DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
SPOILERS: Everything through Blood Ties, S5, but happens before Crush so Spike and Buffy haven't had their heart to heart yet.

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

Chapter 1: Prey

Crisp and clear, the night air carried the scents of the cemetery to him in gentle waves. There was the usual...freshly turned earth...an occasional flower, daisies perhaps...even the distinct smell of the undead. None of these concerned him, though, for they were not his---. The hair on his back prickled as an underlying current penetrated his awareness. Lifting his nose into the air, he inhaled more deeply, soaking in the scent he'd been searching for. It was here. Finally. The hunt would soon be over. Only one thought filled his consciousness now.

Prey.

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

Buffy kicked at a dirt clump next to the headstone she was sitting on. It was a slow, slow night, and she was bored, bored, bored. Not one vamp had made an appearance in the two hours she'd been on patrol...well, not a vamp she could stake, at least. Just after she'd arrived, she'd spotted Spike's platinum head off in the distance, somewhere near his crypt. Probably just going home, she'd thought. Or she'd hoped. She didn't want to have to think about Spike tonight. Lately, thinking about Spike tended to give her a headache and, with Glory and Dawn and her mom, she didn't need that.

The dry snap of a stick alerted the Slayer's senses and she slid silently off the headstone. The comfortable weight of her stake hugged the small of her back as she crept in the sound's direction. It didn't feel like a vampire, but that didn't rule out demon. She stopped. There were two outlines in the darkness. Damn! she thought looking up at the starless sky. Why did cemeteries have to be so poorly lit? She waited, poised for the attack, as they drew near.

"Buffy?"

The voice was just a low whisper, but it immediately set her at ease. She straightened. "Sneaking up on a Slayer is not usually a good idea, Will."

As they drew closer, Buffy was able to make out Willow and Tara walking towards her. A smile of apology was on Willow's face.

"We thought you might want some company tonight," Tara said.

"Things have all been so stressy, you know," Willow added. "So...surprise!"

Buffy smiled. "Thanks, but I think I'm done for the night. Not much slayage for me if the vamps won't come out and play. Feel like getting a pizza?"

"Pizza over vamps? No contest."

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

Spike was watching her from a distance tonight, just keeping an eye out in case she needed his help. Not a vamp in sight and he was disappointed at not having an excuse to get just a little closer to the Slayer. Then, the two witches had shown up and he knew his chances were gone for the night. Exhaling the last of the cigarette smoke, he dropped the butt and ground it under his heel.

When he lifted his blond head, the smell almost immediately assailed his nostrils. Spike stiffened, concentrating on the unfamiliar musk. Not human...not vampire. What? Demon? Possibly, although he doubted it. Too clean.

Then, he heard it. His head jerked in the direction of the sound, his blue eyes probing the darkness. His gaze went right over it on his first pass around. It was only after he swept his search back that he caught the slight shade differential in the black. Darker than the night itself, it moved with the stealthy grace of a predator, and for a moment, Spike found himself admiring its killer beauty.

He crept along, following its vague form, until he realized where it was headed. Spike's head jerked to see Buffy and her friends, oblivious to the approaching menace, and knew that he couldn't reach her in time. His legs began to pump underneath him and his voice ripped from his throat.

"Buffy!"

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

It was the urgency in Spike's voice that caused the Slayer to whirl and duck at the same time. Within seconds, she felt the breeze as something very large sailed over her head. She turned around in time to see Willow and Tara scramble out of the assailant's way.

Why didn't I sense something as large as that?!? she thought before realizing that whatever it was had already turned back to face her. Two red eyes stared at her from the black muzzled face she could barely make out in the dim light. It was huge, six feet at least, and it was only then that she noticed---

"Buffy! Look out!" Willow screamed.

It had leapt again, and Buffy's foot shot out, aiming automatically for its jaw. When it hit, though, it was as if she'd kicked a wall and she felt herself tumbling sideways from the jolt. As she rolled into a crouched position, a flash of black leather flew through the air, landing on the beast's back.

Spike wore his game face as he tackled the creature he'd smelled. He snarled as one hand gripped its fur, desperate to stay on, while his other arm hooked itself under its powerful jaws. The beast stopped in its tracks, and the momentum threw the vampire over his head so that he dangled in front of him. He wasn't letting go, though, not if this thing was after his Slayer.

Buffy jumped up and started running toward the pair. Spike was doing his best to twist the creature's neck, but it didn't seem to be working. As she watched, the creature snapped its jaws at the vamp, locking around his forearm. Spike roared in pain and only then noticed Buffy's approach.

"Get out of here!" he yelled. "It's too strong!" Desperate for anything, he sank his fangs deep into the fur.

Hands were grabbing at Buffy, pulling her back. "Buff! Come on!" Willow and Tara were dragging her backwards, away from the fight.

"No! I can take him! I just have to---"

"Go!" Spike screamed. Blood was dripping from his arm and smeared his face. For a second, Buffy hesitated. What was he doing? The fool was going to get himself killed. Nobody could kill Spike but her.

Her feet were already moving her forward when she heard Willow's voice hiss in her ear. "We have to run. Now!" With more force than she would've expected, Buffy felt herself being yanked from the spectacle. Tara was already way ahead, almost to the road where they'd left their car. With only a fleeting glance over her shoulder, Buffy broke into a run for safety.

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

"So, what exactly was it that attacked you?"

The three girls looked at each other before turning to face Giles.

"It was...a dog," Buffy finally said.

"A really big dog," Tara interjected, trying to help.

"Massive," was Willow's contribution.

"Yeah, we're talking small SUV here." Buffy waited as the Watcher pulled off his glasses and began cleaning them absently.

"Well, not pleasant, but hardly a serious menace, I should think." He stepped behind the register, already dismissing their encounter.

"No, Giles. You're not getting it." Buffy followed him around. "I totally didn't hear this thing coming. Nothing. No Slayer sirens. Nada. And when I tried to fight it, it was like kicking the proverbial brick wall."

"Well, you were distracted. Didn't you say you were already headed home?"

"Yes, but---"

"It was probably just a stray looking for a meal. A very large stray," he added when he saw Willow's mouth open in argument. "Many animals can be quite stealthy when they hunt, you know."

"OK, but how many of them have glowy red eyes?"

"And if it just wanted to eat, how come it didn't come after me and Tara? Why did it just try to get Buffy?" Willow's brown eyes were wide with expectation as they waited for Giles to respond.

Very slowly, he replaced his glasses on his nose and looked them over, one by one. Normally, Buffy wasn't a hysteric when it came to reporting this kind of thing, but circumstances lately...Perhaps some of the stress was starting to get to her. And Willow. The most reliable of the Scooby gang. She wouldn't exaggerate so wildly about a seemingly random animal attack.

Giles was about to reply when the bell over the shop door jangled and a smoking mass flew into the Magic Box. The four of them turned in time to see Spike drop his blanket and stamp out the last of the flames. When their visitor looked up, Giles frowned when he saw the fresh cuts and scratches on the vampire's face.

Spike sauntered to the counter, his duster billowing around his legs. He stopped when he realized that the quartet was just staring at him. "What?" he demanded. "I got blood on my face or somethin'?"

Giles sighed. "What do you want, Spike?"

The blond vampire hopped up onto the counter, his black jeans pulling tight across his thighs. "Thought you might want my thoughts on Slayer's little adventure last night."

The Watcher turned to his charge. "You didn't tell me Spike was there."

Buffy shrugged. "I didn't think it was important."

"Hey! Wasn't for me, you'd be dogmeat right now, Slayer!"

"So you saw it too, Spike?" Giles asked.

"Saw it? I fought the bloody thing. Nearly lost my arm and for what? Bitchy Slayer attitude? No thanks." He slid from his perch and grabbed his blanket.

With two confident steps, Buffy was behind him, grabbing his arm and whipping him around. Even Giles noticed the wince of pain as Spike pulled from the Slayer's grasp.

"You want bitchy Buffy, I can give it to you, but right now, I need you to help me convince Giles about what we saw."

"Thinks you're being a silly bint, does he?" His blue eyes looked past her to her Watcher. "She's not." To Buffy, "Can I go now?"

Giles came out from behind the counter. "Let's see your arm, Spike."

Rolling his eyes, Spike slid the leather coat from his shoulders, his face impassive as his tightly corded muscles came into view. Even Buffy's eyes widened as she saw his wounds for the first time.

Even with his vampire healing ability, his lower arm still looked freshly mangled. Blood was crusted around numerous puncture wounds, and a nasty gash snaked along his arm, disappearing under his t-shirt sleeve.

Giles took Spike's arm in his hand, turning it ever so slightly as his eyes measured the distance between the bites. "Quite a large beast," he murmured.

"Bloody right it was. Had a caravan once that was smaller than this thing was."

"And you heard it attack Buffy?"

"He's the one who warned us it was coming," Willow interjected.

Spike stiffened at the Watcher's accusatory stare. "I didn't have nothin' to do with it, so you can bloody well get that thought out of your head. And no, I didn't hear it. I smelled it."

"You...smelled it." This came from Buffy, who cocked her head as she waited for Spike's explanation.

"Well, yeah. Thing was blacker than the night, couldn't see it very well, now could I? That's more than Slayer here was able to sense. Wasn't for me---"

"Yes, yes, dogmeat, we know." Giles turned away, his brow creased in a familiar frown. "Well, I suppose it's more than we had when we first started researching Glory---"

Willow clapped her hands in glee. "Research party!" she exclaimed. At Buffy's look of dismay, she consciously calmed herself down. "I mean, yuck, more research."

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

"I think I've found it!" Tara's exclamation stopped everyone in their reading and they looked up to see her beaming at them. Her smile faded slightly under their scrutiny and she blushed. "I'm n-n-not usually the one who gets the answers," she stammered.

Both Giles and Buffy rose and crossed to stand behind Tara, looking down at the picture at which she was pointing. "Looks like a dog," Giles murmured.

Buffy sighed. "That's what we've been telling you."

"And does this look like the creature that attacked you?"

The Slayer nodded. "That's it."

Giles picked up the book and began wandering around the shop as he read the passage accompanying the picture. "Oh my," he said under his breath. Then, a moment later..."Oh my."

"Enough of worried Watcher routine," Buffy said. "What is it and how do I kill it?"

Giles cleared his throat. "It appears that your attacker is the Hound of Laelaps." He looked up, only to be met by the blank stares of the Scooby gang. "It's a mythical creature---"

"Mythical?" The disappointment in Buffy's voice was evident to everyone. "Not another god."

"No, not a god. No, the hound is most definitely mortal."

"So I can kill it."

"Well, theoretically, yes. But---"

"God, I hate the buts. Can we skip the but this time?"

"I'm afraid not. The Hound of Laelaps is thousands of years old and the fact that it's still around implies it's not the easiest creature to kill."

"He's right, there." This came from Spike and for the first time, the gang realized that the vampire was still hanging around the shop. "I was able to distract it for a bit, but I don't think I did any serious damage."

"So what's the oh my news?" Willow asked.

"The Hound of Laelaps originally belonged to Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. She, in turn, gave the hound to one of her followers."

"Boring, and not helpful, Giles." Buffy crossed her arms. "Give us something to work with here."

"Oh. Yes. Well. The hound is fated to never miss its quarry."

The Slayer turned to a wide-eyes Willow for clarification. "Basically, it hunts and hunts until it catches what it's hunting."

It took a moment, but it finally began to dawn on Buffy what her best friend was saying. "This hound thing is hunting me?" Her hazel eyes darted from one Scooby to another, willing them to look at her. Not even Spike seemed eager to jump in with one of his usual snarky remarks. To Giles, "Someone told Cujo, 'Go get me a Slayer'?"

"It...appears that way."

"So I've gotta kill it. End of story." With a determined step, she began heading for her punching bag in the back, only to be stopped by Willow.

"But, Buff, we never even saw it coming last night. How can we find something we can't see until it's already ripping out our throats?"

"I'm afraid Willow's right. It knows you're here now. It's not going to give up that easily."

"Actually, according to the myth, it's not going to give up at all," Anya piped up.

"Yes, well. Regardless, it's just a matter of time before it finds Buffy again. When it does, we need to be prepared because we might not get a third chance." Giles cleared his throat. "I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I think our best option at this point is Spike."

"Spike?!?"

The vampire's blond head snapped to attention for the first time that evening. His blue eyes darkened as he noted Buffy's flushed cheeks, her hazel eyes sparkling with anger. Without warning, he felt his jeans tighten across his hips. God, he loved seeing her like this. Before anyone could notice, he slowly pulled his duster closed.

Giles continued. "Buffy, you've said yourself that not even your Slayer senses helped you become aware of the hound's presence. Spike is the only one who seems to be able to tell when it's near. Our priority is keep you safe, so I think, for the time being, you should...stay with Spike." Under his breath, he muttered, "I don't believe I just said that."

"Spike is not staying at my house!"

"No, I agree. The hound will probably find your home relatively quickly. It's better if...you're not there." Giles couldn't meet Buffy's eyes and pretended to be preoccupied with straightening some amulets on the shelf.

"If I'm not there..." Buffy's voice trailed off and she looked back at Spike as she realized what that meant.

"Hey, Watcher, I'm not a bleedin' Holiday Inn." Spike pretended to be offended, but was secretly pleased at this sudden turn of events. The Slayer. In his crypt. Maybe the dogfight had been worth it after all.

"We'll make it worth your while, Spike," Giles said.

"What about Dawn? And my mom?" Buffy asked.

"They should be perfectly safe. The hound only has one prey at a time, and...you...seem to be it." He seemed almost apologetic with his reply.

"Tara and I can cast some extra protection spells around them, if that'll help." Willow smiled, trying to reassure her friend.

Buffy looked over the group. Most were avoiding her eyes, and she wasn't sure what Anya's hands were doing under the table, but they all seemed resigned to Giles' suggestion. Her gaze flickered to Spike's perch on the stairs. He was watching her, gauging her reaction, his mouth slightly open, his tongue resting on the edge of his top teeth. She felt the familiar rush surge through her veins at the sight of him. Sometimes, it was all she could do not to plunge Mr. Pointy into his chest. Anything to get him away from her, let her keep her body under control.

"I don't think it's necessary, but every little bit helps," Giles was saying. "Buffy---"

"I'll do it." The words surprised even her, and she couldn't miss the smirk that curled the vampire's lips. "Just get some answers fast before you find me shacking up with Spike dust."


To be continued in Chapter Two: In Dreams...