DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XXXI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike has ditched Lydia and is on the way to Sunnydale alone; Buffy, Xander and Oz decided to try and set up the commandos when they found the transceiver only to unwittingly be overheard by Maggie Walsh, and Willow ran into a mysterious woman named Havi when she tried to see Giles for help…

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

Chapter 8: All Those Friends Which I Thought Buried

He’d stalled for as long as he could. When Giles had called him that morning, Wesley’s brain had been too fuzzy from the whiskey they’d consumed the night previous to keep up with his direct questioning, and inadvertently found himself admitting to having to pick up Esme in Los Angeles that morning.

“On a motorcycle?” Giles had asked. “She must be one of the younger witches in the coven, then.”

“Actually, I was going to rent a car.”

“Well, that’s ridiculous. I have a car. I’ll drive. It’ll allow us time to get acquainted before she meets Willow.”

And that had been that. Wesley had been trapped, and there was nothing he could do to prevent Giles from coming without rousing even further suspicion. He had sincerely hoped to delay their meeting until he’d been able to lay the groundwork that would make the encounter less fraught with hostility, but that was no longer an option apparently. He hoped that it would be like ripping off a plaster. One quick yank, and though it might sting and burn for a split second, it would be over.

It didn’t prevent him, however, from trying to delay that yank for as long as possible. He’d arrived late, and then after insisting on stopping along the way for a leisurely lunch, Wesley had feigned forgetting her hotel details, forcing Giles to wait as he pretended to call around the LA establishments trying to locate the witch. Now, though, he was out of ideas, and it was with a leadening heart that he indicated the Marriott at which Esme was staying.

“There’s no reason for you to come up,” Wesley said before Giles had even turned off the motor. He pushed open the door and clambered out of the passenger seat. “I won’t be but a minute.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Giles replied. His temper had been growing increasingly short as the day wore on, and the fact that it was now after three in the afternoon when they could’ve been back to Sunnydale already only contributed to his curt tone. “You have no idea how much luggage she might have. It’ll save time if I come with you as well.”

Wesley sighed, and just nodded his head. His eyes were pulsing from the headache his worrying and plotting had caused, and all he really wanted was to get this day over with. I must remember never to drink with Rupert again, he thought as he headed for the hotel entrance. It will never lead to anything good.

He made sure he was the first to reach her door, and deliberately angled himself so that he was mostly blocking the doorway. It was silly, he knew, but in light of how he feared Giles was going to react, it also seemed like the most self-preserving thing he could accomplish at the moment.

It opened almost before his hand had moved away, and Wesley had to drop his eyes to see the person who had answered. This was who had frightened the Council and the Slayer so? The elderly woman seemed to barely reach his chest---he imagined that she was probably four-ten at the most---and she was so slight that a heavy gust of wind would likely blow her away. Dark eyes gleamed with both annoyance and intelligence, and the wrinkled canvas of her skin was almost like tissue paper.

Her inspection of him was only cursory, however, and it was mere seconds before Esme’s gaze moved past Wesley’s shoulder. Tilting her head to afford a better view, the corner of the old witch’s mouth lifted as she said, “Well, well. I certainly didn’t expect Rupert to be the one to greet me with open arms. How is Miss Summers? Well, I hope.”

The sudden pain that shot through his chest was caused by the slam of his body against the wall, and Wesley’s cheek pressed into the musty paper as Giles pinned him at the door’s side.

“You two-faced bastard!” Giles spat, and Wesley felt the faint spray of spittle as his senior voiced his fury. “You bloody well knew about this all along!”

A strong hand squeezed his neck from behind, pushing until Wesley’s lungs were protesting from the lack of air. Before he could reply, though, a small chuckle from the doorway made both of them jerk.

“You’re not really that frightened of me, are you, Mr. Giles?” Esme’s voice was more than amused. “I’m harmless. Now, that is. Surely the fact that Miss Rosenberg is in need of my assistance is testimony to that.”

“I’m not letting you anywhere near that girl,” Giles hissed.

Though his anger was now redirected to the witch, Giles’ grip didn’t move from his hold on Wesley, though it eased just enough to make breathing a little less labored. “Rupert,” he rasped, but Esme was already answering.

“Then she’ll either go mad, or you’ll have to destroy her,” she said. “Because without me to teach her what exactly she’s capable of now, Miss Rosenberg’s control will continue to slip.”

I can teach her what she needs to know.”

Wesley noted Giles’ definitive usage of the singular, and closed his eyes in resignation. He’d failed already. Mr. Travers would not be pleased.

“No, you can’t. Because you haven’t touched the very root of the magics she has at her fingertips, Mr. Giles. And before you try to sell me on your wild, wicked youth, just realize that you were a child, playing with forces you didn’t understand. I was one of those forces you still don’t understand. Before my magic was stolen from me.”

Inwardly, Wesley winced. If she was trying to aggravate Giles even more than her presence already was, the harshness of her tone and the mention of her magic’s “theft” would very likely finish the trick.

“You’re a threat,” Giles said. It sounded like he was speaking through gritted teeth. “You tried to kill my Slayer---.”

“Correction. I saved your Slayer.”

“Only when your own life was in danger.”

“Have you asked her about her time with William?” She was completely changing tactics, this switch in subjects bringing back the casualness to her voice. “You met him, didn’t you? When he saved you from my prison. He was really a charming, erudite young man. Not nearly what I was expecting. Are you trying to tell me that giving them to each other wasn’t benevolent of me?”

The force upon Wesley’s shoulders eased even more, and he pulled away, twisting to stand back as Giles faced off with the elderly witch. Both stood undaunted, each certain of their own rights, and he realized that he truly had no idea how this was going to end up.

Even more curious was Esme’s references to “William.” Surely, she couldn’t mean William the Bloody? Being characterized as charming and erudite sounded like appellations Lydia would use for Spike, not someone who was wise to the ways of the demon world. And what did she mean by “giving them to each other?”

“You had no right to manipulate her in that way,” Giles was saying.

Esme shrugged. “I was doing what I thought was necessary to reach my goals,” she replied. “As soon as I recognized that that wasn’t possible, I amended my plans. You forget. It was my magic that brought her back. She wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for me.”

“And…what? You expect me to simply forget your misdeeds and let you close to her again? How foolish do you really think I am? I read everything the Council has on you. I know you’re obsessed with Slayers---.”

“You’re wrong. I’m obsessed with power.”

Perhaps it was the bluntness with which she made the declaration, or maybe it was the amused honesty shining in Esme’s regard. Either way, Wes saw Giles pause, his eyes narrowing behind his glasses as he scrutinized her every reaction..

“Do you think I stayed with the Council for so many years because I believed in the good they were doing?” she posited, plunging forward into the opening the men’s silence afforded. “I am not you, Mr. Giles, nor am I Mr. Wyndam-Pryce here. I’ve never been motivated by that sort of altruism, regardless of what Quentin may try to believe. I’m motivated by my hunger for strength, for power, and it’s searching for those that has led me here.”

“If you think this is helping your case to come to Sunnydale,” Giles said carefully, “you may wish to think again.”

“And here I thought you’d appreciate my honesty.” Her tongue made a tsking sound that reverberated in the emptiness of the hotel hallway. “If you prefer lies, I’m sure I can get Quentin on the phone. He’s so marvelously talented with them, and he can never seem to refuse to speak with me, the poor sod.”

If Giles didn’t see it, Wesley certainly did, and his earlier estimation of Esme shifted. She was deliberately distancing herself from the man Rupert held the highest scorn for, separating her values from his and attempting to place the three of them on the same side. It was brilliant.

If it didn’t backfire on her.

Giles still wasn’t swayed, although Wesley could sense that the argument was tempting him. “Your so-called honesty means nothing,” he said. “The fact remains, you’re dangerous, and you come here under the guise of helping Willow with admitted ulterior motives. That alone is reason for me not to allow you to see her.”

“Do you even wish to hear my ulterior motives?” Her voice was soft, and she suddenly sounded every bit as old as she looked. “The only danger I pose to you or to Miss Rosenberg is the one you’ve created inside your head. She has my power. That is irrefutable. I wield no sort of magic that she can’t overcome merely by willing it. She’s almost nineteen. She’s young, she’s strong, and without learning how to control the forces she houses now, she’s a threat. To her loved ones, to strangers around her. Most importantly, she’s a threat to herself.”

“That still doesn’t mean you should be the one to help her.”

“Mr. Giles, I’m eighty-one years old. I lived with that power for longer than you’ve been on this earth. I know that power and what’s it capable of. Can you say the same?”

The air in the hall was stifling as her words weighted it with secrets untold and portents many. Giles’ jaw twitched as he regarded her, a deadly gaze that would’ve scared a lesser foe. It was certainly frightening Wesley, though he held himself stiff as he waited for the other Watcher to reach his decision.

“You are never to see Willow unsupervised,” he finally said. “And you are to have no contact with Buffy unless she requests it.”

“I’m not here for Miss Summers,” Esme said simply.

“If I detect even a hint of impropriety on your part,” Giles continued, “I will ship you back to Quentin in your own casket, is that understood?”

She smiled. “I believe you’ll have to stand in line behind your employer for that particular honor,” she commented. “He’s already informed me that Mr. Wyndam-Pryce has carte blanche to sanction my return if I…misbehave.”

When Giles glanced back at him for confirmation, Wesley lifted his chin. “She’s correct,” he said, in a voice that was much surer than he felt. “Mr. Travers is only interested in seeing our efforts succeed. He doesn’t want anything untoward to occur, either.”

Giles’ lips were pinched as he turned to Esme. “Do you have many bags?” he asked stiffly. It was the only acknowledgement he was going to make, and all three of them knew it.

“On the bed.” Stepping aside, she allowed him to enter and retrieve the luggage, her black eyes dancing as they locked with Wesley’s.

The witch didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to. Wesley was more than aware by the glee in her gaze that she was delighted with the result of the conversation.

There was one other thing they were both aware of.

For this particular round, she had won.

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

It wasn’t the fact that he was in a hotel room that was putting Spike off. It was the fact that he’d paid for the bloody thing rather than ripping open the throat of the clerk and taking the damn room key that was setting his teeth on edge. Though traveling with Lydia had brought with it a forced domestication, he’d not given much thought about it continuing once he was rid of her presence. Really, he’d not given much thought of anything as mundane as his day-to-day once he got to Sunnydale. He’d been too focused on thoughts of Buffy.

But this was the way it had to be, he knew. Buffy would never tolerate such random acts of violence, especially on her home turf, and if Spike was determined to slay at her side, he had to be prepared to make the sacrifices that were necessary. That meant living by more rules than he was normally accustomed. Rules that would probably change on a daily basis as Buffy’s whims took her. Would it be worth it?

He didn’t even bother to answer himself. It was a ridiculous question. Of course, it was bloody worth it.

He’d arrived on the Hellmouth with sunlight still streaming down, so he’d had no choice but ask to be taken to one of the cheaper hotels. The shelter was necessary until he could get out and find something else; once dusk came around, Spike had every intention of combing Sunnydale until he found what he was looking for. He just wasn’t sure yet what that was.

Then, there was the issue of Buffy.

He knew she lived on campus; he knew her address by heart from writing it out so many times. But she wasn’t expecting him. His last letter had hinted that he could be on his way, but they’d left in such a flurry, he’d not had the chance to write another announcing his arrival. And he couldn’t write it now. It would have a Sunnydale postmark on it. That would just be redundant.

So, as he waited for the sun to set, Spike weighed his options. He could get her number and try calling, but for some inexplicable reason, that made his stomach tie up in knots, like he was some pimply-faced kid attempting to ask a girl out on his first date. Writing out what was going on inside his head had always been his preferred method---and the moment that thought registered, Spike scowled.

It wasn’t Spike’s preferred method. It was William’s. It still took him by surprise when the git let his presence be known.

But Buffy loved William. She’d proven that William had a bit of spirit, after all. It wasn’t such a bad thing any more to admit to his more William-like tendencies, even if he had spent the better part of his unlife denying them.

Still didn’t mean he wanted to call her.

He didn’t want to just show up unannounced, either. Somewhere, in the shadowed recesses of his hotel room, doubt had set in. Buffy had only just come to grips with writing him. If he showed his face around her dorm without fair notice, would he only serve to scare her away again? He knew she couldn’t be happy about being in love with another vampire. Angelus had certainly done a number on her, and the fact that she bemoaned how she was going to tell Harris screamed loud and clear that she was floundering when it came to coping with the truth of Spike. Spike didn’t care what her friends bloody thought, but that wasn’t what mattered.

What mattered was that he didn’t muck this up now. He was here. He had too much to lose.

The decision when it came was simple. He’d come to help Buffy slay; he’d hit the cemeteries and prove to her with his actions that he was true to his word. Not only was leaping straight into the fray more his style, but the exertions would work out some of the kinks traveling across the world had created in his muscles. A little rough, a little tumble, and if he happened to run into Buffy while she was on patrol, well, then that was just an added bonus, wasn’t it?

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

“You didn’t have to come.”

Smiling, Willow squeezed his hand, relishing in the feel of his fingers interlaced with hers. “And miss out on quality time with my guy? Not a chance.”

“I just thought, you know, with what happened last night, you might not want to come back so soon.” Oz came to a stop at the foot of the dug-up grave, letting the backpack he carried slip from his shoulder as he kicked at the loose dirt. “At least we know this one is empty.”

“Which is already much better than last night.” She flashed him her brightest smile as proof that she was all right, and was rewarded when he leaned in to brush his lips across hers. That was better. Just the light touch was all Willow needed to ease the nerves that were tightening her stomach. It had been an excruciatingly long day.

She’d never hooked up with Giles. Though she had spoken to him when he’d called for Buffy, when she’d heard that he was still out of town, that he and Wesley had gone to Los Angeles to fetch the Council’s witch, Willow had held her tongue about going out in search of him. It was going to be hard enough talking about how the magic made her feel; doing it on the phone made it doubly bad. She would just wait and do it after her classes on Monday, she reasoned. One more day certainly couldn’t make a difference, plus there was the bonus of the witch being present as well.

Then, there had been the business with the gizmo Buffy had brought back from her morning recon with the guys. It took Willow no time at all to figure out that it was a transceiver of some kind, but the moment she took off the back of its casing to further examine its capabilities, the small engine inside had blown up with a puff of smoke.

Only one thing seemed to come to fruition that day. She had translated what the strange Havi had said to her on leaving Giles’ apartment complex, but it only added to the unease that made her heart inexplicably race at the odd interval, her brow to suddenly break out in sweat.

“A fire can’t throw a great light without burning something.”

She didn’t know what to make of it. There was the literal parallel to what had occurred with the vampire, but that seemed too simple. Was it a warning? Was this woman who looked for Giles trying to put Willow on alert not to let things get out of hand? Or did she mean the opposite, that things had to get a little out of hand in order for Willow to win?

Either possibility filled her with dread.

She hated philosophy. It was far too abstract. Bits and bytes were better any day of the week.

She was startled from her gloomy reverie by the gentle tug of Oz’s hand. When she looked at him, he didn’t speak, just tilted his head with a slight upturn of his mouth, and led her to the headstone. His hand fell from hers, settled on her hips as he positioned her in front of it, and he helped guide her to a seat along its curved top.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he murmured, stepping between her legs.

Willow closed her eyes and breathed him in as his lips met hers. Letting her arms come up to curl around his shoulders, she decided that coming out with him to stakeout the transceiver’s owners was the best decision she’d made all day.

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

“Damn it.”

His mouth was set in a tight line as he lowered the night-vision binoculars, but even without the extra visual boost, Riley could still see the couple occupying the space he’d been ordered to watch.

“There a problem?” Like a ghost, Forrest suddenly appeared at his elbow, his eyes trained on his superior officer.

“He’s not alone,” came the terse reply. It was bad enough he recognized the young man Dr. Walsh was convinced was the local werewolf, but to see Willow Rosenberg there as well turned this particular assignment into a disaster waiting to happen. “He brought a date.”

“So, we knock out the girl and take in the HST. Simple.”

“I know them. Not so simple.”

For a long moment, the men under his command held themselves completely still while they allowed Riley to think. The soft whisper of a bird overhead floated through the night, and it wasn’t until its echo was erased from the air that Finn spoke again.

“Take this,” he said. Stripping off his jacket, he tossed it to Forrest, following it quickly with the holster that was strapped around his waist. That left him in his fatigues and t-shirt, and though he still looked way too military than he would’ve liked, at least he wasn’t an obvious threat. Maybe Willow wouldn’t notice.

“What’re you doing?” Forrest asked as Riley began to move away from the cover of the trees that hid them.

“I don’t want to hurt the girl,” he said. “I’m going to bring the HST to us. Be ready.” And with that, he melted into the night.

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

He stopped when he heard the voices, his head cocking as he listened to the rhythms of their bodies.

Human.

Spike sniffed at the air.

And frowned.

Amend that. One of them was only mostly human. The other was…

Red.

As he crept forward, the voices became louder, and the confirmation that it was Willow and some male echoed with a resounding clarity. Hope began to burn inside Spike’s chest, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the young redhead’s presence meant Buffy was here as well. He could sense other humans nearby, and one specifically approaching the pair, but none of them smelled like the Slayer. Perhaps she was merely busy elsewhere at the moment.

Using the foliage as cover, Spike’s shadow melted into the trunk of a tree as his gaze fell on the pair he sought. No one would be aware of his presence; a century of experience had long ago taught him how to disappear when the need arose. But he could still watch. And he could still hear. And he could still wait until Buffy came back to her friends.

“…there tomorrow,” Willow was saying.

The young man with her nodded, and the light of the almost full moon revealed his face just enough for Spike to recognize him as the boyfriend. Oz. That one was the werewolf Buffy had mentioned. That was why he didn’t smell quite right.

“Do you want me there?” he said. His hands were resting possessively on her hips, the tilt of his body even more watchful, and Spike felt a rumble of accord with the young man he’d never really gotten to know. Oz loved Willow; it was there in his muscles for all to see. He’d fight to protect her with every inch he had, even if he wasn’t much more than a grasshopper.

Spike respected that.

“Nah,” Willow said. “I mean, I do want you there, but it’s not---.” She was cut off when Oz suddenly shifted, and Spike saw the looming shadow of the person he’d already sensed approaching them.

“Hi, Willow. Hi, Oz.”

Spike didn’t know the voice, but something behind the false jocularity made him edge forward, his face shifting so that he could better see the new arrival. Looming had been an understatement. The man was a tower, solidly built, wearing fatigue trousers that were only slightly baggy. His hands were empty, but as Spike’s gaze scanned him, the vampire easily noted the long bulge along the outer side of his left calf. Probably a knife of some sort, tucked into his boot.

As the three engaged in easy conversation, Spike’s frown deepened. They knew each other, but why would Captain Marvel there be wearing a concealed weapon? Unless…he was working with Buffy and the rest to help patrol.

Spike didn’t like that thought at all.

He turned his head to look in the direction the man had come from, and easily picked out the other three shadows lurking in wait. More humans.

What in bloody hell was going on?

“…know it’s a lot to ask, but it’ll just take a minute. I swear,” the man said, jerking his thumbing back in the direction of his buddies.

Whatever Spike had missed, Oz wasn’t completely sold. “I’m kind of waiting for someone,” he said.

“In a graveyard?”

“Why is it you’re here?”

“I told you. It’s a fraternity thing.”

“But isn’t it against the code to get strangers involved?”

Something wasn’t right, and Spike could tell that Oz knew it. Again, his gaze flickered to the others, and his mind settled on what he should do.

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

“What’s he doing?”

Forrest hissed, warning the grunt to stay quiet. “He’s talking to them,” he replied in a voice that was barely a whisper.

“We’re not supposed to be talking. We’re supposed to be capturing. This is bullshit.”

“Bullshit or not, Finn’s the officer in command here. He told us to wait, so we wait.”

The dissenting grumbles made Forrest’s hands tighten around his weapon. He didn’t like it, either, but Riley knew what he was talking about. They couldn’t take down a civilian without proper authorization, especially one as non-threatening as the girl seemed to be.

“What if we sneak up from behind? Knock the girl out so she doesn’t know what’s going on, and take the werewolf. End of problem.”

“Finn said---,” Forrest started, but as he was turning to direct his response at the grunt who wouldn’t keep his trap shut, a flash of something black caught the corner of his eye, and he turned just in time to take the full force of the vampire’s fist as it connected with his jaw.

He fell to the ground in a daze, looking up to see the demon grab the grunt who’d been arguing. With a single quick jerk, the vampire snapped the grunt’s neck, and then kicked out behind without even looking when the other soldier started to draw his weapon. The other was killed just as quickly, a fist smashing into the man’s nose that drove it with deadly force into his brain, and then all that was left was Forrest.

And the vampire.

“Looks like I broke up your little party,” the demon drawled. It wasn’t even wearing its demon mask, blue eyes gazing down at Forrest with cruel disgust. The slight breeze caught the hem of its long leather coat, making it billow slightly around its legs. “Would say I’m sorry, except, well, I’m not.”

Slowly, Forrest’s eyes were starting to refocus. If he wanted to live, he had to be smart about this. His tazer was in easy reach of his left hand, but if he moved too quickly, the vampire would be on him and he could just say goodbye to surviving. He’d seen how swiftly the monster could kill. Forrest wouldn’t even have time to draw a weapon.

“Not hungry?” he said, jerking his chin toward the dead bodies of his team. The thought that he was offering their bodies as culinary diversion made his stomach revolt, but there was nothing else he could do.

The vamp shrugged. “More interested in hearin’ why it is you lot are after a werewolf,” it replied. “Known a few hunters in my time, but would’ve sussed you as more of the kegger kind.”

Forrest’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Then you would be wrong,” he growled. His hand was inching toward his tazer. If he could just keep the demon talking…

The air was suddenly blocked from his throat, and Forrest’s head slammed back into the earth, the explosion of light before his eyes more indicative of the force in the attack than any physical phenomenon. He’d never even seen the vampire move, and yet, now it pinned him to the ground, one hand wrapped around the front of his throat, the other a steel vise around the wrist that was only centimeters from the tazer.

“Don’t like you,” the vampire said, and though the hatred on its face gleamed in the moonlight, its voice was bereft of any obvious emotion. If anything, it sounded bored. “And I like the thought of you hurtin’ one of Buffy’s friends even less.”

Blue shifted to gold, and Forrest winced at the carnivorous smile that curled around the fangs.

It was the last thing he ever saw.

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

When Riley had first approached, Oz hadn’t thought anything of it. It wouldn’t be the first time frat boys used a Sunnydale cemetery as a hazing ground.

But the longer he talked, and the more Riley tried to convince Willow to go home, the more Oz began to distrust him. He noticed the dark pants. He noticed the heavy boots. He remembered the sole marks he’d seen in the trampled grass earlier that day.

He became convinced Riley had something to do with Buffy’s mysterious vigilantes. There was no way he was letting Willow out of his sight.

“Maybe you should call the police if you’re so worried about them,” Oz said. The faint scent of blood in the air made his nose twitch, but he didn’t dare take his eyes off Finn. Behind him, Willow was growing tenser, and when she hopped down from the headstone, Oz started to step sideways to try and shield her from the interaction.

The charge of electricity crackled through the night air, and Willow gave a slight yelp before crumbling to the earth. Before Oz could react, Riley had his meaty hand on the smaller man’s shoulder, his other cradling the tiny tazer that he’d used to knock out Willow.

“I didn’t want to do it like this,” he said. If Oz didn’t know better, he would’ve almost said that the man sounded apologetic. “You’ve given me no choice.”

“There’s always a choice,” Oz replied.

“Yeah,” a man’s voice said from the darkness. “A bloke’s always got a choice.”

Without releasing his hold on Oz, Riley whirled in the direction of the sound. The smell of blood was stronger now, and Oz saw the source of it as Spike emerged from the shadows. When Finn lifted his arm to shoot at the vamp, Spike dove through the air, tackling the larger man and driving him into the grass with a force that snapped Riley’s wrist when it broke free from Oz’s shoulder.

The weapon went flying, but Spike didn’t seem to care, his fists a pale blur as they pounded into the man’s face. His jaw was set in grim determination, his blue eyes icy, and when Riley’s rolled back, the lids shutting as he lapsed into unconsciousness, a vicious smile of satisfaction creased the vampire’s features.

“Serves you bloody right,” he said as he hopped to his feet. He turned to look at Oz, his gaze flickering to the inert form of Willow at the foot of the grave. “She OK?” he asked with a jerk of his head

Immediately, Oz knelt to check her pulse. It was slow, but steady, her breathing even. He nodded. “Just a stun gun.”

“Yeah. His buddies had those little trinkets, too.”

The silence between them was awkward. “I’d say thanks,” Oz finally said, “except last time you were in town…”

Spike grimaced, the unspoken reference to the incident at the factory clearly not lost on him. “Figure that’s deserved,” he said. “Still, you shouldn’t be out here without the Slayer around. Him and his lot were lookin’ to take you in. You’re just lucky I happened along when I did.”

“How do you know what they were planning?”

“Heard ‘em talkin’ before I…” He stopped. He didn’t have to say it aloud. They both knew he’d killed them.

More silence.

“Did they say why?” Oz asked. At Spike’s confused frown, he clarified, “Why they wanted me. Buffy’s only seen them being interested in vampires.”

“It was because of you bein’ a werewolf. Didn’t figure them for hunters, though. They don’t have the look.”

“They’re not.” He’d been right. Riley Finn was part of the vigilante group Buffy was so concerned about. His gaze slid to the body on the ground, and he saw the flicker of movement before Spike did. “Look out!”

The vampire reacted on instinct.

Leaping out of the way of the blade that had emerged from nowhere, Spike twisted to grab Riley from behind, his forearm going around his throat while his hand wrapped around the wrist that held the knife. He snarled as he fought the other man’s strength, and when Finn stabbed downwards in an obvious attempt to hit his opponent’s leg, Spike redirected the blow so that the length of the blade sank into Riley’s abdomen.

As Oz watched, Riley fell to his knees, the blood already starting to bubble at his lips. A surprised Spike stepped back, his eyes riveted on the knife that protruded from the man’s upper abdomen, and before Oz could say a word, turned and fled into the night.

 

To be continued in Chapter 9: My Weary Travel’s End