Buffy rushed through the rubble, looking for any sign of him. “Stupid vampire,” she muttered. “If he’s dusted himself, I’m never going to forgive him.”
“Buffy!” Giles called out. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” She moved towards a spot of color that might have been Spike’s hair, but it turned out to be yet more construction material. “Did you see where Spike fell?”
He hurried towards her. “Does it really matter?”
“Does what matter?” It was going to be difficult to see him in the early morning half light. The sun was just now beginning to appear over the horizon, but if they didn’t find him soon, his dust would be indistinguishable from the destruction around them.
“Finding Spike.” He grabbed her arm. “I realize that he’s been very helpful recently, but—”
“He saved Dawn’s life.” Buffy met his eyes, daring him to disagree. “I owe him.”
Giles’ gaze fell. “Very well.”
Dawn was waving frantically from about twenty feet away, and she jogged over to her sister. The younger girl was trying to pull Spike to his feet, without much luck. Buffy quickly took over. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Fine,” he ground out.
Buffy glanced at the sky, noting that the sun was high enough that their only choice was to find a sewer entrance; he’d be safe enough underground. “Dawn, go find a manhole. There should be one close by.”
“Okay.” Dawn willingly ran off, the dress Glory had made her wear tangling around her legs.
Giles had apparently decided to follow her lead, because he moved to support Spike on the other side. “What about the others, Buffy?”
She looked up to see Xander carrying an injured Anya, while Willow and Tara leaned on one another for support. “Tell them to go home, Giles. We’re fine, and we could all use some sleep. If you could see Dawn home, I’ll get Spike back to his crypt.”
“I can get myself back,” he insisted. “You don’t have to bother about me.”
“Shut up,” she said, although not unkindly. “You can’t even walk by yourself.”
“Don’t argue with me. You know you’re not going to win.” He fell silent, which was unusual enough that Buffy suspected he was hurt a lot worse than he let on.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright on your own?” Giles asked as they approached the manhole cover Dawn was standing next to.
She shrugged. “After tonight? I think I can handle just about anything.” Buffy spared a moment to look her sister up and down, checking for injuries she might have missed before they’d come down from the top of the tower. “I’ll meet you at home, okay?”
“Okay.” Dawn looked at Spike, her expression torn. “Spike…”
“Forget it,” he growled, apparently sensing that a thank you was on the way.
She didn’t respond in words, instead pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. Buffy let Giles take Spike’s weight for a moment while she removed the cover. “Can you manage it?”
He winced. “S’pose we’ll see, won’t we? ‘s not like I have much choice.”
The sky was becoming rapidly lighter, and Buffy nodded, letting Spike lower himself down. She heard a harsh grunt as he hit the ground below, then look at the others. “I’ll see you guys later.”
Buffy climbed down cautiously, her eyes not yet accustomed to the darkness. “Spike? Are you okay?”
“Think so.” There was a pause. “Think my left leg is broken.”
“Are you going to make it back to your crypt?”
“Guess I have to,” he replied. “Last thing I want to do is stay here all day.”
“Are you still having trouble?”
“Let’s just say I’m not everybody’s favorite vampire.”
“Well, you rate pretty high on my list right now.” The words slipped out before Buffy had a chance to think about what it was she was saying—and how it probably sounded to him.
Odd, how things had changed so drastically over the last year. Lorne had told her to trust the person she trusted least, if she wanted to save herself and those she loved, and Spike certainly fit that description.
At first, it had been out of necessity; Spike was the only one strong enough to protect her sister and mother when she wasn’t available. Later, though, it had been because she knew he would.
Buffy trusted Spike because he’d proved himself trustworthy—and she knew just how strange that was.
“Thanks. That’s nice to hear.”
They limped along in silence, Buffy trying to help him keep the weight off of his bad leg. “I haven’t thanked you yet.”
“It’s not necessary.”
“You saved my sister’s life.”
“I made a promise.” Spike sighed. “Look, can we drop it? I did what I could.”
Buffy had no idea why he was being so prickly, particularly since she was being so nice. “Is something wrong?”
“No. ‘m just tired, an’ hurtin’ a bit too much to make conversation.”
“Yeah, okay.” Buffy sensed there was something else there as well, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “I just thought—”
“Yeah. Ignore me. I’m in a pisser of a mood.”
“You just fell seven stories, so I think you’re allowed.”
That got a shadow of a smile. “That Glory was a real bitch.”
“Worse than me?” she teased.
“You’re not a bitch. Haven’t punched me in the nose for a while now.”
Buffy snorted. “You haven’t done anything to deserve it in a while.”
Buffy gave him a strange look. “Okay, what’s going on?”
He frowned, glancing over at her. “What are you talking about?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Come on, Spike. You have never admitted to doing anything worthy of getting punched in the nose before. You’re always proclaiming your innocence.”
“Didn’t say I wasn’t innocent,” he said with a smirk. “Just said I hadn’t done anythin’ that you would think I needed a pop in the nose for.”
Buffy wasn’t buying it. “Still, you’ve been acting really different lately.”
“You’ve been treatin’ me differently.”
She hadn’t told him about what Lorne had said, and she found herself reluctant to do so, although she wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was simply that Buffy didn’t want to admit that her attitude had changed towards him because of something that a psychic demon had said after she’d sung karaoke.
The karaoke part was hard enough to explain.
“You’ve been acting differently,” she pointed out, wanting to change the subject.
Spike appeared skeptical, but he didn’t deny the allegation. “Figured I didn’t want to get dusted.”
Buffy didn’t think that was all of it, but if he pressed, she would have to admit to what Lorne had said to her—and that she didn’t quite hate him anymore. “Yeah, well, it’s definitely not as tempting these days.”
It was the only reply she could think of, even though it seemed inadequate. In the end, there was nothing to do but to make the rest of their slow, painful way back to Spike’s crypt.