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Here is Gone

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Here Is Gone

A BtVS Fan fiction by Terri Botta

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own `em. I just take them out and play with them. No money, no infringement, yadda yadda yadda. I’m poor so don’t sue. 

Pairings: Buffy/Spike 

Summary: Spike gets a chance to do a few things over again. 

Rating: PG 

Archive: Anywhere, just let me know.

Authors note: Feedback welcome. Text in italics denote thoughts.

Title is taken from the song ‘Here is Gone’ by the Goo Goo Dolls.

******

Spike knew he’d been in the cave for a long time. He had flashes of memory, during his lucid times, bits of recollection and consciousness, but he was coming around now. Waking from the nightmare that never seemed to end. He was weak, and starved, and battered.

‘Wounds aren’t healing too well,’ he thought to himself.

Good. The pain meant he was suffering and he deserved to suffer for all he had done, for all the pain he had caused, all the grief’ he was evil, a parasite on the Earth. But he had chosen this, fought for it. The soul was to be his reward.

‘If so, then why does it hurt so damn much?’

He had known, of course. Known from Angelus’ ordeal, what a soul could do to a vampire, but he had hoped, since he had sought the soul willingly, that the Powers would go easy on him. Besides, Angelus had been infinitely more evil and depraved than Spike could ever hope to be. It had been one of fledgling Spike’s many failings.

It would seem that he had been wrong, and the Powers hadn’t decided to make it easy for him. If anything, they delighted in torturing him with his own memories. He remembered screaming, a never-ending wail that erupted from his throat in an endless howl of grief. He saw the faces of his victims, the crimes he had committed, the atrocities done at his hand.

Pain suffused through his entire being and he opened his mouth to scream again, but only a raw croak came out. He was too weak, too starved. Even drawing breath took supreme effort. There was something very seriously wrong.

‘What is happening to me?’ he thought to himself.

“You are dying,” came the booming voice of the demon who had done this to him. 

He was too weak to move, to weak to even lift his head. He barely had the strength to open his eyes and blink owlishly into the darkness.

“Soon you will be nothing but a desiccated corpse. A fitting end to such a pathetic creature.”

‘But I won. I passed your trials.’

“To pass you have to survive.”

‘I’m still here. Not giving up.’

A low chuckle rumbled through the cavern. “Feisty one, you are, but there is nothing I can do to help you now. You have been here for months and your wounds are not healing. Accept the inevitable, vampire.”

He closed his eyes; he felt the tears building behind the lids but he held them back with all the strength he could muster.

‘Send me back then. If I am to die, I want to die at home.’

Another laugh. “You think your demon friend can help you? The one who sent you to me? Or your mortal love? She cares nothing for you. You will not be missed.”

‘Don’t care. If she stakes me, at least it will be quicker than this.’

“Do you think so?”

‘Besides, I need to tell her, before I go, that I’m sorry. Sorry for everything.’

“Do you now?”

‘Gotta do it. Gotta make amends. I wish I could go back. Back before all this happened. Do it different.’

“Really?”

The demon’s voice had changed. It was still deep and mocking, but now there was an expectant tone to it.

‘If I could do it over again. Fix it. Make it better. That’d be good.’

He let out a sigh and it cost him dearly. One of his fingers twitched.

“So, Lurky,” he croaked, blood flecking on his lips from his raw throat. “You gonna send me back to SunnyHell, or what?”

Silence.

“Well?” he tried again, his voice barely a whisper. “Get on with it. Haven’t got all day.”

More silence and he had begun to think that the demon was going to let him just die in the cave, when it spoke again, its voice both mocking and admiring at the same time.

“You are amusing, vampire. And worthy. Granted.”

“What do you--”

He didn’t have time to finish his question before there was a flash and a momentary sense of disorientation. Light flooded behind his eyes and he was filled with sudden strength and power. When he returned to his senses he was sitting on top of the sarcophagus in his old crypt, and somewhere, someone was banging loudly. He barely had enough time to register his whereabouts when the door to his crypt burst open and Buffy came storming in. At first he was frozen, certain that she had come to stake him just moments after his soulful return to Sunndydale, but second glance revealed a Buffy he hadn’t seen since before the mess with Glory, since before she died…

“I’ve got a proposition for you,” she announced tersely.

“Buffy?” he said, taking in the long hair, flashing eyes, tight lips. 

Stunned, he looked at his hands, whole, unmarred by burns and wounds. He felt his chest and face, examining his body until Buffy punched him.

“Ow!” he exclaimed, grabbing his bleeding nose. “What did you do that for, you bloody bitch?”

Voice steady, full strength, not rasped and raw from countless screams. Its volume surprised him.

“To get your attention, blood breath. You were spacing out on me,” came the angry reply.

Spike blinked, still disoriented and confused, then wiped his nose as he looked at her. “Yeah? Well, you got it.”

She pulled out a wad of bills and showed them to him. “Riley’s sick. It’s some Initiative thing.”

He stared at the money, then swiveled his head around to take in the rest of his crypt. Her words triggered his memory; a memory of another time when she had come storming into his crypt, money in hand, asking for help finding Riley. 

‘But that was almost two years ago…’

“Hey, Earth to Spike! What the hell is wrong with you? Did you drink expired blood or something?” Buffy demanded.

“Riley… ticker’s not workin’ right,” he whispered, eyes meeting hers.

“How did you know that?” she snapped, her eyes widening.

“The Initiative. They used their soldier boys for lab rats. Read about it when I was working with that Adam bloke. You think he might be hiding in the caves.”

Buffy gave him a wary look, and he continued, “You want me to look for him.”

“That was the plan. We’ve got a doctor who can help him waiting on the fourth floor of the hospital.”

Spike shook his head, still not understanding what was happening, but beginning to piece it all together. 

“Even if I do find him, I won’t be able to bring him in. The Chip won’t let me and I can’t defend myself against him,” he offered.

“Just find him. I can do the rest,” she replied, lowering her eyes at the mention of his chip.

“I find him, leave to tattle on his whereabouts, and he’s moved by the time we get back. No go, Slayer, you come with. We’ll find him together. Then you can bring him down and I won’t get a migraine.”

She pursed her lips, then stuffed the bills back into her coat pocket. “Deal. You’ll get paid when we find Riley.”

He nodded, ignoring her surprised look. “Fair enough, but I need a bit of time. Meet me at the caves in twenty minutes.”

“We have to leave now.”

“And I don’t track on an empty stomach,” he retorted.

She blanched. “Fine, but meet me in ten minutes. It doesn’t take you that long to drink a couple of bags of blood.”

“Fifteen and not a minute sooner,” he bargained, then motioned for her to leave.

She moved to go, then turned around sharply. “Spike, if…”

“If I’m not there, you’ll stake me. Yeah yeah. Get goin,’ time’s a wastin’ and I got my dinner to eat. Run along, Slayer, I’ll be there in a jif.”

It seemed that she might argue, then thought the better of it and stomped out of the crypt. After the door closed behind her, he let out a sigh of relief and looked around. It was definitely his crypt, but before he had redecorated.

‘Bastard went an’ did it…’

To confirm his theory, he hopped off the sarcophagus and lifted the lid. Harmony popped out as he expected.

“So? What’d she say about me?”

He really wasn’t surprised to see her, even as she lifted herself out of the tomb. While he may have been many things in his un-life, stupid wasn’t one of them. It may have taken him a minute or two, but he’d already figured out that the demon had somehow transported him back in time; back into his own body, almost two years in the past. Still, seeing Harmony again caused his soul to twinge.

‘Well, that answers that question. Still have the soul. I’d better, after what I went through to get it. There would’ve been Hell to pay if he’d sent me back without it. Wanker probably saved my life, or unlife for that matter, as well.’

“Nothin’ luv. Wasn’t you she was after.”

Harmony’s eyes grew wide and frightened. “Oh! She’s not after you, is she? What if something happened to you? Who’ll hide me if she stakes you!”

He swallowed his irritation, remembering all too well how she could annoy him, but he had other, more pressing matters to attend to. He put his hand on her arm to calm her.

“Nothin’ to worry about, luv. I just gotta go out for a bit. You stay here and be safe, okay?”

“Okay,” she tearfully agreed. “Just, be careful.”

Her look softened him somewhat. He’d been so cruel to her, so angry with her. He’d used her as Buffy would later use him. She hadn’t deserved it.

“I will. Now be a good girl and stay here. Hide if anyone comes by.”

She gave him a nod, her eyes watery. “I love you, Blondie Bear.”

He managed a smile, then slipped out, mind racing as he headed for the caves. If Soldier Boy was still around that meant all the trouble with Glory had yet to happen, and that meant he could stop it all from ever happening to begin with. It meant that he could protect Dawn and help Buffy… and save Joyce. 

“Oh God,” he breathed, even as he quickened his pace. Joyce was still alive, and just beginning to get sick if he remembered correctly. 

‘All the light went out of her eyes when her mum died…’

If he could warn them in advance, keep the blood clot from becoming a problem…

‘Joyce would live, and Buffy and the Nibblet wouldn’t have to bury their mum. I’d never take Nibblet to see Doc, so he’d never know about ‘er bein’ the Key…’ Glory! Glory was coming, she’d be after Dawn! ‘And I’ll know her moves. And her weakness.’

He paused, getting his bearings, before setting out again. 

‘I have to find a way to kill Ben.’

*****

Buffy was waiting for him when he got to the caves. She was stamping her foot and looking at her watch when he joined her.

“I was about to go looking for you,” she scowled.

He ignored the barb in deference to reacquainting himself with the layout of the caves.

“I’m here, aren’t I? Let’s go.”

She fell in behind him, looking at him oddly when he stopped to sniff the air.

“Are you okay?” she asked suddenly.

He started and stared at her, shocked by her show of concern. “I’m fine.”

“It’s just… you’re acting all weird and helpful and non-snarky and stuff.”

He sniffed the air again, catching the scent he was looking for.

“Just concentrating, luv. This way. C’mon,” he commented, heading into a narrow cavern.

“How do you know?”

“Can smell Soldier Boy’s cologne. Bloody Aramis. Can’t stand the damn stuff.”

She fell silent for a while, but he knew she was there, following him, letting him lead. It was amazing how well they worked together when they weren’t sniping at each other. Each was acutely aware of the other’s whereabouts and actions. It was almost comfortable. 

‘Maybe now is the time to start changing a few things…’

“So, how’s your mum?” he asked blithely as he sniffed the air again and turned left. The boy wasn’t far away.

“Huh?”

“Your mum, Joyce. Heard she was sickly.”

He wasn’t expecting the hand that seized him from behind and slammed him into the cave wall.

“How do you know about my mother?” Buffy growled.

Spike immediately put his hands up in surrender. “Word travels fast in the demon world, especially if the Slayer is involved. I heard that she went to hospital. I just wanted to know how she was doing.”

“What do you care?”

“Oi!” he snarked, brushing her hands away, just barely avoiding a chip shock. “I’ll have you know that I like your mum. She’s got balls, and she’s decent, and she’s always a lady, and she’s never treated me like a freak. Forgive me for asking if she was okay.”

Buffy looked ashamed for a moment, then answered softly, “I’m sorry. I’m just… It’s hard with Mom and Riley… They don’t really know what’s wrong with her, yet.”

Spike gave her an understanding nod. “So, they gonna give her a full going over? Do one of those, what do ya call ‘em? CAT things?”

Buffy looked away and he had to suppress the urge to comfort her. He was fairly certain this Buffy would not take his attentions well.

“I… I dunno.”

“Well, they should. Give her a full going over, from top to bottom. Leave no stone unturned. You tell ‘em Slayer. You make sure they do one of those CAT scans, and an MRI too, and don’t take no for an answer.”

She gave him an odd look, and for a moment he thought he may have blown his cover by pushing too hard. He cursed silently. He’d never been good at being subtle, or at lying. Neither had been his forte. He was a much more blunt and straightforward kind of vampire.

“I… I will. Thank you, Spike.”

He let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding and gave her a soft smile. “You’re welcome, Slayer. Be sure to tell Joyce I was askin’ after her and that I hope she feels better soon.”

He returned his attention to the task at hand. Riley was close, very close.

“I will. Thank you for helping me, Spike.”

“Don’t mention it. Can’t have you worryin’ about your mum and Soldier Boy. A worried Slayer is a distracted Slayer.” He led the way down another tunnel. “And distracted Slayer is a dead Slayer and a dead Slayer means…” He looked at her and gave her one if his evil grins. ‘Have to make her think I’m still evil and all…’

“I don’t get paid.”

He stepped aside, nodding to an opening in the tunnel wall that led to another chamber. “Soldier Boy is in there, and he doesn’t sound too happy.”

Buffy blinked at him, then warily moved past him into the cavern. He stayed and waited, trying to ignore their conversation as he mentally ticked off all the things he had already changed. Before, he hadn’t helped her, but had kidnapped the doctor with Harmony’s help and tried to force him remove the chip. Then he had attacked Buffy and tried to kill her before discovering that the surgeon had lied to him.

I wonder what helping her instead will mean…

He didn’t have time to dwell on it, however, as Buffy led a somber-looking Riley from the chamber. The two men met eyes, and Spike saw the growing fear and insecurity that would soon lead the boy to cavorting with vampire whores looking back at him. 

‘He knows. He knows even now that he is going to lose her. You poor bastard.’

He straightened, puffing up his chest as he drew his bravado around him, and put out his hand, palm up, his trademark smirk on his face. Buffy frowned at him, then shoved the money into his waiting hand.

“Why thank you, Slayer. As always, a pleasure doing business with you. If you lose your puppy again, please don’t hesitate to look me up,” he smoothed, bowing slightly.

“Shut up, Spike,” she snapped, guiding Riley past the smug vampire and down the tunnel.

Spike waited a moment, then followed a short distance behind.

*****

“Spikey,” Harmony’s voice intruded upon his thoughts. “Aren’t you coming to bed?”

He put the journal down as the vampiress glided into the room, dressed in a silk nightie and sheer robe. He gave her a weary glance, mentally shaking his head.

‘I have to get her out of here…’

“Not right now, luv. Not tired.”

Harmony leaned over his shoulder and nibbled on his ear. “But I need you to keep me warm…”

“We can’t keep each other warm, Harm, we don’t have any body heat. We’re dead, remember?”

She giggled. “Doesn’t mean we can’t snuggle and make… other heat.”

He took a deep breath and let it out on a count to three.

“Maybe later, luv.”

Harmony whined and pouted. “You’ve done nothing but write in that damn book ever since you got back,” she huffed.

“It’s important, luv. I told you. I’m making plans.”

“Plans to kill the Slayer?” she asked hopefully.

He gave her an evil smile. “You know me too well, pet,” he lied.

She grinned and clapped her hands. “Oh! Can I be the one to kill her? Since you can’t bite her without getting, y’know, zapped? I’d let you have some too.”

Ignoring the revulsion he felt at the idea, he managed to keep his smile. “You’re too good to me.”

“Ooo! It’ll be so much fun, and after the Slayer is dead, Sunnydale will be, like, ours!”

“That’s right, luv. Now you run along to bed and I’ll join you later.”

Placated, Harmony kissed him and hurried off. “Don’t stay up too late. I still need my Blondie Bear to cuddle.”

“Right, luv, be there soon,” he answered absently, waiting until she’d gone to bed before picking up the journal again.

He’d been writing for hours, pouring his memory into the stolen blank tome. He had learned much from Dawn during the summer of Buffy’s death about what had happened and the events that had occurred during that horrible year. Now he had a general gist of events and a tentative timeline, but he wasn’t sure of exactly when things were going to happen. He knew that soon Buffy would cast an unveiling spell that would reveal Dawn’s true nature and have her first run-in with Glory. Shortly after, Glory would send the Lei-ach demons after Buffy, and Glinda, afraid that the Scoobies would discover her “demon” would cast her spell of non-seeing. He was of two minds as to what to do about that. He knew he couldn’t change things too drastically. 

Then would come Joyce’s surgery and the Quellar demon. He made a note about that. If he was lucky, he could get the demon before it hurt Joyce, but then he remembered that the Quellar had struck during the day.

‘Just have to be in the house again, s’all.’

After that would come the snake demon.

‘Be at the Magic Box, take it out before it sees Nibblet.’

From there, he wasn’t sure what to do. He knew that he wanted to prevent Buffy from discovering his attraction to her, and thus prevent the whole Buffy-bot fiasco. But that would also mean that Glory would never get him and he would never suffer the Hell Bitch’s torture. And while he hadn’t really enjoyed getting carved up and beaten to a pulp, his refusal to give Dawn and Buffy away had scored him major points with the Slayer.

‘I’ll just have to score points with her in other ways…’ 

His soul stirred and reminded him that love was unselfish and did not act with ulterior motives. His demon growled and stamped it down, but then grudgingly had to admit that the soul was right.

‘Can’t win Buffy if she thinks I’m only doing it to get in good with her.’

The soul gave a victory cheer and he scowled.

‘Shut up, you. No wonder Peaches spent ninety years eating rats, and brooding like a poof. This whole bloody soul thing is like having Jimminy Cricket living in your bloody head!’

Still, at least being back in time had given him something else to focus on aside from all the killing and maiming he had done. While he had come a long way in assimilating his new soul during his convalescence in the African cave, he knew that he still had a great deal further to go before he would be fully reconciled with his new “addition.” Concentrating on the task at hand helped him set aside the nightmare that was his bloody past. But he hadn’t tried to sleep yet.

‘Wonder how Harm would react to a screaming lunatic in her bed.’ 

*****

Spike waited and watched. He knew that Buffy was going to have her first run-in with Glory very soon and he was torn. He didn’t know if he should help Buffy or stay behind to watch over Joyce and Dawn. He finally came to the conclusion that Glory wasn’t going to hurt Buffy, and that Buffy would get vital information about Dawn if he let things be. Decision made, he went to the Summers’ house, hoping to get a better idea of where he was in the timeline. He knew Joyce was home from the hospital, and that Buffy was very worried about her. Maybe it was time to do a little more pushing.

When he got to the house, he heard Dawn’s yell and almost went haring through the front door. Then he heard Buffy warn Dawn to stay away from her mother, and remembered what Dawn had told him about Buffy’s reaction to the unveiling spell. So instead of running to the rescue, he stopped and waited by the tree, smoking a cigarette. A few minutes later, Buffy came out.

“Slayer,” he called, catching her attention.

She stopped and looked at him, surprised that he was there, then her mouth hardened into a thin line. “What are you doing here, Spike?”

He put out his cigarette, crushing the butt under his boot. “Heard your mum was out of hospital. Came to see how she was doin’.”

The line softened a bit and Buffy seemed to deflate. “She’s better. She went out.”

“Glad to hear it. Did they do one of them CAT scans?”

Buffy shook her head. “Not yet. They’re waiting for more test results to come back.”

He scowled. “Not good enough, Slayer. You take her back and make ‘em do one.”

“Oh like, I just drag her back there and beat an orderly until he agrees to do one?” she snapped.

He shrugged. “Might work.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Look, Spike. Thanks for coming by, but I don’t have time for this. I gotta go. I’ll tell Mom you were asking about her.”

“Thanks. Right then, off you go.”

They moved to go their separate ways, when he looked up and saw Dawn in the window. She looked stricken and his heart clenched. 

‘Poor Little Bit.’

“Hey, Slayer!” he called, making her turn around. “Be careful. Lotsa nasties out there. Be on your guard.”

Her brow creased at his warning and he paused, trying not to look guilty, but then she straightened and put on her defiant face.

“I can handle myself. Good night, Spike.”

He couldn’t help but smile, watching her walk away- head high. This was a Buffy untouched by grief: strong and powerful. This was the Buffy he had wanted to die for. He waited until she was out of sight before turning back to the house and going in. He found Dawn pouring herself a glass of juice in the kitchen.

“Hello, Bite Size,” he greeted.

Dawn shrieked and dropped the glass. It shattered all over the floor.

“Oh now look at the mess you’ve made?” he tsked disapprovingly.

“What are you doing here?! Buffy is so gonna kick your ass when she finds out you came in,” Dawn snapped, backing against the counter as he moved past her to get the mop and broom.

“Now, now. No need to get nasty, Bite Size. I just came to see your mum.”

He handed her the broom and dustpan so she could sweep up the broken glass. She accepted them warily.

“Mom’s not here. She went out.”

“I’ll just wait for her then.”

Dawn swept up the glass and went to empty the dustpan into the trash.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Spike puffed out his chest and smirked, he thumbs hooking into the waistband of his jeans. “Scared of the Big Bad, are you?”

Dawn scoffed. “Oh like really. I know about your chip, Spike.”

He deflated a bit, and she gave him a smug smile as she took the mop from him and started cleaning up the spilled juice.

“So you know about my little plastic problem, do you?” he whispered, leaning into her ear and causing her to jump.

Her teenage hand slapped him on the chest, pushing him away. He barely felt it.

“Get away from me!” she yelled, dropping the mop and skittering across the kitchen floor.

He gave her a grin and snagged a potato chip from an open bag. “So, whatchya got to eat in this place, Bite Size, besides you?”

Dawn huffed and opened the snack cabinet. Five minutes later they were both sitting at the counter drinking cocoa and nibbling on junk food.

“Mmm. Ho-ho’s. I tell you, the bloke that came up with these things, bloody brilliant he was,” Spike sighed, popping one in his mouth.

Dawn giggled and he shot her an irritated glance.

“What?” he said defensively.

“You’re just so different from all the other vampires I’ve met. I mean, you eat food, and you’re not all evil and scary…”

“Hey! I am too evil and scary! You take that back!” he demanded, standing up.

His indignant look only made her laugh more and inwardly her laughter warmed him. This was a Dawn who had never lost her mum, her sister or ever suffered. But still, he had an image to preserve.

“No,” she refused, still smiling.

“You take it back or I’ll… I’ll…”

She crossed her arms and waited. “Or you’ll…”

He growled and hunched back down on the stool, pretending to sulk. She giggled again and he had a truly evil thought. One even the soul wanted to follow through with.

“Or I’ll… smash your Barbie Dreamhouse into little plastic bits,” he threatened, a gleam in his eye.

Dawn registered her shock clearly on her face. “You wouldn’t dare!” Then her expression hardened. “Hey, how’d you know I had a Barbie Dreamhouse?”

‘Oops. Busted. Quick, think fast.’

“Doesn’t every red blooded, American girl have one? Don’t they, like, give the parents a gift certificate for one at birth?” he hedged. He didn’t want her to know that he had seen it in her bedroom one day during the long summer of Buffy’s death.

The scowl was back, and he knew he had deflected any more prying questions. “Don’t you touch my Dreamhouse.”

He was about to retort something back when the front door opened, and they heard Joyce calling for her daughters. A moment later she entered the kitchen.

“Oh, hello, Spike,” Joyce said, surprised to see him.

“Hello, Joyce,” he greeted, vacating his stool and ushering her to sit.

“Mom, you’re back real early.”

Joyce let out a heavy sigh and sat down. “I know. I called off my big night out on account of my feeling crappy.”

Spike was already moving about the kitchen, setting the kettle on the stove and pulling out tea. If either Joyce or Dawn wondered how he knew where everything was kept, they didn’t say.

“So, to what do we owe this pleasure?” Joyce asked as he set the teacup and bag on the counter along with the sugar.

“Just stopped by to see how you were doing,” he answered.

Joyce sighed. “Crappy. I was feeling better earlier, but now…”

“Want more of your pills?” Dawn asked hopefully.

Joyce put a hand to her head and winced. “That might be a good idea, honey. They’re upstairs. Would you get them?”

Dawn hurried out as Spike took a good look at the ailing woman.

“You’re feeling poorly, Joyce. You should go back to the hospital. Get more tests. Get a CAT scan.”

“I’ll be fine just as soon as I take more pills.”

“‘S no good, Joyce. You shouldn’t be in this much pain.”

He placed both hands on the counter and looked at her, silently forcing her to look at him. Understanding passed between them as adult met adult, and Joyce’s façade faded.

“I have to take care of them. They can’t be worried about me. Buffy can’t be worried about me,” she said softly, letting the fear seep into her eyes for him to see.

He nodded then patted her hand as the teakettle went off. “It’ll be alright, Mum. I promise.”

She gave him a grateful smile and nod as he poured the water into her cup. 

“Thank you,” she said, and he knew it wasn’t just for the tea, but Dawn had just returned with Joyce’s medication so he couldn’t comment further.

“‘S, no problem. Call it payback for the cocoa.”

“Here, Mom,” Dawn said, handing her mother the bottle of pills.

Joyce kissed her daughter’s hair. “Thank you, sweetie.”

Spike picked up the cup of tea and motioned towards the door. “Why don’t you go sit down on the couch, Mum. ‘S more comfortable there.”

Joyce reluctantly agreed and let herself be guided to the living room. Dawn helped her get comfortable by arranging the pillows for her while Spike placed her teacup on the cocktail table. Then he sat back and watched the two interact; Dawn fluttering about her mother like a fledgling bird. Contentment seeped into him as he watched them, and he wondered briefly if his body had really died in that African cave and this was now his afterlife. If it was, he wasn’t sure if it was heaven or hell. So far, while not all harps and flowers, he couldn’t say it wasn’t nice. It certainly wasn’t hell. Of that he was certain. Unless… unless he couldn’t change the outcome and was forced to lose Joyce and Buffy all over again, doomed to constantly try to find the way to save them but never succeeding. Like Sisyphus in Hades. That would truly be Hell.

‘And it would show that Satan has a bloody twisted sense of humor.’

He was dwelling on his thoughts when Buffy arrived home. She looked sore and tired, but the sight of her still warmed him and he couldn’t suppress a smile. Both he and Dawn stood as she came in; Dawn to snark at her sister before running upstairs, and him to greet her.

“She’s feeling a bit poorly, Slayer,” he whispered when she looked askance at him. “Gave her some pills and tea, but she needs to go back to hospital. She needs that CAT scan.”

Buffy looked at him, her eyes worried and tired, and nodded. He gave her a reassuring smile, then turned to Joyce.

“I’ll be off, Mum. You feel better now, alright. I’ll come by to check on you in a day or so.”

Joyce gave him a tired smile. “Thank you, Spike.”

He smiled back, nodded to Buffy, then left. He wasn’t needed and he could tell from Buffy’s posture that she was hiding bruises. That meant she’d probably had her first meet-n-greet with Glory and found out that Dawn was the Key. He had to get back to his crypt and plan his next move.

******

Harmony was sleeping the sleep of the sexually sated, which suited Spike just fine. Wearing her out in bed gave him a couple of hours of nightmare-free, exhausted sleep, and allowed him quiet time when he awoke. She would sleep for another five hours at least, giving him long stretches of time to read and plan.

According to his notes and his memory, Glinda would be casting her spell of non-seeing any day now, and he had to be ready to fight the Lei-ach demons. He thought he would be alright with that. His body was fine physically. It was just his mind that was unstable part of the time. He found that if he kept himself busy with plans and reworking of plans, the weight of his new soul wasn’t so heavy. He still worked himself to exhaustion and woke up with a nightmare branded in his mind’s eye, but it was getting easier. Or so it seemed. Really, he wasn’t sure if he would ever be okay, and he knew he would never be the same, but he supposed his recovery was keyed to how successful his foray into time travel would be.

So far, he had changed a number of events that he remembered, all of them for the good, and he’d taken to circling the Scooby territory like a tethered sentinel, concentrating on Dawn and Joyce. Not being exactly sure of the exact time of events left him edgy, and with a constant sense of eerie deja-vu. Luckily, it looked like he was getting away with his plan. None of the Scoobies seemed to question his actions or find his behavior suspicious. Or if they did, they weren’t saying anything.

The one thing he refrained from interfering with at all, was Riley’s slow decent into vamp whoredom. No longer Super Soldier, all of Riley’s insecurities were coming to the surface, and Buffy’s inability to share her fears and weakness with him was starting to wear on him. Spike understood and saw what was happening, but he did not move to stop it. In truth, even with the soul, he didn’t care a whit about Riley, and had never forgiven him for his role in the Initiative. Spike still believed that Riley was not the right man for Buffy, and it appeared that his soul was in agreement. Still, he wasn’t sure how he would break the news of Riley’s transgressions to Buffy this time around.

But Riley was the least of his problems. He still hadn’t figured out a way to kill Ben, or if he should even attempt to kill Glory’s human host. He knew he couldn’t merely ask someone else, like Harmony for instance, to kill the intern. There was too much at risk, and if the attempt failed, then Glory would most certainly come after him. But that left him with the impossible task of killing the human himself, something the chip would not let him do. What he needed was an accomplice who knew and understood exactly what was at stake. The only person he could think of that was even remotely suitable was Giles, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready to bring anyone into his confidence just yet. 

He was brought out of his thoughts by a waking Harmony.

“Mmmm, come back to bed, baby. I’m cold.”

Spike rubbed his tired eyes. Maybe another shag and a couple more hours of sleep would do him good. Putting the journal away in its locked box, he joined Harmony in bed.

“Mmph,” she cooed, snuggling up. “You’re always reading and writing in that dumb journal but you never tell me what it is you’re planning.”

“Sorry, pet,” he placated. “Not ready yet. When it is, you’ll be the first to know.”

“And I’ll be the one to kill the Slayer?”

He gave her a grin, but didn’t answer, then kissed her to distract her. As he covered her with his body, he felt her surrender and give in to his attentions. 

She left that evening to go shopping and he knew that the day of Glinda’s spell had come. He waffled on trying to decide when to head for the magic shop, but in the end decided to leave before Harmony returned so he could be there as the Lei-ach demons were arriving.

He had given some thought to killing them before they even got to the Magic Box, but ruled against it. If the Lei-ach demons had never come to shop, Tara’s spell would never have been revealed and her family would have dragged her off with her still thinking she was a demon. If he let things unfold the way they had before, with just some minor modifications, then the outcome would be the same and Tara’s family would be sent back home with a flea in their ear.

When he arrived at the Magic Box and Buffy didn’t see him come into the training room, he knew that Glinda had already cast her spell. Positioning himself by the training room door, he waited for the Lei-achs to get there. He didn’t have to wait long. Less than ten minutes later, the three demons entered the magic shop and two came into the training room. He hid by the exit so they wouldn’t see him when they entered. 

“Buffy! Behind you!” he warned as the demon attacked.

“What the?” Buffy gasped as she was struck by an invisible foe. “Spike!”

“I’m here, Buffy. It’s a Lei-ach demon. It’s on your left!”

She swung left, her fist hitting the beast and sending it flying, but she still couldn’t see it or Spike.

“Where are you?” she demanded.

“Right here,” he answered, standing next to her right shoulder. “You can’t see me. Gl--Someone’s cast a spell of non-seeing!”

“A what?”

Spike saw the second Lei-ach approaching and prepared to do battle. “A spell of non-seeing. There’s another one here! It’s coming at you from the left!”

Buffy took up fighting stance. “Are there any others?”

“One more, in the shop.” He leaped and threw himself at the demon. “I’ve got this one. You go help the others!”

He watched until she was out of the training room before turning to his opponent. Lei-ach demons were strong, but not very fast or bright, and Spike easily overpowered it. He killed it with the scythe he grabbed from the wall and then hurried out to help Buffy.

It was at about that time that Tara arrived with her family, realized what was happening and revoked the spell, revealing the tableau of carnage and Buffy finishing off the Lei-ach she was fighting.

“What in gods name is that?” Tara’s father demanded after witnessing Buffy snap the demon’s neck.

“Lei-ach demon. Fun little buggers. Big with the marrow sucking,” Spike replied, coming out of the training room.

“I don’t understand,” Tara’s father said.

“I’m not sure I do either,” Buffy commented, looking down at Tara, who was huddled by the counter.

“I’m sorry... I’m s-so sorry...” she was repeating over and over.

Willow approached her, confused and worried.

“I w-was just trying to hide... the spell went wrong...”

“Tara, what...” Willow asked.

“I didn’t want you to see... what I am,” Tara admitted, trembling.

“What you are?”

“I told you, you try to run from it you’ll put these people in danger,” Tara’s father said, then motioned to the dead demon. “And, my God…”

“I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.”

“I think you better explain. What do you mean, what you are?” Buffy demanded calmly.

“Demon,” her father answered for her because she couldn’t stop stuttering. “The women in our family have... demon in them. Her mother had it; it’s where the magic comes from. This isn’t something we generally like to share with strangers. We came to take her home before... well, before things like this started happening.”

“Tara, you’re not... how could you not say something to me... to me...” Willow asked, stricken and near tears.

Tara looked away, unable to answer. Giles stepped forward. “You put a spell on us to keep us from seeing your demon side. That’s why we couldn’t see our attackers.”

“And nearly got us killed,” Buffy pointed out, looking at Dawn.

Tara rose to her feet unsteadily. “I’ll go. I’m very sorry.”

“The camper’s outside,” her father told her gruffly.

“Wait! Go? She just did a spell that went wrong! Buffy, it was just a mistake!” Willow begged, not wanting to see her lover leave.

“It’s not the point and it’s not your concern. The girl belongs with us. We know how to control her problem,” Tara’s father insisted.

Willow refused to leave it at that. “Tara, look at me. I trusted you more than anyone in 
my life. Was all of that a lie?”

“No! No...” Tara firmly denied.

“Do you want to leave?”

“That is not your decision, young lady,” Tara’s father said.

“I know that,” Willow snapped, then turned to Tara. “Do you want to leave?”

Sniffing, Tara shook her head slightly.

“You are going to do what’s right, Tara. Now I am taking you out of here before somebody DOES get killed. The girl belongs with her family, I hope that’s clear to the rest of you,” her father interrupted.

Buffy looked at Dawn, then at Tara, the wheels turning in her head. Spike watched the lights come on behind her green eyes and had to smile.

“It is. You want her, Mr. Maclay, you can go ahead and take her,” Buffy said in her Slayer voice, crossing her arms and facing the man. “You just gotta go through me.”

“What?” Tara’s father blurted.

“You heard me. You wanna take Tara out of here against her will, then you gotta come through me,” Buffy repeated calmly.

Dawn stepped up to stand beside her sister. “And me.”

‘That’s my girls,’ Spike thought, biting his bottom lip to keep from smiling with pride. Then he looked over at Tara to see what was happening register on her face. ‘No one’s ever fought for you, eh Glinda? It’s a good feeling innit?’

“Is this a joke? I am not gonna be threatened by two little girls,” Tara’s father argued,

“You don’t wanna mess with us,” Dawn replied, holding her chin high.

“She’s a hair-puller,” Buffy told him, pointing at her sister.

Giles stepped up, cleaning his glasses and raising his eyes to meet Mr. Maclay’s. “And you’re not just dealing with two little girls.”

“You’re dealing with all of us,” Xander added.

Before, Spike had denied caring, but this time he moved to stand by Willow and Tara, arms crossed, the threat in his posture clearly evident. The others gave him shocked looks.

“What?” he snapped defensively. “I don’t kill a Lei-ach demon for just anybody, you know… Well actually… but still, that’s not the point…” 

He froze as Tara looked at him with open eyes and a fissure of fear ran up his spine.

‘She knows! She knows I knew about the spell, and that she was the one that cast it.’

For a moment, he was certain that Tara was going to give him away, but then her father’s ranting saved him.

“This is insane! You people have no right to interfere in Tara’s affairs. We are her blood kin -- who the hell are you?”

“We’re family,” Buffy answered as they grouped around Willow and Tara, staring him down.

Mr. Maclay turned away, but Tara’s brother Donny protested.

“Dad, you’re not gonna let them…” When he saw his father’s expression, he started towards Tara. “Tara, if you don’t get in that car, I swear by God I will beat you down.”

Xander puffed out his chest and refused to move out of the way. “And I swear by your full and manly beard you’re gonna break something trying.”

Spike saw the look in Donny’s eyes and didn’t like it. Without a word, he moved to add his support to Xander.

‘Pillock doesn’t need to know I can’t hit him.’

Donny looked at the two of them and backed down.

“Well, I hope you’ll all be happy hanging around with a disgusting demon,” Tara’s cousin Beth sneered.

Anya raised her hand, “Excuse me. What kind?”

Beth blinked. “What?”

“What kind of demon is she? There’s a lot of different kinds, some are very very evil, while some have been considered to be useful members of society...” Anya explained, giving Xander a loving look.

“Well, I don’t... what does it matter?” Beth replied, flustered.

“Evil is evil,” Tara’s father insisted.

“Well, let’s just narrow it down...” Anya pressed.

‘And here’s my cue…’ Spike mused. ‘Don’t give myself a chip headache for just anybody either.’

“Oh, I get it…” he said, approaching Tara. “Here, why don’t I make this simple.”

‘One migraine coming up,’ he cringed to himself as he popped Tara on the nose with a quick jab. The shock blinded him with pain, and he yowled as Tarayelped. 

“Hey!” Willow yelled, then her eyes opened wide in understanding. “Hey!”

“He hit my nose,” Tara cried, holding her injured face.

“And it hurt! I mean, him!” Willow exclaimed excitedly.

“And that only works with humans...” Buffy announced smugly.

“There’s no demon in there,” Spike said, shaking off the pain. “That’s just the family legend, am I right? Bit of spin to keep the ladies in line? Oh, you’re a piece of work. I like you.” 

“I’m not a demon,” Tara sobbed.

“You’re not a demon,” Willow affirmed, smiling.

“He hit my nose.”

Spike, his hand still on his forehead, muttered, “Yeah, well, you’re welcome.”

His voice caught Tara’s attention. She looked up at him with a mixture of confusion and awe on her face, and he once again got the impression that she was seeing right through him. It was the first time he’d seen Tara since he’d been sent back and he cursed himself for thinking he would be able to fool her. Even as she blinked at him, he saw the wheels turning behind her eyes and knew he had to do something to deflect attention from himself. Thankfully, Giles did it for him by addressing Tara’s father.

“Mr. Maclay, I’d say your business here is finished.”

Tara’s father tried one more time. “Tara... for eighteen years your family has taken care of you and supported you, if you wanna turn your back…”


Spike watched as a new expression of pride and self-confidence came across her face and she stood up to her father for the first time in her life. “Dad. Just go.”

There was a moment of tense silence, and then they obeyed, sulking out, muttering about magic, until the door closed behind them. Tara breathed a sigh of relief and turned to Willow.

“I’m so sorry,” she apologized again.

Willow hugged her. “It’s okay, baby. I understand why you did it.”

Spike saw Tara’s eyes meet his over Willow’s shoulder, and she kept looking at him as she left her lover’s embrace. Her gaze bore into him and he was suddenly afraid. He knew if she revealed his secret, he would have to have a clever lie ready to deny her claim, but the young woman surprised him with her empathy and understanding.

“Thank you, Spike, for what you did. I know it caused you pain.”

He blinked and looked away. “Well, if I hadn’t then you would have left here thinkin’ you were a demon and I couldn’t have that could I? Bloody imposter you’d be. Give us real demons a bad name.”

Tara smiled at him and laughed softly. “Perish the thought,” Then more timidly, held out like an olive branch, “We’re headed to the Bronze now. It’s my birthday. Would you like to come?”

Her simple offer left him dumbstruck and he fought the tears that welled in his eyes. He knew she could see the effect her invitation had on him, but she respected his privacy and didn’t call attention to it. Still, it took him a moment to swallow the lump in his throat.

‘She sees me. She really sees me. She’s always seen me…’

It meant more to him than words could say, but he knew if he accepted, things were bound to go wrong. 

“I’d love to, pet, but I have other plans. Maybe some other time though.”

She nodded and gave him another smile. “Okay.”

They fell silent for several moments, none of them quite sure what to say. Spike was the first to speak.

“Well, I’d best be off. Give your mum my best, Slayer. Tell her I’ll be by to see her soon.”

“Goodnight, Spike,” he heard Buffy say as he sauntered out with a swagger. The saunter was gone as soon as he was out of the shop, however, replaced by slumped shoulders and a sigh of relief.

‘Another thing changed, another day gone.’ Buffy had died on May 22nd‘Only 197 more days to go.’ 

*****

Spike was alone. Harmony had taken to going out more and more as his obsession with his journal infringed upon his attentions toward her. She resented his constant preoccupation, and nightly sex was doing little to placate her. Her absence was both welcome and irritating. At least when she was there, she was a willing partner and he could use her to reach the drop-undead exhaustion he needed in order to sleep, but she would also demand his attention when he was busy, then get angry when he would not stop what he was doing.

What he was doing was grinding his teeth and pacing like a caged animal. Despite his efforts, he had been unsuccessful in convincing Buffy or Joyce to return to the hospital for a CAT scan. He knew that she would go soon when the results from the first barrage of tests came back, but it meant that he’d been throwing himself against that particular wall for nearly three weeks.

He was mentally and physically exhausted and frustrated, and even more convinced that he really was dead and in hell. It seemed that no matter what he tried, he couldn’t affect big change, and he was beginning to think that that all his efforts were in vain. He was trapped. He couldn’t tell Buffy and the Scoobies the truth. He couldn’t kill Ben. He couldn’t stop Glory from hunting for the Key. He couldn’t even get a woman one-third his age to go to the bloody hospital! It had him seething, chomping at the bit like a high-strung horse, and near to bursting with feelings of helplessness and rage.

It was in this state that Buffy found him when she came storming into his crypt and slammed him against the stone pillar. As his face hit the rough surface, he remembered all too well the last time she had done this and what she had wanted from him. He knew where this was going. She’d come to hear about the Slayers, and planned to pay him for his story of how he defeated them. 

He’d been expecting her to show up, planning how he would do things differently, but her assault hurt in more than one way. His new soul disliked pain and his demon had never been terribly fond of it to begin with, so the unwarranted attack upset him. The fact that Buffy still felt it necessary to beat him up whenever she wanted anything from him was also a sore point. He had hoped after three weeks of cooperation and relatively bloodless, painless interaction that Buffy would ease up on her habit of “kick-the-Spike,” but it would seem that Buffy had other ideas. He was starting to suspect that she was already using him as her punching bag, an “acceptable” outlet for her anger and frustration, and that he had allowed it without ever really noticing what she was doing.

‘I was just so happy that she was there, acknowledging me. Negative attention was better than no attention,’ he realized as she ground his cheek into the stone then turned him around.

“To what do I owe these bruises, Slayer?” he asked coolly, looking at her.

Her eyes flashed anger and indignation, but no remorse, no acknowledgement of how abusive she was being.

‘She doesn’t see me as anything but a monster, an unfeeling, soul-less monster. To her it doesn’t matter if she hurts me because I’m just a demon.’

The thought saddened him, and not merely because he now had a soul, but because he knew how misguided she and the Council of Watchers were about the true nature of demons.

‘Maybe I can use tonight’s lessons to teach her more than just about the Slayers I killed.’

“Slayers. You killed two of them,” she said tightly.

He feigned surprise and concern. “I did.”

“You’re gonna show me how.”

“I am, am I?” he countered.

She punched him in the face and he yowled in pain, grabbing his nose.

“Yes, you are.”

He was bleeding, his soul crying, as he staunched the wound.

‘I don’t want to do this, but I have no choice. Tonight’s the night she finds out about her mum going back to hospital for, finally, the bloody CAT scan. Only three weeks late!’

“Alright, Slayer, you’ve convinced me.”

“I knew you’d see it my way, besides, there’s cash in it for you.”

“Joy,” he replied without enthusiasm. “Where do you want to begin?”

“Not here. I don’t want to be stuck in this place alone with you for any length of time. We’ll go to the Bronze.”

His hurting soul allowed the demon more slack on its tether as it reeled from the pain she had dealt it.

“Afraid to be alone with me, eh pet?” he sneered.

“Don’t make me break your jaw, Spike,” she threatened, turning to walk out.

Spike followed, swallowing his pain and wounds, his eyes watching the back of her head.

‘I love you. I love you and you hurt me. I love you. I hate you. I love you.’

He let her take him to the Bronze and buy him American beer. Once again, she scowled at his attempt at civilized conversation and brought him back to the subject at hand. He, again, demanded wings as part of his payment.

“Just as I thought,” he commented, drawing attention to her gasp of pain and reflexive holding of her injured side. “So, what nasty got a piece of you and is it dead yet?”

“I’m fine. It’s nothing. Riley’s taking care of it.”

“Soldier Boy? Really?”

“What? You don’t think Riley can handle himself?” she demanded, defensive.

He sat back, backpedaling a bit. “I didn’t say that. It’s just… with him not being Super Soldier anymore… could make a man do things he normally wouldn’t do. Make him take risks where he might not have before.”

She winced and he knew he’d hit a nerve. “Riley’s fine.”

“I’m just sayin’… I know what it’s like to have all of your power and reason for being taken away from you overnight. Can make a weaker man do some stupid things,” he explained reasonably, knowing she would realize that he was questioning Riley’s manhood.

“Have you always been this big of a pain in the ass?”

He gave her an evil smirk. “What can I tell you, baby. I’ve always been bad.”

Spike spun his tale, much the same one he had told her the first time he had done this. He made minor changes here and there, but paused when he caught Buffy frowning at him after his tale of the Chinese Slayer. 

“What are you looking at?” he asked, but he knew what she was going to say.

“You got off on it,” she accused.

“Well, yeah. And don’t tell me you don’t get off on killing my kind, that you don’t enjoy the victory and the power rush every time you dust one of us, that you don’t want to climb Captain Cardboard’s tree after a night of heavy slaying.”

She moved to protest but he cut her off, seeing the guilty look in her eyes.

“The problem is, you do get off on it. But you’ve been taught by the bloody Council of Wankers that it’s wrong for you to feel this way. That it’s dirty. It’s not dirty. It’s natural. There’s plenty of humans out there that get their kicks off pain and violence. Normal humans with souls. You’re not a normal human, pet, and you’ve got appetites that the normal, mundane population of this miserable town couldn’t even begin to understand or fathom,” he countered, moving around the pool table. 

She was looking disgusted, but he had her attention, and his demon thrilled as he pressed his advantage. 

“That Slayer that went to the dark side, what was her name? Faith? She understood what I’m talkin’ about. That brief stint with the body-switching, she was here, teasin’ everything with balls, including me. She knew about power and sex and what it does to a Slayer. And she wasn’t the only one. You think she was the bad-egg, the anomaly, but the truth of the matter is that she wasn’t the off one, you are.”

“There is nothing wrong with me!” she snapped angrily.

‘Oooh. Hit a nerve, did I?’

“No, there isn’t. But there are parts of you, Slayer, that don’t accept what you are, that fight the power and the darkness, yes darkness, in you, and I’m telling you that one day, that will get you killed,” he pressed.

Buffy crossed her arms and glared at him. “Oh, and you’ll just be dancing and throwing a party when that happens.”

The words hit him like a physical blow and he flinched, both his soul and his demon screaming in protest. ‘No. I’ll be a useless wreck, clinging to a half-grown girl. But if I’m lucky, I won’t ever have to find out because I’ll either save you or die trying.’

He tried to set up another shot, but his hands were shaking so badly that it veered wide.

“Think about this, Slayer: there’s countless numbers of us and only one of you. It only takes one of us to get a lucky shot or catch you on a bad day for it to all be over,” he said, leaning on his pool cue and consciously choosing to leave out the ‘one good day’ line he had uttered before. “But that’s why we’re here, innit?”

He paused to look at her, then motioned to the table. “It’s your move, love.”

She took him outside, demanded a blow-by-blow, play-by-play of his fight with the New York Slayer, and he obliged her as he had done before.

“Okay, give it to me,” she pressed, and he lunged at her.

She ducked and came up behind him, but this time he was ready for her and swung around. She missed grabbing him and hit the wall, making him laugh.

“What?” she sneered, regaining her composure.

“Lesson the second: ask the right questions. You want to know how I beat ‘em?”

She gestured for him to continue and the exhilaration began flooding through his body. They were dancing and he’d missed it. Even his soul was excited, moreso because he knew this evening would end differently than it had before. Or so he hoped.

“The question isn’t ‘how’d I win.’ The question is why’d they lose?”

“What’s the difference?”

He attacked with the pool cue, stopping just inches from her throat.

“There’s a big difference, luv.”

Buffy swatted the pool cue right out of his hand and sent it flying without a flinch. He let her.

“How’d you kill the second one?”

He shrugged then said, “Well, it went a bit like this…”

He threw three punches at her head in quick succession, using his vampire strength. Buffy easily moved out of the way.

“That didn’t hurt?” she accused, a wary look entering her eyes.

Spike shook his head. “Knew I couldn’t touch you. If there’s no intent to hurt you, then the chip they shoved up my brain never activates. If, on the other hand...” He vamped out and swung another punch right at her face. Before his fist could connect, however, his chip fired and he reeled off with a howl. Breathing heavily, clutching his forehead, he shook off his demon. 

“See, now that hurt.”

“Yeah?” She punched him. “That hurt too?”

“Definite pain there,” he admitted. 

“How’d you kill ‘em, Spike?”

He moved for her again, but she grabbed him, flipped him onto his back and straddled him, a stake to his heart. If he’d had a pulse, it would have been pounding, as it was he was breathing heavily, excited and aroused and tortured by the knowledge of what was to come.

“You’re not ready to know.” ‘You’re alive and vibrant and full of joy, and you use me, abuse me and I want to hate you, but I can’t. I love you. I love you even though I’m nothing to you. Why can’t I hate you!’

“I’m ready,” she countered firmly, pressing the stake into his flesh.

‘Would she really kill me? Would that be such a bad thing? No, can’t. Gotta stay with her so I can protect Dawn and save Joyce. Okay, once more unto the brink…’

“Okay then. Went like this…”

He flipped Buffy off him, sending her sprawling as he reenacted his fight with the New York Slayer.

“The first one was all business. But the second - now she had a touch of your style,” he said, lunging and parrying with her.

“She was cunning, resourceful, and oh, did I mention? Hot. I could have danced all night with that one.”

“You think we’re dancing?” Buffy countered, avoiding another blow.

Spike came in close to her face. “It’s all we’ve ever done.”

He backed away from her, retrieving the pool cue and spinning it as he had once spun the subway car support pole he had ripped out all those years ago, 

“Every day you wake up it’s the same bloody question what haunts you: Is today the day I die?” 

Buffy tried to punch him but she missed and he continued, “...every time the sun rises. And every day you manage to survive, you’re only partly relieved because you know - it’s just a matter of time.”

Using the cue as a quarterstaff, he went after her with enthusiasm, reveling in the rush, the feeling of being free with her.

“Death is on your heels, baby - and, sooner or later, it’s going to catch you...”

Buffy kicked out, barely missing his genitals. He rolled, flipping out of her way, to land on his knees. Breathing heavily, he licked his lips, loving the sight of her in full battle mode. Powerful, undefeated, magnificent. She was glorious and he was her fool.

“And some part of you wants it. Not only to stop the fear and uncertainty - but because you’re just a little bit in love with it. Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day.”

She came to stand before him and he stayed on his knees looking up at her with an expression of sublime peace. 

“Part of you is desperate to know... What’s it like? Where does it lead you? So you see, that’s the secret. Not the punch she didn’t throw or the kick she didn’t land. She

simply wanted it. Every Slayer has a death wish.”

He waited on his knees, waiting to see if she would say anything, and when she merely stared at him, nostrils flaring, he rose to his feet.

“But not you, luv. At least not yet. You still have ties to this world: your mum, your sister, the Scoobies. They’re what keep you fighting,” he explained. “See, the Council of Wankers think family and friends’ll distract a Slayer from her duties, so they take the potentials away from their folks and give ‘em to their Watchers to raise. They grow up in isolation, force-fed the Council’s line of rubbish about sacred duty and sacrifice, and by the time they’ve been Slaying for two years, they’re all worn out. They want to die. I just happened to be the one who wore ‘em down enough to give ‘em what they wanted.”

Buffy snorted in disgust, but didn’t turn away. 

‘Yeah, luv. You might not like what I have to say, but you know I’m tellin’ the truth.’

“They died because they lost the will to fight. They had nothing to fight for. Even the military knows that soldiers who don’t get letters from home are the ones that die, or stop fighting. And, make no mistake, Buffy, you are a soldier, a true warrior, and you think and act like one. Your family and friends, they remind you of why you fight this fight every night. They’re your letters from home.”

He looked at her earnestly, noting that she seemed to fold in upon herself, her eyes lost and sad. He stood close to her, but did not touch her. He wanted to, but he knew it was too soon. She wasn’t ready to accept comfort from him just yet.

“The reason you slipped up, Buffy,” he said softly, gently. “Is because you’re worried about your mum. She’s got you thinkin’ about her and not on fightin’ the nasties. As soon as everything’s all right again, you’ll be back in fightin’ trim and nothing will get close enough to touch you. But until then, it’s probably best if you don’t patrol alone.”

She met his eyes, her expression pained. “I wasn’t alone. Riley was with me.”

He nodded, but didn’t comment. He didn’t need to. She was already forming her own conclusions about Riley.

“How is Mum doing anyway? Did you take her to get that CAT scan?” He knew that she hadn’t.

“Not yet. But the medication seems to be working. Her headaches aren’t as bad. I think. She was supposed to get the test results back today, but I haven’t seen her to ask if there was any news.”

“Here. Lesson’s over. Why don’t I walk you home and we can both get the news together.”

She nodded in agreement and turned for home. Spike fell into step beside her, leaving the pool cue lying in the alley. They walked in silence: Buffy lost in her own thoughts and Spike caught in the dread of already knowing what awaited them when they arrived at the Summers’ house. Still, every so often he’d look at her, drinking in the sight of her as she was in her prime. Loving her, hating her, and pretending that she really didn’t think of him as a disgusting monster, but saw him as a man, as her equal.

‘We could’ve been so good together. If only you’d have let me love you.’

He followed her into the house and waited at the bottom of the stairs while she went up to get her mother. He already knew what she would find up there and steeled himself for it. A minute or two later, a visibly upset Buffy came down the stairs, followed by her mother.

“Buffy?” he questioned, pretending ignorance, even as his soul filled with pain.

Buffy shook her head and walked away. He watched her go out the kitchen door to sit on the back porch.

“Joyce?” he asked, looking at the woman.

“I have to go back into the hospital, Spike. My test results came back today and they want to do a CAT scan and run a few more tests.”

“About bloody damn time.”

His outburst made her smile softly. “Yes, I know you’ve been telling me to go for weeks. You should be happy now.”

“I’d have been happier if they’d done it sooner.”

Joyce shrugged. “Well, they’re doing it tomorrow. You’ll have to be happy with that.” She motioned towards the kitchen. “Want me to make some cocoa?”

He shook his head. “No, but thank you for offerin.’ I think I’ll go see if your eldest needs anything.”

The woman looked at him, her expression pensive, but she didn’t try to stop him as he walked towards the back door. He found Buffy crying on the back steps, just as she had been on that first night when he’d stormed into her yard carrying a loaded rifle, hell bent on killing her, right before he couldn’t stand the sight of her tears and turned into a spineless poofter.

This time around, he had no rifle and no murderous intent, but he did sit next to her and gingerly reached over to pat her on the shoulder comfortingly. She cast him a heartbroken glance, then looked off into the distance. He stayed next to her, a silent supporter, until she was ready to go back into the house.

********

The following day Spike made his way to the hospital via the sewers. He knew that today was the day Joyce would be diagnosed with the tumor and he wanted to be there. He found Buffy comforting a distraught Dawn but there was no sign of Joyce.

“Hi Spike,” Dawn greeted listlessly.

“They take her in?” he asked when Buffy looked up at him.

Buffy nodded, her hand absently stroking Dawn’s hair. “They took her in about twenty minutes ago.”

He nodded but didn’t say anything. Instead he looked around before settling down on a chair next to Buffy and waited in silence. Half an hour later a nurse appeared at the entrance to the waiting room and called Buffy back to see her mother.

“Stay with Dawn, please?” she asked him, her eyes sad and worried.

Spike nodded and moved into the chair next to Dawn as Buffy followed the nurse. Dawn looked stricken and Spike swallowed the lump in his throat.

“Don’t worry, Nibblet. I’m sure Mum’s just fine,” he lied after several tense moments, trying to be cheerful.

Dawn turned to him with reddened eyes. “No she’s not.”

Spike seemed put off., his brow creasing. “How do you know?”

“Coz they only wanted Buffy. If Mom was fine, they’d have asked for both of us, but because I’m the little sister…”

Spike tried to deflect her fears. “Now, Bite Size, I’m sure there’s a good reason for why they only wanted Buffy…”

“I’m not a baby, Spike. I can tell when someone is trying to ‘protect’ me. I watch TV y’know. It’s always the youngest who finds out last.” 

Spike snorted. “Piffle. You want too much TV, Nibblet. TV isn’t real life and real life doesn’t work that way.”

“Doesn’t it?

Spike was about to respond when Buffy returned. The look on her face broke his heart.

“Buffy?” Dawn asked timidly.

Buffy sat down on the other side of Dawn and reached out a shaky hand. “Dawnie…”

“Mom’s gonna be okay, right?”

Tears welled in Buffy’s eyes. “We don’t know. The doctors… they found a shadow in Mom’s brain.”

“A shadow?” Dawn repeated.

“They don’t know what it is. They’re taking her into surgery to do a biopsy.”

“Surgery? Now?”

Buffy nodded.

“Can I… can I see her before…?” Dawn asked.

Buffy nodded again. “I’ll take you back.”

As she and Dawn got up, Buffy looked at Spike, an apologetic expression on her face “Spike…”

“I know, Slayer. Family only.”

Buffy confirmed it and gave a little shrug.

“Nibblet, tell Mum I’ll be seeing her soon and I’ll make the cocoa.”

“I will, Spike,” Dawn agreed, and followed her sister down the hall. 

Buffy came back a minute later. “I’m going to call the Magic Box, let them know what’s going on.”

“Okay.”

“You stay here and wait for Dawn, okay?”

“Not a problem. Whatever you need, whatever I can do.” 

She gave him a soft smile and headed for the payphones. She returned a few minutes later, quiet and pensive, and sat next to him. It was all he could do to keep from putting his arm around her. Dawn joined them as they wheeled Joyce on a stretcher down to the OR. The older woman gave him a small wave and wan smile, which he returned as he watched her go, then the three of them settled in for the long wait. It was hard on Spike because he already knew the outcome and he was never good at waiting. Thankfully the waiting room had a television and he watched soap operas. Dawn fell asleep at some point during the afternoon and he covered her with his duster. 

Buffy was staring off into space, Dawn was sleeping and he was watching Passions when Riley entered the waiting room, looking flustered.

“Riley?” Buffy said, surprised to see him. 

Spike just sat back and smirked to himself. Since Soldier Boy hadn’t caught him sniffing Buffy’s sweaters that morning, he hadn’t known about Joyce’s tests.

“I just came from the Magic Box. They told me about your mom. Buffy, why didn’t you call me?”

Buffy looked away guiltily. “I didn’t want to worry you until we knew what was going on.”

“Well you did worry me. I went by your house this morning and no one was there. I had no idea what was going on…” His voice was steadily rising.

“Oi! Keep it down. Nibblet’s sleepin’ and I’m trying to watch the telly,” Spike groused.

Riley glared at him. He sneered back.

“What is he doing here?” the ex-soldier complained.

Buffy rolled her eyes impatiently and Spike silently cheered. “He was there last night when Mom told us about the test results and he asked if I minded if he came. I said no. He and Mom are friends. He cares.”

Riley tried to whisper but he didn’t account for vampire hearing. “Buffy, do I have to remind you that Spike is a vampire…”

Buffy cut him off. “I don’t have time for this, Riley. He asked, I said yes. End of discussion.”

Riley backed off, hands raised in surrender. Buffy caught sight of Joyce’s doctor scanning the room and rose to her feet. She walked over to him, motioning Riley to stay behind. Spike waited a few beats, then got up, giving Riley a nonchalant shrug.

“Never was good at doin’ what I was told,” he quipped and headed over to the other side of the room.

“Do you have results yet?” he heard her ask as he joined them. She cast him a glance but didn’t make him leave.

“Why don’t we sit down over—” the doctor said after a pause.

Buffy interrupted him, “No. Excuse me, no, Doctor. Not to be rude, but I don’t wanna sit down. I’ve been doing nothing but sitting down for hours. Just tell me...”

The doctor sighed and gave in. “Your mother has... The term is ‘low- grade glioma.’ It’s a brain tumor...”

Spike saw Buffy’s eyes glaze over in shock, then her knees give out. He used his vampire speed to get a chair underneath her before she fell, but then stepped back, giving her space. This was proving to be more difficult for him than he had originally thought, but he had to see it through for Buffy. Still it was so hard not to give himself away, so hard not to reach out. But he couldn’t. He hadn’t been given that right yet.

“The clinical name’s Oligo...dendro... glioma. It’s in the left hemisphere of the cerebrum. In your mother’s case, the tumor seems to have started there. In other words, it hasn’t spread there from another part of the body... which, in a way, is good news...”

The doctor moved to sit across from Buffy, his face compassionate. “I know this is very difficult. And, unfortunately, because of the nature of your mother’s illness, things could progress very quickly.”

The words snapped Buffy out of her stupor. “Things? What things?”

“Symptoms. There are a fair variety that might present. Loss of vision or appetite, lack of muscle control, mood swings, personality changes…”

“But what can we do?” she asked.

The doctor gave her a gentle smile. “Not much until we determine if the tumor’s operable. Which we’re working on.”

“Well, I... is there something I should be doing? Can I... help?”

The doctor nodded. “Well, there’s some literature you might want to look at. If we aren’t able to go in surgically, there are a number of new treatments which are very promising. Your mother’s prognosis is a lot better today than it would have been only a year ago. Even if the tumor’s not operable, she has a real chance.”

Buffy, shrewd as ever, replied, “What’s ‘a real chance?’”

The doctor hesitated, but Spike’s growl made him answer. “Nearly one in three patients with this condition does just fine.”

The words hit Buffy hard and Spike saw her hands start to tremble. 

“Now. Let me ask - does your mother’s insurance company require copies of MRI and pathology reports?” the doctor was asking.

Never having dealt with such a situation before, Buffy was at a loss. “I’m not… sure.”

“Just let me know as soon as possible. And I could use some information regarding your mom’s lifestyle and home environment. For instance, does she use a cell phone?”

Buffy was looking overwhelmed and Spike ached to step in, but he didn’t know what to say.

“I think. She uses one of those... She had an ear thing, but...”

“Okay... Is your house near any power lines? Chemical plants? Waste disposal facilities?”

“I don’t think so... Maybe.”

“Dump’s on the other side of town,” Spike commented.

“Well, the more we know...”

“I’m sorry...” Buffy trailed off. 

Someone new joined them and Spike turned in time to see Ben touch the doctor on the shoulder and tell him that he was needed in ICU. At the sight of the intern, Spike’s vision went red and he clenched his fists.

‘Kill you. Kill you, I will. You and the Hell Bitch. Not gonna touch my girls.’

The doctor was standing, giving his condolences, but Ben was still there.

‘Bomb your car. Put poison in your drink…’

Ben was explaining that he saw Buffy foundering and had fabricated the story of the page to get rid of the doctor and give her some space. For a moment it looked like he was going to sit down next to Buffy, but one look from Spike made him change his mind.

“Listen,” the intern said nervously, casting odd glances at the vampire that was looming protectively and glaring at him. “Your mom’s gonna be unconscious for at least another six, seven hours. Why don’t you take a break?”

“A break?” Buffy repeated, stunned.

“I just mean, go out. Get some air. Come back later this evening, talk to the doc then if you want,” he backpedaled.

Buffy hesitated and Spike moved in closer, menacing. Ben threw up his hands, good-naturedly.

“My unsolicited advice of the day.”

He waved and moved off, stopping when a nurse showed him a chart. Spike never took his eyes off him, not even when Riley approached. 

“Buffy...”

Much to Spike’s ire, Buffy hugged Riley, leaning on him for comfort. 

“It’s bad, Riley.”

“I know.”

“I’ve got to do something,” she blurted, looking at him.

“Do something?” Riley asked.

“Maybe there’s some magic or something -- a healing spell,” she offered.

Spike creased his brow and gave a shake of his head. Buffy didn’t see it but Riley did, and for once they agreed on something.

“Healing spell? Buffy... People get sick. I don’t think magic can help…”

“That attitude’s not helping. I have to try,” she snapped.

“Okay,” Riley gave in.

Pulling out of his arms, Buffy fought to get her thoughts in order. “I need to talk to Giles. Can you drop Dawn off at school for me? Tell her I’ll meet her at the magic shop when she gets out.”

“Whatever you need me to do,” Riley agreed.

“I’ll meet you at the Magic Box, Slayer. In the meantime, I’ll swing by the Gallery and see if I can’t get some of the insurance info the doc needed,” he added, trying to be helpful.

“The Gallery?” Buffy questioned.

“I know the way through the tunnels. I’ll pop up, have a chat with whoever’s in charge when your mum’s not there, maybe make a couple of phone calls, and see what I can find out, alright?” he clarified. 

Buffy looked about to cry but she nodded. He nodded back and went to retrieve his coat from across Dawn, waking her in the process.

“Spike?” she murmured sleepily.

“Hey, Sweet Bit. Mum’s out of surgery. Big sis is headed out to get a break while Soldier Boy takes you to school. We’ll meet you at the Magic Box later, after school, okay?”

“What happened with Mom?” the teen asked. 

He shook his head and lied. “No news yet, luv. It might be a while.”

He stepped back and turned to Buffy as Riley came close. “I’ll see you later, Slayer.”

She acknowledged him with a nod and he headed out. He saw Ben at the end of a hallway and stopped to stare for moment.

‘Cut the brake line on your nancyboy car…’

Growling, frustrated, he stalked down to the basement and the tunnel entrances. He swung by the blood bank on the way down and nicked a couple of bags for lunch. What Buffy didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

*******

It took Spike close to three hours to make his way to the Magic Box. The woman who Joyce had hired as her assistant had been helpful in providing information about the Gallery employees’ health insurance provider, but she had also been extraordinarily chatty, asking questions about Joyce, Buffy, Dawn and himself while gathering the information Buffy needed for the hospital. By the time he finally extracted himself from the woman, it was late afternoon.

He entered the store from the basement and came into the shop just as Riley was leaving. The ex-soldier gave him a hateful glance before storming out.

“Afternoon all,” he greeted.

“Spike, what are you doing here?” Giles demanded.

“Told the Slayer I’d meet ‘er here after doin’ a bit of research for her at Mum’s gallery. Docs needed some insurance info that I promised to get for her,” he looked around, not seeing Buffy. “Where is she? In the back room pummeling something into the wall?”

“I’m afraid not,” Giles admitted, then paused for a moment as if thinking. “Spike, have you heard of any new demons coming into Sunnydale recently? Any very powerful or old ones?”

One of the hardest things he ever had to do in his unlife was lie at that moment. “Can’t say that I have. Why?” he replied nonchalantly, sitting down at the reading table.

The Watcher gave Xander a look, then sighed. “It would seem that a new threat has entered Sunnydale and we’re not sure what we’re dealing with.”

“Yeah, Buffy ran into her a few nights back and got the crap beat out of her,” Xander added.

Spike struggled to keep his features from giving anything away. “Sounds tough. Have we got a name?”

“Unfortunately, no. Whatever she is, she’s very powerful and about to conjure a cobra demon,” Giles admitted.

“Cobra demon?” Spike repeated.

Giles cleaned his glasses. “Yes. I’m afraid I… inadvertently sold her the necessary spell components for a Sobekian transmogrification spell.”

Spike gave him a sarcastic salute. “Way to go Rupert, and did you give her a map of the zoo so she’d know right where to go?”

“Sarcasm is not appreciated. In any case, that is where Buffy has gone. She is going to try to stop her from completing the spell.”

Spike appeared about to retort something when the phone rang. Giles answered it, speaking sparsely, his face growing more and more concerned until he hung up. Spike knew the call was from Buffy, but he refrained from revealing that fact.

Giles put the phone back on its receiver and cleaned his glasses.

“That was Buffy.”

“I gather she was unsuccessful in stopping her from conjuring that snake demon,” Spike said.

“Unfortunately, no she wasn’t.”

Spike let his concern show. “Is she alright?”

“She sounded tired and… in pain, but not seriously harmed. She is back at the hospital waiting for Joyce to wake. We’re to keep an eye out for a large animorphed cobra and wait here for Dawn.”

“Nibblet should be here soon. School’s out. Maybe one of you ought to go get her.”

“She is undoubtedly already on her way here. We are to keep her here, and safe, until Buffy comes for her. We are not to tell her about her mother,” Giles informed.

Both Spike and Xander nodded in understanding.

“Snake demon, eh? Any chance it’ll come here?” Spike asked.

“I honestly don’t know.”

Spike stood and moved purposefully to the training room. He came back out carrying a large sword and a whetting stone. The others looked at him as he sat down again and began sharpening the blade.

“Spike, what are you doing?” Giles asked, confused.

“I’m getting’ ready to kill me a big snake. What’s it look like?”

The Watcher was non-plussed. “Yes, well…”

“Never met a snake that could live through gettin’ its head chopped off,” Spike said, twirling the blade. “An’ this beauty ought to do the job quite nicely.”

Neither man had any answer to that so they both went about their business as Spike resumed his sharpening. A short while later, Dawn came in with Willowand Tara.

“Look who we found on the way back from the Expresso Stop?” Willow commented cheerfully.

“Any word on Mom?” Dawn asked Giles hopefully.

Giles looked apologetic. “I’m afraid not. Buffy called a few minutes ago. They expect your mother to wake soon.”

Dawn looked excited. “Am I supposed to go to the hospital?”

“No. You’re to stay here and wait for Buffy.”

The teen deflated and turned away. “Oh.”

“Oi, Nibblet,” Spike called, motioning her over and distracting her while Giles updated Willow and Tara on the latest events. “Why don’t you come over here and do your homework? Bis Sis’ll be here soon.”

Dawn obeyed, pulling her bookbag off her shoulder and setting it down on the table.

“That’s a big sword.”

Spike kept sharpening. “Yeah. Two-handed bastard sword. Not as big as a Scottish Claymore, but pretty hefty. Good for chopping up nasties into bits.”

“Ewww.”

Spike shrugged and looked down to his work. Dawn sat down at the table and began doing her homework.

Time passed. Spike sharpened the sword. Willow and Tara left to look for the snake demon and returned empty-handed. Giles and Xander did more research, and Dawn tried to do her homework. All of them were nervous and on edge. Finally, sometime after sunset, Buffy made her way slowly into the shop.

“Buffy?” Spike said softly.

Dawn, seeing her sister, got up and ran to her, hugging her tight.

“Is she awake yet?”

Buffy nodded, “Yeah, she’s waiting for us.”

“Can we take her home now?”

Buffy paused. “We’ll see.” She looked at the others. “Any monster reptile sightings?”

“None,” Giles replied.

“Tara and I did a mini-patrol earlier, but the big snakie was nowhere in—” Willow added.

Just then, there was a large smash and the cobra demon came crashing through the Magic Shop front window. Buffy moved to face it but it knocked her into some shelves, collapsing them on top of her.

“Buffy!” Spike cried and rushed to her aid as the snake moved in on Dawn.

Dawn screamed.

“Dawn!” Xander cried, trying to go to Dawn’s aid, but the snake demon hissed at him and he froze in place.

‘Bloody thing’s got the snake hypno. ‘S worse than Dru’s thrall,’ Spike thought to himself, moving into action.

He was reaching for the sword when both Dawn and the snake let out ear-piercing shrieks. The sound blasted Spike’s sensitive hearing and he howled in pain, covering his ears.

Buffy was about to charge when the snake suddenly stopped screeching. It then whipped around and streaked out of the shop through the broken front window. Spike, shaking off the pain from the twin shrieks, lunged for the sword.

“Why was the big snake afraid of Dawn?” Willow asked, confused.

“Giles!” Buffy cried, and they met eyes. “It knows.”

They mobilized, but Spike was faster. Grabbing the sword, he raced out after the cobra. Using all of his vampiric speed, he ran, duster flying behind him. He saw the cobra make a turn and headed down an adjacent alley to head it off. Buffy and Giles’ pursuit spooked it and it turned in Spike’s direction. He was there, waiting for it, sword held high. The cobra saw him and hissed.

“Sorry, mate. The mojo don’t work on me,” he said and struck, lopping the demon’s head neatly off.

Buffy and Giles caught up in time to see it writhe out its final death throes with Spike standing over it. They stopped and stared in shock.

“Told ya, Rupert. Never met a snake that could live through beheading.”

“Yes, well, good job, Spike,” Giles said, catching his breath.

“Thanks. Now all we need to find out is why the bint conjured it in the first place.”

“Glory,” Buffy said, still coming down from her panic.

“Glory?” Giles repeated.

“That’s what she called herself. Glory.”

“Well, at least we have a name now.”

“It’s something I can mention when I’m knocking demons’ heads in looking for information,” Spike said.

Giles nodded.

“I have to get back to the hospital. Mom’s waiting for Dawn and me,” Buffy noted suddenly.

Spike didn’t want to face Joyce or spend any more time in the hospital. “How about I take care of ol’ scaly here. Bound to be a few bits and pieces that are worth a pretty penny. ‘S not everyday you come across a Sobekian cobra demon. Venom alone would fetch a decent price. I’ll split the take with you, 70-30.”

Both Giles and Buffy were too tired and traumatized to argue. “That sounds like a very generous offer, Spike. You do what needs to be done, and I’ll take Dawn and Buffy to the hospital.”

“Sounds like a plan, Rupert.”

“Thank you.”

Giles moved to guide a nearly catatonic Buffy away from the decapitated body of the demon.

“G’night, Slayer. Tell Mum I’ll be in to see her soon.”

Buffy looked back, a small smile on her lips. “I will,” she whispered. “Thanks, Spike.”

He gave her a genuine smile and nodded his head. Giles then came up alongside Buffy and led her gently away. After she was gone, Spike set to processing the Sobek demon. He decided to broker most of it through Anya, and then set up separate accounts for himself, Buffy and Dawn. Even if Joyce survived, his stint over the summer of Buffy’s death taught him that Joyce had been too busy paying for Buffy’s medical bills and damage to the house, to set up investment accounts for her daughters. 

‘It’s never too late to start thinkin’ about your future…’

******

The following night Spike paid Joyce a visit in the hospital. Both Dawn and Buffy were already there, and Joyce was trying to convince her daughters to bring her something else to eat.

‘Ah, lovely hospital food. There was a reason me an’ Dru would never feed on inpatients.’

He grinned to himself and patted the small box of chocolates he’d stashed away in his coat.

“Evenin’ ladies,” he greeted, sauntering in.

Dawn beamed at him and he saw the first glimmers of the crush she was beginning to develop. “Hi, Spike.”

‘Save a girl from a giant snake, and they just fall all over you. Now if only that’d work on the Slayer…’

“Hello, Spike,” Joyce said, a genuine smile on her face.

“Spike,” Buffy said. Her voice was neutral but her face was wary.

‘Haven’t quite got me figured out yet, have you, Slayer. I’m just full o’ surprises these days, ain’t I?’

“I was in the neighborhood and decided to pop in. Did I hear you complainin’ about the quality of the food, Mum?”

Joyce looked guilty. “Well, I am used to a higher level of culinary choices…”

Spike grinned and pulled the chocolates out. “Well, I might be able to sweeten the deal a bit for ya.”

The woman’s eyes lit up at the sight of the foil wrapped box. “Oooohh, you evil man you…”

Buffy intercepted the contraband gift. “Hey! Hey, no caffeine allowed. Doctors orders,” she announced, then gave a little smile that gave her away. “Dawn and I will just have to suffer and eat these for you.”

“Hey, no fair. He smuggled those in for me.”

“A little lax on the manners training, eh, Joyce?” Spike commented. “You know, in my day, we sent our girls to finishing school. Came back right proper ladies, they did. Never a bad word spoken or a fork out of place.”

“This from Mr. Homicidal Killer who’s great love belonged in a loony bin,” Buffy snapped, stung.

“Buffy!” Joyce admonished, but Spike swallowed the pain and gave a shrug.

“What can I say? Love is blind. Or rather … Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails,” he recited, the words of Corinthians rolling off his tongue like a bittersweet memory.

‘I love you. And I will not fail.’

He stopped and there was a moment of tense silence, then a doctor entered.

“Oh hello, Dr. Kriegel. You’ve met my girls, Buffy and Dawn,” Joyce said.

Dr. Kriegel gave them a smile. “Yes, of course. You two are becoming part of the regular crew around here.”

“And this is…” Joyce began, but Spike interrupted, shaking the doctor’s hand.

“William. I’m a friend of the family.”

The doctor gave him a weak smile. “Pleased to meet you, William. I’m sure Joyce is glad to have so many visitors.”

“Just keeping her company,” Buffy explained.

“Good for you. Just be careful you don’t wear her out,” the doctor warned.

“Don’t worry about that. I woke up exhausted, there’s really no more exhausted to get,” Joyce sighed.

“Well, maybe some good news will help. The bloodwork has come back from the lab and everything seems fine. So, we’ve gone ahead and scheduled your surgery for the day after tomorrow at ten in the a.m. How does that sound to you?”

Joyce managed a small joke, “I think they have me scheduled for volleyball, but I’ll work around it.”

Dr. Kreigel smiled at her attempt at humor. “Alright then. Joyce, you take care. Make sure to get some good solid rest. And I mean that.”

Joyce’s face fell as the doctor left and she looked forlorn.

“What’s wrong, Mum?” Spike asked.

“The day after tomorrow? I don’t know if I can stand to be stuck here for two more days just waiting.”

“Waiting? Gimme a break- We’ve got tons to do,” Buffy said.

“Yeah, we’ve got soap operas to watch and trashy magazines to read ...” Dawn added.

“Can’t miss those, Mum,” Spike agreed.

“Ooh, and an adjustable bed to fiddle with. That alone’ll keep me going for the next four hours or so,” Buffy announced, discovering the controls.

“Now Buffy, I really don’t need you to stay here all night. I know you’ve got patrolling to do.”

“Not tonight. Tonight I have Mom taking-care-of to do. Besides, Riley is filling in for me with the others. I’m sure they’ve got everything under control.”

“You left the Scoobies with Soldier Boy?” he blurted, knowing full well that Riley was spending more and more time at Willy’s and the vamp whorehouse.

Buffy looked defensive. “He can handle it, and they know what to do.”

“Still, I’ve noticed that the Captain’s been a little off his game lately, lookin’ a little paler than his usual White Bread pasty.”

Buffy raised her chin. “Riley’s fine. He’s just having a hard time right now. He’s still recovering from the stuff the Initiative did to him and I’m…” She trailed off.

“All the better reason for me to lend a hand. ‘Sides, I like a spot o’ violence before bedtime.”

Impulsively, not thinking and not seeing the shocked looks Buffy and Dawn gave him, he leaned over and kissed Joyce on the cheek.

“Night, Mum. Gotta go. Stuff to kill.”

Joyce gave him a tender smile. “Goodnight, Spike.”

He gave them an absent wave as he swaggered out. “Ta, luvs. I’ll pop by tomorrow.”

He didn’t see Buffy staring after him, a deep frown on her face.

*****

As he thought, Soldier Boy had abandoned the Scoobies in deference for a vamp suck-job, and he came upon Giles, Willow and Xander grossly outmatched by a pair of female vamps. Throwing himself into the fray, he dusted one while Willow scored a lucky shot with the other.

“Good work, Red,” he complemented.

Willow gave him a shell-shocked look, but smiled. “Thanks, Spike.”

The three humans were breathing heavily. Giles and Xander took quite a few blows and the pain showed on their faces.

“My god, a rough night,” Giles gasped.

“Whoa, I did one of ‘em! Yay on me! Pretty cool except for the part where I was really terrified and now my knees are all dizzy,” Willow said, losing her balance. Spike caught her and steadied her on her feet.

“And Spike got the other,” Xander said.

“Good for you, Spike. Now why are you here?” Giles asked, catching his breath.

“Just came from the hospital. Buffy said you were out here with Soldier Boy, so I thought I’d lend a hand. Where *is* Captain Cardboard anyway?” he replied, making a show of looking around.

“Good question,” Xander replied, getting to his feet. “Not so much a big success-night for me, but I think I should get points just for showing up.”

“Yes, that was disappointing. Things would’ve been much easier with Riley here.”

They began to stumble out of the graveyard. Spike followed closely.

“Oh piffle. Who needs him -- whoops!” Willow scoffed, then tripped on her own feet and nearly fell. Spike caught her again and set her back on her feet.

“Okay, it might have been good if he’d showed,” she admitted. “But, hey Spike’s here so it wasn’t like we didn’t have *some* super-strength help.”

“I suppose he just forgot,” Giles offered.

“Doubt it,” Spike said dryly. “Boy’s problem is that he’s a real boy now and not Super Soldier. That kinda thing does somethin’ to a man.”

“Yes, well, I’m sure he had a good reason for not being here,” Giles covered.

“Yeah,” Spike agreed, sighing. “Look, you lot go on home. I’ll finish up here, then head back to my crypt. If I run into Captain Cardboard, I’ll tell him I gave you the night off.”

The three gave him blank looks, and he ground his teeth. “Are you all stoned? Go home. You can barely walk as it is. Big Bad’s got it so you kiddies can toddle off to beddie-bye.”

Confused but exhausted, they moved to obey. Spike watched them leaving, his face calm and neutral. Giles turned around, a question on his lips.

“Joyce’s surgery’s in a couple of days. Buffy and Dawn are with her. I need to kill something. You go on and get me some info on that Glory bint so the Slayer and I can take her down,” he spoke before Giles could speak, then he nodded at the stunned man and stalked off into the graveyard.

Once he was out of sight and earshot, he switched to gameface and began to Hunt. He knew that the space-roach demon would be arriving soon, but he wasn’t quite sure when. It would be some time between now and when Joyce came home from the hospital to wait for her surgery date. He planned to kill it when it tried to hurt Joyce. In the meantime, he was free, free to wreak havoc on the demon population of Sunnydale. 

He was worried about Joyce, sick with the knowledge of what was to come, and tortured by the fear that he wouldn’t be able to stop any of it. His soul took a back seat as his demon ran unfettered, and left a trail of carnage in his wake. By the time he stumbled into his crypt, exhausted and battered, he’d killed a dozen vampires and four lesser demons. It was empty, thankfully. Harmony had left the previous evening to hunt and shop in LA, and she wouldn’t be back until…

‘Until Drusilla returns,’ he thought, remembering his sire even as he collapsed into bed. He’d deal with Dru when the time came.

He slept sleep of the exhausted and did not wake until the following evening. When he did, he ate two bags of blood and headed to the hospital. He took the DeSoto, preparing for the possibility that he might drive Joyce and her daughters home. He found Dawn sitting by herself in the hall right outside her mother’s room.

“Hey Nibblet,” he said quietly, coming to stand in front of her.

One look at her face when she looked up at him made his unbeating heart ache. 

“Spike.”

Softening, he crouched down to her level. “What’s wrong, Sweet Bit?”

The teen sniffed back a sob. “It’s Mom… She’s… She says awful things, but she doesn’t know she’s saying them…”

He nodded. “Uglies in the brain make people do and say things they normally wouldn’t.”

Dawn bit her lip and looked down. “She wants to come home to wait for the surgery. Buffy’s arranging it now.”

Spike looked around, trying to see if the demon he had nicknamed ‘Space Roach’ was around, but he saw no sign of it.

“‘S that a good idea, Bit? Hospital’s the safest place for her if somethin’ goes wrong.”

Dawn shrugged. “She’s really upset here. I think she’ll feel better waiting at home.”

“I suppose that’s true.” He stood, looking at the door to Joyce’s room. “Lemme see if I can find out what’s going on.”

He knocked lightly on the closed door. A moment later Buffy opened it and peered out.

“Spike?” she said, surprised.

“Hey, Slayer. How’s Mum?”

Buffy cast a glance behind her. “Umm, Dr. Kriegel said she can go home and come back for her surgery. She’s getting dressed while the doctor gets her medications ready.”

“Do you need a ride? I have my car tonight,” he offered.

Buffy looked taken back and for a moment he thought she might actually take him up on his offer, but then she shook her head.

“We have Mom’s SUV.”

“I didn’t know you could drive, Slayer.”

“I can’t,” she admitted.

“Drivin’ without a license then?” he said with an amused wiggle of his brow. “Decided to walk on the wild side, eh pet?”

Buffy smiled and shook her head. “No. Buffy and cars do not mix.”

“Gonna let Mum drive then?” he asked, concerned.

She nodded. 

“Is that wise?”

Buffy shrugged. “It’s not that far.”

Spike didn’t like it. “I’ll follow you home at least, make sure you get home all right and settled in.”

“You don’t have to…”

“Look Slayer, I don’t want to be the one that has to explain to Giles that you, your Mum and Little Sis got wrapped around a tree because I let you put a woman with a brain tumor behind the wheel.”

Buffy still looked unconvinced.

“Slayer, what harm is there in my making sure you get home in one piece?” he pressed.

Buffy sighed and relented. “Okay. I guess it’s probably a smart thing to do. Mom’s… not been herself today.”

Spike nodded. “Bite Size told me she’d been saying things that weren’t very nice.”

Buffy looked away and hugged herself. “Yeah,” she agreed faintly.

“How you holdin’ up?” he asked.

“I’m…”

She was cut off by her mother, fully dressed, coming out of the room. “If feels so good to be out of that damn hospital gown.” She stopped when she saw Spike. “Spike!”

“Hello, Mum.”

“Come to help me escape, have you?”

He gave her a wry smile. “I tried Joyce, even offered to drive the getaway car, but your eldest would have none of it. I have to settle for backup this time ‘round.”

Joyce chuckled and pushed past him, heading for the nurse’s station where the doctor was filling out forms. Dawn jumped to her feet and both girls joined their mother at the counter. Spike stood back, but kept an ear out, as Dr. Kriegel gave Buffy instructions. He was looking for Space Roach, but so far still no sign of it. That made him uneasy because he knew from secondhand accounts that the demon was nearby.

“Well, I guess we’re all set then. You’ve got my phone number, pager number ... And here ...” the doctor said, handing Buffy three prescription bottles. “Those are the medications I talked to you about. The sedative and so forth. Pain killers ...”

Buffy looked at the bottles, uncertain. “Right. I remember…”

“If this is going to be too much for you, we can make your mom perfectly comfortable here …”

Spike thought he heard something and whipped around to face the mental ward doors, but there was nothing. Wary, he moved closer to Joyce and the girls, taking up a protective stance. Dawn gave him a confused look, but he waved her concern away.

“No, no. I’ve got it. And I really appre-” Buffy was saying when her mother suddenly snapped at her harshly.

“You look like your father when he cries.”

Buffy blinked and looked wounded, triggering Spike’s protective instincts.

“Hey now Joyce…”

Joyce turned on him, eyes hard and crazed. “You think it will make a difference? It didn’t for Angel. He was still a monster.”

Spike froze like a deer in headlights at Joyce’s words.

‘She can see my soul!’ he thought frantically. 

“Mom…” Buffy said, tugging at her mother’s sleeve.

Joyce snarled and put herself in front of Buffy. “You’ll never touch my daughter!”

Buffy looked apologetic. “Spike, she’s…”

“I know, Slayer. Dementia. Lived with it with Dru, know all about it and all the nasties it entails.”

Buffy gave him a grateful smile, thankful that he understood, then turned to the doctor. “I told you she’s been…”

The doctor nodded. “I know,” he said, then got Joyce’s attention. “Joyce? Joyce. We’re done here. Why don’t you take your girls home now?”

Joyce’s eyes focused on him and she slowly returned to herself. He smiled at her reassuringly.

“Yes. Yes, thank you. Thanks for all your help, Doctor,” Joyce said after a moment.

“I’ll see you in a couple of days,” he said.

“Thank you,” she told him, then turned to Buffy and Dawn, smiling. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The ride home was nerve-wracking and he couldn’t smoke because Dawn decided to ride home with him. She sat, forlorn and small, in the passenger seat of his DeSoto and didn’t even play with the radio. 

“Mum’s gonna be fine, Sweet Bit,” he comforted, desperately needing a smoke.

Dawn nodded sadly and examined her fingernails.

“Spike…” she said after a moment.

“Yeah, Bit?” he answered absently, concentrating on following Joyce’s SUV.

“Am I real?”

His stomach bottomed out and he almost jerked the car to a stop. “What?” he said in a panic.

‘Does she know? No, she can’t know. She didn’t find out until Buffy’s birthday when we broke into the Magic Shop…’

“These guys, crazy guys, two of them… both of them said I wasn’t real.”

“Well, you said it yourself, they were clear off their rockers,” he covered. “What are you doin’ listenin’ to loonies like that?”

Dawn shifted uncomfortably. “I dunno. It’s just that sometimes…”

“Look, Dawn, you’re 14 and goin’ through a lot of changes. It’s normal for you to be questionin’ yourself, but don’t take it too far.” She looked unconvinced. “Do you feel real?” he finally asked.

“Yes. I think…”

“Lemme put it this way, Nibblet, if I didn’t have this chip in my head, you’d be a nummy treat.”

“You’d bite me? Really?” She sounded happy about it.

“In a heartbeat.”

He gave her a sideglance to see her smiling at him. “What?”

“That’s a compliment coming from you. Thanks, Spike.”

He shook his head and focused back on driving.

‘Teenagers.’

Once at the Summer’s house, Spike supported Joyce while Buffy unlocked the door. The woman visibly sighed with relief the moment she crossed the threshold. 

“It’s nice to be home,” she admitted.

“Nice to know you are home, Mum,” Spike said.

“Do you want to get in bed, Mom?” Dawn asked.

“I…”

Buffy turned on the foyer light and Joyce shielded her eyes. “Oh that light. Oh, Buffy no, it’s too bright. It’s too bright! It’s too bright!” she cried, starting to panic.

“Okay, Mom…” Buffy said, hurrying to turn off the light.

“Buffy it hurts, it hurts! It hurts my eyes!”

Buffy looked at a loss, not understanding. 

“It’s all the lights, pet. Even the ones in the other rooms. Gotta turn them off. You go ahead and turn off the lights upstairs while I help Mum up and Nibblet turns off the lights down here,” Spike told them.

“O… okay…” Buffy agreed, getting flustered.

The girls scattered, hurrying to turn off the lights and Joyce started to calm down. Spike steadied her and took her by the elbow, guiding her to the stairs.

“‘S alright Mum, I can see in the dark. I won’t let you stumble,” he whispered soothingly.

“Okay.”

Slowly, they made their way up the stairs. Buffy met them at the top, offering her hand.

“Here we go. It’s okay now.”

Together they helped Joyce into her room and Spike let Buffy take it from there. He waited until she came out of the bedroom before setting phase two of his plan in motion.

“Gonna patrol, Slayer. I’ll check in tomorrow and see how things are,” he lied.

She gave him a nod and he gave her a smile. Dawn was coming up the stairs as he was going down.

“I’m off to keep SunnyHell safe from my friends, Bit. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he quipped, passing her on the stairs.

“Goodnight, Spike. Thanks for your help.”

“Nite, Bit.”

He detoured through the kitchen and picked up a large knife from the butcher block on the counter. He remembered that Space Roach could be killed by severing its spinal cord, or whatever it had in the place of a spine. Tucking the knife into his duster, he left the house to stand sentry. When Space Roach came crawling, he’d be ready to squash it before it could come anywhere near Joyce or the girls. He did a few sweeps of the block and the neighborhood, but no extraterrestrial bugs revealed themselves. He returned to stand sentry, taking his place behind ‘his’ tree, and waited.

The night passed. Spike heard the television playing in the living room. There was a brief commotion a while later that appeared to be Joyce having another fit of dementia, but the girls got her back to bed. Shortly thereafter, Spike heard Buffy in the kitchen. She had turned on the radio and was playing salsa music. Confused, he approached the back door and peered in through the window. There he saw Buffy crying at the sink, water on, music blaring to hide her tears. Feeling like an intruder, and not sure of he could keep his presence secret much longer because the urge to comfort her was so strong, he backed off the porch and stood at the edge of the lawn.

A moment later he heard the first scream, followed closely by a second.

It took him a moment to register that it was coming from inside the house, but then he heard another scream. It was Dawn’s scream and he would recognize her voice anywhere. Realization hit him like a brick and he cursed.

‘Damn thing is already in the house!’

No longer worried about Buffy seeing him, he burst into the house.

“Buffy!” he yelled as he raced through the house, headed for the stairs.

“Spike! What?” he heard her say, but he didn’t stop. Dawn’s screams were in his ears and he was insane with panic and rage.

He took the steps three at a time, moving as if the very legions of Hell itself were on his heels, and barreled for Joyce’s bedroom. He found Dawn trying to help a writhing Joyce clear her face of viscous goo.

“Dawn!” he hollered.

“Spike! The bed! It’s under the bed!” Dawn screamed.

Just then the creature skittered out from under the bed, leaping up and crossing over Joyce’s legs. Dawn screamed again and Spike roared. He lunged for the demon, but it leaped up. Spike spun, swinging with his fist and hit its hard shell, slamming it towards the doorway… and into Buffy who’d come running after Spike.

“Buffy!” Dawn yelled.

Buffy ducked, kicking out with one foot at the creature, but she missed and it skittered down the hall.

“Oh my god. Mom!” she cried, turning and rushing to her mom’s side.

“She’s all right Slayer, but Space Roach is still in the house!” Spike said.

Buffy briefly checked on her mom then nodded. “Dawn, stay here, close the window, lock to door. Don’t come out until I say it’s okay.”

Dawn, traumatized, her face streaked with tears, gave a shaky nod.

“Where’d it go?” she demanded of Spike.

“Down the hall,” he replied, pulling out the knife.

“Where’d you get that?” Buffy asked, recognizing it as hers.

“Your kitchen,” he answered absently, tracking the demon.

Buffy would have questioned him more, but he suddenly took off, leaping down the stairs in a single bound. She tore after him and found him slashing at the beast as it tried to climb the wall. Grabbing the broom, she slammed it down. It shrieked as it fell and spit more goo, striking her in the face. Repulsed, she swiped the mucus off her, but in doing so, turned her back. The creature jumped on her. 

“Slayer!” Spike howled.

Buffy was threatened, and instinct, already triggered by the threat to Joyce and Dawn, went into overdrive. Roaring, the demon coming forth, Spike grabbed the demon and slammed it against the kitchen wall. It spit goo into his eyes and used his momentary blindness to climb the wall again. He snarled with rage and leaped after it, brandishing the knife in one hand. 

With a strike that was powerful enough to slam through the drywall, he skewered the Space Roach and yanked it down, gouging the wall as he did so. The Space Roach screamed and writhed, trying to get away, but it couldn’t use its spit because Spike had it pinned face down. He hacked once, then twice, holding the demon down with his free hand, and sliced through the hard shell, slashing with unfettered fury. 

‘Die you bloody piece of shit! You’ll never hurt my girls again!’

The red rage was tempered by Buffy’s hand on his wrist.

“Spike, it’s dead,” she said, her eyes wide and shell-shocked.

Coming back to himself, his demon face melting into his human features, he looked down to see that he had hacked the bug to bits. He was breathing hard, the adrenaline rush ebbing from his body, leaving him numb, and dropped the knife from his nerveless fingers. Slowly, he shifted himself away from what was left of the body and slumped back against the counter. Buffy was staring at him in shock, but he shook his head, his eyes closing.

“Go check on Mum and the Bit,” he rasped, still breathing hard.

She silently obeyed, and he let himself relax. The kill had been oddly satisfying, the one bloody thing he’d been able to do since he’d been sent back, but he worried that he might have given away too much. He heard Buffy come back downstairs and felt her staring at him, but he couldn’t look at her.

Whatever questions she might have asked him were abruptly cut off, however, when Riley arrived with a team of Commandos. He used the distraction to stumble out, escaping her piercing gaze. 

Unfortunately, it was a brief reprieve, and his actions hadn’t gone as unnoticed as he thought.

*****

“I’ve called this Scooby meeting to talk about our favorite blood-sucking pain in the ass, Spike,” Buffy addressed the group in the Magic Box.

She, Tara, Willow, Xander, Anya and Giles were all gathered around the reading table in the shop. The recent events had convinced her that something was up with Spike. With her mom so sick, and the threat of Glory looming over them, she couldn’t take any more strain. 

While she would have liked to believe that Spike’s seeming change of heart was genuine, she knew better. Spike was a soulless demon, unable to love and incapable of doing good. His recent behavior opened old wounds earned during her time with Angel, wounds caused by her ill-fated love affair with a demon. She could not repeat her previous mistakes. Joyce and Dawn adored Spike, and he was making progress in winning over her friends, but she couldn’t afford the luxury of forgetting what he was; to do so could mean the death of them all.

So if she could not bring herself to see him as anything other than a serial killer in prison, then she had no choice but to conclude that he had some hidden agenda for being so helpful. With so much a stake: her mom, her sister, her friends, she had no patience for unexpected variables. If the bleached wonder knew something, he was going to give over, even if she had to drag it out of him by his insides.

“I think he knows something that he isn’t telling us. He’s been around an awful lot lately and it seems like he’s been in all the right places at the right times. I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” she continued.

Giles cleaned his glasses, his face pensive. “I will admit that his presence has been rather fortuitous as of late.”

“Exactly. He knew about the space demon, and I’m pretty sure he knew about the snake. We know he knew about the spell of un-seeing Tara cast. He’s been patrolling, hanging around my mom and Dawn, and behaving like a guard dog for the past four weeks, and it’s giving me the creeps. He’s up to something and that can’t be of the good.”

Tara, concerned by the look in Buffy’s eyes and the general looks of wariness on the others, felt compelled to speak up in Spike’s defense. She knew that something had profoundly changed the vampire. His aura was completely different, and she strongly suspected that he had a soul, but she wasn’t sure. She would need Willow’s help to ascertain that, and she knew from Spike’s reaction to her questioning looks that he didn’t want anyone to know. Still, she was certain that his motivations were noble.

“I… I d--don’t think he means us any h--harm,” she stuttered. “I mean, ev--everything he’s done so far has been to help us.”

Buffy and Willow gave her sympathetic looks, and Buffy had to harden her heart at the sight of Tara’s earnest face. She hadn’t known Spike during the time of Angelus, or lived through the terror of those months. Tara couldn’t know Spike’s true evil nature because she’d never seen it.

“Tara, baby, I know you haven’t been with us all that long, but Spike’s plotted against us before,” Willow said gently.

“I know about…about what he d--did with Adam,” she argued, slightly miffed. “What I’m… I’m saying is that I… I don-- don’t think his motivations are evil here.”

“He’s a demon, Tara, his motivations are always evil,” Xander countered.

“B… but he’s helped us before,” she pressed.

“While Spike has been useful in the past, he is still a demon, Tara,” Giles explained. “As a demon, he is not capable of unselfish acts. Every time he has helped us, ultimately it has been revealed that his reasons were self-serving in some manner.”

Tara was convinced they were wrong, but afraid to tell them why. She had seen the look on Spike’s face the night he stood with them against her family. He knew that she could see through his façade and had been afraid. Whatever his secrets, they weren’t hers to reveal and she wasn’t about to break the confidence.

“But… but how can his helping us now be self-serving?”

“His ultimate agenda may yet be revealed,” Giles answered.

“Unless he’s working with Glory,” Buffy said. It was a stretch, but it was possible.

“No!” Tara denied. “I can’t believe that. Everything he’s done has been to help us fight Glory. Even when he was working with Adam and pretending to be working with us, it was obvious that he had ulterior motives.”

Willow, surprised and concerned by her lover’s vehemence, and inclined to trust Tara’s intuition, tried to find a reasonable explanation.

“Maybe he isn’t working with her, but I don’t think we can deny that he knows what’s going on. Maybe he has some kind of inside information.”

Giles nodded. “He does seem to have quite a few contacts in the demon world. Perhaps one of them is feeding him information.”

“Which he is using to help us,” Tara pointed out.

“How ever he knows what he knows, I’m convinced he knows about Dawn, and about Glory,” Buffy interrupted. “I also think he knew about Mom.”

“You did say that he was awfully vehement about taking your mother back to the hospital for a CAT scan,” Giles noted.

Buffy nodded, a lump forming in her throat. “I think he knew about the tumor.”

“And kept trying to get her back to the doctor,” Tara insisted.

The others gave her impatient looks and she wilted in upon herself, feeling rejected and outcast. 

“I think he may know what is going to happen, and we need to find out what he knows,” Buffy declared, an angry glint in her eye. She’d had enough. There was no room in her heart for doubts or sympathy for the undead. Too much was on the line. Her mom and sister’s lives were at stake, and she wasn’t going to let them down.

“And how he knows it,” Anya piped in. 

“Exactly,” Buffy agreed.

Willow, seeing Tara’s hurt look, tried to placate her. “We… we could do a spell. A… a truth spell, to see what he knows. That way he can’t lie to us.”

Buffy nodded. “I’ve asked him to come here tonight. He should be arriving any time now.”

Willow moved to stand. “D… do you want us to get the spell ready?”

Buffy shook her head. “Not yet. I want to see what I can get out of him without the spell. Then we can compare the two stories we get and try to figure out the truth.”

“How do you intend to get him to talk to you?” Giles questioned.

A knowing smirk came to Buffy’s face and she clenched one of her fists. “How else? Demons respond very well to pain.”

“But Buffy, Spike can’t fight back,” Tara said, concerned. She had seen Buffy use violence to vent her frustration and feared for Spike if he fell into the grieving Slayer’s sights.

“Don’t worry. I won’t hurt him too much. He still has to be able to talk.” 

She had no qualms about beating information out of Spike. She’d done it many times before. But lately he’d looked so… wounded when she hurt him. Her heart twinged, but she pushed it aside. Soulless demons couldn’t feel, so it didn’t matter if what she did to him caused him pain. The very fact that she was having such thoughts made her angry; angry at herself and angry at Spike for making her doubt everything she’d ever been taught. 

It looked like Tara was going to protest, but the door opened and the subject of their conversation entered. He walked briskly over to them, all business and concern, and her heart ached for him.

“All right. I’m here,” Spike said. “What’s the news?”

“In the training room. I need to talk to you,” Buffy answered.

Without hesitation, Spike nodded and headed for the back room. Tara didn’t like the look in Buffy’s eyes as she watched him go. Then the Slayer turned to her and Willow and gave them a knowing nod. Tara swallowed the lump in her throat as she and Willow rose to prepare for the truth spell. 

She flinched when she heard the closing of the training room door.

*********

“Okay, Slayer,” Spike said, taking off his coat and turning to face Buffy as she joined him the training room and closed the door. “What did you need to talk to me about?”

The blow came from nowhere and knocked him straight across the floor. The duster fell from his hand, landing in a crumpled heap.

“Buffy? What the?” he tried, struggling to catch his breath and sit up, but her foot slammed him back down and pinned his chest to the floor.

“What do you know?” she demanded.

“What?” He was shocked, confused and cut to the quick that she had hit him, again, after he had been so good and helpful.

“I know you know about Glory. You’re gonna tell me what, how and when.”

His stubborn streak kicked in and he gritted his teeth, growling. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Her face hardened, eyes two glittering flints of glass. “Wrong answer.”

She kicked him, snapping his head back and breaking his nose. Blood flowed freely down his face, but the pain went deeper than that, into his soul. 

“Let’s try this again. How do you know Glory and what do you know about her?”

He tried to defend himself against the next blow, but the chip fired when he raised his arm against her. He screamed as the pain hit from the chip and her kick.

“Poor Spikey. It’s your own fault. Just tell me what I want to know,” she taunted.

He glared at her, nearly blind with pain and set his jaw defiantly. “Sod off, bitch.”

She tsked and shook her head. “I see you’re going to make me get nasty with you. Oh well. I tried to be nice. Gonna have to sweep the floor with you,” she sing-songed, her eyes glittering. “And if I break your back again, oh well. Bonus.”

She kicked him in the stomach and he howled, but refused to give in. Instead he curled in on himself, retreating into his mind the way he had whenever Angelus beat him. Every blow she dealt made his soul shrivel and he came to an awful realization.

‘She’s always been this way. It wasn’t because she came back from the dead. She’s always enjoyed causing demons pain. It’s retribution for destroying her normal life. She’s scared and hurting. Her Mum’s sick, her sister isn’t real, she’s got a Hell God on her heels… She’s at the end of her rope. And she’s taking it out on me. She’s always taken it out on us, just like I go out and kill when I’m feeling poorly.’

His head spun as she grabbed him and threw him across the room. Not from the blows that rained rage and retribution upon him, but from the realization of the futility of it all. No matter what he did, he would never be able to convince her that he had changed, not if he didn’t tell her about the soul, and even then, she would believe that it was the soul that made him good. She had been force-fed the belief that only those with souls could be noble and fight the good fight, and she clung to it even when she had numerous examples that proved the opposite was true. She clung to it with the desperation of a zealot who sees his entire belief system crumbling around him like a house of cards.

‘She clings to it because she needs to believe it, because if demons can love, then it means Angel could have loved her without the soul, but he didn’t. She doesn’t understand that he *did* love her. That was why he hated her so much. And she hates herself for loving him, for falling for a demon, because it made her a bad girl. She’s the Slayer, she’s supposed to be a Warrior of Light, but she’s done dark things and she liked them.’

“Tell me what I want to know! What do you know about Glory? What do you know about my mother? Why are you trying to get in good with her, and with me!?”

‘And she knows it. She knows she’s got darkness inside her, that she’s attracted to it. Attracted to me…’ The thought brought all new epiphanies to him.‘She’s already attracted to me and she hates it, hates me for it. She wants to see me evil, defeated, because then she’s vindicated. She’s punishing me for how she feels. It’s not about me.’

His wrist broke and several ribs cracked as she smashed him against the vault horse, screaming at him. He raised his eyes to her and part of him died all over again.

‘Nothing, nothing I can do will make any difference. I’ll never be anything but a soulless evil thing to you. Why did I ever hope I could make amends?’

“What do you know about my mother?!” she seethed.

He managed a crooked smile before she bashed his face and sent him crashing to the hard floor again. He didn’t even try to fight.

‘Go ahead, girly. Do your worst. I’ve been tortured by blokes much better than you and they couldn’t break me. I’ve survived a Hell God and my own Grand-sire. Your little tantrum’s nothing compared to them. There’s nothing you can do to me that hasn’t already been done, except stake me, and at this point I don’t give a damn if you do.’

He heard her still screaming, felt her land more blows, but he was losing consciousness and everything seemed so far away. He let himself fall into despair. He was there, quiet in his pain, both physical and emotional, when he heard the training room door open and several gasps.

“Oh dear God,” Giles’ voice breathed.

Then Buffy’s incoherent blows ceased and hurried footsteps made their way to his side. He recognized Tara and Willow’s scents before they even reached him. Both of his eyes were swollen shut so he had to rely on his sharp hearing to tell him what was going on.

“Spike… oh God. Willow, he’s covered in blood…” Tara’s voice said, hitching on choked breaths.

“There’s a first aid kit by the wall. I’ll get it,” the witch announced and he heard her leave his side.

Somewhere nearby Xander and Giles were talking quietly as Buffy sobbed.

“He… he wouldn’t tell me… and I…” he heard her admit, her voice thick and trembling.

Giles then asked Xander to take her out of the training room. Shortly thereafter, he heard the Watcher join Tara.

“He’s… he’s all broken, Mr. Giles.”

“Yes, I can see that, Tara. However, since he is not dust we can assume that he is still with us.”

“Barely,” he managed to croak through bloodied lips.

Willow returned with the first aid kit. He heard her open it and spill out the contents.

“Willow, I doubt that will be helpful. Spike’s injuries are too extensive,” Giles said.

“We could do a healing spell,” Tara offered.

“Won’t work, Glinda,” he whispered. “No living flesh…”

“A… a pain spell then,” Willow amended.

He gave a slight nod. “Might work.”

“O… okay. I’ll get the stuff,” Willow agreed and he heard her leave.

There was silence for a short time, and he concentrated on quelling the pain and listening to the breathing of the two mortals next to him. Tara was crying softly, he could smell the salt of her tears.

“Don’t cry, Glinda,” he told her faintly. “Ol’ Spike’ll be fine. Takes more than a Slayer’s temper-tantrum ta do me in.”

He heard her laugh softly. “You… you called me Glinda.”

“‘S what you are, innit? The good witch.”

She didn’t reply as Willow came back in. He heard the jingling of the spell components and a second set of footsteps.

“Oh man, you are so trashed,” Xander’s voice said. “G-man, is he gonna be okay?”

“Yes, I do believe so,” Giles replied. “Where is Buffy?”

“Sitting at the table. Anya’s with her. She… she looks pretty sick.”

“Yes, well, I’ll get to her in a minute. For now, I have other matters to deal with,” Giles answered tersely, and Spike was certain he detected a note of disapproval in his voice.

“Do you need my help?” 

“Not yet. Willow and Tara are going to cast a pain-blocking spell so we can set his bones and move him. I’ll need your help carrying him.”

“We’re almost ready, Giles,” Willow announced.

Spike heard Xander come close. “Geeze, man, why didn’t you just tell her what she wanted to know?”

Bitch can fuck off,’ he thought to himself, but answered, “Don’t respond well… to pain.” 

The witches cast their spell. He could feel the fine powder they had prepared sprinkling down on his face. As soon as they finished their incantation the pain eased considerably and he relaxed.

“Is that better?” Willow asked.

“Yeah. Made it tolerable. Thanks, ducks.”

“Here, help me arrange his limbs. We need to set the broken bones before they start to heal,” Giles said.

Spike felt several pairs of hands on him, realigning and straightening his bones, and he was touched by their gentleness with him. ‘Maybe I do have a chance with them after all.’

“Spike, do you have full feeling throughout your entire body?” the Watcher asked.

“If you’re askin’ if she broke my back, Rupert, the answer’s no.”

“Well, thank God for small favors. At least you aren’t looking at an extended recovery time.”

“A week at least,” he predicted.

“Xander, bring my car around back. We’ll take him out the alley door,” Giles decided.

Spike heard Xander give a grunt of agreement and the jingle of keys as Giles passed them over.

“Will he be okay in his crypt?” Willow asked worriedly.

“We’re not taking him there,” Giles responded.

“Oh? You’re not?” he said, confused.

“No, as much as I hate to admit it, you would be too vulnerable there. No, I’m afraid I have no choice but to bring you to my place during your… convalescence,” the Watcher replied, then gave orders to the two witches. “There’s a set of tent poles and a canvas in the basement. We can make a stretcher out of it to move him more easily. Would you get it for me, please?”

“Right away, Giles,” Willow agreed and Spike listened to them leave. He was getting tired, struggling to stay conscious now that the pain had eased, but there was one more thing left to do.

He waited until he knew they were out of earshot before addressing Giles.

“Her scent,” he admitted, even though it was a lie- well, not really, he *had* smelled something wrong with Joyce, but before he hadn’t spent enough time with her to pick up on it.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Joyce’s scent. ‘S how I knew. Big bad predator. Could smell the sickness on her.”

Giles was silent for a moment, then said quietly, “Yes… yes of course.” His voice was tired, defeated, as if he felt he should have discerned that for himself and was angry that he didn’t. “Rest now. You need to conserve your energy.”

“Mind if I pass out, Rupes?”

“No. No not at all. It would probably be best if you were unconscious while we move you.”

“Yeah, coz I’m feelin’ just a bit knackered.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Giles responded dryly.

“I can’t either,” he breathed softly, the darkness coming up to take him. “Hey Rupert?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t forget my coat. Dropped it somewhere when she hit me.”

“I’ll be sure to get it.”

“Thanks.”

It was the last thing he said before he fainted. 

*******

Spike slept for the better part of the next two days, only regaining consciousness to drink blood that had been prepared for him. The wiccas’ spell lasted almost twenty-four hours before wearing off. By that time vampire healing had kicked in and most of his bones had set. His other wounds, however, the ones no one could see, they still ached and his soul was still in shock. It would be weeks before it came out of its shell. In the meantime, his demon, much better at handling pain, was seething and angry at the treatment that had been visited upon it.

Giles came and went, as did most of the Scoobies, but Buffy was strangely absent from the visitor’s list. He wasn’t sure how he should feel about that, and in truth he was very conflicted. Giles had alluded to Buffy’s deep remorse for beating him to a pulp, but no one had come out and actually said that she was sorry. He felt that if Buffy’s guilt was truly genuine, then the Slayer would have made some attempt to make amends, but so far he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her, not even a message sent through another member of the group. 

He knew Joyce had gone back into the hospital for her surgery and was crushed that he had missed it. Dawn and Joyce actually treated him like a man, and even if he had decided to give up on Buffy, he had no intention on giving up on the rest of his girls, or abandoning his plan. He took comfort, however, in knowing that the woman came through the surgery fine and was expected to make a full recovery. Knowing in advance that Joyce would die of a blood clot gave him some options. After thinking about it, he decided that the best course of action was to convince Joyce to go on blood thinners as soon as possible.

Of all the Scoobies, Tara was the most solicitous, but her attentions made him uncomfortable because she always looked at him with those all-knowing eyes. She would cast him questioning glances and make leading comments, and he was hard pressed to relax around her because he was afraid of slipping up. The girl was too observant and too smart. One wrong comment on his part and he would give everything away. As it was, he was certain that she was onto him.

Giles seemed perplexed by him as well, and Spike wondered if he wasn’t being enough of a pain in the ass. The Watcher kept giving him odd looks, perhaps comparing this visit against the last time he had been a guest in the Watcher’s house. The notion irritated Spike, not only because his soul berated him for wanting to be a poor houseguest, but also because he felt that he deserved to be quiet and withdrawn after his ordeal. 

‘Next thing you know, he’ll be busting my chops for not being evil enough.’

The Watcher was particularly disturbed by Spike’s nightmares, and he was terrified that he’d said something revealing during one of his dreams. Giles hadn’t said anything, and he’d explained it off as post-traumatic stress from being beaten to within an inch of his un-life, but he could see the doubts in the human’s eyes; questions that swam just beneath the surface, and he knew he had to get out of there. Besides, the wheel was still turning, and there were things he had to do if he wanted to protect Dawn and Buffy. He decided to leave as soon as he could fight again.

On the third day he fell asleep on the couch and woke up sitting upright. An experimental tug of his arms revealed that he was chained to one of Giles’ dining room chairs.

‘Oh goody. Bloody deja-vu.’

He opened his eyes and raised his head to see Giles sitting on the couch, facing him. The Watcher was watching him quietly, his face pensive and sad.

“Oi, Rupert. What’s this all about then?” he asked, trying to stay calm.

Giles sighed, swallowed and took a deep breath. “While I don’t support or condone what Buffy did to you, I do share her sentiment that you are not being entirely forthcoming with us. It’s been three days since the… incident in the training room and I felt that you were sufficiently along in your healing to answer a few questions.”

Spike swallowed and set his jaw, inwardly trying to calm the butterflies in his stomach. Giles removed his glasses and cleaned them.

“I don’t suppose that you feel up to answering truthfully of your own free will?”

He didn’t answer, but raised his chin and straightened his shoulders defiantly. Giles sighed and looked away, to a book and bag on the sofa next to him.

“I thought not.”

Giles reached for the book and bag, and Spike knew with frightening clarity what the man intended to do.

“I’m afraid you have left me no choice but to cast a truth spell on you and force you to answer. These are dangerous times we are in and we need to know what you know.”

“I’m not working against you, Rupert. Leave it at that,” he tried, a note of warning and desperation creeping into his voice.

Giles opened the book to a pre-marked page and removed the spell components from the bag. “I’m afraid I can’t accept that from you, Spike. Your history and very nature lend you to dishonesty.”

His mouth went dry and he tugged at the chains. “Believe me, Watcher, you don’t want to do this.”

“I’m quite sure I don’t, however, you’ve left me no choice.”

He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as Giles cast the spell. He felt the magic move into him, tingling through his borrowed blood, and he fought to hold back tears. He heard Giles set up a tape recorder and set it running.

“Let us begin with your name. Who are you?” Giles asked.

Spike tried to fight the compulsion, but his mouth opened and words came out. “Spike. William the Bloody, Scourge of Europe, Slayer of Slayers.”

“Why are you here?”

He bit his tongue but it made no difference. “To fix it,” his mouth betrayed.

There was a pause, then Giles asked tentatively, “To fix what?”

“What happened.”

“You mean what happened with Glory?”

“Yes.”

His hands clenched and unclenched. He felt the shackles digging into his wrists. His mouth was full of his blood from biting the inside of his cheek, but it was a losing battle. The spell was too strong and he was too weak.

“You know what she is planning?”

“Yes,” he replied, beginning to rock and sweat from the strain. 

“You have an informant in the demon underground?”

“No.”

“Are you working with Glory?”

“NO!” he roared, his demon coming forth. “Never! I would never help that Hell Bitch!”

“And yet you have knowledge of her plans. How do you know this?”

He shook off the demon and set his jaw, fighting the compulsion. He started to shake.

‘No, no, no. I will not answer. Dru said daises always die. They die, they die, they die. Run and catch, run and catch, the lamb is caught in the blackberry patch…’

“How do you know this?” Giles demanded forcefully.

Spike bared his teeth and howled, trying to rip his arms free of the chains.

“How do you know this? William the Bloody, answer the question!” Giles ordered, pulling on the magical line of compulsion.

“Because I saw it!” the reply tore out of him, shredding his efforts to contain himself.

“You have knowledge of future events?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

He snarled and growled, writhing on the chair, but he was unable to break the shackles and he realized that the Truth spell was also a spell of Binding. “You’ve Bound me, you bastard.”

Giles was relentless. “It will wear off in a few hours. Answer the question. How do you know of future events?”

“Because I was there! I lived it!”

The answer broke him and he slumped back in the chair, his head bowed. Tears streamed down his cheeks. 

“You lived it? How?”

He gave the man a hateful glare, breathing hard. “How do you think?”

Giles looked at him, stunned, then the shock of realization came over the man’s face. “You’ve come back in time?”

“Yes.”

“How far?”

“Two years.”

“How?”

“Demon. In Africa.”

“Why?”

“Because I wished it.”

“Why?”

“Because I have to make amends.” 

“Why? Did you betray Dawn to Glory?”

“NO!”

“Why do you need to make amends?”

He was crying freely now, the tears running down his cheeks as he fought the pain and memory. “Because I hurt her.”

“Who?”

“Buffy. And I wished to make it better, to do it different so none of it would ever have happened. I didn’t say when or how far, and the demon sent me back here. I thought it was so I could make all of it better, stop Glory before… before…”

Spike stopped and both men stared at each other, breathing hard, then Giles spoke softly, “Something truly horrible is going to happen, isn’t it?”

Spike nodded. “Yes.”

“Buffy dies trying to save Dawn.”

He gave a hysterical laugh that broke into a sob. “Oh Rupert, that’s only the beginning.”

Over the next several hours Giles dragged the story out of him, ripping it out with endless questions until Spike finally gave over, too exhausted and raw to fight any longer. The details of events came out in all their sordid glory, and a few times Giles had to stop to get a stiff drink. Spike asked for some bourbon himself, but Giles refused on the account that it would mean him having to unchain Spike before the interrogation was over.

As the session wore down, Giles took another swig from the bottle and swallowed it down shakily. 

“So, after you tried to… to rape Buffy, you left Sunnydale.”

“Yeah. Heard about a demon shaman over on the Dark Continent. Granted wishes if you passed his tests.”

“You passed, and wished to go back in time.”

“Not exactly.”

“You didn’t pass?”

“Oh I passed alright. If I hadn’t, I’d be a pile of dust, although there are times when I think I am and this is just some twisted version of Hell.”

“I assure you that this is not Hell, unless of course, we’re in it together.”

“Seen any red demons with horns and pitchforks lately?”

“Can’t say that I have, and I will not be distracted. You haven’t answered my question.”

“What question is that?”

“If you didn’t wish to come back in time, what did you wish for?”

Spike gave a deep sigh and looked away. “My soul.”

“Excuse me, did I just hear you say you wished for a soul?” Giles blurted.

“Yeah.”

“You asked the demon to curse you?”

Spike’s head shot up and his eyes flashed. “Hell no. I *earned* this. Passed that bloody pillock’s trials fair and square. The soul was my reward.”

“So it’s permanent?”

“Damn straight it’s permanent! Didn’t let a legion of scarabs play Pac-man with my insides just to lose it on my first happy.”

Giles took another drink. “Yes, well, thank you for the visual.”

“No problem. Damn beetles pinch by the way.”

“I’m sure they do. So, you have a soul.”

Spike frowned. “Yeah. I’m all soulful. Just call me Peaches Junior.”

“On the contrary. Angelus was cursed with his soul against his will. You, on the other hand, sought it out and accepted it willingly. That’s quite remarkable for a demon we have believed to be incapable of higher motivations and emotions.”

Spike growled angrily. “See, now that’s where you’re wrong. Demons *can* feel, we *can* love, we can do all of that. It’s just that some of us feel more than others. You wankers are under the delusion that a vamp’s just a demon inhabiting a borrowed body, but that isn’t true. Everything I lived, everything I knew, everything I was, I still am. It’s still here inside of me. I was passionate in life and I’m passionate in death. I love, I hate, I care, I feel pain…”

He stopped, unable to go on for a moment. Giles waited him out.

“It wasn’t the soul that went to Africa, it was the demon. It was the demon that sought and fought for the soul. The *demon* who loved Buffy, the demon who felt guilt over what he had done, and the demon who decided that it was change or die. The demon did all of that, no soul required.”

Giles nodded, then rose to his feet. “As I said, quite remarkable.”

He walked over to Spike, retrieving a key from his pocket and unlocked the shackles. As Spike was rubbing his raw wrists, he handed the vampire the bottle of bourbon. Spike accepted and took a deep swig.

“Thanks, Watcher, much obliged.”

Giles sat back down with a heavy sigh. “So, now that we’ve had this chat, we must decide on a course of action.”

“‘S easy. We kill Ben.”

“No, I refuse to believe that’s our only option.”

Spike almost spit out his latest mouthful of liquor. “What? Are you completely knackered? Did you not just hear me tell you that Ben is Glory?”

“I heard you, but I also heard that he was pretty much an innocent in all this…”

“Bollocks! He knows full well that he timeshares with the Hell Bitch!” he yelled, standing up.

Giles held up a hand for patience. “I know. I know.”

“And he took Dawn back to Glory after she escaped!”

“Yes, yes, I understand that…”

“So what part of ripping his entrails out and stuffing them down his throat are you having trouble with?”

Giles turned green. “Spike, you really need to learn to control that temper of yours. I’m not saying that we won’t have to kill him, but I want to explore other options. A binding spell, perhaps.”

“Bind this, Rupert!” Spike countered, giving him two-fingers. “The Hell Bitch has to die, ergo Ben has to die. I’d do it myself, but this little piece of government plastic in my head prevents me from hurtin’ humans, even if they do turn into Hell Gods that want to kill the people I love!”

Giles punched Spike in the nose, sending the vampire falling back to floor. Spike yowled and grabbed his face but Giles’ punch wasn’t hard enough to break anything.

“Now that I have your attention,” Giles said coolly as Spike glared at him. “We will kill Ben only if it is our only option.”

Spike fumed but looked away. “Have it your way then, Watcher.”

Giles reached down a hand to help Spike to his feet. Spike accepted and slumped back into the chair, jaw tight and angry.

“We both want the same thing, Spike. We want to protect Dawn and save Buffy. The information you’ve given me may allow us to do that without any bloodshed at all. Can you blame me for wanting some time to explore all avenues?” Giles said gently.

“Yeah, well, you’d best get crackin’ coz things are gonna start heatin’ up pretty soon.”

“Indeed,” Giles agreed and sat down again.

Spike grabbed the bourbon and drank deep.

“‘S one more thing, Rupert,” he said after a bit.

Giles put his head in his hands. “No more, please. I can’t take any more.”

“It’s important.”

Giles sighed and looked up. “What?”

“You didn’t ask me about Soldier Boy.”

“Riley? I… I just assumed he was helping us with Glory.”

Spike shook his head. “Nope. Soldier Boy flies off to save the world after Buffy finds out about his extra nocturnal activities.”

“What do you mean?”

“Captain Cardboard can’t stand bein’ just a normal boy with the Slayer for a girlfriend. He’s been walkin’ a bit on the dark side, visitin’ bars and warehouses on the wrong side of town, and payin’ vamp whores to bite him,” Spike replied, smirking. ‘Let Ole Rupert handle this one…’

Giles gasped in shock. “You can’t be serious!”

Spike shrugged and took another drink. “You take that truth spell off me yet?”

Giles sighed, defeated. “No.”

“Then you know I can’t lie. He’s been goin’ at night, after he leaves Buffy. Last time around yours truly was the one to give ‘im away, but I think I’ll let you have that honor this time.”

Giles put out a hand in askance for the bottle and Spike gave it to him, feeling somewhat vindicated. It made him evil, wanting a little payback for what had done been to him, and he gave a little mirthless grin.

“Y’know, Rupert. I’m glad we had this talk. I mean, I did fight you fist and fang, but you bested me- by cheating I might add- and forced me to give over. But now that I have, I feel as if this great weight has been lifted off my shoulders because I’m not alone with it any more.” Seeing Rupert’s glazed expression made him want to twist the knife just a little bit more. 

“Thank you, Rupert, for being strong enough to do what you had to do. It took a lot of balls, but then I always knew you had it in you, didn’t you, Ripper?”

Giles looked up at him dazedly and shook his head at the smiling vampire.

“I’m glad one of us feels better,” he said, taking a swig from the bottle.

****

Spike was awakened from his slumber by Giles closing the front door. Turning around slowly, he rolled to face the man, watching him with interest as he moved about the kitchen, removing items from a paper bag. He then saw Giles pour himself a glass of scotch.

“Oi, Watcher, bring one of those over here, will ya?” he called.

Giles nodded, poured the requested drink, and joined Spike in the living room. The dejected slump of his shoulders and weary look as he sat down, told Spike all he needed to know.

“Did you get more Wheatabix?”

“Yes, and two more bottles of bourbon.”

“Nothin’ like drownin’ your sorrows. Thanks,” he said, taking the offered drink. “I take it you followed my advice?”

He was referring to Giles’ revealing Riley’s ‘habit’ to Buffy. 

The man sighed and nodded sadly. “Yes.”

“How’d she take it?”

“Not well, I’m afraid. She… she was very distraught.”

Spike nodded, remembering. “He’ll be gone soon. Off to save the world or some such rot, and abandoning her. All because he needed to feel self-important. Pillock. She’s better off without him. Deserves someone who’ll stay. What is it with men leaving our girl, Rupert? First her useless prat of a father, then Angel, and now Riley. Hell, even you left her. You’ve made her think she’s wasn’t good enough for anyone to stick around.”

Giles rubbed his forehead tiredly. “I’m sure I had good reasons for leaving.”

“No. It was just that seein’ your Slayer die a second time broke you, then seein’ how she was after they brought ‘er back, broke you again. You were just protectin’ yourself,” Spike replied plainly. There was no malice or gloating in it, just a simple statement of truth.

“Yes, well. Hopefully, together we can avoid all of that.”

Spike’s eyes took on a faraway look, and he spoke into the bottom of his empty glass. “Do it or gonna die trying. Y’know, she said it. On the night it all went down. She said not all of us were gonna make it. I thought it would be me that died. This time ‘round I’m gonna make sure, if somebody’s gotta go, it’s gonna be me.”

Giles refilled his glass from the bottle.

“On a happier note,” Giles said. “Joyce is doing very well and should be released from the hospital very soon.”

“Knew she came out of it alright. Was only after…”

“A blood clot you said?”

Spike nodded. “Yeah. Real sudden-like. Buffy and the Nibblet were all happy, and everyone thought it was all over, then she up and died. Buffy found ‘er on the couch. Poor woman hadn’t known what hit her.”

“Buffy found her?”

Spike nodded sadly. “Yeah.”

Giles rubbed his temples. “Good lord.”

“Way I see it, the best way to prevent that is to get ‘er on blood thinners,” he said.

“Blood thinners? A good plan. And one that shouldn’t be too hard to execute.”

Spike agreed, downing the rest of his drink. Giles paused, looking down, and Spike knew there was more news.

“Buffy asked about you today,” Giles admitted.

Spike reached for the scotch and poured another drink. He took a gulp of it before replying. He needed the alcohol to dull the pain.

“Did she now?”

The Watcher fingered his glass. “Yes. She wanted to know how you were doing. She was… concerned.”

“Not concerned enough to not hit me in the first place,” he grumbled.

“Spike… Buffy… Buffy is under a great deal of strain…”

“You don’t have to make excuses for her, Watcher. I know what kind of strain she’s under.”

“It doesn’t condone her behavior, but…”

“But you forgive her. Because she’s Buffy and she’s under a lot of pressure. I know, and really, I do understand. ‘S not the first time she’s done this to me anyway.”

Giles looked surprised. “She’s beaten you before?”

“In the future. The nerd trio tried to make her think she’d killed this girl. Buffy wanted to turn herself in. I tried to stop her. She ended up pummeling me to the concrete in the alley by the police station. When she was done she just left me there. I could barely move. I had to drag myself back to my crypt,” he remembered sadly.

“But the worst of it was, I knew why she did it. Hell, I’d even told her to put it all on me. I knew I could take it. It was afterwards… she never once said she was sorry. Not once. I was just a soulless demon to her. It didn’t matter what she did to me.”

‘You don’t have a soul! There’s nothing good or clean in you. That’s why you can’t understand! You’re dead inside! You can’t feel anything real! I could never... be your girl!’ he recalled, eyes squeezing shut.

“She said… she said there was nothing good or clean in me because I didn’t have a soul. That I couldn’t feel anything real.”

He stopped, hand trembling as he took another drink of scotch. Giles cleaned his glasses nervously. 

“Yes, well, that is what she would say.”

Spike’s head snapped up. “You know that’s bollocks, don’t you?”

Giles looked away, nervous. “I’m beginning to understand that.”

“Anyway, back to our Slayer askin’ after me. What did you tell her?”

“I managed to hedge some. I told her that you were recovering. I also told her what you told me about smelling Joyce’s illness. She seemed to accept that.”

“‘S true. I mean, if I hadn’t known about her illness from before, I still would have known something was wrong. All I had to do was spend some time with her and I would have smelled it right off.”

“Yes, and it is something we should have thought of.”

“Anyway, what about my showin’ up in all the right places?”

Now it was Giles’ turn to drink. “I couldn’t tell her the truth. Told her that you had gotten some tips from a demon in Willy’s.”

“Didn’t think she could handle it?”

“Frankly, I’m not sure *I* can handle it,” Giles retorted back.

Spike shrugged. “Told you, ya didn’t want to know.”

“And for once I can say you were telling me the absolute truth.”

They fell silent as they each took another drink.

“To be honest, I’m very worried about Buffy,” Giles confessed. “Her behavior tonight and her beating of you is deeply disturbing to me. I fear my Slayer is coming apart at the seams and I am helpless to stop it.”

“Our girl is tough, Watcher. She keeps it together real well. If we can save her mum, it’ll do a lot of good. Joyce’s death was a real shock,” he told Giles.

“That is heartening, however, I do think that things are too volatile for me to leave. I was planning to return to England to speak to the Watcher’s Council about information on Glory. But since you have told me everything I need to know…”

“No,” Spike interrupted. “You have to go, Watcher.”

Giles was taken back. “Why?”

“‘S one of those things I knew I couldn’t change. While you’re gone, Red and Demon-girl have a bit of a spat while Red’s trying to cast a spell. Things go wonky and she ends up conjuring a troll.”

“A troll?!”

“Yeah, turns out he was one of Anya’s ex-boyfriends. He cheated on her and she turned him into a troll. Anyway, he had a thing about witches. Went on a rampage and smashed up the Magic Box. Then he headed over to the Bronze and did a fair bit if damage there.”

“And I should allow this to happen why exactly? To satisfy your lust for carnage?”

Spike rolled his eyes. “A few injuries and a couple of smashed up support posts constitutes carnage to you? Watcher, you have no idea what real carnage is. Angelus and Darla in Paris in 1890 was carnage. A troll in the Bronze was a minor incident. Besides, I’d love to stop it. The Bronze was closed for weeks afterwards and after they reopened, they raised the drink prices and took the blooming onion off the menu. My point is, after Red sent him off to Troll Paradise, he left his hammer behind. If we end up going against Glory, that hammer will be what Buffy uses against her.”

Giles shook his head, understanding. “So I have to let that happen because we need the weapon.”

Spike tapped his nose. “Got it in one. Knew you were a Cambridge man.”

“Oxford actually. What else, pray tell, comes of my trip?”

Spike thought a moment. “Well, the Council sends a team to interrogate the Slayer. Need to make sure she can handle the information they have on Glory. Put her through all kinds of tests. Threaten to close the Magic Box and have you deported if she doesn’t comply.”

“Those pillocks!” 

Spike put up a hand. “Now, now, Rupert, don’t get your knickers in a twist. Our girl turns one on ‘em and gets the best of ‘em. Even gets you your job back, with retroactive pay.”

“She does?” Giles repeated, astonished.

Spike nodded. “She does. Told you our girl was tough.”

“Would you please stop calling Buffy our girl.”

“Why? ‘S what she is, innit?”

“I think both she and I would beg to differ.”

Spike shrugged. “Have it your way then.”

“Oh I doubt that,” Giles muttered.

“In any case, there’s some things we can change and some things we can’t. Believe me, I’ve spent a great deal of time working out what I can do and what will mess me up. Olaf the troll was one of those forgone conclusions.”

Giles shook his head. “Olaf.”

Spike chucked. “You should’ve seen the look on the whelp’s face when he said he used to be Anya’s boyfriend.”

Giles laughed with him and wiped a tear from his eye. “Yes, I can imagine that was quite amusing.”

Spike took another drink and poured both himself and Giles more. “Was until he knocked the second level platform down.”

“Oh dear.”

They drank a bit more, then Giles asked, “So, tell me what other events are forgone conclusions. I need to know if I’ll need more insurance.”

“Well… Glinda’s spell of non-seeing was one. Captain Cardboard leaving’s another. You going to England. Red conjuring the troll. The Council comin’ here to test Buffy. And… oh bloody hell!” Spike answered.

“What?”

“The ‘bot. The damn Buffy-bot. We use her as a decoy to distract Glory. I have to go to that geek Warren and order him to make me a Buffy-bot.”

Now it was Giles’ turn to chuckle. “Let me get this straight. I have to let my shop be demolished by a troll that Willow conjures by accident because we need his hammer. And you have to contract with a sociopathic, homicidal technophile to make you a sex-bot that looks like Buffy.”

“That about sums it up, Rupes.”

Giles raised his glass. “Welcome to life on the Hellmouth. Cheers.”

********

Passions was on when Dawn knocked on Giles’ door. Spike recognized her scent before he even answered, and gave the teen a smile as he swung the door open.

“Hello, Bit,” he greeted, using the door to shield him from the sunlight that streamed in the open doorway.

“How’d you know it was me?” she asked, smiling until she saw his face- still bruised from the beating he’d suffered.

He tapped his nose as he closed the door and ushered her into the living room. “Can sniff your Teen Spirit from here, Bit.”

She blushed. “Sorry, dumb question, huh?”

Spike shrugged, moving to sit on the couch. Dawn sat next to him, placing her book bag on the floor.

“Came here from school, eh?”

Dawn nodded. “Mom told me you were house-sitting for Giles while he’s in England.”

“Yeah, Ol’ Rupert hasn’t kicked me out yet.”

“How are you feeling?”

Spike gave her a fond look for her concern. “Mending.”

“I can’t believe Buffy beat you up like that. I mean, you can’t even defend yourself!”

“Now now, you can’t blame Big Sis. She’s goin’ through a lot, and I haven’t given her much reason to trust me in the past,” he said gently.

Dawn’s face grew earnest. “But you’ve changed! You’ve been helping us. You’ve been helping with patrol, and stuff. And helping me…”

“Still a demon, pet. Nothin’ will change that.”

Dawn looked away, pensive. “I just think she blames you for things you didn’t do.”

“That may be so, but if it is, there’s nothin’ you or I can do about it. Tell me about your mum. How’s she doin’?”

Dawn perked up, smiling. “She’s home! The surgery went great and the doctors say they got all of the tumor.”

He shared her enthusiasm. “That’s wonderful news, Bit. Now we just have to make sure she heals up right.”

Dawn nodded vigorously, and he smiled to himself.

‘No time like the present…’

Spike motioned towards the television. “Was watchin’ that show they have… Operation. Lotsa blood and guts that is. They got cameras in the operatin’ room. Show ya everything.”

Dawn’s nose crinkled. “Eeewww.”

“Hey, bloke’s gotta get his jollies some way. Anyway, they were talkin’ ‘bout risks after certain operations. Blood clots and the like. Your mum’s doc’s gonna put her on blood thinners right?”

“I… I dunno…”

‘Okay, look earnest…’

“Maybe oughtta talk to her about it. Blood clots in the brain are no good. An’ with her comin’ out of the surgery so well, don’t wanna be takin’ any chances, now do we?”

‘There. Plant *that* little bug in her ear.’

Dawn’s eyes grew wide and Spike saw the glimmer of fear in them. “No. We don’t. I’ll talk to her about it, Spike. Thanks.”

He shrugged. “Was just a thought.”

She touched his hand.

“A good thought. See what I mean? You’d never have thought about that before. You never would have even cared if Mom got sick. You have changed.” She edged a little closer, eyes hooded and shy. “I think you’re beginning to like us.”

‘Warning! Warning! Teenage hormone bomb movin’ in for the kill. Gotta head it off at the pass…’

He moved further away on the couch, crossing his legs to make it harder to get closer. “So, Bit, how’s Big Sis?”

The mention of her sister had the desired effect and cooled Dawn’s unwelcome advances.

“She’s okay,” Dawn answered with a shrug. “Riley’s gone though.”

He feigned innocence even though Giles had already told him of Riley’s departure. “Soldier Boy?”

“Yeah. Off to Belize or some place like that. He and Buffy broke up. He had a vamp problem.”

“A vamp problem?”

“Yeah, he was paying vamps to bite him. Made him feel needed.”

“What? Did Big Sis tell you that?”

Dawn shook her head. “Overheard her talking to Willow about it.”

Spike gave her a proud smile. “Becomin’ a veritable little eavesdropper, eh, Nibblet?”

She shrugged. “It’s easy when no one notices you.”

“Oh, I doubt they don’t notice you.”

“Sometimes it feels that way.”

His caring instincts towards the girl overrode his reservations towards allowing her to get too close, and he moved closer.

“Believe me, Bit, you are not the type of girl that goes unnoticed,” he assured, leaning towards her.

She looked at him, her eyes hopeful, preening. “Really? You think so?”

He pulled back, but answered with complete honesty, “Absolutely.”

Her grin was genuine and he had to smile.

“Thanks, Spike. I mean, with Mom’s illness, and this new demon, I think Buffy sees me as a nuisance.”

He reached out and pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear. It was something he had been reluctant to do the last time he had lived this time, but months of caring for Dawn in the summer of Buffy’s death and all of the changes he had gone through in that time, gave him a new ease. He knew Dawn was a tactile person, like he was, and that she craved physical contact. He wondered if the need for touch was a ‘Key-thing’ or if it was something the monks hadn’t anticipated.

“You’re never a nuisance, Sweet Bit. You’re the Apple of everyone’s eye. And anyone that doesn’t think you’re wonderful is a bloody pillock.”

She giggled at his words and smiled. 

“Thanks, Spike.”

He sat back and patted his thigh. “So, what they teachin’ you in school these days?”

Dawn retrieved her book bag and pulled it to her lap. “I have a test on World War I in history on Friday.”

“World War I, eh? You do know who really started that war, right?”

“The Austrians who wanted revenge for the murder of Arch Duke Ferdinand, and Germany gave them the Blank Check to do what they wanted and sent troops.”

Spike shook his head vigorously. “No, that’s not what happened, Bit. Yeah, the Duke got killed and the Austrians were madder than Hell. And sinceGermany and Austria are practically the same country as far as the Royal Family goes Old Kaiser William felt obligated to lend a hand. No, Bit, if you read between the lines, you’ll learn that France was the one that pushed for the declaration of War against Germany.”

Dawn’s brow creased. “Well, yeah, coz Yugoslavia was afraid Germany would attack them.”

“Bollocks,” he argued, pointing a finger at her. “You mark my words, it was the French that started World War I, not the Germans. If the French had kept their noses out of it, Austria would’ve gotten revenge for Ferdinand’s murder and that would have been it.”

She pulled out her history text book. “That’s not what my book says.”

“Sod the book. Don’t they tell you that history is written by the victors? Of course they wouldn’t tell you the truth. Believe me, Bit. Take it from someone who was there. It was the French.”

She laughed. “If you say so.”

“Oh, I say so. In fact, if you look at history, the French are responsible for a whole lot of evil things that they never got called on.”

Dawn was smiling, her eyes dancing with mirth. She knew he was playing with her and loved it.

‘No one ever gives this poor girl anything but grief.’

“Oh really?” she said teasingly.

“Hell yeah. I mean, French fashion is the worst, and the food! They eat *snails* for god sakes, and *frogs legs!* They have absolutely no concept of real food. Pate and crepes… disgusting. Give me a juicy London sausage or leg of mutton any day.”

Dawn laughed outright, her joy filling the room. He pressed on, grinning at her.

“And café au lait, and croissants, and frillin’ champagne! Wine with *bubbles*, a true sign of a weak mind, I tell you.”

She was laughing so hard that tears were leaking from her eyes and she was gasping for breath.

“And their dogs! Useless mongrels they are. Bichons and bloody French *poodles!* Bloody poofters the lot of ‘em!”

“Stop! Stop!” Dawn cried through breathless gasps. “You’re killin’ me!”

Spike chuckled, smiled. “Oh pet, if I was killin’ you, you’d know it.”

“You always make me laugh, Spike.”

“It’s good to see a smile on your face, Bit. Can’t stand to see a Summers woman frown. And speakin’ of frownin’, your mum know you’re here?”

Dawn looked guilty and he scowled at her. 

“Now, Bit, we can’t be havin’ her worried about you. She’ll send Big Sis and things’ll get ugly. You use that phone over there and call her ‘fore Buffy comes blazin’ in here with stakes drawn.”

“Okay.”

She unfolded herself from the couch and did as he asked. A few moments later she came back.

“Mom needs me home, so I have to go. She was glad I called. She was getting worried, but when I said I was over here with you, she was cool. She told me to tell you to come over sometime.”

“I’d like that. Tell ‘er I’ll be by.”

“I will,” she promised, shouldering her book bag and heading for the door.

“Bye Spike. I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

“Bye, Bit. I’ll be seein’ you.”

She gave him a final fond glance and headed out, closing the door quietly behind her. After she was gone, he tried to re-focus on watching TV, but found that he missed her. There had been a time when it had been normal for him to be with her in this setting. He had many memories of sitting in the Summers’ living room, watching TV while Dawn did her homework. 

There were quiet evenings spent together, both together and separate in their loss and grief. Sometimes they would talk or play cards. He’d taught her to play poker. Dawn had an amazing poker face, and she’d made him proud with her bluffing skills. Sometimes he would help her with her homework, telling her about his recollection of history and his classic English training. Oh how William would come out to play on those nights. Only Dawn ever saw, of course, but he would read poetry and recite Shakespeare and make her laugh with his antics. It seemed that he was the only one who could get a smile out of her in those early days.

Then there were the times when the loss got too much, and she would crawl into his arms and he would hold her. Her head would rest against his chest, her hair tickling his chin, and he would lose himself in her scent and heartbeat. Two orphans, they were, clinging to each other in a world that had brought them so much pain and so little understanding. 

Buffy’s friends had discouraged Dawn after a while, thinking it unhealthy for her to be so attached to him, to a soulless vampire, and their times together became more and more infrequent. Relegated to the outside again, like a dog that was supposed to be mean but only wanted to be loved, he hung on the fringes, looking in, missing his brief moments of acceptance.

‘Moments of splendor in the grass…’ he thought, wincing at the way the verse came back with such ease. William might have been dead for over 120 years, but his essence lived on in Spike, and now his soul was known to spout poetry at odd moments.

He was kicked to curb completely, of course, after said friends ripped Buffy out of Heaven. No longer needed, he was all but abandoned, tossed away like so much garbage. The undead, evil thing who was incapable of feeling, whose broken heart could only find solace at the bottom of a bottle. He hardly ever saw Dawn then, and after the stint with the singing demon, Buffy had nothing but anger for him. It wasn’t his fault he spoke the truth, but she didn’t see it that way. Then again, Buffy’s primary defense mechanism was denial. 

Even after she had begun their torrid affair, she had denied everything between them. She denied her feelings for him and completely disregarded his feelings for her. Coming to him, hating him, hating herself and using him, she never once allowed herself to think that what they had could be something more, something wonderful.

She’d never let him be gentle. Sex between them had always been violent and raw, except for the one time, the time right before Soldier Boy returned as the triumphant hero and blew everything to Hell. That had been the only time they had even come close to the lovemaking he had wanted to share with her. If only she had let him…

‘Ah, don’t go there. That way lies madness. Or more of it than there already is,’ he chastised himself.

Turning off the TV, he rose to his feet.

‘This Nibblet will never love you as the only thing that kept her safe and sane. She will never look at you with eyes that reflect your own pain and understand it. She will never hang on your every word and trust you with her life,’ he thought, resigned. ‘But this Dawn will also never lose her mother or see her sister sacrifice herself for her. She will never know grief or pain or terror, because I will stop it. Joyce will not die and Buffy will not jump to her death to save her sister, and no one but Giles will ever be the wiser that it had ever been any different. And no one will know what I sacrificed to make it all possible.’

He sighed and looked at the clock. 

‘Olaf’ll be makin’ his appearance soon. Best get ready.’

He forced one foot in front of the other until he got to the bathroom. 

‘Wash your face, comb your hair. Don’t think about anything beyond that.’

Part of him wished for a Polaroid camera so he could see how bad the bruises on his face were. It had been a week, and the swelling and most of the soreness was gone. Still, Dawn had winced when she saw him, so there must be some discoloration left.

‘Naught to be done for it.’

He sniffed his shirt to make sure it smelled okay and splashed some water on his face. Then he combed back his hair and walked to the living room to put on his coat. His duster was his shield against the world and he donned it like armor, protecting him from harm. He stood a little taller, his shoulders a little straighter, his heart a little braver.

‘Once more unto the brink.’

He opened the door and walked out into the night.

 

 

Chapter Text

Spike was at the Bronze when Xander bumped into him, just as he had before, and from there, the timeline was pretty much the same. He pushed Xander’s buttons by stealing peanuts, and eventually he and Xander struck up a game of pool. He listened to Xander bemoan his situation with Anya and Willow, knowing full well that Olaf would be coming in any minute. Still, he tried to pretend that he was paying attention and made appropriate comments where necessary.

The biggest difference, of course, was that he wasn’t carrying the guilt of telling Buffy about Riley’s bad habit. In this timeline, Giles had broken the news to the Slayer and he had not had to bear the brunt of Buffy’s ire. This in and of itself was a relief. He hated having Buffy angry at him because an angry Slayer was a violent Slayer, much more apt to break his nose than listen to him. In this timeline, he might have more of a chance of actually talking to her. It would also be the first time since the beating that he would see her, and he knew that she was carrying at least some guilt and remorse over her behavior.

“They get in these fights and then they’re both looking to me, like I’m the referee. Also, sometimes I’ll say something about Anya, and Willow will get this look. This ‘what the hell do you see in her’ look,” Xander was saying as they played pool.

Spike nodded sympathetically. “I know that look. Lot of people never really got Dru, you know?”

“Well, she was insane,” he commented offhandedly, ignoring Spike’s irritated glance. “And then it’s like, I get all torn, because Willow’s my best friend, and I really value her opinion. But Anya’s my girlfriend, you know?”

“Nothin’ like split loyalties. I know all about that,” Spike said with a sigh.

That caught Xander’s attention. “What do you mean?”

Spike shrugged. “The whole Acathla thing with Angelus and Dru. Owed ‘em as my family, didn’t wanna turn against Dru, but they were gonna destroy the world, y’know? I had to do something. Truce with the Slayer seemed the right thing ta do. How was I to know Dru’d never forgive me?”

“Buffy told me how you helped her. Even if you were only doing it for selfish reasons, I don’t know if she could have beaten them both if you hadn’t taken care of Drusilla. You really helped.”

Spike was taken back. “Harris are you *thanking* me?”

Xander made another shot. “Don’t ever tell anyone or you are so dust.”

Spike smirked, feeling something bloom inside his chest. “My lips are sealed forever, whelp.”

Just then, he was bumped from behind and he knew immediately who it was.

‘Showtime.’

“Hey! Watch it, mate!” he groused, turning to see the troll. “Second thought, do what you like.”

“Ale!” the troll yelled happily, grabbing a keg from a handtruck. “Yes! Fragrant ale! I have been trapped for many centuries and along with my taste of freedom I would appreciate the taste of a fine grain-based beverage!”

He tucked his hammer into its holder, raised the keg with one hand and bit into it, draining it while Spike and Xander watched.

“So, um… think I should run get Buffy?” Xander whispered.

Spike shrugged as Olaf threw the empty keg to the ground.

“Barmaid! Fetch me stronger ale! And some plump succulent babies to eat!” the troll ordered.

“I’m gonna run get Buffy,” Xander said, then turned to Spike. “Or you can fight him!”

Spike sized up the troll. “Yeah, I could do that if I had a death wish.”

Xander moved to head for the exit, but before he could take a single step, the troll noticed them.

“You there! Do you know where there are babies?” he asked.

Spike decided that he liked teasing Xander and turned to him as he had before, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “What do you think? The hospital, maybe?”

The comment worked and Xander bristled. “What? Shut up!”

Spike smiled to himself. ‘Gotta get my kicks in somehow.’

“Um... listen...” Xander was saying to the troll.

“I find myself very hungry and when I am hungry I get short of patience!”

“Hey, we can take care of hungry. How ‘bout you just sit down, on one of the sturdier chairs, and we can talk calmly and have some food.”

“Can it be babies?” the troll asked hopefully.

“Well, not so much. But maybe... roast pigs and... stags... and much hearty grog!”

“They have this onion thing—“ Spike offered helpfully.

“You cannot appease me! Do not try!” the troll yelled, then turned to the bar and grabbed another keg. “More ale!”

Spike and Xander backed away from the distracted troll and ran into Willow and Anya, who had just entered. Willow was carrying a book.

“Your work, Red?” Spike asked innocently.

While the young witch was tongue-tied, Anya noticed Xander.

“Xander! You shouldn’t be here! There’s a troll!” she exclaimed.

“Big guy? Hammer? Think I noticed him.”

“I wish Buffy was here,” Willow bemoaned as the troll drank another keg.

Just then Buffy and Tara entered and came running over.

“I’m here,” Buffy said, breathless.

“I wish for a million dollars,” Willow said, surprised at Buffy’s timely appearance, then saw Xander’s look. “Just checking.”

Tara immediately hugged Willow. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“What’s going on?” Buffy demanded. “Where’d he come from?”

Knowing she hadn’t seen him yet, he stepped forward tentatively, face slightly down so as not to display the bruises too much.

“Hello Buffy,” he said carefully.

She saw him and her jaw dropped, then her face filled with shame and she looked away.

“Spike.”

“I was here when he showed up. Easily ticked off. Likes his beer. Could put somethin’ in a keg maybe. Knock ‘im out,” he suggested.

Shocked that he was trying to be helpful, she raised her eyes to stare at him.

“Umm… that’s… that’s a good idea,” she stammered.

“Yeah.” He looked at her, his vision condensing until she was the only thing that existed. “Heard Joyce is doing well. Nibblet told me,” he said suddenly, not wanting to lose her attention.

A smile cracked her face and she beamed. “Yeah, she’s doing great. We’re really happy.”

He smiled back. “I’m glad. She’s a great woman, your mum.”

Buffy looked away. “Yeah, she is.”

“You look good too… better.”

She looked back up and he saw the thin line of tears in her eyes. “Yeah. Well… I… I gotta… y’know…” She pointed a thumb at Olaf. “Troll.”

He nodded and leaned close. “Get ‘is hammer. All his power’s in the hammer.”

Buffy’s eyes opened wide. “Oh.”

He looked around at the people who seemed oblivious to the danger they were in. “You want, I could try to clear this place out. Less chance of someone gettin’ hurt.”

“That… that would be very helpful,” she stammered, still shocked.

He nodded, forming a plan in his head. “Listen, trolls are testy buggers.” He gave a nod towards Willow who was flipping through her spellbook. “If Red’s fixin’ to do some mojo, best take it outside. He gets pissed off and starts swingin’ that hammer, he could bring the whole place down.”

Buffy’s gaze followed his to all the people in the club and she got the “I’m the Slayer and this is my job” look on her face. Spike smiled because he loved to see her work; she was glorious to him.

“Right. Good idea. You work on clearing these people out of here. I’ll get big and drinky outside.”

Given his marching orders, he left Buffy to deal with Olaf and set on emptying the club. The first thing he did was pull the fire alarm, but amazingly, that only cleared out a third of the crowd. So he jumped onto the stage, unplugged the sound system, and grabbed a wireless mike that was still turned on.

“Oi! People! This is not a drill! Clear out now!” he ordered.

They stared stupidly at him.

“What, are all of you seriously stoned?! There’s bloody alarm goin’ off. Find the nearest exit and bugger off!”

They still stared, not comprehending at all. Spike raised his eyes to the ceiling, counted to ten, then gave up.

“Oh, bugger it.”

He shifted into gameface and roared. “GET OUT!”

That did it. The residents of Sunnydale might be too daft to pay any attention to a fire alarm, but give them a bloodthirsty killer and they reacted.

Screams echoed off the club walls and the crowd made a mass stampede for the exits. The scent of fear gave him a headrush and he grinned, still in demon face.

“Yeah, that’s it, ya blighters. I’m the Big Bad! Run, you sods! Get outta here!”

He gave a few more growls for good measure as the last of the patrons ran squealing out, then took stock of his work. The place was empty, Buffy and the Scoobies were gone, so was the troll, and the club was intact. He grinned, realizing he had averted the disaster that had closed down the club, raised prices and axed the blooming onion.

‘Not bad for a day’s work.’

Still in gameface, he sauntered up to the deserted bar, and walked behind it, perusing the selection of liquor. He knew that his job was done for the day. Buffy and Red would send Olaf packing off to Troll Paradise and get the Hammer in trade. Xander would get beat up, but at least it wasn’t him for once and the whelp wouldn’t be too badly damaged. All would end well, and for his part in the whole thing, he deserved a beer.

‘Ah… Pete’s Wicked Ale. Didn’t know they had this. Wankers keep it hidden.’

He snagged a bottle, opened it with his teeth, and took a deep swig. Pulling it back, he shook off his demon.

‘Nothin’ like a fang to get in the way of a good beer.’

He was just finishing his third bottle when Giles came staggering in, holding what was left of a statue. Seeing the look on the Watcher’s face, he pulled another beer from behind the bar and slammed it on the counter. Giles came over and sat on a stool.

“Back early, Rupes?”

“You… you didn’t tell me it was quite that bad,” Giles said, stunned, even as he reached for the beer.

Spike shrugged. “Tried to warn ya, but hey! Look! I saved the bloomin’ onion!”

Giles gave a disinterested glance to the empty club. “Well, yes, bully for you.” He took a swig of the beer Spike had given him and shook his head. “God, this is hard.”

“Why do you think I spend most of my time drunk, Rupes? It’s either that or go stark, raving mad.”

“Yes, well, I would argue that it might be too late for that,” the Watcher commented.

Spike shrugged and raised his bottle.

“So, Buffy defeats the troll?”

Spike nodded. “Yep. With Red’s help. They get the Hammer, Olaf gets shipped off to Troll Paradise and all is well in SunnyHell for another week.”

Giles was still dazed. “How very… reassuring.”

Spike looked away and took another drink. “S’all we can hope for, Watcher. So, meet-n-greet with the Council of Wankers any good?”

“They are sending a team here to evaluate the situation.”

“Told you they would.”

“Yes, however, knowing that and reconciling it are two entirely different things.”

“How do you think I feel?”

The words seemed to shake Giles out of his stupor and he cocked his head.

“Yes… I do wonder sometimes.”

Giles reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of fine sand. He then threw it on Spike, shouting, “Illuminati!”

“What the? Oi, Rupert! What ya do that for?” Spike yelled, brushing off the sand angrily. “Oh, and ya even got it in my beer, ya wanker!”

He looked over at Giles, who was staring at him, dumbfounded.

“What?” he demanded.

“You have a soul,” came the monotone answer.

“Well, duh. I told you I have a soul.”

“Yes, but I didn’t believe you. I was convinced you had found a way to lie even under the Truth Spell, because if what you told me was true then…” He trailed off.

Spike sighed, understanding. “Yeah. I know. But believe me, Watcher, I wish was lying. Cosmic joke this is.”

“I’ve always suspected that the Powers That Be had a sick sense of humor. Now I have proof,” Giles said woodenly.

The words stung more than they should have, but he couldn’t help feeling hurt. Giles was his only confidante in this mess, the only one who shared the heavy burden with him, and now it had been revealed that the Watcher hadn’t believed him all along. It cut him, bringing all his feelings of betrayal and inadequacy to the fore.

“Well, yeah. Unlikely hero here. Makin’ the world safe for puppies, Christmas and bloomin’ onions. About all I’m good for. If I hadn’t colossally screwed up when I had the chance, none of it would have happened.”

Giles looked apologetic. “I didn’t mean it that way, Spike. You’re doing… the best you can.”

“Yeah, but it’s not good enough, and it never will be,” he replied, then shrugged. “Look, I’ve a hankerin’ to drown my sorrows in solitude. I’m pretty much healed up now, and I thank you for your hospitality, but I’m gonna go back to my crypt. You look me up when you wanna do another plannin’ session over a few bottles of booze, and I’ll be game. In the meantime, I’ll go back to my cave where all us nasties belong.”

He began walking towards the exit. Giles tried to stop him.

“Spike, I…”

“Can it, Rupert. Can’t handle it right now.”

He looked back at the man who was looking broken and exhausted, and knew Giles looked like he felt inside.

“You do what you gotta do, and I’ll do what I gotta do. And we’ll leave it at that.”  He turned away and stalked out. “More beer’s behind the bar, Watcher. Help yourself,” he called over his shoulder as he left.

He did not look back.

*******

For the next couple of days, Spike sulked in his crypt. He’d gone out only once during his fit of pique, and that had been to assist Buffy with a vampire. He remembered helping her from before, remembered taunting her about her looks and her inability to keep a man, but this time, he was oddly quiet. He saw the vamp slam her backwards and moved in for the kill. He dusted it and stepped back, waiting for Buffy to yell at him for getting in her way, but she hadn’t. They made pleasantries, just as they had the night Olaf was in the Bronze. He asked about her mother and she replied that Joyce was recovering, but that the house was a mess.

She then complained about her classes and the cutting remarks a professor had made. He had listened and confirmed her belief that Rasputin was indeed a demon. Her smile had warmed him, and he wondered if she really didn’t know how intelligent she was. He knew she hated school, that studying was a hardship for her, but he also knew that she had done fairly well on her SAT scores.

Buffy was far from stupid, but like so many young people in the modern times, the antiquated teaching methods of the schools failed to create an environment that made learning interesting for her. Without her mind engaged and interested, she simply didn’t apply herself. Instead, she allowed her low grade point average to convince her that she was dumb, and accepted the common belief that she was not fit for higher education. He wondered how she would do in a small, personalized situation, where her quick mind was fed all the right things. He had no doubt that she’d surprise everyone, herself most of all.

Their little non-violent interaction had been pleasant, and he had returned to his crypt a little lighter hearted than he had been before. It wore off in a few hours, though, when he was left alone with his memories and nightmares and the firm belief that nothing he could do would make any difference. It wasn’t enough to make him give up, however, and he did tidy up his crypt in anticipation of the Council of Wankers barging in to interview him.

They showed up right on time, crossbow and crucifix in hand, to ask him questions about Buffy and her work. Souled, but still prone to impatience with obvious hubris, he played with them a bit, feeding them stories of his and Buffy’s adventures and flirting with the young woman. It had been fun to yank them around, and he’d actually felt quite a bit better after they’d gone. Part of this was because he knew he had helped Buffy a great deal in making her look like Super Slayer in the eyes of the Council, and the other part was his evil smugness in knowing he was light years ahead of them in knowing what was going on with Glory, the Hell Bitch.

After they left, he aired out the place to get rid of the smell of Stuffed Shirt, and tidied up some more because he knew Buffy would be bringing Joyce and Dawn over for him to watch and protect. Then he settled in to take a nap. He knew Buffy would wake him when she brought her mother and sister over, and he didn’t want it to look like he had been expecting company.

She woke him up a few hours later by slamming the door and shining sunlight on him. He leapt up, startled, ready to fight, then relaxed when he saw her.

“Oh, it’s the Slayer,” he commented, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “For a second there, I was worried.”

He nodded his head towards Joyce and Dawn who were standing behind Buffy, looking rather uncertain.

“What’s with the family outing?” he asked.

Buffy came close and he focused on her. She looked worn and frightened, and he once again fought the urge to reach out. He almost choked on it, that and the knowledge that she saw him as nothing more than a monster to be used and discarded at her convenience.

“I need your help,” she said earnestly.

He’d snarked at her before, demanding cash, but this time, he softened and leaned close.

“What is it? Is there danger?”

The look in her eyes told him everything he needed to know about her surprise and her gratitude.

‘See, there’s a man in this monster. A man who loves you and will do anything for you. Can you bring yourself to see him, Buffy?’

“You have to look after them,” she said in a serious voice.

He pretended to be affronted. It was no good to be too helpful. Being too helpful usually earned him a few bruises.

“Whoa. That’s a boatload of manly responsibility to come out of nowhere. What’s the matter, Slayer? Not feeling a hundred percent?”

She shook her head and crinkled her nose. “No, I…”

He decided to tease her a bit. It would make her feel better if he acted ‘normal.’

“They didn’t put a chip in your head, did they?

“No...”

“Be funny if they did,” he said, licking his teeth and smirking.

She lost patience and frowned. “I need an answer. Now. In or out, Spike?” At his pensive look, she added quietly, “You’re... the only one strong enough to protect them.”

‘No, I’m not. I’m a colossal failure at it, but I swear this time around, I’ll do better.’

He gave her a tender smile, confirming her belief that preying on his male ego had convinced him to help her, when just the opposite was true.

“All right then,” he agreed, then turned to Joyce and Dawn. “Ladies, come on in. Plenty of blood in the fridge.”

“You mean like, real blood?” Dawn asked, taking a few tentative steps forward.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “What do you think?”

She crinkled her nose in distaste just the way Buffy did when she was squeamish. “Mostly I think: eww.”

“Mom, keep Dawn here as long as you can. I’ll be back soon as I can,” Buffy told her mother then turned to Spike. “I know I don’t have to tell you this, but...”

He smirked and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah... anything happens to them, I’ll stake you good and proper. Sing me a new one sometime, eh pet? That bit’s gone stale.”

She looked as if she was going to retort something then decided against it. Shaking her head and giving her mother one last reassuring glace, she hurried out. Spike looked at his remaining two reluctant guests as they cast concerned glances around the room. Poor Joyce looked about as out of place as a skinhead at a Mormon Convention.

“I love what you’ve neglected to do with the place,” Joyce finally offered nervously.

He smiled and welcomed them in, going to the beat-up television, knowing that Joyce liked Passions as much as he did, and moving to turn the TV on.

“Just don’t break anything and don’t make a lot of noise - Passions is coming on,” he said.

That got Joyce’s attention as he knew it would, and she came forward to sit on the old chair in front of the television.

“Passions? Oh, do you think Timmy’s really dead?”

He sat next to her on the arm of the chair. “Oh no, she can just sew him back together. He’s a doll for God’s sake.”

“What about the wedding? There’s no way they’re going through with that.”

He smiled to himself, happy to have them there if only for a short while. He was aware of Dawn’s impatience with their preoccupation with soap operas, but he left her be to do her school work as he and Joyce sat by the dim glow of the television.

Two hours later, Joyce was asleep in the chair, Spike’s tattered blanket tucked around her shoulders, while he and Dawn played cards for snack mix on the other side of the crypt.

“Gin!” Dawn exclaimed quietly and Spike scowled.

“Oi! Nibblet. You got me again,” he groused as she dumped the ‘stakes’ bowl of snack mix into her own ‘winnings’ bowl.

She laughed, giving him a coy look. She’d been flirting with him ever since her mother had fallen asleep and he’d turned his attention to the bored teenager.

“You’re not letting me win, are you?” she asked shyly.

“Don’t have to, Bit, you’re a natural. ‘Sides, you think I like losing all of my Chex Mix to you? Stuff’s expensive you know.”

“I think it’s funny that a vampire has real food. I mean, what do you do with it?”

“Eat it, of course.”

“But don’t vampires eat blood?”

“Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy other stuff.”

Dawn shrugged as she shuffled the cards. “Angel never ate any human food.”

He took the cards from her and shuffled them himself. “Yeah, well, Angel’s a wanker.”

She giggled and watched as he dealt another hand. Each then looked at their cards and placed their wagers in the ‘stakes’ bowl.

“This is fun,” she said after a short while as they played. “And you’re really good at it.”

“Yeah, well, you grow up in a time without television or radios, gotta do somethin’ ta pass the time. Cards, board games, readin.’ Made the nights go faster.”

“I always thought that was why Victorians had such big families,” she joked with a grin.

He smirked and shook his head. “Not goin’ there with you, Sweet Bit. Sexual relations and the Victorian era were not compatible in any way.”

She leaned close and whispered in a conspiring tone, “I once looked up a book in the library called My Secret Life. I snuck it out of the adults section. There were four volumes of this guy talking about his sex life in Victorian England. He’d go to whore houses to have sex because his wife wasn’t supposed to enjoy having sex with him.”

He leaned back and lit a cigarette. “Yeah, that’d be about right. That whole ‘wifely duty’ thing…” He stopped himself and gave her a piercing glance. “And did I not say that I was not discussing this with you, young lady?”

She laughed, her eyes dancing. “So, what did you do on those cold Victorian nights?”

He took a drag from his cigarette. “If you tell anyone this, I *will* find a way to kill you, understand?”

Her eyes widened a little, but she leaned close expectantly.

“I was a proper English gentleman. I never even thought dirty thoughts.”

She giggled. “You?”

“I was. And I played cards and board games with my mum and little sis on those cold Victorian nights.”

She blinked at his words. “You had a little sister?”

He nodded even as his heart sank. He hadn’t wanted to speak of his family but she’d gotten him into it.

‘Sneaky little chit.’

Closing his eyes and crushing out his cigarette on the stone crypt floor. “I did.”

He hoped that she would now let it go, but she was like a pit bull with a bone.

“What was she like? What was her name?”

He sighed, calling up his sister’s sweet face from memory. They had the same blue eyes, same nose and the same wavy, sandy brown hair.

“Anne. Her name was Anne and she was a lot like you.”

“She was?”

He smiled, remembering Anne’s laughter, and took a sip from the beer he’d been nursing for the past half hour. “Yeah. She was smart and pretty, like you, Bit, and she had a habit of asking the wrong questions at the wrong times. Two peas in a pod, we were. I adored her and she adored me.”

“Did you kill her?” Dawn asked suddenly.

He choked and spit his mouthful of beer all over the floor, startling Dawn and making her scramble backwards.

“Wh…what?” he gasped, staring at her in horror and wiping his mouth.

She looked guilty and ashamed. “Buffy… Buffy always said that when you become a vampire you go back and kill your family.”

“Did she now?” he snapped, making Dawn flinch. “I wonder where she got that idea.”

“I… I don’t know.”

“Now you listen, missy, and you listen good. Just because darling Angelus got a hankerin’ to massacre his folks, does not mean all of us go out and eat the ones who raised us after gettin’ turned,” he snarled.

“O…okay…”

“Angelus hated his father and from what I’ve heard the feelin’ was mutual. He was a womanizing drunkard who would have died from the clap sooner or later,” he continued, ignoring how he was scaring Dawn. “He was a bastard in life and he was an even bigger bastard in unlife. His Brooding Soulness would like you to believe that all us vamps are just like him, but the truth of it is, he was the worst of the lot. Not even Darla, depraved bitch that she was, would do some of the things her precious Childe did without a blink.”

He paused, clenching his fists, not registering that Dawn had pressed herself against the crypt wall because he’d shifted into gameface.

“What… what he did to Dru. Drivin’ her mad, killin’ her family and makin’ her think The Sight was a curse from the devil… That… that was *evil.* At least when I went huntin’, I killed ‘em quick. Even the ones I did with the railroad spike. Once I got ‘round ta doin’ it, I slammed it through right quick. Done. Gone. No messin’ around. I got ‘em, let ‘em know who I was, let ‘em know that I was the one who they’d humiliated and abused, and rammed the spike though their heads. They’d never make fun of me again, blighters.”

He came out of his rant to finally see Dawn cowering away from him, and realized that he had been scaring her. Touching his forehead, he felt the demon ridges, and forced himself to shift back to human face.

“Sorry about that, Bit. I pop off sometimes. Especially when I have to deal with anything havin’ ta do with Angelus.”

Seeing his human face again made her relax a little and she offered him an apologetic smile. “You don’t like him much.”

He lit another cigarette. “Who? The Grand Poof? Hate his guts. Got all souled after eatin’ that gypsy girl, and abandoned me and Dru. Dru cried for weeks. I couldn’t console her. She nearly got us killed dozens of times with her wailin’ and sloppy kills. Then he’s here in SunnyHell when I bring Dru here to get well after that mob in Prague almost killed her. Bein’ all heroic-like and workin’ against us, helpin’ the Slayer. Goes and gets himself a Happy and turns all evil bastard on us again. Takes Dru from me. Tries to destroy the bloody world. Got lots of reasons to hate the wanker.”

“He’s all depresso boy and his hair sticks up,” she added.

He took a drag from his cigarette. “He’s a Poof, what do ya expect? Pillock’s in love with his hair gel.”

Dawn giggled and uncurled, then she gave him an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry I made you mad.”

“Don’t worry about it, Sweet Bit. You didn’t know any better. And to answer your question, no I did not kill Anne. Anne died of consumption at the tender age of fourteen, leaving me as Mother’s only surviving child,” he answered calmly.

“What happened to her after you… you know… died?”

He looked down sadly, remembering. “It broke her heart. I wanted to see her, let her know I wasn’t really gone, but it was too dangerous. Even then I knew Angelus would kill her if he knew where she was.”

“You protected her.”

He nodded. “Worked with a barrister behind the scenes. Got it arranged for her to go live with her sister in Yorkshire. I was there the night she left on the evening train. She didn’t see me. It was the last time I saw her. She died six years later. We didn’t live long in those days.”

“At least she died safe,” Dawn said, and he turned to see that she’d crawled up next to him and was at his shoulder.

“Suppose so,” he answered, not entirely comfortable with her closeness.

“You know what I think? I think Anne was very lucky to have a brother like you,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “At least she knew you loved her. It’s more than what I have.”

His head whipped around to her. “What do you mean?”

Dawn swallowed. “Remember when I asked you if I was real? When I told you that two crazy guys said I wasn’t really here?”

He creased his brow and nodded.

“Well, it happened again, only this time it was Mom who said it. She called me a thing. Told me to get away from her.”

“When was this?”

“When she was in the hospital, and the night she came home and that icky space bug attacked us.”

“Oh, Bit, she wasn’t in her right mind. You can’t take anything she said seriously,” he comforted.

Dawn shook her head. “There’s more. Giles, Mom and Buffy, they talk about me when they think I can’t hear. There’s something going on that they don’t want me to know about. I think it has something to do with that demon Glory, the one who came to the house today.”

“Glory came to your house?” he blurted. He’d never known the exact reason why Buffy had brought Joyce and Dawn to him that afternoon. Now he knew and he was shocked by Buffy’s show of faith.

She nodded. “Yeah. She was in the living room. She threatened Buffy. That’s when Buffy brought Mom and me here.”

“Big Sis’s puttin’ a lot of faith in one vamp.”

Dawn shrugged. “She knew we’d be safe here. Glory doesn’t know about you, and she’d never think that Buffy would take us to a vampire for protection.”

Spike considered that and had to agree.

“Glory’s looking for a key. She thinks Buffy has it. She wanted to know if I knew where it was. Do you know what Glory is looking for, Spike?”

He knew he couldn’t lie but he also couldn’t tell her the truth, so he hedged instead. “Got an inkling, but I’m not exactly part of the Scoobie inner sanctum. They don’t really keep me in the loop. I know it’s important, and that Glory can’t ever get her hands on it.”

“But what does that have to do with me?” she asked earnestly, and the look on her face nearly broke his heart.

“I’m sure that whatever it is, they’re just tryin’ to keep you safe,” he told her honestly, then motioned to the forgotten cards. “Now come on. It’s your turn to draw. Gotta win back my Chex Mix, ya know.”

Dawn gave him a little smile and moved to pick up her hand. He picked up his and looked at them, reminding himself of the hand he had been drawn, but his mind was elsewhere. Her words bothered him because he knew that she was figuring out things for herself, and he remembered how well her discovery that *she* was the Key had gone last time. Rearranging his hand into a more logical pattern, he added convincing Giles to tell Dawn she was the Key to his list of Things-To-Do.

Pillocks better tell her before she finds out about it herself,’ he thought, taking a card from the pile and discarding another.

Dawn snatched it up with a triumphant grin and slapped down her cards. “Gin!”

He sighed and rolled his eyes as she took her winnings.

‘Bint better get back here ‘fore little sis cleans me out of Chex Mix.’

******

Spike considered Buffy’s birthday present to be a significant improvement over the battered box of chocolates he’d thought to give her the last time. No, this time he was going for something more… appropriate. This time he was giving her a genuine Gruth’lak battle axe, newly cleaned and sharpened, and carefully selected from his own personal arsenal. Considering that he had lopped off the head of the Gruth’lak himself with the axe, he doubted the demon would miss it.

He hefted the axe and gave it an appraising once-over, smiling and hoping it would be well received.

‘Nothin’ says ‘I love you’ to a Slayer more than a well made and razor sharp weapon,’ he mused to himself. He only hoped the red bow he’d tied around the handle wasn’t too chintzy.

He stopped outside the Summers’ house, hearing the party merriment from inside and smiling when he heard Buffy laugh. He wasn’t going in right away, however. He had a wayward little sister to herd back into the house before she scampered off to the Magic Box.

And there’s my little escapee as we speak,’ he thought as Dawn’s figure appeared. Suppressing a chuckle, he placed himself in her path so that she’d bump right into him.

“Boo.”

She yiped and whirled around.

“‘lo Nibblet,” he said with a smirk.

“Geeze! Lurk much?” she demanded, trying to salvage her wounded pride.

He lit a cigarette to keep from laughing. “Wasn’t lurkin’.  I was standin’ about. It’s a whole different vibe.”

Dawn spotted the axe and gave him an incredulous look. “What is…? Are you giving Buffy a *birthday present*? Oh my god, weird! Plus, an axe? With a bow? Lame! And you know she’d never touch anything from you anyway.”

Spike snorted, amused by her crossed arms and haughty teenage snarkiness, but he played along, pretending to be irritated. “Shouldn’t you be tucked away in your beddy-bye, all warm and safe where nothing can eat you?” he growled, looming close and spinning the axe.

She scoffed at him. “Is that supposed to scare me?”

He sniffed, and shrugged, “Little tremble wouldn’t hurt.”

“Sorry, it’s just - come on. *I’m* badder than you,” she replied.

He stepped back and scowled. “Are not.”

“Am too. You’re standing in the bushes holding an axe with a bow on it. I’m…” she announced.

“What? Sneaking off to braid hair and watch the Teletubbies with your mates?” he retorted.

“No. I’m breaking into the magic shop. To steal things,” she replied, a serious look on her face.

“Magic shop, eh? All number of beasties between here and there. Bet they’d really go for a little Red Riding Hood like you.” He looked out at the night, then back to the house. “I bet that wouldn’t set too well with big sister.”

She gave him a look full of false bravado. “I can take care of myself.”

He pursed his lips and shook his head. “I don’t think so, Sweet Bit. I let you go, you get hurt, and Big Sis hands me my dust in my own personalized urn.”

Dawn crossed her arms and set her jaw stubbornly. “You can’t stop me. You’ve got a chip.”

He shook his head and tutted. “Ah, ah, Bit. If I don’t intend to hurt you, I can to stop you.”

“What are you gonna do? Drag me back by my hair?” she snarked.

“Nah, I save the hair draggin’ for special occasions. I’d just sling you over one shoulder and carry you back in like a sack of potatoes,” he responded with a smirk.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said. “Besides, you’d have to catch me first.”

Dawn dashed off, running down the street. Spike took a moment to count to ten and ask for forbearance, then took off after her, leaving the axe behind. She’d barely made it to the end of the neighbor’s yard before he overtook her. She slammed right into him as he grabbed her and picked her up.

“Vampire speed, Bit.”

She struggled and kicked out with her feet, trying to twist out of his grasp. “Put me down!”

“Not until you’re back in your living room, Bit,” he said, walking back to the house.

“Ow! Ow! You’re hurting me!”

Not sure if she was telling the truth, he set her down. Since he wasn’t intending to hurt her, the chip wasn’t going off, but sometimes he didn’t know his own strength and he could be holding her too hard. Spinning her around, he kept a grip on her upper arms and made her look at him. She was sullen and angry, refusing to meet his gaze.

“Let go of me,” she demanded, trying to shrug off his hold.

“Not until you’re safe in the house.”

“I’m not safe in there!” she yelled, tears brimming in her eyes. “They talk about me in whispers and get quiet when they think I can hear. Everyone’s acting all weird around me…” She gave him a furious glare. “Even you. You know, don’t you? You know what’s going on.”

Caught, he squirmed uncomfortably. “Now, Bit. I know for a fact that they’re only trying to protect you.”

How was he to know that it was the very worst thing he could say?

Dawn flew into a rage, her anger giving her strength. “I’m not a baby! I can take care of myself!”

She ducked and he twisted, then she brought up her foot and kicked him in the groin. He gasped and doubled over, then fell to the ground as something smashed into the back of his head with brutal force. He had enough time to realize that she’d hit him with Buffy’s birthday present before he blacked out.

“Spike,” a voice came, slightly irritated, and followed by a jostling of his prone body.

He groaned.

“Spike,” the voice said again, this time punctuated by a light kick.

He groaned again and opened his eyes to see Buffy and Willow looking down at him.

“Hi. Nice to see you could join us. Now tell me what you’re doing passed out outside my back door?” Buffy asked.

Memory came flooding back to him, along with a splitting headache, and he sat up too quickly.

“Dawn,” he managed to get out before the wave of dizziness hit him.

“What about her?”

“She was sneaking off. I tried to stop her,” he said, feeling the lump on the back of his head. “Bloody Hell that hurts.”

Buffy gave Willow a look and the witch hurried into the house.

“You’re telling me my little sister knocked you out?”

“Well, it’s not like I can do anything to her. Still have the chip, y’know, and the bloody bint kicked me in the balls.”

Buffy laughed until Willow came running back.

“Buffy, she’s gone.”

The others joined them.

“Buffy, what’s wrong?” Joyce asked, worried.

“Dawn’s gone.”

“Gone? Where?” Giles demanded.

“Magic Box,” Spike replied, rising slowly to his feet.

“Magic Box? Why on earth would she go there?” Giles asked.

Spike cracked his neck and worked his jaw. “Said she was goin’ there to steal things.”

“Steal things?” Anya cried. “The money! She’s after the money! We have to stop her! Xander! Quick, get the car!”

Spike put up a hand. “Don’t think she’s after money, mates. She said somethin’ about you lot talkin’ about her. I think she’s goin’ there to see if she can figure out what’s goin’ on.”

Buffy turned to Giles. “What of she finds out she’s the Key?”

“Wait a minute? *Dawn* is Glory’s Key?” he blurted, using the opportunity to ‘find out’ about the Key.

Buffy gave him a frightened look. “How did you know about the Key?”

“Dawn told me that Glory bint was lookin’ for her key. Are you tellin’ me that Dawn is what she’s lookin’ for?”

He locked eyes with Giles, looking for backup. The Watcher looked away and cleaned his glasses.

“I’m afraid that is the case,” Giles confirmed, giving Spike a knowing glance.

“Bloody Hell.”

“We have to find her. Mom, you stay here. I’m going to the Magic Box. Hopefully she’ll still be there,” Buffy ordered.

“We’ll go with you. We have to check on the money,” Anya said.

It was tacitly agreed that Willow and Tara would stay with Joyce while Xander, Anya, and Buffy went to the Magic Box in Xander’s car. Spike bullied his way into going along with Giles, and the older man agreed without too much protest. He was grateful for the Watcher’s show of confidence. He hadn’t seen Giles since the incident at the Bronze, and was glad that the man appeared to have decided to keep his secrets and help him.

They arrived at the Magic Box to find the door smashed open. The axe that had severed it was still stuck in the door, a crumpled red bow hanging forlornly from the handle.

“What is this? Where did this come from?” Buffy demanded, yanking the axe from the door and looking at it.

“Um, she took it from me,” Spike admitted.

She gave him an incredulous look. “You were bringing an axe to my house?”

He looked guilty. “Actually… I…”

Buffy looked at the bow, the axe and then at Spike, putting two and two together.

“You were giving me an axe? For my birthday?”

He looked offended. “What? You don’t like it?”

Buffy gave the axe a look. “It’s… it’s…”

“It’s a Gruth’lak battle axe,” Giles said, coming forward to examine the weapon. “Spike, where did you get this?”

He smirked and puffed up with pride. “From a Gruth’lak. Where else?”

“You killed a Gruth’lak demon?”

His smile widened. “With his own axe.” He shrugged. “Blighter was butter-fingers and dropped it. Suppose it could have had somethin’ ta do with my cuttin’ off his hand, but…”

“Guys! Enough with the Weapons 101,” Xander interrupted. “Dawn? Remember?”

“And the money!” Anya added, lest they forget.

Birthday present forgotten, they headed into the store to find that Dawn was not there. Spreading out, they searched to find any clues as to her whereabouts. Spike made a circuitous route around the sales floor until he came to the place where he and Dawn had read the Watcher’s diary before.

“Oi! Over here,” he said, calling them over to the place where Dawn had lit candles in order to allow her to read Giles’ writing.

Giles swore softly upon seeing the open diary. “Damn. She knows.”

Buffy looked stricken. “Giles…”

“Okay, where would Dawn go if she was upset?” Xander asked.

Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“We should organize a search…” Giles said.

The phone rang and Buffy leaped to get it.

“Hello?” she said into the receiver. “Hi, Wills. Dawn? She’s there.”

They gave a collective sigh of relief.

“Oh thank god. She what? How is she? Okay. We’ll be there soon. Yeah, the Magic Box is okay, except for the one door. She smashed it in with an axe she took from Spike. Don’t ask. Okay. Keep her there. Bye.”

She turned to face the rest of the group, her eyes concerned and relieved. “That was Willow. Dawn came home. She’s safe, but she cut herself with a kitchen knife. She’s okay. Willow, Tara and Mom are with her.”

“Oh dear, is she okay?” Anya asked.

“She’s fine. Willow says that it wasn’t bad, but Dawn’s pretty traumatized. I need to get back there as soon as I can. Xander, can you give me a ride?”

“Sure Buff, let’s go,” Xander agreed, finishing his car keys out of his pocket.

“I’ll stay here and shore up the door she… smashed with the axe,” Giles said.

They all looked at the axe, lying forgotten on the reading table. The bow was still clinging valiantly to the handle, although squashed and unraveling. Spike gave it a dejected glance and pursed his lips, but said nothing. Buffy looked from the weapon to the vampire, back to the weapon, and then to Giles. The Watcher cleared his throat and gave Buffy a small nod.

“It is a fine weapon, and you’re not likely to find one like it very soon. Gruth’lak demons are excellent metalsmiths, and they prize their weapons. This battleaxe appears very well made, and it is given in good faith,” Giles told her haltingly, casting Spike nervous glances.

Buffy pursed her lips and reached for the axe. She picked it up, feeling its weight, and examined the blade. She even made an attempt to fix the poor, battered bow. Spike watched her do this with an expression of mild surprise and pleasure. Giving the axe a test swing, she twirled it in her fingers and turned to him.

“Thanks Spike.”

“You’re welcome, Slayer,” he answered with a nod. “Happy birthday.”

She gave him a small smile. Xander and Anya gave him confused and wary looks, but neither said anything as Buffy hurried out the door. Xander and Anya followed her out, leaving Spike alone with Giles. The two eyed each other with grudging respect.

“Thanks for backin’ me up, Watcher.”

“Yes, well, I have done a lot of thinking these past few days since our encounter in the bar, and I have come to the conclusion that I must trust in fate and put my faith in believing that there is a higher purpose to all of this, and that everything will turn out for the best,” Giles responded nervously.

Spike snorted. “Yeah? Well, you’ll have to have enough faith for both of us, Watcher. ‘Cause I still think this all a bloody joke, and the soddin’ Powers That Be have a rotten, twisted sense of humor.”

Turning away, he moved to the broken door. Giles followed and they secured the battered door as best they could in silence.

*******

Spike was well into his third bottle of scotch when Buffy came flouncing through his crypt door the following night. He was lying on top of the stone sarcophagus, swigging liquor directly from the bottle and allowing the languor of drunkenness to dull the pain he was suffering. Never mind the damn soul, the whole business of knowing what was going to happen and being powerless to do anything about it was enough to drive him to drink. The soul only added that extra knife twist into his gut just to make sure he was feeling the pain.

“Spike!” Buffy called, heading towards his prone body.

“Hmmmmmmmmm,” he cut her off, placing two fingers on his forehead. “Hold on, I feel a vision coming on… Don’t tell me… Little Sis has run off again.”

She opened and closed her mouth then put her hands on her hips angrily. “Yes. How did you know that?”

He dropped his hand to his side and giggled nervously. “I’ve got the Sight. Oh Dru, now I finally know how you felt all those years. Listen, the stars are singing.”

Buffy snorted, seeing the empty bottles strewn on the floor.

“Are you drunk?” she accused.

He laughed again. “Yeah,” he drawled with a lopsided smile, then his face grew serious. “Doesn’t help much, but it just makes everything so damn funny.”

“You’re pathetic, Spike. You’re useless to me drunk.”

He gave her a hard look. “I’m useless to you no matter how I am. I fail to see how a little liquor’ll make any difference.”

She snorted and gave him an angry glare.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I tell you a nasty truth that you didn’t want to hear?” he sneered, sitting up. “Whaddya gonna do, Slayer, break my nose?”

Buffy looked away and stepped back, pursing her lips. She shook her head slightly. “I won’t hit you again,” she said softly, then added with a sharp glare, “Not when you don’t deserve it.”

He gave her a smirk. “Givin’ yourself an out, eh, Slayer. Just lemme know when ya wanna play Kick the Spike again an’ I’ll be sure to book a one-way trip to Borneo on that day.”

He stood up, rolling his shoulders and reaching for his coat. “Well, let’s rally the troops, find the Nibblet. And hey, maybe I’ll even get my head bashed in by a Hell God. Might get rid of this bloody headache.”

She gave him an odd look, watching him as he put on the coat. When she kept staring at him, he glared at her impatiently.

“Well? Come on,” he said bitterly and stalked out, not bothering to see if she was behind him.

Moving purposefully through the cemetery, he heard Buffy fall into step beside him, but he didn’t look at her. In truth, he was feeling rather guilty for snapping at her, but there was only so much a man, or vampire, could take.

‘Useless to her the way I am. Useless to everyone’s more like it. No good for anything. All I do is bugger things up.’

He kept ahead of her until they reached the Magic Box, where he held the door for her just out of habit. She gave him a look as she passed him and entered the store, but didn’t say anything. He followed, straightening up as he entered, and putting on his bravado in preparation of facing the Scoobies. Giles, however, took one look at him and frowned, seeing right through his façade.

“I brought the Bleached Wonder,” Buffy announced offhandedly. “He deigned to pull himself out of his bottle long enough to help us find Dawn.”

Spike raised his eyes to meet Giles’ and the two men locked gazes.

“Could I see you in the training room, please, Spike?” Giles asked tightly.

He gave a quick nod and followed the Watcher.

“If you’ll excuse us,” Giles apologized, closing the training room door behind them.

“You’ve been drinking heavily.” It was a statement, not a question.

Spike flopped down on the old sofa, legs and arms spread-eagled. “Told you, Watcher, drink’s the only thing keepin’ me sane.”

“We need you sober,” Giles hissed.

“Oh what? Think I’m cagin’ in on your rep as the Scoobies’ drunkard? Lest you forget, Rupert, you were drinkin’ yourself into oblivion all last year, *and* with me not all that long ago,” he shot back.

Giles didn’t have a quick answer, but he did shake his head and glare disapprovingly at the vampire.

“That may be so, but in a crisis, I understand the importance of having a clear head.”

“Why?” Spike retorted. “Doesn’t help any. Doesn’t make it better. I still got all these memories in my head that I can’t do anything about!”

“That isn’t true! You are doing everything you can to use your knowledge to help us.”

“Fat lot of good it’s doing! I haven’t changed anything! You lot won’t listen to me. Half the time you think I’m lying! The clock’s tickin’ down. Dawn knows she’s the Key. Glory’s gonna start gettin’ creative with us! The bloody armored medieval rejects are pokin’ around! And Ben. Is. Still. Alive.”

Giles shook his head. “I told you, we only kill Ben if there is no other choice.”

“And I’m tellin’ you offin’ him solves all of our problems.”

“He is an innocent.”

“Bollocks! Dawn’s more of an innocent. At least she didn’t know what she was until last night, and if you lot had told her about it like I told you, she wouldn’t have gone scamperin’ off in the middle of the night to find out by herself and gone all slash and burn on us.”

“And how do you propose we should have told her?” Giles snapped back.

“Anythin’ was better than havin’ her find out the way she did. And if you hadn’t been whisperin’ and actin’ all weird around her, she would never have known somethin’ was up. Bloody idiots couldn’t keep a secret if your sorry lives depended on it.”

“And you, of course, are a stellar example of deference and stoicism,” the man snapped.

“Oi! It took a Truth Spell to drag it out of me, if you recall. Not even the Slayer gettin’ creative with my body parts made me spill. Took you and your nancy-boy spell to make me tell.”

“Yes, to my great regret, that is true.”

“So tell me, Watcher, how my knowin’ all this stuff, and my bein’ here is doin’ a whit of good?”

Giles sighed. “You have been able to affect some change, Spike.”

“So I saved the bloody bloomin’ onion! Bully for me! I haven’t been able to make any big changes! I haven’t been able to make sure that Buffy doesn’t have to die to save her sister!”

“We don’t know that! Altering history is a tricky business. There are a great deal of things that must be considered…”

Spike shook his head as his anger fizzled and the guilt he carried with him as a constant companion fell down on him.

“No. I figured it out, ya see. It’s all my fault.”

“How do you mean?”

He looked up at Giles, sorrowful and broken. “Everythin’. It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t taken Dawn to Doc, then he wouldn’t have known she was the Key. If I hadn’t gotten that wanker Warren to make me a Buffy-Bot, Glory would never have gotten a hold of me…”

“But you didn’t betray Buffy and Dawn to Glory, even under torture,” Giles broke-in.

“I know I didn’t! Was still there, wasn’t I? Still made her get up close and personal with the Hell Bitch. Still failed to stop Glory from gettin’ Dawn in the first place. Still let Doc knock me off the bloody tower and cut Dawn. If I wasn’t here, then none of that would’ve happened,” he yelled.

He stopped, pulling himself back together when he felt as if everything was just coming apart at the seams.

“Dru’s comin’ back,” he said suddenly.

Giles looked up from cleaning his glasses. “What?”

“Dru. She’s comin’ back in a week or so. Comin’ in on a train. Thought I might go with her. Bugger out of here. Might be best for everyone involved.”

“So you’ll just run away then?” Giles responded with forced levity.

Spike’s head shot up and he snarled. “Not runnin’ away, Watcher. Didn’t you just hear me tell ya that it’s all my fault!”

“And I can think of a dozen different examples of how your presence has helped us,” Giles snapped back, losing patience. “However, if you would rather wallow in self-pity and drink, then by all means do so. If you would rather slink off with your ex-paramour and abandon us, then go ahead. I will continue to use the knowledge you have given me in the fight against Glory, and do what I can to alter history without your help. At this point, I really don’t care what you do because you are useless to me as you are, and if you can’t pull yourself together long enough to function properly, then maybe it is best that you do leave.”

With that, Giles walked out, leaving Spike still sitting on the couch. The vampire squeezed his eyes shut and pushed his palms against his temples, willing back the tears. Biting his lip, he struggled to compose himself and decide on a course of action. He was so wrapped up in his own pain that he didn’t hear or see Tara enter the training room until he felt her gentle touch. Snapping his head up, startled, he stared at her with moist eyes.

“Can I help?” she asked gently, her eyes soft and compassionate, and he knew her offer was genuine.

‘Sweet Glinda,’ he thought, looking at her.

Pretty soon Glory would brain-suck her, turning her into a babbling lunatic, and he frowned. She was the only one who had ever showed him any kindness, who had ever touched him with gentleness. Even when he was at his worst, she had still looked at him with compassion and patience. She didn’t deserve what Glory would do to her, or any of what happened after.

And he was in a position to stop it. The realization was a balm to his bleeding wounds and a look of infinite tenderness came to his face. She’d given him a reason to keep fighting. All of the invective and anger and indignation hadn’t touched him the way this girl’s simple touch and offer of support had done. He reached up and stroked back her hair with one hand, smiling with gratitude when she didn’t flinch away from his cool skin. Then he slowly rose to his feet, shouldering his burdens once again, and leaned over to kiss her gently on the temple.

“No, Glinda. But thank you.”

He gave her a final fond glance and composed himself, squaring his shoulders and walking towards the open training room door. He passed Giles on the way out.

Tara watched the vampire leave, her mind and heart in turmoil. She waited as Giles approached her with questions on his face. He must have seen her come in and wanted to see what was happening.

“He’s in so much pain, Mr. Giles,” she said softly, her eyes still focused on the open door.

Giles sighed and nodded. “He carries a very heavy burden.”

Tara looked at him, gathering courage to voice what she had suspected all along. “It’s his soul, isn’t it.”

The shocked and guilty look on the man’s face gave him away. “How…”

“I can see it. It’s in his aura. I just didn’t say anything because it wasn’t my place to give away his secrets.”

“Yes, well…”

“It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me about it. I understand. I’m just glad that he has someone else to help him. I’m sure it’s very hard for him, and it’s always easier if you’re not alone.”

She gave Giles a tender smile and followed the path Spike had taken out of the training room, leaving Giles a little more than stunned and chagrined.

“No, not alone,” the man sighed, and walked to join the rest of the group in organizing a search for Dawn. He tried to make eye contact with Spike, but the vampire refused to look at him.

Spike had wrapped himself up in his duster like a leather shield and withdrawn into himself. There would be no reconciliation with him tonight. Giles hoped they would come to terms with each other again sometime within the next few days, but for now there were more pressing matters.

*******

Following Buffy in her search for Dawn, Spike tried to remain calm. He knew that Dawn would end up at the hospital with Glory and he wanted to get there as soon as possible, but Buffy had her mission. They entered the park and passed the playground equipment.

“Dawn?! DAWN?!” Buffy called.

“Yeah, that should do it,” he groused, annoyed.

“Shut up,” she snapped.

“The Nibblet’s scampered off to get away from you. She hears you bellowing she’ll pack it in the opposite direction. Can’t say I blame her,” he responded.

Buffy sagged, defeated and stopped to look at him.

“You were right. We should have told her…”

He stood there awkwardly, hating to see her in pain and helpless to do anything about it.

“She probably would have skipped off anyway, even if she never found out. She’s not just a blob of energy - she’s also a fourteen-year-old hormone bomb. Which one’s screwing her up more right now? Spin the bloody wheel.” He paused, eyeing the night. “You’ll find her, just in the nick of time. That’s what you hero types do.” At her uncertain expression, he added sincerely, “You’ll find her.”

“And then what?”

“Then you bring her home. Joyce’ll ground her until she’s twenty-one and you won’t have to worry about her skippin’ off anymore,” he offered.

At the mention of her mother, Buffy smiled slightly. “Only if we cut down that tree, get rid of the trellis and padlock her door.”

Spike shrugged. “Suppose we *could* build a stone tower onto your house and put her in it, but I think that’d give it away just a bit.”

Buffy laughed softly, glad for the reprieve. “Just a bit.”

He gave her a smile and looked around. “How is Joyce doing anyway?”

“Better. Worried about Dawn, but we all are. Thanks for asking,” she answered sincerely.

“Like your mum. She’s a good woman. Doc put her on blood thinners?” he asked suddenly.

There was a pause, then Buffy answered slowly, “Yes.”

He nodded, distracted. “‘S good.”

“Why?”

“Huh? Why what?” he replied, pausing to look at her.

“Why is it important that my mom be on blood thinners?” she responded, fixing him with a knowing, expectant stare.

Caught off guard, he tried to back pedal, his mind working on a glib lie that would gloss over his concern with a plausible explanation. Buffy stepped up to him, cutting him off as he began to stammer his answer.

“No,” she said firmly. “Don’t you dare make something up. If it’s one thing I have learned, it’s that you don’t do anything without a reason. What’s wrong with Mom?”

He worked his mouth a few times and looked away from her steady stare.

“I…”

“Do you smell something wrong?” she asked suddenly, and his head shot up to look wide-eyed at her. Under his stunned look, she explained, “Giles told me. You knew about Mom’s illness because you smelled it on her. Do you smell something wrong now?”

And the lie that wasn’t really a lie at all was handed to him on a silver platter, wrapped up in a big red bow. Sighing, faking defeat, he hung his head and nodded.

“Yeah. I smell old blood. Could just be the incision healin’ but it’s been a while. Could be a hematoma… big blood clot.”

“I know what a hematoma is, Spike.”

He nodded, keeping his head down so she would think she had him. “It’s probably nothin’ but I figured it couldn’t hurt for her to be on blood thinners. Just in case.”

“Thank you, Spike,” she said softly, making him look up in surprise. His look made her squirm and she had to look away.

“I’m sorry,” she said suddenly.

He had to shake his head because he wasn’t certain he’d heard her correctly and it could have been the alcohol that he’d imbibed that had him hearing things.

“Pardon?” he stammered.

“I said: I’m sorry,” she repeated more plainly. “I’m sorry I beat you up. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you when you kept telling me to take Mom for a CAT scan. I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t tell me that something was wrong.”

Spike hung his head again, unable to process her apology. “You wouldn’t have believed me anyway if I had.”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t have. And I’m sorry for that too.”

They fell into uncomfortable silence, each not knowing what to say, until finally, he looked at her and nodded.

“Thanks. Let’s go find Nibblet.”

He took a few steps, then smiled to himself at his own stroke of genius and made a show of sniffing the air. The action caught Buffy’s attention immediately and she was at his side in a heartbeat.

“What? What is it?”

“I smell Dawn. She’s been here, and recently too.”

“Can you tell which way she went?” she asked excitedly.

He sniffed and nodded, “Yeah, ‘s this way.”

Thankful that Slayers also had vampire speed when needed, he pretended to follow Dawn’s scent directly to the hospital. Buffy ran past him as they approached the building.

“You don’t think she…” Buffy breathed, hurrying into the ER waiting room.

Her absence while she checked to see if Dawn had been brought into the ER gave Spike enough time to catch Dawn’s real scent trail. He sniffed it out, walking slowly around the exterior. He knew that they had found Dawn on the third floor before, but there was no telling where she had been when she first ran into Glory or how she entered the building.

“She hasn’t been brought in,” Buffy told him, relief in her voice, as she rejoined him outside.

He shook his head. “No, I suppose not. Looks like she walked in on her own two feet.”

“You can still smell her?” Buffy asked, amazed.

He nodded, focusing in on a set of closed doors that led to an interior corridor. “Yeah.”

“Even with all these… hospital smells?”

“Once a vamp gets a scent and starts trackin’, very little can knock him off the trail. It’s this way.”

He moved forward, Buffy following close on his heels as he made his way through the unlocked doors and down the corridor. It was night, so the hospital staff was on graveyard shift. No one saw them come in as they moved across the hall and into a stairway.

“You sure she came this way?” Buffy asked.

“Yeah. Not long ago either. Scent’s strong.”

“Spike, the mental ward with all of Glory’s loonies is up this way.”

He paused on the stairs and looked at her. “You don’t think…”

“Crazy people can see what she is.”

There was no answer to that and they hurried up the stairs. Entering the mental ward, they found Dawn standing at the foot of one of the mental patients’ beds.

“You know what I am, don’t you? You all know? Tell me,” she was demanding of the man in the bed.

“Can’t hear it can’t hear it can’t hear it…” the man babbled.

“What am I?”

“Dawnie!” Buffy cried, running over to her.

“No!” Dawn argued, shrugging off Buffy’s attempts to grab her. “What am I!?”

“The Key!” yelled another mental patient.

Dawn whirled around to face the new voice and Spike recognized the man as one of the Knights of Byzantium at the same time Buffy recognized him too.

“Knights of Hack and Slash…” she breathed as Dawn hurried over.

“I found it!” the insane Knight said, squeezing his eyes shut. “Thank you. Thank you…”

Dawn edged in close to his bed.

“You know what the Key is? Where did I come from? Who made me? What am I? Please…”

“Dawnie…” Buffy tried.

“I want to know!” Dawn yelled back angrily, but jerked back as the Knight lunged for her, his restraints barely stopping him.

“Destroyer! Cracked earth and bones! The sun bleeding into the sky!” he cried.

“No…” Dawn choked, stepping back, crushed.

Spike stepped up to her, flanked by Buffy.

“Dawn,” he whispered, trying to get her attention.

“The Key is the link! The link must be severed!”

The rest of the mental patients went into fits, terrifying Dawn. She covered her mouth with her hands and turned to flee, just as Ben entered the mental ward.

“What the? What are you doing here?” the intern asked, surprised.

Spike moved forward immediately, placing himself next to Dawn as Buffy ran interference.

“Dawn... she was trying to understand how my mom could get so crazy with the… y’know brain tumor, so she ran here,” Buffy tried to explain hastily.

“Oh,” Ben answered, looking past them to the agitated patients. The Knight was still lunging for Dawn, pulling at his manacles.

“So… umm… we were just going. Come on, Dawnie…” Buffy said, grabbing her sister and dragging her, struggling, out of the ward.

“The Key! The Key! Bring back the Key!” they heard the Knight cry as the doors banged shut.

“No, no! I want to know!” Dawn argued, trying to pull out of Buffy’s Slayer grip.

“Dawn!” Buffy hissed, dragging her into the stairwell.

Spike guarded the door and gave Buffy a nod at her askance glance. “Benny stayed to calm down the loonies,” he said.

“Dawn, those crazies know you’re the Key!” Buffy scolded.

“I know! They can tell me what I am,” Dawn replied, squirming, tears running down her cheeks.

“What they can tell is Glory’s minions that you’re the Key so she can come snatch you!” Spike growled.

“But I have to know…” Dawn sobbed.

“Dawn… Dawnie… What you are is my sister…”

Dawn shook her head. “I’m not… I’m not anything…”

“You are. You are flesh and blood and we love you.”

“No! No! I’m not! I’m not real. I’m not real! I’m not…” the teen began to wail, growing hysterical.

Spike stepped forward and slapped her, stunning her out of her hysteria and making him yowl from the chip shock.

“You’re real, Bit!” he snarled, one fist to his temple. “Real enough to give me a migraine.”

“And that means you’re human,” Buffy affirmed.

“But…” Dawn stuttered. “Buffy…”

She broke down, collapsing against her sister in a sobbing heap. Buffy wrapped her arms around her and held her close, rocking her as she cried. Spike stood close by, knowing he didn’t have the right to join them, but desperately wanting to. He waited, fists and teeth clenched, until Dawn settled and they pulled apart.

“Dawn, we need to get out of here,” Buffy said softly.

Dawn nodded through her sniffles and Buffy helped her to her feet. They began making their way down the stairs, but Dawn tripped from exhaustion and emotional stress. Buffy moved to catch her, but Spike was faster, hoisting Dawn into his arms as if she weighed nothing at all.

“I’ve got ‘er, Slayer,” he said, his voice thick with emotion.

Buffy gave him a look and seemed to come to a decision. She gave him a short nod and watched from the corner of her eye as they walked down the stairs. They didn’t speak again until they were out of the hospital.

“You want to go alert the troops while I take her home?” Spike asked, still cradling Dawn. The teen had her head resting against his leather-clad shoulder, her eyes blank and staring.

Buffy looked at the darkened Sunnydale streets and frowned.

“I told the gang to check in at the Magic Box. I’ll run there and leave a message, then join you.”

Surprised and secretly pleased that she was trusting him with Dawn, he nodded. “Right then. See you back at your place.”

She gave him a final, pensive look, before heading off for the Magic Box. He waited a moment, watching her leave, before setting off for Revello Drive. He walked quickly, purposefully, taking the shortest route possible. Dawn’s fingers curled themselves into the lapels of his duster as he carried her, silent but strong, homewards.

Joyce was waiting at the door when he stepped up to the porch. Somewhere along the way, Dawn had fallen asleep and he was grateful Joyce was there to open the door so he wouldn’t jostle her awake struggling with the doorknob.

“Buffy called me from the Magic Box. She’s on her way,” Joyce whispered at his silent question.

He nodded, crossing the threshold and following her up the stairs to Dawn’s bedroom. He gently laid her down as Joyce held back the covers, and stood protectively by as Joyce removed Dawn’s sneakers and covered her with the blankets. They both looked at the exhausted girl on the bed whose face was still pained even in sleep.

“What monsters would do this to an innocent child?” Joyce wondered aloud. “Didn’t they think before doing this to her? Making her sentient, turning her into a human girl?”

“Brown robe types rarely look at the big picture, Joyce. All they saw was a way to protect the Key from Glory by giving it to the Slayer. I doubt they considered the consequences of making the Key human.”

Joyce shook her head sadly. “And messing with our minds, our memories… It’s like a type of rape.”

He grimaced, his soul constricting at the sound of the word rape.

“I dunno, Joyce. Just a vampire here. I don’t have any answers for you. What I do know is that we can’t make Nibblet feel less than human. We have to convince her that we love her just the same, whether she’s been with us 14 years or 4 months,” he replied.

“You love her, don’t you?” Joyce asked suddenly.

He started and stared at her, then he put on airs and shrugged. “What’s not to love? I mean, she’s a great kid even if she is a blob of energy.”

“I didn’t mean Dawn. I meant Buffy. You love Buffy.”

He squirmed under her piercing gaze and tried to weasel out. “Soulless demon here, Joyce. We can’t love.”

“A soulless demon who visits a sick woman in the hospital and brings her chocolate, who shows concern and protects her daughters, who laughs with her and watches soap operas, and cares about her health and well being. That doesn’t sound like a being that is incapable of love.”

He looked away, unable to meet her eyes. “Doesn’t matter,” he said finally, emotion overwhelming him.

Joyce cocked her head and looked at him with a look only astute mothers could own. “Doesn’t it?”

He sighed, closing his eyes. “No, it doesn’t.”

“A year ago, I told Angel that if he loved Buffy he should leave and let her have a normal life. I didn’t know… I didn’t realize that Buffy would never have a normal life, that she would never have the life I envisioned for her,” Joyce admitted softly, her voice tinged with a sadness that could not be fathomed, the sadness of knowing that she would probably bury her daughter before her child’s 25th birthday.

“I want her to have a normal life, Spike, but Slayers don’t live normal lives. They live short, desperate lives full of violence and darkness, and happiness is as fleeting as sand between your fingers.”

He watched her move about the room, smoothing Dawn’s coverings and brushing the girl’s hair from her face gently.

“I thought Riley was perfect for Buffy. He was military and fought the same darkness Buffy fought, but the darkness consumed him and he betrayed Buffy in a terrible way,” she continued, walking from Dawn’s room and coming to stand in the hallway. He followed, interested in hearing what she had to say.

“I remember you from 4 years ago, when you first attacked my daughter at the high school. I remember when you allied yourself with her to fight against Angel when he took my daughter’s virtue and turned evil. I remember when you returned the following year, heartbroken that Drusilla had left you. I remember the trouble Buffy had with you her first year of college, and your struggle with the chip that army operation put into your brain. I also remember how you helped Buffy this last year, how you helped me and looked after Dawn, how you have protected and aided both of my daughters. I have seen you change and become someone no one thought you could be, but I have seen you struggle with it anyway, without help or encouragement.”

She moved close to him, her eyes sad and resigned. “I know you are a soulless being, but you have more soul than some humans I know. You are loyal and faithful and strong, and you accept my daughter for all that she is, not just the parts of her that are attractive or pleasing to you. I don’t approve, but I do understand. And I have come to terms with the reality that my daughter is a Slayer, and that means she won’t be with me for very long. If she can find happiness with someone who loves her so fiercely that he would change his very nature for her, I can’t find any fault in that.”

He stared at her, unable to hold back the tears that welled in his eyes at her soft words and tacit acceptance.

“Thanks, Mum,” he managed, and allowed himself to dream of what it would be like to be accepted by Buffy and loved by her.

He dreamed of long nights slaying and loving, followed by quiet days watching soaps with Joyce, helping Dawn with her homework, and feeling part of a family again, of *belonging* somewhere. But it was a dream and he knew it, and he let it slip away, fading behind his eyes like a fond memory.

“However, your eldest doesn’t love me, and she never will, and that’s how it should be. Vampires and Slayers… they weren’t meant to be together. But I will love her until I am dust, and I will protect her and hers with every last ounce of strength I have inside me. I give you my word, Joyce Summers, as the English gentleman I once was. I will never hurt your daughter,” he promised, looking her directly in the eye.

“I believe you, William. I believe you.”

“Believe what?” Buffy’s voice came from the doorway, making them both jump.

Spike stared at her, horrified that she might have heard their conversation, and he didn’t know what to say. Luckily, Buffy’s mother was as glib as her daughter, and easily came to the rescue.

“Spike was assuring me that Dawn hadn’t put herself in any undue danger tonight by going to the hospital. He swore to me that he didn’t hear or smell any of that Glory woman’s minions around when you were there or when he was bringing her home.”

Buffy looked at him and he tried to see what she was thinking, but her face was closed and her eyes unreadable.

“That’s good. That’s really… good.”

“So, did you leave a message for the others?” Joyce asked.

“I ran into Willow and Tara on my way from the Magic Box. They promised to tell the rest of the gang. Is Dawn okay?”

“Yes,” her mother assured. “She’s asleep. Spike brought her safely home.”

Buffy graced him with a measured look. “I knew he would.”

He couldn’t hold her gaze and dropped his eyes.

“I’d best be off. It’s late and I’ve got telly to catch up on,” he said, suddenly feeling the need to run and run very far.

Joyce laid a gentle hand on his arm and gave him a fond look.

“Goodnight, Spike and thank you.”

“Night Joyce, night Buffy,” he mumbled, making his hasty exit. It was too much and he couldn’t take it. He had to get out of there before he lost it completely and started bawling like a ponce.

He didn’t see Buffy staring thoughtfully after him as he hurried out.

*******

“Spike, what’s a one word synonym for fear of heights?” Dawn asked as she did her homework in his crypt.

She was sitting cross-legged on his sarcophagus while he sprawled in his chair reading the newspaper.

“Acrophobia,” he replied without hesitation, not even bothering to look up.

“What about fear of people?”

“Anthropophobia.”

“Wow. You knew that right off the top of your head.”

He flipped the page of the newspaper idly. “What can I tell you, Sweet Bit. I’m a walking, undead dictionary.”

“I think it’s cool that you’re so smart. I’ll bet you were always smart. You just didn’t want anyone to know.”

“Got it in one, Nibblet. You’re too smart for me. Kids these days, I’ll tell ya…”

His comment made her laugh and he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. She cast him a devilish look and flipped back her hair.

“That’s me: Too Smart Dawnie.”

“Okay, Smarty. I’ve got one for ya. What’s amathophobia?”

“Fear of algebra?” she piped back.

Now he did laugh and he let her see the humor dancing in his eyes. She preened, making him smile wider at her teenage antics.

“No, Bit. It’s fear of dust, namely mine, which I am in danger of becoming if you don’t finish your homework and toddle home soon. It’s almost dark.”

She pouted but returned to her work. “Don’t worry. I’m almost done.”

“You’d better be. You’ve been here since you skipped last period.”

Her head shot up and she blushed furiously. “I didn’t… I wasn’t…”

“Don’t even try it, Bit. I may be a vampire, but I can tell time, and I do know what time little kiddies like you get out of school. You were here at least 40 minutes before that, ergo you skipped,” he interrupted, giving her a knowing stare, one raised eyebrow included.

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Okay okay. Busted. But it was just study hall and I didn’t want to spend fifty minutes reading Romeo and Juliet.”

Spike sat a little straighter at the mention of The Bard, his newspaper forgotten. “That what they got you readin’ in school, Bit?”

Dawn shrugged. “It’s boring and impossible to read and I’ve, like, seen the movie a gazillion times.”

He snorted in distaste. “Movie.” ‘My only love sprung from my only hate…’

“Hey! Do not knock Leonardo DiCaprio. He is like, so hot.”

“Oooo, Leonardo,” he said in high falsetto. “He’s soooo dreamy. I think I’m in luuvvv.”

“Stop it!” Dawn ordered, but she was giggling.

“All right, all right. I shall not sully the holy name of Leo-nerdo Di-Crap-rio.”

“Spiiiiike!”

He snickered, but had to add, “You do know that Shakespeare didn’t write ‘Romeo and Juliet’ out of his head, don’t you?”

“He didn’t?”

“Nope. He based it on an older story, an English translation of an Italian work called ‘The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet.’ He caused quite a scandal when he made the fair Juliet the tender age fourteen instead of sixteen,” he informed.

“Ewww. And they get married in the play. That’s like, gross,” Dawn said, crinkling her nose.

Spike shrugged. “Folks married young and died young in those days, Bit. ‘Sides, he probably did it so he could use younger boys for the role of Juliet and make it more believable.”

“Because women weren’t allowed to act on stage.”

“Precisely.”

“That is, like, so weird.”

“It was the Elizabethan Era. They did a lot of weird things in those days.”

“Yeah, like write these really boring plays that are impossible to read,” she sighed dejectedly.

“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong, Bit. Shakespeare never meant for his plays to be read. He meant them to be *heard* and *seen.* When properly produced and read, Shakespeare’s plays are some of the finest, most well written works of art ever created.”

She seemed unconvinced and so he recited Prospero’s epilogue from ‘The Tempest,’ the words falling from his tongue almost without his conscious thought.

His mind, however, was elsewhere; on a night set in the not-so-distant future when a sorrowful Dawn, bereft of mother and sister, had sat with him in the living room of an empty house that had once been a home. That night it had been ‘Hamlet,’ and he had tried to draw a smile to her worn face by acting out the part of the Danish prince in his manic state, welcoming the players and dancing about. She had laughed then, a thin and strained laugh, but a laugh nonetheless, so he had showed her the humor Shakespeare had written in the murder of Polonius and Hamlet’s disposal of the body and subsequent interrogation.

He was the only one who could make her smile then, and she had looked to him as the only thing keeping her sane. No one but her had ever seen him when he let William out to play, out to recite prose and offer insights into English Literature. It was their little secret and they had guarded it carefully.

While he knew that never having to go through the death of her mother and sister would be the greatest gift he could ever give the girl he had come to view as a little sister; he sometimes mourned the loss of the closeness they had shared during the summer of Buffy’s death. He hadn’t let William out in decades, and the freedom had awakened emotions in him he had thought as dead as his soul. He would miss it, even though he knew it was a small price to pay.

William lived full-bore in him now, and only Giles knew he was there, looking through Spike’s eyes. Who would listen to him after he had succeeded in his mission? Who would look at him as something other than a monster? Could any suffering or good deed ever atone for all the evil he had done? Perhaps Prospero’s soliloquy was more fitting than he imagined, and that was why the soul chose it to recite.

“…Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be reliev’d by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself, and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free,” he finished, to Dawn’s shocked stare.

“Wow. Um... wow.”

He bowed his head, embarrassed. “Sorry.”

“No. No, don’t apologize. That was beautiful.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“You know all of that by heart.”

He shrugged, brushing off her awe-tinged voice. “Know most of ‘em by heart; at least my favorite parts. ‘S not that hard when it’s somethin’ ya like.”

“I get that,” she said seriously. “I like how you talk to me like I can understand. Everyone else is acting all twitchy and weird. And I’m glad that you told me I could come here if it got too much for me. Thanks.”

“I’m just trying to keep you safe.”

“I know. And I feel safe with you.”

Before when she had said that, he had been offended and annoyed, but now he was pleased.

“You’re welcome, Bit. Now finish your homework and then I’ll walk you home.”

Two hours later, an angry Buffy stormed into the crypt to find them both sitting on top of the sarcophagus, candles illuminating the small space. There was an old, worn book in Spike’s hand and he was reading from it.

“Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot,” he recited in a false, crotchety voice.

“Ewwww,” Dawn said, squirming.

“Spike! Dawn! What the...?” Buffy demanded, looking at them in confusion.

“Buffy!” Dawn greeted happily. “Spike’s reading Macbeth!”

“Mac-what?”

“Macbeth. Y’know, the play. By Shakespeare?” her sister clarified.

Buffy gave Spike an incredulous look. “Shakespeare?”

“Yeah. It’s the cursed play! Actors are afraid to call it by its real name…”

“What are you doing here? Mom is worried sick,” Buffy snapped.

Dawn looked chagrined. “Oh… I… I came here after school. Spike said I could!”

“Spike?” Buffy said accusingly.

He wilted under her angry glare. “I’m sorry. I was going to bring her home hours ago, but…”

He trailed off. There wasn’t much to say.

At least she didn’t catch me tellin’ Nibblet about my murderin’ that family and the little girl in the coal bin.’

“Dawn, get your stuff.”

“But… but he’s at this really cool part. There’s these three witches and they’re…”

“I said: get your stuff.”

Dawn huffed and jumped down off the sarcophagus to gather her things, leaving Spike to face Buffy.

“I’m sorry Joyce was worried. I really was going to bring her home hours ago,” he insisted.

“We didn’t know where she was. She never came home from school.”

“I told her she could hang out with me when you lot got too weird for her. I’m sorry, I don’t have a phone. But you do know she’s safe with me, don’t you. No one’s gonna snatch Little Sis while Spike’s on watch.”

The angry glare softened somewhat and she relaxed slightly. “I know, but things are very dangerous right now Spike. Glory is out there and so are the Knights of Hack and Slash. And now some vamp’s killed six people on a train at Sunnydale Station. We can’t be taking any unnecessary risks.”

‘Six people on a train…’ he thought, heart sinking. ‘Dru…’

He sighed. “I understand and I’m sorry.” He looked at her, wanting her to understand as well. “But you have to know, Buffy, that this is really hard on her. It looks like she’s takin’ it well, but she’s got a lot of hurt inside, a lot of anger. She comes here to hang out and get away. And I don’t mind. Not really. I know she’s safe and it’s better than her bein’ out there by herself.”

He leaned close and whispered. “‘Sides, I think she fancies me. Got a bit of a teenage crush.”

At her look of distaste, he pulled back and postured. “Not that I blame her, mind you. I do have a certain devilish charm,” he smoothed, giving her a wink.

“Touch my little sister, and I will hand your privates to you on a platter.”

He threw up his hands in surrender. “Just kidding, Slayer. Nibblet’s virtue is safe with me. Not only is she a bit young for me, but I don’t fancy havin’ ta face Joyce if her youngest gets compromised. No offence, Slayer. You’re tough, but your mum wields a wicked axe.”

He knew she knew that he was joking because the impish glint came into her eyes. “Might give me a chance to use that axe you gave me for my birthday.”

“What? You haven’t used it yet?” he gasped in mock-offense.

“Not much in the way of chopping going on lately. Not that I’m complaining. I’ve got enough to worry about, y’know.”

He nodded. “I know.”

“Okay, I’m ready Herr Fuehrer,” Dawn announced sullenly. 

“Ok, let’s go, Dawn,” Buffy said, then turned to Spike. “Thanks for keeping her safe.”

He nodded. “Tell Joyce I’ll be by tomorrow to apologize. In the meantime, you might want to consider gettin’ Kid Sis one of those cell phones.”

Buffy gave him a smirk, then put one hand on Dawn’s shoulder and guided her out of the crypt.

“Or a pager or maybe even a homing device!” he called after them as the door shut.

Dawn giggled after they were out of the crypt. “Homing device. But hey, the cell phone idea is good. Emily Branchard’s got this totally cool one with an N’Sync cover…”

“I’ll ask Mom about it,” Buffy answered, marching them towards home.

“Really? Cool!”

“In the meantime, Dawn, I think you need to be more careful. We were really worried about you.”

“I know, but I was with Spike. He said I could hang with him if I wanted.”

“So he said. When did he tell you that?” Buffy asked.

Dawn grew quiet and subdued. “The night he carried me home from the hospital after what happened in the mental ward.”

Buffy frowned. “Oh.”

Dawn kicked at a stick in her path. “He said I could come to him if I ever needed to go somewhere to get away. I’d had a really bad day. Kirstie was being a total bee-atch again and I just wanted somewhere to go.”

She perked up and smiled. “Besides, I like hanging out with Spike. He’s funny and oh! You should hear him read Shakespeare! He knows most of them by heart.”

Buffy paused and shook her head. “Spike’s right. You do have a crush on him.”

“No, I don’t! It’s just he’s got cool hair and he wears cool leather coats and stuff. And he doesn’t treat me like an alien,” Dawn countered, flustered.

“He’s over 120 years old! And a vampire!”

“Right. That’s why you were never with Angel *for three years.*”

“Angel’s different. He has a soul.”

“Spike has a chip. Same diff. And even if I did have a crush, he wouldn’t notice in a million years. Not with you around.”

“What does that mean?”

“Spike’s totally into you.”

At her sister’s stunned silence, Dawn pressed, “Oh, come on. You didn’t notice? Buffy, Spike’s completely in love with you.”

Buffy’s face fell and she looked crushed. “I know.”

Now it was Dawn’s turn to look stunned. “You know?”

Buffy nodded. “I heard him and Mom… talking about it. Then I asked Giles and he admitted that loving me was one of the things Spike had said under the Truth spell.”

“So? What are you gonna do?”

Buffy looked away. “I don’t know. Both Mom and Giles insist that Spike won’t hurt me… or any of us. But I must admit I’m a little wigged and I don’t know what to do about it. Right now, we need Spike’s help with Glory and I don’t want to push him away. And part of me is kinda hoping that it’ll blow over and he’ll go back to wanting me dead,” she admitted.

Dawn shook her head. “Won’t happen.”

Buffy sighed and ushered them along again. “Then I’ll just have to wait and see what he does and deal with it when I have to.”

Dawn hurried to keep up. “Do you think you could… you know… love him?”

“Spike’s a vampire, Dawn. He’s a soulless killer.”

“But he’s different now. He’s changed and he has the chip.”

“The chip just makes him a serial killer in prison. Besides, Spike said it himself. Vampires and Slayers weren’t meant to be together. I’ll never love him and he knows it.”

Buffy stopped and looked back at the now dark crypt. She stared at it for a moment before turning back to the path, her face pensive and somber. “Let’s go home, Dawn.”

Dawn remained silent as she and Buffy left the cemetery.

*******

Rupert Giles was not stranger to duty and responsibility. In fact, with the small exception to his Ripper days, he’d lived Duty his whole life. At first, he was Bound to his family and its long, honorable traditions. Then it was the Council of Watchers, never realizing that they had set him up to fail when they assigned him to Buffy. And finally, his Duty was to his Slayer, when he turned his back on the Council and sided with the daughter he would never have.

So it baffled him that he was having so much difficulty reconciling himself with his duty to William the Bloody. As the perpetrator of the Truth spell and Spike’s only confidante, he had a certain responsibility to the vampire. Tara had so gently and innocently reminded him of that fact and he’d been struggling with it ever since. He thought perhaps things would be easier for him if Spike wasn’t committed to making things so difficult. Even ensouled, Spike was argumentative, crass and irritating, not to mention extraordinarily astute and bluntly honest. Time spent with the vampire almost always turned uncomfortable when Spike set out to turn everything he’d ever believed in upside down and on its head. And while those times were often- no, required to be- accompanied by massive amounts of alcohol, the resulting hangovers were made that much worse by the realization that Spike had been, once again, absolutely right.

Deferring graciously to the greater wisdom of a demon had never been one of Giles’ strong points, and things weren’t any different now, soul or no soul. Still, he felt he had to make some kind of recompense after his blistering taking-down in the Magic Box. He knew from experience that Spike often liked a few days to sulk before his acid tongue would fade and he would be anything other than condescending and defensive, so he waited a while before seeking Spike out in his crypt.

The tomb was dark and empty, even though it was still day. This surprised Giles because he thought Spike would still be asleep. Looking around, however, there was no sign of Spike and it looked as if he had been out for quite some time. The empty blood bags in the trash were completely dry and the liquor residue in the dirty tumbler next to the tattered chair had congealed on the bottom of the glass.

Wondering where the vampire could have gone in daylight, he looked around some more, searching for clues. He found nothing, or rather he found a great deal, but it was only enough to give him more insight into how the vampire lived from day to day and not on where he might have gone. He was surprised and impressed to find that Spike had amassed quite a collection of literature, which he kept on hidden bookcases behind a drape of black sheets on the lower level of the crypt. Some of the volumes were first editions and appeared very old.

A noise from upstairs caught his attention and he hurried to climb the ladder, not wanting Spike to think he was prying.

“Spike…” he called, rising from the subterranean chamber, but there was no answer.

He paused, looking around, his senses screaming that danger was lurking in the shadows. “Spike?” he called again.

“Bad man,” came a voice from the gloom and a figure floated into the dim haze of diffused light. “Come for my Spike.”

Ice washed through Giles’ veins as he recognized the vampire.

‘Bollocks! I forgot about Drusilla,’ he had enough time to think before she knocked him out with a cattle prod.

*******

Spike was glad that SunnyHell police were considerate enough to put the crime-scene car inside the station house. If he hadn’t known better he would have thought they had done it precisely so those fatally allergic to sunlight could get in. It was easy enough to force the door, the lock was pathetic really, and in moments he was inside the train car.

The police had taped the outline of the bodies, all sprawled in their seats, except for the outline for the station master who was on the floor, and he examined them, catching the splatters of blood the forensic crews had overlooked. He also found the dirty, blind-folded Miss Edith tucked away on the luggage rack.

Sighing, his heart heavy, he examined the doll, sniffing it to confirm that it was indeed Drusilla’s doll. The scent was unmistakable and he would know it anywhere.  There was no longer any doubt at all in his mind. Drusilla had returned.

‘Bloody hell. Now what do I do?’

His first thought was to go to Rupert, but the Watcher wasn’t home or at the Magic Box when he went looking for him so he returned to his crypt. There he found signs of a struggle and smelled both Giles and Drusilla’s scents. The dread had already reached his throat when he found Giles’ glasses crushed on the crypt floor, right where he would be sure to find them.

In a way, the broken eyewear gave him hope. Drusilla was sending him a message. That meant the Watcher was probably still alive. Besides, Dru always did like to play with her prey before killing them. Like a cat she was, a big demonic Hellcat- who had Giles.

Spike knew he had no choice, but he dreaded it nonetheless. He had planned to apologize to Joyce for not bringing Dawn home. Now he had another reason to go over to Revello Drive, one much less pleasant. Bucking up, he tucked Miss Edith into his coat and headed out.

Buffy wasn’t there when he arrived, but both Joyce and Dawn were in the kitchen. They welcomed him warmly, Dawn preening like teenage girls were wont to do, her long brown hair in childish braids. Joyce made cocoa and talked about her duplicate shipments of Greek amphorae, making them chuckle while he sat on the counter.

“But they didn’t get that it was a copy of the bill of lading... they thought it was another order form, so now I’ve got two shipments of Greek amphorae on my hands...” Joyce explained, smiling.

Spike smiled too. It was good to see Joyce vibrant and healthy again. A quick sniff revealed that the old blood was still there, but it was fainter. It warmed him and made him feel so much better. Joyce was going to be all right.

“Funny. And really, how many of them do you need. Amphorae,” he commented.

Joyce looked to the kitchen entrance, her face lighting up, and Spike knew that Buffy had arrived home. Before, he had dressed smartly in grey pullover and black leather blazer, but this time, he stayed in his usual black on black. Having never lived through the other timeline, Buffy would never know the difference.

“Oh Buffy!” Joyce greeted. “Spike came over to apologize for yesterday,” she explained, teasingly shaking Dawn’s hands. “Our missing child drama.”

Buffy came in, looking at them all, her guard up and her eyes wary, but he smiled and tried to put her at ease.

“Then I got started talking about the gallery. See, there was this bill of lading...” Joyce began, seeing Buffy’s unconvinced look.

“Oh, don’t get us all laughing again, Joyce. Anyhow, I really need to talk to your eldest,” Spike interrupted, hopping down from the counter.

“About what?” she asked.

He beckoned her to follow him and led her away from Joyce and Dawn. She stopped in front of him, arms crossed and he wondered what he had done to make her angry. He sighed, not needing any more stress.

“We’ve got a problem. A big problem. I got a bead on the one who killed those people, the ones in the train,” he told her, his stomach sinking as he reached into his coat for the doll.

“Do tell.”

He pulled Miss Edith out and showed it to her. She stared at it for a moment, confused, then her eyes opened wide and she stared at him.

“Drusilla…” she gasped.

He nodded solemnly. “There’s more.”

“Oh great.”

“I think she has your Watcher.”

“Giles?”

“I smelled both their scents in my crypt, and there were signs of a struggle. And she left his glasses, all crushed up on the floor.”

Buffy looked as if she were going to be sick and he hurried to comfort her. “I don’t think she intends to kill him. At least not right away. The glasses were a message. It’s me she wants.”

Buffy huffed. “Oh great. Your crazy ho of an ex has my Watcher and is using him as bait. Why do I have the strangest sensation that I’ve lived this before?”

He had to suppress a manic giggle. ‘If only you knew, love…’

“Okay. We have to find them. Can you do your bloodhound thing and sniff them out?”

“I could, but Dru’s another vamp and she’ll know how to hide her trail. That said, I doubt she’ll be hard to find. She only knows a few places here and she’ll probably pick the place that’s the worst for Giles,” he replied.

Buffy’s brow furrowed and she hardened. “The mansion on Crawford Street.”

“‘S what I was thinking.”

The Slayer came out and was all business. “Let’s grab some weapons and go.”

*******

He was sore, and tied to a chair, but otherwise unharmed. Waking from his electricity-induced unconsciousness, Giles opened his eyes and took stock of his whereabouts.

‘The mansion where Angelus tortured me. Oh dear god. And Drusilla… why didn’t she bite me?’

“Don’t like the taste of Watchers,” Drusilla answered, floating into his field of vision. “All fish oil and old books.”

She had him tied to a chair in one of the mansion’s bedrooms. While dusty and neglected, there was still a large four-poster bed draped in dark velvet curtains. Drusilla had amassed quite a collection of weapons and torture equipment on the mattress. He shuddered.

“Shush,” the vampiress scolded. “Not for you.” She pulled out a set of manacles and placed them on the bed with a loving caress. “My Spike’s been a bad boy. Helpin’ the Slayer and killin’ demons. I thought it was the pixies lying to me, but then the stars told me it was true.”

The true motive for her kidnapping him and bringing him here became clear.

“You intend to torture him,” he said.

Dru gave him one of her blank stares, half here and half in the past. “Bad children need to be punished. Like me, and Daddy. Daddy taught me how.”

Giles shivered, remembering what he had suffered at Angelus’ hands, and realizing that not even family members had been spared the demon’s wrath. Angel had told him what Angelus had done to Dru. Could it be possible that Drusilla had tried the same tortures on her Childe?

“Oh yes. In the beginning. When William still cried,” she replied, reminding him again that his thoughts were not protected if he didn’t shield from her. “I would make him cry more. Sometimes Daddy would too. Then he learned that between my legs was better than across my knee, and he stopped crying. Became my beautiful, deadly boy who would be my darling… until the Slayer took him from me!”

She smashed a chamber pot that had been sitting on the floor, the porcelain shards scattering over the rug. Giles flinched.

“Pixies lie, they always lie, but I saw the Slayer floating all around him, laughing at me. He wouldn’t push her away, and then he left.”

She wandered, seemingly aimlessly, humming softly to herself.

“Grandmama helped, but I want my boy back. I want my family. Grandmama, Spike and Daddy.”

She drew a cat-o-nine tails from an armoire, along with a pair of pincers, and looked at them dreamily. “But I can’t get Daddy until I have my Spike. And William cries again. Need to teach him. Some lessons have been forgotten.” 

He watched her as she placed the whip and pincers on the bed, feeling sick to his stomach even as a new understanding came to him. Drusilla and Angelus had used pain and pleasure to mold Spike into the demon he became, and his suspicion that Spike was a persona used mostly as a defensive mechanism was confirmed. Not that William the Bloody hadn’t been a killer, but he obviously hadn’t met the standards of evil required by Angelus.

“Daddy said; ‘Shut that miserable cur up or I’ll hack him into bits!’ And I couldn’t have that. He was my playmate. My knight. The fairest and bravest in all the land. So I taught him not to cry. Then Daddy said I had to share. Didn’t like that much. Daddy always made him bleed so much then made me clean the sheets.”

How inconsiderate of him,’ Giles thought.

“Daddy always knew what was best for us,” Drusilla sighed. “And I know what’s best for my Spike. He’ll be here soon. With the nasty Slayer. Left your spectacles for him to find.” She looked at him, her eyes cold. “I’ll kill her, and you, and then I’ll get my Spike back, and we’ll be a family again.”

With that, she floated out, humming again, and he didn’t relax until he couldn’t hear her anymore. He took in the bed covered with whips and weapons that would do a Spanish Inquisitor proud and he shivered.

‘God help them both,’ he prayed.

*******

“Are you going to be able to do this?” Buffy asked as she and Spike walked to the mansion.

He set his jaw tight and took a deep breath. “I’ll do what I have to do.”

“Even if it means killing Drusilla?”

“I’d rather it not come to that,” he admitted.

She stopped and gave him an angry glare. It irritated him. He’d told her about Dru and sought her help. What more did she want?

“What?” he demanded.

“You don’t want her dead.”

“Of course I don’t want her dead. She’s my bloody *sire* and my Dark Princess for a hundred years.”

“Need I remind you that you sought my help because she was a big ho?”

He scowled. “I remember very well, Slayer, and I remember her leavin’ me *twice* until I left for good. I was faithful to her until the end. Until she tossed me away for not bein’ what she wanted me to be.”

Her anger faded to sadness and recrimination, and he knew she was thinking of Riley.

“I get that. Speaking of ex’s, whatever happened to Harmony?” she asked, changing the subject.

“Packed ‘er off to LA a couple of days ago. She’d come back from a shopping spree over that way and I decided it was best for her to get lost with all the trouble with Glory hangin’ about. Bint’s too stupid not to let somethin’ spill. So I boxed up ‘er stuff and sent ‘er off.”

It hadn’t actually happened quite so caustically or as cruel as he made it sound. In actuality, he had sat her down and explained to her that he couldn’t love her because his heart belonged to another. He allowed her to think he was still in love with Drusilla and did nothing to correct her assumptions. They’d made love then, one last time, and the first time he had taken her without anger or fantasy in his heart. She’d cried afterwards, and he had shed a tear or two, but she hadn’t tried to stay. He saw her off the night before Dawn stopped by to visit him, her many piles of clothes stuffed in two burgeoning suitcases he had stolen from the mall. She’d kissed him good-bye, told him she loved him, and that if he could ever let go of Dru, he would know where to look for her. Then she was gone and he was alone, but that was probably for the best.

He came out of his memory to see Buffy glaring at him.

“What did I do now?”

“You don’t treat your women very well, do you Spike.”

“Bloody hell I don’t! I gave Dru everythin’ she ever wanted! I was her slave for a hundred years!” he snapped back.

“And Harmony? She loved you and you kicked her to the curb. I remember what you did to her during that whole Gem of Amarra fiasco!”

He flinched and gritted his teeth. “Harmony was a mistake. I admit it. Dru had left me again, I was weak and she was there. I was wrong to think I could love her and she…”

He stopped, sudden realization hitting him, and stared at Buffy like a deer caught in headlights.

‘She knows! She knows I love her! Oh, bloody hell!’

“You heard your mum and I talkin’ the other night, didn’t you,” he said.

She looked away, her lips pursed, and he knew that she had.

“Balls. I suppose that you will now tell me that I am a soulless, evil thing incapable of real feelings,” he accused.

He saw her choosing her words carefully, and when she spoke it was with forced calmness.

“Giles has told me that you admitted to… loving me while you were under the Truth spell,” she said, making him flinch and curse Giles. “That means, that whatever you think you feel, you believe it to be true.”

She looked at him, her face resolved. “But Spike, you have to know that whatever you think you feel can’t be real.”

“Bollocks!”

She drew herself up, facing him. “Demons can’t love. They don’t have souls. Both Angel and Giles have told me so.”

He snarled. “And if Watcher and the Great Poof say it, then it must be true! Is that it?! Newsflash Slayer: demons *can* love. We can love quite well. Your problem is if that’s true then Angelus could have loved you after he lost the precious soul. What you don’t realize is that he *did* and that was why he hated you so much. Love was and has always been a weakness for Angelus. You made him feel it and he couldn’t handle that. That was Angelus’ problem, not a demon one. Now me, on the other hand, I’ve always been love’s bitch and I’m not afraid to admit it.”

He advanced on her and she looked alarmed for a moment, so he stopped.

“I love you, Slayer. I know I love you. And I know it’s wrong and against everythin’ we both are but I can’t help how I feel.”

She shook her head, parroting back what she had been taught. “Demons can’t love.”

“Bollocks, and you know it. I love you. I love you so much it chokes me. Seein’ you in pain and knowin’ I don’t have the right to comfort you. Wantin’ so badly to touch you and knowin’ I can’t, that I’m not allowed. Acceptin’ what little crumbs you toss me. This is Hell for me, every day.”

“Fine! Then leave! No one is making you stay,” she snapped.

He scowled at her, eyes flashing yellow. “No. I won’t leave you. I won’t be like all those other wankers that left you and made you feel like you were unworthy of love. You may not love me. You may never love me, but I don’t walk out on the ones I love, and I protect them, with everything I’ve got.”

She looked at him and he knew she was recalling the words and promise she had overheard him make to Joyce.

“And Mom and Dawn? Are you just being nice to them to get into my good graces?”

He recoiled, offended. “Hell, no! Like your mum and Nibblet. They’re family to me. Wouldn’t hurt a hair on their heads even if I didn’t have this bloody chip in my brain.”

He stopped and they stared at each other, both reeling and breathing hard, until he looked away.

“Rupert and the Scoobies are family too. And right now Dru has one of ‘em. We got bigger problems that what’s goin’ on between you and me, Slayer. Let’s deal with the most urgent things first, shall we? Neither of us is goin’ anywhere and we can deal with all this stuff later.”

She stared at him a bit longer, then her shoulders dropped and she nodded. “Okay. Deal. For now, let’s go rescue Giles. But we’ll have to talk about it eventually, Spike.”

He sighed and agreed, following her as she marched off.

‘Don’t I know it.’

*******

Drusilla was true to her word and did not use any of the ‘toys’ on the bed upon him. She did keep him tied, however, trussed to the chair with barely enough room to breathe. He bided the time by using some meditation techniques and mental conditioning exercises in preparation for doing battle with Drusilla. Knowing she had raided his mind before gave him extra incentive to protect himself from her psychic attacks.

He was busy focusing all his attention on a single spot of dirt on the rug when movement in his peripheral vision distracted him. At first he thought it was Drusilla coming back into the room, but then he realized that it had approached from the wrong direction. His senses were tingling and he tensed, then something touched his back lightly. He jumped and gasped, but a cool hand covered his mouth to muffle the noise.

“S’ok, Watcher. ‘S me,” Spike’s voice whispered in his ear and the hand was pulled away.

“Oh thank God. Spike, Drusilla is here,” he whispered back.

“I know,” came the reply from behind him as he heard the sound of ropes being cut.

“Is Buffy with you?”

“Yeah. We split up when we came in. Where’s Dru?”

“I don’t know. She left the room about an hour ago and hasn’t been back since,” he replied, pulling his now free arms forward and working his hands to return the circulation to the numb limbs.

He saw Spike take a glance at the bed, saw the shoulders tense and the faint shudder run through the vampire’s body.

“Did she hurt you?” Spike asked softly.

“Oddly, no.”

Spike gave a tight nod.

“Can you stand?”

He felt his legs and wiggled his toes, grimacing at the pain as they came back to life. “I will be able to in a minute.”

“Dunno if we have that much time, Watcher.”

“Well, I am doing my best here.”

Spike snorted. “Might have to carry you out if it comes to it.”

“Over my dead body,” he snipped back, rubbing his calves.

“Hmph, that can be arranged, Watcher. Dru comes back, we gotta bugger out of here and fast.”

“Too late, my William,” came Dru’s voice from the doorway and they both froze.

Turning their heads as one, they faced the vampiress standing by the entrance. She was glassy-eyes and flushed, and she held a bloody chef’s knife in her hand.

‘Oh good Lord. Buffy…’ Looking over at Spike, he saw an expression of horror that he was certain was on his own face.

Spike moved so that he was standing between him and Drusilla, and Giles could barely see the vampires from around Spike’s body.

“Drusilla. Darling…” Spike began, but was cut off by Drusilla’s gasp of disbelief.

“No. No! No! It’s all wrong! All wrong! Burning crickets in your head!” Drusilla cried, her eyes going crazed and wild.

“Dru…” Spike tried again, but she wasn’t listening.

“It’s not true! It’s not too late! I can cut it out!”

Giles had rarely seen a vampire move with the true speed that they were capable of, but he saw the blur that was Drusilla streak towards them. Spike barely had enough time to move further between them before she had him within reach. She grabbed Spike with one hand and literally threw him onto the bed. He landed on top of several of the weapons she had gathered there and his legs kicked off a mace and two daggers.

Both vampires let out twin screams as Drusilla straddled her prone Childe and stabbed him in the chest.

“Cut it out! Cut it out! Swirling nasties behind your eyes! What have you done to my William?!”

Barely able to stand, he rose to his feet, horrified as Drusilla continued to repeatedly stab Spike while he howled in agony.

‘She can see the soul and she’s trying to cut it out!’

Reaching a shaky hand to grab the fallen mace, he swung with all his strength and slammed Drusilla in the skull. She let out a shriek and collapsed as the blow knocked her from the bed and sent her crashing into the wall.

“Spike!” Giles gasped, dropping the mace and staggering to look at him.

Blood was splattered all over the bed and the vampire’s shirt was slashed to ribbons, much like his chest, but he was still undead and conscious. Pain-filled eyes looked at him from the contorted, demon face.

“Find Buffy!” the vampire ordered though his gasps of anguish.

“I’m here!” Buffy said, and he turned his head to see his Slayer standing in the doorway, one hand holding a bleeding cut on her upper arm, while the other held a stake at ready.

“Buffy!” he cried, joy and relief flooding into him.

“Where’s Drusilla?” she demanded.

He pointed to the crumpled body on the floor and Buffy moved in for the kill.

“No!” he heard Spike beg.

The vampire was trying to sit up, one hand reaching out in supplication, his human face back in place. Buffy paused, her eyes growing wide at the sight of him.

“No, please. I don’t care what you do with her. Chain ‘er up and toss her in the cargo hold of a slow boat to China or whatever. But please don’t kill her. Please.’

He’d never seen Spike plead for anything, but the open grief on the vampire’s face was heartbreaking. Buffy lowered her stake and made a tentative step towards the bed.

“What happened?”

“Drusilla tried to cut out Spike’s… heart,” he explained, hedging just a bit.

Spike gave him a grateful look and slumped back to the mattress, drained. He lost consciousness a moment later.

“Geeze, talk about a bad hack job,” Buffy breathed. “I hope that wasn’t his favorite shirt.”

He gave her a look that spoke of the inappropriateness of her humor and she had the decency to look contrite.

“Is it safe to move him?” she asked.

He nodded. “My guess is that if we use one of these velvet curtains as a gurney, it should be all right.”

“We just have to get him outside. Mom said she was calling Xander before we left to come here. He should be here soon.”

He acknowledged her answer as he reached for one of the dusty curtains, tugging on it. Buffy reached past him, yanking the curtain and the wooden rod down with one pull. She gave him a guilty look, but he just smiled at her. Then they worked together to wrap Spike in the heavy fabric, grimacing at the amount of blood the vampire had lost.

“We should contain Drusilla, there’s no telling when she will awaken,” he warned.

Buffy agreed and trussed the unconscious vampiress in two sets of her own chains.

When they were ready, Buffy picked Spike up and carried him towards the exit.

“Buffy, do you…” he offered.

“Nah, I got him. For a dead guy, he’s not that much dead weight,” she replied, trying to make a joke but the humor didn’t make it to her eyes. “I’ll come back in for the nut-job ho.”

He gave a strained nod and followed her as they made their way outside to wait for Xander to arrive.

*******

Spike spent the next two days bundled up in gauze and ace wrap on a cot set up in the Summers’ basement. Deemed too injured to care for himself by Joyce, Buffy was ordered to make him comfortable downstairs until he could function on his own. He had only brief, hazy memories of those forty-eight hours, and most of them were of someone shoving blood down his throat.

After two days, vampire healing had mended him enough for him to be able to stand on his own and speak without coughing up blood. He was still weak, though, and his newly closed wounds would re-open and spill blood if he moved the wrong way. As such, he spent most of his time lying down on the couch with the living room curtains drawn securely shut, watching television.

On the fourth day, he fell asleep during General Hospital and was awakened by the thundering horde of estrogen that was the Summers’ household arriving home. In the past ninety-six hours he had witnessed first hand what it was like to live with three strong-willed women, one of whom was a full bore adolescent, and all of his fantasies of what life would be like were he to be welcomed into the Summers’ inner circle were shattered completely. To be honest he wasn’t certain any man could live it and survive.

Between the constant yammering and fighting over the bathroom and the female hormones floating around, he was amazed that he hadn’t gone completely insane. Still, he quickly learned the value in making himself as small and quiet as possible so he wouldn’t get dragged into another snit between the girls or the girls and their mother. Huddling down in his blankets, he did his best to imitate a pile of discarded laundry tossed on the couch with only the top of his head and his eyes exposed.

‘If I just lay low and keep my mouth shut, they might not notice me…’

“Spike! You’re upstairs!” Dawn cried happily, rushing over.

‘Oh balls…’

The teen immediately began fussing over him. “How are you feeling? Are you in any pain? Do you need anything?”

“I’m fine, Bit. Just restin’ and watchin’ telly,” he whispered, trying to make himself sound worse than he actually was.

“Well, you look better and your voice is way stronger.”

“I’ll be ready to go back to my crypt soon,” he hedged hopefully.

“Not tonight, you won’t be,” Joyce said, appraising him with a mother’s eye and seeing right through him. He did his best to look innocent.

“Mom has a date,” Dawn announced, flopping onto the couch.

Spike looked at Joyce and smiled. “Does she now? Gettin’ back into the singles scene, eh, Joyce?”

“More like Single with Children,” Joyce replied, concern and uncertainty in her voice.

“Mom got three new dresses today, just for her date! Mom, mom! Go put them on!”

“They’re really nothing special or fancy…” Joyce tried, but Dawn was insistent.

“Mom, please? I wanna see them. Besides, we need to make sure they’re appropriate attire for a first date.”

“Where did you learn to talk like that, young lady?” Joyce asked, incredulous.

Dawn fixed her baby browns on her mother and blinked. “Society and values in History class.”

Joyce rolled her eyes and gave in. “Alright, alright.”

“Yay! I’ll help!” Dawn enthused, hopping off the couch, grabbing the shopping bags and dashing up the stairs.

Shaking her head, Joyce followed, leaving Buffy alone with him. She looked at him and he looked at her, but she did not come close. She’d been quiet and civil during his time there, not snarky or argumentative, and for that he was grateful. She kept her distance, but was there if he needed anything, and she didn’t hesitate to help if he required something. She didn’t mention his loving her, and neither did he. Buffy was well into denial and he was too damaged to get into an emotional tête-à-tête with her.

Considering how things had happened before, however, this time around was a vast improvement. At least this time, the encounter with Dru hadn’t resulted in his chaining Buffy to a wall, offering to kill Dru or threatening to let Dru kill her, and his invite to the Summers’ house being revoked. Not that having Dru use him as a butcher’s block had been at all pleasant, nor was it something he would ever want to experience again, but those wounds would heal. This time, he was still welcome in the Summers’ home, albeit warily, and he had two out of three Summers women doting on him like mother hens.

“You do look better,” Buffy said, shaking him out of his thoughts. “I mean, you still look dead, but for a while there you looked deader than dead. I can see a definite improvement.”

“Thanks ever so.”

She fell silent and looked uncomfortable for a few moments.

“So, anything good on TV?”

Spike shook his head. “Just news and soaps. And you know how soaps are: stop watching for two months and you come back to find the same characters suffering the same torments only now they know that they’re all secretly related.”

Buffy giggled and her shoulders relaxed. He found that if he could make her laugh, she would let down her guard a bit and stop trying so hard to figure him out.

“And is Timmy a real boy yet?” she teased.

He gave her a grin. “Nope, still a doll, but he’s hopin’. Oh! Say, what time is it?”

Buffy looked at her watch. “4:12.”

“Oh! BBC America was running a Changing Rooms marathon!” he remembered, grabbing the remote and changing the channel.

 Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Changing Rooms? Is that anything like Trading Spaces, that TV show where two neighbors destroy rooms in each other’s house and get designers to help?”

“No, no, this is the *original* show that had neighbors destroying each others rooms. Soddin’ Trading Spaces was just you yanks stealin’ our idea coz you couldn’t come up with an original idea like that on your own.”

“Is it funnier than Trading Spaces? I mean, I saw an episode where the woman designer put moss all over these people’s bedroom wall.”

She came closer and he made room for her on the other side of the couch.

“It’s brilliant. I love it when the people hate it and they cry. Saw that ponce Lawrence get shoved into a pool once. Bloody brilliant that was.”

She perched on the very edge of the couch as the program returned from commercials to rejoin the ‘red team’ in the midst of converting someone’s attic bachelor pad into a Costa Rican love nest.

“Ewww, that is the brightest shade of orange I have ever seen in my life,” Buffy commented.

“They’re British, pet. We never get to see the sun so bright colors look wonderful to us.”

The camera closed in on a second can of paint, this one deep turquoise. “Ewwwww. Are they color-blind too?”

Spike just chuckled and settled in to watch Buffy react to the show. She was so caught up in being repulsed by British fashion sense that she didn’t notice that he was staring at her. She was so expressive and alive that he almost started to cry. He’d missed her vibrant personality so much after Willow had resurrected her. It was a gift to see it now.

A few minutes later, Joyce came down to model her first dress and the television was turned off. Spike made more room on the couch and he, Dawn and Buffy played audience to Joyce’s modeling. The first two dresses were very nice, but the third was a knock-out. It was a long black slip dress with calf-length slits up each side and painted lilies on the front.

“What do you think?” Joyce asked, taking a small spin in front of them.

“Mmmm, I might like it more than the others. Could you spin again?” Buffy answered.

Joyce obliged and spun again.

“Ooo, I’m not sure. Once more,” Dawn said.

Joyce turned and Spike caught the mischievous glints in the girls’ eyes.

“Now could you go the other way?” Buffy requested innocently and Spike had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

Joyce started to turn in the opposite direction, but then stopped, wising up to her daughters’ antics.

“You’re messing with me.”

Dawn and Buffy giggled.

“We just wanted to see how many times we could get you to do it,” Buffy admitted.

“Was that five or four-and-a-half?” Dawn joked.

“So is anyone going to talk about the dress?” Joyce asked.

“It’s very nice, Joyce. Like that one on you,” Spike replied.

Joyce put her hands on her hips. “You said that about the other two dresses, Spike.”

Spike shrugged. “It’s true. Though you do look particularly radiant in that one,” he smoothed, turning on the charm. She flushed and looked pleased.

“I like it,’ Dawn said definitively.

Joyce suddenly became uncertain. “You’re sure? It’s not too, you know, mom-ish?”

“Oh. That was why I liked it,” Dawn said.

“You’re both crazy! It’s not mom-ish at all!” Buffy insisted. “It’s sexy! It screams randy-sex-kitten-buy-me-one-drink-and-I’ll...” She paused and grimaced. “Wait... that’s not really good either.”

Joyce looked to Spike and he knew he was in trouble. “Spike?”

“Errr… It’s definitely a dress a mature attractive woman such as yourself would wear.”

Joyce sighed. “Oh, I’m so glad you agreed to help… Oh God, what time is it?”

“Four-twenty-three,” Buffy replied, looking at her watch. “You have lots of time ‘til seven. Vast acres of time in which you could plant crops. Now tell me about this Brian and what his intentions are.”

“Yeah, Mum, who is this mystery man who wants to sweep you off your feet?” Spike piped up, enjoying Joyce’s nervousness.

“Maybe he’s a gigolo. Was his shirt all shiny?” Dawn asked, worried.

“Could you see his chest hair? Was he wearing lots of gaudy jewelry? The rings’ll give ‘em away very time,” Spike added seriously, but his eyes were laughing.

“No, he works at a publishing house. A nice, normal guy, okay?” Joyce explained. “I met him my first day back at the gallery when I was still kinda shaky. You know, starting over. He asked a question about these antique cameos and I was so lost ‘cause Carol did the ordering while I was sick. But it turned out he didn’t know anything about them either, so we had a lot to talk about.”

“So, what’s the plan for tonight?” Dawn questioned.

“Dinner and then a movie. Or maybe it was a movie and then dinner. Which might be better because then we can talk about the movie. Or maybe a movie isn’t a good idea at all, because you can’t talk during and then what’s the point of any of it. Also, what kind of a restaurant? One with candles and romantic music, or is that pushing it?” Joyce answered, unsure.

“I think a date should be in a real fancy restaurant, then champagne at a night club with a floor show, then ballroom dancing,” Dawn said.

“Unfortunately, we’re not dating in a movie from the thirties. Spike?” Joyce asked, pinning him with a worried, expectant gaze.

Spike squirmed and punted. ‘When in doubt, remind ‘em you’re a vampire…’ “Oh, I dunno, Joyce. In my time, a good time for me and Dru was eating the floor show in that night club Bit was talkin’ about.”

Joyce rolled her eyes and looked to her eldest. “Buffy? What do you think? Should I try to make things romantic or sort of let him set the pace?”

“Oh no, Love-Doctor Buffy is not in. I’m not qualified to give dating advice.”

“Seriously, Joyce, it’s all about chemistry. If this Brian-bloke and you have it, then you’ll know what to do,” he offered.

Joyce wrung her hands and bit her lip. “Oh God-- Brian. What time is it now?”

“Four twenty-four. One minute after you asked us the last time.”

“You’re sure this dress is okay?”

“Spin again. Real fast this time,” Dawn said, grinning.

Two and a half hours later, two of the walking estrogen bombs were ready to leave. Joyce, radiant in her dress and makeup, was awaiting her date, and Buffy, even more radiant in a gold sweater and tight black pants, was heading out to a Spring Break party at Sunnydale University. Spike had urged her to go for a little fun time; that he and Dawn would be fine on their own. That was when Joyce announced that Giles would be coming over to keep an eye on Dawn and attend to the ‘undead English patient.’

“Okay, Mom, Xander’s here. Have fun on your date,” Buffy announced as she bounded out the door.

Spike followed her bouncing hair enviously, wishing he could go with her. He loved to watch her dance, but it would save him the humiliation of getting thrown through a window by that Warren-geek’s sex-bot.

“Goodnight honey! Have a good time!” Joyce called after her.

He heard the sound of a car door closing and then the vehicle drove off. Dawn was upstairs in her room, so he and Joyce were alone. Ignoring the protesting of his wounds, he rose to his feet and approached her.

“You really do look stunning in that dress, Joyce,” he said honestly.

Joyce flushed and smiled. “Thank you, Spike.”

“How are you feeling?”

The woman’s smile widened. “Really, really good. The headaches are gone and I feel wonderful.”

“Doc have you on any medication?” he hedged.

Joyce shrugged. “I’m supposed to be taking Coumadin, but it makes my gums bleed something terrible.”

He frowned. “Now, now, Joyce, if the doc says you should take it, maybe you need to talk to him about a different drug if that one’s not workin’ for you.”

“It’s a blood thinner, Spike. I take aspirin instead.”

He gave her an incredulous look and she rolled her eyes. “I’m fine. Really. And who’s the mom here anyway?”

“You are, Joyce,” he answered immediately. He might be a vampire, but he was a well trained vampire.

“That’s right, and I know what I’m doing so don’t worry about me.”

His vampire hearing caught the sound of a car pulling in the drive.

“You’re date’s here, Mum,” he told her.

She immediately smoothed her dress and fluffed her hair. “How do I look?”

He gave her a tender smile. “Radiant.”

She looked at him gratefully and he added, “And you do know that if this bloke is anything but a perfect gentleman, I’ll contract out to have someone eviscerate him and hand him his intestines since I can’t do it myself.”

Her smile faded, but then she laughed and shook her head, opening the door.

“Goodnight, Spike. Rupert will be here around 8:00. Keep Dawn, and yourself, out of trouble until then.”

“Wot? That mean I can’t sell all your furniture and dance to rock music in my boxers?”

Joyce gave him a look that turned evil, and he suddenly knew where Buffy got her impish streak. “You don’t wear boxers, Spike.”

Giving him a final smile, and ignoring his stunned look, she walked out to join her date.

********

Spike and Dawn were sitting in the living room when the clock struck eight. Dawn was painting his nails their usual black (she had noticed that the manicure Harmony had given him weeks ago was in dire need of repair) and yammering about boys. He was pretending to pay attention and nodding and making agreeing noises at appropriate intervals. Then Giles walked in to save him.

“Rupert! My fellow countryman! Please tell me you brought alcohol,” he called as Giles entered the house.

He saw Giles taking in the tableau before him and watched the man give a visible sigh of relief that he would not be alone with a female teenager.

‘Spineless wanker…’

“Spike. It’s so good to see you up and about,” Giles greeted, thankfully carrying two six-packs of beer.

He plastered a smile upon his face. “Well, you know. It takes more than my psychotic ex-girlfriend using my chest as a cutting board to keep me down.”

“Well, yes, I have learned from experience that vampires are remarkably resilient.”

“Yeah, we are. Is that Corona?”

Giles looked at the beer he was carrying. “Yes, it is.”

Heedless of his wet nails and Dawn’s disapproving glare, he held out a hand. “Pass one over, Rupes.”

Giles came into the room and handed him a bottle obligingly.

“Ta,” he said, opening the bottle with his teeth and taking a swig.

Dawn made a disgusted sound and put away the nail polish. “I’m gonna go do my homework,” she groused sullenly and stalked from the room.

They watched her go.

“Have we been reprieved?” Giles asked.

Spike swallowed his mouthful of beer. “Not a chance. I give ‘er an hour tops. We’re too good of an opportunity to miss.”

“Good lord, I can’t imagine what it must be like to live with a teenaged girl, let alone two other… headstrong women.”

“It’s easy. Ya just gotta remember three things. One: keep your mouth shut and your head down. If they don’t notice you, you’re in the clear. Two: the answer to any question they ask you is ‘yes’, unless of course it’s the dreaded ‘does this outfit make me look fat’ question. In which case, the answer is a vehement NO. Even if she looks like week-old stuffed sausage in it, the answer is still no. Three: if your girl is an insane bitch who wants to destroy the world, bugger outta there as fast as you can,” he explained, counting off on his fingers.

“Thank you for that useful and helpful advice, Spike.”

He took another swig of beer. “Always glad I can be of service.”

Giles came and sat next to him, his face serious.

“I was going through that journal you lent me. The one where you wrote down what you remembered from the other timeline. It would seem that we will learn of Warren very soon.”

Spike nodded. “Yeah. Tonight. His sex-bot crashes a party over at the uni. I was there before. Got tossed through a window. Glad I’m not there now. ‘S good enough if I’m here to learn about it, right? Then I can go contact him to make me one of Buffy.”

Giles nodded uncomfortably. “Yes, that would seem logical.”

“Unless you think we can skip it this time ‘round. Do without the bloody bot.”

Giles pulled out his own beer and opened it. “No. I think it would be best to keep things as they were. As distasteful as the idea is, a robot Buffy to act as a decoy could prove quite valuable.”

“Yeah.” He finished the beer and reached for another. “How we gonna break it to our girl? Buffy’s not gonna take it well and I don’t wanna bugger things up. She knows I love her.”

Giles nodded. “I know. She asked me and I told her. She took it well, I think, all things considered.”

Spike agreed. “Yeah. And things are goin’ okay. Between us, I mean. Last time it was a complete disaster.”

“So I’ve read. Really Spike, did you honestly think chaining her up and offering to kill Drusilla for her would make her believe you loved her?”

Spike looked away. “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Giles just shook his head and took another drink. “Speaking of Drusilla, I received word from my contacts in Argentina. Our box arrived safely. They will follow our instructions to leave it in broad daylight and break the lock. She’ll have to wait for sundown before she can escape so they’ll be long gone by then.”

“Thanks, mate. You didn’t have to…”

“Yes, I did. Not even Angel could bring himself to kill Drusilla. She is a tragic, but necessary, part of your lives. Besides, I owed you a life. You no doubt saved mine when you convinced Angelus to stop torturing me 2 years ago, and most likely saved me again when you placed yourself between me and Drusilla four days ago.” Giles gave him a knowing glance. “And yes, I did notice that. I am a *Watcher* after all.”

“Still, it meant a lot to me. Thank you,” he repeated, then smiled. “So, is the plan to get completely knackered before Bit comes back down?”

“It’s that bad, is it? I thought you said it was easy.”

“Okay, I admit it. I lied. It’s pure Hell, and us vamps are supposed to like that sort of thing. I swear Dante forgot the tenth level of Hell, in which men are forced to endure the never-ending torments of teenaged girls tittering about clothes, make-up and boys, and throwing hormone-driven temper tantrums.”

“Oh dear. A fate worse than death,” Giles commented dryly.

“Or undeath.”

“Do you need rescuing?”

“You offerin’ a spot on your couch?”

“If you still need it.”

He thought a moment. “I could use another day or so of rest and there’s never tellin’ who’s gonna pop in to the crypt. But I’m healed up enough to go back if you want to keep your couch open. I just can’t handle any fightin’ or movin’ about too quick. Not for another day at least.”

“Well, we’ll see, shall we? Spend the night at my place and go back to your crypt tomorrow if you’re feeling up to it.”

“Thanks, Rupes.”

“Can’t have you going insane and staking yourself before we defeat Glory, can we.”

He grinned. “I’m not gonna stake myself, and I think I’m already certifiable.”

“Really? What makes you think so?”

“I’ve lasted four days in this house without going berserk, I’m starting to know the difference between Ivory soap and a Dove bar, and I’m actually beginning to recognize some of Bit’s boy bands,” he confessed.

Giles eyed him warily. “A true sign of an unstable mind.”

The loud cacophony of one of Dawn’s said boy bands began pounding from upstairs as Dawn turned up the volume on her stereo. Both men cast eyes to the ceiling, noticing how the foyer light swayed with the beat.

“Oh, for the days when teenagers were hors d’oeuvres,” Spike bemoaned.

Giles sighed and handed him another beer.

Buffy came home around midnight to relieve Giles of Dawn and vampire duty. Giles’ relief was evident on his face, even though Dawn had been sent to bed an hour ago.

“Dear God Buffy, there’s only so much I can take. We’re simply going to have to change the system. A fourteen-year-old is too old to be baby-sat. It’s not fair to her,” Giles said.

“What did she make you do?” Buffy asked knowingly.

“Well, we listened to some aggressively cheerful music sung by people chosen for their ability to dance, then she painted Spike’s nails while we ate cookie dough and talked about boys.”

Buffy struggled to hold back a laugh and only partly succeeded. “I’m so sorry, but if it makes you feel any better, my fun-time-Buffy party night involved watching a robot throw some guy who hit on her across a table.”

“A robot? That’s interesting,” Giles commented.

“A robot? Really?” Spike added, coming to stand beside Giles. He’d dressed and was prepared to leave. “How do you know it was a robot?’

“Well, if she wasn’t a robot, she was a very cheerful, wickedly strong girl able to toss me across a room.”

“Are you hurt?” he blurted.

Buffy waved her hand dismissively. “I’m fine. Just have a bruise. We’re going to work on it in the morning. Or, if you wanted to hang out a little longer, we could…”

Just then Joyce came through the door, a happy smile on her face.

“So who wants to hear everything?” she enthused.

“...listen to Mom talk about boys.”

“Yes, right! Must go! See you tomorrow! Good-bye, Joyce,” Giles said hastily, hurrying out.

“Bye, Rupert,” Joyce said, waving one hand.

“I’m gonna go with him, Slayer, Joyce. Ol’ Rupert’s got some scroll or some such he thinks might have some info on that Glory bint, but it’s written in one of the demon languages I know how to read,” he lied smoothly.

Buffy looked taken back. “Really? He didn’t say anything about it to me.”

“He just found it tonight before he came over. I promised to look at it for him and see what I could make of it.”

“Spike, are you sure you’re all right to leave?” Joyce asked worriedly.

He gave her one of his winning smiles. “I’m just going to play over at Rupert’s house and have a sleep-over. I promise we won’t stay up all night reading comic books and lobbing spitballs at each other.”

“Ewwww,” Buffy said.

“Well, if you’re sure you’re up to it…”

He gave Joyce a quick peck on the cheek. “I am. I’ll pop by tomorrow to see you. I’m so glad you had a wonderful time on your date. I do want to hear about it, but if I don’t go now, Giles will leave without me.”

“Dawn traumatized him that much?” Joyce asked.

“She made him eat cookie dough and listen to her talk about her teenage crushes at school.”

“I think she’s scarred him for life.”

He smiled. “No doubt. See you tomorrow.”

“Good night, Spike,” Joyce said.

“Night, Spike,” Buffy repeated.

He walked out and Joyce closed the door behind him. As he walked to Giles’ car, he heard Joyce joking with her daughter about leaving her bra in her date’s car, and laughed when he heard Buffy’s cry of “Mother!” in response.

He paused and looked back at the house, feeling lightweight for the first time since he had been sent back. Joyce was healthy, Buffy knew he loved her and hadn’t completely shoved him from her life, Dru hadn’t needed to be killed and Giles was actually giving him a chance to prove himself. Maybe things were finally starting to look up.

“Good God! That’s horrible! Don’t do that!” he heard Buffy gasp.

“I left it in the restaurant,” was Joyce’s reply.

He heard the sound of footsteps as Buffy ran up the stairs, yelling, “No more! No more!”

“On the dessert cart!” Joyce called after her.

Spike shook his head and continued on his way to where Giles was waiting.

‘God I love these Summers women!’

*******

Without the loud banging of Buffy and Dawn going through their morning routine to rouse him, Spike slept late and did not wake until Giles called his name. He rolled over, shaking away sleep, and blinked at the man standing next to him.

“Mornin’ Rupert,” he greeted, stretching, then winced and gasped as his wounds protested. “Ow!”

He touched his black T-shirt where the bandages were underneath and his fingers came away stained with blood.

“Oh, bloody hell.”

Giles sighed. “Well, I was about to tell you that I was headed to the Magic Box, but it seems we need to attend to your wounds beforehand.”

He didn’t protest as Giles helped him take the shirt off, revealing the blood-soaked wrappings.

“Oh dear. Well, let me get some bandages,” the Watcher said, frowning at the sight.

“Got enough for a job this big?”

“With Buffy Summers as my Slayer, do you honestly have to ask that question?” the man replied, heading for the bathroom.

“Point.”

Giles returned with several packages of gauze bandages and a pair of medical scissors. Then he cut away the soiled dressing to reveal the still seeping stab wounds.

“Good God, Spike, I thought you said that you were healing.”

“I am. Just healin’ from the inside out ‘s all. If you look, they’re not as deep. Don’t go all the way into my chest anymore. ‘S just surface bleeding now. Been a lot worse before this. Buffy helped change ‘em. Didn’t want Bit and Joyce seein’ all the blood.”

Giles frowned and used gauze pads to staunch the wounds. “That was probably wise.”

“Why did you take me there, anyway? Not that I minded bein’ cared for by Nurses Summers, but I was shocked to wake up in Joyce’s basement.”

“We knew that you were seriously injured and would require care. We also knew that, with her infatuation with you, if Dawn wasn’t able to see you during your recovery, she would most likely sneak out to find you. It was a matter of insuring that Dawn stayed safe and wasn’t haring off to the cemetery,” came the reply.

“Hmmph. Kinda like goin’ into a burnin’ house to fetch the kid’s hamster coz you know if you don’t do it, the kid will,” Spike observed.

Giles flicked him a glance. “Precisely.” He padded more gauze onto the wounds. “There. I think I’ve got the bleeding stopped.”

“I think so too.”

Giles pulled out the wrapping and began dressing the gauze in layers of bandages.

“What are your plans for today?” Giles asked him.

“Swing by my crypt and get the box I have there so I can go to that Warren git and order the bloody bot. No help for it, the wanker’s gonna leave town soon. Maybe go see Joyce. I promised her I would pop in today but I’m feelin’ knackered.”

“Probably from the blood loss. I do have two packages of blood in the refrigerator from the last time you stayed here, and I’ll bring more home this afternoon.”

“Thanks, Watcher.”

He reached for his bloodied shirt, but Giles grabbed it first.

“This is ruined. I’ll loan you one of my old sweatshirts for now until we have time to stop by your crypt.”

“I’ll prolly go back there tonight. Another day of vamp healin’ and these should be just nasty scratches.”

“If you think that’s best” Giles commented, going to fetch a sweatshirt from his bedroom.

He brought back an old Manchester United sweatshirt and handed it to Spike.

“Man United, Rupert?” he questioned, looking at the insignia.

“It was a gag gift from an old classmate. Why do you think I don’t care if you bleed all over it?”

Muttering under his breath, Spike carefully pulled the sweatshirt on and covered the bandages while Giles heated him a mug of blood. He gave the man a thankful nod when Giles handed him the warm cup.

“If you’re sure you won’t need anything, I’ll be off. If you have any troubles, call the Magic Box.”

“Thanks, Rupert. If I’m not here, don’t worry. As I said, I have to go out.”

“Do be careful. Vampires are flammable in sunlight, you know.”

“Oh dear, are we really? Good thing I’ve got my trusty blanket then,” he replied, wide-eyed.

Giles shook his head and gathered his coat. “Have a good day, Spike.”

“You too, Rupes,” he called as Giles left.

After the Watcher had gone, Spike went back to sleep. He awoke late morning, ate the last bag of blood, checked his bandages to make sure he wasn’t sieve-Spike, and tidied himself up a bit. Then he took the blanket and his duster and made a dash for the sewers. The effort hurt his wounds so he had to rest a bit before making his way to his crypt and then to the robot geek. It took him a while to get there. The trip was the most walking he had done since the incident with Drusilla and he kept getting lightheaded. He got there just as Warren was packing up to leave. Luckily, he’d changed into his usual black on black and was able to intimidate the git into making the Buffy-bot for him without too much trouble.

Business with the loser who would try to take over Sunnydale completed, he headed for the gallery. Unfortunately, when he got to there, Joyce’s assistant informed him that Joyce had gone home. He rested at the gallery for a while, perusing the new acquisitions, then made his way back to the tunnels. It was slow going for him and he hoped he would get to the house before Buffy or Dawn came home, but he wasn’t sure if he’d make it. As it was, he knew it was already after one and he still had a ways to go.

Over an hour later, he finally arrived at the manhole on Revello. He listened carefully for sounds of traffic before pushing his already exhausted body out of the tunnel and making a quick run for the front porch. Blessedly, the door was unlocked so he zipped in, fighting back the wave of dizziness that hit him, and slammed the door shut. Safe. Leaning against the front door, he pushed away the vertigo and stumbled for the kitchen where he hoped blood bags were kept in the refrigerator. He found three and he was so hungry that he drank two of them cold.

It was only after he regained some sense of balance that he noticed the stillness of the house.

“Joyce?” he called.

There was no answer.

Furrowing his brow, he turned up his vampire hearing and listened. No heartbeats, no living sounds at all. He wondered if Joyce had decided to go out.

‘Maybe left early to pick up Nibblet. I hope she wasn’t waiting for me to get here and thought I stood her up.’

He took a step out of the kitchen into the hall and the smell hit him. Vomit. He looked down to see a wet spot on the carpet.

‘Fresh.’

Concerned, he sniffed the air, trying to uncover any more clues as to what was going on and a new scent assailed his nostrils, one he knew far too well and did not want to ever smell in relation to a Summers: death.

Half-panicked, a sick feeling in his gut, he traced the smell to the living room couch, the same couch he had lain on just the day before and bantered with Joyce and the girls. The scent was all over the cushions, intermingled with Joyce’s unique odor.

‘No…’

More scents assaulted him: Buffy, Giles, strangers, the antiseptic tinge of medical supplies… and he could feel his senses becoming overloaded.

“No… nonononononononononono. Oh god, no,” he gasped to no one, then switched to gameface and roared. “NO!”

His only answer was silence.

It took him hours to stagger his way to Sunnydale General Hospital. It probably wouldn’t have taken him quite so long if he hadn’t collapsed in a sobbing heap in the tunnels and vomited up all the blood he had drank. By then he was soaked in sludge from the sewer, covered in his own vomit, and couldn’t stand his own smell let alone subject anyone without vampire senses to it, so he had to go back to his crypt long enough to clean up and change clothes.

The sun had almost set by the time he finally crawled up the tunnel that led to the hospital basement, and his legs barely supported him as he struggled down the hall. He was numb, focusing only on putting one foot in front of the other, using the wall to keep him upright.

“… still examining her…” came a fragment of Giles’ voice to his sensitive hearing and he locked on to it, tracking its location.

His movements seemed leaden, his mind not fully inside his body, as he followed Giles’ voice to a waiting room down the hall from the morgue. He came upon a scene of Buffy, Dawn, Giles, and the Scoobies all sitting forlornly in the sterile, too-bright room, and stopped in the doorway, unable to force himself to go any further. If he did, it would mean it was real and not a nightmare from which he could not wake.

“Spike!” a tearful Dawn called, and he barely had time to register her movement before she was in his arms, hugging him. The pain was excruciating. He gasped, staggered and she let him go, horrified that she had hurt him.

“Oh God. I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry,” she apologized, bursting into tears.

He reached for her, needing to comfort her in spite of his pain. “‘S’ok, Sweet Bit.”

She came into his arms, gently this time and he held her loosely, but his eyes were on Giles, naked and pleading as the man came over.

“Rupert?” he managed, his voice small.

Giles took off his glasses, wiped his eyes and shook his head. “Spike, I’m so very sorry.”

“But… we had ‘er on blood thinners. She said the Coumadin was making her gums bleed so she was taking aspirin instead…”

“We don’t know the exact cause of death yet. The medical examiner hasn’t finished his examination.”

“But we just saw her yesterday. She was fine. She smelled fine.”

Giles looked at him with sympathy. “From everything we know so far, it appears to have happened very suddenly. I doubt there was much warning.”

“I don’t understand. I did… I warned…”

“You did everything you could, Spike. There wasn’t anything else you could have done.”

‘But there must have been. She’s still dead! I must have missed something… How could I have missed something?’

He looked to Rupert, begging to understand. “But…”

“You mustn’t blame yourself, Spike. It’s not your fault.”

‘But it must be. Otherwise, Joyce’d still be alive.’

Giles raised his eyes to see the doctor standing in the waiting room doorway.

“Doctor,” he said, calling attention to the man’s presence.

Buffy looked up sharply, a half-terrified look on her face, then she stood and approached stiffly. Dawn pulled herself out of Spike’s arms and faced the physician.

“Okay, I’ve examined your mother’s body…” the doctor said.

“Can we see her?” Dawn asked.

“Dawn. Not now,” Buffy admonished.

“The on-site report seems to be more or less accurate. Your mother did have what looks like an aneurysm, a sudden hemorrhaging from a ruptured arterial vessel near where the tumor was removed,” the doctor explained.

“Shouldn’t we have known about that, that it was a danger...” Buffy said.

“Sometimes these things are detectable and sometimes they’re not. Joyce was aware of the possibility of a rupture, and the effects. She didn’t even get on the phone, so clearly this was very sudden. She may have felt a little nausea and probably passed out as it happened. I doubt there was much pain, and even if someone had been by her side…”

Cold ice washed through Spike as realization hit him. ‘An aneurysm, not a blood clot. But Bit told me it was a blood clot! I know she said it was a blood clot! Oh, God! And I pushed to get her on blood thinners and that made it worse! It *is* my fault! It’s all my fault!’

“-- it’s doubtful this could have been dealt with in time,” the doctor was finishing.

“Well, thank you, Doctor...” Giles said.

“You’re sure there wasn’t a lot of pain?” Buffy blurted suddenly.

“Absolutely. I think we can be almost positive about that,” the doctor said with assurance.

‘Liar. She bled to death from internal hemorrhaging. And she couldn’t soddin’ clot her blood coz I was a wanker and pushed for her to be on blood thinners. Oh God, what have I done? Joyce… Oh Mum, from wherever you are, can you ever forgive me for screwing it up so royally?’

“What, ah, what needs to happen now?” Giles was asking.

“Well, there will be some forms, and some decisions you’ll need to make...” the doctor replied.

“Buffy, why don’t you let me handle those as much as I can,” Giles told Buffy.

‘Good. Good old Rupert’s takin; over. He’s got it. He’ll take care of it. Don’t need me. I’m a useless waste of space who just killed Joyce Summers. Oh god oh god.’

“We will need you to sign a couple of release forms…” the doctor was saying to Buffy.

Buffy was looking overwhelmed and shocked. He wanted to reach out to her, to tell her he was sorry, but he couldn’t. The words stuck in his throat, choking him as the guilt crashed down.

“Yes, thank you, Doctor,” Giles interrupted, then addressed Buffy, “I’ll figure out which ones you need to see.”

Spike looked up at Giles, his vision alternating between black and red, and he began to pant heavily. It was all hitting him now: the helplessness, the reality of his failure. Rupert was filling the role of reliable father-figure, just as he always did. And him? He did what he always did when faced with the futility and uselessness that was his existence.

He ran.

Giles found him in his crypt hours later, piss drunk, half-naked, and screaming the refrain from Depeche Mode’s Blasphemous Rumours at the top of his lungs.

“I don’t want to start

Any blasphemous rumours

But I think that God’s

Got a sick sense of humour

And when I die

I expect to find

Him laughing!” he roared in gameface.

He’d ripped open the stab wounds with his nails to make them bleed again and poured an entire bottle of whiskey on them, just for the benefit of the added pain. The look on Giles face when he came in convinced Spike that Giles thought he’d gone completely crackers.

“Spike! Spike, what the hell do you think you’re doing?!”

He turned his head to look at the Watcher, his soul and demon wailing in his head.

“Kill me! Kill me, Rupert!” he cried, pointing towards the weapons chest where he kept the stakes.

Giles stormed over to him and slapped the bottle of bourbon he still had in his hand, sending it smashing to the floor. He gave a manic giggle at the sound of shattering glass.

“No,” Giles refused. “I will not.”

“Kill me! I’m an evil monster! I killed Joyce!”

“You did not. Joyce Summers’ death was not your fault.”

“But it was! It was!” he insisted, looking up at the man, begging him to understand. “I got it wrong, Rupert! It was a bloody aneurysm! Not a blood clot! And I pushed to get ‘er on soddin’ BLOOD THINNERS!”

“Which you told me yourself that she wasn’t taking because she didn’t like the side effects,” Giles replied vehemently.

“It doesn’t matter! Don’t you see! I still got it wrong and she’s still dead!”

He saw Giles attempt to keep his temper. “Spike, some times these things are just meant to happen and there’s nothing we can do.”

“Then why send me back here?! Why give me a chance to make it right if there’s nothing I can do in the first place?!”

“Maybe to help you learn what you can and cannot change. Just because Joyce still dies in this timeline, doesn’t mean you should give up. You have to believe that there is a reason why this has happened.”

“What? Now you’re tellin’ me to believe there’s a bleedin’ higher purpose to all of this? You told me that before when they shoved this damn chip in my brain! It’s was bollocks then and it’s bollocks now! I’m a useless waste of space who deserves to die! Kill me you spineless bastard! KILL ME!” he screamed, lunging for the man.

The chip fired, blinding him with even more pain and he howled, falling from atop the sarcophagus and crashing to the floor.

“I don’t have time for this, William! Buffy and Dawn need me. And I can’t be coddling you!” Giles scolded.

He began to laugh maniacally at the cosmic joke that was his unlife. He didn’t see Giles storm over to the refrigerator, pull the bag of ice he kept there for mixed drinks out and stomp back over until the bag was dumped on him, covering his naked chest with frozen ice cubes. He yowled and sputtered from the shock of cold.

“Pull yourself together and stop this nonsense! We need you. Buffy needs you and Dawn needs you,” Giles ordered.

The words only made him laugh more.

“God damn you, Spike,” Giles seethed, cracking at the seams.

“Already damned, Rupert. Now send me to Hell!”

It looked like Giles might actually do it. The man’s face went red with anger and his fists clenched, but then a new figure came into view and he calmed as Tara laid a hand on his arm.

“Tara?” Giles said, surprised.

“It’s okay, Mr. Giles. I’m here to help,” Tara answered.

“No no no no no,” Spike protested, trying to crawl away as Tara approached him.

“Spike…” the witch whispered.

“No, Glinda. Get away. Get away. I’m evil. I destroy everything I touch.”

She ignored him and knelt by his side, one hand coming around his head to press a sachet to his face.

“Breathe. They’re calming herbs: chamomile, marjoram and lavender,” she said gently.

“Vampire, don’t need to breathe,” he said, but needed to inhale in order to speak, and the fragrant scent filled his nostrils. Its effects were immediate and he began to calm down. Aromatherapy was so much more powerful on vampires because of their heightened sense of smell.

“Shhh. Just breathe,” Tara soothed.

“Tara. Oh thank god,” Giles said.

“I thought you might be coming here and suspected that you could use my help, so I followed you,” she admitted.

“It was a foolish thing to do, but I’m glad you did. I admit that I am at a loss and out of patience.”

“Buffy and Dawn are your primary concerns. I understand that. It’s okay. I can take care of him,” she assured.

“I need to go check on Buffy, but I don’t want to leave you with him. It’s too dangerous for you to walk back alone.”

“Willow knows I’m here. I have a spell. I can call her if I need…”

“Don’t leave me with her, Rupert,” he begged. “I’m evil. I’ll hurt her. I won’t mean to…”

“Hush,” Tara said. “You’re not evil, Spike.”

“But I am…”

She stroked back his hair tenderly and looked him in the eye. “I can see your soul, Spike. I know you won’t hurt me.”

“But I killed Joyce.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“But it was. I got it wrong.”

“You did everything you could,” she insisted.

“But it didn’t work. And I tried,” he told her, the grief coming up as his rage faded.

“I know you did, Spike.”

“I did. I swear I did. I tried, Glinda. I tried so hard,” he repeated, needing her to understand.

“I believe you.”

“I did. Really I did…”

“I know.”

The anger was gone and only despair was left, and he couldn’t hold it back anymore. It swelled in him, rushing up like a storm surge, and came pouring out. As it crested and broke, Tara took him into her arms and held him as he cried.

*******

“The funeral is tomorrow,” Giles told him sadly.

Spike nodded, huddling in upon himself and taking a sip of the tea Glinda had left for him. Vampire Prozac in valerian, kava and chamomile. He was sitting on Giles’ couch, drained, exhausted and lost.

“It’s a daytime ceremony, unfortunately. For all of Sunnydale’s Hellmouth-induced ignorance, they are reluctant to hold evening burials,” the man continued.

“S’ok. Don’t deserve to go to her funeral anyway,” he replied.

“Spike, I…”

“Here, before I forget…” he interrupted, pulling a large manila envelope from the ubiquitous folds of his duster, and offering it to Giles.

Giles took it and peered inside, seeing the papers and cash.

“What is this?”

“We gotta take care of our girls, Rupert. Most of Joyce’s life insurance’ll be eaten up by medical bills. I hocked everythin’ I could. Those are the slips for the accounts I set up for Buffy and Dawn after I killed the Sobek cobra demon. Put the cash in them, split 70-30 with Buffy gettin’ the lion’s share. She’s gonna be Dawn’s guardian and she’ll need help.”

Giles looked in the envelope again, humbled. “Thank you, Spike. I’ll be sure to add my own contribution when I make the deposits.”

He nodded and took another sip of the tea. It tasted weird, but at least it didn’t remind him of hot chocolate. He couldn’t stand the thought of cocoa right now.

“What are we gonna do, Rupert?”

“The same as we have been: use your knowledge to affect the outcome.”

“Didn’t work for Joyce. Plan’s not workin’. We need a new plan,” he insisted.

“I don’t think we can take Joyce’s death as a sign that our current plan isn’t working. I truly believe that there was nothing we could have done to save her,” Giles insisted.

“Would’ve if I’d gotten it right. I dunno how I got it so wrong. I know Bit told me Joyce died of a blood clot.”

Giles sat down next to him, offering unwanted comfort.

“Spike, Dawn is only fourteen. It’s entirely possible that she misunderstood what killed her mother and interpreted it as a blood clot.”

He shrugged and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter now, does it.”

“Spike, it’s painfully obvious to me that you are determined to blame yourself for Joyce’s death, even though I do not think you are in any way responsible for what happened. Joyce Summers had a brain tumor. Even if she hadn’t died the same way she had before, there is no telling that the tumor wouldn’t have returned and killed her at a later date. The only comfort we can take with us is the knowledge that she didn’t suffer and that it was very quick,” Giles said gently.

“How do we know she didn’t suffer? She died alone, didn’t she? Wasn’t anyone there to know if she suffered any.”

Giles ducked his head and squeezed his eyes shut. “I… I did see the body…before she was taken away. Her face had no pain on it, no fear. I don’t think she knew what was happening. She fell on the couch and…”

“No more. Please. I…”

Giles stopped.

“I just… I couldn’t save her. Everythin’ I did, everythin’ I tried was for nothin.’ She still died. What if… what if no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I can’t save Buffy either?” he asked, pleading for Giles to offer him some hope.

“You can’t give up, Spike. We need you. We need your strength.”

“Fat lot of good I’ve done so far,” he muttered, then grabbed Giles’ wrist. “You know this changes everythin’, Watcher. We have to kill Ben now. Glory’s gonna start gaining power. We gotta take ‘im out.”

Giles shook his head. “Not yet. Some new books have just come in from the Council. I am hoping there will be some information and spells in them that can help us.”

“They’re not gonna do us any good! She’s a bleedin’ *god* Rupert! If she takes over from Benny, stoppin’ ‘er’ll be a bitch!”

“Not until I’ve exhausted all other options.”

“Damn you, Watcher!” he yelled, throwing the mug of tea and smashing it, liquid flying all over the carpet. “You still don’t trust me, do you? I’m tellin’ you. You don’t have a choice. Ben has to die or Buffy will!”

He stood up, storming over to get his coat.

“Where are you going?” Giles demanded. “Spike, you mustn’t do anything hasty!”

He pulled the coat on angrily. “Off to take care of somethin’ I can kill. Nibblet’s gonna try to mojo ‘er mum from the great beyond night after they bury ‘er. Last time, I took ‘er to Doc and he learned she was the Key. This time, not only am I *not* gonna take her to see that bastard, I’m gonna kill him before he gets anywhere near Dawn.”

With that he stalked out, slamming the door behind him, and headed for Buffy’s house. Upon confirming that both Buffy and Dawn were upstairs in their rooms, he snuck in and raided Buffy’s weapons chest for the Gruth’lak battleaxe. The battleaxe was a much more powerful weapon than Buffy realized, and he hoped it would be enough to kill whatever demon Doc happened to be. He remembered from the previous timeline that Xander had killed Doc with a sword through the heart. This time he planned to lop the bastard’s head clean off his shoulders.

He paused, listening, hearing the sounds of numb grief and silence, and his heart broke.

‘I’m sorry, Buffy. I’m sorry, Dawn. I’m so so sorry. I dunno how I’ll make it right, but I’ll try.’

He snuck back out, half of him wanting to stay and comfort the girls, but he had things that needed to be done. He found Doc’s place without any trouble. It was exactly where it had been before in the other timeline. He entered without knocking, the battleaxe tucked into his belt loop and concealed behind the duster.

“Hey. Anybody home?” he called to the dim, cluttered apartment.

A moment later Doc shuffled out of the bedroom, dressed in a robe and pajama trousers, and he had to steel himself against the wave of hate and rage he felt.

“I know you,” the demon said, surprised.

“Do you now?” Spike answered, smirking, remembering from before how Doc had said he had recognized him.

“You’re that guy. That guy who always hangs around down at the corner mart. Big into dominos, aren’t you?

“Can’t say that I am.”

“That’s crazy, isn’t it? I’d swear you were him. I mean, your hair’s a different color and you’re a vampire, but other than that…”

Doc trailed off, pensive. Spike bided his time, hand twitching with the itch to grab the axe and kill the man, but he had to wait for just the right moment. He knew from experience how fast and strong Doc really was, and knew he would only have one chance to kill him.

Finally, Doc moved closer. “How can I help you?”

“Resurrection spells. Friend of mine’s mum kicked it. Wanna know what’s to be done about it.”

“Oh, no… That’s… You don’t want to mess with that. I know a couple of tonics, make the grieving fly by…” he offered.

“She doesn’t want any tonics.”

Doc sighed, distracted and Spike moved closer. “Jeez. I don’t know…”

‘Just a little further…’

He was almost within striking range as the demon rifled through some papers and books piled on one of the tables. Then Doc paused and sniffed the air.

“What is that…?” He rounded on Spike, eyes wide. “You have a soul!”

“That’s right, mate.”

“But there’s only one vampire with a soul and he’s in Los Angeles.”

“Newsflash, mate. There’s two of us now, only I’m better lookin’ and not a bleedin’ poofter,” he replied, closing the distance between them quickly, reaching behind him for the axe.

“Who are you?” Doc asked, still off guard and obviously confused. It gave Spike the brief seconds he needed.

“Your executioner,” he answered, whipping out the axe.

He swung before Doc had a chance to react and sheared the demon’s head from his body. The body fell with a heavy whomp, writhed for a moment, then lay still as the head rolled a few paces away. He looked down at the head, saw the eyes go black, then blank and the mouth drop open.

“Not gettin’ anywhere near my Bit,” he said to the lifeless head.

Assured that the demon was dead, he started a fire in the fireplace and threw the head in. He waited until he saw it start to burn, then picked up the battleaxe and headed out. He left the door wide open.

*******

Someone called the poofter. He wasn’t sure who and he was fairly certain it wasn’t Buffy or Dawn. If he had to guess, he would pick Willow as the likely candidate. Didn’t matter, really, who called him, only that he was there comforting Buffy on the night of her mother’s funeral.

It looked like they were keeping Vigil by the fresh grave, although with the way they were sitting, he doubted Buffy even knew that was what they were doing. Trust Peaches to figure he was ‘protecting’ Buffy by not telling her about Vigil, and the necessity of keeping watch over a loved one’s grave the first few nights after burial. The first night was the most dangerous, of course. That was when the body was freshest and most useful. The longer the body stayed in the ground, the less likely it was that someone would try to raise it or take it.

Almost no one was dumb enough to raise a body that had been rotting for more than a couple of weeks… Willow being an exception, of course, having waited 147 days to perform her resurrection spell. She had been extremely lucky that the spell had worked out as well as it did. More often than not, what came back was a caricature of what had been, and a seriously flawed one at that. It wasn’t the first time he had suspected that Red had gotten some help from sources Higher Up.

So there he was, ready to stand Guard for Joyce’s Vigil and he found himself usurped by Angel the Magnificent, swooping in like a brooding poofter to play the sympathetic hero and get all snuggly with Buffy. It made him want to heave. Trust Angel to show up when Buffy was weakest and neediest, just to rub it in her face that they couldn’t be together and that she needed a “normal” life. Angel never could take Buffy when she was strong. Her strength unnerved him, unlike Spike who was drawn to and thrilled by Buffy at her strongest. It might have had something to do with Angelus’ egoist streak. Even as an unsouled demon, Angelus could never stand to lose to anyone or anything.

The axe itched in his hand and he fingered the blade, feeling the sharp edge cut into the pad of his finger. The pain made him wince but refocused him. He knew he had to stay away from them. Angel was sure to sense his soul and it was no good if Buffy found out. Joyce’s grave was safe for the night. He would come back the following night in time to catch Dawn trying to cast her resurrection spell. In the meantime, he wasn’t sure if Angel had sensed him, or if Buffy had mentioned him, so he was reluctant to go home. He walked around aimlessly for a while then ended up at Giles’ doorstep. Knocking faintly on the door, he half hoped that the man would be too drunk to answer, but he had no such luck.

A bedraggled and weary Giles opened the door and blinked at him. “Spike?”

“Hello Watcher. May I come in?”

Giles stepped back, allowing Spike to move past him.

“How are you doing? I haven’t seen you since…” Giles began.

Spike placed the battle axe gently down on the table and responded. “Been alright. Killed me a demon. Doc, the bloke I told you about, the one who cut Dawn on the tower.”

“That… that’s good. I just hope you haven’t acted too rashly.”

Spike shrugged. “There’s nothin’ we could have learned from him that I don’t already know.”

He sat down on the couch and hung his head. “Went to stand Vigil. Found Buffy there with Angel. Somebody must’ve called him.”

“Angel is here? Are you sure?”

Spike nodded. “Yeah. Can’t miss ‘im. Mr. All Broody and Hair Gel. Snugglin’ with Buffy. Comfortin’ her…”

Giles retrieved his glasses and cleaned them. “Yes, well, perhaps that is what she needs right now. Lord knows, she wasn’t accepting any comfort from any of us.”

“Poof likes ‘er weak. Never could stand it when she was strong. Wanted ‘er dependant. That way he could control ‘er. Angelus doesn’t like his women strong. Queen Bitch Darla was enough for him,” he muttered.

“Having met Darla, I would concur that she was ah… very spirited.”

Spike laughed without mirth. “Wouldn’t call ‘er that, but okay.”

Giles sat next to him. “You look… worn. You haven’t been eating have you.”

Spike shook his head. “Haven’t been able to. Can’t stomach anythin’ right now. ‘S’all messed up. Killin’ Doc helped tho.”

“Are you sure he’s dead? You said that you and Xander had killed him before.”

Spike nodded. “Cut of ‘is head and threw it in the fireplace. Unless his headless body can stand up and pull ‘is head out of a bleedin’ fire, my guess is that he’s dead.”

“That would seem logical, yes.”

“Felt good. Used the battle axe I gave Buffy for her birthday. Went an’ got it. I’ll put it back when I get a chance.”

“I’m sure Buffy would appreciate that.”

Spike shrugged. “Doubt she’ll even know I used it. Blade was clean. She probably’s never even taken it out for a spin.”

“How did you get that axe, really?”

Spike snorted. “I killed the owner, of course. ‘S the only way to get a Gruth’lak battle axe.”

“And you did this how long ago?”

“About sixty years ago.”

Giles sat back, thinking. “I must say that I am impressed. From everything I have heard, Gruth’lak demons are very strong and extremely difficult to kill.”

Spike looked away, pain flashing across his features. “They are, but I had incentive. Blighter was after Dru.”

Uncomfortable silence fell between the two men until Giles stood and fetched drinks for them both.

“I’m no stranger to grief, y’know,” Spike commented, accepting the bourbon gratefully. “My Da and little sis both died before I was turned. I knew loss and mourning clothes well. I thought I was done with grievin’ but now…”

Giles sat next to him again. “Well, I’m sure the soul is feeling the pain quite keenly.”

Spike shook his head. “No Watcher, you don’t get it. I grieved for Joyce *before* I got the bloody soul. First time ‘round it hit me like an axe in the chest. Feels the same now.”

He drank the bourbon, glad for the burn of the alcohol even though it hit his empty stomach. “Can I sleep here, Watcher? Dunno if Peaches saw me, but I don’t fancy wakin’ up on fire. ‘Sides, Poof is bound to see the bloody soul and tell Buffy.”

“Spike, do you think it’s wise to keep your soul a secret from Buffy?”

“Tellin’ her would leave more questions than answers, Rupert. Best not to say anything until after the Hell Bitch is dead.”

“I will respect your wishes for now, but you do know that you can’t keep it from her forever, don’t you?”

“Watcher, if I can keep ‘er from takin’ that swan dive off the tower, I will tell ‘er anything she ever wanted to know. I’d even sing it, I’d be so damn happy,” he replied wearily.

“Yes, well, I doubt the singing will be necessary.”

Spike took another sip from his bourbon, ignoring the roiling of his stomach. “Why not? Might surprise you. I got a decent voice. We could make a nice duet, you an me. Kinda like Sid Vicious meets Barry Manillow.”

Giles’ head shot up, his face indignant. “I kindly ask you not to insult me by comparing me to Barry Manillow. I fancy myself more of a Bob Geldof type of performer.”

Spike snickered. “Boomtown Rats…”

“They were a very nice band in the seventies,” Giles sniffed.

“Velvet Underground was better.”

“This from a man who thinks punk rock is a classic musical artform.”

“Ramones all the way, baby,” he said with a wry grin, smiling for the first time in what seemed like ages.

“I Want to Be Sedated. Yes, of course.”

“Now now, Watcher, you forget I’ve lived with you. I know your dirty secrets. You’ve got Ted Nugent records hidden in your closet.”

“How did you…? You’ve been snooping in my bedroom.”

Spike did his best to look innocent and drank down the rest of his drink. “What can I say, Watcher. Evil.”

“Of that, I have no doubt,” Giles answered wryly.

“Evil who is out of alcohol. Refill, Rupes?” he asked, holding up his empty glass.

Giles rolled his eyes but poured him two more fingers of bourbon.

“Shall I put on Cream while we drink ourselves into oblivion,” the man offered, pouring himself another drink.

Spike waved his hand at the stereo. “Knock yourself out, Watcher.”

Giles rifled through his collection and pulled out the album he and Joyce had listened to during the ill-fated evil candy episode. As the guitar rift from the first song came out of the stereo, he closed his eyes and remembered.

Spike leaned back against the couch cushions and listened to the music. The glass of bourbon rested, untouched, between his legs, and he ignored the tears that slid down his cheeks.

********

He carried the axe with him on his back when he left Rupert’s to head for the cemetery on the following night. He knew he wouldn’t need it, but he had to make Nibblet think that he had come to protect Joyce’s grave. Dawn was smart enough to notice if he didn’t have a weapon, and would be sure to ask questions later.

Sure enough, just as he had done before, he found Dawn kneeling by the fresh grave. The teen looked small and broken, and she was fighting back tears as she read from the book she had stolen from the Magic Box. He saw her collect some dirt from the grave, swallowed the lump in his throat and stepped up.

“I hope it’s just dirt you’re after,” he said grimly, making Dawn gasp and reel to face him.

“If the spell calls for anything more than that, you’re into Zombie territory.”

“Spike! I wasn’t…” she tried, desperate.

“I know good and well what you’re up to. That book you’re holding is infamous.”

The look on her face almost broke him- almost. But he knew too well how badly resurrection spells could go, Buffy’s resurrection not withstanding, and he choked every time he thought of Joyce coming back as a mindless zombie.

“Please. Don’t tell Buffy. I can’t… I… I just have to get her back. I have to,” Dawn pleaded.

“Dawn,” he said softly, lowering himself to kneel next to her. “I miss your mum. She was good and decent and I liked her a lot. And because I liked her and looked to her as I would my own mum, I can’t let you go through with this spell.”

“But I need her. Buffy… she’s always so busy, and I’m nothing but a burden to her… and with Glory looking for the Key…”

The tears started rolling down Dawn’s cheeks and he reached over to brush them away with his thumb.

“Dawn, Buffy loves you very much. It’s just that Slayers have a hard time with the softer emotions coz their lives are so hard.”

“But, I need my mom,” the teen sobbed. “I have to get her back. Willow said… she showed me…”

“Did Wills give you this book?” he asked, trying to hide the anger in his voice.

Dawn recoiled a little bit. “N…no, but she showed me another book, one that she and Tara have, that talked about this one.”

“So you nicked it from the Magic Box,” he prodded.

She looked ashamed and nodded. “Yes. And the spell ingredients.” She looked at him, begging. “It says I can bring Mom back. The spell says it raises the dead.”

“Yeah, and the dead don’t take too kindly to it. Trust me, Bit, your mum deserves to rest in peace. There’s no tellin’ what you’ll get if you do that spell. Joyce could come back half rotten and without a mind,” he cautioned seriously.

“But the spell…”

“Black Mojo like that is wonky, Bit, an’ it never turns out the way you think it will,” he said. “Believe me, Dawn, if I thought we could bring Joyce back and be guaranteed that she’d have all her pieces and parts in all the right places and ‘er mind intact, I’d dig ‘er up for you.” He reached for her, seeking to hold her. “But there are no guarantees. What if you brought back somethin’ that looked like your mum that either me or Buffy would have to kill?”

“I would never do that!” Dawn insisted, horrified.

Spike shook his head. “No guarantees, Sweet Bit. One wrong word, one mispronunciation, one spell component misplaced and you could have a monster on your hands. You want that?”

“No. But…” she tried.

He glanced at the book. “You read Latin?”

Dawn followed his line of sight. “No, but I have a translation…”

“Uh huh and Latin never has words that sound like each other and the spell couldn’t possibly be mistranslated,” he said, giving her an incredulous eye.

She grew angry and struck him in the chest with her small fist. He barely felt the blow.

“What do you care! You’re a soulless vampire! You can’t feel emotions and grief!”

“Singin’ Big Sis’s song, are we now?” he growled angrily.

“I need my mother back!”

“And I’m sayin’ what comes back won’t be your mum!”

“I don’t care!”

“Yes, you do,” he countered, stung and hurt by her words. “You think I don’t feel pain? You think I don’t miss your mum? Who was it that brought ‘er chocolates and looked in on ‘er? Who was it that watched telly and talked about Passions? I loved your mum. She was kind and good and took care of me even though I’m a demon. She never treated me like a freak. I…”

He stopped, wiping away the tears that came unbidden to his eyes. “I loved Joyce like my own mum. I loved her, I did. And I’d have saved ‘er if I could’ve.” He hardened and turned to Dawn, grim-faced. “But Joyce is dead, and nothin’ we do is gonna change that, and she’d want me to honor her memory by makin’ sure the daughters she loved stay alive. And that includes stoppin’ you from makin’ a huge mistake.”

Gritting his teeth, he reached over and grabbed her wrist, holding it firm but not tightly enough to hurt her. Then he stood, hauling her to her feet with him as she struggled.

“No!” she yelled, punching at him with her free hand.

He shook his head. “No axe for you tonight, Sweet Bit, and I won’t let you kick me in the jewels again. I’m takin’ you home to Buffy.”

“No! You can’t! I won’t go!” she cried, digging in her heels as he tried to pull her away from the fresh grave.

“Don’t have much say in it, Bit. Vampire strength here.”

“I’ll scream. I swear I will,” she threatened.

“And bring every vamp and nasty within hearing distance down on us. Buffy’s home, Bit. I took patrol for her tonight,” he told her, walking forward.

She stumbled and almost fell. He caught her around the waist, holding her up, but ready to defend himself if it proved to be a ruse. She leaned limply against him, crying.

“You don’t understand. I need her, Spike! I need... She… Who… who’ll take care of me…”

Her broken sobs cut him to the quick and he wrapped his arms around her.

“I will, Bit. You’ve got me. You’ve still got me. You’ll always have me.”

“But she understood… she…”

He stroked her hair and hugged her close. “I know, Bit. I know.”

She broke down completely then and collapsed in his arms, weeping uncontrollably. He held her, letting his own tears roll down his cheeks and fall into her hair.

“Spike?” a new voice said hesitantly, and he turned his head to see Willow and Tara standing there. He fixed the redhead with an angry glare, but said nothing.

“Is everything all right?” Willow asked worriedly, and not a little guiltily.

Behind her, Tara saw the book and spell components and gasped, hurrying forward.

“No worries, Glinda. She didn’t get too far with it.”

Tara quickly gathered up the book and stolen items while Willow looked helplessly on.

“Bit tells me you put the bug in her ear,” he said evenly, letting some of his ire creep into his voice.

“Me? N… no. Not really. I wasn’t… I didn’t mean to…” the witch stammered, flushing.

“Willow thought the book she showed Dawn was just a history book. She didn’t know that it referred to specific spells and grimores,” Tara explained.

Spike raised an eyebrow at Tara and he knew that she saw that he was unconvinced, but neither was willing to further the discussion.

“Dawn,” Tara said, addressing the teen who was huddled in Spike’s arms.

“Save it, Glinda. I already read her the riot act. Now I just want to get ‘er home to Big Sis.”

“Oh, we can do that…” Willow offered, but stopped when Dawn recoiled further into Spike’s embrace.

“I think Nibblet wants Big Bad to take her home. I can better protect her when Buffy throws her fit when she finds out what Little Sis was up to.”

“You’re sure she didn’t get far with the spell?” Tara questioned.

Spike shook his head. “I’m sure. She was just gettin’ the grave dirt when I arrived.”

Tara’s mouth thinned into a grim line, but she gave a wordless nod. “You get her home, Spike. We’ll do… clean up here.”

Spike nodded back and lifted Dawn into his arms. She didn’t protest and tucked her face into the lapel of his duster.

“Thank you, Spike,” Tara said seriously as he moved to carry Dawn home. “I’ll… I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He gave a small nod to acknowledge that he had heard her then slowly walked off. They didn’t speak as he carried her from the cemetery to her home on Revello. There was nothing really that could be said. Each carried their grief like a heavy shroud that wrapped around them and suffocated words in their throats. Dawn kept one small hand curled into the leather of his coat, her head resting lightly against his shoulder as he walked, taking her ever closer to her fate.

He knocked lightly on the front door of the Summers’ home, dark and silent as a tomb, and immediately heard running footsteps hurrying to answer. The door flew open to reveal a disheveled Buffy, still in her rumpled clothes.

“Dawn!” she cried, seeing her sister in the vampire’s arms. “Oh my god! Where have you been? What did you do?”

“Now, now, Slayer, lay off a bit. Nibblet’s fine. Found ‘er by your mum’s grave, but she’s all right now. All safe and sound,” he said, stepping inside.

“You went to the cemetery? At night? Dawn, are you crazy?”

Dawn gave Spike a frightened look, then realized that he wasn’t going to tell Buffy about the spell.

“I… I went there to… to try to bring Mom back,” she admitted, knowing that if Spike didn’t tell Buffy, Tara and Willow surely would.

“You what?” Buffy demanded.

Spike sighed, both surprised and proud that Dawn had come clean with her sister. Dawn struggled in his embrace to he set her down gently on her feet.

“I found her gatherin’ grave dirt for a spell. Stopped ‘er before it got too far.”

Buffy stared, shocked and horrified.  “Dawn. How could you? How…?”

“To get her back, okay? I wanted her back,” Dawn replied, her earlier anger returning full force.

“Dawn!

“You have no idea what you were messing with! Who knows what you could have actually raised – what might have come through that door!” Buffy scolded. “Tara told me those spells go bad all the time. People come back *wrong.*”

“But I need her. I don’t care if she’s… I’m not like you, Buffy, I don’t have anybody!” Dawn yelled back, tears spilling over.

“What? Of course you do. You have me,” Buffy gasped, shocked.

“I don’t! You won’t even look at me! It’s so obvious you don’t want me around!” Dawn insisted.

“That’s - that’s not true,” Buffy stammered, casting Spike a glance.

He shook his head grimly. He wasn’t going to get involved here. Buffy and Dawn needed to have this out. Buffy needed to see how much her sister needed her.

“It is! And the way you’ve been acting! Mom *died* and it’s like you don’t even care!”

Buffy’s eyed widened with horror and pain.

“God - of course I care. Of course I do. How can you think that?”

“How can I not? You haven’t even cried! You’ve just been running around like it’s all been some big chore - cleaning up after mom’s mess…” Dawn seethed.

Buffy, still appalled by Dawn’s accusation, lost her temper and slapped Dawn across the face. Even as Spike took a step forward, his face concerned, Buffy’s hand flew to her mouth and she stared at her sister.

Both girls were shaking and Buffy began to unravel, her careful control beginning to fray at the edges as her anguish began to emerge, and she started to cry.

“I’ve been working - I’ve been busy, because I have to… be…” Buffy choked, tears running down her face.

“You don’t. You’re avoiding me.”

“I’m *not.* I have to do these things, ‘cause… ‘cause when I stop, then she’s really…gone. And I’m trying, really trying to take care of things… But I don’t even know what I’m doing… Mom, she always knew…”

“Nobody’s asking you to be Mom,” Dawn insisted.

“Well, who’s going to be if I’m not? Huh, Dawn? Have you thought about that? Who’s going to make things better? Who’s going to take care of us?”

Buffy wept openly, desperately as Dawn and Spike watched, helpless, as Buffy fell apart. Seeing her there, small and looking more childlike than he’d ever seen her, Spike fought to keep his own tears at bay. Dawn wasn’t so lucky.

“Buffy…” she sobbed, reaching for her sister.

“I didn’t mean to push you away… I didn’t… I just didn’t want you to see me… I mean… Oh, God… What are we going to do, Dawny? I’m just so scared…”

The sisters embraced, crying, the weight of their bodies dragging them to the floor in a tangled heap as they clung to each other. Unable to bear the sight of his two girls in such pain, and still feeling the terrible guilt of his failure, Spike staggered out, leaving the front door open. He could still hear their heart wrenching sobs long after he had stumbled away from the house and he collapsed against a tree, his own sobs ripping their way out of his throat like razorblades.

‘I promise. I promise you, Joyce. I’ll save your daughters. I’ll keep them safe, even if I have to die doing it. I lost you, Joyce. I won’t lose Buffy too. I failed you. I won’t fail again. Never again.’

For once, the demon and the soul were in complete accord.

 

Chapter Text

He was nervous. Why was he nervous? He had very valid reasons for doing what he did and even Rupert agreed with him. So why was it that, now that the moment had come, he felt like a deviant caught playing games with sheep?

He cleared his throat but couldn’t look at his audience. “See, it’s like this,” he began, faltering. “Remember that Warren geek? The one who made the robot girlfriend?”

He glanced up. Xander, Willow, Tara and Anya were still looking at him with expectant eyes.  He looked down again.

“Well, I thought… I thought that maybe… It might be a good idea…”

“Spike, what did you do?” Tara asked bluntly but gently.

He sighed and rolled his eyes, his hands dropping to his sides. “Oh, bloody hell.”

Shrugging his shoulders back, he reached over to open the training room door and gestured them in. They went, casting him suspicious glances as they passed. He closed his eyes and managed to count to six before he heard Xander yell.

“You sick bastard!” the young man accused.

He gritted his teeth and entered the training room, ready to face his fate and defend his position. He found them all gathered in wide-eyed horror around the deactivated Buffy-bot.

“It’s not what you think!” he insisted.

“Oh, so I am not seeing a robot that looks just like Buffy. One that was made by that wacko who made his own personal sexbot?” Xander seethed.

If he could have blushed, he would have. “Well. Yeah. But she’s not a sexbot! I mean, yeah, she looks like Buffy…”

“Exactly like Buffy. This guy’s really good,” Willow commented, examining the robot.

“I know, and that’s what gave me the idea. Now we have a *decoy.* The ‘bot’s almost as strong as Buffy and we can program it to *fight,*” he explained.

“The robot Warren made was very strong,” Anya agreed. “And another Buffy might prove useful.”

“That is *not* Buffy,” Xander argued.

“Of course it isn’t Buffy,” Spike snapped back. “But I doubt the Hell Bitch is smart enough to figure it out.”

“You want to use this against Glory,” Willow said, her eyes widening at the possibilities.

He touched a finger to his nose then pointed it at the redhead. “Bingo. And that’s why I mentioned it to Rupert.”

“Wait a minute. *Giles* knew about this?” Xander interupped.

He blinked at them. “Well, yeah. How else was I gonna get Buffy’s clothes and pictures? Steal them from her basement?” ‘Like I did last time…’

“I don’t understand why Giles never said anything to us about it,” Willow wondered.

“We weren’t sure how it would turn out so we were keepin’ mum. It’s just a coincidence that Warren finished it just after Rupert took Buffy on her little Vision Quest. But it works out because now we can take her out on patrol while Buffy is gone and see how she… it does,” he explained.

Willow walked around the robot, scrutinizing it. “Can it fight?”

He rubbed his neck. “Well… not exactly.”

“Explain not exactly,” Xander demanded.

“Well, I couldn’t very well tell that Warren geek that I needed a robot of the Slayer to fight a Hell God, now could I?”

“That would seem rather peculiar,” Anya replied.

“Yeah, it would. So I made him think that this was a robot of a girl I wanted but couldn’t have.” ‘Sometimes the best lies have grains of truth…’

“So it is a sexbot,” Xander said.

“No! Well, not really. It is programmed to kinda like me…”

“As in likes to have its tongue down your throat?” Xander snapped.

“No! Well, maybe, I dunno. You’re missin’ the point!”

“And the point is?” Xander prodded.

“I did have him program it to fight in certain situations. Role playing scenarios and the like…”

“Oh! Dominance games!” Anya piped up gleefully.

“Yeah, kinda,” he admitted. He cast a glance at Tara who was desperately trying not to laugh.

“Oh, so now we not only have a sexbot that looks like Buffy, we have a sexbot that looks like Buffy who is programmed to be a Dominatrix,” Xander growled.

“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite that way. She… it is going to need some reprogramming, but I know you can do it, Red.”

A giggle escaped Tara’s lips.

“How do we turn it on?” Willow asked.

“Um, there’s a button, on her back.  A little spot on the spine down towards the middle of the back,” he replied.

He saw Willow feel around for the button and heard the click-whir of the robot turning on, but he wasn’t ready for what happened next.

The ‘bot’s eyes opened and it smiled when it saw him, just as it had it the previous timeline. He was so shocked by the twisted deja-vu that hit him and the feelings of guilt and shame that struck, that he was completely unprepared for the assault.

“Spike! Oh Spike!”

The ‘bot flew at him, grabbing his face and kissing him passionately. Then it twisted him around, threw him down to the training room floor and straddled him.

“You’re mine, Spike!”

“Red! Red! Off switch! OFF SWITCH!” he yelled, trying to fend off the quickly roving fingers.

A moment later, the ‘bot fell limp and he was able to pull himself out from under it with most of his pride intact. Xander looked sickened, but Willow andTara were laughing silently.

“Well, that was truly perverted and disgusting,” Xander said.

“I dunno. I thought it was kinda cute how she just flattened him like that,” Willow commented.

“She was very direct,” Anya noted with a nod.

“Maybe he likes them that way. All blunt and down to business,” Willow furthered.

“Some do. There’s a certain attraction to bluntness. Besides, vampires are known to like violent sex. Blood play is usually involved.”

“Ewww. Ahn, I did not need to know that,” Xander complained.

“It can be very erotic and sexually satisfying,” the ex-vengeance demon said reasonably.

“Ahn, stop! Stop!”

Spike groaned. “If you’re quite finished making fun of me and making assumptions about my *preferences,* I’ll leave you to your work of reprogramming it to not jump me.”

He moved to leave while he still had some pride left, but Willow put a hand on his arm and stopped him.

“Oh no you don’t, Mister. You’re gonna stay here and help me reprogram her. I can’t very well program her not to jump you if you’re not around to be jumped.”

“And it could prove amusing to see you tossed to the floor a few more times. I think Xander would find it very satisfying,” Anya added.

‘I’m doomed,’ he thought, but sighed, giving over and following Willow back to the deactivated robot.

It took most of the afternoon for Willow to work through Warren’s complex programming, but she did manage to get the robot to stop sexually assaulting him. She was not, however, able to completely remove all of the robot’s attraction and affection towards him. It made for interesting troubles in reprogramming her fighting skills. Every time she threw him across the room and seemed to actually hurt him, she’d take to apologizing profusely and seek to ‘make it better.’ The women were continually amused by the sight of him getting pummeled then doted on, but Xander left after the third or fourth time it happened.

Finally, the robot was deemed ready, and that was fine with him because his bruises were starting to sprout bruises. Given the evil glint in Willow’s eyes, he wasn’t entirely certain that she hadn’t orchestrated some of the more creative beatings that the robot had doled out. Maybe she wasn’t as accepting of his reasons for having Warren make the Buffy-bot as she said she was, and she found it therapeutic to have the robot crush him to the cement a few more times than was actually necessary. Whatever her reasoning, he was glad for the reprieve and the robot was deactivated to await its first patrol.

Night came more quickly than he thought it would and he really wasn’t ready to step out of the cool refuge of the training room. There was naught to be done for it, however. The bot had to prove her mettle and there were vamps to kill. He remembered well the first time he had lived through this night. He’d woken to find his robot gone and felt a sudden terror that she had gone out without him. His fear turned out to be well founded because she’d unerringly run right into Xander and Anya in the graveyard. They hadn’t known then that the facsimile hadn’t been Buffy, and they’d gotten an eyeful when he and his new toy had played out another one of his fantasies right there on the grass. But all in all, he had to smile, knowing that Xander thought the real Buffy had been straddling him that night, riding him like a champion and crying her pleasure to whomever could hear. It was amazing the boy hadn’t popped a blood vessel and bled to death right there.

There would be no hanky-panky on this night, and he and his robot were flanked by Willow as well as the whelp and his demon-girl. Willow was lax to allow her new project to go out on her first patrol without the full support of the Scoobie Gang. They entered Shady Rest and traveled east from there, looking for any sign of evil afoot. They found none.

Spike kept an extra eye out for Glory’s minions. He knew that previously Glory had discovered that the Key was in human form and had sent her minions to spy on the gang in order to determine the Key’s identity. The Buffy-bot’s fierce protectiveness of him had made the minions think that he was the Key, and it had resulted in his subsequent kidnapping and torture. He was hoping he had managed to avoid that this time around. Since he had been sent back, he had been working very hard to ensure that Glory stayed in the dark about the Key’s true form, and part of that had been making sure Buffy stayed away from Ben. He’d been mostly successful in that endeavor, although Buffy had told him that she’d run into ‘that intern from the hospital’ a few times. There were no offers for coffee or flirtatious encounters this time around, though, and no real opportunity for Ben to discover that Dawn was the Key… well, except for the night in the mental ward. Ben had been there. He might have heard that crazy Knight call Dawn the Key It was possible that Glory now knew the Key was human, but so far he hadn’t seen any evidence of the Hell Bitch’s minions snooping around.

Things didn’t pick up in the patrol department until they reached their third cemetery. Then it seemed that all of the vamps they’d missed in the other two sought them out all at once. The fighting got pretty heated for a little while, but the ‘bot held her own against them and dusted quite a few of them without any assistance. It left him free to watch the others and keep them all safe. A couple of times he got into it with one of the more powerful vamps and got knocked around a bit, but other than making the ‘bot get all defensive and worried about his welfare, he was fine.

They finished their patrol and headed back to the Magic Box to turn off the ‘bot for the night.

“There. All safe and sound,” Willow announced, setting the ‘bot up in a corner of the training room. “And she didn’t do too badly either.”

“No, she… it fought pretty good out there tonight. Dusted what? Eight vamps?” Xander commented.

“Somethin’ like that,” Spike agreed.

“Well, I have to get back home. Tara is with Dawn and I’m sure she’s worried,” Willow said.

Spike nodded. “Be seein’ you then. Buffy and the Watcher should be back soon and we’ll break the news of our newest weapon to ‘em. I’ll toddle off to my crypt and pop by tomorrow night. Tell the Bit I said hi.”

“I will. Thanks, Spike,” Willow said brightly, setting off to leave.

Spike watched them go then let himself out the back door and headed down the alley. He was already three blocks away when he heard footsteps running to catch up.

“Hey, Spike. Wait up!” Xander’s voice called.

Surprised, he stopped and turned around, waiting for the young man to come jogging up to him.

“Harris? Somethin’ wrong?” he asked, confused.

Xander stopped to catch his breath and Spike waited as patiently as he could for him to be able to speak.

“I… I just wanted to talk to you,” Xander admitted between gasps.

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” The man paused, calming and looking thoughtful. “Look. I know I gave you a hard time about the robot. But I wanted to tell you that I think it was a good idea. That thing fought really well tonight and I think you could be right about being able to use it against Glory. I mean, even if it was originally supposed to be some sick sex toy, you brought it to us to use and anything we can get to help us right about now is a good thing. Besides, I know you’ve been trying to help us a lot lately and I haven’t been very accepting of that.”

The words came out in a rush and Spike smirked.

“Wills put you up to this, didn’t she?” he commented.

Xander couldn’t hide the guilty look, but Spike had to give him points for trying.

“No!” he lied. “No, she didn’t…” Spike leveled him with a look and he caved. “Okay, okay. She did. I admit it. She pointed out that I haven’t been very forthcoming with the thanks lately.”

Spike pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He’d all but stopped smoking, but he was getting nervous and uncomfortable, and a nicotine hit would calm him down.

“You don’t owe me anything, Harris.”

The words brought Xander up short and his mouth thinned into a grim line. “No. I don’t. But neither do you. You could have left Sunnydale any time, but you haven’t. You’ve stayed and protected Dawn and tried to help us. I don’t understand why, and I do question your motives, but the truth is, you’ve been helping and that deserves a thank you.”

Spike looked away, drawing on his cigarette. “Got nowhere else to go. Can’t hunt. Can’t feed. Initiative boys buggered me up, right and good. Demon needs violence and the only way I can get it, is huntin’ other demons. Doesn’t make me too popular with the home team, y’know. Best help the Slayer, ally myself wi’ ‘er and get protection and a decent spot of violence at the same time. Other nasties know I’m in good with the Slayer, they think twice aboutcomin’ after me. Works out for both of us. Can’t have some skanky Hell Bitch messin’ that up, can we?”

“I guess not,” Xander admitted, unconvinced.

“And there you have it. The great mystery of William the Bloody solved. I help because I don’t want anything buggerin’ up my cushy setup here inSunnyhell,” he shrugged, trying to deflect Xander’s scrutinizing gaze.

“Right, and that includes babysitting Dawn and guarding Joyce’s grave.”

“I…”

Xander cut him off. “Look. I dunno what’s going on, but Willow told me about you stopping Dawn from casting that resurrection spell, and Tara’s been pushing all of us to be nicer to you. Now, I have no idea what your ulterior motives are, and I probably don’t want to know, but I did want to acknowledge that we’ve noticed your help and I wanted to say thanks. That’s all.”

Spike looked at him and swallowed the lump that formed in his throat, managing a tight nod. “You’re welcome.”

“Gentlemen…” came a sibilant voice from behind them.

Spike and Xander turned around to see one of Glory’s minions standing behind them.

“I'm so sorry to intrude, but I wondered if I could beg a minute of your time?” the minion asked.

Spike turned to Xander. “Get out of here, Harris. Now.”

“What the Hell is going on?” Xander blurted, fists clenching as two more minions appeared.

“Run you idiot!” Spike ordered.

Xander looked from Spike to the minions then back to Spike. Knowledge of the very real and present danger they were in dawned in his eyes and they opened wide. Spike did his best to place himself between Glory’s cronies and the boy in hopes that he could defend them both, but it was not to be. To his credit, Xander did try to run, but his reaction time was a hair too slow and one of the minions slammed him into the side of a building, knocking him out. As the boy slumped to the pavement, Spike fought. He landed a few good blows, but in the end there were simply too many of them for him to overcome, and, just as they had done before, they bound his hands and dragged him off to Glory.

*******

“Hey! Hey, son. You okay?”

The voice seemed far away, but it was accompanied by a vigorous shaking of his shoulder. He groaned and tried to open his eyes. Pain lanced through his head and he groaned, one arm reaching up to finger the nasty lump that had formed on the back of his skull.

“Son? You okay?”

Responding to the insistent voice, Xander opened his eyes and his blurry vision focused on an elderly man peering down at him.

“Wh… what happened?” he asked, finding his voice.

“I don’t know, son. I got off work and found you here lying on the pavement. Looks like someone knocked you into a wall.”

Still confused and slightly disoriented, he tried to sit up and remember what happened. Looking around, he saw that it was just after dawn.

‘I must have been out for hours. It’s amazing I didn’t become a vamp snack,’ he thought.

Vamp. Snack. Spike.

It all came back in a rush. Spike, their conversation, his awkward thanks, then the scabby guys in monk’s robes jumping them. They looked like how Buffy had described Glory’s crusty minions. Whoever they were, they’d slammed him into the wall and dragged Spike away.

“Oh. Oh god. Spike. They got him.”

“Spike? Who’s Spike? Did somebody take your dog?” the man asked.

Xander struggled to his feet, shaking off the last of the disorientation. “No. He’s…” What was Spike to them anyway? Certainly not a friend, but no longer an enemy either. He didn’t have time to think about it.

“Look, I gotta go.”

“Are you sure you’re okay? Don’t you want to go to the hospital or something?”

He shook his head. “No. I gotta be somewhere. Thanks.”

He didn’t look back as he hurried towards his apartment. Judging by his watch, he’d been out for hours. That meant Spike had been in Glory’s clutches for hours and there was no telling what the god was doing to him.

‘And he knows Dawn is the Key. Can he be trusted not to tell?’

The uncertainty made him move faster and he pounded on the door when he got home. Willow opened the door, her eyes wide and frightened.

“Xander! Where’ve you been?” she asked as he pushed his way inside. “Anya came looking for you at our place. We came back here to wait for you, but you didn’t show. We were about to go looking…”

“Xander!” Anya called, rushing over. “What happened? Did you and Spike run into trouble?”

“The guys that work for Glory? Buffy said they were kinda like Hobbits with leprosy? Well, this was a whole flock of Hobbits and they grabbed Spike. I think they're taking him to Glory.”

“Oh my God,” Willow gasped. “And he knows about Dawn!”

By now Tara was awake, sitting up from the blankets piled on the floor. “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Glory’s minions took Spike,” Xander replied.

“Oh my God,” Tara blurted, repeating her lover’s exact words.

“Well, what are we going to do?” Anya questioned.

“We have to get him back,” Tara said in a voice that brooked no argument.

Her tone surprised them and they gave her odd looks.

“O… okay, but don’t we need Buffy…” Willow stammered.

“No, we have to get him back now. Before Glory hurts him. We have to find him,” Tara insisted.

“Okay…”

“How do we find him?” Xander asked.

“Oh! Maybe the bot! The bot might have some kind of homing device in it. I mean, Warren’s girlfriend-bot was able to track him here to Sunnydale,”Willow offered.

Tara was already getting out of bed. “And there’s a spell we can use. A locator spell. We can get the ingredients at the Magic Box.”

“What’s going on?” Dawn’s voice asked, tired but worried.

“Dawny!” Willow said, going to the teen and trying to downplay what was happening.

“I heard something about Spike. What’s happened to him?”

The others looked at each other. Xander had a story on his lips and he was about to speak when Tara cut him off.

“Dawn, Xander and Spike were attacked. We think Glory’s minions may have taken Spike,” she explained gently.

Dawn face filled with horror. “No. Oh no. What are we going to do? We have to find him!”

Tara tried to calm her before she became too distressed. “We’re going to go look for him. Buffy and Giles aren’t back yet. Willow is hoping that the robot Buffy has a homing device in it that is programmed to find Spike. If not, there’s a locator spell we can cast. We’re going to go to the Magic Box to get the robot and the ingredients for the spell.”

“I wanna help,” Dawn insisted.

“Dawn… it’s too dangerous…” Willow tried.

“If you try to leave me here, I’ll just follow. You’d have to chain me up or something to keep me here.”

“We could lock her in the closet,” Anya offered.

“I know how to pick locks,” Dawn countered, then added when they looked at her with shocked faces. “Spike taught me how. He said it could come in handy if any nasties ever caught me and locked me up somewhere.” She lifted her chin defiantly. “So locking me in a closet won’t do any good, I’ll just pick my way out.”

Shaking their heads and deciding that a conversation with Spike on what was and wasn’t appropriate to teach a fourteen year old girl could come after they had rescued the vampire, they headed out.

They went to the Magic Box first to collect the robot and the ingredients they needed for the locator spell. The ‘bot activated with a quiet click and the eyes popped open.

“Hello. Your name is Willow. You’re my friend,” the robot said cheerfully.

“Uh, yeah. That’s right, Buffy-bot.”

The robot looked around at all the others staring at her. Dawn made no attempt to hide her shock.

“Oh my god. I mean, you guys told me it looked just like Buffy, but…”

“Dawn!” the robot greeted happily, coming forward to give the teen a hug. Dawn wasn’t able to back away fast enough. “You’re my sister!”

“Yeah. Right,” Dawn replied, hurt.

“Uh, Buffy-bot. We kinda need your help,” Willow said, getting the robot’s attention.

The robot paused to look at all the people in the room. “Why is everyone staring at me?”

Willow cleared her throat, making the robot look at her.

“Where is Spike?” the robot asked with complete innocence.

“That’s why we need your help. Spike is missing and we need to find him. Do you know where we can find him?”

The Buffy-bot blinked several times and looked at each of the individuals in the room in turn, then looked back at Willow, blinked, and said, “No.”

“Well we were thinking that maybe Warren had put some kind of homing device in you that would help you find Spike…” Willow tried.

“No. And I don’t think I’m a robot,” she replied in the same cheerful voice.

“Um, yeah. Right.”

“I’ll get that locator spell and look up the ingredients,” Tara said, eyeing the robot and stepping out of the room.

“I’ll help you,” Dawn offered, looking for any reason to get out of the training room.

Together Tara and Dawn amassed the supplies needed in order to cast the spell.

“Now all we need is something that belonged to Spike, so we can specify him as the person we want to find,” Tara said when they were finished gathering the ingredients.

“Oh! Spike has some clothes at our house. In the basement from when he… you know,” Dawn said.

“That will do. And we should get weapons from Buffy’s house anyway,” Willow agreed.

“Let’s go,” Tara ordered, shocking them again by her forthright words and atypical assertiveness.

 They followed her out of the Magic Box, robot in tow.

Once at Buffy’s house, Dawn went into the basement to get an article of clothing that Spike had left behind from his convalescence while Tara set up the spell in the living room.

“Whoa, group play time,” Buffy said, coming into the living room.

“Buffy!” Willow greeted. “You’re back early!”

“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. “Death is my gift. Pffah.”

“Huh?” Willow asked.

Buffy shook off her memory and looked around at the others in the room.

“What’s going on?”

“Hey! You look just like me!” the Buffybot chirped.

Buffy stared at the robot, her eyes wide. “Oh. My. God.”

“No no, it’s not what you think,” Xander hastened.

“Buffy, I’m going to head off to the… oh good lord,” Giles said, coming into the house, but he stopped short when he saw the robot.

“You’re Mr. Giles. You’re from England,” the ‘bot beamed.

“Oh dear, I see that Warren finished it in our absence.”

Buffy rounded on her Watcher. “You knew about this?!”

Giles looked away nervously. “Well, yes, Spike and I discussed it…”

“SPIKE?”

“Whoa, whoa, wait Buffy, calm down,” Xander tried.

“Calm down? Calm down? There’s a sex bot with my face on it standing in my living room and you want me to calm down?”

“She’s not a sex bot!” Willow interrupted. “Well… not anymore. We’ve changed her programming.”

Buffy scowled. “Oh that makes me feel sooo much better. Where is he?”

“Buffy, please. Let us explain,” Willow begged.

Buffy frowned but nodded.

“After you and Giles left for your trip, Spike came to the Magic Box with the robot. He said he and Giles decided to have Warren make a robot that looked like you for us to use as a decoy against Glory. But Spike couldn’t tell Warren what we really needed the robot for, so he had him make another girlfriend-bot. Then when it was done, Spike brought it to us so we could reprogram it. Buffy, it’s really strong and it fights really well. We took it on patrol last night and it killed eight vampires all by itself,” Willow explained.

“Eight?” Buffy repeated.

“Okay, I found these,” Dawn said, coming into the room. She was carrying a black t-shirt and pair of black socks.

“Dawn, why are you carrying Spike’s clothes?” Buffy demanded.

The teen blinked at her sister. “Buffy, you’re back!” She rushed over and hugged Buffy. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re back! We need your help!”

Buffy hugged her sister then pulled back. “Okay. Okay. I go away on a vision quest where I meet up with cave-slayer, complete with dreadlocks and facial mud, and when I come back, I find all my friends in my house, a robot that looks like me standing in my living room, and my sister taking a vampire’s clothes out of the basement. What gives?”

“We need the clothes for a locator spell,” Tara said, taking the clothing from Dawn and bringing it to where she had set up the spell.

“Locator spell?” Buffy repeated, taking in the set up.

“Buffy… last night, Glory’s minions jumped me and Spike. They knocked me out and took Spike,” Xander admitted.

“Glory has Spike?” Buffy gasped.

Xander swallowed hard and nodded.

“Oh dear, this… this is awful news,” Giles stammered, cleaning his glasses and casting a glance at Tara.

“Don’t worry. We’re going to find him and bring him back,” Tara said confidently.

Giles went over to where she was preparing to cast the spell.

“A locator spell?” he asked.

Tara nodded, spreading some cornmeal into a sacred circle.

“I can help,” Giles offered.

She gave him another nod and handed him the map of Sunnydale to place in the center of the Circle.

“How long has she had him?” Buffy demanded.

“A few hours. They jumped us as we were leaving the Magic Box last night,” Xander answered. “He’s probably told her about Dawn by now.”

“NO!” Dawn cried. “Spike would never tell Glory about me. Not ever.”

“Dawn, Spike’s a vampire...”

“A vampire who loves Buffy. And he loves me too. He’d die for us. You know he would.”

“Whoa, Spike loves you?” Xander blurted, rounding on Buffy with an accusing glare.

Buffy tried to downplay the revelation. “I found out a few weeks back.”

“And you didn’t tell any of us?”

“I didn’t think it was important.”

“Not important? Another vamp falls for you, one that *already* doesn’t have a soul, and you didn’t think it was important? When were you going to tell us, Buff? After he started killing us or before?” Xander accused.

“Hey! That’s not fair! You know Spike can’t hurt any of us because of the chip. Besides, he loves me and Buffy, and he loved Mom too,” Dawn argued.

“Dawn, Spike can’t love. He’s a soulless monster who killed people for centuries,” Xander countered.

“That’s quite enough,” Giles interrupted, an edge to his voice. “We need quiet in order to cast this spell. I suggest that you gather weapons we will need to rescue Spike from Glory and be ready to leave once we know where he is.”

He and Tara shared a look, then joined hands. Willow, Dawn and Anya looked on while Buffy and Xander did as they were told and gathered weapons. Buffy pulled the Gruth’lak battleaxe out of the weapons chest and studied it, a sad frown on her face.

“So, is this, like, ‘I love you forever and I want to make you into my immortal sex slave’ love? Or is it ‘I’m scarily obsessed with you and will stalk you from the shadows’ love?” Xander asked snarkily, out of earshot of Giles and Tara.

“It’s a ‘I’ll be whatever you want, whatever you need, and I’ll never leave’ kind of love,” Buffy replied softly, lowering the axe. “It’s messy and complicated and terrifying, but it’s real, Xander. At least, it’s real to him. Giles told me Spike first told him under the truth spell, so it can’t have been one of his lies.”

“Okay, but you know… it can’t be real.”

“I don’t know anything,” she said.

“Buffy, Spike doesn’t have a soul.”

She turned to him. “I know, but…” She stopped, thinking, then shook her head. “Look, I can’t do this now. I just know that Spike would never hurt me or Dawn, and that right now he’s in trouble and we have to do what we can to save him.”

“And I know that the guy has been doing a lot for us lately, but you know he’s going to tell Glory that Dawn is the Key and you and Dawn should be heading out of town instead of us trying to rescue the soulless killer from a Hell God,” Xander countered.

“So it’s okay for us to use him and beat him and pump him for information when we need it, but he isn’t worth our efforts if he needs our help?” Buffy snapped back.

Xander shook his head and put up his hands. “I’m just saying... Spike’s a demon, Buffy. He’s not human. He doesn’t have a soul and he’ll never be Angel.”

“You think this is about Angel?” Buffy seethed.

“Isn’t it? I mean, come on, you had a thing for a vampire once. It’s logical that you could fall for another one.”

“I am not in love with Spike!” she insisted. “But he isn’t my enemy anymore and he’s helped me a lot. He deserves the benefit of the doubt here.”

Xander sighed and gathered his thoughts. “But Buffy… in order to save him we’re gonna have to find Glory.”

Buffy’s lips tightened and she nodded. “I know.”

Just then Dawn came running to find them. “We found him. Tara and Giles have the spot on the map.”

Buffy leveled an expectant look at Xander and held it until Xander looked away.

“Okay. Dawn, you and Tara stay here and be safe. The rest of us will go,” she decided, walking towards where Tara and Giles were set up. She glanced over her shoulder. “Xander, are you with us?”

The young man made an unhappy face but finally nodded. “Yeah, Buff. I’m with you.”

She gave him a soft smile.

“Let’s go.”

*******

Pain.

Pain was his world. Pain was his universe. Pain was all that was left of his mind and soul.

He remembered all too well the tortures Glory had visited upon him and her attentions were no different this time, only now he made a terrible realization. He had killed the Sobek demon before it had a chance to lead Buffy to the clearing near the apartment complex where Glory lived. Without that point of reference to start from, even if the Scoobies did come after him- which he doubted they would- they would have no idea where to even begin their search. The knowledge added an edge of dark despair to his suffering. He was truly on his own. No rescue party would arrive at the last minute to save him from this Hell Bitch’s cruelties. If he was to survive, he would have to save himself.

And he had to survive. Somehow, in spite of all his efforts, Glory still found out that the Key was in human form. It was another example of the futility of his actions. No matter what he did or how hard he tried, the events from the previous timeline still seemed to occur in the same sequence that they had taken before. Now Dawn was in serious danger again and so was Tara. He had to get out of there and find a way to kill Ben. It all came down to that one solution: killing Ben. He had wanted to kill Ben from the outset, but had allowed Giles’ adamant refusal to sway him from his task. He now recommitted himself to taking out the intern and nothing, not Buffy, not the Watcher, not even the Chip or his own death, was going to stop him.

Now all he had to do was escape from the Hell Bitch’s clutches, and get somewhere safe long enough to heal and figure out how to kill a human when the chip wouldn’t let him even *think* about hurting anyone. Gathering what was left of his strength, he prepared to taunt Glory into kicking him out of the chains so he could try to stagger his way out of the building.

‘Worked so well the last time…’

A sharp slap to the face brought him out of his thoughts and he became aware, once again, of his body hanging from the chains in the ceiling, broken and bloodied as he tried to alleviate the pressure by standing on his toes.

“I have a riddle for you, Precious. How is a vampire that won't talk like an apple?” she taunted sweetly.

She brought a knife down to his chest, and peeled away the skin, leaving a patch of exposed red flesh. He went rigid with pain and gasped.

“Think I can do you in one long strip?” she asked, flashing the knife.

Spike swallowed slowly and licked his lips. “Enough,” he whispered hoarsely. “No more. I’ll tell you who the sodden Key is.”

Glory gave him a vicious smile and pulled the knife away. “Good.”

As he had before, he tried to stall for as long as he could but it only earned him more pain and beating. Finally, he thought he had the timing about right and asked for a glass of water. Glory graciously provided him with one and held it to his lips so he could drink. She had done this for him before, and he knew that she would soon smash the glass into his face.

“Is that better? Do you think you can try to talk again now?” the hell god asked.

Taking a deep breath, he managed a nod.

“Good. Because I'm tired of these *games!*”

The glass smashed against his cheek, slicing into his flesh as it shattered.

“I need time, I need a drink… You're a very needy little bloodsucker and it's not very attractive! So start talking!” Glory demanded, throwing herself down on the couch and facing him with her legs crossed.

“Yeah, okay. The Key. Well, here's the thing…” he began, surreptitiously working to loosen the chains that held his wrists and trying to twist his hands through.

“It's that guy. On TV. What's his name?”

“On the television?” Glory repeated, incredulous.

“On that show, the Price show, where they guess what stuff costs…” he continued, casting a glance behind him to the closed front door.

“The Price is Right?” one of the minions in robes offered.

“Bob Barker!” another finished excitedly.

“We will get Bob Barker! We will bring you the limp and beaten body of Bob Barker!” the first minion said.

Glory stood up and spun on her minions with narrowed eyes. They cringed.

“It is not Bob Barker, you scabby morons!” she yelled, then approached Spike. “The Key is new to this world and Bob Barker is as old as grit.” She cameclose, her face mere centimeters from his own bloody cheeks. “The vampire is lying to me.”

He laughed thinly, with not a small hint of hysteria and bitterness in his voice as he continued to work on freeing his hands.

“Yeah,” he admitted. “But it was fun. And guess what, bitch? I'm not tellin’ you jack. You're never gonna get your soddin’ Key. Because you might be strong, but in our world, you're an idiot.”

“I am a God,” Glory said seriously.

“The God of What? Bad home perms?” he taunted, seeing her get angry and feel at her hair.

“Shut up! I command you shut up!” she demanded.

“Yeah, okay. I mean, sorry, but I just had no idea Gods were such prancing lightweights,” he continued, looking back at the door and trying to line his body up with it.

Glory have him an angry snort, coming close as he punctuated his next words with as much contempt as he could muster.

“Mark my words, the Slayer is going to kick your skanky lop-sided ass back to whatever place would take a cheap, whorish, fashion victim ex-God like you.”

On cue, just as he finished saying the words, Glory rounded and kicked him so hard that the chains that held him snapped and he went flying backwards, directly through the closed front door in a torrent of splinters. He was exceedingly lucky that one of them did not pierce his heart. He landed in the hallway and struggled to his feet in spite of the pain he was in.

“Good plan, Spike,” he choked to himself as he stood on shaky but mercifully unbroken legs.

Unsteady and in agony, he made his way as quickly as his battered body would allow to the elevator. It closed in front of him as he got there and he had to pry the doors apart. Glory’s minions were hot on his heels as he forced the doors open and threw himself down the shaft to land on the roof of the descending car. Pushing the escape hatch in, he let himself fall through the opening and land heavily on the elevator floor. He knew the minions would be waiting for him when it stopped at the lobby and he would have to fight his way through them, then get down to the basement where he could hopefully either find a way into the sewers or hole up in a safe place to hide until nightfall.

He stood, ready to fight the moment the doors opened, knowing there would be no help for him this time. The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. He tensed and prepared to do battle for his unlife.

“You do not insult Glory by escaping,” one of the minions said as they came towards him.

Setting his jaw, he was ready for them, fists clenched. Then a miracle happened and for a moment he could not believe what he was seeing as the building doors flew open with a powerful kick and Buffy was there, weapon in hand. The robot, the whelp, the watcher, witch and demon girl were all with her, all battle ready and supremely pissed off.

His legs gave out as the shock washed through him, followed by relief and some studded awe as he watched the Slayer and the Scoobies begin to fight. He noticed that she was wielding the Gruth’lak battle axe like a true warrior and he smiled through bloodied lips.

‘She finally got a chance to use it,’ he thought.

It was the last thing that entered his mind before he passed out.

He woke with a scream on his lips, but was quickly shushed by a soft voice and gentle hand.

“You’re safe. It’s okay. You’re safe now,” a voice whispered and he recognized it as Tara.

“Glinda?” he choked.

“Yes. It’s me. Buffy and the others rescued you from Glory. You’re in Buffy’s basement. You already had clothes and a cot here so it seemed the logical place to bring you,” Tara explained.

“Danger,” he managed.

“No. No, it’s okay. Willow and I have the protection spells up. If Glory tries to get anywhere near here, they’ll sound an alarm.”

“How’d you find me?”

“Location spell. Giles helped and you had left some of your clothes here so we had something to use as a focus.”

He was so humbled and grateful that he almost started to cry.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely.

“We couldn’t leave you there. You’re family,” she answered, recalling memories of that night not so long ago when he and the others fought for her against her family.

“I want you to know, too, that we didn’t tell. About your soul, that is. Giles and I. We kept it secret still. But we couldn’t let Glory hurt you… well, more than she already did,” she added.

“S’ok. I understand. Grateful. Where’s Dawn?” he asked, his concern coming through in spite of his hoarse voice.

“She’s safe. She’s upstairs. Worried about you. We’re all worried about you. You’ve taken a number of beatings in a very short time.”

“Buffy?”

“She’s upstairs too. Do you want me to get her?”

He managed a small nod.

“Okay. I’ll go get her, but don’t talk too long. You’re really weak and you need to heal. Willow and I put more pain-block spells on you, but you still need rest.”

As she moved to leave, he reached out for her hand, feeling blindly for it because his eyes were nearly swollen shut. When her hand came in contact with his own, he held it loosely.

“Glinda…”

“Yes?”

“Glory knows the Key is human. I don’t know how she knows. Don’t go anywhere alone, okay? Even if you and Red are havin’ a bit of a tiff, don’t gostormin’ off by yourself, okay? Trust me on this one, please,” he warned faintly.

Her hand gripped his tightly then released. “I won’t. Thank you.”

He nodded, rolling his heads back and letting his hand fall from hers. She smoothed back his hair then he heard her leave. It was quite a few minutes before he heard the tell-tale footsteps on the basement stairs.

“Slayer,” he whispered in greeting before she had a chance to speak.

“Tara said you wanted to see me,” Buffy’s voice said, calmly but with an edge of apprehension.

“Wanted you to know. I didn’t tell.”

There was silence, then Buffy said softly, “I know.”

“Don’t make a difference, though. Glory knows the Key’s human.”

“How?”

He shook his head. “Dunno. ‘S why they got me. Thought I was the Key.” He tried to laugh but coughed instead. “Wankers.”

“This is bad, Spike.”

“I know. She’s gonna start comin’ for the Scoobies, one by one. ‘S just a matter of time.”

He heard her settle next to him on the floor beside his cot. “We have to find a way to beat her before she finds out about Dawn. Giles has been going through the stuff the Council gave us, but so far nothing’s been helpful. She has to have a weakness or else those monks would never have sent her to me in the first place.”

“I’m workin’ on it, but you have to give us a minute. Cuts and bones need mending.”

“I should let you rest. Glory really beat you up. You’ve been beaten up a lot lately.”

He sighed and smiled to himself. “Takes more than all that ta keep me down. I’m a tough old bastard, I am. Take a lickin’ and keep on kickin’.”

Buffy laughed softly at his joke. “Yeah, I figured that. You’ve suffered a lot lately. And you’ve helped a lot. Granted I’m not pleased with finding out you had a robot of me made by that twisted geek Warren, but…”

“It wasn’t supposed…” he tried.

“I know, but still eewwwww. I’m just glad it isn’t a good copy of me. I mean, how could anyone think that thing was me? It isn’t even real.”

He wisely kept silent, knowing full well that Warren’s creation had fooled the demons of Sunnydale for almost 4 months during the summer of Buffy’s death. Then he felt her hand take his gently.

“What you did for me… and for Dawn. That was real. I won’t forget it.”

He heard her lean close then felt her plant a chaste kiss against his temple.

“Thank you,” she whispered very softly.

“Buffy…” he murmured, but she was already pulling away.

“I should let you rest. I have a sick feeling that things are gonna heat up pretty quick around here and we’ll need your help.”

He nodded as she stood and walked away. He tracked her with his hearing until she paused at the basement steps.

“I’ll have Dawn bring down some blood for you. She’s anxious to see you and it’ll give her an excuse to come down,” she said.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” There was another pause, then she said softly, “Get some rest, Spike. And thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” he whispered back, but she didn’t hear him. She had already climbed her way up the stairs, leaving him alone in the basement.

********

He healed. Physically at least. It could not be said that the other, unseen, wounds were healing. Rather they festered inside of him, eating away at his very sanity. As he lay there in Buffy’s basement, bones knitting and flesh mending from yet another vicious beating, his mind ran circles around itself trying to formulate a plan. He had to stop Glory and to do that he had to kill Ben. Giles wasn’t going to help him. That meant the Scoobies wouldn’t help him if he went to them. He couldn’t do it and be sure he’d succeed on the first try before the chip knocked him unconscious. He would only have one chance to kill the intern and if he failed Glory would know that her secret was out. He needed allies; allies that wanted Glory dead as much as he did and were willing to kill innocents in order to accomplish that goal.

The answer came to him in the form of a sick epiphany. He was absently fingering a wound where Glory had sliced him with a knife and his thoughts turned to Mediaeval torture methods, which led him to thinking of the Dark Ages and knights on horseback. Then he remembered the modern day Knights of Byzantium, dressed in all their rusted glory, sworn to destroy the Key at all costs in order to sever its link to The Beast. The Knights had no qualms about killing an innocent girl. They were prepared to sacrifice Dawn, and anyone who got in their way, in order to complete their mission.

The plan seemed perfect. Once he was healed enough to go out, he would seek out the Knights and offer them Ben. Why kill a tool when you could get the hand that wielded it? Spike remembered that the general they had captured told them that the Knights had never been able to determine the identity of Glory’s human host. He could give them Glory’s biggest weakness in trade for Dawn and the Scoobies’ safety. The Knights would kill Ben and Glory would die with him. The Hell Bitch would be gone, Dawn would be safe and Buffy would never have to jump off the tower.

The answer was so ridiculously simple he was shocked he hadn’t thought of it before, and a stream of hysterical giggles bubbled out from his lips, catching the attention of his caretaker of the moment, Tara.

“Spike?” the witch asked, leaning over him as he tried to suppress the sounds. “Spike are you all right?”

He looked at her, his face still battered, but cracked into a grin. In the previous timeline she’d gotten brain-sucked and was now a gibbering idiot, but this time, she’d heeded his warnings and had not gone to the fair where Glory had found her the last time.

“You’re the only one who ever listened to me,” he commented.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Nothin’ matters anymore, ‘cept keepin’ you lot safe.”

Tara ducked her head shyly and let her hair hide her face, but he reached over and grasped her wrist gently to command her attention.

“Listen to me. No matter what happens, I will never betray Buffy and the Scoobies. I would die for her and Dawn, and I nearly bloody did.”

“I… I know.”

“You remember that, Glinda. No matter how it looks. I will never betray you.”

She fixed him with a steady stare. “Spike, what are you going to do?”

“I dunno yet, but I have some ideas. The Hell Bitch said a few things while she was gettin’ creative with my body parts,” he hedged.

“Like what?” she pressed, her face intensely interested.

“Can’t say just yet. Don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. Gotta do some diggin’ first. When I know for sure, you lot’ll be the first to know.”

She took his hand and squeezed gently. “Spike, please don’t do anything rash. I know that you are very worried and scared for us, but the warnings you gave me about not getting caught alone, they count for you too.”

He gave her a tender smile. “Don’t want to have to come haring to my rescue again, eh Glinda?”

She snorted at his attempt at humor. “More like tired of washing the blood out of your clothes.”

“Me I just burn ‘em and steal new ones.”

“Oh now you tell me,” she chided jokingly.

He chuckled and smiled at her, turning his head away and closing his eyes as he released her wrist.

“Tired?” she asked.

He swallowed and nodded.

“I’ll let you rest then,” she said, adjusting his blankets.

“Wake me when Passions comes on.”

“I will.”

He fell asleep to visions of knights on horseback with flashing swords and shining armor.

*******

The following day, Spike woke with the uncanny knowledge that he was running out of time. Even though he wasn’t yet completely healed and still had a severe limp, he set about executing his plan to enlist the knights’ help in disposing of Glory, but there were a few things he needed to take care of first just in case things went sour.

Going to the used car lot he and Buffy had raided before, he stole the camper and hid it in the alley behind the Magic Box. He knew that the Scoobieswould need it if Glory came after them. He passed over the Porsche again, knowing it was too small for everyone, nor could he be sure that he would be around to drive it. He knew what he was doing was terribly dangerous, and that there was a distinct possibility that he would not survive it. With that in mind, he left a letter for Giles explaining what he planned to do and informing him of the dangers and the whereabouts of the camper.

Mission completed, he went in search of the Knights of Byzantium, knowing he was walking straight into the lion’s den, but feeling that he had no choice. He found their encampment without too much trouble. Really, how inconspicuous could a legion of armored knights and war horses be? It wasn’t like they could hide out in an abandoned warehouse and lie low until they were called to battle. In the end, he found them in the woods, a full encampment complete with tents and campfires.

Gathering his courage and hoping he wasn’t making the biggest mistake of his unlife, he walked straight into their midst.

“Oi! Who’s in charge around here?” he announced loudly, commanding their attention.

He was immediately surrounded by at least a dozen armored knights with swords. He put up his hands in surrender.

“I come in peace,” he said. “I have information that will prove useful to you in your… eh… holy quest.”

“What do you know about our quest?” one of the knights demanded, shaking his sword at him.

“I know a helluva lot more than you think I do, and if you wanna take down the Hell Bitch, you’ll put your little pointy things away and let me speak to your leader.”

With that, he feigned disinterest, lowered his arms and lit a cigarette. The knights around him fidgeted and murmured, but none tried to attack him.

‘Plan might just work…’

“Demon! Hell spawn! Beast of Satan!” came a loud voice.

‘Then again, maybe not.’

Spike raised his head to see an elderly man in robes, most likely a priest or cleric, coming through the ranks of knights. He cleared the soldiers and came at him, crucifix waving. He snarled, demon coming forth to the shock of the knights, and shied away from the holy object.

“Get thee behind me, evil spawn!” the cleric cried.

“Oi! Put that thing away will ya? I told you I come in peace.”

“Demon! Why should we believe your lies?”

“’Cause I’ve got information about The Beast,” he insisted, still shying from the crucifix.

“You speak with a forked tongue, devil child. Nothing you have to say would be of any use to us.”

He was getting sick of the man waving the cross at him, pushing him closer to the ranks of sword wielding knights, and he was losing patience. Besides, the man smelled like moldy books and tongue oil. He rounded and faced the priest, head high and yellow eyes blazing.

“Look, I don’t want that bitch opening the portals any more than you do! I’m here to help, you wanker,” he snarled, lunging forward and thrilling at the sudden fear in the old man’s eyes.

The priest shoved the crucifix directly in his face but did not touch him with it. He held his ground and steeled himself not to flinch.

“What’s in gonna be then?” he challenged.

The two stared at each other, a battle of wills as each refused to give quarter, although Spike was none too happy to have a cross dangling quite so close to his nose. Then a new figure came through the circle of knights. He was more highly decorated than the others, and the tattoo on his forehead was more detailed.

“We already know the monks made the Key human, demon,” the newcomer said.

Spike broke eye contact with the priest in order to face the new man. The priest thankfully lowered his cross and allowed the man to come close. Spike shook off his demon and looked at the man with his human face.

“Well, yeah. They did.”

“We know it is the Slayer’s sister. Our brother who was defiled by The Beast told us this,” the man, a general, added.

‘So that’s how they found out. The crazy knight from the mental ward.’

“Yeah. But I can do you one better than that. I know who The Beast’s mortal host is,” he replied smugly.

The general pulled his sword and pointed the tip at Spike’s nose. “I know decapitation will kill your kind, demon.”

“We don’t like sharpened sticks much either. Your point is?”

“If you have come to tell us lies, we will kill you.”

He blinked and looked bored. “Well, yeah. Figured that. I’m a vampire, mate, not an imbecile.”

The general stared at him for a moment, then said, “Tell us what you know.”

He went to take a drag from his cigarette and saw that it had burned down to the filter. Sighing, and casting the priest an irritated glance, he lit another and took a hit.

“I want to make a deal first,” he said, blowing the smoke in the priest’s direction.

“We do not make deals with the devil,” the cleric sneered.

Spike shrugged and looked expectantly at the general.

“What are your demands?” the general finally said, to the shock of those around him.

Spike gave him a satisfied smirk, flicking the cigarette ashes on the grass by the general’s boots.

“’S real simple, really. I give you Glorificus’ human host and you leave the Slayer and her little sis alone.”

His words surprised everyone. Even the general looked stunned.

“That is your condition?”

He nodded and crushed the cigarette under the heel of his boot. “It is.”

“You want the Key for yourself,” one of the knights spat.

He gave the knight a withering glare. “No. Without Glory, the Key is useless,” he said, looking back at the general. “The Key is the Link, the Link must be severed. Such is the Will of God. Have I got it right? Kill the man, you kill the God. Kill the God, the Key becomes a normal teenage girl whose only concerns are boys, makeup and not gettin’ eatin’ by nasties like me.”

Spike gave the general a level stare, one eyebrow cocked.

“You are correct, demon. If The Beast is destroyed, the Key’s power is useless. Only the one who made it can wield its power,” the general confirmed.

“There you have it then. Have we got a deal?”

“Why would you want us to spare the girl?” the general demanded.

“The Slayer and me, we got a deal. I help her kill the nasties in this town in return for her not killin’ me. Works out rather nicely for both if us. I don’t get killed, she gets another pair of hands in the slayin’ and I get to have all sorts of fun metin’ delicious violence on prey that’s a lot more difficult to kill than you measly mortals. It’s a win-win situation,” he explained calmly.

“Now, enter one Hell Bitch with visions of world destruction and a really bad fashion sense. Complicate that with the fact that said Hell Bitch is after the Slayer’s little sister. Oh, did I mention that I’m sworn to protect the little sister? It makes for a bit of tension, it does, and interrupts our regular slayin’ schedule, and that messes with my killin’ fun.”

“You have a soul,” the priest said suddenly, a hint of awe in his voice.

Spike stopped his soliloquy and gave the cleric an angry glare.

“Well, so you found me out. Nancy boy vampire went and got himself a soul. Bravo.”

“You are the one that was foretold in the ancient scrolls. The demon who would betray his own kind.”

“Hate to disappoint you, padre, but that’s my poof of a grandsire. He’s the one with the grand destiny. Me, I’m just love’s bitch.” He returned his attention to the general. “So, back to the matter at hand. I give you Glory’s human host and you leave the Slayer and her sis alone. Have we got a deal?”

“How do we know you are telling the truth?” the general asked.

“Well, aside from this pesky soul not wantin’ me to lie, I can prove it.”

“Tell us what you know. If you speak the truth, we will honor your request.”

Spike nodded.

“Glory’s got herself a posh pad in an apartment complex not too far from here. I got a chance to look at it when she picked me up and took me over to her place for a spot of torture,” he said, pointing to his bruised face. “See, she knows the Key’s human too and she decided that the vampire was the weakest link if you know what I mean. Now, during my stay there, in-between the bouts of excruciating pain, I managed to discover a little room in said apartment that was made up as a bedroom for Glory’s human half. The human half is a doctor who calls himself Ben. He interns at Sunnydale hospital, when he isn’t strutting around in dollies and high heels.”

There was a moment of silence before the general spoke again.

“You will take us to this place.”

Spike gave him an evil grin.

“With pleasure.”

********

Spike ran. He ran until he thought his injured leg had surely broken into a dozen pieces, and all the wounds that had half-healed from Glory’s tortures had reopened and spilled his borrowed blood all over himself and the street. But no pain he endured could match the blinding panic that seared through him now, the all-encompassing terror that drove him past the point of all his endurance.

The Knights of Byzantium were gone. All of them. What poor sods were still left alive were surely being held as food for the Hell Bitch. The rest were dead, slaughtered like cattle and left to rot on the killing field. The apartment complex was in flames, the fire casting blood red shadows on the surrounding buildings and flooding the nearby park with toxic, black smoke- smoke he used as cover in which to make his desperate escape.

The plan seemed simple enough. When Glory was weakened, she either found a victim to brain-suck or lost her ability to hold Ben back. All they theoretically had to do was wait until Glory morphed into Ben and then kill him while he was vulnerable. It was a very simple plan. Because vampires were immune to the forgetting spell that Glory/Ben cast that made humans forget they had seen one switch to the other, Spike would watch for Ben and alert the knights of his whereabouts. The knights would then attack and kill Ben, striking too quickly for any of Glory’s minions to stop them.

All of this had been decided after he had guided them to the apartment and showed them the small room with Ben’s meager possessions. Neither the intern nor the God was home, but a handful of minions were there to guard the apartment. They tried valiantly to fulfill their duty, but the knights overpowered them and barged into the living room. They didn’t kill them, and when Spike asked why they didn’t just slit the minions’ throats, he was told that Glory would simply reanimate any minions that were killed.

After his claims were substantiated, the knights went to lie in wait while he scouted for Glory or Ben. It wasn’t long before he spotted the intern’s nancy-boy car pulling into the apartment complex’s parking lot, and he alerted the troops.

How was he to know that the poof had guts? The little wanker actually fought back and Glory’s crusty minions actually came to his defense. Things still would have been alright, but then the Hell Bitch came out to play and all Hell broke loose. He’d known that the Bitch was strong, but nothing could have prepared him for the ferocity of her attack or the carnage that she left in her wake. The rout was an upset that even the great Angelus would have appreciated in his days of soulless killing and mayhem. He barely escaped with his unlife, using the explosions from erupting gas lines to cover his fleeing form, and now he was running, running for the Magic Box because he knew it was just a matter of time before Glory discovered that Dawn was the Key.

He flew through the doors of the Magic Box where he knew the others would be if Giles had found his letter. He didn’t even bother to slow down as he bolted into the store, and was met with a fist to the face. He reeled back from the impact, collapsing to the hard floor, and looked dazedly up at a supremely pissed off Watcher who was rubbing his fist.

“You stupid idiot! You traitorous son of a bitch!” Giles accused.

“There’s no time! You gotta get outta here! The Knights are gone and Glory’s gonna come gunnin’ for ya! You gotta rally the troops and bugger out NOW!” he countered angrily.

“What have you done?!” the Watcher roared.

“What you wouldn’t do! I found someone who’d help me! But it all went wrong and now she’s gonna come for ya!” he yelled back, struggling to his feet in spite of his wounds.

“What were you thinking? You’ve betrayed us all!”

“What the hell is going on here?” Buffy demanded, coming into his field of view. She was dangerously angry and he feared for his unlife again.

“Buffy, let me explain…”

“You irresponsible idiot!” Giles seethed.

“Giles…” Buffy warned, then turned to him, standing near to him, arms crossed. “You. Talk.”

By now the others had gathered around, staring at him with concerned and worried expressions on their faces. He scrambled to think of a proper explanation that wouldn’t give everything away.

“Right. It’s like this. When Glory was playin’ peel the vamp, I found out somethin’ real interestin’ about our Hell Bitch. Way I figure it, works like this: when Glory was kicked out of Hell Central, the only way they could do it was to tie her to a human form, a mortal form. Now this form lives as long as the Hell Bitch does, but it’s not invulnerable. While she had me, I found out that the mortal form is our favorite intern, Ben,” he explained in a rush.

“Ben? Ben from the hospital?” Buffy asked.

He swallowed and nodded. “The very same. So, I did some diggin’ and I confirmed that if you get rid of Ben, you get rid of Glory.”

“Kill the man and the God dies,” Tara commented, her eyes opening wide.

He nodded at her, trying to catch his breath. “Exactly. Well as soon as I knew for sure. I told Giles.”

Buffy rounded on her Watcher. “Wait a minute. You knew about this?”

Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them vigorously. “Yes. Spike told me what he had discovered.”

“You’re telling me that Spike told you about a *major* weakness in Glory and you didn’t tell me?”

“Buffy… I was exploring… other options.”

“Other options?” she repeated incredulously.

“We wanted to avoid killing an innocent if at all possible,” Giles explained.

“He’s no innocent. Tonight proved it for me. He knows damn well what’s goin’ on!” he spat back.

“So what happened?” Buffy ordered. “What did you do?”

He cringed under her hard stare but was determined to hold his ground. “Well, Watcher wouldn’t help me, and I couldn’t do it myself because of this damn chip they shoved in my brain, so I went to someone who would. I looked up our resident idiots in armor.”

“The Knights of Byzantium,” Willow breathed.

“Yeah. Them. Anyways, I figured if they were willin’ ta kill a little girl in order ta stop Glory, they’d be willin’ ta kill an intern in trade for killin’ Glory herself.”

“Go on,” Buffy prompted.

“First off, I’d like ta say that the knights already knew Dawn was the Key. I didn’t tell ‘em. Turns out, they came and got the bloke Glory brain-sucked, but he was at the hospital the night Dawn went into the loony ward. He saw her and recognized that she was the Key. He must have let it slip when his buddies came to get him,” he admitted. “So they were already plannin’ a full frontal attack on you in order to get Dawn. I just made ‘em go after a bigger fish.”

Buffy nodded that she understood and he continued, his eyes never leaving her face.

“Well, I was right, and as soon as I proved ta them that I was tellin’ the truth, they were more than willin’ ta go after the Hell Bitch herself and leave Dawn alone.”

“How nice of them,” Buffy commented dryly.

“But something went wrong, didn’t it. You said we were all in danger,” Anya interrupted.

“Yeah. Somethin’ went wrong all right. When we attacked Ben, the blighter fought back, then he traded places with his worse half, and she blew us all to kingdom come. When I got out of there, the whole block was on fire and what was left of the knights were bein’ rounded up by Glory’s minions. I slipped out in the smoke and came runnin’ here. Now Glory knows that her secret is out and she’s gonna come gunnin’ for us. She also got the knight that’s all loony. My guess is he’ll tell her about Dawn pretty soon.”

“We gotta get out of town,” Buffy said.

He nodded. “Already planned for that. Nicked a Winnebago and stashed it behind the shop.”

“So that’s where that ugly camper came from! I was going to call the police and have it towed,” Anya admitted.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t. It’s you lot’s ticket out of here. Grab your toothbrushes and a pair of clean knickers and bugger out.”

“You stole a camper?” Buffy asked dubiously.

“What? It’s big enough to tote the whole Scooby crew. Could’ve nicked a Porche but I figured you wouldn’t want to leave anyone behind.”

Buffy pursed her lips thoughtfully. She had the Slayer look on her face, the one that made all the tough decisions and executed all the difficult plans. Spike was glad to see it because it meant that Buffy was already figuring out what they were going to do next.

“Okay. Glory knows where Dawn and I live so we can’t go home. Wills, you and Tara go back to your place and get supplies. Xander, Anya, you do the same. Giles, we have to talk but not right now. I need you to gather whatever you think we’ll need. Move people. We have a half hour. Let’s get going,” the Slayer commanded.

The group took their marching orders and scattered. Knowing that Buffy had everything under control, Spike gratefully sank down onto the bench at the reading table. He was in considerable pain and glad for the rest. Too much had happened in too short of a time, and he was nearing his breaking point. He let his head fall to the table and closed his eyes, allowing himself a brief respite from the chaos that sought to consume him.

He’d dozed off when the aroma of warmed blood roused him, and he lifted his head to see Tara placing a tall container of heated blood in front of his nose. Her eyes were hooded and full of concern.

“Back so soon?” he asked.

“I never left. Willow is getting the things we need. I wanted to stay here and make sure you were alright.”

He gave her his trademark smirk and winked at her as he gratefully accepted the food. His expression fell, however, when he tried to sit up and pain lanced through his body, making him gasp. Tara pushed the blood towards him.

“Eat. There are herbs in it that will help with the pain.”

He nodded and reached for the container, raising it to his lips. His hand only shook a little bit as he drank it down.

“Thanks, luv,” he sighed when he was finished.

“This is what you meant, wasn’t it. About not betraying us,” Tara said softly.

He lowered his eyes and refused to answer.

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I did. Told the Watcher,” he replied.

“Why didn’t you tell Buffy?”

“Same reason Giles didn’t want to tell ‘er. Ben’s human. Didn’t want ‘er ta have to make that choice.”

“Yes, well it was my choice to make,” Buffy’s angry voice interrupted as she slammed the Gruth’lak battle axe down on the table. A sullen Dawn was behind her.

“What else are you keeping from me?” she demanded, her expression brooking no argument.

He swallowed heavily and tried to quell the fear in his heart.

“There’s a demon I killed. A nasty bloke I heard served the Hell Bitch. I lopped off ‘is head with that very axe, but I may have left somethin’ important behind in ‘is place. I heard about it later, a wooden box he kept scrolls in, but I never got the chance to go back an’ look for it.”

“Where is it and what am I looking for?” Buffy ordered.

“Buffy! No! You can’t go,” Dawn cried.

Buffy looked to her sister, then back to him. “Tell me what I need to know.”

“Buffy!”

Buffy looked back to her sister. “If what Spike says is true, then this guy may have had something that can help us. I’m the only one not doing anything else. I can go and be back before the others get here. Glory didn’t know where this demon lived, did she?”

“I dunno. I was only there the once. I doubt she’ll go lookin’ for him tho. He was small fish,” he admitted.

“So it’s probably safe then. Where am I going?”

Reluctantly he told her where Doc had lived and described the small wooden chest he and Xander had taken from the apartment in the previous timeline. He really hadn’t wanted to tell her, but he feared her wrath if he refused, and he simply wasn’t up to dealing with her anger.

She left in a swirl of blond and black leather and he watched her go with some amusement. It seemed ironic that he would be in her place this time around. Since he had been trying to keep the Scoobies one step ahead of Glory, Buffy had only had to fight the Hell Bitch twice, unlike the four or five times she’d gotten beaten by Glory the last time around. Nor had she had to face her best friend’s lover getting brain-sucked and then have to save Willow from becoming toast herself.

While this Buffy was tired and scared, she wasn’t beaten. Last time, Buffy had been completely drained, exhausted and soul weary. It had led to her catatonia when Dawn was finally taken, and broke her in a way he never ever wanted to see her broken again. That Buffy had been ready to give up, ready to die just to end the pain. He remembered what Buffy had told him about her conversation with Giles on the night of her death; how she was tired and didn’t want to live a world that kept demanding that she sacrifice the ones she loved. That Buffy had been a shadow of her former self. This Buffy remained undefeated.

It suddenly struck him exactly how much he had been able to change this time around. Even though all of the major events remained the same, he had been able to spare Buffy a great deal of pain by avoiding certain situations or by taking the pain on himself. So far, if anyone had been defeated by Glory, it was him, but not even that could be said because he was still unliving and in full control of all of his faculties. Therefore, while he hadn’t been able to alter the timeline significantly, he had affected a staggering amount of change with his efforts.

The realization gave him the first glimmers of hope he’d felt in a long time. If they ran, no Knights were around to waylay them. Giles would never be skewered, Ben would never be called to treat him, and that meant Ben wouldn’t do his Glory switcheroo and grab Dawn. All they had to do was hold out for a few more days, and Glory would lose her window of opportunity to use Dawn to open the portals. They could do that, couldn’t they?

“What are you thinking?” Tara questioned, drawing him out of his thoughts.

He looked at her and gave her a smile. “I’m thinkin’ this plan might just work.”

Both she and Dawn blinked at him.

“Well, that’s good,” Tara said.

His smile broadened. “Yeah it is.”

“Did you really go to those Knights to try to save me?” Dawn asked.

“Yeah, Nibblet, I did.”

She slapped him across the face. Hard.

“You stupid IDIOT! You could have gotten yourself killed!” she screamed.

He rubbed his stinging cheek. ‘Pint-size packs a punch. Oww.’

“Dawn!” Tara reprimanded.

“You put yourself in terrible danger for me. What if they hadn’t believed you? What if Glory had gotten you again and killed you this time? What would we have done without you!” Dawn continued, starting to cry.

“Oh, Nibblet. I’m sorry,” he said, softening and reaching for her. He’d been through too much and suffered too much pain to care about what the others would think. Dawn was precious to him, as precious as Buffy, and she needed him to hold her and prove to her that he was still with her.

She fell into his arms, aggravating all of his injuries, but he didn’t care. She was safe in his embrace and he planned to keep it that way. All they had to do was wait until Buffy and the others got back, then they would run and hide out until Glory’s time was up. Finally a simple plan that would work where all the others had failed.

Neither he nor Tara were prepared for the alarms that suddenly went off or explosion that blew in the storefront windows. They barely had time to register that the advance warning spell Willow and Tara had placed around the Magic Box had sounded off before the blast knocked them back. Tara screamed as she was thrown to the ground by the pressure wave and was knocked unconscious. Spike, still holding Dawn, was flipped upside down and slammed by the heavy table as it blew over and knocked him into the bookcases. Dawn was underneath him, protected from the brunt of the impact by his body, but they were both trapped by the broken table and the bookcases that had collapsed on top of them.

“Spike!” he heard Dawn cry.

“Dawn!” he answered, struggling to use his back to dislodge the debris on top of them so he could see if she was injured.

Suddenly the weight on his body was lifted away and he looked up to see Glory looming over them.

“Well, well, well, lookie here. It’s my Key in a neat kiddie size package.”

He struggled to rise, to keep Dawn out of her clutches, but the hell god simply grabbed him and threw him like rag doll. He sailed clear across the store and hit the glass counter, shattering it under his weight.

‘No…’ he thought as he watched Glory drag Dawn from the rubble. ‘No. God, please no…’

“You and me are gonna have so much *fun,*” Glory said with a sadistic smile as she pulled the weeping, struggling teen behind her.

“Spike!” Dawn screamed. “SPIKE!!”

He couldn’t move, shards of glass stabbed him along his back. His leg was bent at an odd angle, the fingers of his left hand mangled and broken. Still, he used his right hand, grasping at the floor even though it was littered with glass that sliced into his palm, and tried to drag himself from the wreckage to get to Dawn.

‘Dawn. Must save Dawn…’

“SPIIIIIIIKE!!!”

“DAWN!”

“Ta kiddies. See you all in Hell!” Glory taunted as she forced Dawn from the shop.

“DAWN! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

He reached out one helpless hand at the empty air where Dawn had been, the image of her terrified, pleading face burning itself into his shocked mind.

‘Dawn…  She took Dawn. Glory has Dawn. I failed. I failedifailedifailedifailed. I FAILED!!’

Blackness clouded his vision, crushing him under its weight. He couldn’t take it, not after all he had been through, all he had done to try to protect Dawn and Buffy. His mind shattered into a million pieces and scattered like a supernova exploding out into the universe. Then he saw and felt no more.

********

The first thing Buffy saw when she arrived back at the Magic Box was the broken window. The window hadn’t been so much broken as completely blasted away, and she threw herself through the open door that teetered on one hinge.

The wreckage stunned her and she tried to take in all of it. The circular reading table was flipped upside down and cracked into two pieces. The bookcases behind it had collapsed and all the books lay scattered on the floor. Tara lay unconscious amid the debris, her hair cascading over her face. In the front of the store, the glass counter had been smashed and glass was littered everywhere. Lying in a pool of his own blood, his body facing the open door, one hand outstretched to reach for nothing, was Spike. The vampire’s eyes were open, his face blank as he stared straight ahead.

“Buffy!” Willow cried, rushing in.

The witch skidded to a stop beside her friend and they both stared at the damage before them.

“Oh my God,” Willow breathed, then she saw Tara. “Oh no! TARA!”

Willow raced to her lover’s side, panicked as she shook the other girl. Buffy was relieved to hear a pained moan come from Tara.

“Tara! Oh God, Tara! What happened?!” Willow asked as Tara sat up, one hand on her bloodied forehead.

“The window… it exploded and… I heard Dawn scream…”

“Dawn! Where’s Dawn?” Buffy demanded, her eyes sweeping the rubble.

“She was with Spike when…” Tara stopped, looking around the shop until she saw Spike on the floor by the smashed counter. “Oh my God.”

“The alarm, Buffy, the one we cast to warn us if Glory showed up, it sounded. I think… I think Glory might have taken Dawn,” Willow said, her eyes wide and frightened.

Buffy immediately began ripping through the piles of books and broken wood, tossing them aside in a desperate search for her sister. The two witches watched with tears on their cheeks until Tara managed to make her way to Spike’s side.

The vampire was completely still and silent, his eyes open and blank. He didn’t even blink.

“Spike?” Tara whispered, shaking him gently. There was no response.

Suddenly, a foot came from the right, kicking Spike hard in the gut and rolling him away. Shocked, Tara looked up to see an enraged Buffy.

“Where is she?!” Buffy demanded.

Spike’s lack of response only served to make her angrier and she kicked him again. “Where’s my sister you undead pain in the ass!”

“Buffy…” Tara tried.

“What happened, you bastard!” she yelled, kicking the prone vampire repeatedly.

“Buffy!” Willow cried. “Buffy STOP!”

Panting heavily, the Slayer stopped, her hands clenched into fists and her face stained with tears.

“Buffy… Spike’s… he’s not responding. I’m… I’m not sure he’s even in there anymore,” Willow explained.

Tara crawled over to the blank-faced vampire and looked into the wide, staring eyes. “I think… I think he gone inside.”

“Oh good lord,” Giles’ voice breathed and they looked to see the Watcher, Anya and Xander standing in the open doorway.

“The shop! What happened to the shop?” Anya screamed. “The money!”

The ex-demon raced for the toppled cash register as Giles and Xander surveyed the damage.

“Oh man, what happened here?” Xander breathed.

“Giles, Dawn’s missing,” Buffy said tersely.

“The advance warning alarm sounded. We think… we think it might have been Glory,” Willow added.

“Glory?” Giles repeated, stunned. “How?”

“We don’t know. Spike might know, but he’s zombie-vamp,” Buffy replied.

“He’s gone catatonic, Giles,” Willow explained worriedly. “He’s not responding at all.”

Giles walked through the sea of shattered glass to where Willow and Tara sat by the vampire’s side. Judging by the amount of blood on the floor and on Spike, the vampire had not gone down quietly, but the open, blank stare on Spike’s face worried him. He leaned down and shook the vampire on the shoulder.

“Spike.” He shook a little harder when he got no response. “Spike!”

“It’s no use, Mr. Giles,” Tara said.

Giles sighed. “Unfortunately, if what you say is true and Glory does have Dawn, then we need Spike because he is the only one who has any idea where Glory would have taken her.”

“Why?” Buffy demanded. “Why would Spike know where Glory took Dawn? What else are you keeping from us, Giles?”

Giles sighed again. “I know that Spike has done extensive legwork on Glory and her plans to use the Key. It’s been his obsession for the last few months.”

“Oh and here I thought Buffy was his obsession. Nice to know the guy can split his attentions like that,” Xander commented irritably.

“Xander, not now,” Buffy snapped back.

“It is true that Spike has been… preoccupied with his feelings for Buffy…”

“He loves her,” Tara interjected. “And Dawn.”

“Yes, I do believe he does,” Giles agreed. “As such, keeping the two of them safe has been his priority. I have yet to determine how much his presence and actions have affected this situation. I know there has been a great deal that he has done in the demon world. What he has uncovered, he has been reluctant to tell me, probably because he thought I would not help him. I have no doubt that he knows more about Glory and the ceremony than he has let on.”

“Because Spike never keeps secrets and tells lies,” Buffy snarked.

Giles ignored her comment. “It is quite possible that Spike has an idea of where the ceremony is taking place and when. We need to do everything we can to bring him back from wherever he has gone.”

“I can try to do that Giles,” Willow offered. “There are some spells…”

“Good, Willow. You do that,” he confirmed.

“In the meantime, we can go through this box of scrolls Spike had me get from this creepy guy’s apartment,” Buffy said, indicating the small wooden chest she had dropped on the floor when she returned to the Magic Box.

“Who?” Giles asked.

Buffy picked up the box and handed it to Giles. “Spike told me about this demon guy he killed. He said he heard that he was a follower of Glory and might have a box of scrolls that could help us, but that he never got a chance to go check it out. I told him I would go.”

She looked around at the wreckage, frowning guiltily.

“It was why I wasn’t here when… Giles you don’t think…”

The older man cut her off. “No. I seriously doubt he knew Glory would attack that quickly. If he had, he most certainly would have urged us to move faster. It is likely that he was taken by surprise.”

“Still, if I’d been here…”

“You would most probably have been killed or otherwise defeated by her. Glory is very strong,” he assured.

“You’re probably right,” she conceded.

“Well, let’s see what’s in this box, shall we. Where did you say Spike sent you?”

“Some rat’s nest on the other side of town. Real dump that smelled awful. Spike said he killed the guy who lived there.”

“Was there a body?” Anya asked suddenly.

Buffy’s brow creased. “Actually, no there wasn’t. But there was a big bloodstain on the rug. Struck me as odd because Spike isn’t known for cleaning up after himself.”

Anya looked thoughtful for a moment, then gave a confident smile. “It was probably scavengers. There are demons that eat carrion.”

Buffy crinkled up her nose. “Ewwww. So did not need to know that.”

“Here, let’s clear a space and see what these scrolls have to offer. I doubt we have much time so we need to work quickly,” Giles said.

“We’re just about ready here, Mr. Giles,” Willow announced from where she and Tara sat by Spike.

“Very good. I hope you succeed in bringing him back.”

“So I can kill him,” Buffy added lowly.

Giles ignored her as he cleared away a safe spot to sit and read the scrolls.

********

Willow lit the incense and cast the spell that would allow her access to Spike’s mind. Breathing in deeply, she recited the words and felt her consciousness slip inwards, going through a dark tunnel. When she finally stopped moving, she opened her eyes to see a dark and barren wasteland. The earth was blackened and devoid of all life, fissures in the ground belched foul-smelling smoke. The sky was blood red with ominous black clouds and thunder rumbled in the distance. Looking around across the empty plain, she spied a fortress looming on the horizon.

‘Guess that’s where I need to go,’ the young witch thought.

As she made her way across the scorched earth, Willow realized that it wasn’t as empty as she had originally thought. All along the way, there were bodies, covered in black ash, littered on the ground. At first, she thought it was a battlefield and that the corpses were fallen soldiers, but then she realized that the dead ranged from the very young to the very old, with men and women of all ages in between.

‘His victims,’ she realized, gasping.

Tears stung her eyes as she lost count of the dead; pitiful, twisted bodies strewn all long her way. They were silent as she passed, and only the howling wind answered her unspoken prayers. It sickened her to see them, contorted in their death throes: a young woman preserved in a silent scream here, a man with a railroad spike jutting out of his eye socket there. Hundreds of them, thousands of them; the accumulated carnage of a century of killing, and she wondered to herself how she could have ever considered this creature to be her friend. How she could ever have turned her back to him or left him with her lover or trusted him in any way.

‘He was an unrepentant killer for over a hundred years. He tried to kill Buffy lots of times. He tried to kill me, and Xander. The only thing that stopped him was the chip. What could Tara have been talking about when she said he’d changed?’

But hadn’t he? He’d been helping them for the past year. He’d taken beatings and risked his unlife to keep the rest of them safe. And Tara insisted on multiple occasions that Spike deserved better treatment from them. But how could he when he had killed so many without remorse or mercy?

‘It doesn’t matter right now. We need him, so I have to get him back.’

The ground rumbled beneath her feet and she felt a shiver of fear run up her spine. Stepping up her pace she hurried for the fortress, feeling an urgency she hadn’t felt before. Eyes were watching her, she just knew it. She could feel them staring holes into her back, and she began to run. Snarls came from behind her and the sound of rushing feet dogged her heels. Terror seized her and she raced across the open plain, praying that she would reach safety before whatever was behind her managed to catch up.

The ground she thought was flat proved to be anything but as holes opened underneath her feet as she ran, tripping her up and adding to her growing panic. The snarls were still behind her and they were getting closer, but she was almost to the forbidding walls of the fortress. Picking herself up off the blackened ground where she had fallen beside the body of a teenaged girl, she wrenched her gaze away from the horror of the girl’s screaming face and made a final dash.

She hit the solid metal doors, sobbing with relief as she found it unlocked. Grabbing the heavy handle in both hands she pulled with all her strength. The door creaked but did not open. Half mad with panic, knowing her pursuers were almost at the gates, she yanked as hard as she could, feeling the rusted hinges begin to give way. She screamed and pulled again, and the heavy door screamed back as it screeched open.

Only opening it wide enough to squeeze her thin body through, she slammed the door behind her and threw the heavy bar. Twin thuds thumped against the other side, nails scraping across the metal, and two howls rose up over the high wall, as she paused a moment to catch her breath and calm down before she took stock of her surroundings.

Leaning against the barred door, she turned around and looked upon an empty stone courtyard. There were no bodies here, in fact it looked as if the open space had been swept completely clean, and there was another door directly across from her, this one wooden and arched. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she staggered her way across the courtyard, and put her hand on the door handle. It, too, was unlocked, but appeared to have been unused for a long time.

It didn’t take as much effort to open this door as it had the larger, outer one, and soon she found herself looking down a long, stone hallway. Closing the door behind her, she kept an ear out for any dangers or surprises, and made her way down the hall. There was an opening off to her left and she turned to find a half open door. Flickering light was coming from behind the door, so she slipped in quietly and found herself in a library. The flickering light was coming from a fire crackling in the large stone hearth, but it was who was sitting beside said fire that made her gasp.

His hair was sandy brown and a riot of soft curls that defied their owner by slipping out of the band he tried to keep it in. Thin wire glasses perched daintily upon his sharp nose as he held a well-loved book in his delicate, perfectly manicured hand. He was dressed as a Victorian gentleman in gray tweed, one leg crossed over the other as he read the book in his hand. A cup of tea, long forgotten, sat on the table beside him, along with a small plate of crackers and sausage.

“Spike?” Willow gasped, shattering the quiet.

The figure jumped, dropping the book, and looked at her with shocked eyes.

“Oh! Oh dear…” he stammered, scrambling to pick up the book.

He handled it with great care, stroking the spine to make sure it hadn’t been broken.

“Spike, is that you?” she tried again, taking a tentative step closer.

“Spike? Who? Oh no, not I. I am not… he,” he replied.

The resemblance was remarkable. Take away the brown hair and tweed, and replace them with platinum blonde and black leather, and it was Spike without a doubt. Her quick mind quickly tried to figure out what was going on.

“William?” she offered.

The Spike look-alike stood up tall and straightened his jacket. “Yes. I am William.”

‘Okay, like, totally weird. Spike was a real nerd when he was alive.’

“Um, hi. I’m Willow.”

William bowed stiffly. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Willow, although I am confused as to how you came to be here.”

“I came in through the front door.”

He looked surprised. “You did? You crossed the… oh. Oh, I see.” He dropped his eyes and turned away.

“Yeah, I crossed the field full of bodies.”

“The cemetery… yes.”

“It’s kinda creepy out there, actually.”

William nodded. “Yes. Yes, I am aware.” He raised his eyes to her again. “You must be very brave.”

“Well, I kinda needed to get in here. I’m looking for someone. Hey, maybe you know him. He looks a lot like you only he’s got bleached blonde hair and wears a lot of black.”

William stiffened and stared at her. “Him? What… what do you want with him?”

“I need his help. Can you tell me where he is?”

William shook his head sadly. “I don’t think he can help you, m’lady. He’s… he’s been indisposed for quite some time. I haven’t seen him in a good while. He used to come and taunt me, tease me about my reading and poetry.”

“Poetry?” Willow repeated.

William sniffed and turned up his nose. “I’m quite good, really.” Eyes opened wide in hope. “Would you like to see?”

“Umm, sure.”

He gave her a brilliant smile and scrambled to retrieve a yellowed note pad from a shelf. He handed it to her proudly, and fidgeted his hands as she read the neat handwriting.

“Effulgent?” she repeated.

He gave her a shy smile. “It was my last work. I died before I could write another.”

“Whoa. You died?”

“Well, yes, of course. Mr. Parker stole the notepad from me and read the work aloud. It wasn’t finished, of course, and the ink was still a bit wet, but… Afterwards, my lovely Cecily rejected me and I ran out into the street.” His eyes grew misty and far away. “That’s when *she* found me. She saw me, saw what was inside of me and wanted me to be with her. I agreed. It hurt. When she bit me, that is. Hurt a lot, but then it didn’t hurt anymore and I went somewhere far away. It was nice there. Peaceful. I could see what was happening to what remained of my body, but I was somewhat removed. It did not affect me.”

He paused and looked around the library. “And then I came to be here. Something happened. The demon… the one you called Spike. He… I was called back. We really didn’t get along at first. In fact, we rather loathed each other. It was quite unpleasant. But then *they* came, and he protected me from them. He said I would be safe in here, and so far that has been true. They haven’t been able to cross the threshold. They tried for a while, but then they stopped trying. That’s when he stopped coming to check on me…”

Willow creased her brow, trying to take it all in. Then her eyes opened wide as the truth dawned on her and she gasped, covering her mouth with both hands.

“Oh my goddess. You’re his *soul!*”

William blinked at her. “Well, yes. I suppose I am.”

She stared at him in abject shock. “What… how… Was Spike cursed?”

“Cursed? Good Lord, no. He chose me.”

“Chose you? How?”

“The demon he went to gave me to him.”

“Demon? What demon?”

“The one in Africa. The one he went to see after…”  He stopped, looking away and lowering his eyes. A slight shudder passed through his thin frame.

“After?...” she prompted.

William shook his head. “After. In the time before.”

Willow was confused but she knew she had to let it go. She was running out of time and she had to get Spike back if they wanted to save Dawn.

“Look. I don’t understand, but I don’t have time right now. I need to find Spike. Can you tell me where he is?”

William looked at the half open door and shied away, wringing his hands. “I cannot leave this room. They’ll get me if I do. You should stay here with me. You’ll be safe here. The tea cup is always full and the plate replenishes itself…”

Willow motioned for him to be silent. “I can’t. People are depending on me. Glory has Dawn and Spike might know where she’s been taken. I have to find him and get him to come back with me.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Can you tell me if he’s here in this fortress?”

William nodded slowly. “Yes. I’ve never seen him go… out.”

“Okay. I’m gonna go look for him.”

He looked at her with worried, frightened eyes. “Do be careful, Miss Willow. Don’t let *them* get you.”

She set her jaw and nodded. “I won’t.” She turned and put a hand on the door jam before casting him a backward glance. “And thanks.”

“You’re most welcome,” he whispered back as she left him behind. “Good luck.”

‘I’m gonna need it,’ she thought to herself as she stepped back into the stone hall.

********

Buffy walked over the where Tara was sitting vigil over her lover and the catatonic vampire.

“Any change?”

Tara shook her head. “No. I’m sorry, Buffy. But I’m sure Willow is doing everything she can to bring Spike back. It just might take some time.”

“We don’t have time, and every minute Glory has Dawn, the less of it we have.”

Tara frowned. “I know, but…”

“Buffy...” Giles called.

Turning her head, the Slayer looked at her Watcher and sighed.

“Let me know if she so much as twitches,” she said to Tara.

Tara nodded and gave her a watery smile.

“What did you find?” she asked

Giles hesitated, then haltingly answered, “Well, according to these scrolls, there is a way to stop Glory.”

Buffy waited for him to continue, but when he finally did, his voice was awkward and unsure.

“I'm afraid it... Buffy. I've read these very carefully. There's not much margin for error. Do you understand what I'm saying?”

“Might help if you actually said it,” she replied dryly.

“Glory plans to open a dimensional portal by way of ritual bloodletting,” he told her sadly.

“Dawn's blood?”

“Yes. Once the blood is shed at a certain time and place, the fabric separating all realities will be ripped apart. Dimensions will pour into one another with no barriers to stop them. Reality as we know it will be destroyed, and chaos will reign on Earth.”

“So how do we stop it?”

“The portal will only close once the blood is stopped. And the only way for that to happen is ...” He paused then looked directly at Buffy and said grimly, “Buffy- the only way is to kill Dawn.”

Buffy gave him a blank stare then set her jaw. “Not an option. Give me something else.”

“Buffy... we might not have any choice.”

“Explain it to me again,” she insisted calmly and slowly.

“The Key was living energy. It needed to be channeled, poured into a specific 
spot at a specific time. With all attendant ritual, of course. The energy would flow 
into that spot, the walls between the dimensions break down. It stops -- the 
energy is used up -and the walls come back up. Glory uses that time to get back to her 
dimension, not caring that all manner of hell will be unleashed on Earth in the meantime,” Giles answered.

“But only for a little while, right? The walls come back, no more hell?” Anya interrupted.

“But that's only if the energy is stopped. And now that the Key is human ... is Dawn ...” Tara replied, proving to the others that she was listening from her spot on the floor.

“The blood flows, the gates will open. The gates will close when it flows no more,” Giles recited from the scroll. “That will be when Dawn is dead.”

“Why blood? Why is it Dawn's blood, why couldn't it be, like, a lymph ritual?” Xander huffed, upset.

“Because blood is life,” Tara whispered.

There was a pause as everyone digested what Tara had said, then Buffy moved on.

“Okay, pretty simple math, here. We stop Glory before she can start the ritual. There's still a few hours, right?”

“If my calculations are right, but Buffy...”

“I don't want to hear it...”

“I understand that...” he tried again.

“No you don't understand! We're not talking about this!” she yelled.

“Yes we bloody well are!” Giles yelled back, standing up. “If Glory begins the ritual... If we can't stop her ...”

Buffy stepped up to him, defiant and enraged. “Say it. Come on, we're bloody well talking about this, tell me to kill my sister!”

“She's not your sister,” he reminded softly.

“No. She's not. She's more than that.” Buffy stopped, trying to find the right words. “More than family... my sister, my daughter...”

“She's your sister and your daughter?” Xander said, confused.

“She's me. The Monks made her out of me. I hold her and I feel closer to her than... It's more than just the memories they built, it's physical, it's... Dawn is a part of me. The only part that I...”

She stopped unable to go on. Tara left her place by Willow and Spike’s side, and came over to hug her.

“We’ll solve this. We will,” the young witch promised.

“Buffy, if the ritual starts, every living creature in this and every other dimension imaginable will suffer unbearable torment and Death. Including Dawn,” Giles said sadly.

“Then the last thing she'll see is me protecting her.”

Giles shook his head. “You'll fail. You'll die. We all will.”

“I'm sorry. I love you all, but I'm sorry.”

Anya raised her hand. “Okay, all in favor of stopping Glory BEFORE the ritual! Suggestions? Ideas? Time's a-wastin' ... Oh! Willow! I bet Willow’s got some dark 
spell a'brewin'. Make her a toad, little hoppy toad, then we hit her with a hammer...”

“What about Ben? He can be killed, right? I mean, I know he's an innocent, but, you know, not, like ‘Dawn’ innocent. We could kill... a regular guy...” Xander offered, then hung his head when Giles looked at him. “God...”

“It's doubtful he'll surface again this close to the ritual. Especially after the Knights’ failed assassination attempt. We have to expect it's Glory we're dealing with,” Giles countered.

Anya began to panic. “Well somebody come up with something!”

“Should we join essences and become superslayer again?” Xander suggested.

“That worked against Frankenbot, but to kill a true god... I don't think it's enough. And I need you guys conscious ...” Buffy replied with a sad shrug.

“But we don't have to kill her, just stop her from performing the ritual. I mean, there's just the one time she can do it, right?” Tara said.

“Yeah, we get her on the ropes, we just gotta keep her occupied till it's too late!” Xander enthused.

“Okay, but I'm still not hearing enough ideas, she's a god, let's think outside the box!”

“Anya, apart from your incredibly uninfectious enthusiasm, have you anything to contribute? Any ideas on how to fight a god?” Giles commented testily.

“How about we don't pick on my gi...” Xander began but Anya cut him off.

“The Dagon's Sphere!” the ex-demon piped up.

“Sorry?” Giles said.

“When Buffy first met Glory she found that magical glowy sphere that was meant to repel Glory. We've got it in the basement. It might drive her back, or hurt her... oh!” She ran across the room and waved at the Troll Hammer. “And Olaf the Trollgod's enchanted hammer. You wanna fight a god, use the weapon of a god.”

Buffy crossed to it and picked it up, hefting it easily.

“I like this.”

“Built for squashin'!” Anya cheered, waving her fist.

“Good heft to it. I just might do some damage with this. Thanks Anya.”

“Here to help. Want to live,” came the simple reply.

“Well. We have some ideas. And a little time to come up with some more. Could give Glory a decent run, but ...” Giles said.

They all looked to where Spike still lay motionless and staring with Willow, her eyes closed, sitting cross-legged next to him.

“But we still have no idea how to find her,” Buffy murmured.

********

Willow walked down the stone hall, eyes searching for any sign of Spike or the mysterious *they* William had warned her about. There were doors, lots of them, lining the hall, and more halls of more doors branching off of the corridor she was in.

‘He could be anywhere, in any of these rooms,’ she thought sadly. ‘It could take forever for me to look through all of them.’

Resolutely, she placed on hand on a random doorknob. “Well, here goes nothing...”

She turned the knob and gave the door a trial push. It gave, creaking slightly, and swung open.

“Spike? Spike are you in here?” she called, peering into the darkened room.

But it wasn’t a room at all. It was the alley behind the Magic Box and it was day. Spike was there in the shadows, smoking a cigarette. She rushed up to him.

“Spike!”

He did not appear to see or hear her.

“Spike?” she tried again, waving her hand in front of his face.

Spike did not acknowledge her, but turned his head when the back door of the shop opened and a somber Buffy stepped out.

“Buffy!” she cried, but the other woman did not seem to see her either.

‘What is going on here? I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol...’

“Buffy,” he greeted.

Buffy looked at him, surprised. “Spike. It's daylight and you're ...”

“Not on fire? Sun's low. Is shady enough here.”

Buffy nodded in understanding. Spike sat on a packing crate, and gestured to the space beside him. Buffy sat down next to him.

“I was gonna go in, but I overheard you and the Super-friends sharing ‘a special moment’ and I came over a bit queasy.”

He threw down the cigarette butt.

“Say, aren't you leaving a hole in the middle of some soggy group hug?”

“I wanted a little time alone.”

“Oh. Right then...” he stood and headed for the alley entrance, but stopped at the edge of the sunlight.

“That's okay. I can be alone with you here.”

“Thanks ever so.”

“Right.”

He returned to her, his face concerned and Willow wondered what she was witnessing and when it happened.

“Buff? Slayer? You okay?”

She looked at him and nodded. “I’m here. I’m good.”

“Buffy, if you're in-- if you're in pain. Or if you need anything... If I can help you...”

“You can't.”

“Well, I haven't been to a Hell dimension just of late, but I know a thing or two about torment.”

‘Hell dimension?’ Willow thought.

“I was happy,” Buffy replied.

“I don't ...”

“Wherever I ... was ... I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time didn't mean anything, nothing had form... but I was still me, you know? And I was warm and I was loved... and I was finished. Complete. I don't understand about dimensions or theology or any of ... but I think I was in heaven.”

Spike stared at her, a horrified look on his face. Buffy looked back at him, sad and somber.

“And now I'm not.”

“Buffy...” Spike tried.

“I was torn out of there. Ripped out of there by my friends. And everything here is bright and hard and violent... Everything I feel, everything I touch... this is Hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that... knowing what I've lost ....”

Buffy stopped, clearly unable to say any more. She rose and walked into the sunlight, leaving a speechless Spike in the shadows.

“They can never know. Never,” Buffy said over her shoulder, then walked away slowly.

‘What the hell was *that*?’ Willow thought, shaking off the creepy feeling that had settled on her and hurrying out the door.

She closed it tight and leaned against it, breathing heavily, then she moved down and opened the next door.

This one was Spike’s old crypt. Buffy was sitting in the gloom on the vampire’s old chair. Spike was there as well, facing her, leaning against the television. His heads was bowed, his shoulder slumped. Once again, neither of them acknowledged her presence.

“I do remember what I said. The promise. To protect her. If I'd done that ... even if I didn't make it, you wouldn't've had to jump,” Spike suddenly said.

‘Jump?’

“But I want you to know I did save you. Not when it counted, of course. But after that. Every night after that. I'd see it all again, do something different. Faster or more clever, you know? Dozens of times, lots of different ways ...” Spike paused then added emphatically. “Every night I save you.”

The broken look on Buffy’s face was too much and Willow practically ran out.

‘What the hell is going on here?!’

She began opening doors, thrusting her head into each of them to see where they led. Each appeared to be some kind of scene that occurred between Spike and Buffy. One had them riding on a motorcycle together, and another had them talking over whiskey in the lower level of Spike’s crypt.

‘I didn’t know it looked like that down there...’

Still another had Buffy screaming at Spike as she beat him mercilessly in an alleyway while he did nothing to defend himself. Then there was the one of him and Buffy obviously having sex even though they were pretty well concealed under a rug.

‘Whoa. Twisted fantasy there...’ she thought, quickly shutting that door.

More and more scenes, some violent, some sweet, some tragic, showed themselves to her as she made her way down the hall. Again, most of them were of Buffy and Spike, but a few had her and the others in them. She saw Joyce’s death and Riley’s transgressions, and perhaps the most telling, her own lover Tara as a victim of Glory’s brain sucking. Then she came to the last door in the corridor she was in and she opened it.

It was night in a place she did not recognize, but she saw herself and all of the other scoobies there. They were at a construction site, and there were rubble and human and demon bodies all over the place. There was no sign of Buffy or Dawn, but Spike was lying on the ground at the base of this huge rickety tower, obviously severely wounded. He was looking up at the top of the tower so she looked up too, in time to see a huge portal open up in mid air and all manner of demons and black energy come spewing out.

‘Oh my God...’

Then a lone figure leaped off of the tower, arms spread, and she screamed as she saw that it was Buffy. Her scream was echoed by a howl from Spike as they both watched Buffy plummet to her death.

“BUFFY!” Willow cried.

A hand landed on her shoulder suddenly and she screamed again, spinning to find William, pale and panting, behind her.

“You won’t find him here,” William said.

Shaking, swallowing her grief and terror, she nodded and allowed him to take her out. Back in the hallway, she staggered and lost her balance, collapsing to her knees. William knelt next to her, his face concerned.

“It struck me as unseemly for a gentleman to allow a lady to go off into danger unescorted,” he said.

“What... What was that?” she demanded of him, tears on her cheeks.

“The time before,” came the cryptic reply.

“That makes no sense. None of that ever happened. What is this place?”

He looked at the door-lined hallway then back to her. “It’s where we keep the memories we’d like to forget.”

“But none of that *ever* happened!”

He looked at her sadly and rose to his feet. She stood as well, forcing her legs to do her bidding. He regarded her for a long time, then sighed and motioned for her to follow him.

“I don’t like to come down here. It’s unpleasant, but I think, in this case, sadly unavoidable,” he told her as he took a side passageway and bade her to open one of the doors. It revealed another intimate scene between Buffy and Spike.

“It was love, but it was tainted, you see. His by the demon inside him and hers by the suffering she had endured,” William explained as he took the doorknob from her hand and closed the door.

“I don’t understand.”

“Time isn’t linear,” he offered as an explanation. “It can loop back upon itself.”

She creased her brow, trying to process. “Are you saying that Spike went back in time?”

“The demon deemed us worthy.”

“So... all of that... actually happened.”

It was almost too much to handle.

“He couldn’t save her. Not from the Hell God who took her sister or from herself after she was brought back from the dead.”

“Brought back from the dead? Who would do such a thing?”

He regarded her with eyes that reflected back her own fears.

“He couldn’t save you either.”

“Oh. Oh no. No, I would never...” she emphatically denied.

He held up one thin finger. “Never say never, Miss Willow. None of us can say what we will or will not do. He certainly never intended to become what we became. Sometimes our choices are taken from us by our passions.”

He opened another door for her and she witnessed the painful reenactment of an attempted rape. She almost retched in the hall.

“Oh my God.”

“They were destroying each other with their own pain,” William said.

He led her to yet another door and turned the knob. She held her breath, dreading what she would see on the other side, and found herself in a cavern painted with gruesome and disturbing cave paintings. Then a severed demon head came from around a bend, followed by a weary and bloodied Spike. In his hand was another severed demon head.

“Right then. That was a bloody doddle and a piece o'piss...” Spike said defiantly as he tossed the second head to the ground and dropped to his knees.

“Got any more tests, ya ruddy ponce? I'll take anything you throw at me. If it'll get me what I need to take care of the Slayer, give her what's coming to her, you just bring it on. Bring on the whole...” he asked snarkily, then stopped as something started moving under the soil. “Bloody hell...”

His face hardened and he tensed as hundreds and hundreds of scarab beetles erupted from the earth and began to swarm all over him.

Willow cringed as they crawled over his screaming face and poured into his mouth.

“Oh, oh my god. Oh my god...”

She tried to back away, but a hand stopped her and she saw that it was William, his face grim.

“There’s more.”

She stood, transfixed as she watched the beetles swarm then recede, leaving a prone, battered Spike in their wake. He lay there for several moments and she wasn’t sure if he was conscious or even still alive, when he suddenly drew breath. Willow then saw a monstrous gnarled demon shuffle up to loom over him. His eyes fluttered open and he stared at the ceiling.

“You have endured the required trials,” the demon said.

“Bloody right I have,” Spike replied, weak but defiant. He pushed himself up into a sitting position. “So, give me what I want. Make me what I was... so Buffy can get what she deserves.”

“Very well,” the demon agreed, reaching out a scaled hand to touch Spike’s chest. “We will return... your soul.”

White light flooded the cave and Spike screamed in agony.

Willow rounded on William. “I thought you said he chose you.”

William nodded. “He did.”

“No, he didn’t. That demon just tricked him!”

William shook his head. “Spike’s goal was always to regain his soul.”

“But how could he...”

“Because the demon loved her, but knew Buffy would never love him back without a soul. I know this because he would never have been sent back to correct things if the demon hadn’t chosen the soul willingly.”

Stunned, Willow made her way back out into the hall. William followed at her shoulder. She stopped, leaning against the stone wall, her eyes closed and her fists clenched, then she glared up at the man standing before her.

“You aren’t William,” she accused.

The man shook his head. “I’m the part of him that wants you to find him.”

“Where is he?”

The man began to fade from sight, growing translucent and out of focus.

“Below,” came the reply before the apparition disappeared.

‘Below? Ah, dungeon...’ she reasoned and hurried to find a flight of stairs that went down.

*******

It wasn’t difficult to find a stairwell that led down into the bowels of the fortress. Forcing herself to descend down the passageway was another thing entirely. The way was dark and stank of mold and decay, and the stairs were slippery with god knew what, but she slowly made her way down into the blackness.

Using a simple illumination spell, she created a small light to guide her way down the narrow corridor. The walls were close and the ceiling low, but she had no troubles finding the dungeon door. It was low and made of heavy wood, and there was a small barred window in it. Using both hands, she pulled free the heavy bolt and opened the door to the chamber.

The room was dark and silent, and it smelled foul. Old straw littered the stone floor and the remnants of manacles and shackles hung from the walls, along with a very colorful assortment of weapons and torture instruments. There was a series of cells lining the far wall and another solid door with a barred window at the end of the chamber. Holding her little light high, she looked around and in the far corner, she thought she saw a faint hint of movement and moved towards it.

There, huddled in the darkest corner, with his hands wrapped around his knees, was the true William. He raised frightened eyes to her as she approached and tried to make himself even smaller than he already had.

“Don’t be afraid,” she soothed, coming near.

His face was dirty and streaked with blood and tears.

“Who are you?” he asked in a faltering voice.

She knelt beside him. “I’m Willow. I’m a friend. I’m here to find Spike.”

William cast a nervous glace at the barred wooden door. “I… I don’t think you can…can go in there.”

She looked at the door, secured with a heavy chain and huge padlock. Rising, she fiddled with the locking mechanism.

“You... you shouldn’t do that. They’ll be angry if you do. You... you should get out of here.”

She looked at the scared man on the floor. “I’m not leaving without the two of you. We’re going to get out of here.”

William shook his head, one fist coming up to stifle his sudden sobs. “No... no no one can help us. The wreck... the wreck of our memories sinks forever.”

“Hey. That was pretty good. You *are* a poet,” she said, trying to distract him.

“It’s... it’s not mine.”

“Oh,” she commented, biting her lip as she examined the lock more closely.

“You... you really should go. They’ll be back soon. They’ll be so cross if they find you here...”

She lifted the heavy lock, placing one hand over the locking handle and impressing her will upon it.

“Release,” she ordered softly, feeling a rush of pleasure as she felt the bolt give way.

A shocked gasp came from William and he tried to scramble away from her. “Oh. Oh dear. They’ll be so cross...”

“Look. I said I’m not leaving without you. Don’t worry about who might show up. Spike and I can handle ‘em.”

“You don’t know. You don’t know how terrible they are.”

She gave him a confidant smile as she pulled free the chain and dropped it and the padlock to the floor with a heavy clang.

“Yeah? Well I’ve faced quite a few Big Bads in my day and I’ve come out okay. It’ll be alright William. We just have to get Spike and get out of here. Stay here. I’ll be right out.”

Without further hesitation, she pulled open the cell door and stepped in.

“Spike?” she called, holding her little light high to illuminate the gloom.

“You shouldn’t be here, Red,” came a raspy voice from the shadows.

Turning towards the source of the sound, she found Spike naked from the waist up and hanging from a set of chains fastened to the roof of the cell. His arms were stretched high above his head and he was dangling just enough so that only his toes touched the ground. He was laced with whip and burn marks, his skin hanging in ribbons in places and streaked with blood.

“Well, at least you see me and know who I am. That’s an improvement,” she replied, going to him.

She raised one hand and concentrated on the manacles. “Release,” she ordered, and the restraints unlocked under her command, causing Spike to collapse to the hard floor with a groan.

“Can you walk?” she asked, crouching down beside him.

“Ow. Don’t be Florence Bloody Nightingale now, Wicca,” Spike groused, slowly getting his legs underneath him. As he picked himself up into a kneeling position, Willow got a good look at what was left of his back and winced.

“Goddess, Spike. Geeze...”

He gave her a withering glance. “Yeah? Well what were you expectin’? It’s a bloody torture chamber, an’ there’s nothin’ my maker an’ her soddin’ daddy like better than a decent spot of torture.”

“Angelus and Drusilla did this to you?” she asked, helping him as best she could.

He looked at her through one swollen eye. “Who else beats me like this?” He dropped his gaze. “Except for Buffy. But I haven’t the guts to conjure ‘er into this nightmare. Bloody spineless wanker I am.”

“Spike, listen. Glory has Dawn and you’re the only one who knows where she is. You have to come back with me. You have to take us to where Glory has Dawn.”

Still on his knees, Spike hung his head. “Won’t do any good, Red. I can’t change it. Been tryin’. Been tryin’ with all my might, but nothin’ seems ta make a difference. Everything I knew, everythin’ I did ta try ta change what happened, it all just blew up in my face. It’s useless.”

“No it isn’t. Look, I *saw* what happened. I took a little trip down your musical door memory lane. I *know* how much you changed. Now maybe you didn’t change everything you wanted to, or maybe some things couldn’t be changed, but you can’t give up now. Regardless, you have to be there to help Buffy fight the final fight against Glory.”

“What, and watch her die again? Watch her jump off that bloody tower because I was too much of a failure? Because I couldn’t do one damned thing right?” he snapped back, breathing heavily. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll just stay here.”

“You can’t stay here, Spike. When you kept Tara from going out to be brain-sucked, we lost our guide to Glory. Without you to show us the way, Glory will perform the ritual, Dawn *and* Buffy will die and so will the rest of the world with them,” she argued.

He looked away, defeated. “I can’t... I can’t Wills...”

“So you’re just going to let Dawn and Buffy and the whole world die because things didn’t go the way you thought they would?”

“I...”

“Well, well, well. Who do we have here?” came a sneering voice that Willow knew all too well.

She looked to the doorway and saw Angelus and Drusilla standing there. Angelus held a whimpering William by the back of his neck.

“I... told you... they’d be cross,” William choked.

“Repulso!” Willow commanded, thrusting out her hand.

A wave of red energy burst forth from her palm, knocking the two vampires backwards and out of the cell. The shock made Angelus release William and the man fell to the floor.

“Wow, Red,” Spike breathed appreciatively.

“Best defense is a good offense. C’mon,” she answered, bending down to take his arm and urge him to his feet.

He rose, staggering, but went with her, leaning heavily upon her for support.

“C’mon ponce, get a move on,” Spike groused to William as they approached the cell door.

Still whimpering, William did as ordered and got to his feet.

“Bloody Hell I was such a wanker. Why couldn’t I have asked for Bruce Lee’s soul?”

Willow managed to chuckle as she helped Spike out of the cell. Crossing the threshold, she saw that Angelus was still down, but she couldn’t see Drusilla. She didn’t have time to wonder where Spike’s Sire had disappeared to because Drusilla grabbed her and yanked her backwards.

“Nasty girlie. Spoil all our fun. Naughty,” the vampiress scolded, knocking Spike from her grasp and sending the injured vampire slamming into a wall covered with weapons.

Willow growled and grabbed Drusilla’s hands, pulling them from her hair.

“Repulso!” she yelled, sending the insane vampire flying across the chamber.

“Reveale!” she then ordered, raising her hand to grab the stake that materialized in her palm.

Drusilla screamed a challenge and rushed at her, but she was ready. She ducked and spun as the vampire lunged, coming up behind her and swinging the stake home. Drusilla exploded into dust with a shriek.

“Wow. I did it,” Willow gasped, surprised and pleased with herself.

“I’ll kill all of you for that, bitch,” Angelus threatened, grabbing William and preparing to bite him.

Scrambling, she looked for an opportunity and a way to save the terrified man, but then a shadow rose up behind Angelus and she saw Spike swing a sword he’d taken from the wall of weapons Drusilla had tossed him into. The sword arced through the air and neatly lopped off Angelus’ head, making the body disintegrate into a pile of dust.

Dropping the sword with a heavy thump, Spike stared down at what was left of his tormentor.

“He might be a ponce, but he’s *my* ponce,” he snarked.

William shakily got up, brushing off his dusty clothes. “Th... thank you.”

“Spike, are you ready to go?” Willow asked.

“I’m half afraid to tell you no, Red. You might send me flying through a wall or ram that pretty stake right through my chest,” he answered, still standing on shaky legs.

Willow looked at the stake in her hand, then dropped it.

“Buffy and Dawn need us, and I came all the way here to find you. If you’re coming with me, we have to leave now.”

Spike placed a hand on William’s shoulder and the two of them rose to their full height, each silently supporting the other.

“We are with you, Miss Willow,” William replied.

Spike sighed. “Yeah. Lead on, Wicca. We’ll be right with you.”

Willow flashed him a brilliant smile and led the way out of the dungeon. They followed slowly behind.

********

Buffy was pounding away on the bag, trying to burn off energy when Giles entered the training room.

“You sure you're not going to tire yourself out?” he asked softly.

“I'm sure,” she replied, not missing a beat.

“We're still working on ideas. Time's short, but it's best to wait 'til the last minute. If we go in too early and she takes us out, there’s no chance of getting her to miss her window.”

“So we wait,” she said sending one last punch. The chain snapped and the bag flew a few feet before hitting the ground.

“I imagine you hate me right now,” he sighed.

She turned to face him. “Little bit. But I understand.”

“I love Dawn,” he assured.

“I know.”

“But I have sworn to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing... what other people can't. What they shouldn't have to.”

“You try to hurt her, you know I'll stop you,” she warned.

“I know.”

They stared each other down for a moment, then Buffy crossed to the couch and sat down. Giles sat beside her.

“How many apocalypses is this for us?” she asked casually.

“Well, six, at least. Seems like a hundred.”

“I've always stopped them. Always won.”

“Yes,” he answered simply.

“I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him so much... but I knew what was right. I don't have that any more. I don't understand. I don't know how to live in this world, if these are the choices, if everything's just stripped away then I don't see the point. I just wish... I wish my mom was here,” she admitted, tears in her eyes.

Just then Xander ran in, skidding to a hasty stop. “Buffy... Willow and Spike, they just woke up!”

She nodded at him and stood. As she was starting to leave, she turned back.

“The spirit guide told me that Death was my gift. I guess that means a Slayer really is just a killer after all.”

“I think you're wrong about that.”

“It doesn't matter. If Dawn dies, then I'm done with it. I'm quitting.”

With that, she walked out of the training room, leaving Giles alone with his thoughts.

She spied Spike, Willow and Tara on the floor where she had left them, only Spike was sitting up now and shaking his head. Willow was saying something to him and urging him to stand.

Buffy clenched her fists and stalked over to them.

“Where is she?” she demanded. “Where’s my sister?!”

She raised her fist, prepared to strike Spike if need be, but then Willow amazed her by stepping in-between them.

“I won’t let you hurt him, Buffy,” the witch said defiantly, her ‘resolve face’ firmly in place.

She blinked at her friend, surprised by the hard glint in Willow’s eyes.

“He’s been through a lot and he needs a few minutes before he can get up,” Willow continued.

“We don’t have a few minutes,” Buffy countered.

Spike reached up to grasp Willow’s wrist.

“Get the ‘Bot. We’ll need her,” he said businesslike.

“Oh! She’s in the basement. We put her down there after... after we rescued you from Glory. One of Glory’s scabby minions shorted her out.”

“Fix ‘er. She’ll come in handy as a diversion,” he told her.

“Oh, great idea!”

Xander nodded. “I’ll bring her up. We found her down there when Anya and I were ... looking for the Dagon’s Sphere.”

“Great,” Willow answered.

Spike looked at Buffy. “Do you have the Troll Hammer?”

“Uhh... yeah,” she replied, confused.

“Good.” He turned to Tara. “Glinda, go upstairs and get the Book of Darkest Majick.”

“Darkest Majick?!” the witch exclaimed. “Oh... oh no...”

“There’s barrier spells in there. Good ones that’ll work against the Hell Bitch.”

Tara shook her head. “No. I couldn’t. Those spells ...”

“I’ll do it,” Willow interrupted. “I’m more comfortable with the darker stuff anyway.”

She moved to head up the ladder to the restricted section.

“Red,” Spike called out in a warning tone and she turned back to him, kneeling in front of him and placing a gentle hand on his face.

“I’ve done it before,” she whispered. “You showed me. But you also showed me that things don’t have to go the way you think they will. You can change the future.”

They stared at each other for a few moments and Spike’s eyes grew misty, but then he finally gave her a small nod and she pulled away.

“How are you feeling?” Tara asked Spike as Willow went up the ladder.

The vampire thought for a moment. “Better.”

“I was doing some... rejuvenation spells while you were... gone. I hope they helped.”

Rising slowly to his feet, Spike gave a grateful nod. “Yeah. I don’t feel like I’ve gone twelve rounds on the business end of Angelus’ fist.”

Tara gave him a happy smile then ducked her head. “I should go help Willow.”

“Yeah. Keep ‘er from gettin’ too deep into it.”

With both the witches upstairs, Anya and Xander in the basement collecting the Buffybot and Giles still in the Training Room, Spike and Buffy were left to themselves. They stared at each other awkwardly until Buffy put her hands in her back pockets and looked away.

“Look,” Spike began softly. “I know that you’re worried and scared, but you have to trust me. There’s things you don’t know...”

“Whose fault is that?” she snapped back.

Spike closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “We really don’t have time for this. You just have to trust me. I am doing everything I can here.”

“Do you know where Dawn is?” she demanded.

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation.

“Then we need to go get her.”

Spike shook his head. “Not yet. We need to go to your place and get clothes for the ‘Bot and weapons. We have enough time. Things won’t go down until just before dawn.”

Buffy looked him over, her hard face softening a little. “Are you up to fighting?”

He paused for a moment then nodded. “I’ll hold up. Whatever Glinda did fixed me up enough to do what I gotta do. I’m not good enough to go spin kicking a Gruth’lak demon, but I’ll do alright against Glory’s midgets.”

She gave him a short nod. “Let’s go then.”

********

Spike held his breath as they began the walk to Buffy’s house, following along just a step behind her as they walked the darkened, quiet streets. Fate was with him and she did not try to ask him questions as they made their way to Revello Drive.

Stepping up onto the front porch, he remembered the last time he had been here. This was the night when Buffy re-invited him into the house, where she had showed him the she was willing to see him as something other than a monster. He’d stopped at the door, hadn’t even tried to cross the threshold. He even offered that she could hand the weapons out to him instead. She’d also extracted the promise from him, the one he hadn’t been able to keep.

She opened the door and they went in. There were no barriers this time. At least none of the metaphysical kind. Of the emotional kind, there were walls twenty feet high and eight feet thick.

“Weapons are in the chest by the TV. I'll grab the stuff upstairs...” she told him.

Spike headed into the living room. “Won't bother with the small stuff. Couple of good axes’ll hold off Glory's mates while you take on the lady herself.”

Buffy stopped him.

“We’re not all gonna make it. You know that,” she said.

He shook his head. “No, I don’t know it. But yeah, it’s a possibility. Hey, I always knew I'd go down fighting.”

She swallowed and set her jaw. “I’m counting on you, Spike. To help save her.”

He looked her directly in the eye and swore on his own soul, “Til the end of the world. Even if that happens to be tonight.”

“When this is all over, you’re going to tell me everything,” she told him.

He smiled at her, a small, sad smile, and tears came to his eyes, then he reached for her and gently took her face in his hands. “When this is all over, I promise I will tell you *everything.*”

She nodded and took a small step back, tears in her own eyes.

“I’ll be a minute,” she managed and started up the stairs.

“I know I’ve kept things from you,” he began.

She stopped on the stairs and turned to look at him.

“I know it’s looked like I’ve been dishonest. But everything I’ve done, I’ve done because I have been trying to protect you and spare you pain. I do love you. Buffy, even if you don’t love me, even if you’ll never love me, and I will do everything in my power to make sure you and Dawn come out of this alive.”

She nodded. “I know.”

“Thank you. For treating me like a man, even though I’ve been a monster. That’s...” He stopped, cutting himself off. “Go on. Get your stuff. I’ll be here.”

She gave him one more long look before going up the stairs. He went into the living room and pulled the axes out of the weapons chest. She came back down with clothes for the ‘Bot a minute or so later, and joined him in the front foyer.

“Ready?” he asked her.

She nodded.

“Let’s do this then.”

“Okay.”

He handed her one of the axes and they left the house together.

********

Upon returning to the Magic Box, Spike found Willow finishing up the repairs on the Buffy-Bot.

“There, she’s good to go,” the young witch said, closing the back flap on the robot with a satisfied grin.

“Good work, Red. We’ve got the clothes. Buffy, you and Glinda play dress-up. I need to talk to Red here,” he replied, taking Willow’s arm.

“Oh… okay…” she agreed, allowing him to pull her aside.

“What… what is it?” she asked when they were in the training room.

“When you were in my head, did you see anything about the mojo you did on Glory?”

Willow shook her head. “No, not really.”

Spike sighed. “Okay. There was this thing you did with Glory. It weakened her for a bit.”

“Oh? What did I do?”

He tried to remember. “Well… you. You were tryin’ ta help Glinda, ya see. You’d been chartin’ the essences of the blokes she’d turned crazy, and you’d figured out a way ta reverse what’d been done to ‘em.”

Willow looked worriedly at the closed training room door. “I… I was. I mean, I did? Um… wow. But… Spike, whatever I did, I must have spent days researching how to do it. But this time, you *saved* Tara and she didn’t get brain-sucked, so I have no reason to try to reverse what Glory did to her.”

Spike nodded. “Yeah, and you also wouldn’t have used mojo on ‘er before so she won’t be ready for some of the things you throw at ‘er tonight. Might have the same effect.”

Willow nodded nervously and swallowed. “Okay.”

“Use the dark magick book. Those spells’ll work. I heard Buffy talkin’ about how you were the only one who ever slowed the Hell Bitch down.”

“I was?”

“Yeah, she called you her big gun,” he said with a wry smile.

“Gun? Oh Spike, I’m not anyone’s gun.”

He put both hands on her shoulders in an attempt to calm her. “Don’t go willie on us now, Red. We need you.”

She put her resolve face on. “I won’t.”

“That’s more like it.”

He gave her shoulders a squeeze before releasing them and moved to open the door. Willow’s small voice stopped him.

“Spike?”

“Yeah, Red?”

“Did I… Did I really turn evil and hurt people?”

He hung his head and sighed. “I didn’t see it. Only heard about it from Lurky while I was ‘recuperating’ from what he did ta me. Never saw you kill that Warren bloke, but he was a right wanker when I met with him the first time, and he was a real bastard to you lot later. I know ‘e hurt Buffy and Tara, so I wasn’t sad ta see him go. Still… you been steadily growin’ in your powers in the years I’ve known you. You’re no scared, limp wristed Sabrina-wanna-be. You’re a powerful witch. But power can corrupt. It seduces ya if yer not careful.”

He looked back at her.

“It’s what happened ta you, Red. You let it seduce ya. Ya started dabblin’ in things ya weren’t ready for. That’s why ya went to the dark side. Now ya know what can happen, and ya can avoid it. You just have ta remember that with magic, there’s always consequences. Always. Now we gotta go. Dawn needssavin’ an’ we got a Hell Bitch to kill.”

Willow nodded, taking in his words, then gave him a brave smile. “Right behind you.”

He gave her a nod and a smile, then opened the training room door and walked out into the main store. The others were expectantly waiting for them.

“Bot’s ready,” Buffy said.

He nodded and moved to pick up the Gruth’lak battle axe from the pile of weapons.

“Mind if I use this?” he asked.

Buffy shook her head, a small smile on her lips. “Go right ahead.”

He hefted the axe and spun in it in his hand as Buffy turned to Giles.

“We on schedule?” she asked.

“Yes. It's time,” the Watcher confirmed.

“Okay, this is it. Spike, you lead the way. We'll follow. Everyone knows their jobs. Remember, the ritual starts, we all die. And I'll kill anyone who comes near Dawn.”

Spike swallowed and handed weapons to Giles, who placed them in a bag.

“Not exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech, was it?” he commented.

“We few,” Giles said in sardonic agreement.

“We happy few,” they said together.

“We band of buggered,” Spike finished, setting his jaw and leading the way out.

********

They were silent as they wound their way through the quiet pre-dawn streets. For Spike every step he took brought him closer to his doom. Despite Willow’s steadfast belief in him, he still held an unspoken terror that this attempt to change the future would fare no better than his others. He tried not to show it, however. He needed to be strong and confident. If he wasn’t, he knew there was no hope for Dawn or Buffy or any of them.

“How you doing on those spells, Red?” he asked as they neared the construction site.

He had heard Willow going over the spells she took from the book of dark magic, memorizing the words as Tara guided her.

“I... I’ve got a couple ready.”

“All we need to do is slow her down long enough for the critical time to pass,” Giles reminded.

“Remember, Willow first, then the ‘Bot with the Dagon Sphere. Then I get her with the troll hammer,” Buffy added.

“And we’re to take care of any minions,” Anya piped up, gripping her baseball bat tightly in her hand.

It was enough, wasn’t it? Spike was thinking frantically. It had to be enough. Doc was dead, so there would be no one to cut Dawn if Buffy succeeded in keeping Glory occupied until after time was up.

‘She did it before. Glory never got to Dawn. It was Doc who cut Nibblet.’

They cleared the buildings and arrived at the site, the rickety tower looming above them like a grotesque, poorly formed insect. At the base of the tower, a good number of Glory’s brain-sucked victims and her robed minions guarded the staircase. Spike remembered from before that hitting the loonies would cause his Chip to fire. He could hit the minions though, and his hand gripped the smooth handle of the battle axe in anticipation.

“We’re here,” he said, clenching his fists tightly as he spied the small figure of Dawn at the top of the structure.

Buffy looked to where Spike was staring and saw her sister. “Dawn...”

“Shpadoinkle ...” Xander breathed.

“What is that... ?” Anya asked.

“The portal must open up there,” Giles observed, looking askance to Spike who nodded once, his eyes riveted on the empty spot.

Xander cast about and spied the large wrecking crane. “Hey, check that out. I think I can work with that,” he said.

Buffy saw what he was referring to and nodded. “Give it a shot.”

“See you guys in there,” the young man told them and headed for the crane.

“Where’s Glory?” Buffy asked, looking around.

Spike pointed out the auburn-haired woman surveying the crew’s handiwork. “Over there.”

Buffy looked to where Spike was pointing and nodded.

“Okay, Willow, you’re up,” Buffy announced.

Willow swallowed and nodded. Buffy left her with Tara and took the Buffy-bot to the other side of the site where she could approach from the rear. The witch looked to Spike and Giles.

“Use the binding spell first, then back it up with a heavy hitting blast. We need to weaken her if we can,” Giles instructed.

“Okay. I’ll try,” she promised, looking at Tara for reassurance.

“You can do this, Red,” Spike encouraged.

She looked at him and drew herself up, the timid bookworm being replaced by the confident spell caster that she was.

“So can you, Spike. Remember, nothing is written in stone.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Red.”

She gave him one more look, then turned and walked away from them. She stopped a few paces away from where Glory was standing, took a deep breath, and cast the binding spell.

“Kali, Hera, Kronos, Tonic…” she incanted, her hands held out.

The surge of power was noticed by the minions and a number of them ran for cover.

“Air like nectar thick as Onyx… Cassiel by your second star…”

“What the hell is going on here?” Glory demanded, coming over to see what was happening. “Oh, it’s one of the Slayer’s little girlfriends. That’s so cute.”

“Hold mine victim, as in tar,” Willow finished.

Glory tried to step forward, but found herself caught in the spell. She pushed forward, but wasn’t able to make any progress. Enraged, she snarled like a trapped animal.

“Ummm, Willow. I think now would be a good time for that blast,” Tara said nervously.

“Yeah,” Willow agreed, aiming her ten fingers straight at Glory. “I. Give. You. Pain.”

On the word ‘pain,’ Willow’s eyes turned black and empty, and a wave of dark power engulfed Glory. The Hell God did something none of them had ever seen her do before: she screamed.

The scream only lasted a few moments, however, before Glory gathered her strength and broke the binding.

“Is that it? Is that the best you can do, witchbitch?” Glory mocked.

A leather bag at Willow’s feet unraveled and a host of knives came floating up, all aimed at the Hell God.

“Bag of Knives,” Willow intoned, and the knives went flying straight towards Glory.

Glory stood her ground and batted the knives away faster than the human eye could follow.

“Well, that was fun, but really not worth my time,” Glory taunted, then her eyes strayed to Tara who was behind Willow and a sadistic smile came to her lips. “Sucking on your girlfriend’s mind though, now that might be worthwhile…”

“Tara!” Willow cried, panic seizing her. “NO!”

Glory moved forward, intent on attacking Tara, and Willow reacted without thinking. When Glory moved to bat her aside, she tapped into the well of darkmagick she had delved into for the spells, and rounded on the Hell God, shoving her own fingers into Glory’s head.

Both Willow and Glory screamed as a burst of white energy came pouring out of the god’s head and up Willow’s arms. The blast backlashed and all three women were sent flying. Willow and Tara smashed into a wall and landed unconscious. Glory, however, was back on her feet in a few seconds, albeit quite shaken and disturbed. Her minions gathered around her worriedly.

“What the frikkin' hell did that bitch do to me!?!” Glory yelled.

“You look fine! Truly!” a minion assured.

“Stylish and affordable! Or ...” another added.

Glory staggered. “She made… she made a hole… God I need a meal. I need a brain to eat…”

“Take mine, oh groove-tastic one –“ the first minion offered.

“I said a BRAIN, you worthless dirt! I got places to be! Big day... Need a brain ...” Glory growled, turning slowly and spying what she thought was the Slayer. “Suppose I could always use yours.”

The Buffy-bot dressed as Buffy responded coolly. “Come and get it.”

The two eyed each other. The Buffy-bot took a circling step, Glory watching her with disdain. Glory took a step as well, but it was a tad unsteady.

“You don't seem very well. Do you need to lie down and have a tonic?” the bot asked reasonably.

“Your little witchbitch gave me kind of a headache there. And all it did to her was kill her and her girlfriend, so kudos to her! But if you think this is gonnalast more than eight seconds...”

“I notice that you're talking, whereas in your position I would attack me.”

“Oh most sweaty-naughty-feelings- causing one, should we --,” a minion began but Glory cut him off.

“Guard the girl! I can take care of hairdo here. This is a... a...”

“Diversionary tactic?” the minion offered.

“Go! Guard!” Glory commanded.

Obeying, the minions spread out around the stairway area.

“You keep saying I'm nothing, I'm still not feeling attacked by you. It's strange ...” the Buffy-bot went on.

Glory moved towards her, then hesitated. Confusion crossed her face as she tried to walk ahead but could do so only with effort.

“You're not as blurry with speed as usual, either,” the bot noted.

“The witch ...”

The bot shook her head. “It's not her.” She produced the Dagon's Sphere from behind her back. “It might be this though...”

Glory snarled at the sight of it.

“I heard it was supposed to repel you. So my guess is that you probably shouldn't touch it.”

She tossed it to Glory, who instinctively caught it -- energy rippled from it, causing her to convulse with agony. A scream welling up inside her, Glory crushed the sphere in her hand. Looking down, breathing hard, she looks up with murderous hate...

“You're gonna wish –“ Glory began, murderous hate in her eyes.

Buffy's fist flew right across her jaw, sending her crashing to the ground. She rebounded up, only to be knocked back by a flurry of blows and kicks. At first, she barely fended them off at first, then she started to get her own back, landing a couple of good blows.

As the women fought, the minions gathered the crazies to guard the stairway.

“Stand fast! Kill anyone who dares approach! This is our day of Glory!” one said proudly.

“Well punned!” another complimented.

“Well, it just called out to me –“ the first answered, then toppled over when an arrow struck him in the chest.

Suddenly Giles, Spike and Anya all charged the group. Anya, wielding her baseball bat, waded through the crazies with a warrior yell with Giles by her side. The Watcher had a sword, but he used it defensively against the crazies, saving his killing thrusts for the minions.

Spike, swinging the battle axe high over his head, did as he had done before and jumped clear over the line of humans to land among the minions. He attacked with ferociousness, all snarls and fury, determined not to fail this time around. But, just as had happened before, he accidentally decked a human in his fighting fervor. His chip activated and he clutched his head in pain, allowing a minion to knock him to the ground.

From their sprawled positions on the ground, Willow woke and put a hand to her throbbing head. She looked around nervously, finally seeing Tara lying not far from her. Ignoring her pain, she crawled over to her lover and shook her urgently.

“Tara? Tara!”

Tara blinked awake and looked around her in dazed confusion.

“Willow?” she asked weakly.

“Tara… you’re all right.”

Tara nodded. “What happened?”

“Glory was gonna suck your brain. I stopped her. I think I kinda overreacted a bit,” Willow explained.

“Better too much than too little,” Tara said.

“Go overkill. Yay. Think it was enough?”

The two looked to see Glory fighting with the Buffy-bot.

“I don’t know,” Tara answered.

Willow looked at the scene before her: Glory battling the robot, the real Buffy waiting in the wings with the troll hammer. Dawn held captive at the top of the scaffold. Spike, Anya and Giles beaten back behind a pile of rubble and kept there by minions and brain-suck crazies.

“History’s repeating itself,” she whispered.

Then she saw Glory knock the head off the robot, and the real Buffy step up to nail her with the hammer.

‘I can only hope Spike has the courage to do what he has to do.’

********

For Spike the entire tableau was an exercise in agony; a twisted, nightmarish deja-vue from which he could not escape. All around him were familiar horrors, and he felt the same desperate helplessness, the same impotent fury that he had before. It was all he could do just to hold it together and not go insane. He watched as Glory destroyed the Buffy-bot, only to be attacked by the real Buffy with the troll hammer. The two then began a desperate race to be the first up the scaffolding, each trying to prevent the other from going any further.

He saw Buffy take quite a few hard hits and close calls, but none kept her down for long until Glory knocked the troll hammer out of her hand. She started to fall, and Spike nearly panicked, wondering of this was something new or something he had just missed the first time around, then he watched her grab Glory and send them both crashing to the ground. They both got up, but Buffy didn’t have the hammer. Then the crane Xander had been operating swung its wrecking ball and sent Glory flying backwards through a brick wall into an office. Buffy took the opportunity to grab the hammer and bounded after her. Spike sent a silent prayer after her fleeing form.

“And the glorified brick-layer picks up a spare,” Xander announced proudly as he joined them.

“Good work,” Giles praised.

“How are we doing?” Xander asked, crouching down beside them.

“So far it’s a tie,” Anya replied.

“We haven’t gotten up to Dawn, but neither has anyone else,” Giles added. “If Buffy can keep Glory down long enough, though, it won't matter. There's only a few minutes left to start the ritual.”

At least I killed Doc. Nibblet’s safe from him. One of the damn few things I did right this time around,’ Spike thought to himself, looking up to the tower to check anyway.

He was shocked when he saw the tell-tale shadow of another figure on the scaffolding with Dawn.

‘NO! Oh, God, no! I killed him! I tore off his head and threw it in the fireplace!’

“Someone’s up there! Giles! Doc is up there!” he cried.

The others looked up, Giles shaking his head. “Spike, that’s impossible. You told me you killed him.”

“I *did* kill him, you git! But I’m tellin’ you I can *see* him. He’s up there and he’s gonna cut Dawn!”

“Okay, we gotta charge or something ...” Xander said.

“We tried that,” Anya reminded.

Spike tried to figure out what to do. Last time, Willow had popped into his head and…

::Spike…::

‘Right on cue. Red’s gettin’ this magick thing down pretty quick. I wonder how much ‘o her future can be changed,’ he wondered to himself, then shoved the thought out of his mind. ‘One thing at a time. Deal with power-trip witch later.’


::Can you hear me?::

“Loud and clear ...” he replied.

“Who? What?” Giles asked but Spike waved a hand.

::Is someone up there with Dawn? Do you see the demon who cut Dawn before?::

Swallowing, he nodded. “Yeah. Bloke I thought I killed. Wills, I gotta get up there.”

::Thought so. When Buffy said there wasn’t any body, I wondered about that.::

“Dunno how he survived what I did ta him...”

“Are you talking to us?” Xander questioned.

::Then get up there. Go now.::

“Just as soon as you part the seas, Red.”

::GO!::

He rose to his feet and charged for the tower, confident in the knowledge that his path would be cleared for him by the time he got there. The crowd was thrown back, split down the middle, and he raced through, his feet clearing the bottom stair as he leapt up.

As he ran, his vision narrowed and his senses condensed as he focused on one goal. His footsteps drummed out a heartbeat as he took the stairs three at a time, four at a time, each landing he turned bringing him closer to Dawn. The sound resounded in his ears until he realized that it was a heartbeat he was hearing: Dawn’s heartbeat- fast and pounding in her fear, in his fear.

Thrum, thrum, thrum.

Closing the distance between himself and his greatest failure, he was struck by a sudden moment of clarity. Everything he had done, everything he had tried to do, was all to bring him back to this one moment, this one regret that had eclipsed all regrets. He was about to face Doc again, weak and desperate with fear. But this time he knew that he could not best the demon in his current state, nor did he have to. He did not need to fight Doc and win. All he had to do was keep him from cutting Dawn by whatever means necessary.

::Even if that means we don’t survive,:: William’s voice popped into his head.

::Yeah,:: he replied in complete agreement.

::’Tis a far far better thing we do now, than we have ever done...::

::Shut up, you poof.::

But deep inside, he knew that his soul was right, and the knowledge defined his intent and set his goal, and he moved forward with the faith of someone who knows his purpose and is not afraid.

Thrum, thrum, thrum.

His feet, her heart, pounding out the rhythm as he climbed.

Thrum, thrum, thrum.

The only sound he could hear, resounding in his ears, a pounding reverie.

Thrum, thrum, thrum.

Only one flight left to go. He could see her now: bound, terrified, weeping, and her assailant- the deceiving old man.

Thrum, thrum, thrum.

His feet took the last few stairs in one leap and he was up, his goal within reach.

“SPIKE!” Dawn screamed.

He didn’t answer; he had no conscious thought outside of his objective. His game face came forth as he barreled down the gangway with only one goal in mind: Get. Him. Away. From. Dawn.

The demon turned to face him, not surprised to see him.

“Oh look. A hero…”

Thrum, thrum, thrum.

He closed the distance. He wasn’t even slowing down. Doc turned the knife towards him, and the blade pierced his flesh as he slammed into the demon with the full force of his body. He didn’t scream, didn’t even flinch, at the pain. He just grabbed hold of Doc with both hands, fingers ripping through cloth andflesh like claws, and threw them both off the tower.

They fell and Spike felt a moment of triumph. The knife in his gut was eviscerating him, and Doc was struggling, but he had no intentions of letting go. The lizard tongue came out and struck at his face, but instead of letting go as Doc hoped he would, he clutched Doc tighter, brought his fangs to the demon’s neck and bit down. Hard. Doc screamed.

The blood was acid that burned his face, but he did not let go. It seared his lips, chin and neck in fiery rivulets, scorching him. He ignored it, ignored the knife in his abdomen, ignored the sound and feel of his bones breaking, of a rebar puncturing his leg as they hit the hard ground. Nothing mattered except to make sure Doc couldn’t cut Dawn. Slamming into the concrete, he blacked out.

Coming to, he knew several moments had passed. He was on his back, looking up at the pre-dawn sky. He turned his head to his left to look for Doc, but the demon was gone. His instant panic was quelled by Willow’s telepathic voice.

::He’s gone. Dismembered and torched to dust.::

He gave a weak nod, then turned his head to the right in time to witness Giles smothering a badly beaten Ben. He felt dimly sorry for the Watcher, who had tried so hard to avoid murdering Glory’s human host. Looking back to the left and slightly up, he saw Xander and Anya staring down at him. Anya’smouth moved but he couldn’t hear her over the thrumming in his ears. The thrumming of Dawn’s heartbeat.

‘Dawn…’

Straining to see the tower stairs, unable to lift or feel his legs, he struggled to find Dawn. He located her coming down as she turned on the last landing and stepped on the final flight. Buffy was directly behind her, and his vision condensed to focus solely on the two young women, blocking out everything else. Both of them were whole, and Dawn, while traumatized and shaking, was unharmed.

As they came down, both pairs of eyes raised to meet his. Dawn’s eyes went wide and she stared, but he could only grin at her with his burned lips. She spoke, but all he heard was her heart, soon joined by another, and he was confused until he realized he was hearing Buffy’s heart too. Buffy’s heart: strong, and steady and alive.

The true weight of his accomplishments struck him, and he realized that he had changed history. Despite all of his fear and doubts, despite his colossal mistakes, he had still managed to save Buffy. His face cracked, his eyes streaming tears as he watched them come to him. Then a world of pain flooded through his body. He gave an inhuman croak from his bloodied lips and passed out.

**********

“So, little vampire,” Lurky’s gravelly voice said in his blackened dreams. “You did it.”

He opened his eyes and found himself standing back in the African cave. He was whole and unharmed, so he knew that it was either a dream or the entire ‘second chance’ thing had been an elaborate hallucination.

“Suppose so,” he replied noncommittally.

“You surprised me, really. In spite of everything that was thrown at you, you still managed to change the course of history.”

He looked at his fingernails, feigning disinterest. “Just call me Spike: Champion of Impossible Odds.” He waited a beat. “So, was this all just another one of your little tests or did it actually happen?”

Dark laughter echoed off the cavern walls. “A good question.”

There was a long silence that he finally broke. “Well?”

More laughter answered him and he began to get irritated. Never a good thing.

“No,” a new voice replied, and he turned to see William standing behind him.

He blinked at his soul. “No what?”

“No, it wasn’t a test. It really happened.”

He was surprised by William’s force of conviction. In his memory, he could not recall a time when William had been convicted about anything.

“Well, that’s good to know,” he answered warily, wondering if the soul was real. “Wish I could’ve saved Joyce, though.”

William shook his head sadly. “It was her time. She knew though, and loved you for it.”

He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and looked away.

“You were given the challenge of changing the course of history, vampire,” Lurky’s voice said. “Your reward is knowing that you succeeded. The rift and imbalance that occurred when the Slayer died and was brought back to life has been corrected. The Wheel of Destiny has been returned to its proper course.”

“Don’t take much stock in destiny,” he admitted.

“The Powers That Be are very pleased with you,” William told him.

“Don’t take much stock in them either, bunch of meddling wankers, all caught up in their damn Fate and Prophecy.”

“They are allowing you to keep me, even though technically since Buffy never died, the course of events that led you to seek me never happened. It’s one of those Paradoxes so frequently associated with time travel and the changing of history,” his soul went on.

He looked at the younger, weaker version of himself and lifted one disdainful lip. “Nice to know we’re stuck with each other.”

“I did not want to be called back. I did not want to join with you,” William said honestly. “I found you repulsive and vile.”

“Come on now, tell us how you really feel,” he sneered back.

“But I found that you have a good heart, even though you are a demon. You are courageous and willing to sacrifice anything for love. I am honored to be part of you.”

“Yeah, well a lot of that had to ta do with the part of you that never left.”

William put out his hand. “I have no desire to be at odds with you. We are one and I have found that we have a common goal.”

He eyed the offered hand for several moments, then reluctantly took it. William’s long fingers closed around his tightly and the man smiled.

“Let us return. The world of our making awaits us and there is much left for us to do before all is set to rights.”

He nodded in agreement, but snarked anyway. “Isn’t that just ducky. I’m so looking forward to it.”

William smiled and chuckled, then turned to lead the way out of the cave. He moved to follow.

“You will not see me again, vampire,” Lurky said. “In reality, you never saw me.”

He turned his head to look at the demon. “Well that’s good. Could live without ever seein’ your ugly face.”

“Be careful what you wish for from now on, vampire.”

“Yeah, yeah yeah, and all that rot,” he sneered, then motioned to William who was waiting for him. “C’mon now, lead the way. Gotta see about a girl.”

William sniffed in distain and continued down the passageway. “Gotta see about a girl? Is that the best you can do? No wonder she never noticed your affections.”

He shook a warning finger at his soul as they walked side by side. “Now don’t you go gettin’ any ideas, ya ponce!”

“I’m quite certain I can come up with a more suitable expression of our love.”

“Like Hell you will! I won’t have you handin’ her some of your pathetic drivel,” he warned.

“Women love an honest expression of a man’s feelings,” William argued back, stopping and turning to face him. The tunnel was coming to an end about twenty yards ahead of them.

“Not this woman. Take it from someone who knows, Slayers don’t go in for that flower and frills rot. Give ‘em somethin’ to hack and slash. I know from experience that the fastest way to a Slayer’s heart is with something sharp, pointy and lethal. Besides, nothing rhymes with entrails.”

William stood up straight, his nose held up in offense. “You truly are a vulgarian of the worst sort.”

“And you’re a spineless git. So what else is new?”

William gave him an exasperated glare. “I doubt we will ever get along amicably.”

“Well. Me demon, you soul. Doesn’t make for the closest of friendships. Besides, I’m bad and you’re not.”

“Bad,” William scoffed. “As if that was a high aspiration.”

“Oi! Do not underestimate the power of badness. It’s served me quite well over the past century… oh bloody Hell, now you’ve got me talkin’ like a nancyboy, you ponce!” he cried, horrified.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with speaking the Queen’s English properly.”

“If you want everyone to think you’re a wanker.”

William sighed and closed his eyes with a subtle shake of his head. “We could spend an eternity arguing here.”

“I was bored stiff ten minutes ago.”

“And our lady is waiting,” William reminded.

“It’s not polite to keep a lady waiting.”

“It certainly isn’t. Shall we do this then?”

He nodded. “Yeah, let’s get on with it.”

William gave him a soft smile and stepped towards him. Then his form went translucent and he stepped into Spike’s body, merging with him. The vampire shuddered as his soul joined with him, feeling William enter and take his place inside him.

Shortly after their merging, the end of the tunnel began to glow, and he knew that the way back to the waking world had opened. Smiling, tears moistening his eyes, he placed one hand on his chest and walked through.

*********

“Spike. William, wake up,” a voice called to him from the darkness.

He opened his eyes to see Joyce looking down at him.

“Joyce?” he whispered in surprise.

“Hello William,” Buffy’s mother greeted.

“But I thought…”

“Oh, I’m still dead, Spike. But I’ve been allowed to see you.”

“Where am I?”

“Physically, you’re on the sofa of our living room. You were severely injured and burned when you fell from the tower. Mentally you’re here with me. At least for the next few moments.”

He could feel the sting of tears on his eyes. “Joyce, I’m so sorry. I tried so hard…”

“Hush. There was nothing you could have done. The fact that you tried so hard did not go unnoticed.”

“You said I was on the couch in your living room. That I was badly injured and burned. How bad off am I?”

“Well, broken bones and bruises aside, the worst of it are the burns on your face and neck. The demon you bit had acid for blood. The skin of your right check and jaw has been eaten away, as well as a good bit of your lips and part of your throat,” the spirit replied.

“Won’t be winnin’ any beauty contests anytime soon then.”

Joyce chuckled softly. “You always did have such an indefatigable wit.”

He smiled back. “’S all part of my irresistible charm.”

“Don’t I know it.”

A frown crossed his face. “I will heal up alright, won’t I?”

She patted his hand reassuringly and he wondered how a ghost could feel so real.

“Yes. Willow and Tara are both working very hard to speed up your healing. You should be fine in a couple of weeks, barring any unforeseen apocalypses.”

“Don’t even joke about that, Mum. Nasty doomsdays have a habit of findin’ the Hellmouth on a regular basis.”

Now it was Joyce’s turn to frown. “I know.”

He took her hand in his own gently. “We miss you, Joyce, but we’re tryin’ ta go on without you. Your girls are doin’ great, and I’m doin’ my best ta look after ‘em.”

“I know. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“You’re welcome, Joyce.”

Joyce looked behind her, her face pensive. “I don’t have much time left. I just wanted to tell you that I’m grateful for everything you have done, and how proud I am that you tried so hard to change the future, even at great pain and risk to yourself. The Powers That Be are very happy with you, and so am I. Thank you for saving my daughter.”

“You’re welcome, Joyce.”

She looked behind her again. “I have to go now. Give Buffy and Dawn my love.”

“I will.”

The image of Joyce began to fade.

“Take care of them,” she charged.

“Until the end of the world,” he vowed back.

Joyce smiled and disappeared from sight. “Good bye, William.”

“Bye Joyce,” he replied, but she was already gone.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, his vision was blurry, but he could make out the distinct image of Dawn looking down at him. The teen’s face came into better focus a few moments later, and Dawn gasped when she saw his eyes were open.

“Buffy! Buffy, Spike’s awake!” Dawn called, practically leaping up from her seat on the edge of the couch and running for her sister.

While he waited for Buffy to arrive on the scene, he took the opportunity to take stock of his surroundings. He was indeed on the Summers’ couch, and he did appear to be badly wounded. However, he wasn’t in any serious pain. In fact, he was quite numb.

‘Wiccas worked some powerful mojo on me if they’re blockin’ the kind of injuries Joyce said I had.’

Buffy came into view, hands damp from the kitchen, and William stirred inside him at the sight of her.

:: How shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Day?

Thou are more lovely and more temperate.:: his soul mentally whispered.

::No! No sonnets! No bloody Shakespeare!::

“Well, Sleeping-Not-So-Beauty finally awakens. Took you long enough. It’s only been five days,” the Slayer told him, coming to sit beside him on the edge of the couch.

Five days?’ he thought, and his face must have given him away.

“You heard me. Five days. Willow was planning to go in and drag you out if you didn’t wake up soon.”

She shrugged and went on, “I suppose a good part of that was the knockout drugs we’ve been giving you, but still, you’ve been dead weight on the couch. We were considering just tossing some cushions over you and substituting you as furniture so we could watch Heraldo.”

He heard himself laugh and felt his lips move; Buffy’s nose crinkled up and she shied a little bit.

“Okay, your burns are even grosser when you try to smile,” she said.

He creased his brow, wondering how bad it really was if the sight of him disturbed even the Slayer.

“I’d bring you a mirror, but well, there’s the no reflection thing, and I am so not wasting any film on you just so you can see how gross and oozing you are. Acid burns and you, not a good combination.”

He managed a tiny shrug and the movement dislodged something near his face. Buffy immediately moved to pick it up, and he saw that it was a plastic tube that he hadn’t noticed was resting against his mouth.

“We’ve been tube feeding you,” she explained, holding up the reddened plastic.

He nodded that he understood.

“It was easier. We didn’t have to wake you, and I doubt that you could have sat up to feed yourself anyway. Just think, though, you look 200% better today than you did five days ago.”

He moved his limbs experimentally and found that he could move, albeit he felt as if he was swimming through tar to do so. He tried to sit up, but Buffy put a firm hand on his chest and pushed him back down.

“Oh no. You’re not getting up until you get the go ahead from Dr. Willow,” she told him.

He settled back against the couch cushions and looked up her. She looked tired and worn, but she was *alive*; she was alive. She smelled of sunlight and vanilla and all the scents he associated with her, and he was just so *happy.*

::Surprised by joy- impatient as the wind,:: William supplied.

::Wordsworth now? What happened to Shakespeare?::

::O, never say that I was false of heart,

Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify.::

::Hrumph. Pansy. Bloody Sonnet 108::

::But you knew it, didn’t you?::

He growled mentally and sought to shove the soul back into his box so he could look at Buffy undisturbed. It didn’t work.

::She walks in Beauty like the night

   Of cloudless climes and starry skies

And all that’s best of dark and bright,

   Meet in her aspect and her eyes.::

::ARGH! SHUT UP!::

::But we always loved Byron.::

::Bollocks! If the wanker hadn’t already been dead by the time Dru Sired me, I would have made it an immoral imperative to eat him.::

“Are you in pain?” Buffy asked suddenly, probably misreading the looks on his face as he argued with his soul.

He shook his head, and a moment later he was surprised when Buffy took his hand. He gave her a confused look, but she lowered her eyes.

“Willow and Giles, they told me everything,” she admitted softly. “I admit, it was a little hard to swallow at first. Y’know the whole coming back in time to save me from dying thing seemed a bit far fetched.”

She gave a mirthless laugh. “Then Giles showed me a journal you’d written in and it detailed everything, even stuff I know you couldn’t know about because I never told you about it.”

He squeezed her hand comfortingly.

“They also told me you have a soul. Tara confirmed it and you wrote about it in your journal.” She paused as if gathering her thoughts and the hand that held his tightened slightly. “This is really hard,” she finally said. “I mean, Angel loved me. I know he loved me, and I loved him more than anything in the world, but I can’t imagine him doing for me what you have done.”

She swallowed hard and he saw the tell-tale glimmer of tears brimming her eyes, and he wished desperately to be able to speak.

“B… Bu-ff…” he croaked through his ruined lips.

“Don’t try to talk. You’ll only open your burns and go all gross and oozy again. God I wish I knew how Mom got all the blood out of everything all the time.”

At the memory of Joyce, she hung her head.

“Mom. You really tried to save Mom.” She looked at him, tears falling. “I’m sorry you couldn’t.”

He lifted one hand to cup her cheek, using his thumb to brush a tear away, and tried to tell her everything in his heart with his eyes alone.

“You did so much and I beat you down for it every chance I could. Even in the other timeline, it was obvious that I used and beat you just to make myself feel better. But instead of dumping me like anyone else would, you just let me. You stayed and suffered through everything I did to you.”

::Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds;

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks upon tempests and is never shaken.

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

     If this be error, and upon me prov’d,

     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.:: William recited.

He sent nothing in response to the Sonnet. In truth it cut far too close to the heart of things and he couldn’t face it, not with Buffy opening to him in ways he never thought he would ever see her open.

“And when we’d both been pushed way past our limits and both did horrible, unforgivable things to each other, you went to earn back your soul. You went *looking* for someone to give you a *soul,*” she emphasized.

“Do you think Angelus would have gone to get a soul for me? Angel without his soul hated me and tried to kill me and all my friends. But you…”

She trailed off, and he once again cursed his inability to speak.

 “What you did for me, and for Dawn… That…” she continued then stopped again.

He squeezed her hand again.

“Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen now, and my guess is neither do you,” she finally said. “I guess it’s up to us now to make a different future. Hopefully one that isn’t as screwed up as the one you lived through.”

He gave her a nod and what he hoped was a look of encouragement.

“I do know that I will stop using you as my convenient punching bag, and I’ll try not to automatically assume the worst of you. Anything else that happens between us will have to happen on its own. That’s all I can promise you.”

It was more than he ever hoped to hear from her lips and he almost started to cry again.

“Don’t start crying. You’ll move your jaw and crack open your burns again. And I’d kiss you on the cheek right now, but you smell *really* gross.”

He let himself laugh silently at her attempt to break the heaviness that had settled around them.

“I’m gonna go get the others. Dawn and Willow wanted to see you right away, but I made them promise to wait in the kitchen until I’d had a chance to talk to you by myself. I’d better go tell them the coast is clear before they batter down the door. You up to seeing visitors?”

He nodded, and she smiled at him.

“Okay. I’ll go let in the hoarde.”

She released his hand and stood, but their fingers lingered together, pulling apart at the last possible moment as she headed for the kitchen door.

::How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...:: William began, but he cut him off with his own verse.

::And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.::

There was stunned silence across the link between them, then William sent, ::I’m not familiar with that one.::

::Dylan Thomas. He was after your time. Blighter could write circles around your pathetic Elizabeth Barrett Browning.::

::And exactly how would you know that if you had ‘no use for that worthless drivel’ as you so eloquently put it?::

He didn’t answer. There was no sense in rising to his soul’s bait. They were stuck with each other after all, and he needed to maintain some semblance of his former ‘bad’ self.

And then Dawn was bounding in, and she was reaching out to touch a part of him that wasn’t injured, her hands gentle and tender. Willow and Tarafollowed, his wiccas who believed in him and had given him their faith and strength. Two more who made up his little family, the ones who chose him and in turn were chosen by him to be closer to him than any blood kin had ever been.

Buffy came again at last, standing with one shoulder against the doorframe, giving the others time to fuss and jostle over him. She was watching them scrabble and jockey for position next to him, and he saw her face crack into a wide smile as she laughed.

Her laughter was music and the sight of her a miracle he could not have hoped to witness. Their eyes met, and in spite of all his wounds and burns, he felt more whole than he had ever felt in all his long years. He had finally come home.

‘And death shall have no dominion. Bloody damn right.’

FIN