Heaven's On Fire
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Heaven's On Fire
Spike's neck ached. The pain could only be matched by the pain in his ass that the Slayer caused. And she had caused the neck pain as well. She had taken his bed, helped herself to it, and he had slept in a chair, his neck bent at an odd angle for the entire night. He had awoken when the Slayer rose and changed her clothing, but he hadn't let her know. Instead, he had enjoyed the view, peeking from under one eyelid as she pulled his T-shirt off and slipped back into her own attire.
Not that he'd seen much. She had stayed close to the shadows, but it was enough to take his mind off the pain.
He was draining his second cup of blood when Giles walked in, foregoing the custom of knocking before you entered. "Hello, Giles. Nice of you to knock."
"Is Buffy here?" Giles asked, scanning the area.
Spike glanced around the room as well. "Do you see her, mate?"
"No." Giles slammed the door, stepping all the way into the crypt. He paced for a second, then sighed loudly. "Damn it."
Spike set the cup aside and stood. "Why do you ask?" he queried, trying not to sound as interested as he truly was.
"I can't find her," Giles replied. He turned to look at Spike, studying him closely. "Was she here last night?"
"Perhaps." Spike gave him a small smile.
Giles reached down and retrieved a weapon from the floor; a weapon he had crafted with his own hands using brass knuckles and a sword of davron. "She had this last night."
With a shrug, Spike said, "She was here. Spent the night."
Giles' gaze grew more intense as he tightened his hold on the weapon. "I see."
Spike saw the man's knuckles whitening and shook his head. "No, you don't see. She got herself snockered at the demon bar and I went and got her. She slept in my bed and I slept here. So, you can stop Watcher posturing over your little Slayer, Dad."
It was Giles' turn to smile. Dad. He would soon find out what that truly meant. Then what Spike had said registered. "At a demon bar?"
"Mean little hole on the outskirts of town. They don't water down their spirits, though. My kind of dive."
"And I take it I have you to thank for showing her where that dive is?"
Spike eyed the dagger in Giles' hand. "Something like that. Want to tell me why you're on a Slayer search?"
"We had a fight. Or rather, she had one with me. I was merely trying to explain something to her."
Spike cocked his head to one side, indicating a chair in the corner. "Want to have a sit and share some whiskey?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I would." Giles caught the bottle the vampire tossed him and gladly took a seat. He took a drink and tossed it back to Spike, who was sitting opposite him. "I'm leaving Sunnydale and returning to England. To live."
The mouthful of liquor that Spike had drained from the bottle shot out, drenching the far wall and the floor. "You're what? Have you lost your mind? The Slayer - she needs a Watcher and a -"
"No, I don't think she does." Giles looked up at the vampire. "Let's be honest. For most of her tenure as the Slayer *she* has been the one calling the shots. Her judgment is impeccable and her timing, her skill-"
"And her needs? What about those? She needs *you*. You know that you're the father in the Scooby Gang equation, right?"
Giles scratched his jaw, deep in thought. "I don't recall ever hearing any mention of a father on that cartoon."
"Maybe you just didn't listen hard enough. You should start now." Spike pulled up another chair and sat down, facing Giles. "That Slayer has her hands full. Money problems, kid sister, saving the world, not to mention the whole dying thing that seems to be harder for her to handle than you'll ever know, and-"
"And my girlfriend is pregnant and refuses to come here. If I want to be a part of my child's life, I have to return to England."
Spike felt his jaw drop and had to force himself to close it. "What about your children here? Like it or not, the lot of them are yours in some way or another."
Giles studied his hands, unable to meet the other man's eyes for fear of admitting that there was far too much truth in his words. "My hands are tied, Spike."
"Untie them. You belong with Buffy."
Giles finally did look up, meeting the other man's gaze. "And where do you belong?"
Spike made a sweeping gesture around his crypt. "I guess right where I am."
"But where do *you* fit into the *Scooby Gang*?"
Grinning, Spike leaned back against his chair. "There were always vampires on Scooby."
"But they were real men dressed as vampires." Giles' brow creased as he realized the implications of his words. Spike may as well be a real man dressed as a vampire for all the good his fangs did him. "Have you given any thought to that higher purpose I once mentioned to you?"
"I don't know what you mean." Spike replied.
"Well, you're here. And you very clearly have feelings for Buffy and Dawn and - and I suppose you can be trusted - to a certain extent."
"You *suppose*? Do you know how many times I've almost lost life and limb taking care of this bloody gaggle of -"
Giles exhaled and leaned forward. "You could try to fill some of the void of my leaving."
"You mean walk around in a pair of glasses that I clean every three minutes, go 'hmmmm' a lot, and read until my eyes cross? No thank you." Spike was enjoying the conversation. The old man trusted him. That in and of itself was a pretty nice feeling.
Giles frowned and took his glasses off, cleaning them absently. "You know what I mean. You can help research. You can fight demons better than I ever could in any capacity. And you can - you can listen to her. Help keep her safe. Watch over her and-"
"In other words, you want me to be a Watcher while you go set up house with your girl?"
"Something along those lines. Never in an official capacity, but you could definitely assume some of the responsibilities that I have."
Giles knew he was had. Buffy could use the money and he had little doubt that Spike would share. "With pay."
"Sold. I'm a Watcher."
"You're a 'Looker After'. You're a 'Seeing Eye Vampire'. You're not quite a Watcher."
Buffy walked the streets of Sunnydale, staring at its residents through hooded eyes. In the park, she paused to watch children at play, listening to their laughter until it made her stomach ache. She had no memory of what that innocent laughter felt like as it bubbled forth. At the gates of Restfield Cemetery, saw a casket being carried over sloshy terrain to its final resting place. The ladies, adorned in black, dabbed at their eyes with tissues and Buffy figured if they knew where their loved ones were heading, the tears would be of joy. Or maybe jealousy.
Because it was the ones who were left behind that were unlucky.
And just like usual, she was being left behind again.
When her father had left her behind, packed his belongings into a green Volvo and waved goodbye as he pulled out of the cul-de-sac, her heart had shattered, leaving her crumpled on the front lawn. No one could comfort her. Not her mother. Not Dawn. Not the nice old lady who lived next door and baked cookies. No one. She stayed there until she fell asleep and someone, she never found out who, carried her to her bed.
When Angel left her, she had cried so long and so hard that all of her ached in ways that, even now, she couldn't begin to fathom. She had curled into a ball beneath her cover, shaking and sobbing until her bones, her very core, screamed for any kind of reprieve.
When Riley had left her, she had stayed relatively numb to the pain that accompanied the loss, but still, she felt it. She felt it in mundane ordinary things that made her cry, but she never just lay down and cried over Riley. Spilt milk had been safer in the long run.
And when she had watched them zip her mother into a body bag, all of the previous pain had paled in comparison. Losing her mother, losing her best friend, her one constant, had caused so many emotions that she somehow forgot that she was *supposed* to cry. Standing on the sidewalk, listening to the soft sobs a few yards away in the cemetery, she tried to remember if she had cried even once when Joyce died.
Surely she had. She was required to cry. Wasn't she?
Or maybe she had cried herself dry at all the losses before and she had grown immune.
But her heart told her otherwise.
She turned on her heel and walked back toward the old high school. What was left of it was charred and the horrible fried snake smell that surrounded the area never quite went away - even after so much time had passed. It was foul, putrid, and everything that a hellmouth should smell like. But it smelled like something else, too.
She closed her eyes and inhaled and she smelled the library, full of dusty books and Giles' tea - imported, thank you very much. She could smell his morning bagel, smell Ms. Calendar's perfume as she would walk into the room. She could even see Giles' face light up as he showed her some fascinating piece of text. She could smell chalk and disgusting lunchroom food. She could smell bagged lunches and the apple blossom air freshener in the girl's restroom.
If she concentrated hard enough, she could hear the laughter in the hallways, the static-y sound of the intercom, and the familiar footsteps of Giles as he paced back and forth in the stacks, tiring himself in an endless search for a certain book or ancient tome.
She opened her eyes and stared at what was left of the school. That chapter of her life was closed and she would never get it back. As hard as it had been back then, she'd still had Angel. She'd had her mother. She'd had friends who loved her unconditionally. And she'd had the promise that Giles would still be her Watcher the next day.
Now she had nothing but uncertainty. And it made her want to find another platform to dive from and find the peaceful comfort of death once more.
Buffy recognized the voice immediately, the voice that had soothed, scolded, given her sage advice, and been the father she had longed for time and time again. "Giles," she replied without turning.
"I've been searching for you all over town."
"And now you've found me."
Giles stepped around her so he could see her. "I - we need to talk."
"Are you changing your mind?"
"Then what more is there to say?" Buffy's eyes met his and she had to force herself to remain calm. "Just goodbye. That's it. And I'm not good at the big parting scene, so we'll just say it here."
"I'm not leaving for good. I'll come back when-"
"You say that now, Giles, but you won't. My dad said those same things to me. He said 'I'll come back every weekend and see you' and he never did."
Giles stepped closer and reached out for her. When she backed away, he crossed his arms and stood up straighter. "I'm not your father."
The words stung, but Buffy refused to let it break her. Instead, she turned his words around on him. "No, you're not my father. I only spent the past six years wishing you were."
If Giles' heart hadn't already broken a million times, he was sure it would have exploded from his chest. He felt his eyes well with tears and this time, when he stepped forward, he did take her in his arms. "I love you, Buffy. I love you as if you were my own child, but that isn't so. And my responsibility is to Olivia now."
Buffy, whose arms remained firmly at her sides, allowed him to hug her. Part of her wanted to collapse against him, every bit the distressed damsel, but another part, the stronger part, forced her spine to stiffen and her resolve to go unbroken. "Will they send me a new Watcher?"
"What?" He stepped back slightly, brow furrowed. He had not even considered the possibility. "I don't know."
Buffy pulled away completely, breaking his hold on her, and the loss she felt was immeasurable. It was a loss she knew she'd become intimate with in the coming weeks. "Is there a loophole in your Watcher book that says if you knock someone up you get to go?"
She raised her eyebrow. "So, you're just winging it. Not even death gets me out of being the Slayer, but you just go when you're ready."
"I'm not Chosen by some divine calling. I'm just a Watcher."
"Not anymore. You're giving that up, remember?"
"I'll always be-"
"How are you going to watch me if you're in England? How are you going to help me and be all rational when I'm freaking if you're a million miles across the ocean!?"
"The telephone doesn't have arms, Giles! It doesn't have *your* arms. It isn't a hug when the world is collapsing! It isn't a pat on the back for a job well done! It isn't a smile or a laugh and it- it isn't *you*. We were a team! You're nothing to me now. You're just someone I used to know!"
Giles finally allowed himself to cry. He'd been holding it in, holding it back since he'd first broken the news to her, but he could no longer do it. "I will always be your Watcher! I will *always* love you. I will *always* come if you call me." He almost broke complete, but he held it together, his tone taking on a harder edge. "But I will not stand here and let you continue to attack me. My plane leaves tomorrow at nine p.m. and I would love nothing more than to spend the day with you, but I can't-" He held up his hand and took a few steps back. "I just can't continue to do this."
Buffy watched him leave, watched the way his shoulders slumped and his hands went into his pockets, and it took every ounce of restraint not to chase after him and tell him she loved him too. But that would require more than she was able to give and she lacked the energy to do it. Begging him wouldn't change his mind.
But a good slaying would certainly help hers.
She made her way behind the school and poked through the woods until she found the sewage entrance, and dropped inside. She knew for a fact, thanks to listening to the chatter at the Lair, that a nest of vampires had holed up in the Master's old home. She sleepwalked her way through the tunnels, enjoying the darkness, loving the way the sounds of water echoed softly.
Before she knew it, she was at the mouth of the old broken church. She hadn't been back since she had died there and something about that made her stomach quiver in anticipation. She stepped into the doorway and glanced at the small puddle that had drowned her. Bending down, she dipped her hand inside and was startled to find that it was warm and inviting. Her reflection stared back at her, vacant and somber.
But the reflection of the vampire behind her was not there.
She watched herself smile in expectation and said, "You're about to have a really bad day."
Standing, she turned, and the smile on her face faded. There were easily thirty vampires assembled between herself and the entryway - her freedom.
"I'm going to have a bad day?" the vampire closest to her asked. "Sweetheart, you're the one with no weapons."
Swallowing hard, Buffy maintained her ground as they moved closer.
And each of them sported very sharp, very pointy, very deadly looking fangs.
// Lesson the first, a Slayer must always reach for her weapon. //
"Great," Buffy mumbled, as Spike's words filled her head. "Just great."
Dawn watched from the doorway as Giles packed his personal items from the bathroom: his shaving cup, his razor, his cologne. He put it all into a leather satchel, then set it aside, closed the medicine cabinet, and stared at his reflection in the mirror. She noted, not for the first time since he'd told her he was leaving, that his breathing was ragged and his hands were shaking. She stepped into the room and offered him her brightest fake smile.
"How are you gonna shave tomorrow if you're all packed up?"
He returned the smile, but his wasn't nearly as convincing. "I was thinking of growing a beard."
"Ewww." Dawn wrinkled her nose. "Face fuzz, as a rule, is kinda gross. And when your baby comes, you can't kiss it. It'll hurt it."
Giles considered her words thoughtfully. "You're right. I suppose I'll forego the ... er ... gross face fuzz."
Dawn nodded her approval and leaned on the counter next to him. "My dad used to let me shave his face until this one time that I almost completely took his nose off. He didn't let me do it much after that. It was always Buffy he wanted. He said she had graceful hands." She held her own hands up, and wiggled her fingers. "He always told me that I had Troll hands."
Giles took one of her hands in his. "I'd let you, and your troll hands, shave my face any day."
"And I wouldn't cut your nose off." Dawn sighed a little. "We're not really talking about what's important, Giles."
"Oh? And what would that be?"
"Buffy." Dawn glanced up at him. "She's not doing good is she?"
"I think she's doing as well as can be expected."
"But we don't know what to expect because we don't really know anyone who was dead for over a hundred days and then came back. We're winging it and I don't think we're doing it right."
It was Giles' turn to sigh. "I agree. Has she talked to you at all about her experience in the - afterlife?"
"Nope. I try to mention it and she either walks out or bites my head off."
"I know the feeling," Giles replied.
"She wasn’t keen on you leaving, huh?"
Giles studied the floor and shook his head. "Not keen at all."
"You understand though, right?" Dawn asked. When Giles looked up at her with curiosity, she added, "You're *everything* to her. When she first came back, she asked for you all the time. I mean, you're the one person in all the world who has always been there for her. For *us*. And it's hard to give that up."
"Yes, it is." He held his arms open and embraced the young girl. "I do love you, Dawn."
"I know." Dawn tilted her head back and gazed up at him. "And you have to bring the baby as soon as it comes so I can introduce it to American music. Remember that night you stayed and we listened to Britn-"
"Heaven help us all."
"Oh, God." Buffy barely missed being decapitated by a scythe that was being wielded by a vampire wearing a neon colored tu-tu. "Look, I know that there are no mirrors in your world, but you have *eyes* don't you? You're blinding me with that outfit and that's cheating!"
"Less talk. More killing," the ring leader cried.
One on one, Buffy could hold her own all day long, but the bullpen the vampires had formed was becoming smaller and smaller, and her lack of a weapon was beginning to take its toll. Her fists were black and blue, already swelling. And the skin on her knuckles had been sliced against more fangs than she cared to think about. One of the demons kicked her feet out from under her and she scrambled to regain her footing as quickly as she had fallen. If they got her on the ground ---
She tried with all her might to inch closer to the doorway. If she could just make it to the tunnels, she'd be able to outrun them and there was no bad in that. What was a little running now and then? Who was she to turn her nose up at a good jog? Or an all out sprint?
A fist caught her in the jaw with enough force to bring tears to her eyes. She blocked the next swing with her upper arm and rammed a fist into the creature's stomach.
It doubled over, giving her a chance to spring upward and its back. She stepped on it, and leaped, gaining quite a few feet and almost making it to the door.
One of the vampires caught a handful of her hair and yanked backwards and for a second, she thought her neck had snapped, but luck was on her side. If you could call it that.
Luck was on her side in the form of a beefy red demon wearing a very expensive suit and Italian leather shoes.
"Enough!" he cried, looking thoroughly disgusted at the scene before him.
The vampire let go of her instantly and they all backed away. Buffy included. Even from a few feet away, she could feel power radiating off of him. The energy in the room fairly crackled.
He stepped into the lair and looked around, then his eyes rested on Buffy. She felt naked, exposed to his piercing red-orange gaze. "Hello, Slayer."
Buffy nodded and readied herself in a fighting stance. "We'll skip the pleasantries. Who are you?"
"Oh, but the pleasantries are the most fun." He took a step toward her, smiling when she stiffened, and extended a hand. "I'm Bob."
She almost laughed. "A demon named Bob?"
"A Slayer named Buffy?" he fired back.
"I'd tell you to go to hell, but since that's probably your home-"
"Come on, Slayer. Play nice." Bob kept his hand out. "I did save your neck."
"My neck wasn't in danger." Buffy spat angrily, then realized how stupid that sounded. She had been fighting *vampires* for God's sake. "What do you want?"
"I heard a rumor. Funny thing, that. You can hear all sorts of things if you try hard enough." Bob withdrew his hand and clasped his long scaly fingers. "There have been rumblings about you. Demons claiming that you're in need of money. Well, you killed the M'Fashnik demon who had stolen much of my business - so I have a proposition for you."
"You're not my type."
"How would you like to get paid for being a killer?"
The vampires nearest her rumbled in protest and Buffy shook her head. “Mostly I’d like to leave this place.”
Bob held his arm out, bent slightly, the way old fashioned men would escort a lady to a cotillion. “Allow me.”
“I don’t let demons touch me.”
He grinned. “I’ve heard different. But that is neither here nor there. Come along. We really do have much to talk about. I swear to you that I will not harm you.”
“I swear to you that you’d have a better chance of -”
“Please, Buffy. The bravado, the quips. It grows tiresome. Come with me or I’ll let you get back to dying at the hands of these mongrels.”
As an ultimatum, it was damned good. She accepted his proffered arm and climbed the steps, falling into place beside him as they walked back through the tunnels. His arm was big, bulging with muscle that had been camoflauged beneathe the expensive suit. He patted her hand in a gesture that was as freaksome as it was oddly comforting and they strolled side by side toward town.
“I’ll pay you to kill demons. I would not ask you to kill humans.”
“That’s probably good because it would be a waste of time.”
“I like that you’re blunt.”
Light from Weatherly Park spilled through the sewer grates and she glanced up at him and gasped. He no longer had horns, red skin or demonic orange eyes. He looked human. Completely human. “What are you?”
“Bob.” He smiled down at her. “Bringer of bounties. Get it? B.O.B.”
“I get it. But I asked *what* you are. Not who.”
“I’m a bounty hunter.”
“What kind of *demon* are you?”
“Oh, I’m not a demon so much as a shapeshifter. I can morph into scary facades to get what I want. Back there I looked like Belzor. Belzor is a demon who is coming to town to look for something these vampires you were playing with happen to be hiding.” He gave an amused shrug. “They were terrified.”
“I actually had noticed that.”
“I need you to help me kill Belzor.”
“Because if he gets his hands, er ... claws, on what those vampires have then he’ll bring about an apocolypse and really, I’m just over those.”
“You and me both.” She stopped beside the ladder that would lead her into the cemetery. “Why don’t I just dust the vamps and take whatever it is they have. Which is what, by the way?”
“It’s a talisman.”
“Well, that was not very climactic.”
“It’s a talisman that will allow the wearer to become invincible.”
“Oh, another gem of amara. Swell.”
“Very astute. It’s in the same family as the amaran gem, but it has mystical energy that, in the wrong hands, would open portals and unleash hell.”
“Don’t you just love it when that happens?”
“Not especially. I’m pretty sure the hellbeasts that I impersonate would take a great deal of offense to my shenanigans. The fewer that find their way to this side of the world, the better.”
“That’s probably true.”
“Tell you what.” He smiled at her, looking like a male model in a toothpaste commercial. “You help me kill Belzor and the talisman is yours. I know there are a couple of vampires in your life-”
“How do you know about my life? You spy on me?”
“You were my bounty for a while. It was my job to know about your life. Then, on the night I was supposed to kill you, you did an olympic rate dive off a platform.” He mimicked her walking and diving with his hands. “And then the hit was off.”
“Who hired the hit?”
“A hellgod named Glory. But you smashed her to pieces and then your watcher killed her host.” Bob casually leaned against the ladder. “So, you died and her minions still paid up, but with her dying and you coming back ... the bounty was removed. You’re safe as can be. From me at least.”
“But you *have* been spying on me?”
“For quite some time. Look, you need money and I need an assassin. It’s just that simple.”
“Not to sound ungrateful, but you giving me a talisman isn’t going to pay my mortgage.”
“The talisman was yours because I thought you’d like it. You’ll be paid one hundred thousand dollars for your first hit. Belzor. I’ll give you half up front and the rest when it’s done.”
Her jaw dropped open so far that it actually popped. “A hundred thousand dollars?”
“There has to be a catch, though.”
“It’s good to be wary.” He studied her. “The catch is simple. Our contract is for life. Yours, to be exact. You still get to slay your demons and commit to your higher calling, but your life is essentially mine. Until you die you will work for me. With me. And you do what is asked of you.”
“You get to kill me when you’re done with me. Is that it?”
“No. Once you agree to become a partner you’re protected in our circle. As a matter of fact, our services are available to you should you run into something you can’t control. A hell god, for example.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Here.” He pulled a scroll wrapped in a pretty, yellow ribbon from the front pocket of his coat. “This explains every aspect of it. What we expect. What you can expect. If you decide that you want in all you have to do is press a bloody fingerprint to the parchment. If you decide that you don’t want it, simply burn the scroll and we’ll forget this happened.”
“Why can’t I work non-contract? I’ve never liked unions.”
“This isn’t a union. It’s The Alliance.” He handed her the scroll. “I was contracted when I was fourteen. My father and my grandfather had both been contracted at a young age and I was grateful to be called. You’ve been called once before, Buffy, and you accepted your role as the Slayer. This is no different. We simply pay better.”
She held the scroll in her hand, studying it. “Is this one of those secret society things? I have to keep it on the down low?”
“You tell no one. To expose your role would get you killed.”
Her jaw tightened a little. “Do you have a match? A lighter? My answer is no.”
“Read it.” Bob patted her on the arm. “Just read it and see if we’re a match. That’s all I ask.”
She stowed the scroll in her back pocket and nodded. “I gotta go.”
“I’ll know your decision when you make it.” He told her. “It’s enchanted. If you agree, I’ll find you and we’ll plan Belzor’s death. Okay?”
“’Kay,” she told him, not looking back.
She wanted to be away from him.
He was terrifying. It was that simple. Her blood was cold in her veins just being near him.
Pushing the grate aside, she climbed out into the middle of the cemetery and glanced around.
Then she ran as fast as she could, racing around headstones as if the hounds of hell were inches away.
Spike stepped out from behind a mausoleum just in time for her to slam against him. She hit with a mumbled curse as they flipped end over end down a small embankment and finally came to rest in a small puddle of leftover rainwater that was more mud than water.
“Bloody hell, Slayer!” Spike snapped, leaping to his feet and removing his jacket. He shook it, hard, sending thick globs of mud flying through the air, where a majority struck Buffy’s face and hair. “I should make you have this cleaned!”
“Spike!” she growled, leaping to her feet and shoving him backwards. “What the hell are you doing? Following me?”
“You ran into *me*. Not the other way around.” He gave his jacket a final shake and put it back on, finally looking at her. The stagnant water and disgusting smells of overflowing trash bins had masked what was clearly evident to him now that he could see her. She had been injured. Her hands were a mess. “What happened?”
“Vamps.” She put her hands behind her back quickly, not wanting him to see the damage. She didn’t like to be touched anymore. By anyone. She wanted to be left alone.
He glanced at the ground around them. “Where’s your Slayer bag?”
“It’s at home.”
“Where is your weapon?”
“You’re the Slayer. Where’s your stake?” He reached forward, attempting to pat her down.
“Get away from me, freak!” she snapped, shoving him again.
“You don’t have one, do you?”
He studied her closely, then, sizing her up. Her heartbeat was erratic and it wasn’t from the jolly romp down the hill they’d just enjoyed. She was scanning the woods around them, clearly looking for someone. Or something. “What are you running from?” he asked, pulling a small hatchet from his back pocket as he glanced into the darkness as well.
“I’m not.” She noticed the axe. “Too bad that didn’t cut your head off.”
“And she spews more venom. Gotta tell you, love, it certainly smells better than the other junk you spewed last night.” Turning to look at her again, he raised an eyebrow. “So where were you?”
She glanced down guiltily. “Just blowing off some steam.”
“Just out for an after dark jog then? In SunnyHELL? Where every demon knows what you are and would love to have a go at you?”
“I can still hold my own.”
“You forget, love, I’ve seen your attempts at that lately.”
She stepped out of the mud puddle, making sure she directed her feet his way when she attempted to kick the mud off her shoes. She grinned a little when a glob hit him in the face, then she actually chuckled when he picked up a handful and sent it flying her way. She ducked, then stuck her tongue out at him, only to be rewarded with his second handful catching her on the forehead.
Spike smiled, genuinely pleased to see a little spark of amusement dancing in her eyes. He watched her wipe the dirt from her face and pack it into a hard, round ball, which she tossed into the air while she watched him. She pretended to throw it. He fell for it and ducked and she smashed it into his face, laughing now.
“That’s it!” Spike growled, pretending to be enraged. “I’m going to let you have that one because you had a rough day, but-”
Buffy, who had been forming a new mud ball, stopped what she was doing. “What do you know about my day?”
“Your watcher came by looking for you and told me what happened.”
It shocked her how easily she became agitated, how quickly she could leap from playful abandon to rage. “How nice of him to share,” she snapped, throwing the ball at a sign nearby, splintering the wood. “I gotta go.”
“I’ll walk you home.”
She drew up short so quickly that he walked into her back. She looked up at him. “I know where I live.”
“I needed to talk to Niblet anyway.” He took her arm, leading her toward town.
“I don’t need an escort.” She pulled away. The way he touched her was eerily reminiscent of Bob. She didn’t know why, but something about Bob unsettled her more than anything she could remember. “And you don’t need to see Dawn.”
Spike was undeterred. He fell in step beside her, hands in his pockets. “You’re unarmed. You’re bleeding. And you’re the Slayer which means the smell of you is an elixer to most, if not all, demons.”
“Why aren’t you all fang-ugly if I’m an elixer?”
“I *know* you. Anyone as bitter as you are can’t taste as good as you smell. I’m immune.”
She shook her head, but walked next to him without protesting. They crossed the intersection at Main Street, earning quite a few curious glances due to their filthy state. Buffy, who was so over being the center of attention, rolled her eyes and cut through an alley, heading toward her neighborhood.
Spike let he axe recline against his shoulder as they wordlessly strolled through the darkened alley. He would have thought, given her lack of a weapon, that she would have been on the alert, but she had her arms crossed over her chest and was staring down at the cracked asphalt in front of them. “What’s on your mind, love?”
“You psychoanalyzed me last night. I’m not playing along tonight, Spike.”
“Giles doesn’t *want* to leave. It’s a British thing. We’re a noble lot.”
“I thought staying and fighting evil was noble.”
“He is fighting, love. Not the big scary beasties that roam the streets here, but the big scary ones inside a man. It’s not easy to choose between the woman you love and the life you know.” Spike waited several seconds. When she didn’t respond, he added. “Just look at me. I was supposed to be the big bad. But I chose the woman I love and walked away from that life. Just like Giles is walking away from being a watcher.”
Buffy felt a little something move inside her heart. He still loved her. At least he thought he did. The wall she had built tried to come down just a little, but she pushed it back into place. “You have a chip in your head that is stopping you from using that axe on me in ways that even I probably couldn’t fathom. You didn’t choose to walk away from being a vampire. You were forced.”
“And so is he. Think of the kid in her belly as a chip. It’s changed the course of his life.” He was stung by her words. So much so that he added, “And just for the record, my love for you is as real as-”
“Stop!” She threw her hands up, stalking down the alley away from him. “The last time you tried to show me how real your love was you chained me to a wall and threatened to let Dru kill me. Yeah, that’s great love.”
His jaw tightened considerably and he stalked after her. “Actually, the last time I tried to show you how real my love was ... I scaled a tower in an attempt to save your kid sister and then spent the entire summer guarding her with my life because I promised you I would. So yeah, that *is* great love.”
Her step faltered a little and she grinded her teeth, refusing to acknowledge what he had done for her. “Stop talking to me.”
“And how many times have I saved your ass since you’ve been back from Heaven?”
“Don’t you dare mention that!” She stopped, spinning to face him. “You don’t have a right-”
“Why the hell not, Slayer? One of us should mention it. You won’t tell your friends. You won’t tell your watcher. If you really want him to stay then tell him how fucked up your head is because you got yanked out of paradise.”
“We are not having this conversation,” she spat, her lips snarling in a savage way. “You can NEVER tell. Never!”
“You don’t think they’re going to get wise sooner or later? You’re a mess, Slayer!”
She resumed walking, albeit at a much quicker, angrier pace. “Stop following me!”
Spike trailed a couple of feet behind her as they made their way down Revello Drive and followed her, nonplussed, into the house. She took the stairs two at a time, not bothering to acknowledge the curious glances her friends gave her. Spike moved around the packed suitcases that belonged to Giles and walked into the kitchen.
Dawn was attempting to make a grilled cheese at the stove and he shook his head. “I thought you were banned from cooking.”
“I’m hungry. We have no food in this house!”
Spike pushed her aside and added more butter to the skillet then flipped the sandwich with a spatula. “What’s with the research mode in the dining room?”
“Xander got attacked by a demon. Big, ugly, red. They’re trying to figure out what it is.”
Sandwich complete, Spike flipped it up in the air and caught it on a plate, causing Dawn to giggle as she accepted it. “Enjoy, ‘bit.”
“I miss this.” Dawn took a bite and moaned in enjoyment. “I miss you cooking and me eating and then playing video games and board games. I wish it was still the summer.”
Spike stared at her. “You wish Buffy hadn’t come back, then?”
“What!? No!” The sandwich dropped back onto the plate and she gazed at him with big, panicked eyes. “I’d never wish that!” She looked thoughtful for a few seconds, then added, “Besides, she wishes it enough for all of us.”
That was unexpected. Spike, who had been heading into the dining room, came back and leaned against the island in the kitchen. “Why do you think that?”
“She has nightmares almost every night and wakes up yelling. I go into her room every time and try to comfort her, but she pulls away. It’s like she’s afraid of me, afraid to let me hug her. And I’ve heard her crying a couple of times when she was in the shower.” She picked up her grilled cheese and took another bite. “I can’t even imagine what kind of hell dimension she was in that would torment her so much still.”
Spike glanced up at the ceiling, where he could hear her light footsteps as she moved around. “What does Giles say?”
With a shrug, she took a sip of her chocolate milk. “He says that we’re doing the best we can with her. I mean, it’s not like people come back from hell every day. Right?”
“Right,” Spike watched her for a few seconds, then forced a smile on his face. How could these people ... the very ones that claimed to know her and know what was best for her, not realize that she was mourning being back ... not suffering from where she had been.
He filled Dawn’s glass again, then went into the dining room, taking a seat across from Giles, who glanced up at him. “Spike.”
“Giles,” he returned with a nod.
“Brits are so dramatic.” Xander said, holding a frozen dinner against his eye. “It’s called ‘hello’. Simple little word really.”
Spike glanced over at him. “What took a bite out of you?”
The young man lowered the box and prodded the rapidly purpling flesh around his eye. “I think a bite would have hurt less. I got to see the business end of a forked tail. Up close and personal.”
“And it was red?”
“The tail? I’m pretty sure it was-”
“The demon attached to the forked tail.” It took all of his resolve, but Spike maintained his patience. “Dawn said it was red.”
“Oh.” Xander slapped the box back against his eye and nodded. “Red. Ugly. Wearing a toga thing with a funny design. Spoke a little English. Just enough to let me know I was gonna die.”
Spike picked up a pen and quickly doodled something on a scrap of paper. “Was this the design on the demon's 'toga'?”
“Hey! That is it!” Xander cried, peering at it with his one good eye. “I don’t know whether to applaud you or suspect you of having something to do with it!”
“Belzor.” Spike put the cap back on the pen and shook his head. “A Grimlor demon with delusions of grandeur.”
“Try saying that ten times fast.” Willow smiled at him over the lid of her laptop. “I’m going to google Grimlor and Belzor.”
“Won’t find him on the net, pet.”
“Ah, talk about delusions of gradiouse poetry,” Xander chuckled. “Net, pet. Get it.”
“There’s nothing here.” Willow frowned and tried another spelling. When the search yielded no results, she sighed and closed the lid. “So, archaic research it is. Pass me a watcher journal. I like those a lot.”
“Won’t find him there, either.” Spike sat forward, resting his elbows on the table. “Belzor is not the sort to leave behind witnesses. Ever. He locks in on something he wants and he goes after it, destroying everything in his path. I’ve escaped him twice, but just barely.” He turned his attention to Giles. “And I don’t keep journals or write accounts of what’s happening so don’t even ask. Why should I when I’m going to be around to tell it forever.”
“We need to do something about that.” Xander turned the box over, trying to find another cold spot. “I’m just saying.”
Spike ignored him and continued. “If Belzor is here in Sunnydale it’s because there’s something he wants. I suggest we find whatever it is first.”
“How?” Willow propped her chin in the palm of her hand, frowning.
“He’ll be using a locator spell on whatever it is. Locator spells leave traces every time they’re performed. Go back to where Xander was attacked and try to pick up the remnants of it.” Spike sat back again. “You’re the witch. Go spell him out.”
Buffy’s shower didn’t last nearly long enough. The water had cooled far too fast. Xander had adjusted the water heater to be more ‘economical’, but that meant a five minute hot shower was about all you could have before you ventured into lukewarm, then cold.
She sighed when she opened the curtain and reached for a clean towel. There were none. Her teeth were chattering as she wrung her hair, and stepped out onto the cold linoleum. Her clothes were trashed on the floor. She would have to run for it and hope that Giles and Xander stayed downstairs.
Pulling the door open a few inches, she peered into the hallway, craning her neck to check for sounds. When she heard nothing, she dashed across the hallway and into her room. Her eyes widened when she found Spike sitting on her bed, staring at her with a mixture of shock and ... oh my god, open appraisal. Her mouth dropped open and she grabbed the closest thing to her, a small square pillow that barely covered her midrift.
“What the hell are you doing?” Buffy cried, trying to fit all her unmentionable places behind the little pillow. She could feel her face turning scarlet and it pissed her off to no end.
Spike tore his gaze away, something that caused actual physical pain, and stood, turning his back to her. He waited until he heard drawers opening and closing and the sound of clothing being yanked on. “Can I turn around?” he asked after a few seconds.
“Why the hell not! You saw everything already.” She snapped, zipping her jeans. “Why are you in my room?”
“I wanted to see if you were okay.”
“Well, you came. You saw.”
“No, love. I saw. Almost came. Not quite.”
Her eyes widened as she processed his words. “You’re a pig.”
He had expected to see her in pajamas, but she was dressed in tight faded jeans and a strappy little top that showed enough skin to be x-rated. “Where are you going?”
“You can’t go to the Lair again. I mean it. Those blokes will have me killed if you keep showing up there.”
“Maybe I should stay there twenty four hours a day then.”
“Haha.” He watched as she dug through a drawer and pulled out a pair of socks, then slipped into her knee boots. “There’s a demon in town. Attacked Xander.”
“Okay? You don’t want to know about it?”
“There’s always going to be another demon. And nine times out of ten it’s going to attack Xander. Did he try to sleep with this one? That’s normally how it goes.”
“I don’t think Belzor leans that way.” He said, then added, “I can’t understand why *anyone* would lean that way.”
The jacket that she was pulling from a hanger dropped to the floor at the mention of the name. Spike noticed her reaction and took a step toward her. “You’ve heard of him.”
She scooped the coat up and threw it on the bed, then moved to the vanity where she dragged a brush through her hair. “I thought you had to see Dawn.”
“I did and -”
She turned the hair dryer on, cutting him off. He leaned back against the wall, prepared to wait her out. Maybe he could convince Giles to explain that he, Spike, was now the ‘looker after’. She pointedly pulled several stakes and a bottle of Holy Water from the dresser drawer. He scowled at her and went back downstairs. She could have the small battle, he thought. He would win the war.
“At any rate, Spike has agreed to step in and assume a few of my responsibilities and -”
“WHAT!?” Xander shouted, leaping to his feet suddenly. He had put the frozen dinner back in the freezer and had taken out a large roll of ground beef. He dropped the latter on his foot and hopped around for a second. “Ow!”
“Yay!” Dawn said, then frowned. “Uhm, not yay to you Xander because that had to hurt like a bitch, but yay-”
“Language, ‘bit.” Spike attempted to look severe, but wound up grinning at her. It was only her opinion that mattered. Well, hers and Buffy’s, but something told him that he wouldn’t care much for what the Slayer would think of the little arrangement with Giles.
The watcher, for his part, appeared immune to Xander’s flailing and to the fact that Willow’s bottom jaw had landed somewhere around their feet. “Children,” he began. “Spike is admittedly not my first choice, but the council has decided not to adhere to the very rules that they put into place and will not be sending another watcher for Buffy. Spike has extensive knowledge of demon species and can certainly help her in battle in a much larger capacity than I was ever able to.”
“But he’s *Spike*.” Xander pointed at the platinum haired, mud coated vampire. “He’s a *vampire*. And if that chip stops working-”
“Buffy will kill me.” Spike shrugged. “If the chip stops working the Slayer will slay. Giles is right, I can help. She talks to me and she won’t-”
Xander opened his mouth to protest again, but Giles held up his hand, getting to his feet. “That’s enough, Xander.” He stared at each of the people in the room, mulling his words. When he finally spoke, his tone was harsh. “You think I want to leave? That I wanted to ask Spike to help her? In case any of you have failed to notice, Buffy has chosen to spend quite a bit of time in his company since she has returned. It’s possible that, given the hell dimension she was very likely kept in, she is drawn to his demonic side. That she finds comfort in what she grew familiar with.”
“Or she simply likes me.” Spike hated how blind they all were, hated that he knew her secrets.
“Or she lost her mind while she was there,” Xander snapped. “She doesn’t need him! None of us do!”
“Stop!” Dawn cried. “Have any of you looked at her lately? Really looked? She’s miserable! And if Spike can get her to talk about hell or what happened to her there then there is no bad in that. We don’t relate to her in any way anymore because we have never seen the kind of evil she probably did for over *four months*. Spike has. He’s even done it and-”
Spike gritted his teeth. “Stop trying to defend me, love.”
“All I’m saying is that out of all of us ... Spike actually has a shot at getting her to snap out of it. He won’t back off like we do. He’s rude and mean and-” Dawn glanced at the vampire and pasted a sweet smile on her face. “Well, you are, but that’s not always a bad thing. It will take someone strong to get through to Buffy. Stronger than us.”
“And it’s been decided.” Giles removed his glasses and absently cleaned them. To Spike, he added, “And you *will* keep me posted through a journal or through letters as to what is transpiring. Or you won’t live to tell about it.”
“Oh, bloody hell!” Spike growled.
“It’s okay. I can set you up with an online journal and give Giles access to read it.”
“What would you call it, Will? Pathetic waste of space?” Xander snapped. “Or how about ‘I am just biding my time to kill you all in your sleep dot com’?”
Giles glanced heavenward as if praying for patience. “Spike, I’d like a word with you in private please.”
Spike stood, ignoring the plethora of other vile names that Xander was rambling off, and followed the man onto the front porch. He pulled the door behind him and said, “Thanks for that in there. I mean-”
Giles moved quickly and was standing toe to toe with the vampire before the door actually snapped closed. “Make no mistake, Spike, I am well aware of what you are and what you are capable of. If you hurt her-”
“I can’t bloody hurt her and you know it!”
“I’m not talking about physical pain! I’m talking about the mind games you can play with her. If you do anything untoward or cause her any unnecessary grief-”
“I get the point.”
“I don’t think you do. Granted, without your chip you could best me and you do have an extensive knowledge of the demon world, but so do I? There are a million ways to make a vampire suffer, Spike, and I know them all. It would be fair to say that a few of them would turn your hair for you.”
Spike simply returned the man’s gaze, saying nothing.
Giles nodded. “You understand me, yes?”
“Alarmingly well,” Spike replied. “Now let’s see if you can return the favor and understand *me*. Much as I hate to admit it, I have a fondness for the Slayer-”
“You think you’re in love with her.”
“I *am* in love with her. And I adore her kid sister. I can tolerate her little pals and I can jump in with the research and the fighting, but at the end of the day, I’m doing this because of Buffy and not because you asked me to. I’m doing this because she needs it and because I *want* to be there.”
“Nonsense. You have no soul.”
“With her I do.”
“Spike, if you think doing this will make her love you-”
“She will never love me. And I’m okay with that. What I’m not okay with is this self destruction thing that she keeps doing and I won’t have it.” The vampire shook his head. “You go set up house with your girl and leave mine to me.”
“She is not your girl. And if you take advantage of her in any way-”
One side of Spike’s mouth tugged up in a semblence of a smile. “I know. Big bad daddy will slay the evil wrongdoer. I got it the first time.”
“Then let’s let the third time be the charm.” Giles stepped impossibly close and pushed Spike back against the house. “I lost my job once for loving her. You’ll lose your life if you don’t love her enough.”
“I. Think. I. Get. The. Point. Yet again.”
“Good. Carry on, then.” Giles stepped away, smoothing the vampire’s rumpled jacket. “And do consider buying something a little more ... practical ... when you get paid.”
On to more Fic!