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 8: Knowing You

“Don’t choose me because I’m faithful/Don’t choose me because I’m kind/If your heart settles on me/I’m for the taking/Take me for longing or leave me behind./I would be for you a fire and a rainbow/I would be for you an opening door/Time and hard lessons are one kind of wisdom/Try to forget them or love me no more./I’m not asking your heart to believe me/I’m not asking for promise or plans/Whatever the answer it’s yes that’s the question/I am a fool dancing over the edge.” ~Allison Krause and Union Station, “Take Me For Longing

Spike looked around the dingy apartment with a sinking feeling. It was small and dark, unfurnished and cramped. It was also what he could afford. He would have to find furniture somewhere, though at least it came with appliances. The walls could use a good painting—if he could afford the paint. But really, did he have a choice if he wanted to get out of Giles’ place?

He turned to face the landlord, who definitely looked like he could audition for the role of slumlord in a B movie. “I’ll take it,” Spike said quietly. “When can I move in?”

~~~~~

“Okay. So we’re all here,” Buffy said, looking around the room. It was supposed to be a council of war about Adam, and she’d thought everyone was coming. “Wait a second. We’re not all here. Where’s Spike?”

As though her words summoned him, the front door opened, and he slipped inside, giving everyone an apologetic smile. “Sorry ‘m late,” he said. “Got a bit caught up.”

“Now we’re all here,” Buffy stated, wanting to get down to business. Riley had finally showed up, and they had reconnected. She wasn’t sure how he and Spike were going to react to one another, but she had managed to convince Riley to lay off. Judging from first impressions, Spike’s modus operandi was going to be ignoring the soldier, since he went over and perched on the stairs, on the fringe of things. For some reason that bothered her, just as much as Spike’s obvious fatigue did. She reminded herself to ask Giles for an update, since the ex-vampire didn’t seem to be into sharing information at this point.

“We need to come up with a plan for how we’re going to deal with Adam,” Buffy stated.

“The question seems to me to be why he’s been dormant for so long,” Giles commented.

Willow looked over at him. “When he’s not making performance art out of other demons, that is.”

Spike tried to pay attention as Riley talked about power sources and charging up, and the rest of them discussed what they were going to do about the Initiative. He was somewhat relieved to know that Riley would be playing double agent, since it meant that he wasn’t completely working for the dark side. Buffy seemed to be doing her best to reassure him that the Initiative would not be coming after him again. The disorganization that had followed Walsh’s death and Adam’s escape seemed to insure that they wouldn’t be concerned about one ex-vampire.

But when Buffy starting acting all love-bird-like, Spike had to look away. For a second, he thought he saw a face at the window, and then dismissed it as a delusion. He wasn’t sleeping at all well of late, and exhaustion was beginning to be an ever-present companion. Before, when he wasn’t working, he could catch cat-naps through the day, but now his sleeping hours were more limited. And he wasn’t sleeping.

The general idea behind the conversation seemed to be that they didn’t know what they wanted to do about Adam, and Riley would pass along what information he could. Spike wasn’t sure why he needed to be there, except that he was supposed to be sleeping on the couch, which was currently occupied.

He was startled into a more wakeful state by the ringing of the phone, and he watched from his vantage point as Buffy’s face changed dramatically at what the caller said. “What is it?” Giles asked, before Spike could ask the same question.

“It’s Faith,” Buffy replied. “She’s awake.”

It was late before they all left. Spike, even in the midst of his tired fog, was amused at Willow’s hearty support of an ass-kicking for the rogue Slayer. She wasn’t usually so bloodthirsty. Buffy needed to give her boyfriend details of the new threat, and the rest of them needed to go home, which left him with the Watcher.

“Who is Faith?” Spike asked quietly. “I remember hearin’ a bit about her, but not much.”

Giles gave him the details as he made a pot of tea for the both of them—herbal, though, with a bit extra thrown in to aid sleep. Spike looked as though he could use a few dozen hours worth. “Faith was badly injured by Buffy, and has been in a coma ever since,” the Watcher said, finishing his tale. “I do feel a certain sympathy for her. She has had a very difficult time of it. But she made her choices, and they were certainly poor ones. I’m afraid she is going to be a great deal of trouble, at a time we can ill afford it.”

Spike nodded. “An’ if I see her?”

“Let one of us know,” the other man replied. “There’s no point in you putting yourself in danger. Faith is not a force to be trifled with.”

“Right.” There was a pause. “Thought I’d let you know, I found an apartment today. Move in next week.”

Giles froze, his teacup halfway to his mouth, and then he proceeded to sip as though he hadn’t been surprised at all. “I had wondered when you might move out.”

Spike shrugged. “’s not much, but it’ll do. Just need a place to crash, really.”

“You do know you’re welcome to stay here as long as you like,” Giles said sincerely. “If you would prefer to wait and find something better when you can—”

“No,” Spike said firmly. “I ‘preciate everything you’ve done, Rupert. More than I can say. But I need a place of my own. Need to not worry ‘bout wakin’ you up in the middle of the night.” He was referring to the several nights in the past week that he had woken Giles with his screaming. His near-miss with the Initiative didn’t make for restful nights. Of course, neither did his past.

Giles frowned. “I don’t mind that, Spike.” He hesitated, not knowing how to reassure without sounding condescending. “This is a difficult time for you, I know. I have a suspicion that it will be a long time before you can sleep soundly. But it won’t help to isolate yourself.”

“’m not isolating myself,” Spike said, somewhat defensively. “I just need some space. Bein’ around—” He stopped, not wanting to give himself away.

“I see,” Giles said, and he did see. For all his reserve, he saw a great deal at times. “Then perhaps it is for the best. I will, of course, give you any help you need.”

Spike shook his head. “Don’t have much, so I won’t need much. Should be able to make it in one trip in the DeSoto.”

“So you did get it fixed?” Giles asked with a smile.

Spike nodded. “Got the parts. Should be able to fix it tomorrow afternoon. Won’t take long.”

There was something he wasn’t saying, but Giles didn’t want to press, didn’t want to force him to say things he wasn’t ready to say yet. “No. Well, if you do need assistance…”

“Thanks,” was all Spike would say, and then they both went to bed soon after, Giles certain that all was not right, and unable to think of anything he could do about it.

~~~~~

“So tell me what we’re s’posed to be doin’ again?” Spike asked as he, Giles and Xander wandered down the main streets of Sunnydale the following evening. He knew, of course, that they were supposed to be looking for the other Slayer, but what they were supposed to do with her when and if they found her was a little more unclear.

Giles gave him a disapproving look, obviously not thinking much of Spike’s attempts at levity. “We are looking for Faith.”

“Yeah,” he said slowly, as though speaking to a very young child. “But what are we supposed to do when we find her?”

“I say we run,” Xander stated. “I mean, who’s she going to come after first? Me.”

Giles and Spike rolled their eyes in unison. They’d both already heard Xander’s theories and suppositions about how the girl had it in for him since they’d slept together once. In some ways, Spike felt sorry for the boy. Not that he would ever say it, but it was always better when your first time wasn’t a traumatic experience. “I’m sure,” Spike said drily.

They walked another block, and then Spike asked, “So how long we gonna be out here, anyway?”

“Why?” Xander asked snidely. “Do you have a hot date?”

“No,” Spike said, somewhat defensively. “Just would like to get some sleep sometime tonight, that’s all.” He reassured himself by thinking of Laura’s phone number, still tucked away, but he wasn’t fooling himself. While he might be tempted to try and have a thing, just to get his mind off Buffy and her boyfriend, he wasn’t ready for that. Using someone didn’t seem right, and he didn’t think he was that kind of guy. At least, he didn’t want to be that kind of guy.

And as nice as Laura might be, he couldn’t tell her why the nightmares were plaguing him, why he couldn’t sleep for more than an hour or two every night, why sometimes the guilt pressed down so hard he could barely breathe. None of that was something an ordinary person might understand. Giles would, but Spike felt like he’d burdened the other man enough already. Buffy might, but she was completely taken up by her boyfriend again. Willow was a good listener, but she was entranced with Tara. And Xander didn’t even bear mentioning.

Not for the first time since becoming human did Spike feel completely alone, unable to unburden himself to anyone. Even Joyce, as kind as she was, could only do so much. Still, perhaps he ought to talk to her again. She did seem to have a calming effect on him.

He was pulled out of his thoughts by Xander’s voice. “Okay, let’s call it a night already. I don’t think Faith is wanting to be found right now.”

Giles, who was casting careful looks at Spike’s deeply lined face, nodded. “I don’t think we’re going to do anyone much good tonight. We might as well leave off.”

Xander soon left to go his own way, undoubtedly to find his girlfriend, even as Giles and Spike walked back towards the apartment. Their relationship over the last weeks had progressed beyond the point of awkward silences, so that there was no real need to talk, but both felt as though something were off. Giles knew that Spike was wrestling with things he could not speak about, and Spike knew he knew, and so was afraid to open his mouth for fear he’d let something slip.

When they reached the apartment, neither man broke the silence. Giles unlocked the door and pushed it open, motioning for Spike to precede him. Spike flipped the lights on and saw three rather rough looking characters sitting in the living room, making themselves comfortable.

“Rupert.” Collins greeted him calmly. “Nice to see you again.”

Giles froze for a moment, uncomfortable, and worried for Spike. While his roommate was human, and therefore no longer under the Council’s jurisdiction, the ex-Watcher had long since ceased to completely trust the Council and those attached to it. They had no understanding of what it meant to be out in the field. They also had a distressingly black-and-white view of things. Giles had no idea of whether or not their policy wouldn’t be much like the Initiative’s: once a demon, always a demon.

“I wish I could say the same,” he replied after a beat.

Collins smiled, noting both Giles’ and his friend’s expressions of concern. Unwilling to let an opportunity for a jibe to slip by, he said, “I didn’t realize you’d taken up buggery in your old age.”

“Sod off,” Giles replied sharply, rudely, and not much caring.

One of the other men, Smith, who had been leaning up against the wall separating the kitchen from the rest of the apartment, answered, “I’m afraid that’s not possible. We’ve been sent to retrieve your rogue Slayer.”

“As I recall,” Giles replied coldly, “she’s not mine. I was replaced by a man of the Council’s choosing. And you failed to contain her once before.”

“As I recall,” Collins said, deliberately echoing Giles’ phrasing, “we weren’t the ones who were sent to retrieve her. If we had been, she would have been in custody right now.”

Giles gritted his teeth, hating that the Council’s wetworks team could make him feel uncomfortable in his own home. “Very well. What do you want from me?”

“We want your word you will not try to interfere,” Collins replied, Weatherby and Smith staring sullenly. They looked as though they would get a great deal of enjoyment if Spike or Giles did decide to be uncooperative.

Giles looked over at Spike, who was keeping his face carefully blank. It was obvious that he felt the danger, just as he felt the danger around the Initiative soldiers. “I have no problem with the Council’s decision to attempt rehabilitation in England. I would ask that you make every effort to bring the girl in alive, however.”

“Of course,” Collins agreed, too easily. Giles wondered how willing they would be to kill Faith if they had problems with her. Or even if they believed there were potential problems. Collins stood, and the other two men fell into step behind him as he walked out the door. “Take care, Rupert.”

Giles looked over at Spike to see what his reaction to the conversation was. Spike had a sardonic little smile on his face. “They won’t manage her.”

“What makes you say that?” Giles was curious as to Spike’s impression, though he couldn’t say that he disagreed with the assessment necessarily.

Spike turned to Giles, and there was a glint to his eyes. “Too cocky. To kill a Slayer, you have to know your quarry. They have no bloody clue.”

At Giles’ raised eyebrows, Spike’s lips twitched upwards. “Oh, I was cocky,” he admitted. “But I knew what I was getting m’self into. I knew that every Slayer has a death wish. An’ I think to kill a Slayer, you’ve got to have a bit of one yourself. Both of you have to be alright with dyin’. And one’s goin’ to want it more.”

“And Faith?” Giles asked.

Spike shrugged. “Never havin’ met the chit, I’d say I don’t know enough to figure that one out. Chances are, she wants to die a bit, but she prob’ly doesn’t want to be taken out by the likes of those blokes. She’ll kick their arses good and proper, an’ if she’s as bad as you lot seem to think, she’ll prob’ly kill them while she’s at it.”

He stood and went to grab a jacket. “Where are you off to?” Giles asked, curious. Spike really didn’t look as though he were in any condition to be going anywhere. Besides which, the younger man hadn’t seemed to have any desire to go out earlier.

Spike shrugged into the jacket and glanced back over at Giles. “’m feelin’ a bit antsy after that visit,” he replied quietly. “Think I need to go relax a bit before I can sleep. Don’t wait up for me.” Giles just shook his head in reply. He had learned by now that there was no point in arguing with him. Spike would simply fall on his face after a while out of exhaustion. Some people had to learn the hard way.

~~~~~

Spike wasn’t sure the Bronze was exactly the relaxing atmosphere he needed, but where else was there to go in a place like Sunnydale? In any case,  he needed a little more than doctored tea to put him to sleep at nights. And while he wouldn’t have minded drinking himself into oblivion, that kind of activity was simply too expensive.

A couple bottles of piss-poor beer put him in a slightly better mood, however. At least it took the edge off, and he could let himself drift in the music and the noise. Mostly he just watched the people passing, pretending for a moment that he was a vampire again. Who would he hunt? Who would he choose for an evening’s pleasure? Spike shook those thoughts off with a feeling of guilt. He shouldn’t be remembering those times with any pleasure at all. He had killed people, and he had enjoyed it. That wasn’t who he was anymore. More importantly, it wasn’t who he wanted to be. Yet that didn’t mean he didn’t miss it sometimes.

“Hey, Spike!” Willow said brightly. She and Tara were standing in front of his secluded corner, and both girls were giving him bright smiles. “How’s it going?”

“Good,” he replied, with a bit of a smile. “You two look cheerful.”

“We just got back from Giles’,” Willow explained. “Or, I did, anyway. Faith is now safely in police custody.”

Spike’s eyebrows went up. “Who managed that and how?”

“Buffy, and pretty much the usual way. Faith showed up at Buffy’s house and threatened Mrs. Summers, and then Buffy showed up and kicked her ass. They called the police, and that was that.” Willow paused. “Though, Giles seemed to think that the Council would have taken her by now.”

“They probably did,” Spike said. “Not blokes to wait on anything. Remains to be seen if they can actually keep a handle on her. I take it you girls are out for the evening?”

“Tara hadn’t ever been to the Bronze before!” Willow exclaimed, plopping down beside him. “You don’t mind if we join you, do you?”

“You two?” Spike replied gallantly, reserving a special smile for Tara. “Never.” He let them chat for a bit around him, comfortable in their presence as always. They never made him feel as though he didn’t belong, and it was nice that they were with each other. It took the pressure off, and made both of them safe to be friends with, not having to worry about the attraction piece. “Think I’m going to have one more,” he said, standing after a while. “You two want anything?”

“Not right now,” Willow replied. “Maybe in a little while. Tara?”

“Just some w-water, if you d-don’t mind,” she said, so quietly Spike could barely hear her over the crowd.

“Certainly, m’lady,” he said, making her blush and Willow giggle. He made his way through the crowd to the bar. Hesitating slightly, he pulled out his glasses from his pocket. They had been another one of those expenses that couldn’t be put off. Trying to read the fine print on invoices and other documents had been giving him massive headaches. The glasses helped. They also helped him to read the print on the menu above the bar so he could see if he had a better choice of beer.

Spike placed his order and paid, then turned to head back towards Tara and Willow, bumping into someone rather hard. “Hey!” he protested as both water and beer spilled. The other person had obviously not been watching where they were going.

“Watch it,” she replied, and Spike looked down to see Buffy standing in front of him.

“Buffy,” he replied, his anger draining away. “Out celebratin’ your victory then?”

She looked confused for a second, and then said, “Uh, yeah, that’s right. What are you doing here?”

“Same as you,” Spike returned. There was something that seemed off about her. The way she tilted her head, or the way she moved, or something. “Just tryin’ to relax so I can actually sleep at night.”

Buffy (Faith) was still giving him a funny look, and then she suddenly seemed to figure out whatever was puzzling her. “Right. Spike. The faces of all those people you killed keeping you awake at night, now that you’re good?” Faith had gotten hints of what had happened earlier that evening at Giles’ when Willow had asked where he was. She had also seen him when she was peeking in the window, spying on the gang.

Spike stared at the Slayer. Her tone was harsh, mocking. Cruel. For some reason she had decided to go back to treating him as she had when he had first become human. “Somethin’ like that,” he ground out, moving to get around her.

“What, leaving already?” Faith asked, her lips tilting up in a small, smug smile. “Come on, Spike. We could have some fun. Lose the glasses and you could be pretty hot. As it is, they make you look like a wuss.”

Spike resisted the urge to yank the glasses off his face, trying once again to get around her. “But wait,” Faith said. “You know, I could still show you some things. I bet I could tap into that monster again.” She ran a finger down his chest. “Wouldn’t it be fun? To play Slayer and Vampire again, Spike? Wouldn’t you just love that?”

It was too close to his thoughts of earlier. Much too close. “Excuse me,” he said, heading back to the bar, ignoring her laughter. He had spilled Tara’s water. He needed to get a refill. He stood there for a long time, trying to get his composure. Spike thought he and Buffy were getting somewhere. She had been so gentle the other day, so—

That wasn’t Buffy. Spike blinked as he realized it. Not that he had any kind of proof, but that wasn’t Buffy, he was certain of it. He gulped down the rest of his beer and grabbed Tara’s water, heading back towards where they had been sitting. Willow was nowhere to be seen, but Buffy was sitting across from Tara, and from the look on the shy girl’s face, their meeting wasn’t going well. Spike could only imagine what not-Buffy was saying to her, judging by what she had said to him.

“Hello again,” Spike said to Buffy, or whatever was impersonating her, letting a touch of ice creep into his tone. He handed Tara’s glass to her. “You alright, luv?”

“I’m fine,” she managed. Spike knew they needed to get out of there without alerting the Slayer. If she thought they knew what was going on, it could get ugly.

Willow came up just then and started talking with not-Buffy, while Spike leaned in close to Tara. “You sure you’re okay?” he asked in a low tone. “I’m afraid she’s a bit of a bitch tonight.”

Tara gave him a wan smile. “She was, but I’m okay. Except, Spike, that’s not—” She glanced up at not-Buffy, who was looking at something Willow had pointed out. The Slayer headed off in that general direction, for which Spike could only be grateful. Something about the girl made him terribly uneasy.

“I know,” he replied, putting  a hand on her arm to keep her from finishing. “We’ll get Red an’ get out of here. We need to find out what’s going on.” In a louder voice, he said, “Red, Tara’s not feelin’ well. Why don’t we get the two of you home?”

Willow frowned, immediately concerned. “Sure. Buffy was going to go take care of a vamp, but we can let her know and get out of here.”

When not-Buffy got back, Willow let her know that she was taking Tara home. “Spike’s going to walk with us,” she added.

“Oh, really?” not-Buffy asked, a snide tone in her voice. “Well, you guys give her whatever she needs.”

Willow asked her something about Riley, but Spike wasn’t paying much attention to her answer. He was more interested in leaving. Quickly.

Spike managed to hustle both women outside, hovering protectively in between them. He wanted to be well away from the Slayer before they started talking about the fact that something was inhabiting Buffy’s body that wasn’t Buffy.

They were well away from the Bronze when Willow said apologetically, “I’m sorry you’re feeling all blechy, but we can get together with Buffy some other time. I think you’ll like her.”

Spike and Tara exchanged a look. “She’s not your friend,” Tara said.

“Okay, I think I might have overestimated the liking,” Willow said slowly.

Spike shook his head. “That’s not it, Red. She’s not Buffy.”

Willow stopped short and stared at them. “What do you mean?”

Frustrated, Spike replied, “I don’t know. But that’s not Buffy.” He looked at Tara for support.

Tara nodded slowly. “He’s right, Willow. A-a person’s energy has a flow, a unity. Buffy’s was—was fragmented. It—it grated, like something forced in where it doesn’t belong. Plus, she—she was kind of mean.”

“She was a right royal bitch,” Spike snorted. “Not that she hasn’t treated me like crap before, but ‘ve never known her to give that kind of treatment to one of your friends, Red.”

Willow considered that for a moment. “So you think Buffy’s not herself? Like she’s been possessed or something?”

“I don’t know,” Tara confessed, and Spike shrugged, indicating his own cluelessness.

“You didn’t get a sense of hyena energy did you?” Willow asked urgently. “Because hyena possession is just unpleasant.”

Tara looked pensive. “If you have something of hers, there might be something we could try. You know, to figure out what happened. It—it’s dangerous, but…”

“Worth it,” Willow said. “If something’s wrong with Buffy, it’s worth it. And I trust you.” She looked over at Spike. “What are you going to do?”

“’m goin’ to see if I can’t find that other Slayer, Faith? This started with her. Buffy was jus’ fine before all this started.” Spike looked grim. “Where did Buffy say she was goin’ to be?”

“With Riley.” Willow frowned slightly. “But if the Council has her—”

Spike considered that for a moment. He didn’t think the soldier would be in any danger from her, unless whatever took over Buffy’s body was a succubus. Of course, even if she was, no skin off his nose. “Giles might be able to find out where they’re holdin’ her,” he said. “’sides, those blokes didn’t look like they were into babysittin’ a Slayer all that much. Be a right shame if it turns out we need the other girl to make this right an’ all we have is a dead body.”

“No kidding,” Willow grimaced. “I guess Tara and I will meet you back at Giles as soon as we get this figured out.” As Spike started off down the street, Willow called out after him, “Oh, and Spike?” He turned and looked at her. “I like the glasses. They look good.”

Spike smiled sheepishly. He’d forgotten he had them on. He gave a small wave and then loped off down the street towards Giles’ place.

~~~~~

Giles came awake slowly to find Spike shaking his shoulder insistently. “Rupert, wake up.”

“What’s wrong?” he mumbled, as Spike flipped on the bedside lamp.

“’s Buffy,” Spike said without preamble. He didn’t think they had time for niceties, not when Buffy’s life could be at stake.

That woke Giles up. “What happened? Is she alright?”

“Depends on what you mean by ‘alright,’” Spike said. “Ran into her at the Bronze. ‘Least it looked like her, but it wasn’t Buffy. Don’t know what’s goin’ on, but Tara was sure somethin’ was wrong too. Somethin’ about her energy bein’ fragmented, an’ the girl should know. She’s a grade-A witch.”

Giles’ sleep-fuddled mind tried to decipher what Spike was trying to tell him. “You ran into Buffy at the Bronze, but you don’t think it was really her?”

“It’s not her,” Spike insisted.

Giles shook his head. “Forgive me, Spike, but I’m not certain that—”

“Trust me,” Spike pleaded. “Somethin’ is goin’ on with the Slayer. I think we need to find that other one, Faith. She’s where it all started. Buffy was fine earlier tonight.”

Giles thought for a moment, thought about the Council’s wetworks team and what he knew of them, thought about Spike’s success in past weeks helping with research and other things. In the end, trusting the ex-vampire was something of a no-brainer, as Buffy might say. “I know someone who might be able to help,” Giles stated. “Let me get dressed and make a phone call. I’ll see what I can do.”

Spike paced the small living room, waiting for Giles to get the information they needed. The small voice in the back of his head that told him something was wrong was growing more alarmed by the second. What if something really had happened to Buffy? What if they needed Faith to get her back? What if Faith was already dead?

“I’ve found where they’re holding her,” Giles said from behind him. “You do realize that they will not be pleased at our showing up, don’t you?”

Spike shrugged. “Good for them.”

Satisfied, Giles gave a Ripper-like smile. Sometimes he thought Spike brought out the worst in him. Or perhaps it was the best… “Then we’ll need weapons. How good a shot are you?”

“’m good,” Spike said easily. “I can hit what ‘m aimin’ at anyway.”

Giles disappeared for a moment and came back carrying a tranquilizer rifle. “Very good. We might need this for Faith, as well as the Council’s team.” He tossed the rifle to Spike and came up with a sword for himself. “Very good. Let’s go, then.”

~~~~~

Buffy was not having a good time. And that was about the understatement of the year. There was a small—very small—part of her that almost felt sorry for Faith. Her sister Slayer would have been at the mercy of these goons if they hadn’t switched bodies, and Buffy was rapidly coming to hate them.

Of course, whatever sympathy she might have felt was swallowed up in the sense of violation. It was worse than what she imagined rape might be like since everything had been taken from her. Unless she could get herself out of this mess, everyone would go on believing that Buffy was out there and Faith was in the hands of the Council. To further muddle matters, she had the sinking sensation that the men who had grabbed her would have no qualms about getting her good and dead. And no one would ever know.

They wouldn’t come near her again, her previous actions had made certain of that, so she would have to find some other way to prevent being killed. They would probably try to shoot her. Buffy stretched out as far as she could go, feeling grateful for Faith’s slightly longer legs. It would make it that much easier to disarm whatever hand came through the small, barred window in the back of the van.

The gun came through as expected, but before Buffy could even move, she heard the sounds of a struggle, and a familiar voice that said, “I’d drop that if I were you, mate. Unless you want me to drop you.”

The hand withdrew, taking the gun with it, there was a heavy thump, and Buffy waited with bated breath until the doors opened to reveal Spike. In glasses? She threw off the momentary confusion that sight brought. “Spike! I’m glad you’re here. You have to believe me. Faith switched. I mean, she had some device that switched our bodies, and—”

“I know.” Spike was looking rather amused at this point, even as he searched the body of the unconscious man. He found the keys and climbed in the back of the van to unlock the shackles.

“Wait a minute,” Buffy said, staring at him. “You know?”

Spike gave her a smug little smile. “Well, I knew Buffy wasn’t herself when I saw her earlier tonight. Didn’t know you were Buffy though till just now. Nobody says m’name like you do.” He paused. “Though, I have to tell you, the body-switchin’ thing? Just a bit confusin’ for all parties involved.”

Their eyes met for a long moment, and Buffy suddenly felt safer than she had since she found out Faith had awoken from her coma. Here was someone who saw her, who knew her. It was a tremendously reassuring feeling. “We have to get out of here,” she said. “I need to find Faith so I can get my body back.”

“Right,” Spike replied, finishing unlocking the cuffs. “Do me a favor, find the keys to this monstrosity while I tell Giles what we’re up to. He’s out guardin’ the front in case someone else comes.”

“Didn’t you guys drive out here?” Buffy asked.

Spike gave the unconscious body a pointed look before he started to drag it off to the side with him. “You really want to leave these wankers with transportation?”

She saw his point. “I’ll find the keys.”

Spike insisted on driving, and Buffy had to admit he was probably better at it than she was. Of course, he’d also been driving longer than she’d been alive. He pulled the van up in front of Giles’ apartment, the DeSoto was already parked out front, and they went inside. Giles jumped a little at seeing what looked like Faith walking around free.

“’s okay, Rupert,” Spike said reassuringly. “Faith an’ Buffy switched bodies. This is Buffy.”

Giles didn’t look at all convinced. “Spike, I don’t think you realize Faith’s deviousness. Now, I think it might be better if we just tied Faith up for right now. At least until Willow gets here with the results of that spell you were telling me about.”

Spike rolled his eyes, about to say something before Buffy interrupted him. “Giles! It’s me, Buffy! You turned into a demon, and I knew it was you by your eyes. Can’t you just look into my eyes, and—and do that intuition thing?”

“How did I become a demon?” Giles asked, his eyes narrowing.

Buffy thought for a second. “Ooh! ‘Cause, uh, Ethan Rayne turned you into a demon. And you have a girlfriend named Olivia. You haven’t had a job since we blew up the high school—which is valid, lifestyle-wise. I mean, it’s not like you’re a slacker-type. Oh, oh! When I had psychic power, I heard my mom think that you were like a stevedore during sex.” At the look on Giles’ face, she paused briefly. “Do you want me to continue?”

“Actually, I beg you to stop,” Giles said, trying not to blush.

Spike’s eyes had almost bugged out of his head, and he stared at Giles. “You slept with Joyce?” He turned back to Buffy. “When the bloody hell did that happen?”

“Band candy,” she replied briefly. “I promise, I’ll tell you the whole story later. Right now, we need to find Faith. My body could be in Mexico for all I know.”

“Not in Mexico,” Spike replied, slightly uncomfortable with his knowledge of precisely where Buffy’s body probably was.

Buffy frowned. “Where?”

“With Riley,” he mumbled, and looked for shelter. He had a feeling that she wouldn’t be too happy with that information.

Buffy shook her head. “It’s okay. I don’t think Faith would hurt him, and he’d know it wasn’t really me. Right? Because you guys knew it wasn’t me.”

Spike didn’t have a chance to tell her that no, actually, it was only him and a girl she’d never met before that actually knew. Willow came in through the front door, followed closely by Tara.

Buffy looked over at her. “Willow, wait. You know what’s going on right?”

“You’re Buffy,” Willow replied calmly. “You and Faith switched bodies, probably through a Draconian katra spell.”

“She knows more than I do,” Giles muttered.

Willow looked over at Tara. “This is Tara. She helped me figure out what spell we needed to switch you back. She’s a really powerful witch.” Tara waved shyly and muttered a disclaimer. “Anyway, we conjured a katra. It should switch you back if you can get your hands on Faith.”

Buffy heaved a sigh of relief. “Great. So we just have to find Faith now.”

“Call the Finn,” Spike suggested. “She might still be with him.”

“I’ll do it,” Willow offered, handing the box containing the katra to Giles. “Riley probably wouldn’t tell a strange person about Buffy’s whereabouts anyway.”

Willow made the quick call, and then hung up, shaking her head. “He said she left while he was still asleep.”

“Now how are we going to find her?” Buffy demanded. “She has my body, and I want it back.”

The phone rang again, and this time Giles answered it. “Hello?…Uh, yes. Actually, Buffy’s here with me. She’s, uh, she’s—oh, alright.” He hung up. “Xander,” he explained. “He said to turn on the news.”

They turned it on to the middle of a segment on a hostage situation. It was clear from the information the newswoman was passing along that it was a vampire related attack. “Unusual,” Spike commented, almost to himself. “For it to be in the middle of the day, an’ in the church like that? Somethin’s wrong with that picture.”

“Something is always wrong with this picture,” Buffy grumbled. “I need to save a bunch of people from vampires in the middle of the day, and I’m in the wrong body.” She sighed. What she really wanted to do was to chase Faith down and make her pay, after she got her own body back. But she was the Slayer, no matter what she looked like, and she had people to save. “We’ll just have to find Faith later,” she said. “We’d better get out there before the vamps get tired of playing and decide to eat everybody.”

~~~~~

They took the van because it was the only vehicle that would hold all of them. Giles and Spike stayed up front while the girls rode in the back, none of them wanting Buffy to be seen, especially while her present face was on wanted posters.

Pulling up in front of the church, they were met by a sergeant who was busy telling them that they shouldn’t be there. Buffy looked over at Giles and Spike, who had scrambled out of the van to join them. Both men got her signal, but it was Spike who took her cue. “You have to let me in,” he said, frantically. He wasn’t sure where the words were coming from; he hadn’t been that great of a liar even when he was a vampire and evil, but he decided to go with it. “My fiancée is in there. I was supposed to meet her this morning.”

At this point, he could see that Buffy had managed to get around the barricade and was headed toward the front of the church, and he allowed Giles and Willow to hold him back. “Please, I just need to be sure she’s okay.” His acting job must have been pretty good, since the sergeant’s face was beginning to show a reluctant sympathy. Giles pulled him back further.

“William, we must stay back and let this police do their job.” Giles’ acting abilities were not so stellar. “I’m certain they’ll notify us as soon as they know something.”

Spike let himself be led off, far enough away that the sergeant decided to leave the small group alone. He did not, however, have to feign the worried look on his face. Buffy was in there, and she was alone, against who knew how many vampires. It wasn’t that he doubted the Slayer’s ability to take care of herself, but he found that at some point she had somehow taken up residence in his heart. The faint stirrings of passion he had tried to quell had burst into full flame, and he had given over a hostage to fortune.

When Buffy, the real Buffy, emerged some time later, he knew she had been successful, both in destroying the vampires and in getting her own body back. The device Willow had given her earlier had apparently worked like the charm it was. She walked and moved and gestured like Buffy did. He didn’t need anyone else to tell him that. And Riley was just a couple steps behind her.

Spike turned away to look at Giles. “What time is it?”

Giles tore his eyes away from his Slayer to look over at Spike. “Pardon—oh.” He checked his watch. “Quarter of ten.”

“I’d better get goin’ then,” Spike said, infinitely weary. At Giles’ frown, he explained. “’m s’posed to be at the gallery by 11, an’ I still have to clean up and such.”

“I’m sure Joyce would understand your not coming in,” Giles protested.

“You speakin’ from your intimate knowledge of the lady?” Spike asked with a sly grin, which only widened at Giles’ glare.

“You’re not going to let me forget about that are you?”

“Maybe after a while,” Spike allowed. From the look on his face, the Watcher knew the subject was closed. Spike would be going into the gallery, and that was all there was to it.

Giles sighed. “Well, let’s get out of here then.” He glanced back to where Buffy and Riley were talking. “I don’t believe we’re needed here anymore.”

~~~~~

Spike made it to the gallery on time, though Joyce didn’t look all that happy to see him. “Spike! You look like death warmed over.”

“Sleepless night,” he explained, not wanting to go into more detail. If Joyce knew how sleepless it had been, she would probably send him home, and he needed the money. “But look at you,” he said, referring to the shiner she was sporting. “While we were out bein’ useless, you were stoppin’ a Slayer’s fist with your face.”

“I’m fine,” Joyce insisted. “Buffy showed up before she had a chance to do much.” She let him tilt her face with a gentle hand so he could see the damage.

Spike looked at her with regret. “You sure you’re alright? I can handle things on my own today if you want to leave.”

“Thank you, William, but I really am okay,” Joyce said gently.

He smiled. “Well, that’s good.” Spike let the silence stretch on, and then said quietly, “I found an apartment.” He had told Joyce about his search before anyone else. She was the one he had asked about where to look, the one who had explained renters’ agreements and security deposits. He hadn’t felt comfortable asking Giles, for fear he would seem ungrateful.

“Where?”

He shrugged. “Near the campus a bit more. Off Elm.”

Joyce knew the apartments he was talking about. She also knew that they weren’t all that pleasant. She kept her tone neutral, however, knowing that there were some things you had to do on your own, including getting your first apartment. “When do you move?”

“Next week sometime,” he said. Spike looked over at her, a self-deprecating look on his face. “Thought I’d give you the address anyway. Won’t have a phone for a while.”

Joyce nodded, concerned, but she still said nothing. She merely made a note to herself to be certain to fix Spike care packages for his new apartment, disguised as extra food she couldn’t eat. There were ways to get around pride.

They worked in a comfortable silence after that, Joyce up front and Spike in the back with the books. He had never liked math when he was a human, preferring instead the warm passion of poetry. Spike still liked poetry; he always had, even after he had been turned. William had never completely left him in that regard. Even so, numbers seemed soothing now, requiring precision and concentration, but no emotion. He was too full of emotion these days, and the cold demands of numbers allowed him to not think, not feel, for a while.

Spike lost himself in the dullness of exhaustion and routine until Joyce called him back to his senses. “Spike?”

He looked up to see her standing in the doorway of the small office, Buffy standing behind her. “I’m going to take off. You’ll lock up?”

Spike nodded. “Yeah,” he replied, his eyes never leaving Buffy. Belatedly, he realized that he was still wearing his glasses, and quickly pulled them off. “Hey. How’re you feelin’?”

Buffy smiled. “I’m alright.”

“And Faith?”

She came to stand inside the office, and Spike started to rise to give her his chair. Buffy waved him back. “Don’t get up. And Faith’s gone, no trace. Same with the Council guys.”

“Not surprised there,” Spike replied, the traces of a smirk playing around his lips. It was an expression Buffy hadn’t seen on his face for a very long time.

She hesitated. “I wanted to thank you this morning, but you took off before I got a chance.”

“For what?” Spike was clearly confused.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “For starters, coming after me, for figuring it out, quite possibly for saving my life.”

Spike shrugged it off. “Tara knew as much as I did, luv,” he replied uneasily. “An’ you’re the Slayer. You’d have gotten yourself out of there.”

Buffy shook her head. “Maybe, but you knew, Spike.” The silence hung between them. “Can I ask you a question?” When Spike nodded uncertainly, she said, “How did you know? That I wasn’t me, anyway. Willow said you and Tara figured it out, but that no one else even had a clue.”

Spike shifted in his chair uncomfortably, not meeting her eyes. “Dunno,” he said. “S’pose—I guess you were cruel.” He still wasn’t looking at her. “You’ve been—you were cruel to Tara, an’ I’ve never seen you do that to a person you haven’t met before.”

Buffy could, occasionally, read between the lines. Spike was particularly easy to read. “What did Faith say to you, Spike?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he replied.

Buffy shook her head. “From the look on you face, I think it does.”

He shrugged. “Twitted me ‘bout not sleepin’ an’ gave me a bit of a hard time about the glasses, ‘sall. Not a big deal, Slayer.”

Buffy smiled a little, and then reached across him to pick up the glasses off the table. Clumsily, she put them back on his face, finally pushing them into place with her index finger, tapping him playfully on the nose. “Well, I can tell you that Faith didn’t know what she was talking about with the glasses. I think they look good. I mean, you look good without them too.” She paused, slightly flustered. “Either way.”

He smiled, ducking his head shyly. “Thanks, luv.” Then, quietly, “You want the whole truth, Buffy?”

Even now, it was so rare to hear him use her name that it startled her. Let her know how serious he was. “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” she tried to joke, but it fell strangely flat. There was no room in his face for joking.

“It was you, Buffy. I know you. The way you move, the way you walk, the way you dance. I know the way you tilt your head, and the fire in your eyes.” Spike swallowed heavily, knowing that he was showing his hand to her, that the game would be up. “It’s not the outside package that makes you, Buffy. Faith isn’t you. She can’t be.” He reached up to touch a lock of golden hair.

“I’d know you even if you were in the body of an old man, luv,” he whispered, and the intimacy of his voice, of his gesture, sent chills up and down her spine. The roughness of his voice, the lines in his face, all drew her to him. He was beautiful. Had she ever noticed that before? Or was it the blue flame of his eyes, calling to her as if she were a moth? She could be consumed by it, and never care. The comfort of being known surrounded her, and she needed it after Riley had betrayed her as he had.

“I broke up with Riley,” Buffy confessed.

Spike blinked at the apparent non-sequitor. “Huh?”

Buffy took a deep breath. “I broke up with Riley. He slept with Faith.”

Spike was conflicted. There was a part of him that wanted to jump up and down for joy, to tell her that she was better off without him. But his inherent sense of fairplay, instilled in him from birth and back full force with his heartbeat, was telling him that it wasn’t Riley’s fault he hadn’t known. “I’m sorry,” he finally said, settling for the middle ground. “I know you cared about him.”

“I could have forgiven him,” Buffy said. “I mean, I know it looked like me, so it wasn’t like he meant to cheat. And Tara saw the energy thing. But you knew. You knew. How could I stay with someone who didn’t know me when there was someone who did?”

Her lips were descending, ever closer to his. Spike came to his senses suddenly, his brain having shut down while she was so close to him. “Wait. Buffy.” He pushed her away gently and stood up, moving out into the gallery to get some distance. He couldn’t hope to have a rational thought while she was so close. “You don’t want this.”

“I don’t want what?” Buffy asked, confused. She was certain that he wanted her. It was written all over his face, shining from his eyes.

“This,” he replied, waving to the space in between them. “You just broke up with your boyfriend. You’re hurt an’ angry, an’ you have every right to be. But don’t try to use me to get even with him for not figurin’ it out.”

Buffy opened her mouth to protest, angry at his accusation that she might be using him for revenge. And then she shut it again. It wasn’t the complete truth, but there was a piece of her that knew it was at least a small part of the truth. “It’s not like that,” she finally said, more calmly.

“Isn’t it?” he asked, his voice a mere whisper in the darkened gallery, the only light coming from the lamp in the office behind them. “Tell me you want me, Buffy. Tell me you came here tonight because you want to be with me, an’ that it doesn’t have anythin’ at all to do with Finn. If you can tell me that, we’ll take up right where we left off.”

Buffy was silent. She had come to him to find out how he had known that it was Faith in her body. How he had known when no one else had even guessed. She had found more than she could have ever imagined, but it wouldn’t be fair to take the comfort he could offer, not when she was unsure of whether she could offer him anything in return.

“Yeah,” he said. “I think—I think we should both go home. It’s been a long couple of days.”

Buffy couldn’t think of anything to say to change his mind, to assure him that there was more there than he believed. Words had never been her forte. “Spike,” she said, calling him back, not wanting him to leave looking as though his whole world had just ended. “That wasn’t the only reason I came to you tonight. It wasn’t all about Riley.”

Spike nodded, but said nothing. He wasn’t sure there was anything left to say.

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