[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part two of three

Episode Six: Statute of Limitations

by cousinjean
***

******
1977
******

Jeremiah Tulley had never felt so old. Though in truth he was still a few years shy of retirement, he had become acutely aware of every creak of his joints, every ache and pain. All his old injuries seemed to be coming back to haunt him. But it was the ache inside that he found unbearable as he lifted his glasses to rub his weary eyes, then reread the last paragraph in his journal:


Based on eyewitness accounts and other information gleaned from Detective Acosta, I have concluded that N. was defeated by William the Bloody, progeny of Angelus of the Order of Aurelius. Her neck was broken, but her skin remained intact. There were no signs of exsanguination. Signs of struggle at the scene of the attack indicate that she went down fighting, as all good Slayers do. This is the second time that this vampire, also known as Spike, has defeated and killed a Slayer. I have advised the Council to step up their efforts to track Spike and his paramour, Drusilla. There is no doubt in my mind that he will prey on future Slayers. Though still relatively young, this vampire is already earning a reputation that is matched only by his forebears, and the Council would be advised to view him as extremely dangerous. The next Slayer must be ready for him.


He frowned down at the page for a long moment. Then with a heavy sigh, he picked up his pen and added across the bottom:

I hope he found Nikki to be a worthy opponent.


Jeremiah pocketed his pen and closed his journal for the last time. Then he slid it into an envelope already addressed to Council headquarters, and placed it atop the stack of boxes nearest the front door. He turned around and puttered into the kitchen, cursing himself for having already packed up his wet bar. He'd have to settle for tea. As he rummaged through the box sitting open on the counter, he heard a knock at the door. He abandoned his search with a sigh and went to answer it. The knocking turned to banging as he approached.

"Open up, Jeremiah!" More pounding. "It's the police!" This was followed by wild giggling.

Jeremiah opened the door. "Luis?"

The young man slouched against the doorframe, a bottle of Scotch dangling from his left hand, his right poised to pound some more. It dropped to his side as he straightened up. "I want some answers, old man." Jeremiah covered his mouth as Lou shoved past him into the apartment. He reeked of the cheap whiskey.

"You've been drinking," Jeremiah said, stating the obvious.

"Heavily," Lou replied. He held out the bottle. "Want some?"

Jeremiah eyed the bottle, tempted, but decided he needed a clear head for this encounter. He held up a hand and shook his head.

"Suit yourself." Lou took a swig. "So, what did you mean when you asked me if she was bitten?"

"Pardon?"

"When I told you Nikki was dead. It was the first thing you said to me."

Oh dear. When he said he wanted answers, Jeremiah had expected the questions to be more along the lines of, "Did she love me?" That, he was prepared to answer. He wasn't prepared for this.

"Luis, has something happened?"

Lou burst out laughing. He nodded his head, visibly struggling for control. "Oh yeah," he gasped between unstable giggles, "yeah, you could say that."

Jeremiah moved some boxes out of a chair. "Please, sit down."

Lou did as told. He took another drink, then set the bottle on the coffee table. For the first time, he looked around at all the boxes. "What's all this?"

"I'm packing," Jeremiah explained. "I'm going back to England at the end of the week."

Lou blinked at him. "For how long?"

"Permanently."

"But ..." Lou shook his head. "But you've been here my whole life."

Jeremiah smiled. "Well, not your entire life."

Lou leaned back in the chair and rubbed his forehead.

"I'm sorry, Luis. But I have work in London. Family. Nikki was the only thing keeping me here. Now that she's gone ..."

"I found her killer."

This was unexpected. Jeremiah cleared a space for himself on the sofa. He sat down and waited for Lou to continue.

"This morning. I had him, you know? Had him in my sights, point blank range. Could've put a bullet right between his eyes. But he wasn't scared."

"Perhaps he was under the influence of some type of narcotic?"

The look Lou gave Jeremiah said, "Do I look that stupid?" Lou shook his head, and went on. "Then something ... something happened to his face. It ... changed. Not just his expression. He transformed." He squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered.

"But he didn't harm you?"

"No. He couldn't ... he couldn't come into the sunlight. Then I -- somebody screamed and I looked away for a second ... he just disappeared." His hands shook as he leaned forward to grab his whiskey. He took a long drink, then he slumped back in the chair. "I went inside to see ... Jesus, it was just a baby."

"He killed an infant?"

"No ... the baby killed its mother. Sucked her dry. Its face ... it was just like his."

Jeremiah removed his glasses and rubbed a hand over his face. "What did you do with the infant, Luis?"

"I killed it. I pushed it into the sun." His voice had become soft and monotone. "And it went ... poof." He stared into space for a long while, then blinked and shook his head. He looked at Jeremiah. "They're vampires, aren't they?" He burst out laughing again. "I mean, I know how crazy that sounds, but what the hell else could explain all that?"

"It's not crazy." Jeremiah leaned forward, elbows on knees, letting his glasses dangle from his clasped hands.

"You knew," Lou said.

Jeremiah nodded.

Lou shook his head. "All those stories Nikki used to tell me ... I just figured she was shitting me, you know?" His hand clenched into a fist. "How do I kill him?"

"You don't."

"But he can be killed. That baby ... sunlight'll do it, right? What else?"

Jeremiah said nothing.

Lou got up and began to pace. "Come on, help me out here. In the movies, they use crosses. Stakes, holy water, silver bullets --"

"Don't be ridiculous, Luis. Silver bullets kill werewolves, not vampires."

Lou spun towards him. "W--werewolves? There are werewolves now?"

Jeremiah just looked at him for a moment, then he sighed. "Vampires can be killed. Sunlight, wood through the heart, fire and decapitation are all deadly to them. Holy water, crosses and other implements and icons of the Church can hurt them. Human weapons can also hurt them. Had you shot Spike you no doubt would have caused him a great deal of pain, but it would not have stopped him or permanently harmed him. Vampires heal much faster than humans."

"Spike ... that's what his girlfriend called him. How did you --"

"Drusilla was with him?"

Lou's eyes narrowed. "How the hell do you know all this?"

Jeremiah leaned back. "I work for an organization that makes it their business to know these things."

"Good." Lou nodded. "Then you can help me find the bastard and kill him."

"I'm afraid it's not that simple."

"Why not?" He resumed pacing. "What are you not telling me? Why did he kill Nikki? Why didn't he bite her? And what ... what the hell's a Slayer?"

Jeremiah's eyes widened. "Where did you hear that word?"

"Spike. He called Nikki that, when he confessed. What does that mean?"

Jeremiah sank further into the sofa's cushions and sighed. In for a penny ... "Nikki was the Slayer. The Chosen One. Killing vampires was her birthright. She trained for it all her life. She was first called the summer after she turned sixteen --"

"That's when she broke up with me."

"Yes. That was the first of many difficult sacrifices for her. It does not behoove the Slayer to have close personal attachments. Such relationships tend to distract from the mission, which can endanger them even further, as well as endangering those whom they love."

The muscles along Lou's jaw flexed. He sat back down. "So, what? You teach a teenage girl some martial arts, cut her off from her friends, and send her out at night to fight vampires until she gets herself killed?"

"Something like that, yes."

Lou barked out a bitter laugh. "And here I was thinking that the vampires were the monsters."

"No, it's not ... you don't understand."

"Then explain it to me."

"It's not just a job. It is a mystical force. One girl is chosen by the Powers That Be and bestowed with supernatural strength and speed to match that of a vampire. She is also given enhanced healing abilities. When one Slayer falls, another rises to take her place and continue the fight. It has been this way since the beginning."

"So you're saying Nikki was some kind of superhero?"

Jeremiah nodded. "She was a great warrior, and she died a warrior's death."

Lou sunk back onto his chair and closed his eyes. He sat there like that for a while, so long that Jeremiah began to suspect he'd passed out.

Then Lou opened his eyes and stood up. "You have to help me kill him."

Jeremiah sighed. "Let it go, Luis. You are an arbiter of human justice. There is no such thing in the supernatural realm."

"Then I'll take it there. I'm going to find this Spike, and I'm going to take him down, with or without your help."

"You're simply not equipped --"

"Then equip me!"

Jeremiah stood up so he could look Lou in the eye. "Nikki wasn't simply powerful for a human, she was powerful for a Slayer. She'd been the Slayer for nearly ten years. Only a handful of others have lasted that long. She has faced down and defeated creatures that you can't even begin to imagine. I trained her from the time she was a child to master every fighting technique, every weapon in a vast arsenal ... to become a weapon herself. And Spike beat her." Jeremiah folded his arms. "What makes you think you have a prayer of defeating him?"

Lou took a step forward so that he was in Jeremiah's face. "That thing stole her coat. Did you know that? He's walking around, wearing it like ... like some kind of trophy. You really think I'm gonna let that go?"

Jeremiah shoved past him and went to the door. "Go home, Luis."

"You ... you're really not gonna help me?"

Opening the door, Jeremiah turned to look at him. "Go. Get some rest, and sober up. Clear your head. When you're ready, come back here, and I'll prepare you as best I can."

Lou closed his eyes, and nodded. Without another word, he went out the door. Jeremiah closed it behind him. He hoped he was doing the right thing. He wanted vengeance for Nikki as much as much as the young detective did, but he knew she would never forgive him if her Luis got killed -- or worse -- by Spike. He also knew there was no stopping the boy. He didn't even want to think about what the Council would have to say on the matter. Now he felt even older, as though the last ten minutes had aged him a year. Jeremiah trudged back into the kitchen to make his tea.

***

Busy night. As though Sunnydale's criminal element was trying to make up for the lack of demonic activity of late. An inch-thick stack of reports sat in Ben Grant's in-basket, waiting for him to read and approve. Grateful as he was for the mundane nature of the reports, part of him longed for some inexplicable circumstances to spice up his reading. He didn't want to think about what that said about him.

A knock, then his door swung open. Officer Levinson entered. "Here's Kimball's report on that domestic disturbance."

Grant nodded. "You know where it goes." He took a sip of his coffee. "Oh, Levinson?"

Levinson paused on his way out the door. "Yes, sir?"

Grant scrawled his name across the bottom of the report in front of him, and added it to the finished stack. He handed the stack to Levinson. "Can you give these to Sherri for filing?"

"Yes, sir." As he turned to leave, Lou Acosta came flying through the door and smack into Levinson, almost knocking him down. Papers went flying. Levinson regained his balance and gaped at the scattered reports.

Lou bent down to pick up the papers nearest his feet, and handed them back to Levinson. "Sorry about that, Officer ..."

"Levinson. No problem, Sarge."

Lou looked at him for a moment like he wasn't sure how to continue, then turned to Grant as Levinson knelt to gather the reports. "I need your help."

Grant nodded. "What with?"

"An old case. Murder investigation ... my first, actually."

"Unsolved?"

"Officially."

Grant put down his pen and leaned forward to give Lou his full attention. "Well, there's no statute of limitations on murder. What've you got?"

"The prime suspect. Hell, he's more than a suspect. The asshole confessed. But he got away. Disappeared. Until now."

"I take it he's in Sunnydale?"

Lou nodded.

"And you're sure it's really your perp? I mean, your first case was, what, twenty, twenty-five years ago. Are you sure you could still recognize him?"

Lou leaned forward, placing his palms on the desk. "It's him."

Grant regarded his friend for a moment. "What do you need?"

"I need you to tell me everything you know about Spike."

Levinson popped up, startling Grant. He'd forgotten the kid was there. Levinson looked even more worried than usual as he got to his feet. "Spike, he's ... he's a secret agent. Highly trained for undercover work so he can infiltrate the ... the gangs and --"

Lou shook his head. "Why do I get the feeling that 'gangs' is code for 'vampires' in this town?"

Levinson and Grant exchanged looks. Grant sighed. "Because it is."

Levinson stepped forward. "But Spike, whatever you saw ... he's not one of them. Not really."

Lou looked at the kid like he had "born yesterday" stamped on his forehead. "Is that what he told you?"

Levinson shook his head. "No! I mean --"

"That's enough, Levinson," Grant said.

Levinson nodded, and started to leave. Then he stopped in the doorway and turned back to Lou. "I know what Spike is, and I know what he used to be like. But he's not like that anymore. He's one of the good guys."

"Sherri's waiting for those reports," Grant said. Levinson nodded again, and left, shutting the door behind him. Grant pointed after him. "The kid's right."

"The kid's deluded. And apparently so are you."

With a sigh, Grant got up and came around to sit on the desk, next to Lou. "Look. I don't know what you've pieced together on your own, so I'm just gonna give it to you straight. What happened last Christmas, that wasn't a riot. It was a war. This town was overrun with vamps and they came dangerously close to wiping out the human population. Spike didn't just fight on our side, he was instrumental in helping us win. The guy's a war hero as far as this town's concerned. Whatever he did before I met him, I don't care, and I don't want to know. That's between him and the Slayers."

Lou looked surprised. "You mean the Slayers know what he is?"

"Sure they do. Them and their friends are the ones who concocted that secret agent story, to explain him to the rest of the town."

Lou found a chair and dropped into it. "She knows ... and she still ... She acts like they're a couple."

"They are. If you ask me, they're damn good together."

Lou shook his head. "Doesn't matter."

Grant sighed. This wasn't gonna be fun. "Lou, have you ever read Les Miserables?"

"My ex made me sit through the show once. And if you compare that bloodsucking sonofabitch to Valjean, I'm gonna get up and pop you. I don't care if you're my commanding officer."

"Actually, I was gonna compare you to Javert, but point taken." He stood up and put his hands in his pockets. "But I know what it's like to be haunted by an unfinished case. Look, what are you gonna do? The guy's reformed, he's done his penance."

Lou glared up at him. "The guy was a cold-blooded serial killer. What kind of penance has he done to make up for that?"

Grant shook his head. "Fine. Say we arrest him. Ship him back to New York ... first of all, he doesn't look a day over thirty. Who's gonna believe he's responsible for a twenty-five-year-old murder? And if they somehow did, and prosecuted him? Then what, send him to prison? For how long? The guy's immortal."

Lou shrugged. "So, what? That means he's above it all?"

"No." Grant scratched the back of his head, and sighed. "You're not talking about a typical vampire. This one has a family. A human family. You take him down, and those girls'll be heartbroken. He might deserve it, but they don't. Besides, from what I've seen you don't want to have Buffy Summers pissed off at you." He sat back down. "Let it go, Lou. Leave the past in the past."

Lou just stared at the corner of his desk. "So you're not gonna help me?"

"I am helping you. Let it go. That's an order."

Lou met his eyes, and nodded. "Yes, sir." He got up and left the office.

Grant stared after him. He wished he'd never introduced him to Spike in the first place. He just hoped Lou wouldn't do anything foolish. Anyway, he was a Sergeant now. Not like he could go and arrest Spike himself.

Grant glanced at the clock. It was already after one, the Summers household would probably be sound asleep by now. Grant resolved to call them in the morning, let them know what's going on. With a sigh, he got up and shut his door.

***

When she broke it off, he'd called her a racist, and a coward. She was scared, he'd said. Too scared to keep going out with someone who wasn't the same as her.

He was seventeen. What did he know?

It was the only explanation he could come up with at the time. There wasn't somebody else. For the rest of her life, there was never anybody else. And they were so good together. But she wasn't a coward. She was the exact opposite. A warrior. The Slayer. And Slayers don't have attachments.

But this new one did. She had family, friends ... and she and the vampire were practically attached at the groin. He'd felt bad before, about causing her grief. But that was when he thought she was an innocent.
She knew. She knew what that thing was, and she still took it to her bed. The bitch violated everything Nikki had stood and died for. If she chose to sleep with the enemy, she'd have to pay the price.

Lou tore open the closet and shoved his clothes out of the way. He shuffled boxes around until he found what he was looking for. Once the chest was out of the closet, he fetched a pair of bolt cutters. The lock hadn't been opened for twenty-five years. The key had been lost ages ago. It hadn't worried Lou -- he didn't think he'd ever need it. In fact, he'd worked hard to forget what was in the chest, that it even existed.

The lock was scrap metal now. The chest was open, and what was inside was exactly what he needed.

Stakes, holy water, a couple of crosses, and a small crossbow all went into a duffel bag. Then he went to the cabinet where he kept his more conventional weapons. He knew where that key was. After his son took his first steps he'd started keeping it on his person at all times. He unlocked it and took out his handgun, felt the heft of it in his hand. Usually, that comforted him; but this time it just felt useless. Lou put it back and took out another piece, a mockery of the first. Plastic. Its markings inaccurate, and its propulsion provided by a little metal coil. No gunpowder needed when water's your ammo and your weapon's a toy. He'd confiscated it years ago, after realistic-looking toy guns had been outlawed. It went in the bag. So did a taser and a set of handcuffs.

Satisfied, Lou zipped the bag, and headed out to finish what Spike had started.

***

Spike felt restless. Less of a "need to kill something" restless and more of the need to smoke variety. Carefully, he slid his arm out from beneath Buffy's head, settling her gently against the mattress, and placed a lingering kiss on her bare shoulder before rolling out of bed. He pulled on his jeans and grabbed his cigarettes off of the dresser. As he reached for the doorknob, he remembered the house full of people and went back for his shirt, buttoning up his jeans on the way. He pulled the shirt on as he went out the door, but didn't bother to button it. He was only going to make so many concessions.

Partway down the hall he paused in front of Dawn's door and listened. Good, steady breaths came from the other side. Mindful of making any noise, he turned the knob slowly and opened the door just wide enough to poke his head inside. She was sound asleep, the peaceful look on her face belying any discomfort she might be feeling. He closed the door just as quietly, and headed down the stairs. He padded through the dining room and kitchen, careful not to wake those camped out in the living room -- though he couldn't say whether he didn't want to disturb them, or if he didn't want them to disturb him -- and went out on the back porch, pulling the door shut behind him to keep bugs from getting in.

He sighed as he sunk down onto the top step. Then, thinking better of it, he moved down to the bottom one and let his bare feet sink into the grass, still warm from the summer sun. Oz had cut it that afternoon to say thanks for putting him up, and the sweet smell of newly-mown grass still lingered on the night breeze. Spike took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the fresh air before he filled them with smoke, then poked a cigarette in his mouth and lit up.

Letting out a plume of smoke, he leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees, and looked around the yard. He liked it back here. This spot, here on the porch. He wasn't sure why. Didn't have much of a view. Yard, shrubbery, lawn furniture, a patch of fence, more yard. Couldn't even see the stars all that well without squinting. Maybe it was because he was allowed to smoke out here, and people generally left him alone to think. Or maybe it was because this was where he and Buffy had made their first connection as something other than enemies. He puffed on his cigarette, and nodded. Yeh. Definitely that last one.

He chuckled over what a right gormless prat he'd been that night, coming on with all his tough-guy talk at the Bronze, then later, convincing himself he still had it in him to kill her. He tried to imagine how he must've looked to her, creeping up out of the bushes, shotgun in hand, the stones to use it shriveling up right along with the remains of his hatred at the first sight of her tears. He suspected he looked something like the bloke stalking towards him now.

Spike stood up and stamped his cigarette out on the porch rail. "Acosta, innit? I fancied we'd be meeting again."

The policeman walked up to the porch, his hands behind his back. He'd have looked like he was out for a leisurely stroll if not for the determination on his face. "You remember."

"Yeh, well. It took me a while. You got older."

"You didn't."

"No." Spike's mouth curled into a rueful smile. "I didn't. So. What can I do for you?" He turned to go back up the steps and gestured for Acosta to follow. Before his foot touched down on the bottom step, he felt electricity shoot through him. Images of soldiers and white, sterile laboratories flashed before him as he fell backwards. He landed hard, cracking his head on a garden stone. Paralyzed but conscious, he looked around, and Acosta's face came into view.

"You can go back to hell." Acosta's boot came smashing down, and everything went black.

***

******
1977
******

CBGB's was a bust. So were the next three joints. The description Lou gave when he asked for help applied to about half the male population of the places he visited. It'd narrow his search if he could show the artist's rendering in his pocket, but that would peg him as a cop as sure as flashing his badge, and then he really wouldn't get any help. Besides, he kept running into guys he'd gotten busted when he worked Vice, and he wasn't in the mood to get his ex-narc ass kicked tonight. He hadn't gone to the trouble of punking out his hair and ripping holes in his jeans and favorite tee-shirt just so he could blow his cover asking too many questions. He'd even rimmed his eyes with black eyeliner. Eyeliner! Wherever Nikki was, he hoped she appreciated what he was willing to do for her.

The fifth place he tried was a dingy, narrow hall with a bar on one wall, booths on the other, a stage at the back, and every inch of floor between filled with pogo-ing punks. Lou shoved his way to the bar and turned to survey the crowd, squinting through the smoky haze. These kids went to such great lengths to appear unique, but they all looked alike to him.

His eyes drifted up to the mirrored ceiling. A sea of brightly-colored and oddly-shaped hair writhed and roiled there, flowing around a space in the middle where Lou could see enough bare floor for exactly two people to occupy. Ignoring the bartender's protests, he stood on his stool to get a better look. There, underneath their empty reflection, Spike and Drusilla danced in their own world. While the driving beat of the music whipped the humans surrounding them into a frenzy, they moved slowly, each locked in the other's embrace.

Lou's fingers twitched, itching to grab the crossbow concealed beneath his black trench coat. Their hearts were lined up together. If he could get a clear shot, he could end it right there. The hole in the mirror would fill in, and what little dust didn't get tracked out on the bottoms of countless pairs of army boots would get swept out in the morning with the rest of the trash.

But the crowd around them made that an impossible dream. So instead he grabbed his cross, jumped off the barstool, and pushed through the crowd towards them. He reached the spot where they'd been dancing. They were nowhere to be seen. Lou looked up at the mirror, but couldn't see any more gaps in the crowd.

A soft voice tickled his ear. "You've lost something."

He spun around and met a pair of dark brown eyes, so fully dilated that they looked almost black. Blood red lips parted and curved up in a knowing smile. Lou froze, and struggled to find his voice. "Drusilla."

She brought a finger to her lips. "Sh! Naughty! Not nice, naming names." She started to sway to some internal rhythm, separate from the frenetic beat pulsing in Lou's ears. "Especially when I don't know yours." She reached a hand towards his brow, as if checking him for a fever. "Tell me your name."

Lou stepped back and raised the cross. Drusilla pulled her hand back, a delicate gesture. She stared at the cross as if mesmerized, then reached out to touch it. Her finger sizzled as it came into contact, and she jerked it back, and pouted. "He doesn't love his bride anymore."

"'S'okay, Baby." Spike appeared from behind her and took her hand. "You got me to love you now." He brought it to his mouth and sucked the burnt tip of her finger.

She smiled and looked sideways at Lou. "He won't tell me his name."

"Acosta." Spike let go of her and turned to face Lou. "Luis Alfonz."

"Oooooh!" Drusilla bounced up and down. "Spike! Did the pixies whisper that in your ear?"

"No, got it off his driver's license." He held up a wallet, and dropped it at Lou's feet.

Without lowering the cross, Lou checked his back pocket. Empty. "Neat trick."

Spike shrugged. "Handy skill. Not that I use it much. Don't have much use for cash, myself. Now this --" He held up Lou's crossbow "-- on the other hand, is a neat toy." He touched his finger to the tip of the wooden bolt. "Shame the Slayer didn't have one of these on the subway, innit?"

"Crying shame," Lou agreed.

The vampire smirked, then took aim at the stage. The dancers in the immediate vicinity yelped and moved out of the way, but most kept dancing, completely oblivious. "Yeh," Spike said. "She coulda just pulled the trigger, and it would've all been over. Just ... like..."

"NO!"

Too late. Spike squeezed the trigger. The bolt impaled itself in the singer's chest.

"Damn!" Spike said. "I was aiming for the amp." The singer gurgled out the last words of the chorus before falling forward into the crowd. Spike shrugged. "Oh, well. Hated that band anyway." The audience cheered as they caught the young man and hoisted him over their heads. A girl screamed, and the rest realized it wasn't part of the show. Chaos erupted as the club's patrons broke for the exits.

Lou reached into his coat and clutched a crossbow bolt. "You son of a bitch!" He raised it in the air and lunged at Spike. Before he could blink his arm wrenched behind him at an impossible angle, and he hollered as he both felt and heard something crack.

"Now, now," Spike said from behind, "none of that." With his other hand he squeezed Lou's wrist until he dropped the cross. Drusilla kicked it away. The club was empty now except for them, so it slid unobstructed under a booth. Lou struggled, but Spike's grip was too strong.

Drusilla stood directly in front of him. With a mischievous grin, she raised two immaculately manicured fingers to his eyes. "Look at me," she said. Then she turned them to point at her own. "Be in my eyes."

Lou stopped struggling as dark eyes turned a lighter shade of brown. "Nikki," he breathed.

"Shhh," she soothed. "Sh, it's okay. Everything's gonna be just fine. I'm the Slayer. I'll protect you."

His arms fell to his sides. Ignoring the pain, he wrapped them around her. "But I ... I was gonna kill them for you, Baby. Spike, he ... he killed you."

"I'm right here," she said, returning his embrace. "I won't go away again."

"You're cold."

He felt her smile through his tee-shirt, against his chest. "You'll keep me warm."

Lou sighed, and closed his eyes. "Yeah. I ... God, I love you, Nikki."

"Mmm hmm." Her lips grazed his neck. "Love you too." Her teeth sunk into him.

Lou screamed and shoved her away. Drusilla looked back at him, yellow eyes peering out from beneath a snakelike brow, and grinned. Blood -- his blood -- dripped from her fangs, and her tongue slithered out to catch it. Stunned, he raised his hand to the wound on his neck. He heard laughter and applause behind him, and turned around.

Spike lounged in one of the booths, watching the floor show. "Well I'll be damned," he said, grabbing the end of the table and seat and sliding out of the booth.

"Aren't you already?" Lou asked.

Spike seemed to consider this. "Point." A grin broke across his still-human features. "You were in love with the bint. Oh, isn't this rich!" He paced back and forth between the booths and the bar, his eyes never leaving Lou. "So this is personal. I get that. I killed your girl. It's understandable you'd want a little retribution. I mean, if anything ever happened to Dru ..." His gaze drifted to her, and he shuddered. Then he put a hand on Lou's shoulder. "Tell you what. I'm a reasonable man --"

"You're not a man. You're a monster."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Well, yeh. But still reasonable. That's why I'm gonna give you a choice. I mean, you're hurting. I'm gonna put you out of your misery either way." He tilted his head. "But I like you. You've got a hell of a pair of wrinklies on you." He patted Lou's shoulder roughly. Lou gritted his teeth against the pain that shot through his broken arm. "I admire that. So if you want, I can turn you. Make you like Dru and me."

Lou spat in his face.

Spike sighed, and wiped his cheek. "Yeh, that's bloody original." He shook his head. "Sorry, mate, but lack of creativity's gonna cost you." Chewing his bottom lip, he cast his eyes to the ceiling. "Y'know, I think I might just let you live with it." He looked back at Lou. "Yeh. You can keep your miserable little existence and your broken heart. What do you think, Pet?"

She held her stomach and pouted. "My tummy's all grumbly, Spike. I haven't eaten all night, and he's so good."

Spike nodded his head in concession. "Go on, then. But just a snack."

Before Lou even registered her movement, she was behind him, biting into his neck. He cried out, but her hand clamped over his mouth as she drank. His vision began to swim.

"Oi, Dru! That's enough, now."

She let go. Too dizzy to stand, Lou dropped to his knees.

"Where to, Sweet?" Spike asked.

"Quebec has pretty lights at Christmastime."

Their voices sounded far away, and thick, like they were under water. Lou fell over on his side, hardly noticing the pain as he landed on his broken arm.

"Yes, but it's April, Princess. And Quebec is full of French people. And they're not even really French."

Lou closed his eyes, grateful to be met with unconsciousness.


***

Buffy jerked awake. She sat up, tried to still her frantic breath, and listened. She didn't have a nightmare -- just a sudden sense that something was wrong. Nothing seemed out of place. No screaming or cries for help. She closed her eyes and sighed, and tried to shake it off. She'd been jumpy like this ever since the accident, waking up in a panic at the slightest thought that something was going wrong; that Dawn stopped breathing or that all of her tubes got tangled up. She lay back down and rolled over to snuggle up to Spike -- but he wasn't there. She turned on the lamp. His cigarettes were gone. Probably went outside to smoke. Buffy considered a minute, then decided she was too wired to go back to sleep. She rolled out of bed and pulled on her robe. Sitting on the porch with him for a while ought to calm her nerves.

In the kitchen, she bumped into Oz. He stood at the sink, drinking a glass of water.

"You couldn't sleep either, huh?" she asked him.

He pointed at his glass. "Got thirsty."

Buffy gave him a tired smile as she shuffled past him towards the back door.

"Everything all right?"

She turned back to him. "Yeah. I'm just a little restless. I'm gonna go sit with Spike for a while."

Oz nodded. "Okay if I raid the fridge?"

"Knock yourself out."

"That's one option," Oz said. "But I'll probably just eat something."

Buffy laughed as she opened the door, but her laughter dissipated when she stepped out onto the porch. Spike wasn't there. She went down the steps and peered into the yard, trying to see into the shadows. "Spike?" Something crackled underneath her foot -- a pack of cigarettes. She picked them up. "Honey? You out here?"

Her eye caught the light from the kitchen glinting off of something in the grass. Buffy went to pick it up. His lighter. Her stomach turned over, and her heart hammered in her chest. Buffy took a deep breath, then closed her eyes, and concentrated. She reached out with her senses, searching for that buzz, that little tingle on her skin she got whenever a vampire was near.

Nothing.

She swallowed, and looked back at the lighter in her palm. Her eyes drifted from it to something else in the grass -- something black and glistening on one of the garden stones. She knelt down and touched it. Cold, and sticky, but still wet. She brought her hand up in front of her face and stared at the blood coating her fingertips.

"Hey, Buffy." Oz appeared in the doorway. "This mac and cheese. Still edible?"

Buffy tore her eyes away from her hand and looked up at Oz.

He stepped out onto the porch. "What's wrong?"

Buffy stood and pulled herself together, wiping her hand on her robe. "Go wake Xander," she said as she brushed past him into the house.

She flew up the stairs, and without pausing to knock, went into the guest room. "Willow," she said, turning on the lights. She went over to give her friend a gentle shake. "Will. I need you."

Willow opened her eyes and blinked up at her. "Buffy? What's the matter?"

"Spike's gone."

Willow sat up. "What do you mean, 'gone'?"

"I mean he went outside to smoke and now he's not there and there's --" Her voice got higher as she spoke, and hitched on the last word. "There's blood, Will. Something's happened to him."

Willow got out of bed and took hold of Buffy's shoulders. "Shh. It's okay, Buffy. We'll find him. I mean, he's Spike, right? There's some blood ... not such a big deal. As long as there wasn't any dust." She cringed. "Oh, God. There wasn't dust, was there?"

Buffy shook her head. "I have to find him." She broke away from Willow and headed to her own bedroom. Willow followed her. "I'm taking the guys. I need you to stay here with Dawn. Don't wake her up. I don't want her to worry until we know there's something to worry about."

"Okay," Willow said. "Um, do you want me to call Giles?"

Buffy nodded. "Ask if he can go to the shop, in case Spike shows up there. And see if Faith can cover the north end of town."

"Yeah, sure."

Buffy pulled a tee-shirt over her head, then went over to Willow as she did up her jeans. "Can you do something? Maybe some kind of locator spell or something?"

"Yeah." Willow nodded. "I mean, I can try. They tend to be a little iffy with vampires. And they really only work if the locatee is in one spot. If he's moving, that's a whole 'nother bag of tricks."

Buffy reached out and squeezed her arm. "Just do your best."

"I will. Buffy, you'll find him. He'll be okay."

Buffy nodded. "I know."

"Good," Willow said as Buffy moved past her into the hall. "But, I mean, how do you know?"

Buffy paused. "He has to be."

***

The world was still black. But he was conscious, he felt pretty sure of that. He could hear the hum of an engine, feel movement beneath him, some bouncing at the occasional bump or pothole. He didn't need vampiric night vision to see that he was locked in the trunk of a car.

His wrists were bound behind his back. He pulled, and cold steel bit into his skin. Handcuffs, too tight to slip out of. His ankles were also bound.

Spike laid his head against the carpet and sighed. "Bugger." The back of his head throbbed, and he smelled blood. His own, he realized as he felt the dampness of his collar against his neck. His muscles still twitched from the electrocution. He hated getting tasered.

In spite of everything, his thoughts turned to Buffy. She would freak. Then she would call the cavalry together and mount a rescue, and he would be saved. Just like always. Nothing to worry about.

Or ...

Or she wouldn't wake up until morning, wouldn't realize he was gone until it was too late to do anything about it. And she would be devastated. Dawn too.

Well. Couldn't let that happen.

He groped around behind him for a weapon. Tire iron, jack, jumper cables, can of Fix-a-flat ... anything. But the trunk was clean, empty except for him. He tugged again at the cuffs. Hooked through his belt loops. Clever. Spike pulled until the fabric ripped, then curled himself into a ball and worked his body through his looped arms until his hands were in front. Then he went to work on his ankles. Acosta had used Spike's own belt to tie them. Easy enough to remove. Using the pin on the buckle, he tried to pick the handcuffs open. He shifted into vamp face so he could see what he was doing.

As he worked, he thought about what he would do when the trunk opened. He could stay suited up, lunge at Acosta's throat, and then it would all be over. Self-defense. Buffy would understand. She'd be disappointed, but she'd understand.

But she'd be disappointed.

Scratch that plan. Besides, he knew that Acosta didn't deserve to die for this. Spike had it coming. Payback truly was a bitch. Still, maybe Spike could just clobber the bastard. But then what? Run and hide and hope he could make it home before Acosta came to and tried again? He didn't know how long he'd been unconscious or how far they'd driven. They could be out in the desert in the middle of the day for all Spike knew. Anyway, even if he did make it home, it wouldn't be over. Acosta wouldn't stop coming after him. They had to have this out.

Time to settle the score.

***

"Thanks for meeting us here," Buffy said as Giles held open the shop door for her.

"Any luck?"

She shook her head.

"We checked his old crypt," Xander said as he followed Buffy and Oz inside, "and Willie's, but mostly we just drove around in circles."

"I don't know where to look," Buffy said. "I don't ... I don't even know where to begin ..."

"Hey, take it easy, Buff." Xander slipped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "We'll find him. That's what we do." He looked at Giles. "Any word from Faith?"

"Ah, no. I'm afraid she's in much the same boat. I sent her to the house, in case whatever attacked Spike decides to go back."

"Good." Xander let go of Buffy and rubbed his hands together. "So, let's get the ol' mystery machine rolling. Is there coffee?"

"I started a pot," Lydia said from the table. "It's almost ready."

"Great." He headed over to the coffee machine.

Oz started to follow, then stopped. "Um, I know it's not what we usually do, but should we maybe call the police? Spike's like a valued citizen now, right?"

"Not a bad idea." Lydia lifted her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "Perhaps Lt. Grant ..."

"I'll call him." Xander abandoned his coffee and went to the phone.

Giles put a hand on Buffy's back and led her to a private corner. "Buffy, are you sure all this is necessary?"

She looked at him for a moment, at a loss for words. "Look," she said, finding her voice, "I know you've never approved of Spike, but--"

"That is not the point," Giles said. "And it's no longer entirely accurate. Spike has more than proven himself on several occasions. Believe me, I'm as concerned for his own sake as for yours."

She let out a sigh, and nodded.

He continued. "I only meant, you're certain Spike was attacked? That he didn't --"

Her head snapped up. "What? Leave me?"

Giles held her gaze, his face filled with infinite patience. "Not leave you. But you're certain he didn't go out for some reason, and he simply didn't want to wake you?"

"You mean did he just go for a walk?" She shook her head. "Giles, it doesn't add up. His boots were by the bed, and his motorcycle's in the garage. And I don't know whose blood that is in my back yard, if it's his or ... or whatever it was that got him, but I ... he's in trouble. Don't ask me how I know, I just know."

"Fair enough." He adjusted his glasses. "Have you ... um, do you think we should call your father?"

Buffy thought for a minute. "No. I don't see how he could help. And he really doesn't like Spike. I just don't need that right now."

Giles nodded. "Of course."

"Unless ... Giles, should I have called him instead? I mean, I know I dragged you out of bed and--"

"No! I'm ..." He took off his glasses. Apparently lacking a handkerchief, he began to clean them with his untucked shirttail. "I'm extremely pleased that you still feel you can call me in a crisis." He put them back on and looked her in the eye. "You can always call me, Buffy, you know that don't you?"

"Of course!" Buffy leaned in to hug him. "I love my dad, because he's ... well, my dad. But you ... you're my Giles."

Giles returned her squeeze, then put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back. He smiled and touched her hair. "I trust you'd manage. Now come on." He turned her around and gave her a gentle shove towards the table. "Let's go find Spike."

Lydia handed her a cup of coffee as she sat down. "Has he said or done anything out of the ordinary recently? Does he have any enemies?"

Buffy raised her eyebrows.

"New enemies, that is."

"Spike hung out all night," Oz said. "He acted like everything was cool."

Buffy nodded. "Except, when we were getting ready for bed he was a little down. He worries sometimes. That he might lose control." She looked around at the others to gauge their reactions.

Giles leaned forward and put his arms on the table. "I think I'd be more concerned if he didn't sometimes worry."

Buffy concentrated on picking at the rim of her paper cup. "He said he's been having dreams -- nightmares, I guess -- about the last Slayer he killed."

"Nightmares," Lydia said, shaking her head in wonder. "That's fascinating. That a soulless vampire could be capable of such remorse over a ..." Her voice trailed off as she noticed Buffy's glare. "Though I suppose if you know Spike it's not really that surprising," she added sheepishly.

Buffy sighed, and slumped over on the table. "You'd think between two Slayers and three Watchers we'd be able to find the only vampire in town," she grumped.

"Well, this Watcher just might have a lead," Xander said, hanging up the phone. Buffy looked up as he joined them at the table. "I just talked to Ben Grant. One of his guys came to him tonight saying he'd linked Spike to an old, unsolved murder. His name's Acosta."

"Acosta," Lydia repeated. "That sounds familiar."

"Ben said you guys have met him a few times."

"Oh yes, the new Desk Sergeant," Giles said.

Lydia shook her head. "No, it's not that." She got up from the table and began to pace, taking off her glasses and chewing on the earpiece as she went.

"Anyway," Xander continued, "Ben said this guy had a real mad-on to arrest Spike. He was pretty pissed off when Ben ordered him to let it go."

"So, do you think maybe that's what happened?" Buffy asked. "That he arrested Spike?"

Xander shrugged. "Ben's gonna check and call us back."

Buffy closed her eyes. This ... this could be good. It wasn't a demon that got him. Worst case, this cop might rough him up a little. Maybe he already did, hence the blood ...

"Oh!"

Buffy opened her eyes and looked at Lydia.

Lydia scanned under the table, and shook her head. "Oh bother, I should've brought my briefcase. Rupert --" She glanced at him, then dropped her gaze and smiled a little, as though suddenly shy.

"Yes?" he prompted.

"Um, do you by any chance have a copy of my thesis?"

"I'm afraid I don't."

She thought for a minute, picking a lock of hair out of her ponytail and twisting it around her finger. Then, "Oh! What about past Watchers' journals? The diaries of, um ... Jeremiah Tulley!"

"Right. Of course." Giles stood up. "They're in my office."

As he left, Xander raised his hand. "Jeremiah who?"

Lydia sat back down. "He was Watcher to the last Slayer Spike killed."

"Neat," Buffy said, "but what does this have to do with some pissed off cop going after Spike?"

"Well, I'm ... I'm not positive that it does, but ..."

"Found them!" Giles came back to the table carrying a small stack of leather-bound journals.

Lydia opened the front covers of each to look at the dates, then selected one and leafed through it. She stopped on a page and pointed at the passage. "There. Nikki -- the Slayer, that is -- was connected to a young man named Luis Acosta." She turned some pages and read a little more. "Romantically connected, that is. At least, until she was chosen. The young man went on to become a police officer." She grabbed another journal and flipped to the back, nodding as she read. "He was the detective in charge of her murder investigation." She looked at Buffy.

Buffy's eyes widened. "He loved her."

Lydia nodded.

"He doesn't want justice." Buffy looked at Giles. "He wants revenge."

Lydia flipped a few more pages. "There's more. An addendum to the final entry. It seems that Detective Acosta figured out Spike's true nature, and came to Mr. Tulley to learn how to dispatch vampires."

Buffy stood up. "We have to find them."

"We better do it fast," Oz said. "Sun's up in an hour."

"Ben gave me the description of Acosta's car and license plate," Xander said. "Shouldn't be too hard to find."

"Assuming they stayed in Sunnydale," Buffy said. She pulled out her keys, and considered. "Oz, can you drive?"

"Sure." He caught the keys when she tossed them.

"We'll split up," Giles said, standing up "Lydia and I can take my car."

"No," Buffy said. "One of you should stay here. Ben's supposed to call back when he gets to the station, right? We'll call and check in."

"I know a spell," Lydia said. "I ... don't actually know how to do it. But if Spike is outside, it could buy him some time."

Buffy nodded. "Get to my house and give it to Willow. Giles, you stay here. When Ben calls, tell him what we know, get him to look for Acosta."

"Right," Giles said.

"Good. Let's go." Buffy turned and went out the door. She didn't have to look to know her friends were behind her.

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