AN: Every chapter in this story was written to meet one of the weekly prompts at the Live Journal writing community Taming_the_Muse. Bonus points for identifying each chapter's word, phrase or concept for that week's prompt. (Didn't know there were going to be points, did you? *G*)

Aftermath

Chapter One

Buffy strolled through Sunnydale, relieved to be away from Spike and the constant reminders of their "engagement". She shuddered as she remembered how they'd spent a whole day kissing and cuddling in the big chair.

Who knew Spike, of all peop–vampires, could be so sweet and affectionate. I guess that's why Drusilla stayed with him all those years. It was pretty amazing. In an 'eww, it's Spike' kind of way.

Her hand went to her coat pocket and she unconsciously started fondling the heavy silver ring she found there. She tried to tell herself she was only keeping it until she could get it safely back to its owner, but her hand tightened around it at the thought of giving it back.

He hasn't asked for it yet. Maybe he doesn't want it back? Or maybe it just isn't important to him.

Her inappropriate thoughts about the vampire came to a sudden halt as she realized that she had wandered all the way into the area of the city where most of the harmless, human-seeming demons lived. As always happened when she passed by, the streets emptied quickly with adult demons grabbing their children and hustling them inside.

"Sheesh, you'd think I was the boogy-man," she grumbled aloud as doors slammed ahead of her path.

"To them you are the boogy-man, Slayer."

"Spike!" Buffy whirled to face him, wondering why she hadn't noticed that a vampire was sneaking up behind her.

"Where'd you come from? Why didn't I feel you?"

He frowned at her.

"You should have. I'm an old vamp. You should be able to feel me even with all the distractions here." He waved his arm around to encompass the neighborhood they were in. "You need to work on that, Slayer. Can't have any old vampire slipping in behind you like that."

"Maybe I just got used to you," she muttered, trying to ignore the concern on his face. "What with all the sitting on your lap and... stuff."

"Maybe." He perked up, taking his hands from his pockets and smiling. "We'll see once I get my head fixed. That would be a bit of all right if I could sneak up on you without you knowing I'm there."

"I'd still kick your ass," she said, smothering a tiny pang that he could still talk about killing her after all the time they'd spent together during the spell. "You're not going to kill me, Spike. Get over it."

Spike cocked his head and studied her face. She knew it had quickly hardened into a slayer's determined glare, but his perceptive eyes had apparently caught something before it did.

"Didn't say I was, luv," he responded in the soft baritone that had rumbled in her ear so often recently. "I just said I could sneak up on you. Who knows? Might have just tried to steal a kiss."

"Not funny."

"No," he sighed. "I suppose not."

He fell into step beside her.

"So, where you goin'? Not exactly your part of town, is it?"

Buffy shrugged. "I was just walking and thinking and I ended up here. Might as well hang out for a while and take a look around. See how many different kinds of demon I can remember."

"Most of these are harmless, Slayer." She thought she detected a trace of disappointment in his voice.

"I know that. Doesn't mean that there aren't some not-so-harmless ones hiding out here. Or some vamps, for that matter. They'd blend."

No sooner had she spoken, than Buffy spotted one of the professors from Sunnydale U sitting on a bench, behind which were two drooling vampires. The woman was taking notes as various demons went by her, seemingly oblivious to the danger peering over her shoulder. When they spotted Buffy, the two vampires took off, startling the woman who'd had no idea they were even there.

"Professor Inkfell? What are you doing here?"

"Why, hello. Ms. Summers, is it? I could ask you the same question."

Buffy stared back. "It's not really safe here. For hum-uh, people who don't belong in the neighborhood."

"Oh, I'll be fine. I'm just observing this neighborhood. It's quite interesting. Such a mix of cultures and... races." She looked around and sighed. "Although, I must say, there are not as many people to observe as there were a while ago. They all seem to have vanished."

Spike snorted, ducking away when Buffy swatted at him.

"Well," Buffy said brightly," since they've all gone home, I guess you can stop observing and leave now."

Before she could answer, two more vampires came down the street, halting abruptly when they saw Buffy with Spike.

"Un, Spike?" one of them called. "Do you have her, or does she have you?"

"Bit of both, mate. You'd best bugger off."

Taking him at his word, the two vamps turned and fled down the nearest alley.

Professor Inkfell's eyes narrowed as she stared from Buffy to the fleeing vampires.

"Now that was interesting. Now that I think about it, the other people began disappearing just when you showed up, Ms. Summers. Why is that?"

She stared at Buffy, just the trace of a challenge in her voice.

"I'm sure I don't know," Buffy sniffed. "But those two..." She turned to glare at Spike. "Why did you tell them to run?"

"I know them, pet. They live here because they're harmless. They live on..." He hesitated, remembering the woman watching them so intently. "They, uh, they're vegetarians," he finished. "Harmless vegetarians."

"Vegetarians? Vegetarian vam-" Buffy also remembered their audience just in time, but Professor Inkfell seized on her comment.

"Oh my god! Were they vampires? I've been sitting here all night hoping to observe some vampires. Maybe I can catch up to them..."

She got to her feet and started to walk in the direction they had taken.

"Whoa, there, professor!" Buffy stepped in front of her. "You don't want to be chasing after vamps. You should be running the other way."

All pretense gone, the woman glared at Buffy.

"I do want to chase them. That's my whole purpose. To study vampires and other alternative cultures. I'm writing a book about the vampires and demons of Sunnydale. I must study some real vampires, but I just can't seem to ever find any." She glared at Spike, who was coughing with his back to her, and obviously shaking with laughter. "What are you finding so amusing, young man? It's a legitimate research project. I just need to see some real vampires up close."

Buffy rolled her eyes and gave Spike a shove, which only served to make him laugh harder. "Not helping, Spike," she hissed before turning back to the puzzled woman.

"Look, you can't study real vampires up close. They'll eat you. It's what they do. Just stay away from them."

"I'm sure once I've explained my situation—"

"Your situation is that you're going to get yourself killed."

"Nonsense. I pose no threat to anyone. I'm simply studying their culture in order to do an etic report on them and how they relate to the culture around them."

"They feed off the 'culture around them'. What don't you get about that?"

"It's obvious that you have some sort of adversarial relationship with these people—" "Demons!" Buffy broke in. Ignoring her, Professor Inkfell continued, "Perhaps your young man could help me out. He seems to be less biased against other cultures." She beamed at Spike hopefully.

Controlling himself as best he could, Spike gave her a wink and a grin. "I think you could safely say that," he agreed. "The Sl-Buffy and I don't always see eye to eye about things."

"It's all right to call her 'The Slayer' in front of me," Professor Inkfell said with a sideways sneer at Buffy. "I know what she is. She's therefore incapable of taking a neutral position about these other cultures."

"Demons!" Buffy almost screeched. "Vampires are demons. Are you stupid?"

Ignoring her, Professor Inkfell edged closer to Spike, putting one hand on his arm as she appealed to him.

"Surely you can introduce me to some of these aboriginal creatures? You do know some of them, don't you?"

Giving her his most charming smile and allowing his eyes to gaze into hers warmly, he said, "I'm sure I could—urk!"

Buffy's punch to his kidneys effectively cut him off before he could promise something she would have to stake him for. She fixed a steely gaze on the now-glaring professor and ordered, "Go. Back. To. Campus. Now."

Giving Spike a sympathetic look, Professor Inkfell drew herself up and said, "That was quite abusive and unnecessary, young lady. I don't care what you are, you have no right to treat your young man like that. He was only trying to help me."

Shooting a now theatrically whimpering Spike a glare that spoke volumes about the conversation they were going to have when she had chased the professor back to the relative safety of USC Sunnydale's campus, Buffy pointed in that direction and said in her most authoritative "Slayer" voice: "Start now. I'm going to be watching you."

"You haven't heard the last of this," the professor huffed as she nevertheless obeyed the instructions of the suddenly intimidating young woman.

"Oh, I'm sure of that," Buffy muttered under her breath as she heard Spike start to laugh again. She watched until the woman had turned down the street that would take her out of the demon neighborhood, and then whirled on Spike, who was laughing so hard he could barely stand.

Hands on hips, Buffy did her best to glare him into silence, but she couldn't keep the corners of her mouth from twitching. Shaking her head, she tugged on his sleeve and began walking back the way they had come.

"Come on. I think the least my 'young man' could do is walk me back to Giles' apartment."

Slinging his arm over her shoulders and pulling her in for a squeeze that was over before she could object to it, he nodded and agreed.

"It's the least I can do, luv. Wouldn't do to leave my fiancée out here on her own, now, would it?"

Telling herself she hadn't enjoyed the brief hug, Buffy sobered and said, "Speaking of that..." She put her hand in her pocket and pulled out the ring, holding it towards him on the flat of her hand, but keeping her thumb through it.

He stared at it for a long minute, then took her hand in his and folded her fingers over it.

"Why don't you hang on to it for me, pet? Then I'll always know where it is."

He kept his hand wrapped around hers until he felt her begin to pull away. Without a word, Buffy nodded and put her hand and the ring back in her pocket. They finished the walk back to Giles' in a comfortable silence, broken only by the swish of Spike's coat as he matched his strides to hers.

Chapter Two Neutered What?

"She was what?"

"Studying them. She wants to write a paper or something about the 'other cultures' in Sunnydale." Buffy rolled her eyes as she reported their encounter with Dr. Inkfell to Giles.

"Why doesn't she just talk to those wankers that turned me into a bullock?" Spike growled. "They've done enough experiments on demons to fill two or three books."

"I don't think Dr. Walsh wants to share," Willow said quietly from where she was staring at her computer screen.

"Dr. Walsh? Psych professor, Dr. Walsh? Our psych professor?"

Willow nodded and turned the laptop toward the room. To her surprise, the only one who actually came to look at it was Spike. He peered at the page and then smiled at Willow.

"Pretty impressive, there, Red. Is that witchcraft or the other kind of magic?"

"Other magic?" Buffy looked back and forth between them, her brows creased.

Giles answered for Spike: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Someone said that, although I am ashamed to admit that I don't recall whom."

"Arthur C. Clark," Spike filled in.

Buffy's eyes were as wide open as they could be without risking eyeball fallout.

"Ooookay. This is just scary. Spike and Giles – speaking the same language?"

As if suddenly remembering his big bad persona, Spike stepped away from the table and shook his head.

"Jus' something I remembered," he said quickly. "Probably ate a nerd at one time or something."

Giles continued to stare at the vampire with narrowed eyes, bits and pieces of previous conversations and outbursts from Spike coming back to him. Vowing to look more closely into the history of William the Bloody once he had a chance, he turned to Willow.

"What have you found?"

"Well," she said with a proud look at Spike, " I was able to break into the University's system and into the encrypted files. All of them."

"Does that mean you can see grades and change them?" Buffy's interest perked up, fading when Willow gave her a severe look.

"It does, but I won't, so you just need to study, missy!"

"I knew that," Buffy mumbled, giving a shocked Giles an apologetic shrug. "I was just asking..."

"Sure you were, Slayer."

Buffy shot Spike a murderous glare, which only made him grin, and then turned her attention back to Willow.

"Then what did you find?"

"Professor Walsh has a lot more going on than just a couple of freshman psych classes," Willow began. "She's in charge of something called "The Initiative", which is located somewhere on campus, although I haven't figured out just where yet..." She looked at Spike and almost rubbed her chin speculatively. "Maybe, if Spike can look at a map of the campus and we can figure out exactly where he got out..."

"What has this to do with that other woman's foolish desire to study demons up close?"

"Oh, nothing, really. It's just that, with all this secrecy and stuff, I doubt that Professor Walsh is talking about her experiments in the teachers' lounge. Dr. Inkfell probably has no idea that someone else is studying demons—" She paused and gave Spike a sympathetic glance. "From a slightly different perspective, maybe..."

Spike snorted and shook his head.

"Yeah, those sadistic gits aren't interested in demon 'culture'. All they care about is what they can make you do, and what it takes to kill you." He narrowed his eyes at the three humans staring at him with various expressions of mild dismay, if not quite sympathy. "This Professor Walsh, what does she look like? Kind of mannish? Nasty piece of work that can't smile unless she's torturing something?"

Before either Willow or Buffy could respond, Giles spoke up. "That would be her—quite the harridan, I would say."

Buffy slumped down in the chair she and Spike had shared just a few days ago.

"Great! The only class I was really enjoying, and the professor turns out to be some secret mad scientist. Just my luck..."

Willow's muffled giggle brought a glare from Buffy and puzzled frowns from the two Brits.

"Care to share, witch-woman?"

Ignoring Buffy's glare, which really wasn't all that intimidating, coming from someone who was also rolling her eyes, Willow said, "Buffy's kinda dating the TA from that class. And he seems really close to Professor Walsh, so..."

Spike's quiet growl went unnoticed by anyone except Buffy who gave him a questioning look. He shrugged and turned away, putting his hands in his pockets and trying to appear uninterested in the conversation.

"So, you know this young man outside of class?" Giles pursued, choosing to ignore the byplay between his slayer and the vampire. "What do you know about him?"

"Well..." Buffy thought hard. "He's big, and very fit, and all his friends are too. He lives in a frat house with...with a bunch of other older looking guys who all have short haircuts and muscles, and... Crap!"

"Crap?"

Buffy went over to Spike and tugged on his arm until he turned around.

"Tell me again about how you got... taken. And how you got out. What did they look like?"

"Overfed ninjas," he growled. "Everybody I saw was either a lab rat or some kind of soldier."

"Would you recognize one if you met him?"

"Wasn't exactly taking names, pet," he said, shaking his head. "Was more interested in getting out of there with all my parts intact." He rubbed the scar on the back of his head and sighed. "Not that I seem to have made it with all of them intact."

"If you had, Buffy would have staked you by now," Giles pointed out mildly. "You should be grateful for your... um... status as a 'bullock'."

"Grateful!" Spike's snarl split the air and had Buffy reaching for her stake. "Let someone cut off your balls and see how grateful you feel, Watcher."

Buffy and Willow blanched.

"They cut off what?" Buffy squeaked.

"He is speaking metaphorically, Buffy," Giles assured her. "At least I think he is..."

"Of course I am, you bloody pillock. If they actually had cut— I'd have staked myself by now."

"I'm confused," Buffy confessed. "Did they or didn't they? And what has any of to do with being some kind of cow?"

Spike rolled his eyes and stomped to the door, holding it open and waiting for her to join him.

"I'll explain it in small, one-syllable words, Slayer. While you show me where this house is that you seem to know so much about."

Still frowning, Buffy followed him out the door. "We'll come back with more information...I think," she shouted over her shoulder as she saw Spike disappearing down the sidewalk and hurried to catch up with him.

"So. Cows. Balls cut off. Overfed ninjas. Spill."

He shook his head. "A bullock is a neutered bull. I'm neutered; I can't kill – can't be a real vampire. Whatever they did to my head that makes it explode when I even think about hurting someone... It changed my life. I can't be what I was."

"A stone cold killer," she said, her lips tight. "Pardon me while I don't feel all that sorry for you."

"Tell me, Slayer," he said in a conversational tone, "how would you feel if you couldn't defend yourself? If you were suddenly normal, or worse yet, unable to even fight back normally?"

Buffy remembered her Cruciamentum and how helpless she'd felt while under the influence of the drugs. She remembered her first contact with the Master and how he'd controlled her with a flick of his wrist.

"Okay," she said softly. "Point taken. You can't defend yourself – but you can't kill either. You can't expect me to think that's a bad thing!"

"Guess not," he replied. "But since I can't defend myself..."

"Is that why you came to me—us?"

"You're the one whose job it is to protect the helpless, yeah?"

"Whatever, Spike. You're not helpless. You could buy blood. You could get minions to kill for you. You don't need me."

He shrugged and slowed his march towards the campus.

"Maybe not," he admitted, "but you were the first person I thought of. After I got over thinkin' it was you what set me up, anyway."

"Me? Why would you think I—"

"Moment of weakness, luv. Was watching you when they nabbed me. The last thing I saw before I got zapped, bagged and tagged was your pretty little face while you dusted some unsuspecting git that thought he'd found a meal. Thought maybe you'd been the bait that got me trapped."

"That's why you came to my dorm room – you were pissed off at me!"

"Was. Was going to do Red when it turned out you weren't there, but that's when I started to learn about my handicap. Ended up talking to her instead of biting her... and then the soldiers busted in and..." He turned to look at her. "And you kicked their arses and I got away."

"I wasn't trying to save you, you know. It was Willow I was trying to protect."

"I know, but you helped me out anyway. Wouldn't have done that if you'd been the one to set me up. Cleared my eyes, it did."

Buffy made no comment, just pointing to the right in the direction of Fraternity row. Lowell House was at the end of the street, set off by itself some distance from the rest of the campus. They stopped in the shadow of a clump of trees and stared at it. She could see that Spike recognized it.

"So," Spike said, tension making his voice quiver. "That's where I got neutered?"

"We don't know that for sure," Buffy said quickly. "And could you please stop referring to it as 'neutered'? Makes you sound like somebody's dog." She flushed, grateful for the darkness as she continued under her breath, "And I know damn good and well you aren't actually 'neutered'."

His rich chuckle sounded right in her ear as he whispered, "Guess you do at that, pet. Didn't think you'd want to admit you noticed."

"Hard to miss something that big poking me in the butt all night." No sooner had the words left her mouth, than Buffy groaned and clapped her hand over it. "Oh God, I didn't really say that out loud, did I?"

Before the laughing vampire could prolong the embarrassing conversation, Buffy grabbed his sleeve and dragged him towards the seemingly empty house.

"Come on, we've got ninjas to spy on."

"Right behind you, pet," he said, pressing against her back.

"No poking."

He leaned down and whispered, "Not even a little poke? What if I can't help it?"

"I have one word for you, Spike—neutered."

"Right. No poking. Got it." He straightened up and soundlessly followed her into the shadows around the quiet house.

Chapter Three

They circled the large building twice, pausing to peer in and listen at windows that were well shielded by bushes. After getting one too many scratches on her face, and ripping her good jacket, Buffy refused to creep behind any more thorny bushes, insisting in a low whisper that they were obviously demonic. Spike's soft chuckle and whispered "wimp" did nothing to improve her attitude.

"Fine," she hissed. "You're the one with the leather coat protecting his skin. You creep up to the next set of windows. You can hear better than I can anyway."

Leaving Buffy to crouch beside a rain barrel against the wall, Spike slipped silently between the bushes and another slightly open window. She watched him disappear into the shadows, making no sound as he brushed past the leaves, and wondered, not for the first time, how such an obviously deadly predator hadn't been able to kill her yet.

A low growl was her only warning that Spike was once more at her side.

"Did you—" Her question was cut off when his hand went across her mouth and his "shhh" hissed in her ear. When she froze, he lifted his coat over his head and pressed her back and down, effectively making them one large black shadow among other large black shadows. With luck, no one would notice the lack of twigs and leaves.

"I'm telling you, Finn, the sensors are picking up movement. Something is out here."

"Well we've done a complete circuit, and all we've found is a hungry raccoon. There's nothing else here." There was the sound of someone being thumped on the back, then Riley's voice continued. "Besides, who or what would be stupid enough to try to break into a house protected by sensors and full of armed men with bad attitudes?"

"Point," the other man admitted, as the voices moved away. "But don't forget, not that many people know we've got sensors; or that we're armed. It's not like Maggie wants it to be common knowledge."

Spike and Buffy remained crouched against the wall, his coat providing both camouflage and shelter from the soft rain that was beginning to fall. Gradually they both straightened up, still pressed against the wall and, in Buffy's case, holding her breath. When Spike relaxed his immobile body and stood up completely straight, she risked a quick breath.

"Can you still hear them?"

He shook his head. "I can hear their voices, but they've gone inside and I can't catch what they're—" He stopped talking, dropping his hands to her shoulders to keep her still while he listened. When he finally relaxed again, he left his hands on her shoulders, still using his coat to shield them both.

"Okay, Slayer," he said, still whispering. His cool breath in her ear made Buffy shiver, which she chose to blame on the rain rather than Spike's proximity. "They've gone."

"Gone where?"

"Don't bloody know, do I?" His frustration was clear and Buffy tried to curb her normal impatience.

"Why not? Can't you hear them anymore?"

"No. They went into the middle of the building, and then they just disappeared. The only thing I could hear was machinery running."

"Machinery?"

"Yeah, Like... like a lift..." He dropped his hands from her shoulders and smacked them together. "That's it! I was underground – escaped through a tunnel. That chamber of horrors is underneath this place."

"There's an army base under a frat house?" Buffy's disbelief was clear.

"Soldiers, laboratories, don't know what all. That's where I was," he insisted, pointing across the lawn to the open space where she'd found him tearing at the sod only a few days ago. "A house that has sensors, don't forget, and guards that come out to see what's tripping them. All is not what it seems here, Slayer."

"I guess not," she reluctantly agreed, remembering the party she'd attended only a few weeks ago and all the "fraternity boys" she'd met with short, military haircuts and beepers.

Buffy shivered again as Spike moved away and his duster was no longer keeping the rain off. Without comment, he took off the coat and draped it over her shoulders, growling when she almost dropped it in surprise.

"What the—"

"Cold won't bother me," he said gruffly. "Just keep it on till we get back to... What are we going back to?" he said. "It's getting late. Watcher's liable to be asleep by now."

Buffy nodded and pulled the coat around her more tightly. It was much too long, and Spike's body hadn't warmed it, but it did keep her dry, so she gave him a grateful smile.

"We should go fast," she announced unnecessarily. "When we move we're going to trip those sensors again."

"Ready whenever you are, pet," he agreed. "Just tell me which way to run."

"My dorm is probably the closest place. Let's head there. It's that way," she added, pointing towards the main campus.

"I know where it is, Slayer."

"Oh, right. You've already been there. And Willow invited you in."

"Right hospitable, the witch is," he said, smiling in the dark at the irritated tone of her voice.

"Pretty dumb, is what she is," Buffy grumbled back. "Nobody who grew up in Sunnydale should—"

She stopped when Spike put a hand to her lips, pressing his fingers against them gently.

"Hear machinery again. Let's argue about this later."

Without reply, Buffy stepped away from the building and began darting from shadow to shadow until they were safely away and could take off running in a straight line. By the time lights came on in Lowell House, and raised voices were audible to Spike's ears, they were far enough away that they couldn't be seen or heard by anyone willing to venture out into the rain to see what had again tripped the sensors.

As soon as it seemed safe to do so, Buffy slowed down. While the long coat had protected her torso from the worst of the rain, it had kept wrapping itself around her legs and threatening to trip her as she tried to keep up with the racing vampire. She was now soaked from the knees down and her hair was plastered to her head. She watched as Spike slowed and turned to look for her.

"What's taking you so long?"

"Your coat is trying to make me fall down," she grumbled, pulling it around more tightly. "I can't run in it."

"It is a bit big on you," he said, cocking his head. "That other sl—you know what? We should just get you inside where you can dry off and get warm."

Buffy trudged toward her dorm, her head down and shoulders hunched. She almost tripped over the threshold when she reached the main entrance, ducking under Spike's arm as he held the door and sending him a bewildered glance.

He was all sweet and caring when we were under the spell. I guess I shouldn't be surprised to find out he has chivalrous streak underneath all that bleach and leather.

Spike had caught her surprised look and cursed under his breath.

"Right, then, Slayer," he said quickly. "You're all back safe and sound. You'll want to be getting out of those wet clothes and—"

Buffy let the coat slide off her arms, shivering as her bare arms were exposed.

"Here," she said, holding it out and waiting for him to take it. "Thank you. It was a very... nice thing to do."

"You're welcome," he muttered, staring at the floor and shuffling his feet. "Let's just keep this between us, yeah?"

Buffy studied his embarrassed face, giving a snort of laughter. "Okay, Big Bad. Your reputation is safe with me."

She rubbed her arms, shivering again as the cool air in the lobby made her aware of her wet pants clinging to her legs, and the water trickling down her neck from her hair. She noticed that Spike wasn't putting his coat on, just draping it over an arm and realized that, while she was only wet from the knees down and her hair, Spike was soaked from head to toe. She reached a hand to his arm, recoiling from the cold, wet flesh there.

"You're soaked! And cold!"

He shrugged. "Won't kill me. I'll dry off at a bar somewhere."

Buffy chewed her lip, then blurted, "Why don't you come upstairs and dry off? I have towels."

It was hard to say which of them was the most surprised by her offer. Their eyes darted around the deserted lobby, afraid to meet and possibly share information neither wanted the other to have. After a short silence, Spike cleared his throat and said, "Er... um... that... that would be..."

Before he could finish his stumbling response, Buffy turned and pushed open the door to the stairwell, not looking back to see if he was following or not. Only the sound of his heavy boots on the metal stairs told her he was climbing behind her.

Who knew the fastest way to shut Spike up was to be nice to him?

Buffy used her key to open the dorm room and quickly looked around to see if Willow was there. She breathed a sigh of relief at finding the room empty, not really having thought far enough ahead to how she would have explained bringing Spike in with her. She pulled some towels from a drawer and handed them to him.

"Here. You can use these to dry off. I can't do anything about your clothes, but..."

"I'll be fine, pet," he said, the warmth in his eyes making her blush and look away. "Just let me get dry enough that I won't make the lining of my coat wet, and I'll be on my way."

"Okay, well, I'm just going to..." Buffy grabbed her robe and another towel, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the communal bathrooms. Without explaining, she slipped out the door and ran to take a hot shower. The showers were deserted that late at night and she had them to herself as she let the hot water run over her body and warm her up. When she had stopped shivering and had washed and towel-dried her hair, she wrapped up in the robe and hastened back to her room. The possible consequences of leaving Spike alone in her room were just beginning to sink in and she was already scolding herself when she opened the door to find him whirling in surprise, his shirt in his hand and his bare chest gleaming in the soft light from the desk lamp.

"Guh."

"Sorry, luv," he said, fighting back a smirk. "Thought I might get it to dry faster if I took it off. I'll just—"

He went to pull the wet shirt on, stopping when Buffy said quickly, "No. That's a good idea. Here, let me have it. I'll just hang it up over the vent and..." She took the wet shirt from him, her fingers brushing his still icy hand as she did so. Suddenly very conscious of her lack of clothing underneath the robe, she turned her back and went to the closet for a hanger. Still avoiding his amused gaze, she put the tee shirt on the hanger and hooked it over the curtain rod above the vent near the window.

"Want to hang my pants up too?" he purred, running his hand over the zipper and waiting for her to cast horrified eyes at him.

"Don't push it, Spike," she said, her flushed cheeks taking the force out of her words. To her surprise, he didn't, just nodded and walked over to Willow's bed. He carefully put down a dry towel; then stretched out with his hands behind his head, giving Buffy a good look at his chiseled chest, bulging biceps and six-pack abs stomach. His jeans were riding just low enough for her to get a glimpse of light brown hair peeping over the top.

Irritated that he knew she was staring and responding to his blatant sexuality, she muttered to herself and began to plan her revenge. Two can play at this game, vampire. Stretching her arms over her head theatrically, Buffy grabbed the front of her robe just before it gaped open. "Oops! I almost flashed you! Bad Buffy."

Ignoring Spike's growl, she pulled her most modest pajamas from a drawer and made a big show of putting the bottoms on under the robe, wriggling her hips as she pulled them up. She struggled for several minutes, trying to get into the long-sleeved tee shirt top without actually taking off the robe, before Spike growled again, saying, "Just put the bloody thing on, Slayer. I've got my eyes closed."

She risked a glance at the other bed, only to find that he had his back completely turned to her. Giving a disappointed sniff, she dropped the robe and held the shirt while she studied her reflection in the mirror over Willow's dresser, fluffing her damp hair and frowning at her small breasts. Satisfied that she had stalled long enough, she pulled the shirt over her head and tugged it into place, glancing at her reflection again before turning away. She was just picking up her robe when she heard a snort from Spike and realized that his shoulders were shaking.

Her eyes flew to the mirror, seeing nothing but her own reflection and Willow's empty bed... the bed that was shaking with the laughter now coming openly from the vampire lying on it.

"Oh! You... you..." Torn between fury and embarrassment, Buffy sputtered while Spike rolled over and leered at her.

"What kind of slayer can't remember that vampires have no reflection?" he chortled, looking much too pleased with himself to suit her.

"The kind that thinks she can trust... Never mind, I should have known better," she snapped, turning her back so that he couldn't see the disappointment on her flaming face.

There was heavy silence broken only by Buffy's angry breathing – and then he was there. She could feel him right behind her, could see from the corner of her eye the hand hovering uncertainly over her shoulder. Buffy held herself rigid, refusing to acknowledge his presence even as every sense she had was screaming that there was a vampire within striking distance. Eventually he gave an audible sigh and moved away.

"I'm sorry. You're right to be angry." His soft voice caught her by surprise; she twitched, but didn't respond. "I'll just go."

She heard him walk to the window and take his shirt off the hanger, resolutely keeping her back to him until she heard the rustle of leather. Turning around slowly, she caught him looking at her with eyes that held more regret than she would have thought possible for a creature that had no soul.

"Wh – where are you going?"

He shrugged. "Demon bars are open all night. Cemeteries are full of crypts whose owners aren't in a position to complain about guests. I'll find some place to bed down for the day. You need to get some sleep, anyway," he added. "It's been a long night."

Buffy nodded and tried to smother a yawn. "I do have classes tomorrow," she admitted. "I should probably try to wake up early enough to go to at least one of them. Although I'm not sure I can look at Professor Walsh quite the same way now..."

"Think you ought to stay as far away from that bitch as you can, Slayer," Spike said, taking a step closer to her. "Her and her overfed soldiers."

"They aren't going to hurt me, Spike. I'm not a vampire or a demon."

"You're not the average co-ed either, luv," he insisted. "If you think they won't want to take you apart and learn what makes you tick, you—"

"Stop worrying about me!" she said much more emphatically than she meant to. His face closed down and the concerned expression disappeared as he stepped back.

"Right, then. No skin off my nose, is it?" He spun around on his heel, already moving toward the door when Buffy's voice and her hand on his arm stopped him.

"Spike? I'm... I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way... I'm sorry," she finished lamely. "It's just so... weird... that you're being so... and there's no spell now, so I..." She bit her lip and shook her head. "I just don't know how to talk to you any more. You're so different sometimes, and I..."

"And you miss the old, evil, wants-to kill-you me?" he guessed, his face giving away nothing.

"No!" She lowered her voice. "No, I don't miss him. He's... he was a pig and evil and a killer and... evil..." Her voice trailed off. "I just don't know what to do with this new you."

"Want some suggestions?" he said, regaining much of his swagger and moving closer to her. He wiggled his eyebrows and gave her one of his best leers.

Buffy giggled in spite of herself. "See? That's more like it. That I know how to handle."

She blushed and tensed, waiting for him to jump on her unfortunate choice of words. To her surprise he didn't come back with suggestions for what she could handle. Instead, his expression softened and he ghosted one hand over her face.

"Don't think you could learn to handle a new me?" he asked.

"Is this a new you? Or just a side of Spike I never got to see before?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, pet. Turning that ponce, William, into a vampire was a pretty major transformation. I worked hard at it. Used to make Angelus crazy when he thought I was too soft. Did a pretty good job of beating it out me, he did. But old William used to raise his head every once in a while."

He cocked his head and smiled at her. "I think Red's spell might have given him something of a wake-up call."

At a loss for what to say next, Buffy just moved away from him and gestured around the room until she could think of something to say.

"Why don't you just stay here," she said finally, pointing to Willow's bed. "It's dry and warm, and there's a comfy bed."

"Can't do that, pet," he said mildly.

"Why not?" Buffy's voice couldn't hide her annoyance at having her hospitable gesture ignored.

"Couple of reasons," he said, moving into her space and smiling when she backed up. "First place, I'd have to stay all day, and you don't even have decent curtains on those windows."

Buffy gave a guilty flinch as she glanced at the windows with their slatted blinds and dime store curtains.

"And in the second place?" she demanded, determined to have the last word.

Instead of answering her, he dipped his head and inhaled deeply as he ran his lips over her neck. Before she could react with anything dust threatening, he stepped back and said, "William's not always around, luv. And Spike doesn't want to snooze over there while you're lying over here... all warm and fragrant and..."

"Ewwww, Spike!"

"Yeah, that's what I thought. Thanks for the offer, pet, but my common sense says you and me sleeping in the same small room is just not a good plan. Not good for either one of us, I expect." That was as close as he was willing to come to admitting that her increased heart rate and growing arousal were as plain to him as was the confusion on her face. "Get some sleep, luv. I'll catch up with you tomorrow night and we'll see if we can figure out where that back entrance is, yeah?"

Too bewildered by her body's reaction to having Spike's lips on her neck to pay much attention to him, Buffy just nodded and followed him to the door. When he had left with a quiet, "Sleep well, Slayer," she closed and locked it, then wandered back toward her bed, turning off the desk lamp without really seeing it. She climbed into bed and pulled the covers up, quickly falling into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Four Do I Know You?

In spite of what they now knew about both their TA and the teacher, Willow and Buffy felt they needed to attend class; if for no other reason than to keep an eye on their professor and her mysterious military connections. Buffy gave Riley a wan smile and half-hearted wave when he greeted her, reminding herself that it wasn't fair to hold it against him that he hadn't told her what he was when she hadn't exactly volunteered the information that she was the Slayer.

She studied Professor Walsh with new eyes, taking in the cold expression and brisk commanding attitude. A woman who had once seemed like just a particularly intimidating teacher now came across as something much more sinister. The little bits of information that Spike had reluctantly shared with them about the tests being done on the vampires and demons in the lab had been enough to make Willow, and even the less tender-hearted Buffy and Giles, shudder. Buffy made a silent vow that she would stake Spike herself before she allowed him to go back into those labs.

They managed to get almost all the way out of the big room without having to talk to Riley, although Buffy could feel Dr. Walsh's eyes burning a hole in her back the whole way from their seats to the door.

"Is she staring at me?" she hissed to Willow.

"Um... yep. She is. Oops! Now she's staring at me. Eep!"

While Willow scuttled out the door away from the perceptive eyes of their professor, Buffy turned around and returned Dr. Walsh's hard stare with one of her own. She made no attempt to appear to be your average intimidated freshman, putting the full force of a slayer's confidence into her gaze. The staring contest might have gone on until the next class had Riley not taken advantage of Buffy's immobility to step up and distract her.

"Buffy! There you are. I thought for a minute that you might be avoiding me." His grin was open and genuine, causing Buffy to lose her slayer glare and replace it with an uncomfortable smile.

"Heh! Wouldn't that be silly?" she said, moving out of the doorway and into the broad hall where Willow waited for her. "Why would I want to avoid you?"

"Well, I thought you might have gotten 'engaged' again," he said, watching her carefully for any sign that he might have hit on something he should know.

"No. Of course not. I told you, Riley. That was just a silly joke. Not a very good one, I guess, but your expression when you caught me looking at those wedding dresses was too tempting. It was either tell you I was picking out a dress for our wedding and watch you panic, or tell you that I was marrying someone else. Either way..."

"Either way you were playing me. Got it." His smile was a little strained, but he put an arm around her and squeezed lightly. "I really do have a sense of humor. I promise. Although, maybe it's not quite as... off beat... as yours seems to be."

Without answering except to give him another "heh" and an insincere smile, Buffy waved at Willow and hurried after her, leaving Riley to ponder the mystery that was Buffy Summers. He turned to leave and bumped into Maggie Walsh.

"How well do you know that girl?" she demanded without explanation.

"We... well, we're dating... I think. I guess. She's a bit... different, but—"

"I want to meet her. In a non-academic situation."

Riley blinked bewildered eyes. "Well, yes, sure, Mag—Professer Walsh. But why?"

She narrowed her eyes at him, ignoring his question in favor of demanding, "And ask her what it's like to be 'the Slayer'." Without further comment, she turned and walked away, leaving him staring between her retreating back and the direction in which Buffy and Willow had gone.

After their afternoon classes and a quick meal in the school's cafeteria, Buffy and Willow walked toward Giles' apartment complex, licking ice cream cones as they strolled through the darkening streets. The sun had just gone completely down when Buffy felt familiar tingles on the back of her neck. She pulled out her stake, then relaxed as she identified the source.

"Vamps?" Willow asked, eyeing the stake now dangling from Buffy's hand.

"Just one," she replied with a sigh. "And here he comes."

"That for me, pet?" Spike asked, nudging the arm holding the stake as he fell into step beside her.

"Maybe," she said. "You almost made me drop my ice cream."

Before she could flinch away, Spike leaned down to take a big bite from her cone, grinning at her indignant "Hey!" and dancing out of reach. His tongue came out to lick the ice cream off his lips with slow purpose and more obviously than necessary. Buffy retaliated by darting her own pink tongue out to lick delicately at the gap he'd left in her dessert. She ran her tongue over the entire remaining ice cream, making soft murmurs of pleasure at each small mouthful that she pulled between her lips.

Willow blinked at them, not sure she was seeing what she seemed to be seeing.

"Uh, guys? Buffy? Spike? What are you doing?"

Buffy blushed from head to toe, and attacked her cone with much less tongue and way more swallowing ice cream in quantities that prevented her from answering. Spike just shrugged and winked at Willow.

"We're just playing, Red. Nothing for you to get upset about. And anyway, you're the one who made us fall in love, aren't you? Can't blame us if it's taking a while for all that pent up lust to wear off."

"There was lust?" Willow squeaked. "Pent up lust?"

"Not like it could be anything else with the Watcher and all in the room, is there? Course it was pent up. What else were we going to do with it?"

"Buffy?"

Having run out of ice cream, Buffy had no choice but to try to reply.

"Um...what he said, I guess. I mean, we were pretty hot and heavy for a while there..."

"That was four days ago!"

Buffy and Spike exchanged looks, reaching mutual agreement that there was no reason to tell Willow about the previous night's events. There was silence while they crossed the parking lot to Giles' front door, broken finally when they arrived there.

"Was a right powerful spell then, wasn't it?" Spike said as he held open the door for them. "That must be the explanation."

"Explanation for what?" Xander asked, peering suspiciously between the two girls and the vampire.

"Nothing," Buffy said quickly, giving Willow a pleading look.

"Right. Nothing. Lots of nothing. No things here. Nothing at all...and I'm shutting up now."

Xander stared at the two embarrassed girls and the smirking vampire before turning to Giles who was just entering the room.

"Why is he here again?"

"A better question might be 'why wasn't he here last night?'," Giles said dryly. "And why didn't you report back to me, Buffy? Was there any trouble?"

"Not really," she said with a shrug. "We did learn some stuff, though. Turns out Spike's bat ears come in pretty handy."

Xander's snicker brought a glare and small growl from the vampire before he moved closer to Buffy to add his comments to hers as she filled Giles in on the armed guards, the sensors they'd tripped and the machinery Spike had heard running inside the building.

"It was a lift, you say?" Giles asked, directing his comments to Spike who he correctly identified as the one with the most information.

Between Spike's attempts to help during the spell, and his rather obviously changed attitude toward Buffy since then, Giles was beginning to perceive the vampire in a quite different way. It was becoming clear that there was much more to the former member of the Scourge of Europe than the bad boy image he preferred to present to the world.

"Sounded like. I know where they were keeping me was well underground. Not just a basement, either. Something deep. I could feel it. Took me a long time to make my way out of there, and I was climbing almost the whole time."

"I wish you had shared this with us straight away," Giles muttered.

"Why? Were you going to send the Slayer out to dig around until she hit something hard? Didn't seem that important at the time."

Spike shrugged and walked to the kitchen, pulling an old bag of pig blood from the back of the fridge.

"Hey, Watcher. This is the last bag. Need to stock up."

"I was not aware that I had taken you in to raise," Giles said stiffly.

"Well, weren't you just complaining that I didn't come home last night, Dad?" Spike grinned and deliberately used one of Giles' best mugs to warm his blood in the microwave. He waited until it looked like Giles was getting angry enough to physically throw him out before continuing. "Not to worry, Watcher. Found myself a nice little crypt with a view last night. Soon's I get it furnished, I'll be out of your hair."

"Can't be soon enough," Giles muttered, stepping into the kitchen and getting out a glass for himself. He took the Scotch bottle off the shelf and poured himself a stiff drink, sighing when Spike held out his mug of warm blood and looked at him expectantly. He poured a small amount of his remaining Scotch into the mug, then closed the bottle and set it back. The two Brits sipped their drinks in surprisingly companionable silence for a few minutes, watching the young people in the other room. Buffy and Willow were bent over the laptop, their expressions alternately shocked and angry. Xander and Anya were whispering to each other on the couch.

"You know," Spike said, his voice casual, "Anyanka's been responsible for a lot more deaths than I have. And yet, there she is, one of the gang."

Giles slid his eyes to the side.

"You want to be 'one of the gang'?" he asked, his eyebrows going almost up to his hairline.

"What? No! Not on a... No. I'm just saying... Forget it."

He turned around and rinsed his cup out in the sink, setting it carefully upside down to drain on a handy towel. Giles watched him, his eyes quietly studying this totally unexpected version of William the Bloody.

"It's forgotten," he finally said as Spike went to walk past him. "You know it'll never happen. They'll never trust another vampire. Not after..." He paused, unable to bring himself to talk about the things Angelus had done.

"I'm not him, Watcher," Spike said with a soft growl. Then he sighed. "But I expect you're right. That git's shadow will hang over everything I do."

He walked out to the living room and draped himself over the chair in which he and Buffy had spent so much time just a few days ago. Her eyes flickered to him, then quickly away when he sprawled out, one leg over the arm, the other stretched out in front of him. She missed the sad smile that twitched his lips when she looked away from him so resolutely, but she found herself acutely aware of his presence just behind her.

Willow was filling Xander and Anya, and Giles who had now joined them, in on what she and Buffy had seen of the Initiative's activities. Willow had managed to access Professor Walsh's files listing the experiments that had been done on various demons and vampires, along with the usually fatal results. It was obvious that Spike had been very lucky to get out with nothing worse than a scar on his head and an inability to kill.

"I think the only thing we can do is just be out there every night until we can catch these guys in action."

"And by we, Buff, you mean you, right?"

"Well, me and Spike," she said, pointing over her shoulder.

"So, Deadboy Jr is going to be the bait, huh?"

"Oh," Buffy turned around to stare at Spike. "I wasn't really thinking about it that way. I guess it's not such a good idea, is it?"

Spike just waited stoically for her to explain what she had meant.

"Why not? Sounds like a plan to me. They want their escapee back, you want to see them in action..." Xander seemed genuinely puzzled.

"Well, what if they try to capture him again?"

"Let them have him. It's only Spike." Xander shrugged in Spike's direction. "No offense."

"They can't have him back," Buffy said. "I'll stake him before I let him go back to that place."

Spike sat up a little straighter and cleared his throat. "As much as I appreciate what I hope is the thought there, pet, I'm not really enthused about your plan of how best to keep me out of their hands."

"I just meant... never mind. I guess you'd better stay here. I'll go by myself."

"They could be gunning for you now, too," he objected, leaning forward for emphasis. Her glare reminded him of how she'd reacted to his warning the night before and he backed off with a shrug. "I'm just saying – the dozy bitch with the notebooks knows what you are. No reason to think she's keeping it a secret."

"Well, if you can't go out at night, and I can't go out at night, who the hell is going to find out what these guys are up to? Not to mention, keeping Dr. Inkfell from becoming something's dinner. Be serious, Spike."

Willow's "Dr. Inkfell?" resulted in a short recap of Buffy and Spike's encounter with the anthropology professor; and Xander shook his head in disbelief.

"She lives in Sunnydale and she wants to study vampires? Why doesn't she just hang out an 'all you can eat' sign?"

"That's what I tried to tell her, but she wouldn't listen. She acted like I'm the bad guy because they're all afraid of me."

"Technically, pet, not all vamps are—" He lowered his hand when Buffy turned to glare at him. "Right you are, Slayer. Afraid. All of us. Every single one." He ignored the snickers from Xander and Willow as he tried to hang on to his dignity by leaning back and pretending he wasn't listening to the conversation.

Giles brought a halt to the discussion by clearing his throat and interrupting to say, "Buffy, I'm afraid I – and you have no idea how much this pains me – do agree with Spike. Until we know more about these commandos and their intentions, it may be best for you to keep a low profile. As far as they are concerned, anyway. Perhaps a quick patrol through the cemeteries tonight and then back to your dorm room. Try to avoid any confrontations with anything else for the present time."

Buffy frowned, stuck out her lower lip, noticed Spike's eyes focused on it and quickly changed her expression from pout to reluctant agreement.

"All right," she said, standing up and collecting her stakes. "But I'm not going to hide from them forever. I'm going to tell Riley I know what he is and see what he has to say for himself." She pulled on her jacket and kicked the back of Spike's chair. "Come on, fangface. You can watch my back while I work out my issues on some fledges. And then you can show me this crypt that you think you want to live in."

While the Scoobies exchanged looks of disbelief – both at Buffy's comments and at Spike's silent compliance with her orders – she waved her hand at them and left the apartment, telling Willow not to wait up for her.

Chapter Five I Can Kill Demons!

"Not that I'm unwilling to watch your pretty little backside for you..." Spike said, laughing when Buffy said firmly, "Back. You're watching my back, Spike."

"Tomato, Tomahto, pet. Point is, I don't know how much help I can be, what with not being able to bite or anything."

"Maybe you could just trip one? Or, you know, yell 'watch out!' That's pretty much what Anya does."

"I'll do what I can. It's not like you're likely to need my help with a couple of fledges, is it?"

"Probably not." She frowned. "Would you rather not? Patrol with me, I mean."

Neither one of them had questioned the formerly unthinkable prospect of the Slayer of Slayers helping to protect one. Buffy's question made it difficult to avoid the reality of their situation. They stopped and stared at each other, suddenly unsure of their roles.

"I... dammed if I know, Slayer. I'd rather be with you than back with the Watcher and your sidekicks," he said with a frown. "Don't know about the part where I help you slay my own kind."

"You don't have to help," she said with a shrug. "You can't really do anything anyway, right?"

"Good job ruining my night with the reminder," he growled, stuffing his hands in his pockets and hunching his shoulders.

"You just said it yourself! Don't blame me for repeating it." Buffy tossed her head and strode off toward the nearest cemetery. Her mouth turned down in disappointment for a second until she heard the swish of Spike's coat and the sound of his boots carrying him back to her side.

They walked quickly until Buffy's irritation wore off and she slowed her steps. Spike matched his stride to hers, watching her out of the corner of his eyes until he saw her face relax.

"You over it now?"

"Over what?"

"Being brassed off at me for snapping at you."

Buffy shrugged. "I don't know why I bother getting mad. You're just being you. It's who we are. You make me mad, I make you mad." She paused and peeked at him from the corner of her eye. "We just can't beat up on each other when it happens anymore."

"You sound like you're sorry about it."

"I think I'm gonna miss it... sometimes."

"Yeah," he said softly. "Me too."

They walked in companionable silence a little more, then Buffy said, "That probably says something deep and possibly scary about us, don't you think?"

"What's scary about needing a little violence in your life? Think our names say it all, don't they?"

"Buffy? Spike?"

"Slayer. Vampire."

"Oh yeah. Good point."

They swung through the gates of Restfield cemetery, Buffy moving into a less relaxed posture as she studied the ground for new or newly disturbed graves. Spike hung back and watched her graceful movements as she quartered the ground, senses alert and excitement building.

When the ground erupted right in front of her, she jumped back, her stake appearing in her hand as if by magic. Spike was well behind her, leaning against the side of a crypt when she bent down to drag the new vampire the rest of the way out of the earth.

"Come on, you. I need some exercise."

The slow-witted vampire stared at her blankly for a few seconds.

"Huh?"

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. "You're supposed to try to eat me. Then we fight and I—"

She was cut off when the suddenly ravenous vampire's demon took over and she went down under his mud-covered body.

"Ewwww! Get off me! You're filthy!"

Her stake had disappeared and she was reduced to swearing and holding the slavering vamp off with one hand while she felt around for her stake with the other. The sound of Spike's muffled laughter did nothing for her disposition and she glared at him as he stood to one side, twirling her stake through his fingers.

"Missing something, Slayer?"

"This is how you watch my back? Gimme that!"

"Can't see your back, can I? There some big smelly git in the way. If I didn't know better, I'd say you and he were getting right friendly..."

"I am sooo going to kill you!"

Spike's intended response never left his lips as Buffy's distraction gave the demon the opening he needed and he reached for her neck with his fangs. Before Buffy even registered that she might be in actual trouble, there was dust floating into her face. She coughed and sat up, staring at Spike, who was staring at the stake in his hand.

Buffy climbed cautiously to her feet, keeping her eyes on Spike and the stake. He finally raised his eyes to hers.

"It doesn't hurt," he said unnecessarily.

"So I see."

He handed the stake back to her. "Probably a fluke. Heat of the moment or something..."

"Yeah, probably..." She moved slightly away from him, holding the stake firmly at her side.

"Guess we should check it out, yeah?"

"I guess so..." She bit her lip. "Okay. Hit me. I'll give you one punch."

"Hold onto the stake, pet."

Disappointment flew across her face so quickly he wasn't sure he'd seen it.

"Am I going to need it?"

He cocked his head at her. "No," he said with a sad smile. "But the way you're standing tells me you aren't as sure about that as I am. Just want you to feel comfortable."

"Comfortable. With you. Who might be able to kill again."

It was Spike's turn to try to hide his disappointment before Buffy saw it.

"Got your stake, don't you?"

Buffy looked from him to the stake in her hand, then tucked it behind her back into the waistband of her pants.

"Okay. Let's do this. One punch."

"How about one bite?" He licked his lips lasciviously as he moved toward her.

Buffy narrowed her eyes and rested one hand on the stake behind her back.

"Punch. One."

"Spoil sport," he growled. "Alright, stand still, will you?" he said as Buffy began to bounce on the balls of her feet.

He jabbed at her face with his left hand, tentatively tapping her chin.

"That's it? That's the best you've got?" Buffy rolled her eyes and took her hand off the stake.

"Don't really want to hit you," he muttered. "You should have let me bite."

"If I let you bite, it probably wouldn't work anyway, you moron, " she said in disgust. When he still didn't do anything but move around her as if looking for a good spot to tap her again, she threw up her hands. "Oh, for the love of—"

She snapped out one arm, rocking him back on his heels with a one-two combo to his face. Following up with a body blow that doubled him over, she ignored his growling.

"Come on, Spike. Let's see what you've got. Are you afraid of me? Want me to drop the stake again so you'll feel better?"

Her final fist to his nose, combined with her continued taunting took the last of his patience. With a snarling roar, he jumped at her, fangs bared and hands reaching for her shoulders. Before he could touch her, he was on the ground holding his head and screaming. Heedless of the fact that he was still in game face, Buffy dropped to her knees, fluttering her hands helplessly over his writhing body.

"Oh my God, Spike. I'm sorry! I didn't mean to..."

"Yes, you did," he said, rolling over onto his back and staring up at the sky. "You did it, and it worked. Soon's I was seriously thinking about hurting you..." He rolled his head to the side to meet her concerned eyes. "Guess that means it was a fluke. Whatever they did to me, it's still working."

"It's a chip," Buffy said without thinking.

"A what? And what the bloody hell do you know about it?" Immediately his initial suspicions that she was responsible for his capture came flooding back, but the twinge to his still aching head wouldn't allow him to follow up.

"Nothing," she said, holding up a hand in the classic sign for peace. "Willow knows about it. She just found it today in Professor Walsh's files. They call you Hostile Seventeen, and you have a microchip in your head that is supposed to fire anytime you try to bite or harm a..." She stopped and looked at him with new excitement. "... a human!" she finished. "That's why you could stake that vamp; the chip is meant to keep you from hurting humans."

"You mean I can still fight demons?" He winced as he sat up, but couldn't contain his hope. "I'm not a complete eunuch?"

Buffy shook her head. "No. And would you please stop using those...words...to describe what happened to you? You're not emasculated, just safer to be around."

"Hoo, bloody, rah, Slayer."

"Think about it, Spike. Which would you rather have lost – your ability to kill or your—"

"Don't say it!"

"Then stop bringing it up," she said, standing up and offering him her hand. She pulled him to his feet, frowning when he squeezed his eyes shut in pain. "Does it still hurt?"

"I'll live," he said. "Just leaves me with a headache for awhile."

Buffy looked down at her muddy clothes and sighed.

"Well, I've got to go back to my room and get some clean clothes. Come with me and I'll see if we've got some aspirin or something."

On their way out of the cemetery they encountered two young vampires just entering it. Before Buffy could step forward, Spike put a hand on her arm.

"Let me, Slayer. May as well find out for sure if your theory is right."

"Okay. But be careful." She blushed when he sent her a puzzled but grateful look. "I mean...I don't know how much aspirin we have. I just don't want you to..."

"Quit while you're ahead, luv," he said stepping toward the advancing vampires. "And watch my back – just in case."

"There is something very wrong with this picture," she muttered, sitting on a tombstone and watching as Spike went into game face and threw out his challenge.

"What are you wankers doing in my cemetery?" he demanded. "Don't you know who I am?"

Their eyes shifted to Buffy, watching with a surprising lack of concern.

"No," blustered the largest one. "But it won't matter in a few minutes. We're going to take you, take your cemetery, and then..." He charged at Spike, snarling, "we'll take your girl there and play with her before we eat her."

"Eek!" Buffy squealed. "I'm so frightened. Spike, protect me!"

Spike met the younger vampire's charge with grin and a punch to his solar plexus. When the chip didn't fire, he threw his head back and roared.

"I'm back!"

He allowed his opponent to recover from the initial disabling punch, amusing himself with picking up the other vamp and throwing him into a tree. Buffy watched with interest as Spike toyed with the two oblivious vampires, taunting them, questioning their manhood and their demon credentials while he beat on them almost at will. Finally, shivering with cold now that the mud in which she was caked had soaked through her clothes, Buffy spoke up.

"Come on, Spike. Quit playing, I need to get out of these clothes."

He threw a quick glance over his shoulder, saw that she wasn't kidding, and without hesitation used the sides of his hands to break the necks of both vampires simultaneously. Without comment, Buffy tossed him her stake and stood up. As soon as he had dusted both vamps, he handed the stake back and fell into step beside her.

"Are you cold, pet?"

"A little. Not like last night, but walking around with drying mud caking to my body isn't my idea of a good time." She saw his eyes light up and his mouth start to open. "Don't even!" she said, effectively shutting down the anticipated mud wrestling reference.

"You're no fun at all," he grumbled, bumping her with his shoulder.

"That's what all the vampires say." She nudged him back. They strode on a few more steps then Buffy said with studied casualness, "So, you can hurt and kill demons, just not people. Kind of sounds like my job description."

"Does, doesn't it?" he agreed and continued walking.

"Are you going to make me ask you?"

"Yep. And ask me nicely, Slayer, or I'll say 'no'."

She laughed. "You won't say 'no'. You're already so bored you can't see straight. I'm offering you a chance to come out every night and help me fight vampires and demons instead of sitting in Giles' apartment listening to Xander and Anya providing us with more details than we need to have about their love life. Even if you said 'no' now, you'd be back tomorrow begging me to let you help me kill things."

She waited, then added, "And if you stay at Giles', sooner or later he's going to notice that you're drinking all his scotch. And he still knows how to behead a vampire..."

"S'pose it is a good way to stay out of trouble, at that," he agreed. "Idle hands are the devil's joy, and all that."

"Exactly."

Chapter Six (Hell Hath No Fury)

Buffy stopped short just before the steps up to the entrance and stepped off the sidewalk.

"Slayer?"

"This stuff is getting dry. I want to brush it off out here so I don't end up with a pile of dirt in my room."

She began brushing vigorously at her arms, legs and torso, knocking off as much of the dried mud as she could. When she thought she was through, she made to move back to the steps.

"Hold on, there, Slayer. You missed some." He turned her around and brushed the mud off her back. When his hand slid down to her ass, she grabbed it quickly.

"I'll get that part, thank you very much." While Spike sighed and rolled his eyes, Buffy quickly brushed off the seat of her pants and tried to peer at it over her shoulder. "Did I get it all?"

"Yeah, you got it. Let's go get my aspirin and your dry clothes."

Once again, when they reached the entrance to the dorm, Spike moved ahead and held the door open for Buffy. She stopped and stared at him.

"You need to stop doing that."

"Why?"

"Because it's... it's just weird! William the Bloody, being all gentlemanly and good mannered."

"William the Bloody knew a great deal about good manners, pet," he said, following her down the hall to the stairs. "More than any of you do, I'd wager."

"Spike, you're William the Bloody. You're talking about him like he was somebody else."

"Was somebody else," he said quietly. "Thought we'd covered that the other night."

"That was William. That was you before you became a vampire." When he didn't respond, she turned around to face him. "It was, wasn't it?"

He shrugged and passed her.

"C'mon, pet. I'll race you up the stairs."

Buffy took off after his rapidly disappearing coat, shouting, "Wasn't it? Answer me!"

She caught up with the grinning vampire at the top of the stairs and shoved him as she walked past.

"Don't think I'm going to forget my question," she muttered, flashing an insincere smile at two curious coeds coming from the room next to hers. They stared at Spike with unabashed curiosity and admiration. Turning his back on Buffy, he gave them a warm smile and an appreciative once-over, and was rewarded with giggles and small waves.

Buffy opened the door and waited impatiently for Spike to follow her inside.

"Were you flirting with those girls?"

"Could be. Would it brass you off if I was?"

"Would it— Don't be ridiculous."

"That's what I thought. Was, then." He stuck out his chin.

"Why?"

"Why?" He cocked his head at her, his expression surprised. "Are you starting to take all my complaining about being neutered seriously?"

"You can't bite them, Spike. We settled that tonight."

"Did I say I was planning to bite anybody? I think that little brunette fancied me – might get myself a little—"

Buffy's face went from red to white and back to red. "If you finish that sentence, I will..." She pulled the stake from her waistband and waved it. Spike moved into her space, disregarding the stake she was clutching.

"Make up your bloody mind, Slayer," he said in a low growl. "Rather have you. You know that. But—"

"Don't finish that sentence either. I'm not on the menu – market – whatever! I'm not on it."

"Then don't be busting my balls if I go looking elsewhere. I do still have them, you know. And I'd like to keep them happy."

"You are such a pig!" She whirled, hurling the stake across the room. She pulled off her jacket and dropped it on the floor. Grabbing a pair of jeans and a shirt from a drawer, she snapped, "Turn your back. And don't cheat this time."

"Just give me my aspirin and I'll go, Slayer."

"Go? Go where?" Buffy frowned, softening her posture for a second.

"I don't know. Out. Beat up some demons? Find the cute bird who waved at me? What difference does it make? You know I can't hurt anybody."

"You're not going to wait for me? I thought..."

"You thought what?"

"I don't know... I just thought we were having fun tonight, and..."

"We were having fun, pet. But you're here now, back in your cozy little room, and I've got some excess energy to wear off somehow. Don't see much point in us spending any more time together tonight, do you?"

"So, you don't want to spend any time with me if you don't think it's going to lead to sex? Is that what you're saying?"

He blew out an exasperated breath. "I'm not saying that, dammit! I just... Look, my head still hurts, being around you makes my dick hard, and I'd just like to get a little relief for something."

Buffy threw a bottle of aspirin at his head, watching with hard eyes as he caught it with a quicker than the eye movement.

"Here. Take the whole bottle. Make your head feel better."

"Buffy..."

"Take the damn aspirin and go spend some time somewhere you actually want to be."

"Buffy, if you want me to stay..."

Her stiff back was the only response he got, and with another growl he slammed out the door, allowing it to hang open as he strode down the hall and into the stairwell, almost knocking Willow over as she was coming up the stairs.

"Spike!"

"Witch."

Without more of a greeting than that, he leaped from the top step all the way to the bottom, coat billowing out behind him. He was through the door and gone before she could say anything else. Shaking her head, she walked toward the open door of her room, only to watch it slam shut with so much force it quivered.

Moving carefully, she inserted her key and pushed it open.

"Buffy?"

"Oh! Hi, Willow." Buffy lowered the arm that was clutching her stake and flushed with embarrassment. "Sorry about the door. Spike didn't close it behind him when he left."

"Um. Yeah figured that. Did you guys have a fight? Cause he was being all 'grrr, argh' when he left. Jumped down the stairs like something out of a movie."

"He jumped down the stairs?"

"Yeah. It was pretty cool, actually." At Buffy's narrowed eyes and tightened lips, Willow quickly added, "He looked pretty mad. You should probably follow him in case he decides to risk biting somebody."

Buffy tossed her head. "He isn't planning to bite anybody. Trust me. That's not what's on his mind." At Willow's carefully raised eyebrow, she continued, "And he can't bite. I saw that for myself tonight. It really knocks him down for the count."

Willow didn't ask how Buffy knew, just nodded her agreement.

"I kinda knew that already. Although, when he tried to bite me, it stopped hurting pretty quickly and he tried again. I think the chip wasn't finished setting in to his brain yet. It probably took a few days for all the connections to go live."

In an effort to somewhat change the subject, Buffy said, "On the plus side, it turns out he can kill other vampires, so yay for that."

"Huh. So, is he going to help you with slaying?"

"I... I think so. If we can manage to be around each other for more than a few minutes without getting into a fight about something."

"Which, I take it, is what happened tonight?"

Buffy sighed, slumping down on the bed.

"Yeah. You could say that."

"What about?"

At Buffy's expression, she backtracked. "Not that it's any of my business..."

"It's about him being a pig and thinking with his—"

She was interrupted by the phone.

"Kinda late, isn't it?"

Buffy nodded and picked it up. "It's probably Giles with some sudden emergency— Oh. Hi, Riley. What's up? Now? You want to meet for coffee at 10:00? Yeah, well, no, I wasn't asleep, but... Oh, really? Well maybe we should talk then. I'll meet you in about twenty minutes."

"Riley?"

"Yeah. Says he wants to talk to me right away. That he knows who I am and that I'm probably not going to sleep this early."

Willow watched Buffy quickly change out of her muddy clothes and into clean jeans, a tee shirt and a hoody.

"What if Spike comes back? What do you want me to tell him?"

"He won't come back tonight, but if he does, tell him I had a date – with Riley." Buffy brushed her hair, put on some lipgloss, and smiled triumphantly. "That's exactly what you should tell him," she said. "Tell him I have a date with a commando."

Spike slammed into Willy's and demanded "a bottle of Jack". He shoved a small demon off a stool and sat down, glaring at the counter in front of him.

"Hey!" the red-scaled demon said. "You can't do that!"

A larger version of the demon stepped up behind and agreed. "Everybody knows about your 'handicap', Spike. You're not in a position to push people around, now that you can't hurt anything."

Spike turned a feral grin on them, his fangs beginning to protrude. "Turns out, boys, that my little handicap only applies to humans. Be happy to prove that to you, if you'd like..."

One look at the eager expression on Spike's face and the way he was already rising to his feet sent the two vampire-baiters into a quick retreat. Spike sighed in disappointment and turned back to his drink.

"Does this mean you're going to start trashing my bar again?" Willy asked, his unhappiness plain.

"Not tonight, it doesn't. Not unless someone else starts it. Just keep the whiskey coming."

Spike was on his way to Restfield cemetery, planning to spend the night working on cleaning up and furnishing his new home, when he noticed the men in black gliding from shadow to shadow. Using skills he rarely bothered with, Spike became part of the shadows, remaining immobile and invisible as he listened in on the conversation.

"So, do you think Finn is doing this for Maggie, or does he still have the hots for that girl?"

"Seeing as how he's taking her back to her dorm, rather than where he was told to, I'm gonna go with still has the hots for her."

Both the voice and the name he'd used nagged at Spike's memory, sending him even deeper into the shadows as he remembered where he'd heard them before. But what was Buffy doing with one of them? More racking his brain and he remembered that Willow said Buffy had been dating one of the men living in Lowell House. He smothered his growl, and continued to follow the men from a safe distance.

"They're getting pretty close to campus," one of the men whispered. "I think we need to move now. We don't want any witnesses."

"I don't know. Riley didn't give a signal yet. Maybe he's changed his mind and wants to wait to bring her in."

"Maybe he thinks he's going to get lucky," another man added with a low laugh.

"Well, our instructions were to engage and capture her, if possible, and to assess her skills if not. If I have to choose, I'd rather piss off Riley than the boss lady."

"Good point. Let's go, then. We'll hit her just ahead of that wall."

With no more discussion and moving like well-oiled cogs in a machine, the men moved rapidly into position to ambush Buffy and the man with her. Inwardly furious about his lack of ability to do anything, and firmly reminded of that inability when he moved in the direction of the closest man and was rewarded with a warning shock to his already sore head, Spike could do nothing but try to silence the snarls straining his throat.

Buffy and the tall man with her reached the end of the wall, only to be surrounded by a small squad of black-clad commandoes.

"What the hell—" Riley's response was completely genuine, as his men jumped out without any signal from him.

"You son of a bitch! You set me up!" Buffy managed to snap out before she was fighting to avoid the net they were trying to throw over her. Evading it fairly easily, she took out the first man who tried to grab her with an elbow to his diaphragm. Spinning faster than they could follow, she swept the legs out from under another soldier and threw a third one into the wall. The one she'd knocked to the ground was searching frantically for the net, planning to use it to entrap her legs. However, it seemed to have vanished; he couldn't locate it where he'd been sure he'd dropped it.

Within a very short amount of time, all three commandoes were on the ground nursing various injuries, and Buffy was facing off against a bewildered Riley.

"You bastard," she growled, starting towards him. "I trusted you."

He retreated quickly, only to find his feet tangled in the net, which had appeared again, albeit in a completely different area from where it had vanished. Buffy's slayer senses told her there was a vampire in the area, and she smiled to herself when she realized who it was. A leaf drifted down from one of the big trees surrounding the area, and she fought to keep her gaze from going there.

Riley's tangled feet had resulted in his joining his men on the ground, sitting shamefaced and angry as he tried to get the net off his boots.

"Buffy, I didn't... you have to believe me. I never told them to do that. I'd already decided that you should come in willingly to talk to Maggie – Professor Walsh. I don't know why they went ahead without my order."

"But you were going to give that order? When you asked me to meet you, that was the plan, right?" She stared at him with contempt. "I can't believe I was dating you. I've done nothing since I got to this school but make bad decisions about the men here." She would have sworn she heard muffled laughter from the trees, but ignored it as best she could.

"Maggie just wants to know more about you," he pleaded.

"Then she should have asked me," Buffy said coldly. She gazed around at the moaning men now staggering to their feet. She was about to suggest that they knew as much about her as they were going to when a voice from overhead shouted, " Slayer, taser!" and she whirled just in time to kick it out of Riley's hand.

The two former dating partners stared at each other, one in disgust, one in rueful dismay. Taking up a position between the commandoes and the dorm – one where she knew she could be seen by any students going in or out – Buffy put her hands on her hips and glared.

"Get away from here. All of you."

Without comment, they gathered up their net and moved off into the shadows, only Riley remaining to counter Buffy's glare.

"Buffy...I'm sor—"

"Goodbye, Riley. It's been nice."

She turned her back and walked toward the dorm, confident that the vampire guarding her back would warn her of any more attacks. She reached the steps and turned around to see that Riley had also disappeared. Buffy could see the branches in the trees shaking, first going away from the dorm, then coming back towards it. She stared at the nearest big tree, waiting patiently until a black shape dropped to the ground, coat floating out behind him. Spike landed easily, straightened up and stood staring at her, unsure of his welcome.

"Come on," she said, turning to go in, confident that he could hear her. By the time she had reached the door, the now-familiar hand was reaching past her to pull it open.

Buffy didn't speak again until they were just outside her dorm room. She held a finger to her lips and said, "Shhh. Willow's probably asleep."

"I probably shouldn't come in, luv. It's late and—"

"Are you turning me down again?" she hissed, her back already growing stiffer and her eyes narrowing.

"Not turning down anything, Slayer," he hastened to assure her. "Just don't want to scare the witch."

"She's not afraid of you," Buffy said, opening the door and peering in. "Oh, she's still up. Hi, Willow."

"Hey, Buffy. How was your date with Ri—" Her eyes darted from Buffy to the figure following her into the room.

"It was peachy, with a side of keen," Buffy said, forgetting that one of her main reasons for going had been to punish Spike for leaving.

"Uh, Spike? If you're looking for Buffy, she's out with Riley. On a date." She frowned. "Or, she was anyway. That's what I would have told you if you'd come by earlier."

"He knows where I was."

Buffy sat on her bed and kicked off her boots. Spike stood awkwardly near the door, unsure of his welcome, but afraid to make Buffy angry by leaving without being sent away. Willow continued to look back and forth between them and then suddenly stood up.

"You know...I just remembered this thing I've got to do... and then I'll do something else, and..."

"Don't leave on my account, Red."

"It's okay, Willow. I think we're through fighting for the night." She gave Spike a small smile. "Aren't we?"

"If you're through being all offended because I—" Remembering his audience, he stopped himself before he could say just what he thought she had been offended about.

"I really could use some popcorn. I'll be right back." Before either of them could argue, Willow slipped out the door, pulling it shut behind her.

"I'm through," Buffy said quietly, as though he had finished his comment. "I've got no right to expect you to spend all your time with me just because I'm not planning to slay you anymore. It was immature and selfish and I'm..." She glanced up apologetically. "I just can't get that word out," she said, frowning when he laughed.

"You wouldn't have meant it anyway, Slayer."

"I might have! You don't know."

"Hell hath no fury, pet. Learnt that over a hundred years ago. You offered me some time in your company, and I blew it off like the wanker that I am. You had every right to be mad. 's me who should be apologizing."

"I think the saving my butt from Riley and his buddies was a pretty good apology," she said.

"So, we're alright?"

"I guess we are."

"I should go, then," he said. "You and the witch need to get some sleep." He turned toward the door and put his hand on the knob, pausing as if thinking, then turning his head toward her. "Did you tell her to tell me you were out on a date?"

"Maybe. Did you go out looking for that girl?"

He shook his head. "Went to Willie's, had some Jack and was on my way to Restfield when I heard the ninjas."

"Well then, I wasn't really on a date. I was trying to find out what his boss knows about me."

He nodded and opened the door. "You know, pet. We're going to have to sort this out one of these days."

Buffy didn't look at him, picking at a loose thread on the bedspread. "Can't we just ignore it and hope it goes away?"

"Hope what goes away?" Willow entered the room just in time to hear Buffy's reply.

"Nothing."

"Nothing."

She looked back and forth between them, suddenly remembering what they'd told her about lingering effects from the spell.

"Oh," she breathed. "Oh, oh my. Still?" When neither one answered her, she offered, "I could try another spell. Maybe make you hate each other again. Do you want me to try that?"

"No!"

"No!"

Simultaneous and emphatic rejections had Willow giving an offended little sniff as she went back to her desk. "Fine! I was just trying to help. Drive each other crazy for another week or so, then see if you don't appreciate my offer."

"We – I appreciate it, Willow. I just don't think we want..." She looked up at Spike who stared back, his eyes telling her he would abide by whatever she said. "I don't think we want to hate each other anymore. Do we?"

He shook his head slowly, never taking his eyes off hers. "We'll work it out, Red. Don't worry about it."

Willow shrugged and sat down to eat her popcorn.

"Okay. The offer stands. Goodnight, Spike," she added as he started through the open door.

"Goodnight, Witch, Slayer."

Buffy raised one hand in a small wave and watched the door shut behind him. She fell back on her bed with a loud sigh, staring at the ceiling as if it might hold answers.

"Okay," Willow said from her cross-legged perch on her own bed. "Spill."

"I hate men!"

"Duly noted. Now, what happened out there?"

Buffy sat up, reached for some popcorn, and prepared to enjoy some girl time before sleeping.

Chapter Seven

Spike left the dorm, taking more than usual care to let his senses provide information about his surroundings. Although he'd followed the commandos far enough to be sure they were heading toward Lowell House, he didn't necessarily believe that small squad wouldn't have counterparts other places on the campus. He kept to the shadows and used his enhanced hearing and his nose to tell him if there were any humans sneaking around the outskirts of the campus.

The sound of footsteps and voices made him pull back into the shadow of a big tree where he watched the two girls he'd seen in Buffy's dorm walking along, chattering and paying no attention to their surroundings. Growling at their stupidity, he popped out in front of them, startling them both into small yelps. Their faces relaxed when they recognized him as the good-looking man they'd seen earlier. The brunette smiled.

"You scared us to death," she said, batting her eyes. "I think you owe us for that."

"That so, pet?" he purred, going heavy on the accent. "And what is it you think I might owe you?"

"The least you could do is walk us back to the dorm," she said. "You know, to keep us safe from dangerous men..."

Spike couldn't help his snort, but quickly recovered. "Not sure you'd know a dangerous man if you fell over one, luv," he said with a leer that made her blush. "But you're quite right about needing an escort at this time of the night."

He began walking in the direction of Buffy's dorm, wondering to himself how many times he could make that trek before he stumbled across another set of black-clad vampire hunters. When two newly turned vamps wearing UC Sunnydale sweatshirts and game faces jumped out in front of them, earning shrieks from both girls, he sighed and shook his head.

"Are you gits really this stupid?" he asked in conversational tones. "Or just feeling invincible?"

"Huh?"

He sighed again, turning his back to the girls and flashing his real face. "Little lesson for you, boys. That building there..." He pointed at the dorm and gave the frightened girls a little nudge in that direction. He ignored the "But... I thought we..." saying, "Get yourself into the building and go to bed. And stay away from unlighted areas the next time you decide to go for a late-night stroll, yeah?"

Turning back to the puzzled vamps – which were trying to decide if he was seriously sending their intended meals out of reach – he continued as if he hadn't interrupted himself. "That building that you're looking at with so much interest has the Slayer living in it. She'd sense you before you got off the first floor. Not to mention, this campus is crawling with soldiers looking for things that bite."

"We'll take our chances," the bigger one blustered, stepping closer to Spike and snarling his contempt. "Maybe you're scared of—"

He never finished. Spike had punched him in the diaphragm, doubling him over and robbing him of any ability to speak. Before the other one could run, Spike was on him, one hand wrapped around his neck. He squeezed for a while, then let the terrified demon drop to the ground. Bending down, took hold of each vampire's head, and banged them together so hard he could hear the skulls crack. He was staring at their unconscious bodies in disgust, wondering if he should drag them into the brush or just twist their heads off when he was startled into alertness.

While his instinctive solidarity with other demons was fighting with his unspoken agreement to help Buffy with her slaying, his ears had caught the sound of human voices. He immediately faded back into the shadows. As soon as he recognized the approaching commandos, he left the unconscious and badly injured vampires to their fate, running silently through the woods until he was well away from the campus.

With so much of the night already spent, he headed for Restfield cemetery and the large crypt he'd decided to live in. He smiled in approval at the double doors leading into it, closing first the outer, metal door, and then the interior one made of heavy wood. Although he doubted anyone would bother trying both doors, he made a mental note to get some sort of lock or bar that could be used to keep out intruders.

Too wound up to go to sleep, he wandered around brushing dust off some of the horizontal surfaces, including the large sarcophagus that he intended to use until he could find a real bed. He thought longingly of the big bed in Harmony's cave, but decided it wasn't worth the effort it would take to coax it out of her. When he found the hole in the floor, he listened carefully, dropping a rock down to judge how far it was to the bottom. Pleasantly surprised to hear it land almost immediately, he leaned over the opening and flicked his lighter on. All he could see in the small illuminated area was the dirt floor and a rough ladder leaning against a wall.

With his lighter running out of fuel, Spike reluctantly left the rest of his exploring until he could get some candles or torches, standing up to take another look around the more easily explored first floor. Moonlight coming through the small windows provided plenty of light for him to see his way around. Finally satisfied with his new dwelling, he dropped onto the sarcophagus and put his hands behind his head.

As he dropped off to sleep, his last thoughts were that he hadn't yet brought Buffy to see his crypt, and that he probably shouldn't do so until he'd fixed it up. Preferring not to examine why he thought that was so, he put one hand over his eyes and resolutely put the Slayer and their strange new relationship out of his mind.

"Your boyfriend was awesome last night!" Buffy's late morning stagger to the bathroom was brought to an abrupt halt by the girl she couldn't help referring to by Spike's "cute little brunette" designation.

"My who...wha-?" Visions of Riley returning to the dorm and somehow interacting with the two girls next door flashed through her sleepy brain.

"He's not your boyfriend?" The girl's eager question brought Buffy more awake.

"I don't have a boyfriend," she said, biting back her disappointment at Riley for having turned out to be such a jerk. "Who are you talking about?"

"That gorgeous guy who was here last night. He's not your boyfriend?"

"Spike? You're talking about Spike? No! Ewwww... and what do you mean he was awesome?"

Completely distracted by Buffy's denial of Spike's boyfriend status, the other girl had forgotten her original remark. While she lost herself in visions of hitting on the man who was not involved with her nextdoor neighbor, her roommate had joined them and she filled Buffy in.

"We were coming back really late last night and he... Spike?... was walking us back to the dorm when two really scary guys with gross faces jumped out. He was awesome; he sent us ahead to the building and then he just whipped up on those two guys. We watched from the doorway. It was... Wow."

"Wow," Buffy echoed, her face still showing her lack of comprehension. "You shouldn't be out that late, you know," she said, continuing her way to the bathrooms. "It's dangerous."

"That's exactly what Spike said! Are you sure he isn't your boyfriend?"

Buffy paused and turned back to look at the other girl with narrowed eyes. "We work together," she said shortly. "But you should stay away from him anyway. He's dangerous too."

The CLB tossed her head. "Like hell I will! He's hot. How dangerous can something that sexy be?"

The two girls walked off toward the stairs, leaving Buffy to grumble her way to the bathrooms. "Stupid vampire. Stupid girls. Stupid Buffy for letting it bother me..."

"Are you talking to me?" Willow's equally sleepy voice interrupted Buffy's grumble and she turned to shrug and shake her head at her roommate.

"I'm just muttering to myself. Apparently after Spike left last night, he rescued the girls in 203 from some vamps, and now he has a fan club." She splashed water on her face and raised her eyes to the mirror over the sink. "They think he's 'hot'."

"He is kinda hot," Willow allowed. "He's got that whole 'bad boy' vibe going for him. And if you'd seen him jump down those stairs the other night..."

"Not really needing any more 'hot Spike' images, Will." Buffy stepped into the showers and pulled the plastic curtain closed. "Got enough of those going through my head as it is."

Willow giggled and stepped into another shower stall. "Well, my offer to do another spell still stands."

"I don't want to hate him. I just don't want to..."

"Want him?" Willow's shrewd guess was almost drowned out by the water, but Buffy heard it.

"Yeah. Not wanting would be good. My life is complicated enough"

Spike walked into Giles' apartment without knocking, ignoring the watcher's sputtering and going directly to the refrigerator.

"You didn't get any more blood?" he said in an aggrieved tone.

"No. Oddly enough, I didn't feel an obligation to keep food around for you."

"Oh, well then, I'll just have some of your Scotch."

Spike's attempt to pull the bottle out from its hiding place behind the cookbooks was interrupted by Giles' slamming a stake down on the counter. Remembering what Buffy had said about the watcher's limited patience, he gave an offended sniff and retreated to the living room.

"Have it your way," he said. "I'll just have to start stealing my food and drink." He sat down in the easy chair and waved a hand at the couch. "Sit down, Rupert. Got some things to share with you."

By the time Buffy and Willow arrived, Spike had filled Giles in on what he'd overheard from the commandos, as well as Buffy's encounter with them. Their arrival interrupted Giles' questioning as to why Spike was suddenly helping out the girl he'd sworn to kill. With relief, Spike turned to greet the girls.

"Evening, ladies," he said with a smile for each of them. "Come to relieve me of the Watcher's boring company are you?"

"We're here to make soap," Willow announced, lifting a shopping bag on the table and taking smaller bags out of it.

"Soap?"

Buffy nodded. "Yeah. Our chem professor gave everyone a project to do – ours is to make soap the old fashioned way."

Spike nodded. "Ashes and animal fat?" he asked, peering into the smaller shopping bag. He held up a Ziplock bag containing what looked like ashes. "Anyone I know?"

Buffy and Willow exchanged guilty glances, causing Spike to narrow his eyes. While he quickly ran down a very short mental list of local vampires he would not have wanted Buffy to stake, she started shaking her head.

"No. It isn't anybody you know... it isn't anybody, period. We just... Willow... We had to leave the dorm for a while and we brought our stuff with us."

Without further explanation, they carried their supplies into the kitchen and began puling out pans while reading their notes on how to make soap using ashes and animal fat.

Giles and Spike exchanged looks.

"Want to bet the witch set fire to their dorm room and that's what left of it?" Spike whispered. Giles rolled his eyes and shuddered.

"I heard that!" Willow shouted from the kitchen. "And it wasn't the dorm room, it was just in the bathroom. Nothing burned, it just got... smokey."

"Knew it!" Spike crowed. "Knew you'd been messing with magic again and created another mess."

Eyes narrowed into a lethal glare, Willow stuck her head out of the kitchen.

"I could use some more ashes," she said pointedly, waving the stake at him. "And I wasn't doing magic! I was trying to boil lard. Over a fire. Like they used to."

"Pretty sure that was something people did outside, Red. Not in a communal bathroom in a building."

"It was perfectly safe," Willow sniffed. "Tile isn't flammable. Unlike vampires..."

Trying not to laugh, Buffy gently took the stake from Willow's hand and carried it to Giles.

"Here. You take this. I have plans for Spike later; and they don't include vacuuming him up off your floor."

Giles took the stake, then whirled as he realized what Willow had said.

"You are not going to boil lard in my kitchen!" he said, groaning as his nose told him they'd already begun.

"Don't worry, Giles. It's going to smell better soon." Willow held up another Ziplock bag. "I brought all sorts of good smelling things to mix into it so that our soap smells pretty."

Giles stood in the entrance to the kitchen and watched with some trepidation as Willow and Buffy mixed the ashes into the melted fat, creating a slimy mixture into which they added various fruity-smelling oils. Spike had retreated to a window and opened it so that he could breath in the less pungent outside air. Eventually, Buffy joined him, having been driven out of the kitchen by both the smell and her short attention span.

"Wanna go kill something?"

"Thought you'd never ask, pet," he said, straightening up and shrugging into the coat he'd taken off earlier. He followed Buffy to the door, smirking at Giles who was now going to be left to supervise Willow's soap-making. "So," he said as they pulled the door shut behind him, "Who or what are we gonna kill?"

"Vamps, probably. Is that going to be a problem for you?"

He thought about the two vampires he'd killed in the cemetery, and the two he'd left to the tender mercies of the soldiers. "Nope. No problem here, Slayer. Not so long as they aren't friends of mine, anyway."

"Vampires have friends?"

Her stopped and gave her a long, hard look. "You know, maybe you should think about reading that book on vampires and demons – if that idiot woman lives long enough to write it. You might learn something."

"I know all I need to know, Spike," she said, glaring back at him. "A stake to the heart, off with their heads, daylight is good, and holy water makes a nice accessory to my cross."

"That's my bloodthirsty girl," he said with less approval in his voice than she might have expected. "Tell me, Slayer, what would you do if you came across a vamped kid?"

"Been there, done that," she said shortly, striding off again.

"Oh. How'd you handle it, then?"

"I waited for her to change, then I staked her."

Something in her face made him soften his voice for his next question.

"And then what, pet?"

"And then I cried," she said tersely.

"And that's my girl too," he murmured, putting his arm around her just long enough for it to count as a hug.

"Not your girl," she muttered, leaning into him never the less.

They were saved from any further uncomfortable conversations by their arrival at Longbranch cemetery, where they were just in time to see Professor Inkfell happily following a young female vampire deeper into the maze of old crypts and tombstones. She was chattering away as she went, showing no sign of being fearful or anxious – or having any clue that she wasn't likely to be leaving in the same condition in which she was arriving.

They looked at each other. "We could just pretend we didn't see the stupid bint..."

Buffy fought back a smile that she knew he'd sense anyway and shook her head.

"Let's go, Big Bad. Time to slay."