike, "You dated her for how long?"

"Too long," he said. "But in my defense, I'm not used to being alone and she's got one hell of a— Right. Not anything you need to know, I guess."

While Spike and Buffy held their short conversation, Harmony and her minions stared at them. The big one said, "Should we get them now, mistress?"

Harmony turned to gape at him. "You moron. That's Spike. My ex. He'll tear you apart now that he's seen you with me. He's terribly jealous." She preened and smiled at Spike. "I'm not really dating any of them. I just let them think I would so I could have minions. You shouldn't hurt them."

Buffy gawked at Harmony. "Minions? You have minions?" She rolled her eyes at Spike. "Crap. I am a bad slayer."

He snorted in amusement at her momentary dismay. "I'm as amazed as you are, Slayer."

"Buffy, what are you doing here?" Harmony remembered that Spike hadn't come alone and she turned her gaze back to Buffy. "And why hasn't Spike killed you? He said he was going to."

"You said that, did you?" Buffy smirked at Spike.

"You can't believe anything that stupid bint says, Slayer." Spike shuffled his feet and managed to appear ashamed and furious at the same time. "And anyway, we didn't have a truce then."

Trying to regain control of the situation, Harmony looked Buffy up and down and sniffed. "You're in college now, Buffy. Shouldn't you be learning to dress better? I mean, that sweatshirt! And those jeans are so last year."

"Hey! These are my favorite slaying pants I'll have you know!"

"I'm sure there's nothing that says you can't be fashionable while you slay," Harmony said with what she thought was great patience. "But that never was your thing, was it? And by the way, what are you doing with my boyfriend?"

Buffy glanced at Spike. "You don't mind if I stake her, do you?"

He shook his head. "Knock yourself out, luv. Bint means nothing to me."

Harmony gasped, but began to move behind her minions who had decided to take things into their own hands and charge Spike and Buffy. While Spike toyed with the jock-minion, Buffy twirled, punched and kicked her way through the other three, leaving piles of dust on the floor. Harmony, who, in spite of knowing who and what Buffy was had never seen her in action, turned even paler. When Buffy turned to watch Spike dancing around the over-matched minion, Harmony ran out of the cave entrance and into the welcoming night vowing never to criticize Buffy's clothing ever again.

CHAPTER FOUR

"Come on, Spike. Stop playing around." Buffy was sitting on a table, swinging her legs and twirling her stake impatiently. Before the startled minion could register what she'd said, his dust had joined the others on the floor and Spike hopped up on the table beside Buffy.

"Bloke's got to have some fun, Slayer. Can't fight you now, gotta get my share of violence in somehow."

"You can fight me any time you want," Buffy said as she dropped off the table into a ready stance. "I owe you a few broken bones."

"Are you ever going to shut up about that? Bloody hell, woman! You dropped a church organ on me and put me in a wheelchair for months. Don't hear me whinging about it every time I see you." He stepped off the table to face her.

"That was different!"

"How was it different?" They were standing nose to nose, tempers rising again.

"Well, for one, I didn't have any cheater Gem of Amara, so it was an even fight. And secondly... secondly... You're... you're evil. You deserved it!" She grinned triumphantly at him, and he broke into a reluctant smile.

"Can't argue with that, I guess," he said, remaining in front of her until she blushed and moved away. Shaking himself, he began to wander around the large cave. "The maps were on the table, but that was weeks ago. Hard to tell what that airhead has done with them."

In spite of his words, he had only looked through one set of drawers and knocked the unicorns off one set of bookshelves before he found the rolled up maps stuffed onto another shelf along with the reference books he'd stolen from the library.

"Ah, here we are. Surprised she didn't burn all the things taking up precious unicorn space," he muttered, pulling them out. He began to spread them out on the table, using the heavy books to hold down the corners. He grinned when Buffy noticed the stains on the table and wrinkled her nose.

"Is that... Ewwww!"

"Don't be so dainty. It's not like you don't shed something's blood every night."

"That's different! It's evil blood... and usually a weird color and stinky," she added as if that settled it.

"Tomato, tomahto, Slayer. I'm guessing the families of those demons would see you as the evil one."

"Well, they'd be wrong," she said, somewhat uncertainly now that she'd heard his comments about harmless demons being killed by the commandoes. "Wouldn't they?"

He glanced up at her puzzled face and stepped away from the table to stand in front of her. "They would," he said with surprising conviction. "Don't ever think different. If you want to know what demons you could give a miss, you ask me and I'll teach you which ones are harmless to humans. Anything else, you get them before they get you."

Buffy blinked at his earnest expression, watching him realize what he'd said and try to recover his big bad image. He straightened up and turned away from her gaze. "Not that I give a bloody fuck what happens to you, mind, but came all this way to kill you myself. Don't really fancy knowing some over-eager demon is gonna steal my glory while we're all truce-having and what not."

He kept his back to her as he returned to the table and began tracing lines on the maps. Buffy stared at him in silence, not sure what to do with this Spike who could go from crude, cold-hearted and evil to gentle and concerned and back again within only a few seconds. "Will the real William the Bloody please stand up," she murmured to herself, blushing when he looked up and winked at her.

"You weren't supposed to hear that."

"Vampire, pet. You don't want me to hear it, don't say it. Now, come over here and let me show what we've got."

Somewhat reluctantly, she moved to his side and looked down at the maps. Spike put his finger a spot marked with an "x". "We're here, Slayer, and this," he moved his finger, "is where we came from. Doesn't go anywhere but to the treasure. But, if we were to go off in this direction, we'd be heading for the campus of Sunnydale U – where it looks like there's a pretty big space. That's where I'd look first, being as your soldier boys are all busy pretending to be college students. There are dozens of tunnels, some old, some new, but that's the only place I see with what looks like a lot of open space. It's one of the newer maps, too, so not some old leftover from when old Batface ruled down here."

Buffy snickered at his description of the Master, earning a smile from the vampire. "Never did congratulate you on that, did I?"

"Wasn't he, like, your great, great, something or other? Shouldn't that make you mad? That I killed him, I mean."

"Hell no! Couldn't stand the old bugger, and he couldn't stand me. Only tolerated me cause I came with Dru. Liked having the girls around, he did."

Buffy shuddered. "He was so... ugly... I can't imagine even a vampire..." She shuddered again. "Ugh."

Spike's chuckle sounded right in her ear, and she jumped with a little "eep!"

"Not all vamps are as good lookin' as I am, Slayer. And most of them don't care as much about beauty as I do," he said, nuzzling her neck and inhaling deeply. He frowned when she flinched away and put a defensive hand to her throat. "Wasn't going to bite you, Slayer."

She tried to ignore the disappointment on his face. "Well what were you doing then?"

"Nothing, I guess. Sorry. Forgot myself there for a second."

Buffy stared at him, trying to figure why he seemed so mad about what seemed to her to be a perfectly logical reaction to finding his mouth near her throat. "Le... let's go," she said, moving toward the tunnel he'd pointed at earlier. Without speaking, he took one of the torches off the wall and strode off down the dark tunnel, leaving Buffy to hurry after him. After they'd been walking briskly for several minutes, he slowed and dropped back to walk beside her.

"You smell good."

"Huh?"

"You smell good. That's why I had my face on your neck. Wasn't tryin' to bite you."

"Oh... I smell good in a 'I vant to drink your blood' kinda way or ...?"

"You smell good in a womanly kind of way. And yeah, I'm a vampire, so your blood is part of that, but not what I was thinking about."

Suddenly very sure she didn't want to know what he had been thinking about, Buffy didn't respond except to say, "'K", but she relaxed and walked beside him easily. When the silence began to be uncomfortable again, she asked, "If you hate Harmony so much, why were you dating her? She can't be the only female vamp in Sunnydale."

"Aren't that many," he said. "Met her the first night I got back and..."

"And...? Or is this going to be something piggy that Xander might appreciate more than I would?"

He laughed. "Yeah, suppose it would be. Let's just say I'm not used to being alone, yeah? Always had a woman in my life, and Harm's right pretty. Took me a while to figure out she really is as dumb as she seems, and that she never stops talking unless you put something in her mou—" He didn't quite stop himself in time to keep Buffy from rolling her eyes and moving slightly away from him. She heard him sigh as he shook his head. "Sorry, Slayer. Not helpin' my case much am I? Don't know what to tell you. Stayed with Dru for well over a hundred years, loved her and took care of her through everything, and she left me anyway. Told me I wasn't demon enough for her and that I—"

"So 'cause Dru did you wrong, you think that makes it okay to be mean to other women?"

"You're right, pet. I'm a wanker." He threw up his hands in defeat.

"Well, in your defense, Harmony is a shallow, catty bitch... and evil." She sighed. "I guess I should cut you some slack."

He huffed a laugh. "Remind me never to question your wardrobe."

"That isn't about— okay, maybe a little bit." She looked down at herself. "Do I look that bad? These are slaying clothes – black, so blood doesn't show and I blend, stretchy pants for kicking, awesome boots – also for kicking. I don't know what her problem is."

"Don't know what it is, either, Slayer. You look fine to me. She's probably just jealous... and have I mentioned stupid? Stop!" His suddenly hissed command and the arm he threw across in front her stopped her in mid-stride. His tense body posture made her swallow her complaint, but when he threw the torch down a side tunnel and pulled her in the other direction, she balked.

"What are you doing? How am I supposed to—"

She cut herself off when she notice the faint glow from ahead of them, letting Spike pull her into a small crevice in the wall. The torch guttered out, leaving them in darkness and huddled together in the small space. Only the tension she could feel in Spike's body as he listened and scented the air kept her from shoving him away. "What is it?" she whispered. "What's out there?"

"Don't know for sure. But whatever it is, it's coming this way. Not human. Not vamp. Must be some kind of demon..."

The glow grew brighter, and soon Buffy could hear the sound of shuffling footsteps as the demon approached. She couldn't help a muffled gasp when it got close enough for them to see what it was. Even in the poorly lit corridor, they could see that the creature looked like some sort of demon Frankenstein monster. It moved ponderously on feet that were crudely stitched onto legs that were a different color, and scaly where the feet had profuse hair growing on them. Where it should have had a hand, one arm ended in a skewer of some sort. The other, more normal-looking arm and hand held a flashlight. The eyes were vacant and staring, as if it was following directions only it could hear. As it passed them, a large scar indicated where it must have once had a tail, and attached to it's back was some sort of mechanical device.

It shuffled past, giving no indication that it was aware of their presence. Once the light from the flashlight was once-again just a glow in the distance, Buffy let out the breath she hadn't even realized she was holding and relaxed against the body behind her – until she remembered who it was. She straightened up with a mumbled apology, putting an inch or so of distance between them.

"Wasn't complainin', luv," Spike's voice rumbled in her ear, his breath stirring the hairs around her face. "Can lean on me anytime you want to."

"As long as we have a truce you mean," she said, fighting off the shiver that had gone through her. There was a long pause before he spoke.

"Yeah, 's long as we have our truce. That's what I meant." There was an awkward silence as they stepped out into the tunnel and Spike picked up the torch. He took out his lighter and flicked it on. "Guess we should keep going, yeah? Must be headed the right way."

"Maybe we shouldn't light it again?" Buffy gestured to the distance where there was still a glow, even though the demon and his flashlight were long out of sight in the other direction. "I could just hang on to your coat again."

"Alright. I'll just leave it here in case we need it on our way out. Grab hold, Slayer." He closed the lighter and put it back in his pocket, waiting until he felt Buffy's hands on his waist before starting forward.

The glow grew steadily brighter and Buffy was soon able to see almost as well as Spike could. They crept silently along the now-smoother floor until they reached a place where the tunnel forked and there was a sharp turn to the left. Ahead of them, was the same dirt and rock wall they'd been following, to the left, the walls were smooth concrete, with lights placed just often enough that it was possible to see.

"Where do you think we are?" Buffy whispered, even though Spike hadn't indicated there was anything around.

"If I had to guess, I'd say we're right under the campus, but maybe on the edge. Where the frat houses are located," he added somewhat unnecessarily as Buffy was way ahead of him.

"Great. So there's something under Lowell House. Something with man-made walls and patchwork demons wandering around in it. Do you think we can get close enough to see what it is?"

She felt him shrug beside her. "We can try getting a little closer. Gonna be no place to hide in that tunnel, though. If we get spotted, we're as good as caught."

"We can fight our way out," Buffy said with more confidence than she felt.

"Feeling bullet-proof are you?"

She sighed. "Not really. But seriously, if we can just get a peek at—"

"Alright, Slayer. Let's go. Bullets can't kill me, and they probably can't kill you either now. Maybe," he added under his breath.

Moving quietly and slinking along the walls, they made their way down the corridor. Pausing when he thought he heard something, Spike was listening when Buffy began to tug on his arm. "What?" he hissed. "I'm listening here."

She pointed silently to the ceiling and a large vent there. He nodded and grinned. "Still like crawling around in ceilings, do you?" He bent down so that she could get on his shoulders, standing up as soon as she was set. He held her ankles as she wrestled the cover off the vent and put it inside the opening.

"Ready, pet?" Without waiting for her nod, he raised his hands over his head, lifting her until she could pull herself up through the open vent. She turned around and peered down at Spike.

"How are you going to get up?" She extended an arm. "Can you grab my hand? Maybe I can—"

He shook his head and gestured at her to get back. "No time, luv. Incoming. Get back." Before he'd finished speaking, he had left the ground and propelled himself into the open space. Buffy grabbed his arm and pulled him forward, falling backwards with Spike on top of her. They froze for a moment, but Spike's ears told him there was no time to enjoy their position. With a "shhhh" he rolled off and grabbed the vent cover. He'd just reinstalled it when even Buffy's ears caught the sound of booted feet.

Lying flat and staring through the slats, they watched as a small group of black-clad commandoes passed beneath them, talking among themselves.

"So, Finn. What's the plan tonight? Are we after the hostile or the girl?"

"Whichever one we find first, I guess. We can go after Buffy in the daytime, so unless she's out doing her 'slaying' tonight, we should probably concentrate on that hostile. Maggie really wants a chance to study him."

"Man. If a chip could harness the power that vamp had..."

"He'd be a hell of a weapon behind enemy lines, wouldn't he?"

Their voices faded as they moved away, but Buffy could tell that Spike was still listening, so she remained silent until he rolled over on his back and stared at the invisible ceiling above their small space.

"Spike?" she whispered tentatively when he seemed to have disappeared. Her voice startled him out of his thoughts and he turned his head to reassure her.

"Still here, pet. Just trying to understand what those wankers were talking about." He suddenly grabbed her hand tightly. "Promise me something, Slayer. Promise me you won't let those bastards have me. Promise you'll kill me first." He clung to her hand while she moved closer, shaking her head.

"What are you talking about? And no – I'm not going to kill you. I mean, not right now, anyway."

"Just promise me," he repeated, not releasing her hand when she tried to pull away.

"Okay, okay, I promise, but— What did they say?"

"Let's just say I've had some experience with that kind of military thinking and I'm not planning to be anybody's lab rat – or secret weapon." He let go of her hand and rolled to his hands and knees. "Let's see where this air duct goes, yeah? Maybe we can learn more about this place."

"You are going to explain this to me," she hissed, crawling after his rapidly disappearing legs. There was just enough light from the widely spaced vents that she could see him, although not well. From the speed with which he was moving, she assumed he must be wearing his fangs and wrinkles. Her own vision was just good enough to make out his feet ahead of her. She'd let her attention wander when he stopped suddenly, and she bumped into him. "Oops?" She sat back on her heels, embarrassed at how she'd run her face into his leather covered rear.

"Are you being clumsy or kinky?" he whispered, moving over so she could come up beside him. "Cause if you wanted to get closer to my arse—ow!" His muffled laughter did nothing to relieve the heat that she was sure was turning her face into a glowing mask. She punched him once more for good measure, then hissed, "Why did you stop?"

He pulled her a little closer and pointed down. Instead of the corridor that was all they'd seen so far, they seemed to be looking down into some sort of operating room. Strapped to a table, with a ball gag in his mouth, was a wide-eyed and terrified-looking vampire. His eyes went to the ceiling for a second as he heard their voices, but his attention went back immediately to what was happening to him. Behind him, someone in a white coat was shaving a portion of his head. Buffy watched in sick fascination as the technician sliced into the vampire's scalp, then took a small power saw and cut away a piece of bone. Even with the gag, they could hear the high-pitched shriek as the saw cut into the vampire's skull.

Buffy gasped and unconsciously moved closer to Spike. Never taking his eyes off the procedure below, he whispered, "Promise me." Buffy nodded vigorously, unable to take her own eyes off the room below. The 'doctor' doing the operation used tiny forceps to take something off a tray and insert it into the vampire's open brain. There was some muttered conversation and some more work that ignored the whimpers and snarls coming from the restrained vampire. When she was finished, the doctor put the piece of bone back and sewed the scalp closed.

She stepped back, stripped off her gloves and mask, nodding to the burly men standing nearby. "Let him go," she said.

"Professor Walsh!"