Tears Of Crimson Regret
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Always There

Title: Always There
Author: BloodyTearsOfLife
Rating: R
Disclaimer: All characters belong to the Joss, he just let’s me play with them.
Summary: This story is canon based, takes place where season five is, but here's the twist: a new vampire who has half a soul, who comes to Sunnydale to help with Glory. Starts after 'Out of My Mind', but Spike never tried to get the chip out, and there is no Harmony.
Warnings: Spike/Temp -(Spike will be with an OC temporarily, but nothing will happen with them. Please don't let it discourage you from reading! (I also will be getting rid of Riley ASAP). This is a Spuffy fic, I promise.)
*Banner made by the lovely people at Banner_Grab.*

Chapter 6   Chapter 7   Chapter 8   Chapter 9   Chapter 10

Chapter 6: A Nausea

A/N: As always, many thanks to the lovely Ariel Dawn for betaing, and to everyone else who are still reading this.

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Buffy’s evening had gone from bad to worse and her day didn’t seem to be getting any better.

After her encounter with Spike left her frustrated, in more ways than one, she’d gone home to find Riley waiting for her, wanting to take her back to his place. And while she’d normally be more than willing, the thought of doing anything with Riley had her shying away and she politely rejected his offer, feigning ‘womanly’ problems to get him out in record time. Her almost kiss with Spike had awoken something within her and it balked at the idea of kissing Riley instead of a leaner, blonder, shorter vamp.

Her thoughts seemed to escape her and the day passed by in a blur. The only thing that permeated her mind was Spike, and the dreams she’d had the night before. Over and over, her dreams would take a radical turn from fighting with Spike to a certain disposition she never imagined she’d find herself in. Well, at least not since Willow’s spell last year.

Her mind wondered off into memories and she didn’t register Riley standing in front of her until he had cupped her cheek, and she pulled away roughly from him.

“Buffy?” he questioned as he lowered his hand, his brows drawn together.

“Oh, hi Riley,” she replied, plastering her best fake smile on. She felt a wave of nausea sweep over her as he grabbed onto her, wrapping her into a hug.

“So, you up for tonight?” he whispered into her ear, his hot breath making her feel more smothered than she already felt.

“Umm, no and can’t.”

“What?” He pulled away from her, something she was infinitely grateful for.

“No, for obvious reasons we talked about last night, and can’t because it’s Wednesday, which means weekly post-apocalyptic dinner with Mom and Dawn,” she answered, stepping away from him.

“Oh…well, I could come with you?” He gave her his best Boy Scout smile and Buffy’s mind panicked for some excuse to rebuff his suggestion without making it apparent.

“Maybe next week. Mom’s been all clingy and wanting just girl time with her girls.” Buffy gave him a remorseful smile in return.

“Okay… okay then, guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Buffy nodded her head and when he leaned forward to kiss her, she turned her face, his sloppy kiss landing on her cheek instead. He gave her another frown before walking away.

Buffy exhaled a sigh of relief, leaving campus and making her way towards the Magic Box.

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The bell on the door of what had become the Scooby HQ rang as Buffy walked through the entrance. Anya greeted her with a smile, as did the two Wicca lovers, who were seated at the table, mountains of books surrounding them.

“Oh good, you’re here,” Giles half greeted from the balcony.

“Yup, one Slayer, reporting in,” she replied as Giles slowly descended the stairs, his arms laden with books. “So, any info on my baddie?”

“I’m afraid not yet,” he answered as he deposited the books on the table. “It seems as though she’s much more ancient than I thought her to be. We’re scouring our resources as best we can and I’ve yet to hear from the Council. My hopes are that they turn up something more advantageous than we have.”

“Alright, well, I’ll take Nikole out on another patrol tonight, if I can find her, and then I’ll see if she knows anything or can help with the research. Speaking of Nikole…”

“Yes?” Giles prompted looking up at her.

“How would you feel if she helped me train?” At his expression, Buffy rushed on. “It’s not that I’m trying to replace you, because you know, can’t replace my Watcher, but she’s not as breakable as you are and I bet I could learn tons from her,” she added with a nod of her head.

“Yes, as I was going to say, I think that’d be beneficial. Not that training you isn’t a joy, but I could do without the bruises, and yes, her vast knowledge could prove beneficial to your repertoire of skills, so by all means, go for it.”

“Thanks Giles. I’m just going to workout a bit before heading home, so I’ll be in the back,” she said, scurrying away before he could make her do any research.

She quickly changed and began stretching her muscles. Buffy let everything else fall way as she methodically worked the punching bag, letting the tension leave her body with each hit. She was frustrated with her reactions with Riley, not knowing why her body was acting the way it was. It was true that she never sizzled under his attentions but for her to be reduced to being almost physically ill…

If she was perfectly honest with herself, her reactions weren’t that far off. It wasn’t that Riley made her sick; it was that he did nothing for her. Even more so, he made her feel smothered, even childish at times, and not in a good way. She was always putting up a front with him, and it bugged her the more she thought about it. She never got to just be herself around him in fear that she’d scare him off. She could, however, be herself in front of Spike.

Where’d that thought come from? She tried to push it away but, like the rest of her thoughts that day, anything that pertained to Spike stuck. Grudgingly, she knew it was true. Spike took her at face value, and never expected anything more or anything less; he just let her be. The fact that her own boyfriend didn’t do the same made her more mad and she punched the bag with renewed vigor.

So far gone into her anger, she didn’t notice Nikole slip into the training room, but she did notice the tap on her shoulder. Her body reacted automatically and she spun, lashing out, only to be stopped by a steel grip on her arm.

“Trying to do a repeat performance of last night?” Nikole snarled, still holding Buffy’s arm firmly.

“Huh?” Buffy’s mind raced. What is she talking about?

“Never mind,” she said, slowly letting Buffy’s arm go and taking a step away.

“You catch up with Giles?” Buffy asked, grabbing a towel and brushing herself off with it.

“Yeah, I pointed him in the direction that I think will prove fruitful, but I’m just almost as clueless as he is about it,” Nikole replied nonchalantly.

Buffy stretched out again, checking the clock and glancing at the windows lining the top of one wall, the fading sunlight barely penetrating the windows but enough to make it unsafe for vamps to be out. “It’s still light out, how’d you get here?”

“Spike took me through the sewers.”

“Oh.” Buffy had to fight down the pang of jealousy she suddenly felt.

“Feel like sparring?” Nikole asked after a moment. She’d seen what Buffy had done to Spike and one way or another she was going to teach the girl a lesson.

“Sure,” Buffy agreed eagerly, glad to have someone that’d put up a challenge.

Nikole turned away, a wicked smile on her face as she shed her coat, tossing it onto the couch. She outstretched her arms, bowing out her back. “You ready?” she questioned.

“Oh yeah!” Buffy answered, her tone overconfident.

In a blur of motion, Buff found herself confronted with a whirl of black, barely blocking Nikole’s attacks before finding herself being slammed back, sliding across the floor, coming to a rest as her back hit the wall.

“I thought you said you were ready?” Nikole taunted.

“Me too,” Buffy grumbled, getting up and shaking her head. She rolled her shoulders and got back into stance. When Nikole didn’t make a move, Buffy took the initiative and came forward, circling her. Nikole stood still, waiting to see what Buffy would do. As Buffy rounded around her, she shifted, striking out. Nikole counter acted, holding herself back and slowing down her moves. The two traded jabs before Nikole used some magic to make herself disappear, rematerializing behind Buffy’s back.

“Hey! That’s not fair!” the Slayer cried, whipping back around, only to find that Nikole had disappeared again.

“What? Don’t like it when someone else has the advantage?” Nikole’s voice whispered in her ear, but when she turned again, she was nowhere to be seen.

“What’s that suppose to be mean?” Buffy placed her hands on her hips, puzzled with Nikole’s statement.

“You tell me.” Nikole’s voice whispered on the air to the back and left. Buffy turned, finding Nikole standing behind her this time.

“I’m not so good with the cryptic, so why don’t you just tell me what the heck is going on,” Buffy demanded.

“Was just stating a fact. You only like it when you have the advantage. It makes you feel powerful, superior.” Nikole circled around her this time, her glance nothing but predatory and Buffy turned to keep her in her line of sight.

“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here so why don’t you cut the bull and mystics and just clue me in.” Buffy was growing impatient and something about Nikole’s stare was really throwing her off.

“I’m guessing you haven’t seen him then, haven’t seen what you’ve done,” Nikole said even as her mind began to see that her lesson wasn’t going to way she wanted. Oh well, there were plenty of other ways…

“Who? What? Seen what?” Buffy mind whirled, trying to keep up with what Nikole was saying.

“I guess you’ll just have to wait till you see,” Nikole stated, her tone telling Buffy she wasn’t going to say anymore.

Buffy was very off put. Nikole’s mind, or logic, was working in ways that she couldn’t comprehend. As Buffy tried to figure out what was up, Nikole grabbed her jacket and began walking out.

“Wait! Nikole?” Buffy faltered, trying to figure out what to say. “I don’t know what you’re going on about, but I thought…I just…I thought we were cool, you know? Maybe even with a tentative friendship?” As the words left her mouth, she found herself readily agreeing with them. It was hard being the Slayer and just hanging with Nikole the night before and their small talk had proved that maybe she was someone she could confide in and know what it was like to be her.

Nikole let out a sigh, her eyes scanning over Buffy’s conflicted aura. “So what are you proposing?”

“I thought you’d might like to come to dinner? Meet my Mom.”

Nikole thought a moment. She had an idea Buffy's mom was a force to reckoned with and she’d be one to definitely do something about the events of last night. “Sure Buffy, that’d be nice,” Nikole agreed, smirking inside.

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“Mom! I brought someone over for dinner!” Buffy called out as she opened the door. She mumbled a ‘come in’ to Nikole and made her way towards that kitchen, feeling Nikole at her back.

The site that greeted her wasn’t a pleasant one. The seated, black leather duster clad figure only meant one person: Spike. Her mother’s face was set in a furious expression, her lips pressed into a thin line.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” her mother asked crossing her arms.

“What?” Again Buffy was confused. First Nikole and now her mom. Did everyone forget to take their coherent pill today?

“It’s alright Joyce, no need to worry ‘bout me,” Spike mumbled but Joyce brushed him off.

“Oh no, we need to deal with this.”

“What is this?” Buffy cried, confused beyond belief.

“Spike, show her,” Joyce said.

“Joyce…” Spike began but Joyce cut him off.

“William, don’t make me tell you again,” she warned. “Show her.”

Spike shoulders gave a sigh and he slowly turned on the stool. Buffy’s eyes grew wide as she saw his face, involuntarily giving a gasp. One side of his face was an array of bruising colors, ranging from a deep purple to a sickly yellow. His eye was puffed and only opened half way.

She felt her heart rate speed up and swallowed convulsively. She held back the whimper that clogged her throat. What had she done?

Chapter 7: Lucky Guess

A/N: Chapters starts back in more of Spike’s POV and how Joyce came to learn what happened.

Thanks to Ariel for betaing and helping me get this chapter into top shape; and to Confused Muse for letting me bounce ideas off her. You guys rock!

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“What in the hell happened to you?” Nikole demanded as she entered the crypt from the hidden sewer entrance. Nikole had glimpsed the damage that had been done to his face and cringed.

“No need to yell pet, both of us have enhanced hearing,” Spike replied. He was currently sitting on the edge of his bed, lacing up his boots.

“Spike, what happened?” Nikole sat down next to him on the bed, her hand reaching out to tilt his head towards her.

“Got in a spot of trouble with a demon, no big,” he answered, roughly pulling away from her and standing up. If it wasn’t enough that the Slayer wasn’t already tap dancing in the rest of his life, now he was bloody talking like her. His agitated mood made him grab for his packet of cigarettes, lighting one up.

“This demon doesn’t go by the name Buffy, does it?”

Spike cursed his luck as he felt Nikole’s eyes scrutinize him. “Now luv, I never said anything about the Slayer.”

“You didn’t have to,” she commented with a grim smile.

“Bloody witch,” Spike mumbled around his cigarette.

“Hey! I resemble that remark! Now, the truth please.” Nikole stood up, crossing her arms. Spike frowned as he almost felt Slayer-like vibes coming off of her. But that couldn’t be right, she was a vampire. Her expression told him she wasn’t going to budge or let it go until he told her.

“Alright, Buffy came in after you’d left and we exchanged some pleasantries. Then I almost kissed her and she hit me, happy now?” he growled.

“Not really. That little bitch. She needs to get her ass kicked and some sense knocked into her.”

“Couldn’t agree with ya more.”

“Are you going to tell Joyce?” Nikole asked out of the blue, the fringes of a plan starting in her head.

“Of course not. What’d I do that for?” Spike asked, his eyes searching hers for a motive. Not once had he mentioned the Slayer’s mum.

“So she can learn a damn lesson that’s why! If you let her get away with it this time, there’s nothing to stop her later on. She’ll think it’s okay and it’ll keep happening.”

“Look, the bint's got enough on her plate without having to worry about her mum getting on her case because of me and a lil’ bruise. I’ve had worse and probably will again. Just let it go, yeah?”

Nikole could tell he was in defensive mode, especially where Buffy was concerned. She was just going to have to do something to make sure that Buffy got the full brunt of her actions.

“Fine,” she finally said with a sigh, pretending to let it go. “Think you could lead me to the Magic Box through the sewers?”

Their trek through the sewers was quiet. Spike was contemplating what he was going to do when he saw Joyce later; Nikole was chanting in her head, a simple spell to make Joyce suspicious of Spike’s excuses and for Spike to be unable to lie to her when Joyce figured it out. Doing the incantation in her head required her to do it longer and she mentally uttered the last word as Spike stopped.

“Here ya are pet,” he said with a nod up.

“Will you at least think about telling Joyce?” Nikole asked as she placed a hand on a rung of the ladder.

“I’ll think about it, but I’m not promisin’ anything,” he consented. “I’m off to return the thermos to Joyce and see if the Nibblet needs help on her French.”

“Thanks Spike,” Nikole said tenderly as he turned and left.

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Spike stopped as he came to the ladder leading to the manhole cover situated in the middle of Revello Drive. He quickly ascended the ladder, waiting just beneath it, using his senses to make sure no one was near and his ears to make sure no cars were coming. When he knew that coast was clear, he pushed up the cover and climbed out.

The Summers’ house was lit up and inviting and as Spike got closer he could hear only one heartbeat from inside, which meant the Slayer’s mum was home. He snuck around to the back door, peeking into the kitchen and sure enough, Joyce was bustling around, alternating between checking the contents of the stove and the oven.

He rapped his knuckles against the wood before opening the door, Joyce whipping around to face him. The salad bowl she held in her hands dropped as she saw his face. With vamp speed, Spike rushed forward, catching the bowl before it could hit the floor.

“Your face,” she mumbled while Spike set the bowl on the counter, his eyes set downward.

“It’s nothing, just got into a bit of a tumble with a demon,” he replied, still not looking into her eyes.

“That’s not the truth, is it?” The effects of the Nikole’s spell was working its magic, making Joyce suspicious of Spike’s answer.

“What the heck is it with you chits today and not listening to what I’m saying. I told ya, got into a fight with a demon, that’s it,” he huffed, sitting down at the counter and setting the thermos on its surface with a thump.

“Spike, please don’t lie to me. Did Buffy do this to you?” Joyce asked, leaning across the island, latching onto the thermos to keep her hands busy.

Spike’s mouth opened and closed. How he was going to get out of this one, he didn’t know, but even as he tried to form an excuse, he found he couldn’t. Joyce’s gaze told him just how vulnerable and open she was, and he didn’t have the heart to lie to her. As much pain as it would save her, he couldn’t lie. Something niggled in the back of his mind, but he brushed it back for the moment in light of the situation. He hung his head, not able to tell Joyce that yes, her daughter had inflicted the multitude of colors on his face.

Joyce let out a breath, her body shuddering, taking his silence as her answer. Her emotions were a mix of anger and shame, and disappointment. Lord knew that she hadn’t raised Buffy to be the way she was towards Spike and Spike alone.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized as the tears sprung to her eyes. Spike had smelled them before they had fallen and he was up and around the counter in a blink of an eye, wrapping his arm around Joyce.

“Oh no, it’s not your fault. Buffy, she…she just thinks she gets to make the laws sometimes because she’s the Slayer. She’s use to solving things out with her fists. Being a Slayer is a tough gig Joyce, ‘specially with it being forced upon her like it was.”

“But that doesn’t excuse her from doing what she did to you!” she cried and Spike could feel her shame quickly turning towards hot anger.

“I know,” he said quietly, pulling away and letting Joyce regain her composure. “But she’s doing the best she can, yeah? Sometimes she just doesn’t know her own strength,” he tried to joke but Joyce only gave him a sad smile in return.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” she asked, the remnants of her tears gone but Spike could feel the anger pulsing from her. She made a good show of hiding it but it shimmered just beneath the surface, giving her eyes that same look he’d seen her with when she’d smacked him on the head with the axe; at least this time it wasn’t directed at him. He couldn’t help but feel appreciative at the protectiveness she was showing towards him.

“I don’t know if that’s such a hot idea…”

“Nonsense, this is my house and I will invite whom ever I like to dinner. So would you care to join us?”

“Sure, been a while since I’ve had some good cookin’,” he answered with a genuine smile. He knew Joyce was going to deal with this whether he was there or not, this way he could stay and hopefully lessen the blow that the slayer's mum was going to deal out to her daughter.

Joyce smiled back at him, then turned back around, returning to her pots and pans.

“Where’s the Nibblet?”

“She’s over at Janice’s. She’ll home before dinner.”

“Anything I can do to help?” he asked motioning towards the stove.

“No, just sit and keep me company till Buffy gets here. Then we’ll be having a little chat.”

They talked about her gallery and Dawn, and Spike told her about Nikole, leaving out the details of the Key and Glory. It wasn’t soon before Spike felt Buffy approach, even before the door made a sound. By the feels of it, Nikole was with her too. He watched Joyce’s back stiffen as the front door open and Buffy yelled she was home. Joyce seemed to transform in front of his eyes. The anger she was radiating was palpable as she turned around, her face set. He made a mental note not to ever piss off Joyce as he felt Buffy come up behind him, her mother crossing her arms.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” she questioned.

“What?” came Buffy’s confused voice.

“It’s alright Joyce, no need to worry ‘bout me,” Spike mumbled, not daring to turn around.

“Oh no, we need to deal with this.”

“What is this?” Buffy cried.

Joyce looked at Spike and commanded him to turn around. “Spike, show her.” Spike looked away but Joyce was unrelenting. “William, don’t make me tell you again. Show her.”

There was something about being called by your real name in that mom tone that had him obeying. With a sigh, he turned, his eyes glancing briefly at Nikole before landing on Buffy.

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Buffy gulped as her mind searched for words. Her mother continued to stare her down, her foot tapping impatiently on the floor.

“What do you mean me?” she quickly said. “How do you know I did that? Could have been a demon.” She glared daggers at Spike, how dare he sell her out.

“Buffy Anne Summers, don’t you dare lie to me, not about something like this! Spike never said one word,” she exclaimed and Buffy’s eyes snapped back to Spike, seeing his bowed head. “I took the great leap and guess what? I was disappointed by my answers. Now young lady, what do you have to say for yourself?” she demanded.

Buffy knew she was caught, and that Spike had done nothing to get her there, it had been all her. Everything came crashing down on her and she felt the eyes start to water. Spike peeked up at her and she could see how colored the area where she had hit him was. “I…I didn’t mean to…I’m sorry,” she croaked out, her voice cracking, barely above a whisper.

Her mother didn’t seem too happy with her apology. Her eyes narrowed for a second before they landed on Nikole. “You must be Nikole,” she said warmly, her whole demeanor changing. “Would you kindly help me set the table?”

Nikole must have nodded yes because Joyce grabbed the utensils and plates sitting on the counter and exited the kitchen, giving Buffy a meaningful look as she began to walk towards the dining room but stopped just beside her. “You and I will be having a talk later, but you will apologize to Spike and mean it, do you hear me?”

Buffy nodded her head and her mother left with a glance over her shoulder at Spike. Silence permeated the air, stretching between the two fake blonds.

“Sorry ‘bout your Mum. She took a lucky guess and I couldn’t lie to her,” Spike finally said, standing up from the stool. “I’ll just go.”

“No,” Buffy started, taking a step forward. Her body was shaking in horror at what she’d done, and though the magnitude of the damage was more than she expected, hitting him like she had was something she’d promised herself she’d never do, even to Spike. “I’m sorry Spike…”

Spike’s eyes immediately rose to lock with hers. He could see how shaken she was. It had really hit her what she had done and she felt guilty for it. As much as he knew what she did was wrong, he couldn’t bear to see the tears pooling in her eyes.

“No worries luv. Vamp healing here, should be gone in a day or two,” he reassured her, earning him a small smile.

Buffy took another step forward, lifting her hand. She drew a finger across his cheek, her touch as light as a feather, barely brushing against it. She looked up to see him studying her, his gaze resting on her lips and she subconsciously licked them. Spike let out a small groan and Buffy retracted her hand, thinking she’d hurt him. He caught her hand before it got far, holding it steadfast in his.

“Sorry,” she stammered.

“It’s okay pet, you didn’t hurt me,” he whispered, his eyes still riveted on her lips.

Buffy felt her skin flush but didn’t make to move out of his grasp. Her own eyes flickered up to see that his eyes had darkened before going back to his lips. She felt anything but gross in Spike’s grip, not like she had with Riley. Why she felt so at ease with him she didn’t question at the moment. Why she was letting him hold her hand? She didn’t question that either. Something was compelling her to move closer and she did so, the gap between their bodies reduced to less than an inch.

“Spike…I…” she trailed off, not at all sure what she was going to say. She leaned forward, her lips hovering above his again.

“Buffy!” Her mom called out, breaking the spell that had enraptured the two. Both sets of eyes went wide as they practically jumped apart from each other, Spike giving a little cough, turning away from Buffy to ease the effects of her close proximity.

“Yeah mom?” Buffy yelled back, feeling her cheeks heat up and tried hard not to think about how Spike had affected her body, like how her whole body had tingled when he held her hand. And she was definitely not thinking about how she just almost kissed him.

“Come help set the table. I’ve got to check on the food,” Joyce instructed as she entered the kitchen. She looked between the two, frowning when she saw the distance between them. “Did you settle everything?” she asked coolly.

“Yup, we’re good, right?” Buffy said finally looking at Spike.

“Yeah luv, we’re fine,” he replied.

Buffy smiled and went into the dinning room, noticing the 5 plates on the table, Nikole still working on the utensils. “Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Why are there five plates on the table?”

“Spike’s staying for dinner too,” she answered.

Oh boy, she thought, dinner just got a lot more interesting.

Chapter 8: Revelations

A/N: Thanks to Ariel Dawn for betaing and being honest with me when I was having some trouble. You’re the bestest!

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Tension filled the air between the Slayer and the chipped vamp as they avoided each other’s gaze. Joyce and Nikole chatted, talking as if they’d known each other for years. Spike finally managed to catch Buffy’s eye, causing her to look quickly away. Her cheeks had only just begun to flush when a squeal came from the front door.

“Spike!”

All eyes turned towards the door to see the youngest Summers, who ran and flung herself into the vamp’s arms.

“Hey Nibblet,” he greeted, giving the young thing in his arms an affectionate squeeze.

“Oh, I have so much to tell you. Like today in class, but it’s nothing compared to what happened... to your face?” she all but screeched, everyone having trouble keeping up with the rapidly changing topics of her babble.

“Nothing to worry about, Platelet. Just got into a bit of a tussle on patrol. You are late ‘Bit,” he reminded, nodding his head in Joyce's direction. Dawn turned towards her mother and gave her a sheepish smile.

“Sorry?”

Joyce simply shook her head, not the least bit mad. In comparison to what she was going to have to deal with Buffy, this wasn’t even worth commenting on. Heck, being late was nothing compared to what Buffy had done.

“Why don’t you all sit down, I’ll bring in the roast.” Joyce didn’t wait for any replies before heading back into the kitchen.

“Spike, you have to sit next to me!” Dawn tugged him down from her spot at the head of the table. Nikole sat down next to him, eyeing Dawn. The essence that made her the Key shown brightly around her.

“Who’s she?” she asked, staring suspiciously at Nikole. She had remembered seeing her with Buffy but they’d never introduced her.

“This is Nikole. She’s in town, helping me,” Buffy answered, putting an emphasis on the ‘helping me’ part.

“She’s Spike’s girlfriend?” Dawn questioned just as quickly with a glare.

Buffy gaped, her mouth opening and then closing, not sure how to answer the question; but Spike solved the problem by answering the question himself.

“Something like that, yeah,” Spike told Dawn, turning to share a secretive smile with Nikole, but both noticed the frown on Buffy’s face. Nikole felt the first stirrings of jealousy within Buffy’s aura and played on it by scooting her chair closer to Spike.

“Well, she seems cooler than Buffy,” Dawn grudgingly admitted.

“Thanks Dawn,” Buffy said sarcastically, sitting down across from Nikole, choosing the seat farthest away from Spike. She was still feeling all wiggy about Spike and no way was she sitting across from him. Their almost kiss in the kitchen? So didn’t happen, or at least she tried to tell herself that but the jealousy that coiled in her stomach watching Nikole smile at Spike told her different.

Plus, she had a boyfriend. A nice, dependable, boring boyfriend. No, not boring, just…safe? Spike was evil, and soulless, and dangerous, only… all those were in the not so much variety lately. How could Spike get her so hot just by touching her hand when the thought of what she did with Riley only dampened that feeling and made her feel on the verge of being sick?

Buffy’s temples began to throb, signaling the oncoming headache she knew she was going to have by the end of the night. Spike was messing everything up. She’d seen the way he received her sister when she hugged him. It was pretty hard to continue to tell herself that he was unfeeling and evil when the evidence against it was smacking her right in the face.

Joyce entered at that moment, putting a stop to any more deep thoughts as she set the roast down at the end of the table. “Buffy, move down one, Nikole and I were having an art conversation I’d like to continue,” Joyce instructed as she began to serve the roast.

Buffy glanced around, really not wanting to move but she was in the doghouse with her mom and there would be no arguing. So, she moved down one seat, putting herself directly across from Spike.

“What did you do?” Dawn whispered. She wasn’t blind to her mother’s coolness, or to Buffy’s lack of protest about moving. Whatever it was, it was big for Buffy not to be making a fuss.

“Girls,” Joyce warned, glancing over at their guests.

Both girls mumbled sorry and pouted.

“Nikole, would you like a piece of roast? Or would you rather I warmed you up a cup of blood? I think I still have some in the fridge,” Joyce asked, her voice doing a one-eighty turn from cold to warm.

“She’s a vamp?” Dawn exclaimed, staring at Nikole with wide eyes.

Nikole smothered a chuckle and looked plainly at the Key. “Among many things, yes. I’m also a Wicca.” Nikole stared at Dawn for a moment longer, watching the green light that surrounded her, and then turned to Joyce. “And roast would be lovely Joyce, thank you.”

“Oh…she’s way cooler than you are Buffy,” Dawn murmured, staring at Nikole as if she were a goddess or something worthy of worship, and Nikole smiled back at her.

“And once again, I respond with a big sarcastic thanks.” Buffy frowned and then pouted. She didn’t get why Dawn was so hooked on Nikole so suddenly. Probably was the whole vamp/witch thing. There was something in the way that Nikole was looking at Dawn though that made her uneasy. Like there was something in Dawn that no one but Nikole could see. And maybe it was true. Buffy had never met a witch turned vampire before. She made a note to talk to Nikole later.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dishes were cleared away and Dawn had been sent upstairs to do homework after much whining. Spike and Nikole sat next to each other, talking quietly to each other, while Buffy sat in one of the arm chairs, doing her best to ignore Nikole’s giggles. Whatever Spike was telling her had to be amusing. For a second, she wished she’d brought Riley along but the thought was soon squelched as her body protested against it.

Joyce returned from the kitchen, looking weary but determined, a cup of coffee cradled in her hands. The set of her face let Nikole know she was ready to deal with Buffy, and she stood up.

“Well Joyce, that was a lovely meal. Thanks for having me, but I should get going. I have an appointment with a man about a temporary rental,” she explained, Spike now standing too.

“It was a pleasure to have you over,” Joyce said, rising from the arm chair. “It’s not often I get to meet someone with so much knowledge and history of art, apart from Spike that is. You should really come down to the gallery one evening.”

“That’d be great. I look forward to it.”

“I’ll walk you to wherever,” Spike said, holding out Nikole’s coat for her.

“If you wouldn’t mind Spike, I’d like you to stay,” Joyce intervened.

Spike turned questioning eyes toward her. The need for support shown within Joyce’s eye and his decision was already made.

“Sure mum. If you need me, I’ll stay.” Spike turned back to look at Nikole briefly. “I’ll see you tomorrow pet. Say ‘ello to Clem for me.”

“Will do,” Nikole promised, pecking him on the cheek, and then opened the door, closing it softly behind her.

The silence that enveloped the room was thick, more so as Spike came back and sat down. Buffy was fidgeting in her seat. Joyce sat with a dejected sigh that lashed through Buffy deeper than any angry words could have. Now that she looked at her mother, she could see the little lines of tiredness showing around her eyes.

“Buffy…” her mom began, her voice echoing her tiredness.

“I know I messed up Mom,” Buffy interrupted. “I know that what I did was wrong, that there’s nothing to excuse my actions.”

“Good, I’m glad you know that, but do you really understand what you did?”

Buffy took a deep breath and held it. What had she truly done? She looked up at Spike’s face, the sickly colors of healing flesh branding themselves in her mind. She had done that. She had hit him with no preamble. Out of anger and embarrassment. Out of frustration and fear. She’d hit him because she felt she was better than him, superior, and that only made her less than him. This wasn’t her being a Slayer; this was her being cruel.

She’d also hit him because she had been scared, too afraid to do anything else. He’d almost kissed her, presenting her with the unknown, and she’d reacted like she normally did: violently; but it was wrong. It hadn’t been a life or death situation. It had been Spike trying to kiss her and she had tried to cover up her disappointment.

Disappointment? her mind questioned.

Yes, disappointment. She’d felt those oh so kissable lips hovering above hers and craved to feel them, to taste them, but he had stepped away and she felt rejected. OR so she thought. The events of earlier in the kitchen begged to differ.

She waited for the rush of denial that was sure to come, but it didn’t. Her mind had already accepted what she hadn’t. And her body had never protested in the first place. Oh no, it had been more than willing to go along.

So what had she really done? She had hit him. Plain and simple. She’d done it because she thought she could get away with it, that because it was Spike, it was okay when it really wasn’t. He may be a vamp, but somewhere along the past summer and the last few weeks, he’d wiggled his way into her life, somewhere along the time he’d spent with them, he had changed, slowly. He’d changed from being Spike who had tried to kill them, to chipped Spike, to 'watch after her little sister' Spike, 'call for patrol help' Spike. He had her back; she trusted him.

“I hit Spike,” Buffy finally said aloud, still in slight shock over her last internal revelation.

“But are you sorry?” Joyce asked, watching the play of emotions over Buffy’s face.

The question threw Buffy for another loop. Was she sorry? Though it may have been strange a while ago, she did feel sorry, and not just because she’d gotten in trouble.

“Yes.”

Her simple answer had Spike sitting up straight and staring at her, fixated. He blinked, hoping that what he was seeing and hearing was real, not just a figment of his imagination.

“Spike?” Buffy called quietly.

“Yeah luv?”

“I’m sorry. Sometimes…sometimes being the Slayer fuzzes up the line between when fists are right and when they’re wrong. And I was wrong,” she concluded quietly. It took a lot to say it, but she had to, to be right with herself, and with him.

“I know pet, it’s a hard life. No one’s blaming ya for making a couple mistakes.” He wanted to reach out and hold her, but he held himself back. Buffy might be with all the asking for forgiveness now, but that didn’t necessarily change how she felt about him.

“Now I know you really mean it,” Joyce observed, making the two abruptly turn towards her, startled. “As for your punishment… no allowance for the next month, you are not allowed to bring home your laundry on the weekends until I say so, and you will make no more complaints about Spike tutoring Dawn or her hanging around with him. You will, and I mean it, treat Spike with respect. I know that you’re a Slayer and fighting is part of your everyday routine as much as it kills me, but I did not raise you to take out your anger with your fists. If I ever, ever, find out you hit someone like you did again, believe me, this will seem like nothing compare to what will happen. Do you understand me?” Joyce gaze was steely and Spike could smell the fear wafting off Buffy. He would have felt the same if that cold gaze would have been on him.

“Yes mom,” Buffy said, forcing her Slayer side that wanted to protest down. She deserved this, every little bit.

Joyce slumped back in her seat, deflated. “I’m going to bed. If you’re going to patrol, walk Spike home.” She got up and bent down, wrapping her eldest in a hug. “I love you honey.”

“I love you too,” she mumbled against her mother’s shirt.

“Be careful.” Buffy’s mom finally let her go, pressing a kiss to her forehead and headed up the stairs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Silence filled the air as Buffy walked beside Spike. They were enroute to his crypt. The vamp was dead silent and it set Buffy on edge. Usually they would banter back and forth but since her mini confession at home, he’d been uncharacteristically quiet.

“Spike?” she said, and got nothing. “Spike!”

“Huh? What?” Spike shook his head, shaking off his thoughts and turned to look at Buffy.

“Anyone home?”

“Sorry luv, just was thinkin’. Were you saying something?” he asked.

“No, it’s wigging me out with you being all quiet. Usually I can’t get you to shut up,” she complained.

Spike chuckled. “What can I say Slayer? You threw me for a loop. Figured I had you pegged by now but you keep me on my toes.”

“Well I think that’s a compliment coming from Mr. Impetuous himself.”

Spike let out a laugh at that. A genuine laugh that Buffy had never heard before, but she liked it. Its rich baritone reverberated within her and crawled against her skin in a way that was almost sensuous.

Each of them were lost in their own little world until they arrived at his door.

“Well, this is my stop pet. About tonight…”

“I…I…” Buffy struggled to find something to say.

“All I have to say is thanks,” he said before leaning forward and pressing the lightest kiss to her cheek.

“You wouldn’t be macking on my boyfriend, would you Slayer?”

They both jumped and turned to see Nikole only a few yards away. Buffy felt her cheeks burn and stepped away from Spike, putting lots of space between them.

“N-N-No, no, no. I was just leaving,” she replied, feeling a burning ball on anger within her. Why did she have to show up?

“Nice timing pet,” Spike commented. The disappointment wasn’t evident in his face but Buffy could see it in his eyes.

“I’ll just leave you two. Night,” she said, finding herself a bit bitter. Her spine was straight and her fists were clenched by her side as she turned and walked away.

“Night Slayer,” Spike called after her.

It wasn’t till she was half way home that Buffy realized what had spurred the anger.

She was jealous.

Chapter 9: Discoveries

A/N: Some dialogue taken from ‘No Place Like Home’, but I tried to condense and shorten it as much as possible. Thanks to Ariel for being a lovely beta.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy clutched her bag to her side, careful not to jar it too much. The orb she had found the night before was nestled carefully in the bag. She didn't know what it did or what set it off to do unspeakable damage. She entered the Magic Box, the bell ringing overhead.

“Oh, it’s you,” Anya said sullenly, sitting back down at the Scooby research table.

“Sorry to disappoint. Find anything yet?”

“Nope, just page after page of words that continue to dull and bore me.”

“Isn’t it close to closing time?” Buffy asked looking around the empty shop.

“Hey! You’re right. I must go do that now, because it’s my job,” she stated emphatically, but the look on her face was one of gratefulness and relief. She got up and awkwardly hugged her, then went on to begin closing the blinds.

“Buffy? Is that you?” Giles called from the back.

“Yeah, and I brought the glowy thingy,” she answered, meeting Giles halfway as he came out from the back.

“Well, let’s have a see, shall we?”

Buffy pulled the brown shoulder bag around and opened it. Reaching inside, she pulled out the glowing orb. Giles immediately stepped forward, tentatively taking it from her hands.

“It appears to be paranormal in origin,” he murmured.

"Cause with the glowy I didn't get that," Buffy mumbled so Giles couldn't hear. “So what is it?” she asked as the door to the Magic Box opened again, Willow and Tara coming through.

“I’m not quite sure…”

“Not sure of what?” Willow interrupted.

“Buffy found this last night on patrol,” Giles said, handing the orb to Willow.

“Tara?” Willow turned towards the other Wicca and gave her the orb. Tara closed her hands around it, and closed her eyes.

“It’s not evil. I can tell that much. It almost hums with energy, protecting energy,” she whispered.

“And you get that all from touching it?” Giles asked, his curiosity piqued.

Tara immediately opened her eyes, a faint blush staining her cheeks. “I-I-I can sometimes read an object’s aura, or-or at least what little they have of one. Sometimes, things give off vibes. Nikole taught me to tune into them.” Tara handed the orb back to Giles.

Buffy stared at the orb, her brows bunched together in thought. “So, it’s not evil, and it gives off protecting energy vibes, but we still don’t know what it is. Think you guys can make with the research while I go back to the warehouses and see if I can find anything that might give us a clue?”

“I think that would be wise,” Giles answered, already turning away and walking over to the table.

“I’ll be back in a couple hours.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was moments like this when Buffy really wished she’d brought a flashlight with her. The alleyways between the warehouses loomed ominously dark, the few lights hanging off the building gave it an eerie glow instead of a bright reprieve.

She stepped with purpose down the alley, eyes and senses perked for any motion. She saw the sign from the other night and rushed towards it, walking along the fence, looking for anything.

“I don't belong here. I have important instructions. Fascists!”

Buffy walked towards the voice, finding the night guard from last night huddled on the ground, his uniform in shambles, his body rocking steadily.

“Hey, are you alright? Are you hurt?” She stepped forward, reaching out to help him. His head snapped up, his eye held a wild, feral look, halting her hand. As she got closer, the guard shrunk away from her, whimpering. “Look, I’m going to go get help. Just wait here.”

Buffy stood, looking around for the nearest phone. A ways down, she saw the night guard’s office and jogged towards it. After placing the 911 call, she came back towards the man, crouching down next to him.

“What happened?” she asked in what she hoped was a soothing tone but it did nothing to help the man.

“Can’t run. Can’t hide. They find you. Take it all. Pain. All pain. Wiggles. Crawling inside,” he babbled, wrapping his arms around himself. “Brightness. Doesn’t belong here. All wrong. She’ll bleed. She’ll bleed!” he screeched, tugging at his hair.

“Who’ll bleed? Who is she?”

“Doesn’t belong here,” he replied, his eyes wide as if he wasn’t even seeing her at all. “Drip, drop, drip, drop.”

The flashing lights caught Buffy’s attention. She turned to see the ambulance making a beeline for them, stopping just a few feet away and a pair of men stepping out.

“You the one that made the call?” the first one asked.

“Yeah,” she answered, standing up as the two approached.

“You know what’s wrong with him?” the medic asked as they began to take the man’s vitals.

“No. I was out for a walk and I found him like this. All he’s said so far is some babble, I can’t make any sense of it.”

“Guess we’ve got another one,” the man’s partner said with a shake of his head.

“Another one?” Buffy asked confused.

“Yeah, this is the third person we’ve had report. People just find them sitting around muttering about nothing really. Don’t worry though, we’ve got a good psychiatric ward at the hospital. Doctors will figure it out sooner or later.”

Buffy watched as they got the stretcher from the back and strapped the man down. The night guard latched onto her arm as they pushed him by her.

“They’re coming at you. Don’t think you’re above it missy. They come through the family. They get to your family,” he said in a strained voice, his body bucking against the straps.

“My family? What do you mean?” Buffy questioned, walking along side the stretcher while one of the paramedics tried to unlatch the man’s hand.

“Your family. Your family,” he repeated over and over as the paramedics lifted him up and into the back, one climbing in, his partner closing the back doors behind him.

“If you don’t mind, we’d like you to come down to make a statement, just for his file, and probably for the police.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she replied absently, her mind still trying to figure out what the man was talking about. What did all this have to do with her family?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So you’re the lucky one this time, huh?” a man commented, walking up to her.

“Lucky one?” Buffy asked, looking up to see a young, blond man. He was dressed in a pair of scrubs and he gave her a friendly smile.

“You found our latest craze of the week, congratulations,” he said jokingly. “My name’s Ben.”

“Buffy,” she said shaking the hand he offered.

“Let’s sit.” Ben gestured towards two chairs that were resting again the wall. “So, you want to tell me what happened?” he asked, clipboard and pen in hand.

“Okay, I was out for a walk and I just found the night guard curled up on the ground. I asked him what was wrong and he made with the crazy. So I called, you guys came, and that’s pretty much it.”

“At any point, was he coherent with you?”

“No, but he wasn’t always like that,” she mused aloud.

“What do you mean?” he questioned, looking up from his scribbling.

“I had seen him the night before, he was just fine then, and then tonight he was just…”

“Crazy?” Ben supplied.

“Well yeah, but I was trying not to be so blunt.”

“So you didn’t see or hear anything that would lead to what did this?”

“No, there was nothing in that alley,” she answered, her eyes expanding for a moment, thinking about the orb. She had learned in her time as a Slayer that there weren’t very many coincidences in Sunnydale.

“Did you think of something?” Ben questioned again.

“No, no, just you know, kind of shocked and scared,” she lied, giving him a small smile.

“That’s normal, it’s not everyday you stumble onto something crazy,” he tried to joke.

Oh, you’d be surprised, she thought to herself, but said out loud, “Is that it is?”

“If you have nothing else to say, then you’re free to go.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Giles!” Buffy called o ut, half way in the door of the Magic Box.

“Yes Buffy?”

She entered to see the whole gang seated around the table, each with a book in hand.

“You figure out what the glowing ball of shininess is yet?”

“No, why? Did you find anything?” he asked, setting his book down, everyone looking up from their own.

“Remember the guard from last night? Well, let’s just say he’s taken up a permanent residence in the psychiatric ward of Sunnydale Hospital,” she deadpanned.

“Are you saying he’s gone mad?” Giles asked, wondering why his charge refused to say what she meant half the time.

“Yeah,” she confirmed and everyone quickly leaned away from the orb that was sitting on the center of the table. “But it can’t be the orb. Tara said it was for protecting and I had it with me all night, and I'm still all sane right? There has to be something else.”

“So the question is what could have made the guy go from Joe Schmoe to living la vida loca over night?” Xander observed.

“Exactly. The only thing I can think of is that it had to be some kind of magic. I mean, how else do you explain the guard going all Mad Hatter overnight?”

“You know, there is a spell to see spells,” Anya offered. “French sorcerer, oh what’s his name…”

“Cloutier?” Giles suggested.

“Yes! So cute in his little knickers, but he had a spell that demons hated called ‘tirer la couture’.”

“Rotate many foodstuffs?” Buffy asked puzzled.

“Pull back the curtain,” Willow corrected her.

“Like I said, it’s a spell to see spells. Well, more of a trance to see spells. You should try it.”

“What do you mean by ‘see’ spells?”

“All spells leave a trace signature, they’re just not visible to the human eye. The trance brings your mind to a state of perception and thus allows you to see the spell,” Anya explained with a smile, happy to be able to supply information and be useful.

“So I’ll go home and get all trancey and then head back to the alley and see what I can find,” Buffy stated, nodding her head.

“Buffy, this is not something that can just be done,” Giles noted. “The Sorcerer Cloutier was legendary. His skills achieving higher states of consciousness were--”

“Better than mine?” she interrupted and then turned to Willow with a pout. “I knew he was going to say that.” She then turned back to Giles with determination. “Giles, we’ve been training, I’ve been practicing the concentration skills. I know I can do this.”

The two stared at each other before Giles relented with a sigh. “Very well then. I’ll gather the ingredients.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy sat, and sat some more, focusing herself on her mediation, emptying herself of all worldly things until it was just her. The incenses swirled around her, soothing her. Her breathing was deep and slow, her heart slowing down. She was conscious of every intake of breath, of every heartbeat.

She wasn’t sure how long she sat, flowing into nothingness, until something clicked inside of her. She immediately opened her eyes. The incenses had died away, burned down to nothing. Her vision almost thrummed with every beat of her heart. She stood and glanced around. Everything was as it always was, except her odd eye vision, and her hearing almost seemed muffled.

Buffy opened her door and ventured downstairs. She nearly didn’t notice it, but when she did, it puzzled her even more. She stared confused at the family pictures over the mantle, particularly at the ones that contained Dawn. She watched with horror as her sister began to fade in and out until she completely disappeared, leaving the picture unblemished, like that was the way it was suppose to be.

Shaking her head, she turned and ran up the stairs, straight into Dawn’s room. She turned in a slow circle as the fluffy room of her sister was replaced with the darkened remains of a storage room filled with boxes. A sob caught in her throat and she turned to see Dawn enter the room.

“Who said you could come in my room?” Dawn demanded as she herself faded in and out.

“What? Who are you?”

“I’m your sister you pea brain,” Dawn retorted. “Now get out of my room.”

Buffy didn’t know what to think or believe. She rushed past Dawn and headed back downstairs. The ringing of the phone had her almost jumping out of her skin. She made short work of getting to the phone and picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Buffy? Oh good, I’m glad I caught you. Nikole’s shown up and shed a little light on our orb,” Giles said on the other end.

“So what do you got?” she asked as she strained to concentrate on Giles’ voice.

“It’s called the Dagon Sphere. It goes back many centuries,” he said, and there was the sound of ruffling pages of a book.

“What’s it do?”

“Like Tara said, it’s a protective device, used to ward off primordial evil. The reference in the book states that it was created to repeal ‘That Which Cannot Be Named’.”

“Which is probably…” she trailed off, prompting Giles to fill the gap.

“I presume it’s the hellgod, Glorificus. Unless there’s something else, it’s our best bet and Nikole seems intent that it’s correct.”

“I’m still going back the factory. Someone planted that doohickey there and they’ve got the answers.”

“Buffy, do be careful. But before you go, did the trance work? Were you able to elevate yourself?”

Buffy looked up to see the pictures of her family continue to flicker and she shut her eyes. “Giles, the things is…” she stopped as she felt Dawn step up behind her.

“Yes?”

“No, it didn’t work. I’ll come back to the Magic Box after I recon.”

She hung up the phone without waiting for him to say anything. She gave a little jump as Dawn spoke.

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing,” she snapped. “I’m going out.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy stepped up to the chain linked fence and fisted her hands around the lock the secured the gate together. With a tug, she broke the lock and it clattered to the ground. She made her way to the side of the building and entered through the door. She stuck close to the walls before seeing the gaping hole where what she suppose a door use to be, and what was left of the door on the floor, its metal indented in as if someone kicked it with all their force.

Keeping quiet, she crept forward, seeing the man strapped to a chair in the room. Forgetting all pretenses, she rushed forward, kneeling in front of the monk. His face was cut up and bruised, a sheen of sweat on his face as he fought to stay awake.

“You’re the one that left the orb. I got it,” she said as she untied him. Her mind raced over what Nikole had told her and she thought that maybe this was one of the monks. He would definitely have answers. As she undid the last tie, she felt someone at her back. She turned just in time to grab them by the throat.

Seeing that it was the hellgod, Buffy tightened her grip. Not prepared for the hellgod’s attack, she took the full force of Glory’s backhand slap, flying through the air, reminiscent of their first meeting. Buffy bit into the cement wall, leaving a nice Buffy shaped imprint before sliding to the floor.

Buffy slowly stood again. She had to get out of here with the monk. She needed answers more than she needed to kick the skanky ass of the hellgod.

“Glory, I guess you aren’t true to your word. You said you’d give me time and now you’re breaking the rules,” she said as she inched sideways, putting herself in closer range with to the monk.

“Oh no deary, that’s my holy man, you leave him alone,” Glory commanded coming forward.

Buffy had no choice but to try to slow the god down a bit before trying to take off with the monk. She dipped and swerved, shying away from the worst of Glory’s attacks while trying to get her own punches in. Finally seeing an opening, Buffy put all her force into her roundhouse kick, knocking the god back into the cement wall. Buffy quickly turned and grabbed the monk, clutching him to her she ran toward the window, turning her body as they fell.

She let out a pained grunt as her back slammed into the ground. Getting up, she began to drag the monk away from the warehouse. She reflexively flinched as the building let out a groan, dust floating out from the window.

“Stop, please,” the monk croaked out, his eyes closing.

“No, we have to keep going,” Buffy replied as she stumbled along with him, making it to the fence before he collapsed again.

“Please, my journey is done, I think.”

“Oh no, don’t get all philosophical on me. We’re going,” she commanded as she tried to get him up again but the monk stopped her.

“No…you have to…the Key. You must protect the Key. Many more will die if you don’t keep it safe,” he rasped out, each word chipping away at the strength in him.

“Alright, we can keep the Key safe, but ways away from here.”

“It’s a portal… It opens the door,” he continued on, his dark gaze locked onto hers, willing her to understand.

“Yeah, I know, but what about the Dagon’s Sphere? Is that the Key?”

“No. For many centuries it had no form. My brethren, its only keepers. Then the abomination found us. We had to hide it, molded it flesh, made it human, and sent it to you.”

Buffy’s breath caught in her throat as it all sunk in. The flickering pictures…

“Dawn,” she whispered.

“We knew the Slayer would protect it,” he answered, his skin color fading before her eyes.

“My memories…”

“We built them. All of them.”

“Well then un-build them!” she exclaimed. “This is my life you’re messing with. I didn’t ask for this! I don’t even know…what is she?”

“Human…and helpless. She’s innocent in all this. She needs you,” the monk whispered, his voice beginning to fade away. “She doesn’t know.” The monk’s eyes began to flutter, his skin now the color of ash.

“Does anyone else know?” Buffy asked quickly. If she had to protect the Key, she had to know if anyone else knew.

The monk’s eyes snapped open again, inhaling deeply. “The vampire witch,” he answered with his last breath and was gone.

Chapter 10: Keys and Vodka

A/N: Big thanks to Ariel Dawn for betaing and cleaning up my abuse of the English language. *hugs*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy was livid. After making an anonymous call about the now dead monk, she began to march her way to the Magic Box.

Nikole knew.

Nikole knew the whole time and hadn’t said a word to her. Buffy's hands balled into fists by her side and she slammed opened the shop’s front door.

A collective round of gasps meet her ears, followed by a round of relieved sighs. Buffy ignored everyone except for her. Nikole stood unflinching, her eyes blank as ever.

“Training room, now,” Buffy commanded, walking past the confused group of Scoobies and into the back, feeling Nikole follow her. She waited at the door till Nikole walked past and then closed it, the latch’s click echoing in the otherwise silent room.

Moving with speed only fury could produce, Buffy advanced towards Nikole and slammed her against the wall, a stake deafly pressed to the vamp’s heart faster than either one could blink.

“You bitch,” Buffy said with conviction and Nikole let out a laugh that grated that much more on Buffy’s nerves.

“Oh, so I’m the bitch? At least I’m not the one that goes around beating up defenseless people,” Nikole snapped back.

Buffy gritted her teeth, the nails of one hand digging painfully into the palm while that other bit into the wood of the stake. “You knew, and you didn’t tell me.” She pushed the stake just a bit harder into her chest but Nikole didn't react; the vampire witch had no fear.

Nikole shook her head and let out a bitter chuckle. “How was I suppose to tell you? Huh? You tell me. I’m a vampire first off all, and a witch too. You all don’t trust me and I was suppose to tell you that the person you thought was your sister is really some magical Key that didn’t exist until a couple months ago?” Nikole raised an eyebrow, waiting for Buffy’s answer, completely ignoring the stake that was very close to its target.

Hearing it put that way took all the wind out of Buffy’s sails and she let up off Nikole, taking a step back. “Well, if you want to use logic…but you still could have said something!” she complained, her stance loosening, the stake finding its place at the small of her back again.

“And when you did the denial routine, what was I suppose to do then? When I heard that you were going to do th e trance, I blessed the Powers That Be. You had to see it with your own eyes and I knew that. You would have never believed me, admit it.”

Buffy gave another sigh and pouted. Boy, did this girl have her pegged. “I guess you’re right. I had to see it for myself to believe.” Buffy heaved another sigh before flopping down on the couch, burying her face in her hands. “I’m sorry, you’re right.”

“It’s okay,” Nikole replied, sitting down next to the crestfallen Slayer. “I knew it the first night I saw her, I just didn’t know how to tell you without ending up dusty.”

Nikole reached out tentatively, smoothing down Buffy’s hair. She couldn’t explain it either but she felt a connection to Buffy, something deep inside her. Being around her calmed and excited her at the same time. It was like meeting an equal. She took peace in knowing that they were equal but at the same time thrilled to find someone who could give her a challenge. It made her even more confused over what she was. She was a vamp and a witch; she shouldn’t be having this type of connection with the Slayer of all people. She’d have to mention it to Giles and see if it helped any.

“How did you find out?” Nikole finally asked.

“Maybe we should get Giles and Spike first. They’re going to need to know too,” she said quietly. Buffy felt Nikole nod and rise from the couch.

Giles and Spike returned with Nikole, neither saying a word but Buffy could feel both of their concerned gazes. Buffy quietly recapped the trance, the fading pictures, her run in with Glory, and finally everything the monk had said.

“Are you alright thought? Your last encounter with Glory--” Giles started to ask but Buffy cut him off.

“I’m fine. I high tailed it out of there with the monk before too much could happen.”

“Yes, well, I have to say our latest discovery will push the others to research more extensively, and hopefully more attentively,” Giles noted.

“No,” Buffy stated, Giles looking up at her in confusion. “No, we don’t tell the others. We’re the only ones that know and it’s going to stay that way. The others…they’d act weird around her if they knew. And like Nikole said, the fewer people who know, the better. I trust you all to keep this a secret. I don’t know…I don’t know if they could keep this a secret,” she admitted, starting own at her hands.

Silence enveloped the room as they waited for Buffy to continue.

“Dawn’s clueless in all of this. She just thinks she’s my kid sister. I trust all of you. To keep this safe, to keep her safe.” She glanced around at everyone and finally settled on Spike. “I’m trusting you to keep her safe if I can’t…if I’m not there.”

No one said anything about Buffy implying that there was a possibility she wouldn’t make it.

Spike swallowed past the lump in his throat, torn between being outraged that Buffy thought she wouldn’t make it and knowing that this was reality; but he did know that Buffy was offering him a lot in the little bit she had said. There was nothing he could deny her, especially when she was looking at him like he was her last hope in the world or something.

It took him a try or two before he could find his voice. “I know, and I promise to keep her safe.”

“Good,” Buffy said, clearing her throat and breaking the moment. “Um…I’m going to go patrol.”

“Wait a moment Buffy,” Giles spoke up, stopping Buffy in her tracks. It had not escaped his attention what had just gone on between Spike and Buffy. “Nikole, would you mind informing the others about the Dagon’s Sphere and seeing if we can find any more information on how it correlates to Glory?”

“Sure,” she answered. Nikole stood up, grabbed Spike’s hand, and began to lead him out of the training room.

Buffy had immediately turned her head when Nikole had grabbed Spike’s hand and stared daggers into the far wall, seeing nothing but red. She forced herself to keep still even as something inside her screamed out for her to get up and take back what was hers.

But she couldn’t do that. Spike wasn’t hers.

“Buffy, do you think it’s wise to include them both in this?” Giles asked once the door had closed, knocking her out of her thoughts.

“Nikole already knew.”

“And Spike?”

She heaved a sigh. She knew this was coming, so why was she even mildly surprised?

“Look, you saw how Glory batted me around like a doll. He’s the only other person that has the strength to protect Dawn. I’ve seen him with Dawn. He’ll protect her.”

“Very well,” Giles relented with a sigh. “But I still hold my reservations about including him.”

“Consider it recorded for future taunting and going ‘aha, I told you so’. Please just trust me on this one? He’s not Angel.”

She didn’t know what made her say that Spike wasn’t Angel but once I was out she couldn’t call the words back… because it was the truth.

Spike wasn’t Angel.

And that little admission sent her thoughts spinning again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy followed Giles back into the front of the shop, intent of saying goodbye to the others and then going on patrol, she needed time to think; but the sight that greeted her stopped her.

There stood Riley, his hulking form looming over everyone and by the smells of it, wearing some of the worst cologne she’d ever smelled.

“Buffy!” He jogged over to her, reminding her of a puppy, just not the cute and cuddly kind.

“Riley,” she cried with fake enthusiasm and then was promptly smothered by his embrace. How come I never noticed how much taller he was then me? she wondered as she tried to pull back as quickly as it was politely possible. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m taking you to the Bronze, remember?”

“Of course, right,” she answered even as her mind reeled. She didn’t remember setting a time to go out with him. “I could use a little R & R. What about you guys?” Buffy turned towards the assembled Scoobies, smiling encouragingly at them.

“I don’t know Buffy, Tara and I have lots of school work to still do. Plus there was this spell Tara wanted to try tonight,” the red head answered, sharing a look with Tara, who was hiding behind the shield of her hair.

Noticing the exchange between the two, Anya leaned over and whispered into Xander’s ear, leaving him coughing. “Yeah Buffy, I had a long day too. I think me and Anya are going to call it a night.”

“Nikole?” Buffy prompted next, completely desperate for some other company.

Nikole glanced over at Spike, both already picking up on Buffy’s accelerated heart rate.

“Only if Spike wants to go,” she replied, giving him a wink out of the view of others.

“I don’t know sweets,” Spike answered, feeling the Buffy look almost pleadingly at him. “What do you wanna do?”

“Could be fun,” Nikole mused aloud. “Alright, guess we’re in.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Bronze had a decent crowd by the time the two couples arrived. They quickly got through the line and found their usual table vacant.

“Your coat luv,” Spike prompted as they were about to sit down. Nikole gave him a smile and turned around, allowing him to help take off her jacket and drape it across the back of the chair.

Riley never does that, Buffy thought with a pout as she shimmied out of her own jacket.

“Right, I’ll get first round of drinks. What’ll it be?” Spike asked as he shed his own duster.

Buffy’s eyes were immediately drawn to the for once not black shirt Spike was wearing. Instead, a dark blue shirt took its place, its color that of the ocean during a storm. It brought her focus to her eye and she found herself drowning in their blue depths.

“Rum and coke,” Nikole asked, and then gently prodded Buffy, smothering a giggle at the girl’s expression. Things seemed to be going according to plan…

“Oh, um, a diet coke,” Buffy answered. Bad Buffy! His pretty much girlfriend is sitting next to you. No moon eyes at Spike. None. Remember, Riley? That lug that is your boyfriend? Buffy mentally chastised herself and turned to smile at Riley.

“I don’t trust you,” Riley said. “Who knows what you’ll do to it. I’ll get my own drink.”

“Fine you tosser, get your own drink. It’s not like I wanted to get you anything anyways,” Spike replied before turning his back and heading towards the bar.

“God Riley, think you could have been more of a jerk?” piped up Buffy, shocked at Riley's comment. Although, it wasn't far from what she expected of him. Heck, it would have been her reaction a while back. But things had changed. Something had shifted.

“Buffy, this is Spike we’re talking to. Vampire. Or did you forget?” he questioned with a pointed look.

“No, kind of hard to with the whole Slayer warning tingly thing going on. Not like there’s a shut off switch or something,” she snapped back.

Spike returned before Riley could say something else. He set the girls’ drinks in front of them respectively, keeping one beer for himself and set the extra one in the middle of the table. He took a sip from his beer, already picking up on the tension between Buffy and her beau.

“I’m not taking that,” Riley remarked with a sneer, acting very much like a two year old.

“Oh for crying out loud!” Buffy exclaimed, snatching up the beer and taking a hearty swig, Riley yelling at her to stop. She set the glass back down and wiped her mouth.

“Are you crazy? You could have died!” the former commando exclaimed.

“Riley, do you see me dying? The beer is fine if not a little blech tasting.”

“Fine,” he mumbled, grabbing the beer and taking the tiniest sip. “Happy now?”

“No, not really,” Buffy answered, turning and staring around the club.

“Spike, dance?” Nikole asked. The auras of the quarrelling couple were making her skin itch and it didn’t look like they were stopping any time soon.

“I don’t know pet, not much of a dancer.”

“Well, now you are.” Nikole got up and dragged Spike out of his chair and onto the dance floor.

Buffy watched with growing jealousy as Spike danced with Nikole. The two vampires moved like liquid, a couple people stopping on the outskirts to admire them. To make matter worse, Nikole was about Buffy’s height and she couldn’t help but notice how easily they fit together, nothing like her and Riley. He lumbered over her while she tried not to suffocate in his chest.

She sighed as Riley continued to drone on about something. She couldn’t rightly remember and was not paying attention. She didn’t even notice him get up and return with a bottle of vodka and a tumbler.

All that captured her attention was Spike and his movements, and how very much he seemed to be enjoying himself. Their mouths came extremely close to each other’s and that’s when Buffy found herself out of her chair and making a beeline for them. She latched onto Spike’s arm and pulled him away from Nikole towards a dark corner.

“Bloody hell Slayer,” Spike exclaimed as she stopped. “Could have asked for a word. Not like you’ve got to drag me like I’m a child. Well…” he pressed when Buffy just stood there.

“Spike…I…” Buffy trailed off, not sure what she was doing. All she knew was that the old green monster of jealousy had reared its head and his lips looks so soft…

Spike stood still as the Slayer wet her lips and began leaning forward. Her lips had barely brushed his when a strangled scream erupted from behind them.

Bloody impeccable timing! Spike raged in his head as Buffy rushed past him and to the crowd that had gathered.

“Ugh, now I have to go take a shower,” Nikole muttered, staring down with disgust at something on the floor next to the table. Buffy came closer and saw that it was Riley, who was clutching himself and sporting a bleeding nose too.

“What did you do?” Buffy yelled, dropping down to her knees.

“What did I do? You should ask your boyfriend what he did. He got what he deserved,” Nikole answered, the crowd agreeing with her.

“What happened?” Buffy asked as the gather people began to drift away now that the action was over.

“He tried to grope me and said some very inappropriate things. I told him to stop or he was going to regret it and you can guess what his course of action was.”

“You bitch!” Riley yelled, or at least attempted to. His voice came out high pitched and squeaky, leaving Spike in a fit of giggles and Buffy railing away from the stale stench of alcohol. She noticed the tumbler that was still clutched in his hand and the bottle that sat completely empty on the table.

“Is it true Riley?” Buffy asked, even though she doubted she’d get a straight answer out of him while he was drunk.

“Well, maybe if you’d put out a little, I wouldn't have to look elsewhere,” he slurred back at her.

Spike could hear the wind whoosh as Buffy pulled back her hand, but her fist never met its target. It was captured by a steel grip and Buffy looked up to see the chipped nail polish.

“No Buffy,” Spike simple said.

She was about to protest and wrench her arm away when the lights landed on his face for a split moment and she saw the fading bruise, taking all the fight out of her and leaving her numb. She’d almost done it, again…

Spike carefully lifted her up from the floor. “I’m gonna take her home,” he said quietly to Nikole.

Nikole nodded and began to gather their coats, talking a hold of Buffy while Spike slipped on his duster and then helping him with silent Buffy.

“You’ll be okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” she answered. “I’ll take care of this chump and make sure he makes it home. Now, if he isn’t in one piece, it’s not my fault.”

Spike chuckled, kissing Nikole’s cheek, and then made his way out, a slayer tucked under his arm.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

tbc…

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