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

Episode Nine: Cleanup

***
At about seven a.m. the next morning, Oz walked into the local Starbucks for some coffee and flirting. He instead found himself extremely disappointed to be ordering from a big Middle Eastern guy whose tag named him 'Ahmed'.

"Hey," Oz said. "Isn't Julia working today?"

Ahmed looked at him carefully. "You a friend of hers?"

"Our relationship is complex."

Ahmed chuckled. "Funny, you don't look like her type."

Oz frowned at this, but pressed on. "So will she be in later?"

Ahmed sighed. "She's supposed to be here now. She hasn't shown up. Second day in a row. To be honest, I'm a little worried."

"Yeah."

"I mean, I'm sure she's fine, but after last year…"

Oz nodded. "Right. Did you try calling her?"

"I did, actually. No answer."

"I'm sure she's fine," Oz lied. "Thanks for the coffee." He headed out, making a mental note to see if Willow could hack into Starbucks records or something and find out where Julia lived. He knew he didn't know her that well, and he certainly wasn't in a position to play the worried boyfriend. But worried guy with a crush wanted to check on her for himself. This was still Sunnydale, after all. Disappearances tended not to be accidental here. Besides, be it werewolf-related or just due to experience, Oz had developed an instinct for trouble, and it was speaking to him now.

He hoped Julia wasn't dead.


***

Once everyone had assembled in the living room, Buffy took a moment to try and gauge how they were doing. Willow and Oz sat on the couch, flipping through a stack of papers. Xander perched on the armrest, with Lydia and Giles nearby and Dawn and Faith on the floor. All in all, everyone seemed relatively relaxed -- vampire attacks were business as usual, really. Good to get back to the basics. Her gaze finally settled on Spike, who stood in the corner tossing a lighter between his hands. Buffy could tell he was looking forward to a fight. Good sign if it meant he would loosen up.

She finally broke the silence and addressed the group.

"Okay, here's what's up. The vampires are taking hostages. Which hopefully means that the missing people are still alive."

"I think it's safe to assume that won't last," Lydia said.

Buffy nodded. "Agreed." She started to pace the length of the living room. "But we should have some time before the vampires start killing them, so we have to move fast. The trouble is, they're probably holed up in the sewers or caves or something. We should also check out old warehouses. Will, did you have any luck with the town records?"

Willow handed her a stack of printouts. "I found a list of the biggest openings to the sewer system, and I mapped the easiest route through them all. See, I highlighted the northern sector in yellow, and the intersecting tunnels from the southern sector in green, and…." When she saw Buffy's amused smile, Willow shrugged sheepishly. "I may have gone overboard on the highlighter."

"You're just in college withdrawal." Buffy grinned. "Did you get a chance to look up caves?"

Oz handed Buffy another stack of papers. "We got as many as we could, but Sunnydale has a lot of caves. All we really need is a Kathy Lee Gifford museum to bump Disneyland from the top evil vacation spot."

Buffy handed the papers to Lydia and retrieved her breakfast -- a rapidly-melting pint of Ben and Jerry's Karamel Sutra -- from the coffee table. "Okay, this is good. We have a search pattern to work with. But Will, can you maybe try a locator spell?"

Willow shook her head. "Great idea, normally. But it won't work on vampires, and we don't even know who's been kidnapped."

"You could start with Julia," Oz suggested.

"Call Grant," Spike said.

Buffy nearly jumped at the sound of his voice. He'd been so quiet lately, his two simple words were like finding a long-lost favorite sweater in an unexpected place. Like, say, the bottom of her little sister's closet.

"Oh, good idea," Willow said. "He'll have the missing person's list."

"Sounds like a plan. So, Willow and Lydia take care of that, and we'll split up into two teams of two?"

"Wait a minute," Xander said. "Math may not have been my best school subject, but even I know that two times two doesn't equal all of us."

Faith patted her Watcher's knee apologetically. "You're not coming."

Dawn smiled. "Sorry Xander, looks like we're home base. Don't worry, it's more fun than it sounds. Or at least, that's what Buffy keeps trying to tell me."

"We're the invalid house, is more like it," Giles grumbled. "And is it at all possible that one of you might have left a jelly doughnut uneaten?"

"I saved the last one for you, but an evil Jellicus Donuticus demon ate it," Buffy said, trying her best to look innocent.

"I'm sure."

Buffy smiled and took another bite of ice cream. "So, Spike and I will hit the sewers--"

"You and Faith should take the caves," Spike cut her off. "White Fang and I can hit the sewers."

Buffy knew it was stupid to feel hurt that Spike didn't want to go with her, so she did her best to keep her face impassive. "Why?"

"Scents carry better in the sewer," Oz told her. "Not usually a positive thing."

"Plus, I know a few spots that aren't on this map," Spike added.

"That makes sense. Okay, Faith. Cave duty it is."

"Sounds fun," Faith said, chewing on her thumbnail.

Buffy had the urge to chew on her own nails for the first time since back when her parents were getting divorced. There was still that tiny twinge of discomfort when she and Faith got paired up. And lately the twinge was becoming less tiny.

"Grab your weapons of choice, kiddies," said Spike. "This isn't going to end pretty." He strapped some stakes and a sword to his belt, and the Slayers grabbed matching collapsible crossbows.

As Faith went to pick up a throwing axe, Buffy put a hand on her shoulder. "You may wanna travel light, we could be down there a while."

Faith shrugged. "I like to be prepared. Besides, I haven't thrown an axe at anything in a while."

"I know the feeling," Buffy said. "Which is a little disturbing if you stop and think about it."

"Check in every hour or so," said Xander. "And don't forget that your cell phones probably won't work underground, so send somebody up if you can."

Buffy nodded. "Yes, dad."

"Hey, you're the one who stuck me on phone duty," he said. "You only have yourself to blame. But while I'm playing the dad, let me take a moment to remind you that healthy breakfasts don't normally include entire cartons of ice cream."

Buffy looked down at the empty box and grimaced. "Oops. Pre-battle munchies."

"Are we sure vampires, you know, shoot blanks?" Xander said, raising an eyebrow. "I mean, have you been throwing up or--"

"Xander!" She punched his shoulder. Xander let out a groan and nearly fell over.

"Jesus, Buffy!" Faith took Xander's hand. "You okay?"

Spike snorted. "Serves you right." He helped Faith steady Xander.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," Xander forced a smile.

"Xander, I'm so sorry," Buffy started, but he waved off the apology.

"I'm fine. Don't worry about it. Even without snazzy Slayer healing, I'll be okay."

Willow fired up her laptop as Lydia dialed the telephone. "We'll call if the Lieutenant has any information," said Lydia.

"Great, thanks you guys," Buffy said.

Oz stood up and went out the door. Then he popped his head back in and said to Spike, "I'll give you a shout when I've got the grate open."

Spike nodded and grabbed a blanket from the couch. "I ever mention how much I hate playing See Spike Run?"

"Only every time," Buffy said, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him in for a kiss. When Spike kissed her back, she forgot all about her earlier worries. "You be careful today," she murmured.

"You too." Spike tucked some of Buffy's hair behind her ear, kissed her on the forehead, then headed to the door. He steeled his shoulders, pulled the fuzzy blanket over his head, and darted out the door.

Buffy turned to Faith. "You ready?"

Faith twirled the axe dramatically before tucking it into her jacket. "Always."

As Buffy closed the front door behind them, she heard Xander say, "So, who's up for Yahtzee?"

***


They didn't say much -- winding their way through the sewers, Spike on point and Oz navigating. Checking out possible hideouts all methodical-like. Whenever a curious scent floated their way, Spike caught it half a second after Oz did. They'd sniff. Then a glance, a gesture, a nod, and off they went. Not much need for verbal communication, which was fine by Spike. Nice change from the walking chat show that was Harris or Red.

But now, two hours into their investigations and with naught to show for it, the silence and darkness threatened to let Spike dwell on--

"Why me instead of Buffy?"

They'd reached another intersection and Spike froze. Either he'd given voice to his thoughts or--

"You don't have to say." Oz's mild tones floated over him. "But you could. If you wanted. If that's why I'm here."

"It's not." Never a prologue with this one. Always got right to the plot. Suddenly Spike longed for Red's beat-around-the-bush ramblings. "Said it yourself. Scents carry down here and--"

"Everywhere. All the more reason to split up the bloodhounds."

"But--" Hang on. Spike turned and faced him. "You covered for me."

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"I don't know. Do you wanna tell me?"

Spike's jaw clenched and his lips worked to keep his mouth shut. To not spread the sorry news: That, despite best efforts to chain it up, the demon had left the building, and now no one was safe. Especially those closest to the guy who let it loose.

He brushed past Oz and down one narrow passage, muttering. "Bloody… nosy… mind-reading…" He hit a dead end and slapped both hands on the wall. "Bugger." Then he whirled on Oz and snatched Willow's color-coded map from his hands -- only to thrust it back after one quick look. "I don't speak Obsessive-compulsive Wicca. Which way?"

Oz didn't bat an eye. Just glanced from map to tunnels and pointed opposite. "Big pink star that way."

Spike raised an eyebrow.

"Obsessive-compulsive Wicca for 'possible hideout'."

Spike hoped this one would pan out. No better distraction than killing. Killing who he was suppose to kill, that is. He charged ahead. By the time Oz caught up with him, Spike was glaring at yet another big empty opening with yet more tunnels running off in a hundred different directions. He paced -- smoking and swearing -- about to let loose a howl to rival any wolf, when Oz spoke again.

"I think they got a friend of mine."

Spike stopped mid-drag. "Starbucks?"

Oz looked at him for a second before answering. "Yeah." Then he consulted the map and chose the tunnel dead ahead.

As Spike fell into step beside him, he tried to push his own troubles aside and focus on work. On helping.

"I've seen her," he said, the edge gone from his voice. "Cute. Although… a bit pale for my taste." That got a corner of the pup's mouth to turn up. "Not to worry. The way Xander tells it, even if you're right, she'll be fine once we find her."

Oz nodded slowly, then asked, "You really think he's right about this? I mean, did you ever--"

"Eat in? Try to make 'em last?"

"Yeah, that."

"No, now you ask. Well, not in bulk. And never to hide from a Slayer." Never wanted to hide from one till now. He stared hard at the ground.

"Didn't last that long with you around, huh?"

"What's that? Oh." He shook his head. "No. You know, you get --" Bored. Hungry. Mad. Crazed. He flicked his cigarette away. "It gets hard to hold back…"

"I know."

"… and now you've got to. Now everything depends on -- Wait." He looked at Oz. "The water doesn't count, y'know. The water drove everybody wonky."

"No, not the water. Other times."

"What other times?"

"When I'm mad. Or worried." Something flickered behind his eyes. "Like now."

Now? "Thought you had it licked. Takin' herbs and meditating. Kama Sutra and all that." He frowned. "Also, it's day."

Oz shrugged. "Doesn't matter. If I get mad enough--"

"You're the Incredible bloody Hulk with fur, is what you're saying."

Confirmation by way of silence.

Spike's eyes narrowed as he searched his memory. "Couple years ago… You came back…"

"Yeah."

"Something happened…"

"That's the least of it."

"What's the most of it?"

"After that. In Tibet. Meditation Capital of the World."

"Yeh?"

"There were people that I cared about. And someone who hurt them."

Hurt them… Spike's chest tightened and for a second he was back at the hospital. Back at the villa…

"Spike… Spike. Duck."

Too late. Low hanging pipe to the forehead. "Ow."

"Sorry."

Spike grimaced. "No. S'nothing." He squeezed his eyes shut. Then he opened them and blinked until everything came back into focus. He pressed on. "Someone hurt them. And you?" He had to know. "What did you do?"

"You okay?"

"What did you do?"

"I got mad."

"You--"

"I didn't hold back."

Spike chewed on that. "You didn't hold back… You couldn't."

"No."

"Were you sorry?"

Oz hesitated.

"You were." Of that, Spike was sure.

"I'd do it again. He… I'd do it again."

"And be sorry again. Feel something. The wolf in you wouldn't -- doesn't -- but you do. The human does."

"Spike. The wolf is me."

"Do you have control of it or not?!"

"Always. Never. But I think now--"

"Sssh…" Spike stopped and listened. Oz followed suit. Then by unspoken agreement, they swept down the tunnel a hundred more feet to a spot overlooking another big pink star.

Bingo.

Thirty to forty vampires, including one as big as a house, strong as a Fyarl, but with Harris's tragic taste in leisure wear.

Hullo, Rudolph.

They watched as Rudy looked over the twenty-some hostages chained to the far wall. Then he hovered over two that were bound to tables in the center of the space. Vampires idly fed on them (a young couple, probably nabbed whilst necking at Lookout Point), but Rudy made it his business to keep them alive. He yanked a vampire off the girl. The minion protested and Rudy punched him so hard that Spike amended his first assessment: Strong as two Fyarls. With the others backing him, this guy was no joke.

All the better, since Spike didn't feel like laughing. He knelt and grabbed the grate.

"Spike." Oz put a hand on his shoulder. "We need to call Buffy."

Spike turned to him, frustrated. "We can take 'em. We just need--"

"-- to call Buffy."

Spike opened his mouth, then closed it and glanced at swarming pack below. He nodded once and got to his feet. "Won't be any signal down here. One of us has to go topside."

"And one of us has to not catch fire." Oz turned to go, but Spike's voice stopped him.

"Sparky. I think you're gonna be okay."

Oz nodded -- "So're you." -- and disappeared into the darkness.

Spike stared after him. "Well. Hope we're right."

***

This sucks.

When Buffy had said that she and Faith would take cave duty, it had sounded like a good plan -- thorough, simple, sure to yield results. But what's that they say about the best laid plans of impatient Slayers?

The caves didn't smell as bad as the sewers, but the layout defied anything Buffy could call sane logic. And searching them involved a lot of uncomfortable squeezing through tight spaces and wondering where the hell she was. If these caves hid any vamps, they'd be lucky to find them.

"End of the line, B."

Faith was right -- the passage had narrowed too much to crawl through, and even if they could have, Buffy suspected that they'd find a dead end in a few yards. "So what now?"

Faith shone her flashlight towards her face, emphasizing her noncommittal expression. "Well," she said, "looks like we either go back to where this tunnel branched off and try another one, or we climb out and check in with Willow."

Buffy sighed. "I really hate this. It could be hours before we get anywhere. If they're even down here." She started trudging back the way they'd come.

"It's the only plan we have."

Buffy suppressed a snark. Faith grated on her tonight, for some reason. Not fair, Buffy reprimanded herself. Faith had proven herself a dozen times over. She could do this job just fine without Buffy. Maybe that was why the grating. Which, not kosher. They were friends now. Water. Bridge. Under it. Plus, Faith hadn't killed anyone recently, which was more than Buffy could say for some people.

"I know." Buffy kept her bad mood in check. "It's my plan." Well, almost.

Faith didn't reply, but it was a vocal kind of quiet.

"I'm sorry," said Buffy. "It's just… I don't feel like we're getting anywhere. Why can't vampires live above ground like normal people?"

"'Caaause, they'd burst into flames and disintegrate?"

"There is that."

Faith's flashlight stopped bouncing along the walls. Buffy turned to face her. "Look," said Faith, "if you want, we can just get out of here. Give Spike and the Wolfman some help in the sewer tunnels."

Buffy opened her mouth to agree, but stopped. Still the big sister, after all. Had to set a responsible example like a good fuddy duddy. She shook her head. "They could be down here, Faith."

"I know, but they could not be, too, right?"

"In case you've forgotten, there are people trapped with them, wherever they are." Buffy couldn't keep her irritation from seeping into her voice. "We cover more ground in two groups. That's why we split up. And we can't stop looking just because it's frustrating."

"So we explore a different part of the sewer, what's the big? We can come back here if we don't find anything."

"And in the meantime, people could die."

Faith started walking again. "Whatever."

"What?"

Faith passed Buffy without a word.

"No," Buffy said, quickening her pace to get right behind her fellow Slayer. "You got something to say?"

"Nah. Forget it." She pointed with her flashlight. "Which way next?"

"Faith…"

"Come on, boss lady. Where to?"

"I'm not--" Buffy cut off her own protest. What was there to protest? She was older and she had seniority. And she was better. Damn right she was the boss. And as the boss she made an executive decision. They'd go nowhere until they had this out. She folded her arms, tilted her head, and glared wordlessly at Faith until she cracked.

Faith sighed. "Fine." She faced Buffy. "You want to hear what I got to say? Who the hell shoved that bug up your ass, B? Thought that stood for Buffy but you've been nothing but a bitch since we got down here."

Buffy's glare intensified. "I'm here to save lives, Faith. Sorry if that doesn't always make for Party Fun Buffy."

Faith stepped up and leaned into her face. "The vampires aren't here. We're Slayers. We would know. We'd feel it. And all I'm feeling is cave."

"You're gonna feel my fist if you don't back off."

"Hey, you're the one that wanted to have this out, so you're gonna listen. You're the one tagging along on my patrols all of a sudden, but that's cool. I can deal. And hey, you know what? I know I haven't earned as many stripes as you have. But you know what, B?"

Buffy felt her nails cut into her palm. "What, F?"

"You got no right, after everything we've been through, acting like I don't care about those people. This is my town, too, and I earned that. And if that's bothering you, Buffy, that I have a right to care about Sunnydale, or if it's just bugging you that I'm probably right about this being a waste of time when you want to think of yourself as the brains here… either way? Get the fuck over it. This is about saving lives, not some stupid pissing match."

Buffy laughed. "You're lecturing me about saving lives now?"

"Not lecturing about it. Doing it. You stick around here and play Indiana Jones if you want, I'm going where I can be useful." With a "buh-bye" wave, she spun on her heel and started back the way they came. Buffy reached out, grabbed her hair and jerked her back. Faith spun around, mouth hanging open and eyes wide. "Oh, you did not just pull the hair."

"We're not done here."

"We are so done here." Faith stepped back and looked Buffy up and down. "God, what is wrong with you today? If I didn't know you and Spike were doing it like the Viagra test rats, I'd tell you to get laid."

That did it. Buffy swung. Faith blocked and kicked Buffy's feet out from under her, then stood over her. "We're not doing this."

Buffy locked her ankles around Faith's and tripped her. "Looks to me like we are." As Buffy sprang to her feet, Faith rolled away and got to hers. The two women stood for a moment, panting and glaring. Then they both lunged at once.

Nothing pretty about this fight. No smooth, graceful Slayer moves or impressive shows of strength. Just two really pissed off girls having a chick fight. As Buffy twisted around from the headlock Faith had her in to grab a fistful of hair, the ridiculousness of it struck her, and rage melted under embarrassment. "Okay, let go."

"I don't think so."

"No, really. Faith, let me go."

"You let go first."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "This is so stupid."

"You started it!"

"I know, I just…" She sighed. "Okay, we'll both let go. Count of three. One, two …"

Faith's arm loosened, and Buffy let go of her hair. They backed away slowly, each keeping a wary eye on the other.

"Seriously, B, what gives?"

Buffy shook her head. "I don't know."

At some point they'd both dropped their flashlights. Faith picked them both up and handed one to Buffy. "You can talk to me, you know. Whatever it is."

Buffy smiled. "Is being nice to me now a way to make me feel even worse?"

"Well, yeah. Is it working?"

Buffy nodded. "Oh, yeah. Complete idiot, party of one." She raised her hand. Faith didn't say anything. Buffy shrugged. "I just … Things were rough the other night."

"No shit. I think we all got a taste of that."

"Yeah. I mean for Spike." Buffy kept her eyes on a piece of rock jutting out of the cave wall. "He … he's not dealing very well. I guess I'm not either. It's making me cranky."

"Really do need to get laid, huh?"

Buffy's eyes widened as her head snapped up to look at Faith, but the other Slayer's playful smirk made her smile. Buffy nodded. "You have no idea."

"I don't know about that." Before Buffy could press for an elaboration, Faith jerked her head toward the path leading out of the caves. "So, we done here?"

"Yeah. Let's get out of here."

"Cool. Lead the way."

"No, after you."

"B…"

"Okay, fine! But only because you said so." Buffy started out of the cavern, but then spun and shined her light at Faith. "We don't have to tell anybody what happened here, do we?"

"What, you think I'm gonna go out there and tell people I fought like Xander?"

Buffy laughed. "Right. Come on."

***

Giles hung up the phone and turned to face the group gathered in the living room. "That was Oz. He and Spike have found the vampires' den, as well as the hostages."

"Oh, poo!" The entire room looked at Willow, seated on the hearth and pouting over her spell accoutrements. "Only spent the last hour getting everything together for the locator spell, is all." Noticing everybody staring at her, she smiled sheepishly. "I mean, found the hostages, yay?"

"Yes, well," said Giles. "Your efforts aren't wasted. See if you can locate Faith and Buffy. Oz said that he and Spike are outnumbered and need backup, and neither girls are answering their ph--"

The electronic strains of The Ride of the Valkyries cut him off. Giles smiled as Xander dug his mobile out of his pocket. Wagner? The boy really was growing up.

As Xander checked the phone's display he sang under his breath, "Kill the wabbit, kill the waaabbit …"

Giles sighed.

"It's Faith," said Xander, flipping open the phone.

Willow threw her bundle of sage down with an indignant "Hmph!"

Giles glanced at her, then turned his attention back to Xander. "Oz said they're at junction 26, underneath Rest Haven cemetery."

"Didja hear that?" asked Xander. "No … no, on Hastings. No, that's Havenrest. Yes, I'm sure. Uh, good question. I guess there's a pretty limited pool of appropriate names for… Right. No, you go. Kick vampire ass. Just be careful. Buffy, too." He closed up his phone and nodded to Giles. "They're on their way. So!" He turned back to Dawn and rubbed his hands together. "'Nother round of Yahtzee?"

"No," she grumped. "You keep winning."

"Aw, come on," he said as he scooted over, making room on the sofa for Willow. "Maybe this time you'll get lucky."

Lydia unfurled from her spot in the easy chair and stretched. "As much fun as it is to watch the repeated rolling of die," she shook her empty glass, "I'm afraid I need a refill."

Three hands shot up at once, holding empty glasses out to her.

Lydia sighed. "Would anyone else like anything while I'm up?"

"Here," said Giles, taking Xander's and Willow's empties and leaving them each with a stern glare, "I'll help."

Lydia smiled as she took Dawn's glass. "Thank you, Rupert." Grinning, he followed her to the kitchen. She shook her head as she set the glasses out on the island. "I don't think I'll ever get used to this."

"What's that?"

She waved a hand toward the living room. "This. Sitting around playing games and socializing while waiting on word of our Slayers."

"Well, it is a rather routine task that they're on. Or it was, before the war." He retrieved the sodas from the refrigerator. "Buffy and Faith are more than capable of taking out a simple vampire gang. If anyone needs worrying about it's probably Spike and Oz."

"Yes, well, I do worry. About all of them."

Giles smiled. "As do we all. The games are simply a distraction." That wasn't entirely true. For him, at least. At the moment he was much more distracted by trying to decide how to ask her out. Or even if he should. "Ah … Lydia."

"Yes, what is it? Will you hand me the ice?"

"What? Oh, of course." He took the ice trays out of the freezer and set them before her. "I, ah… I want to apologize."

She didn't bother looking up as she spilled ice into each glass. "For what?"

"For the other night. At my apartment."

Lydia kept her head down as she poured the drinks, but it seemed much more deliberate all of a sudden. "Oh. That."

"I was completely out of line. I want to assure you that it was the water causing me to behave that way. I'd never have done that to you otherwise."

She said nothing as she closed up the two liter. Then, "Oh."

Giles quirked an eyebrow. Did that sound like disappointment? Forcing himself not to smile, he picked up his glass and brought it to his lips. "Of course, that doesn't mean what I said wasn't true." He took a drink.

Lydia looked sideways at him, a small smile playing on her lips. "Oh?"

This time he did smile, and nodded as he set his drink down. "I thought… that is, I was wondering…"

"Rupert, would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?"

Giles looked at her, blinking. "Oh."

"Well?"

"Yes, quite."

"Good." She set the drinks on a tray, picked it up, and returned to the living room.

***

"Anything?" asked Oz.

Spike didn't turn around. "Nothing. They're still feeding, but so long as they're being careful not to kill anyone, I think we can wait. Our backup's on the way, yeh?"

"Yeah." Oz looked down through the grate in time to see the vampires strapping somebody new down. A kid this time. He gauged the drop to the sewer chamber's concrete floor below. Looked like at least thirty feet. "I hate this."

"Never was much for waiting," Spike agreed. "But it's only--"

"Not that. The next part."

"Meaning?"

Oz gestured at the long drop. "This the only way in?"

Spike shook his head. "Passage down that way." He pointed to their right. "Might be one the other way, too," he added. "Tunnels down here all connect."

"That works."

Spike turned to look back at Oz. "'Fraid you had to jump?"

"Not to jump."

The puzzled look on Spike's face only lasted for a second before it changed to understanding. "Right." He turned back around. "Well, the Slayers'll get here, then we can all sneak in the back way. We'll handle the fighting while you get the hostages out, and Chaney, Jr. stays safely on his leash."

"Good plan." Oz's eyebrows drew tight as something occurred to him. "Hey, shouldn't there be guards?"

"There should." Spike stood, his eyes still fixed on the vampires down below. He shook his head in disappointment. "This pack of sad sacks hasn't got enough brains between 'em to-- Oz!"

A tackle from behind sent Oz crashing through the grate before Spike could act. Oz managed to not freak out long enough to get his attacker beneath him to break his fall. Even so, the landing knocked the wind out of him. Luckily, it must've also stunned the vampire because it just lay there as Oz got to his feet. He had just enough time to wonder what the hell to do now when a stake flew down from above like a heart-seeking missile. Oz looked up to see Spike hanging through the grate, one arm still poised in follow-through. His eyes drifted from the dust to Oz, and then to something behind that, judging from the look on his face, must not have been good.

Slowly, Oz turned to face the chamber behind him. Every vampire and conscious human in the room stared at him. Oz raised a hand to wave. "Um… hi." It was stupid, but talking might buy a few seconds.

The big vampire -- probably Rudolph -- laughed, almost pleasantly. "You must really want to die."

Oz wondered if Spike had decided to take the long way in. Maybe he could stall until he got there. Keep talking. "Makes two of us."

"He's got backbone," a female said. She might have been cute without the bumps and fangs.

"Let's tear it out," someone suggested.

"Shut up!" commanded Rudolph. He looked Oz up and down with a sneer. "What do you mean, 'two of us,' runt?"

"You're in Sunnydale," Oz said, ignoring the jab. "Vampires don't last so long here."

Spike landed on his feet next to Oz with a thump, sword in hand.

Oz smiled. "Unless they switch sides."

Rudolph laughed, but this time it wasn't so pleasant. He held up a finger, then swung it down toward them both, a referee signaling "go." In case that wouldn't send the message on its own, he added, "Kill them."

Every vampire behind him rushed forward as one. Spike shifted into game face as he got between them and Oz. "Get the hostages!" he ordered, swinging his blade at the onslaught. He beheaded one vamp, and kicked another, sending him flailing into yet another. Both lost their balance and toppled over. Spike leapt on them and took their heads in a single stroke.

Spike seemed to have things under control, for the moment. Oz turned to the humans, each of them shackled to the wall. He'd either need a key, or something to hack through the chains. He didn't have either. Had to be a key around somewhere, though, right? Unless it dusted with those vamps Spike just took out. He looked around for options and his eyes fell on her.

"Julia?"

Chained to the sewer wall with bite marks all over her neck and arms, she looked extra pale and barely conscious. She opened her eyes at the sound of her name and looked at him, but didn't register any recognition. A whirlwind of emotions swirled through him, starting with relief at seeing her alive and culminating in rage at seeing what they'd done to her.

Rage. Not good. Not now. He turned away and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to will himself calm. When he opened them again he saw a fist flying at him. It landed on his nose. His head snapped back and everything went blurry at the edges. He raised his head long enough to recognize the female vamp before she kicked him in the gut. He flew back into the hostages and slumped on the ground.

Oh good, rage and pain. Oz raised a hand to wipe his nose. It came away bloody and furry. His first instinct was to fight the change, but the vampire came at him again, this time with friends. He couldn't maintain control now if he wanted to. And he didn't want to.

The vampires' screams were the last thing he remembered.

***

Neck deep in his own kind, Spike wondered what the hell was keeping his honey. Not that he minded the chance to let loose the rage and frustration that had been building over the last few days, but there were too many. He didn't know how much longer he could hold out, let alone keep them off Oz and away from the hostages.

He swung his sword almost blindly, thrashing and slashing his way through a small army of vampires that made up in strength and eagerness what they lacked in age and smarts. It occurred to him that there was something fundamentally wrong about all of this. According to the rules of the universe -- the rules at which he blatantly thumbed his nose every morning he woke up alongside his human lover -- he should be leading these troops against the Slayer, not holding them off until she could get there and finish them. He'd been going against the grain so long, or so it seemed, that he almost failed to recognize the irony any more. It had been almost a year since he'd turned his back on his vampire family in favor of his human one, and in all that time he'd never looked back, never thought to question his role as a white hat.

Not that he was questioning it now. This wasn't the time nor the place to have an identity crisis. Even if he did, he'd fight it, for Buffy, just as he fought these minions for her, and for Dawn, and Oz, and Faith, and the Starbucks bird, and-- okay, so, the thought of him switching sides at this point was almost laughable. He loved these humans too much to even give it more than a passing thought.

But oh, how you love humans, said a voice deep within him, one he'd denied since the chip -- at least, until the other night.

Spike roared and hammered his sword down on the head of the vamp in front of him, cleaving it in two. He slammed his elbow into the face of one behind him, and his fist into another, culling what satisfaction he could from the violence and the pain. The demon didn't much care what it destroyed, as long as it got to destroy something. But as he took another head, and another, he knew.

It wasn't the same.

He could kill every vampire in this room, then go out and kill a hundred demons with his bare hands, and it wouldn't bring him anything close to the satisfaction of a single drop of warm, human blood. Fresh from the vein, pumping into his mouth and down his throat with the frantic rhythm of fear and then slowing to nothing as the life ebbed out of his victim and into him. Drinking Ethan had been so good. It had felt like coming home. The only other thing that could make him feel that right, that peaceful was--

--was Buffy.

Christ. She could never comprehend… and he wouldn't want her to. But he didn't know how to come back from it. He couldn't just pretend it hadn't happened, or that it was over, that he didn't want more, as Buffy seemed content to do. Especially not now, when even in the midst of fighting for his life he could hear every heartbeat in the room, could smell the blood clotted in the humans' wounds; when even as he hollered his battle cry and tried to save them, his mouth watered with hunger for them.

He'd let his thoughts and his hunger distract him, allowing himself to become surrounded. The other vampires pressed against him from every side, hitting him, kicking him, tearing at him. Three times they almost wrenched his sword from his hands, but he held on. He couldn't last much longer, though.

Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe he should lose. He could just… stop. Stop fighting, then stop yearning. The Slayers would arrive eventually and do their part, and then all of the monsters would be gone. Buffy would grieve for him, but at least she would never be the one who had to put him down.

But he had promised her he'd fight; so fight he did. His nature, his kind -- both his enemy now. Besides, he couldn't just abandon Oz to these buggers.

Oh God, Oz.

Spike twisted around, squinting through the bloody haze of his newly swollen eye, trying to peer through the melee to see how his partner was doing. As he did he heard screaming, followed by a growl from something much more ferocious than any vampire Spike had ever met. More screaming, and the vampires in front of him parted like the Red Sea, if each side of the Red Sea had been scared shitless and scrambling like mad to get away from whatever it was that terrified them so. Which may well have been the case, for all Spike knew. Then Spike noticed body parts flying. An arm here, a bit of torso there. His eyes widened as the crowd before him thinned enough to reveal a huge dog-like creature coming right at him.

Bugger.

Spike stood his ground. "Oz? That you, mate?"

The werewolf either didn't recognize him or didn't care, because it bore down on him with the same viciousness it had shown the other vamps. Spike dove out of its way and watched in wonder as the creature continued its rampage, making literal minced meat out of their opponents.

"Right, then," said Spike, shifting his attention to the hostages. "Switch."

The blade of his sword scraped on the concrete floor when he got to his feet. As he approached the humans, those conscious enough to notice whimpered and huddled against the wall behind them. He realized he was still fangy. He put on his human face and held up a hand.

"'S all right. I'm not gonna hur--"

He almost bumped into the table where the hostages had been strapped down. A boy lay there, about Dawn's age, maybe a little younger. Barely conscious. Blood trickled out of the fresh wounds in his neck. Spike licked his lips. The boy opened his eyes and gave a start. His heart sped up. The scent of his fear hit Spike so hard he could taste it. It would be so easy… and it wouldn't hurt anyone. Not really.

He caught himself leaning down, and stopped. Shit, he was practically drooling on the boy. For his part, the boy didn't cry out. He just closed his eyes and braced himself. Spike found himself frozen, not knowing what to do next. God, it was so close. He squeezed his eyes shut. The scent…

"Shane!"

Spike looked up. A woman leaned forward from the line on the wall, straining against her chains. Matronly, with hair the same tawny shade as the boy's. His mother, most likely. She didn't look frightened, though. On the contrary, she looked at Spike and smiled.

"Shane, it's okay! That's Spike! From last Christmas, remember? He'll get us out of here!"

Spike straightened and wiped his mouth. "Uh… right. Gonna get you out of here." He raised the sword to cut the boy's straps.

The boy -- Shane -- looked up at him. "Spike? My dad said you saved his life. He says you're a hero."

"Yeh, well. Your dad's wrong." Spike sliced through the final strap and stepped back. "I'm no sodding hero."

A punch to the kidneys dropped him to his knees. "Got that right," a gruff voice said behind him.

Rudolph.

Shane's eyes widened in terror as he scrambled backwards off of the table. His mother screamed.

"Under the table!" Spike ordered. "Stay down!" He struggled to his feet and turned to face Rudolph. The big vampire paced before him. Spike kept the sword between them and looked for an opening.

"Spike." Rudolph spat his name with the utmost contempt. "I've heard a lot about you."

"That right?" Spike winced at the pain in his side, but he kept himself between Rudy and the hostages. "I heard o' you, too. Oh, no, wait." He chewed thoughtfully on his lip. "That song's not about a vampire, is it? Nope, sorry. Haven't heard jack about you."

"Yeah, well." Rudolph looked entirely too confident for his own good. "I'd rather have no rep at all than to be known as a Judas."

Spike laughed. "Save it, Rudy. I killed my own sire for these people, you really think you're going to shame me out of dusting your enormous yet sorry ass?" He looked him up and down with a derisive snort. "Ask me, I'll be doing demon-kind a favor."

Rudy's smug façade slipped a little. So did his guard. "How's that?"

"Sneaking 'round in the sewers, hiding from the Slayers, avoiding confrontations, taking hostages so you don't have to hunt…" Spike shook his head. "You lot have the gall to call yourselves vampires? You're an embarrassment to the species, moreso'n I'll ever be. Bleeding pack of posers and cowards is what you are."

Rudolph snarled and rushed him, giving Spike an opportunity with the sword. He swung, but the vampire's meaty right arm got in the way. The sword sunk into Rudolph's flesh and stuck there, crippling his right. Didn't slow him down any. Spike didn't waste time pulling it out -- he kicked Rudolph in the groin, doubling him over, and let fly a series of punches that would have pummeled any other opponent. Big Rudy merely caved to his knees. Spike reached for a stake, and got bashed over the head by someone behind him. He spun as he fell, landing on his back in time to bring the stake up and dust the newcomer as it jumped on top of him.

Spike rose, turning back to Rudolph, who looked too recovered for comfort. No time to move. "Shit," said Spike, before a blow from Rudolph's left sent him flying across the cavern. One time, 'bout ten years ago, after a particularly nasty disagreement, Dru had gotten hold of Spike's keys and ran him down with the DeSoto. This felt a lot like that. Spike's head hit rock as he landed, and the world spun. Rudolph picked him up like a rag doll, one-handed. Spike kicked at him, but it didn't have much effect. He hit the wall again, harder this time.

Get up! he demanded, but his body felt about as fluid as tar. Rudolph ripped the sword out of his arm and brandished it with his good hand. Spike had been wrong about this vampire -- with or without backup, he was a terror. Rudolph raised the sword. Spike got ready to roll, hoping to be fast enough. Another good hit and he'd be finished.

"Goodbye," said Rudolph, and disintegrated.

"Hi, honey," Buffy greeted him from behind her crossbow. Behind her, Faith neatly decapitated a vampire with an axe.

Spike grinned. "About bloody time." He got to his feet, then ducked to the right as Faith's axe flew past him and into another black hat, who promptly dusted.

"Yeah," Faith said. "You looked bored." She looked at Buffy. "You see how satisfying that is?"

"I hear you," Buffy said. "Spike, they're gonna be running in a couple of seconds. You and Faith block the exits, okay?"

He nodded. She was right -- with the two Slayers there, the battle was quickly becoming a rout. Organized, this many vampires might have been a real threat, but they were frightened, stupid, and unprepared -- easy pickings for people who'd been through what he and the Slayers had last year. Without Rudolph, they were cannon fodder. Even with his injuries, Spike found dusting the ones who tried to run to be cake.

They still had a problem, though. On the other side of the room, Oz had made a mangled mess of the hordes. He suddenly seemed to grow bored with the leg he'd been using for a chew toy and turned toward the terrified human captives still chained to the cave walls.

"Buffy!" Faith yelled. "You got a plan for this?"

"I was thinking violence," she said, and took a running jump at the werewolf, grabbing it by the throat and going for a chokehold. Her strategy looked good for about three seconds, but the werewolf threw her off and kept heading for the captives. Spike looked around for his sword, then cursed as he realized it had dusted with Big Rudy.

"Damn," Buffy said, dusting herself off. She looked at Spike across the cavern. "If at first you don't succeed…"

"Wait," Spike told her.

Oz was changing back. He took three more steps towards the prisoners, and by the third, he was himself again. Naked, but human.

"Hey," he said, coming to a stop in front of the Starbucks chippy. Her eyes widened in recognition. "Do you maybe want to go somewhere and talk sometime?"

***

It took a few hours to get everybody on their way. Most of the captives needed medical attention. The police handled most of the cleanup, but Buffy stayed until they arrived to make sure there weren't any vampires trying to pose as human. There weren't. Miraculously, nobody died. This time.

"We did good," she said later, as they approached Revello Drive. "Feels nice."

"It does," said Oz, from beneath Spike's duster. He swam in the coat, but it was the only thing they'd been able to improvise. "Plus, date."

Faith chuckled. "I've had some interesting propositions in my time, but I think you've got 'em all beat."

"How did you do that, anyway?" Buffy asked. "Transform at just the right moment, I mean."

"Luck?" Oz shrugged. Maybe. Hard to tell with the coat. "Guess the wolf knew the fight was over."

"Yeh," said Spike, peering up at the full moon. "Still, I think we better start bringing tranquilizers along this time of the month. Things could get--"

"Hairy?" Faith suggested.

Oz looked at her with an expression that for anyone else would have been called neutral. "That's actually the first time I've heard that one."

They made it to the house. "Home, sweet home," Buffy said, and grinned. "Shower time."

"Seriously." Faith ran a hand through her hair, and dust floated out of it. "Crap gets everywhere."

They opened the door to see Giles waiting for them by the stairs. He looked pleased. "Hail the conquering heroes," he said. "The police say you all did quite a job."

"We did," Buffy confirmed. "Few dozen vamps, all gone poof."

The rest of the gang sat around the living room, playing Risk. Dawn looked up at Buffy from the couch. "Our dice are cursed."

Xander smiled. "She had Yahtzee issues."

"Thirteen games!" she said. "You can't lose thirteen games in a row! It's not normal. I'm telling you, curse. Plus, Willow keeps rolling the dice with magic."

"Do not!"

Faith looked over at Giles. "Too British for game night?"

Giles sighed. "I was playing. Australia, as it turns out, will not be a major world power."

"Cursed dice," Dawn reminded everyone.

"I'll be sure to look into that," Buffy promised her. "But first I gotta get cleaned up." She tried to make meaningful eye contact with her significant other. As good as a hot shower sounded, a hot shower with a hot Spike sounded like the answer to all the world's ailments. Not to mention her weird tension. But he had retrieved his cigarettes from Oz and was heading back out to the porch. Buffy sighed. "I'll be upstairs."

"Hey," she heard Oz say as she neared the top, "could I have some clothes?"

***

The shower eased her muscle kinks and made her feel about a hundred times better, but it also made her realize how tired she really was. Pulling on her purple giraffe pajama bottoms, she tried to think how to tell the gang to beat it, 'cause she was beat. Actually, she could just tell them that. She reached into her bureau drawer for a tank top. As her hand closed on one the door opened. She snatched the top and fumbled to hold it in front of her chest as she spun around. Spike stepped inside, closing the door behind him. Buffy relaxed and lowered the shirt.

"Party's moving to Oz's," he said, "then then they'll probably head to the Br…" His voice trailed off as his eyes landed on her bare breasts.

Buffy smiled as they lingered there. She took her time pulling on her tank, stretching just so as she did. Suddenly she didn't feel quite so tired. "Did you tell them we'd meet up?"

His eyes found their way to her face. "Told 'em I thought me and you could use some time to ourselves. But if you'd rather go…"

Buffy shook her head. "I'm too tired to go Bronzing."

"Oh. Right."

She crossed the room to him and took his hand. "But not too tired for you." She raised up on her toes, and he leaned down to meet her halfway. Just as the kiss was getting good, Spike pulled back.

"I know I've been distant all day, Love. I just… I'm trying to work through…"

"Shhh." Buffy traced her finger over his lips. "I know. It's okay."

He took hold of her hand and kissed her fingertips. "Wanted to tell you, that was a nice save back there. With Rudolph, I mean."

Buffy smiled. "Anytime." She looked into his eyes and caressed his cheek. "Every time."

She pulled him back to her, and this time he let himself into the kiss. His tongue traced a map of her mouth, tasting every part of her it could reach, as hands began to slide over her body. Buffy savored the sensation, the dozens of feelings he aroused in her. Her heart pounded in her chest, threatening to burst with love and need for him. Her body tingled with desire for him. Her skin hummed with the Slayer sense that had customized itself just for him. His nearness intoxicated her, and his touch…

Buffy gasped against his mouth. He let her come up for air and set his tongue to work on her skin, starting at her ear and working down slowly, so, so slowly, stirring even more sensations that Buffy couldn't name. But even as she clung to him, even as she reciprocated and did what she could to make his little moans and gasps of pleasure match her own, something else stirred deep down in her gut. Tiny enough to ignore at first, a whisper from a voice she thought she'd slain a long time ago. It rose in her, expanding like a bubble, forcing its way up through the layers of need and want and love, until it popped. The voice screamed at her: Wrong!

Buffy tensed all over. Spike raised up to look at her. "What's wrong?"

Trying to laugh it off, she just shook her head and pulled him back to her. It'll go away, she thought as she kissed him. Make it go away. But the voice screamed inside her head until it became too much. She pulled back.

Frustration and confusion radiated from Spike as he reached for her, but she flinched when he touched her. His hands dropped to his sides. "Buffy…"

"I'm sorry. I just… I don't feel so good."

He tilted his head and regarded her with a mixture of wariness and concern. "Is there anything I can do? Get you?"

Hugging herself, she shook her head. "I think I just need to sleep it off."

He nodded. "Okay." He went to unload his pockets onto the dresser and get undressed.

Buffy turned to the bed and started pulling back the covers. She could feel his eyes on her, watching, and this time it just made her uneasy. "We should patrol tomorrow night," she said, trying to keep it casual.

"If you're up to it."

"Some of those vamps might have gotten away, or there might be more of them. The sooner we're sure there aren't any demons in town the better I'll feel."

Spike didn't say anything at first. Then, "Well, we know there's at least one."

Buffy straightened and faced him. "There is?"

"You're looking at him."

She rolled her eyes. "Besides you."

He nodded as he started to pull off his shirt, but he stopped with a sigh. "I just think you forget that sometimes. You, Dawn, the Scoobies… hell, I even forget myself sometimes when I'm with you lot." He laughed once, bitterly. "I gave us a good reminder though, didn't I?"

"Spike…"

"It's okay, Buffy, if that's what this is about. If you need more time to--"

"I don't. That's not it."

"Then what?"

She blew out a sigh and put her hands on her hips. "I told you, I just don't feel good."

Spike nodded. "Right." He didn't sound convinced. "No need to spare my feelings, Pet. You sure it's not that, when all is said and done, you just can't bring yourself to make love to the murderous demon?"

Buffy grabbed a pillow from the bed and flung it at him. "Will you stop it?"

He caught the pillow and tucked it under his arm. "Guess I'm not the only one needed some time to work it out. Maybe I should sleep in your old room tonight." He opened the door to leave.

Buffy ran over and pushed it shut. "Spike, stop this right now."

He looked down at her, his face blank but his eyes full of wariness. "You have to remember what I am, Buffy. What I can do."

"I've never forgotten."

"That right?" He drew himself up and squared his shoulders. "Then say it."

"What?"

"Say that you're in love with a demon."

"I love you, Spike."

"No. I didn't say tell me you love me. Say that you love a demon."

Buffy sighed. "Why are you doing this?"

Spike sneered at her. "Can't say it, can you?"

"I won't say it!"

"No! 'Cause the Slayer has to dress her boy up in human clothes and pretend he's a man!"

"You are a man." She was gritting her teeth now. Her head started to hurt.

He leaned down in her face. "I think Ethan Rayne would beg to differ." He tried opening the door again.

Buffy slammed it and held it shut. "Ethan Rayne was a murdering piece of filth who caused people to die just for the fun of it. He was human. He had a soul. And he was more of a monster than you'll ever be."

"You sure about that?"

Buffy nodded. "I know that. And I'm not going to let him add this relationship to the list of things he destroyed." She stepped in closer to him. The voice screamed in protest, but her need for him, to have him here, and her fear of losing him screamed louder. "Ethan hurt people you love, and you wanted to punish him for it. Do you know how human that is? Giles was gonna do the same thing, you just beat him to it!"

Spike squeezed his eyes shut. "I wouldn't have done it if--"

"You don't know that."

He opened his eyes and shook his head. "At least I'd feel bad about it."

Buffy laughed. "What, this big display is because you don't?"

Spike sighed. "No. It's because you can't handle that I don't."

Buffy stared at him in disbelief. "You know me better than that."

"Then say it."

She stared at him a moment longer, then let go of the door. "Fine." She stood back. Spike looked stricken as he just stood there for a moment, then he opened the door. "I love a demon." He froze in the doorway. Buffy moved toward him again. "A vampire. I am desperately, completely, painfully in love with a monster." She stood behind him. "Does that make you feel better?"

Slowly, he shook his head.

She put her hand on his shoulder. "Spike, I am well aware of what you are. But I know who you are, too. I know there's a good man in there. It's not a soul, not like I have. I don't know what it is, or how… but he's in there. And I love him too." The thing screaming inside her told her to get away from him, but she stood her ground. "I need you, Spike. All of you."

He half-turned back toward her and took in the sight of her. The battle within her made her tremble, and the battle outside her made her eyes sting with tears. "I don't know what's wrong with me right now, Spike, but it's not about what you did." The tears spilled over and her voice cracked. "Please believe that it's not about that."

Spike stared at her, his ice blue eyes as hard as his jaw and as cold as his demeanor. But as a hiccupy sob erupted out of her, he softened and got that pained look on his face that he always got when she cried. "Oh, baby." He pulled her to him and held her. "I'm sorry."

"Can we please just go to bed?"

In answer he swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bed. He laid her down and spooned next to her, holding her and whispering soothing nothings in her ear. She closed her eyes and focused on his voice, ignoring the other one and praying that it would go away. It worked.

For now, it worked.
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