DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: This starts immediately after the season 5 episode, Family, so Spike has realized his true feelings for Buffy (albeit only recently), Tara knows she's not a demon, and Joyce has just recently fallen ill. Oh, and I hate to say it, but Buffy is still with Riley.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm not fond of splitting my attention between two lengthy WIP's, but the tone of my other major story is making me want to indulge in something light and romantic, hence the advent of Charms of the Clarion. This is for angstchic, who approached me with the initial ideas and set me off on this particular road of adventure, and for all her wonderful help in getting it off the ground and keeping it there. Oh, and in case you didn't know this already, this is Buffy and Spike all the way, baby.

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Chapter 1: One Night As I Did Wander

The fumes hit her even before she could see the building, and Buffy grimaced, stopping in her tracks as she sniffed at the air. Blood, most definitely, and something that smelled like kerosene, and...was that chocolate? She breathed in again, somehow not repulsed by the combination, only to confirm that, yes, someone had most definitely tossed Hershey into the mix. No way could she miss out on that particular aroma, not after marathon midnight binges with Willow.

The door opened before she reached it, and the Slayer watched as Willy came rushing forward, grabbing her arm and yanking her away from the bar's entrance. "Not in the front, not in the front," he hurried, pulling her around the side of the building.

With no effort, Buffy wrenched herself free, sending the little man sprawling to the ground. "You're the one who called me, remember?" she said, hazel eyes bright with annoyance.

"And it took you long enough to get here," he complained, scrambling to his feet. When she shook her head and turned from him, ready to walk away, he darted around to her front, putting up his hands to stop her although not daring to actually let them touch the young woman. "OK, OK, I'm sorry, but you gotta take care of this. I got no one else to call."

She folded her arms across her chest. "Take care of what?"

"He's out back. C'mon."

The smells were stronger at the rear of the club, and Buffy saw the overturned garbage cans sprawled around the littered alley. "I don't feel like playing Columbo, Willy," she said, stopping short as he opened the back door and disappeared inside. "So why don't we make this nice and easy, and you tell me what the hell I'm doing here."

"No problem." His voice was muffled from inside the bar, and she heard the unmistakeable tones of fighting, a second voice undercutting the high squeals of the owner's arguments. It only took a moment for her to recognize the baritone, and when a very familiar, "Bloody hell!," pierced the air, Buffy sighed. Great. This was about Spike.

Her irritation changed to amusement, however, as soon as the vampire came thundering from the bar, Willy's hands firmly planted on his back, propelling him to face the Slayer in indignation. Her gaze swept over his rumpled form, taking in the reddened knuckles, the bruising over his left eye, the distinctly wet shirt clinging to his torso, outlining his muscles as if the cotton was a second skin. What elicited the giggles from her throat, though, was the absence of his trademark platinum hair. In its place was a sticky brown tangle, with chocolate rivers streaking his face where he'd tried wiping away what was running down into his eyes.

"What's wrong, Spike?" she laughed. "Did you lose a fight with the Easter Bunny?"

"Don't. Start," he growled, sweeping past her in a flurry of black leather.

Buffy turned back to Willy. "As entertaining as this is---and I've got to say, this definitely rates high on the Slayer meter o' fun---what has any of it to do with me?"

"You're the only way he's going to make it home in one piece after what he pulled tonight. He's got half the demon population hot on his tail right now, including one very pissed off Truva, and if he sticks around here any longer, the whole block's going to go up in flames." The owner of the bar was hopping around on his feet like he was standing on something hot, his anxiety blowing up his normally nervous energy into an explosion that was making her dizzy.

"And that would be a bad thing because...?" she asked.

Spike sighed. "Told you she'd be a bitch about it," he snapped at Willy. "I'd rather take my chances running into that Truva wanker. Least then when she's havin' to put out all the little fires he decides to set once he's dusted my ass, you can have a right jolly good time laughin' in her face sayin' told you so." He swiped angrily at his eye as another drop of chocolate dripped into his lashes.

"Oh, great, throw my job back in my face." Buffy started walking away, shaking her head. "This better get me some major attitude adjustment next time I need info, Willy."

"Sure, whatever you say, Slayer. Just trying to do my part to contribute to the health and wealth of Sunnydale's finest, you know."

"Yeah, yeah," she muttered. She was all the way to the end of the alley before she realized she was walking alone, and stopped, half-turning to glare back at the vampire. "For someone who's currently more closely resembling a Fudgsicle than a formerly deadly creature of the night, you're not moving very fast."

His boots echoed against the brick walls as he stomped down to meet her. "Don't suppose you'd take the back way to my crypt," he growled, attempting to glance at her out of the corner of his eyes, only to blink rapidly as yet another slip of chocolate made its way down the side of his face.

Her smile was wide, her laughter loud, and Buffy made sure her hair went sailing as she whipped herself around to stroll down the sidewalk. "Oh, no," she gloated. "I think this is definitely Main Street material."

*************

He deliberately kept pace a few feet behind her, azure eyes locked on the swing of her hips as she marched along through the cemetery, his mouth watering every time the breeze caught a whiff of her perfume and blew it back to him. The parade downtown had almost been worth it for this spectacular view, though Spike thought that stopping to chat with Xander and Anya, or to look at every single shop window, was worth just a little bit more than watching her walk. Wonder what the bint would do if I tossed her in the shower with me? he thought, and felt his cock harden as a result. Naked Buffy, lots of soap...He grinned. Definitely had potential.

"So you going to tell me what actually happened back there?" she asked, the first words she'd directed to him since leaving Willy's. "Because anything that makes you look that ridiculous has got to be a good story."

"Thought it was obvious," he said, wiping the smile from his face before she could catch it. "I got in a fight."

There was no disguising the twinkle in her eye as she glanced back at him over her shoulder. "Fights don't usually involve chocolate," she said. "Unless they're of the romantic variety." Her grin widened. "You got a new girlfriend we should know about?"

"Since when do you give two figs about my personal life, Slayer?"

She shrugged. "I don't. It's just been a very slow night and I could use a little entertainment."

"I'm not in the mood to be your party pick-me-up," he growled, although inwardly groaned at the prospect. Pick me up, throw me against the wall, shag me senseless...Fuck. Gotta stop these kind of thoughts before she susses me out and stakes me for good.

"Whatever," she replied and turned back away, returning them to the silence they'd shared earlier.

Their footsteps seemed too loud in the deserted graveyard, and Spike frowned as the sight of his crypt loomed in the distance, bringing Buffy to a halt before him. "Home sweet crypt," she said, hazel eyes returning to his face. "Last chance to give me the scoop."

Using the hands he had stuffed deep inside his pockets, the vampire tightened his coat around his body, hiding his erection from her probing gaze. "Nothin' to dish," he said. "Went out to get some smokes and blood, and found that Truva pillock torching my favorite butcher's. He ran, I chased him to Willy's, and we got into a fight. End of story."

"That doesn't explain the chocolate sauce, or why Willy seems to think you're in danger."

Spike snorted. "Willy's a melodramatic little monkey who thinks just because a couple of demons threaten to barbecue me, my sorry undead life is on the ropes." Actually, he was lying here and seriously hoped that the Slayer wouldn't notice or call him on it. Truth was, that one Truva had turned into a gang of assorted lowlifes at the bar, and with Spike as the current thorn in their side, life around Sunnydale was going to be a little dicey until they got bored with him and decided to try and kill someone else. But there was no reason for Buffy to know that. He certainly didn't need her laughing at him more than she already was.

"And somehow that still doesn't tell me why you're just minus a big red cherry on top from being a sundae." She was enjoying this just a little too much, the sight of the chocolate-stained vampire the highlight of her boring night. Consciously lessening the breadth of her grin, Buffy waited expectantly for his forthcoming clarification.

"And you're not goin' to know," Spike retorted, pushing past her to head for the door to his crypt. He'd only sauntered a few yards, however, when the unmistakeable scents reached his nose, stopping his feet as his head tilted, blue gaze flickering to his right. "Think you're about to have some more sittin' to do, Slayer," he commented.

"Oh, I think I've done all the sitting I can handle in one night, thank you very much."

"Tell that to the group of humans hangin' out up there by my crypt then," the vampire drawled, lips curling into a smile. "Unless you just plan on leavin' them. I'm sure there's a few local vamps who wouldn't complain about havin' dinner delivered to their gravestep for a change."

"Crap," Buffy muttered, and reaching behind her, pulled the stake from the waistband of her trousers. "I'd like to find out when hanging out in cemeteries became Sunnydale's number one attraction." She glanced around, eyes jumping from one dark shadow to the next, the night swallowing up the surrounding area in an ebony gulp.

She was oblivious to him as she walked past, weapon poised, fingers curled around the stake in such a way that Spike's mouth watered, and he had to fight to keep his hands in his pockets and off her curves. Each muscle was a tense celebration of menace, her every movement an exercise in grace, and the anticipation of watching her fight made his blood seethe. Tiny flecks of gold flickered through his eyes as the demon within caught the lust that was surging through his body, but he kept it leashed, all too aware of the fact that vamping out without provocation would most likely earn him a good thrashing, if not a thorough staking...although the thought of a thrashing sounded like it could turn out to be fun...

"Am I alone on this, or do I not sense any demons around?" Buffy asked, glancing back at Spike. "Other than you, of course."

His eyebrow lifted. "You're askin' for my advice?" he queried. "Gee, Slayer, I'm touched."

"Hardly. We'll just consider that a rhetorical question." Slowly, her body relaxed, her hand lowering. "But I better go tell those people they should get out of here. It's probably just a bunch of kids looking for some post-Halloween creepiness, anyway."

"Actually, we were looking for William the Bloody."

Buffy whirled, the stake back at attention, and watched as a group of three dark-suited men emerged from the darkness, one holding a crossbow while the other two held large crucifixes before them. Even if she hadn't heard the accent in the leader's voice, she would've known that they weren't locals. Only the dead were that stiff in this cemetery.

"So, Spike...this a family reunion or something?" She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "'Cause the only British people in Sunnydale that I know are you and..." Her head swivelled back to stare at the trio. "Oh, no. Please, tell me this is some late Halloween prank, and that you're not really part of the Council."

One of the men holding the crosses stepped forward, hand extended in greeting. "Miss Summers, I presume," he said. "How fortunate we've found you here. It saves us a further trip before we convene with the others." Buffy held her ground, ignoring his offering, and after a moment of awkwardness, the man blushed, retracting his welcome with a clumsy shuffle. "Yes, well, I certainly understand your hesitancy. After all, you are the Slayer. That's your job...to be cautious, and to, of course, slay."

Spike's lips lifted in smile at the man's ramblings. Nice to know I'm not the only one Buffy gets to, he thought, and watched as she slowly crossed her arms over her chest.

"So what's the Council doing lurking around Spike's crypt?" she asked. "And for that matter, what's the Council doing in Sunnydale anyway? I haven't seen you guys since, you know, you tried to kidnap me last spring."

"Oh, that wasn't us," he rushed to explain. "That would've been one of our special operative teams. We're part of the board back in...England...the good guys, not the...bad...ones..." His voice trailed off as he realized he was only making his situation worse, and he cleared his throat. "We're here, actually, to fetch Spike and yourself to meet with Mr. Travers---."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "And this just gets better and better," she drawled. "The head honcho decided to show up himself, huh? Is he tired of not having a Slayer to boss around anymore? Not that I really care." She brightened. "Oh! Unless he's here to apologize. That might be kinda fun to see."

"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to disclose the particulars," the man said. "We're merely here in a retrieval capacity."

"And Spike and I are the sticks?" Buffy said. "Sorry, but I've never been big on the doing tricks for other people gig, especially if those other people are the Council, so why don't you run on back to your boss, Mr. Watcher Guy---."

"It's Colin. Colin Sadler."

"---run on back to your boss, Mr. Colin-Colin Sadler, and tell him this Slayer doesn't roll over for him anymore." She seemed to notice the vampire behind her for the first time since the trio had arrived. "Oh, but Spike you can have. I don't care about him."

"Thanks so bloody much, Slayer," Spike growled.

Colin glanced over Buffy's shoulder and frowned at the vamp's dishevelled appearance before returning to address the young blonde. "Our instructions are for both of you," he said. "Now, the vampire we're prepared to take by force, if need be, but in the event you were to refuse to cooperate, I was authorized to offer you an incentive. Regarding your mother and her illness."

Buffy stiffened. "That doesn't sound like an incentive. That sounds like a threat."

"No, no, no!" Colin stuttered. "That's not what I'm saying. Mr. Travers is prepared to offer you expert medical attention for your mother, which, I'm sure you'll agree, is definitely an inducement for meeting with him. So, not a threat." He smiled nervously, doing his best to appear calm but inwardly cowering.

Spike watched as the young woman's eyes narrowed, the mention of her mother tensing her jaw as her brain worked over the Watcher's words. They had her attention now, and though he had no idea what the pillocks might want with him, if Buffy was going along for the ride, he planned on being right next to her.

"All right," she finally said, mouth grim. "I'll go. But first sign of trouble, I'm out of there, got it?"

Colin looked relieved, exhaling loudly as the weapon relaxed in his arms. "Well, we should really set on then," he said and nodded behind him. "Our vehicle is back there, so if you would---."

"Hey!" Each turned to look at Spike, standing in chocolaty splendor in the moonlight. "You think I'm goin' anywhere without gettin' a shower first, you've got to be off your box." He waited for an objection, and getting none, began sauntering toward his crypt.

The Watcher's eyes darted between the marching vampire and Buffy, his brow furrowed in worry. "Is it safe to leave him unattended like that?" he questioned.

She shrugged. "You want him so badly, you go watch him, 'cause Spike in a shower is one show I do not need to see." The Englishman hesitated, his fear in spite of his ready weapon shining through in his face, and the Slayer sighed. "Hello? Haven't got all night here. And besides, it's pretty much your job description, isn't it? Watcher, watching things...?"

"Right," Colin murmured, and took a bold step forward, only to stumble back when the vamp pretended to lunge at him.

"Spike!" Buffy admonished. "Don't make me get into this!"

He couldn't help his grin. "Just havin' a bit of a laugh," he joked before pushing open the door to his crypt. "Not my fault he didn't think it was funny..."

Standing in the silence of the cemetery, the young blonde felt her insides begin to clench in anxiety, the thought of facing the Council again worrying her more than she was prepared to show. I so don't have time for this right now, she thought, but the promise of help for her mother was just too good to ignore, especially since the Sunnydale doctors seemed so ineffectual in determining what exactly was wrong. Experts were of the good, and if that meant a showdown with Quentin Travers, well then, so be it...

 

To be continued in Chapter 2: The Rights of Woman...