The Great Advantage of Being Alive by Enigmaticblue

ReviewsRating: PG-13

Summary: What if the Initiative had found a way to transform Spike into a human, rather than giving him a chip?

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Chapter 12: Moments of Truth

“…And in that moment I found myself knowing/That in the end it’s just about you and me/ Nothing smaller or larger/Though dragons are good for your soul/Nothing can be better than baring yourself for another…Open for scrutiny, ridicule and indulgence/Therein lies the balls, and the mind, and the heart…As fear is truly the Mindkiller…When nothing is left…Everything is gained…You see I wish I was a poet/But I know as we go round and round/Though endings are never ever happy/It’s the happy moments along the way/That in the end/Make it…ok.” ~Five for Fighting, “Nobody”

Spike opened the door to find Buffy standing in front of him. “Buffy.”

“Hey,” she greeted him, a little nervous. It had been a couple days since they’d braved the dangers of the Initiative, and she’d been trying to give him his space. Giles had called her the next day to let her know Spike was at his place and safe, but her Watcher had also warned her that she needed to give him some time to recover. Of course, now that she’d given him the requisite time, she had to dash off to L.A. to save Angel’s ass.

He stood aside to let her enter, a silent invitation. “’s good to see you.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “You’re looking less hungover.”

Spike gave her something of a sheepish smile. “I blame Rupert. He’s the one that kept pourin’.”

“And you weren’t drinking?” she teased. Then, more seriously, she asked, “Are you okay?”

He shrugged. “’m alright. Didn’t think I was capable of somethin’ like that anymore. Bit of a shock to find out I could still slit someone’s throat quite happily.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think I would have minded him being dead,” Buffy said lightly. “He was a major jerk.”

Spike shrugged. “Not my business to decide those kinds of things. Willow’s friend get off alright?”

“Yeah.” Buffy stood awkwardly, not wanting to take the only chair. The apartment was looking a little more lived-in, but Spike had decided to work on the bedroom first, so there still wasn’t much in the way of seating. “He pretty much left that night.”

“And Willow?” Spike asked quietly, also standing. He was feeling uncomfortable for entirely different reasons. “She okay?”

“She and Tara are still together,” Buffy said.

There was a long moment of silence before Spike said quietly, “Buffy, I don’t know if I can do this, between us. You saw—I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t—” Whatever he was going to say was cut off by Buffy’s lips on his as she kissed him. Quite thoroughly. When she broke it off, they were both breathing a little harder.

“What—?”

“That was to stop you from saying something incredibly stupid,” Buffy said firmly. “Do you really think I didn’t know how you might react going back in there? After what they did to you? What you did, because I asked you to, was probably one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen anybody do. You kept it together, and you got us all out in one piece.” Spike opened his mouth to speak, and Buffy cut him off. “And you better not give me the speech on how I’d be better off without you, because I’d have to kick your ass.”

“Right then,” Spike breathed, still a little shaken from the kiss. “You’re okay then?”

Buffy rolled her eyes at his obtuseness. “Are you forgetting who my first boyfriend was?”

Spike let out a snort. “Never mind then.” He paused, tilting his head to the side to look at her. “What’s wrong, luv? You were lookin’ a bit nervous when you got here, an’ since you’re not breakin’ up with me, that’s not it.”

Buffy winced as she realized that part of Spike’s nervousness was her own fault. “No, not breaking up with you. It’s just—well, it’s funny really, since we just mentioned Angel.” Spike’s face resembled a thundercloud at this point, and Buffy pushed on. “We got a call that Faith is in L.A., trying to kill him. I need to go.”

Spike regarded her steadily for a long minute, finally saying quietly. “I wish you wouldn’t.”

“I need to,” she replied. “What if—what if it were Drusilla? Wouldn’t you want to go?”

He gave her question some serious thought, but finally shook his head, not quite answering. Drusilla was a part of his past that he’d let go of. There was nothing he could do for her now, nor would she want him anymore. Not as a human. “Don’t think it’s the same, pet. You know that.”

Buffy shook her head. “I don’t need your permission to go, Spike.” There was a touch of anger in her voice. “I just thought you’d like to know.”

“You don’t need my permission,” he agreed softly. “But, Buffy, be careful.” Blue eyes met hers, and she realized that he half-expected her to get to L.A. and leap into Angel’s arms again.

She shook her head, placing a palm against his cheek. “Curse, remember? I can’t be with him, even if I wanted to, Spike. Angel’s my past.” She swallowed hard, knowing her next words would put their relationship on a new level. “You’re my future.”

A small glow lit his eyes. “An’ you’re mine, luv.” He leaned down, resting his forehead against hers. “Stay safe, Slayer. Faith ain’t above playin’ games with your ex.”

“I know what she’s capable of,” Buffy reminded him. “I do have a favor though.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Look in on Riley?” she asked. “I’m not asking you to be friends or anything, but just keep an eye on him. Xander’s going to make the rounds too, but if he needs a hand…”

Spike sighed. He was so whipped. “Only for you.” They shared a sweet kiss. “Come back to me.”

“I’ll be back before you know it.”

~~~~~

Well, that was a lie, but he’d known that even as she said it. Spike missed her about five seconds after she walked out the door, and if it weren’t for the responsibilities that working and paying bills presented, he’d have demanded to go with her. Not that he didn’t trust Buffy, mind you, but he’d been around her and Angel for long enough to know what that kind of love meant. First loves always stayed with you, whether you wanted them to or not.

It was the insanity of thinking about Buffy and Angel together that was now driving him, Spike was sure. Why else would he willingly go with Xander to check on the soldier-boy? Not to mention the fact that he was another one of Buffy’s exes. It seemed that they’d never be free of Buffy’s ex-boyfriends. Spike sighed. Not only was he going with Harris to deliver clean clothing to Riley, but he’d also prevented the boy from bringing Riley the glow-in-the-dark pants. He was getting way too soft, but he figured if a bloke was stuck in a blown-up high school, he should at least have the dignity of decent clothing.

He was too nice.

“You doing okay?” Xander asked, hearing Spike’s deep sigh. Xander was still trying to get over the look in Spike’s eyes when he’d held that knife to the officer’s throat. He wasn’t sure Spike had been that crazy when he was a vampire. On the other hand, it somehow didn’t bother him all that much. After all, Spike was on their side, and a little crazy was good if you were talking about hanging with the Slayer. Hell, Xander figured he’d gone over the deep end years ago.

“Fine,” Spike said shortly, not wanting to talk about it. Not wanting to talk about anything really. Feelings. The whole group always wanted to know about feelings. Harris wasn’t an exception.

Xander hesitated, and then said, “You know, if you want to wait outside or something while I go in, it’s fine. If you don’t want to see Riley…”

Spike looked at the boy, startled by his perceptiveness. “No. ‘s fine.” There was a long pause. “I miss her.”

Xander thought about Anya being gone for a few days to see her ex-boyfriend, and understood immediately. “She’ll be back soon.”

They walked a little farther, with Xander throwing small glances over at Spike continually. “Spill,” the ex-vampire finally said, semi-amused at Xander’s reticence.

“It’s nothing.” Xander looked at him again. “Okay, well, it’s just—I like Riley, you know? And I like you too. So I can’t help but feel I’m putting myself in the middle of things here by bringing you guys together.”

“We’re not goin’ to exchange blows,” Spike replied, now highly amused.

Xander shrugged. “I know. It’s just that if I were going to visit my girlfriend’s ex, I’d be a little—I don’t know—something.”

“Who says I’m lookin’ forward to it?” Spike demanded. “But ‘s better than stayin’ alone in my apartment, thinkin’ about…” He trailed off, not wanting to finish that thought. “This is better,” he said softly. “Though maybe not by much.”

While they were on the subject, Spike thought he’d broach a question that had been bugging him. It wasn’t as though he actually cared about what Buffy’s friends thought, but he knew how important they were to her, like family really, and he didn’t actually have any family of his own. So, if he was going to try to get along with them, he might as well go all the way. “You okay with it? Me an’ Buffy, I mean. Not that it would change anythin’,” Spike hastened to assure him. “But I was wonderin’.”

Xander shrugged. “It’s not like Buffy’s ever taken my advice on dating anyway,” he said. “But, I don’t know, it’s cool, I guess. At least you know what being the Slayer is all about. That’s one less secret we have to keep. You’ve been in the game for a long time, even if you were on the other team, but you’re human now, which is a good thing.”

“So you’re okay with it?” Spike pressed.

“Yeah,” Xander finally said. “It’s not like I knew Riley that well anyway, so I’m not taking sides, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Good,” Spike joked. “’cause I’d hate to think you’re gonna hold me down while he pummels me.”

They locked eyes and relaxed, truly comfortable with each other for the first time. “No pummeling,” Xander agreed. “But maybe a game of pool later?”

~~~~~

Buffy let herself into her dorm room and was disappointed to find it empty. It looked as though Willow hadn’t been back in all the time she’d been gone. She sighed, remembering how she and Angel had fought. Buffy had seen Faith in Angel’s arms and snapped. She should have just gone with it, concentrated on getting the rogue Slayer safely into custody.

But, no. She saw red, and said things. Then Angel had said things, and she’d said things back. There had even been fists involved. At least she hadn’t out and out spilled who her new boyfriend was. The last thing she needed was Angel coming to town intent on kicking Spike’s ass.

Speaking of Spike… Buffy looked around the empty dorm room and decided that it was the last place she wanted to spend her evening. Spike’s place wasn’t that far from the campus. She could be there in fifteen minutes.

Twenty minutes later, Buffy was turning away from Spike’s door dejectedly. Where on earth he would be at this late hour, she had no idea. Unless, of course, he was working late at the gallery. Or possibly hanging with Giles. Or maybe her mother. He did that sometimes.

Buffy winced. Spike was more connected to her life than she was. She’d only gotten about half a block away when she heard someone calling her name. “Buffy!”

She turned to see Spike jogging towards her. He was still dressed for the gallery in charcoal gray pants and a bright blue shirt, even if he was wearing his combat boots with the dress slacks. “Buffy! You just get back in?” he asked coming up to stand next to her.

“Yeah, I just wanted to see you.” Buffy looked away. “I missed you.”

Spike smiled at her. “Missed you too, luv,” he replied softly. “You want to go back to my place?”

“That would be nice,” Buffy said. They started walking back, and Spike linked his hand with hers. “Willow wasn’t around tonight, and I wanted some company.”

“Things didn’t go well with Peaches?” Buffy marvelled at how well he could read her.

She gave a half laugh. “Something like that.” Buffy shook her head. “I got there and found Faith in Angel’s arms…” She gave Spike the entire story, following him into his apartment, stopping only to comment on his new futon, which was hard to miss.

“Got it so we’d both have somethin’ to sit on,” he said. “But go on.”

She finished her story, telling him everything that was said. Yet another benefit to dating Spike: there was no explanation needed about the whole Angel thing. He’d seen all of it.

“Tell the truth, luv,” he said, when Buffy had finally finished. “It wasn’t the fact that Faith was in Angel’s arms, it was that he wouldn’t let you kick her arse into next week.”

She pouted. “Well, kind of. I mean, I really wanted to hurt her, Spike. After what she did to me—”

“I can’t see that it was all that bad, Buffy,” Spike said, smirking when she shot him a betrayed glare. “Admit it. If Riley hadn’t been a blind git and not noticed you weren’t you, I wouldn’t have had a chance.”

Buffy frowned, and then looked uncomfortable. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s just—Angel was helping her. He knows what she’s done to me. She’s tried to kill him at least twice.”

“Angel has a savior complex, luv,” Spike replied, stroking her hair. They were both sprawled out on the navy cushions of his couch, her head resting on his shoulder. “He has to save Faith, ‘cause that means he might actually be able to save himself.”

Buffy craned her neck to look up at him. “What about you, Spike? Why aren’t you interested in saving people?”

He laughed. “I have enough trouble getting m’self to work on time an’ not getting killed to worry ‘bout savin’ anyone, luv. ‘sides, innit that your job description?”

Buffy smacked him on the chest. “Spike! It’s not funny.”

Spike sobered and drew her to him again. “People don’t get saved, luv. They save themselves. My guess, Faith wanted to be saved and the poof saw that. An’ he needs to save people enough that he didn’t even think about what it would do to you.” He paused, then added, “That, an’ he didn’t expect you to come walkin’ through his door.”

The Slayer glowered. “Now why do you have to be all reasonable about it? Why can’t you just threaten to beat him up like a good boyfriend?”

Spike smiled, a long, slow smile that showed his dimples. “Never get tired of you callin’ me that,” he confessed.

Buffy shook her head and laughed. “You always do that.”

“Do what?”

“Cheer me up.”

Spike shifted so they could look each other in the eyes, and he brought a hand up to stroke her cheek. “’s my pleasure.”

Buffy could feel a shiver go up her spine as his voice dropped about an octave. He leaned in to capture her lips in a sweet kiss. Pulling back, he smiled, then leaned in again. She would have to say that Spike was pretty much the best kisser ever. He nibbled, he plunged, he came up for air only to trail feathery kisses down the column of her neck. He made love to her with his mouth, until Buffy could think of nothing but the moment and him.

Spike’s hand blazed a heated trail on the smooth skin of her stomach and back, wandering, though never too far. He made sensuous patterns with his fingers, driving Buffy to do her own exploring, pulling the hem of his shirt out of the waistband of his slacks.

The feel of her hands on his belt buckle snapped Spike out of the moment and back into reality. “Wait,” he gasped, as Buffy’s hands skimmed sensitive skin. “Buffy, wait.” He pulled back from her, scrambling to his feet and over into the chair to put a little breathing room between the two of them.

Buffy was still a little dazed from the waves of emotion (along with a healthy portion of lust) and was having trouble keeping up. “Spike? What—”

“We can’t do this,” he said, not quite meeting her eyes.

Buffy blinked. Last time she checked, “can’t” was definitely not in their vocabulary. They had been doing just fine. “Okay… Huh?”

Spike swallowed. “I can’t do this, luv. How’m I s’posed to look your mum in the eye tomorrow?”

Buffy frowned thoughtfully. She had to admit it was a little awkward, to have her boyfriend working with her mother. On the other hand, she was a grown adult, and it wasn’t as though Spike were deflowering an innocent. “First of all,” she said, answering his question patiently enough for someone who’d just been interrupted, “I’m an adult, and I’m not living at home. Secondly, she’s not going to know unless you or I tell her. So I’m not seeing the problem here.”

Spike flushed. “It’s just—it’s a bit strange, workin’ with your mum and all.”

“Spike, it’s not like—” Buffy cut that statement off before she finished. The only one of her boyfriends that Joyce had known about was Angel. Her mom wasn’t even aware that she had been dating Riley. And bringing up the fact that Joyce knew about her night with Angel was probably just the thing to say to make sure the moment was completely dead. “Mom knows I’m old enough to make my own decisions.” It seemed the best compromise.

He shook his head. “I know, an’ it’s not like my intentions aren’t honorable, but—”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. Honorable intentions? That was a little archaic. Her eyes narrowed as she picked up on his heightened tension, remembering his averted eyes when she’d stayed the night a few days ago. She thought perhaps she might be talking with the part of Spike that would always be William. “What is this really about, Spike?”

Spike looked a lot like a rabbit caught in the headlights. His shoulders slumped, and he replied in a low voice, “’ve never done this before.”

“But you were with Drusilla forever,” she protested. “And I know you weren’t with Harmony for the conversation.”

“As a human,” was his muttered explanation.

She blinked twice, slowly, as she realized what he meant. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh,” she repeated. “You mean you were a—before you, uh, you know?”

He looked at her glumly. “Yeah, I was a soddin’ virgin before Dru turned me,” he said, filling in her blanks. Of course, it wasn’t as though he didn’t remember what was supposed to go where; William had been a virgin, Spike certainly was not. On the other hand, he wasn’t at all sure what this meant to Buffy, if sex was simply supposed to be casual. The part of him that was still William wanted it to be romantic, special, right.

“That’s good,” Buffy said, trying for cheerful, and probably sounding a lot like she had when assuring Willow that lesbianism was a perfectly legitimate lifestyle choice. “I mean, that’s, you know, a good thing.” What she was really thinking was that Spike had probably slept with fewer people than she had, and he was six times her age. Buffy wasn’t sure what that meant.

Spike stood, suddenly angry. The evening had been going quite nicely, and now he was embarrassed and feeling absurdly guilty. “’s just, I’ve never been with a human, Buffy. An’ I’ve never been—I don’t know what’s different. I don’t—Bloody hell, I sound like a friggin’ ponce.”

Buffy smiled, amused, though he was perfectly serious. “You don’t sound like a ‘ponce,’ Spike, whatever that is. Sit down.”

He ignored her request, remaining on his feet. “’s just, there’s a part of me that wants you so bad I can taste it, Slayer,” he said, desperate to explain. “But there’s this other part of me that isn’t sure. I want—I want this to be right, b’tween us, you know? Spent a hundred years with Dru only to find out it didn’t mean all that much. I want us to be special. I want this to be special.” Spike sighed deeply. “Am I makin’ any sense at all?”

“Tons,” Buffy assured him, because he was. When had sex last meant something “special” to her? Well, it had been special between her and Angel—so special he lost his soul, in fact. Parker had just been a horrible mistake, and Riley—Sex had become a part of their relationship as a matter of course. They had never sat down and talked about it; they had killed the Polgara demon and suddenly they were both ready to tear each others’ clothes off. It had been a natural progression, but now Buffy wondered if the physical part hadn’t rapidly outstripped the emotional connection. Perhaps that was why Riley hadn’t known she wasn’t in her own body. Maybe they’d never had that emotional connection at all.

Buffy couldn’t help but think it was odd that it was Spike who was hesitating, and she was the one who was ready to jump in. After all, wasn’t the woman usually the one who wanted to take it slow?

Spike, for his part, was completely torn. Torn between wanting Buffy any way he could get her, and waiting for the right moment. Wanting there to be a right moment. Wanting to hear that she loved him first. They were dating, but Buffy hadn’t told him how she felt. Neither one of them had used the “l” word yet. And she had just gotten back from L.A., after having a rough visit with her ex, and was coming off a relationship with Riley. There was a small part of Spike that harbored the suspicion that Buffy really didn’t want him, that one of these days she’d realize she’d made a mistake, and it would all be over.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said.

Buffy shook her head. “Don’t be. It’s nice to not be pressured. We can take our time.”

He smiled in relief. Then, quietly, his voice earnest and low, he said, “You know, don’t you, luv? ‘bout what my intentions are?”

It was Buffy’s turn to look like a rabbit in the headlights. She had a feeling Spike was going to tell her, and she found his intensity almost frightening. The last time a guy had gotten that intense about their relationship, he’d tried to kill her and all her friends. She shook her head mutely. “I don’t leave, Buffy.” Spike’s blue eyes bored into hers. “I won’t leave, ever, ‘less you ask me to, an’ even then I’m not sure I could go.”

“I don’t think I could ask you to.” Buffy reached out a hand to touch his arm from where she sat on the couch. Even across the distance, she could feel the pull. She remembered something from her science class about gravity, that if you got to a certain distance away from an object, its pull was unavoidable, inescapable. Was it called the gravitational well, or something like that? It didn’t matter; she and Spike had somehow slipped into orbit around each other without even knowing it.

Some of the lines in his face eased as he read the meaning behind her words in her eyes. This thing that was between them meant something to her too. “Will you stay tonight?” Spike asked softly. “Just—be with me?”

“Yes.” Buffy let him take her hand, tug her back towards the bedroom. In her heart she couldn’t help but think she wouldn’t mind being with this man forever.

~~~~~

Spike woke early the next morning, before the alarm, and reached over to shut it off to prevent it from waking Buffy. Propping himself up on one elbow, he studied her still face, tracing the contours of cheek and lips with his eyes.

Somewhere along the way, he had lost his heart to this girl, this Slayer. The part of him that was still William would offer her a ring if he thought she might take it. He frowned slightly. It didn’t quite feel right, what they were doing.

Not that he felt being with Buffy was wrong, but it felt like something was missing, like there was intent, but no follow through. When he was human, the first time, there were very strict procedures for courting a woman, and really, that’s what he wanted. He didn’t just want to date, he wanted to make something permanent with her.

Spike reached out and brushed a strand of hair away from her face, watching as her breath quickened and her eyelids fluttered in preparation of waking. She smiled when she saw him, and he thought his heart might stop beating. “’Morning.”

“Good morning, luv,” he replied.

“Whatcha doing?” Buffy asked, her voice still cloudy with sleep.

He smiled at her. “Watching you. I’ve been thinking…” Spike said hesitantly.

“About what? Because you look entirely too serious for this early in the morning,” she teased.

Spike made a movement that might have been a shrug. “’s just that—when I was human, before, if a bloke wanted to call on a girl, he talked to her parents first. Doesn’t seem right that your mum doesn’t know about us.”

“So what happens when she says she won’t let you date me?”

Spike blinked, suddenly worried. “You really think she will?”

“No, Spike,” Buffy replied laughing. “Mom loves you. She’s not going to say no. I just wondered what you would do if she did say no.”

Spike glared at her. “That wasn’t funny, luv.”

“Yeah, it was,” Buffy said. “The look on your face was priceless. But seriously, what would you do?”

“Uh, keep seein’ you and wait for your mum to come around,” he replied. “It would make things a bit awkward though.”

Buffy nodded. “Awkward would be one word. It is a little weird to have my boyfriend working with my mom. And speaking of parents, if you’re going to do this right, you should probably talk to Giles too.”

Spike winced. “You know, this is easier when you only have to do the talk once.”

“You’ll be fine,” Buffy said, smiling. “Besides, better you explaining this than me. In fact, I could get used to this thing where the guy explains it to the parents. Definitely takes the pressure off.”

~~~~~

Spike was going through the pile of invoices when Joyce came into the back. “I wanted to talk to you,” she said.

His head came up, the look on his face a little guilty. “What’s that?”

“I wanted to talk to you,” Joyce repeated. “I have another buying trip in a few days, and I just wanted to go over a few things with you.”

“Uh, yeah,” Spike said. “Sure.”

“I also wanted to ask if you had any ideas about our display for this summer,” she continued.

He stared at her. “Me?”

“You,” she replied, amused. “You have a good eye, William, and a strong sense for what people will enjoy. So what do you think?”

Spike leaned back in his chair. “This summer, huh?” He frowned slightly. “Photography,” he said decidedly. “A nice mix of local talent, an’ maybe somethin’ from out of town. Summer’s the time for people takin’ pictures.”

Joyce nodded. “That’s a good idea,” she agreed. “I think I have a couple artists from southern California in mind.”

“Great,” he said, knowing now was probably the best time to talk to Joyce about his relationship with her daughter. “Uh, there was somethin’ I wanted to talk to you about too.” She sat down in the other chair in the office, looking attentive. “’s about Buffy.”

Joyce didn’t say anything, waiting patiently for his explanation. “Way I was raised, it was only proper to ask a girl’s parents if you could call on her. Know it’s a bit different now, but I thought it was only right to let you know Buffy an’ I are seein’ each other.”

“And what are your intentions?” Joyce asked, her face completely serious.

Spike didn’t realize she was teasing him, and he responded with solemnity. “Completely honorable.”

Joyce couldn’t help laughing. Spike was so serious, as if he thought she would really disapprove. “I’m very happy for the both of you,” she said. “But I already knew. Buffy never comes to the gallery; if she was coming here, it wasn’t to see me.”

Spike caught the note in her voice he knew she was trying to hide, the sense that Buffy had forgotten about her. “Well, she wanted to be the one to tell you, but I insisted that she let me,” he lied.

Joyce raised an eyebrow, and he knew he’d been caught out. “I’m fine, Spike. Buffy has her own life now, and that’s the way it should be.”

“But she’ll always need her mum,” he replied, his eyes showing a wisdom that belied the youthfulness of his features. “She may not know it just yet, but she’d be lost without you , Joyce.”

Joyce shook her head. “She wouldn’t be lost. Not when she has someone like you looking after her, William.”

~~~~~

Spike stood outside Giles’ flat and knocked. He’d meant what he said to Buffy. That was the benefit to a society where people didn’t get divorced. He hadn’t bothered asking Buffy if he should talk to her father. From what both she and Joyce had said, the man hadn’t been involved in their lives for a very long time, the wanker. No, if he was going to talk to Buffy’s father, the man to see was her Watcher.

A muffled voice called for him to enter, and Spike pushed the door open to find Giles in the middle of a pile of books. “You know, you shouldn’t just ask people in like that,” he admonished. “Never know who it is you’re invitin’ inside.”

“It’s broad daylight, Spike,” Giles replied huffily. “There is very little chance it would be a vampire at my door.”

“Could be a demon though,” Spike pointed out.

“A demon doesn’t usually need an invitation, as I recall,” the Watcher replied. “What can I do for you?”

“Wanted to talk to you about somethin’.” Spike sat down in Giles’ chair and worried the fabric of his jeans with his fingers. He was supposed to meet Buffy later, and so had decided to change at the gallery. While black was not necessarily the color of choice anymore, he was still more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt. Today it happened to be a blue shirt. Buffy had said she liked him in that color.

“Well?” Giles asked, when Spike didn’t continue.

Spike glared at him. “Impatient, aren’t we?”

Giles wasn’t in the best of moods. He’d been feeling a bit out of sorts for a while now, much as he had when Spike had first come to him. Superfluous. That’s the word for how he felt. “Spike. I’m trying to do important research here.”

“On Adam?” Spike asked. “You’re not goin’ to find anythin’ with his name on it in your books. That’s half our problem right there. Like mixin’ two worlds that shouldn’t have ever been mixed. Science an’ magic. ‘s not right.”

Giles slammed the book shut. “Of course. Now that I know I won’t find anything, I can stop looking. Thank you for your information.”

The ex-vampire gave him a perceptive look. “Rupert, the Slayer doesn’t know how we’re goin’ to stop this thing, either, but we’re goin’ to need everybody on board for this.”

“I’m fine,” Giles replied, in the exact same voice Joyce had used. “What was it you wanted to ask me?”

Spike rolled his eyes. This wasn’t going well, though not through any fault of his own that he could see. “I came to let you know that Buffy an’ I were seein’ each other and to ask for your blessing if you’d give it.”

Giles snorted. “As though she needs my permission.”

“She doesn’t,” Spike agreed. “But it’s the right thing to do, so I’m askin’, even if she wouldn’t.”

“And if I say no?”

Spike shrugged. “I’d have to talk you ‘round,” he admitted. “I can be persuasive when I want.”

Giles laughed. “I would imagine you can. But it’s fine, Spike. Even if she weren’t a grown woman capable of making her own decisions, I have no qualms about the two of you seeing one another.”

Spike nodded. “Good. That’s settled then. There’s somethin’ else, though.”

“What’s that?” Giles asked, tiredly.

“I want you to start trainin’ me,” Spike replied steadily.

Giles stared at him. “What? Now?”

“Yeah, now,” Spike replied. “Before, you said it was about Adam, an’ givin’ me a chance to recover, but you’re goin’ to need all the help you can get with Mr. Bits-‘n-Pieces, and I’m recovered. If Buffy’s not takin’ advantage of your infinite wisdom, then I will.”

The Watcher looked skeptical. “I’m not sure—”

“I am,” Spike interrupted. “I want to help, an’ to do that I need to know what I can do. I assumed bein’ human meant I wasn’t any good to anybody anymore, but that’s not true. Learned that when I went into the Initiative.”

Giles nodded slowly. “Very well then. I must insist that you actually listen to me, however. I will not have insubordination while I’m training you.”

“What? Like you didn’t get from Buffy?” Spike asked facetiously.

Giles’ eyes narrowed. “Do you want the training?”

“I will follow every order you give, oh fearless leader,” Spike replied with a smile.

Giles decided to ignore that. “Then we will start with the quarterstaff.”

~~~~~

Spike was altogether pleased when he left Giles to meet Buffy at her dorm. Despite months of relative inactivity, he’d managed to defend himself quite well, and had even given the Watcher a couple thwaps he wouldn’t soon forget. He had every hope that with regular training, he would even be able to assist Buffy on patrol without putting himself in any real danger.

Whistling softly to himself, Spike walked through Stevenson Hall, approaching Buffy’s door in time to see her trying to unlock it with a trembling hand. “Buffy?”

She turned slowly, and Spike could see that she’d been banged up pretty badly. “Spike, I—”

“Let me get that,” he said, ignoring her protests and taking the keys out of her hand. He unlocked the door and gently guided her inside with one hand on her back. “Sit. Where’s your first aid kit?”

“In the drawer,” she replied, not really wanting to fight him. Spike found the kit and quickly ducked out of the room to wet the washcloth he’d found.

“Hold still.” He tenderly dabbed at the cut on her head, wincing in sympathy as she flinched away. “What happened?”

She breathed out a sigh. “I went patrolling near the area where they found that boy. Adam’s first victim. I ran into Forrest, one of Riley’s buds, and he wouldn’t leave, so we both went into this cave. Adam was there. It’s like he came out of nowhere. I told Forrest, the dumbass, that he should leave, but—Adam got him.” The last part was said so quietly Spike almost didn’t catch it.

“Hey, it wasn’t your fault,” he said. When Buffy wouldn’t look him in the eye, Spike tipped her chin up. “Slayer, it wasn’t your fault. He was a soldier. He knew the risks, and he didn’t listen to you. You ask me, he was lookin’ for trouble.”

“I know that,” Buffy replied. When he looked doubtful, she repeated, “I know that. It’s just—we need to stop him, Spike. This has to end.”

He nodded slowly. “Then we’ll go together. You said Adam’s got vamps an’ demons workin’ together, an’ the Initiative is goin’ on overtime. We’ll go lookin’ for a vamp—I still know some of the old haunts—an’ we’ll beat the shit out of him till he tells us what we want to know, or at least how to find it.”

Buffy shook her head. “Spike, it’s too dangerous.”

He gave her a look. “I can take care of m’self, Slayer,” he replied. “Remember?”

“I remember. I just don’t want to lose you.”

Spike drew her close to him so the uninjured side of her head was resting against his chest. “Not goin’ anywhere,” he said. “We’ll give it a bit. You’re hurt. But we’ll go out tonight, when you’re a bit better, yeah?”

“Okay.” They sat there for a while, unmoving except for Spike’s rhythmic stroking of Buffy’s hair. She was relaxed in his embrace, feeling for the first time in a long time that she was the one being taken care of rather than her being the one doing the caring.

There was a knock on the door, and Spike gave her a squeeze around the shoulders. “I’ll get it.” Spike rose and opened the door to find Angel standing in front of him.

“Spike,” the vampire snarled, throwing himself at the invisible barrier. “Where’s Buffy? What did you do to her?”

“He didn’t do anything to me,” Buffy said, coming up to stand behind Spike. “He’s welcome here.”

Angel nearly snarled again, his split lip and bruises livid against his pale skin. “Spike is dangerous. Buffy, you have to let me in.”

“Only if you promise not to touch my boyfriend,” Buffy said sternly. At Angel’s look of surprise, Buffy repeated herself. “Spike is my boyfriend. I don’t let anybody touch my boyfriend. Do I have your word?”

“Yeah,” Angel replied sullenly.

“Then come in, Angel.” No sooner had she said the words than Angel was through the barrier with his hands around Spike’s neck. “Angel! I said—”

Angel’s hands came off just that quickly. “You’re human,” he said, in disbelief.

“Uh, yeah,” Spike said, self-righteously straightening his clothing. “Didn’t you hear two heartbeats, Peaches? Or are you slippin’ in your old age?”

Angel was still in too much shock to come up with a decent comeback. “You’re human.”

“Think we went over this,” Spike said.

“How?” he asked.

Spike snorted. “Combination Mohra demon blood an’ the Initiative.” He gave Angel another look. “Who’d you run into?”

Angel shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not life and death. Mohra blood?” As the information sunk in, he looked from Spike to Buffy with the slow realization that Spike had everything he’d given up. As Angel processed that bit of news, Spike read the emotions flitting across his face.

“You knew about the demon blood,” Spike said.

The look on Angel’s face told both he and Buffy that he’d hit the nail on the head, and Spike knew that there was probably more to the story than that. But Angel just shook his head. “Mohra demons don’t come from this dimension. It’s almost impossible to capture or kill them.”

“Well, luckily for us, the Initiative managed it,” Buffy said. She could sense that Angel wasn’t telling her the entire story as well, but something told her she didn’t want to push it. The same little voice that told her if she did know, she’d have to stake somebody. “What are you doing here, Angel?”

The vampire tore his eyes away from Spike. “I wanted to apologize. We didn’t leave things very well last time. I just wanted to talk to you. I don’t have much time.”

The Slayer frowned, knowing from experience that hearing Angel use that tone of voice wasn’t a good thing. “What’s going on?”

Riley barrelled through the open door, steadying himself against Willow’s desk and pointing a gun in Angel’s direction. “Buffy, he’s dangerous. You can’t trust him.”

Buffy and Spike both looked from one battered face to the other. “I can’t believe this,” she said flatly. “What the hell is going on?”

“This was a mistake,” Angel said, trying to placate her. Spike had a hard time not laughing. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Buffy this pissed off, and he’d seen her angry. Somebody was going to be hurting over this one.

“No, the mistake was you coming back to Sunnydale,” Buffy replied, furious.

Angel looked over at Riley. “Put the gun down.”

“I don’t think so,” Riley replied. “It’s pretty much all I’ve got left. Buffy, he attacked four of my men. He’s dangerous.”

Spike raised an incredulous eyebrow. “If Angelus was up to his old tricks, you’d be dead, mate. ‘sides, little gun like that won’t even slow him down ‘fore he snaps your neck, Finn.”

“And they attacked me first,” Angel added.

“He’s a vampire. He’s evil.” Riley seemed quite sure about that.

“Angel’s not evil and he’s not going to hurt anybody.” She looked at the vampire. “Tell him.”

Angel gave Riley a cold little smile. “I don’t know. I might hurt you.”

“Try it,” Riley invited.

“You can hardly stand.”

“Trigger finger feels okay.”

“That’s just about enough!” Spike exploded. “I was havin’ a nice moment here with my girl ‘fore you lot showed up an’ ruined it. Buffy was hurt earlier, an’ you’re both makin’ it worse.” He turned to glare at Riley. “Put the gun down.”

“But—”

“Put. The. Gun. Down. Now.”

Something in Spike’s eyes warned Riley that he was dead serious, and he lowered his weapon slowly. “Right then. Hallway, now.”

Riley looked like he was going to argue, and Spike grabbed his arm. “We’re goin’ outside. Angel—” He looked at the vampire, a fire in his eyes. “You’ve got ten minutes.”

Buffy watched as Spike firmly steered Riley out into the hallway and said a silent word of thanks. He knew her so well, and she was glad she could count on him. She waited until Spike had shut the door and then faced Angel. “So, you and Spike?” he asked.

“Yeah. Me and Spike.” Buffy hesitated. “He’s been human for a while now, but this—between us—is pretty new.”

“That’s—good.” Angel frowned. “Look, Buffy, I’m sorry about this. I came to apologize, and…”

“What happened with Riley?” she asked.

Angel shrugged. “I got jumped by some of his men, and he ended up in the middle. He wasn’t real forthcoming with the benefit of the doubt.”

Buffy sighed. “Put yourself in his shoes, Angel.”

“Things are pretty tense around here,” he observed.

She nodded. “They are.”

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” he said suddenly. “I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

She shook her head. “We both said some things to regret. You were right, Angel. We’re at a different place now, both of us.”

“And you have Spike.” Angel looked over at her. “I want you to be happy, Buffy. That’s all I ever wanted.”

“He makes me happy,” she said quietly. “He knows me.”

Angel shook his head, laughing a little. “Who knew?”

“I don’t know. Not me.”

“Do you want my help?” he asked.

Buffy shook her head. “No. I think it would just complicate things more than they are already.”

“All right.” Angel moved to the door, his hand on the doorknob. “You know, Buffy…Spike.”

“Yeah?”

“I told you once, he doesn’t give up.” Angel smiled a little.

Buffy smiled in reply. “I know.”

Angel nodded, and walked out the door. Spike was standing in the hallway alone. “Riley?”

“Left.” Spike shrugged. “Actually, I convinced him he didn’t want to stick around. Boy’s s’posed to be keepin’ a low profile anyway.”

“You hurt her, I’ll be back,” Angel promised.

“If I hurt her, I’ll stand still for you,” Spike replied. There was a moment of silence, and then Spike said, “You know, ‘bout the pokers…wish I could say I was sorry for that.”

Angel almost laughed. “Take care of yourself, Spike. Humans are a little more breakable.”

“An’ you’re speakin’ from experience,” Spike said knowingly. “I’ll do that.”

~~~~~

It actually didn’t take them nearly as long to find a vampire with information as it should have. A scrawny excuse for a member of the undead literally ran across their path almost as soon as they started hunting, and he practically threw himself at their feet. Buffy got in a few good blows, the vampire pitched a few computer disks at their feet, and then scrambled away as quickly as possible. Buffy might have gone after him, but Spike held her back. “Let him go, luv. That wasn’t an accident.”

“No, that was Adam trying to get our attention,” Buffy said. “It shouldn’t have been that easy.”

Spike looked around. “So what are we going to do about it?”

“Let Willow take a look at these and hope it gives us the information we need,” Buffy replied. “What else can we do?”

“It’s a trap,” Spike objected.

She shrugged. “We have to stop Adam, though. So what if it’s a trap? We’ll just have to find a way to use that against him.”

Spike shrugged. “If you say so, luv. Let’s get these to Red and see what we can do from there then.”

When they got to the Watcher’s apartment, Spike could feel that there was something in the air that was off. In the past, when he’d spent time with the group, or when he was fighting them, they’d been a tight-knit bunch. Their closeness was one of the reasons he’d never been able to defeat Buffy, but now… He was vaguely reminded of how it was after Angelus had returned, when Dru had left him to his own devices for her “Daddy.” Of course, it wasn’t at all the same, but that’s what it reminded him of.

Willow got to working her techno-magic on her laptop, making a worried face when she saw the complicated encryption. “Well, this isn’t good.”

Buffy came over to stand behind her. “What’s wrong?”

“The data is encrypted,” Willow explained. “And it’s a little complicated.”

“So how long before you can un-crypt it?” Buffy asked.

Willow gave her a look that said it would be better if she didn’t ask. “Days. Weeks. Months probably wouldn’t be a bad estimate.”

“We don’t have that long,” Buffy protested. “Adam obviously has something in mind, and we need to have a counter-plan.”

Spike leaned back in his chair, watching the entire thing. Giles and Xander were both looking unhappy, and Anya and Tara were beginning to get twitchy. They were smart girls; they knew when there was a storm brewing.

“Working as fast as I can here,” Willow replied huffily.

Buffy frowned. “Okay, well Adam was at the cave for a reason. Maybe I could go back there and scope it out, figure out where he went.”

“Oh, right, so you can try and get yourself killed again?” Xander objected. “You’re not going by yourself.”

Buffy shook her head. “You’d just get hurt, Xander. It’s better if I go by myself.”

Spike bit back a sigh. He could already see where this was going. Giles’ dissatisfaction earlier that evening, Xander’s complaints the other night while they’d played pool, how no one thought much of him. Red’s hiding her new life from her friends.

“You haven’t been training,” Giles said, disgruntled. “Adam will kick your ass.”

Buffy’s eyes widened, and she stared at her Watcher. “I will not. And to-today was just a fluke.”

“Enough.” Spike stood. He had to be up early tomorrow to open at the gallery, and he wasn’t entirely happy with the situation himself. What he’d really wanted was a nice quiet snog with his girl, involving plenty of making out and wandering hands. Instead he got fighting. Riley and Angel, now the Scoobies and the Slayer. Well, he had better things to do and more important places to be.

“You’re all a bit pissed at each other. You haven’t properly talked for months, an’ you’ve all got your separate lives.” He met each of their eyes in turn. “My advice? Hash it out among yourselves and get ready to fight the good fight. Slayers die young ‘cause they don’t have anybody watchin’ their backs. You lot have already beaten the odds. So what if you’ve all got separate lives? Doesn’t mean anythin’ in the long run.”

Spike picked up his jacket and got ready to leave. “Spike?” Buffy called.

“I’ll be at my place should you need me, luv. Let me know the plan, an’ I’ll be happy to participate, but I’ve got an early day tomorrow, an’ I don’t need to waste my time sittin’ around, listenin’ to you argue over who’s doin’ more, or who doesn’t appreciate who.”

He walked out into the night air and took a deep breath. There was something to say about solitude, he thought. There was definitely something to say about solitude.

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