DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.  And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Sandrine has kidnapped Spike and stashed him somewhere underground, while Buffy has taken the gang back to Green Dolphin Street, letting them know about the chip along the way…

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

Chapter 35: Speak Like a Child

The guys were taking the bedroom, at Buffy’s insistence.  “Not that I don’t trust Freddie not to make break for it again,” she said.  “But I don’t.  And he’s less of a flight risk if he’s contained in an inside room.”

There was more to it than that, but she was keeping the rest of her reasons to herself.  Did the gang really need to know about the memories she harbored of her last night here with Spike?  The intense pleasure from their escapades on the now-demolished piano, followed by the cuddling in the bed they shared, the argument that ensued after she awoke.  It seemed like a lifetime ago, ages apart and separate from the Slayer that now stood impatiently in the middle of the living room, waiting for the others to finish the protection spell they were casting around the bedroom in an attempt to keep Sandrine at bay.

This Slayer was doing everything she could to hold back the fear about what might happen if they didn’t get to Spike in time.  Command mode, full on.  Try not to think about the emotional ramifications of him being gone.  Concentrate on what it’s going to take to get him and Willow back.

But the anxiety swelled inside her chest like a balloon filled with acid, burning through the rubber to scorch her lungs and drive her feet to pace the length of the room.  What was stopping Sandrine from killing him?  Why take him in the first place?  Actually, she knew the answer to the latter question.  She did it to piss Buffy off.  And boy oh boy, did it work.

She couldn’t think about the possibility of him not being around for her to rescue, though.  Dwell on that and she’d never get anything done.  Remember what it had been like when things had been good…telling him she loved him…hearing him say the words back to her…seeing the wonder gleaming in his eyes when she’d stood by his side in front of Giles about the chip.  She would get it back. 

She would fight the bitch to hell if that’s what it took.

Buffy froze in mid-step when Xander and Anya emerged from the bedroom, Tara close behind them.  “Well?” she demanded.  “Is it all done?  Where’s Giles?”

“He’s trying some meditation techniques with Freddie to try and get him to focus on Sandrine,” Anya explained.  “He’s going to be a while.”

“A long while,” Xander chimed.  “I can’t believe how wound up that guy is over this vodou chick.”

“You saw what she did to those cars,” Tara said.  “Can you really blame him?”

“So…that’s it?  Giles’ big plan is yoga?”  She’d started to pace again, blonde hair swinging as she kept shaking her head.  “Willow is missing in action, Sandrine’s probably got plans to make Spike vamp on a stick, and we have no idea if Giles channeling Deepak Chopra is even going to work.”

“Listen, about Spike---.”

“Not now, Xander,” Buffy said harshly, holding up her hand to cut him off.  “I really don’t have the patience to be dealing with your issues, right now.”

“This isn’t about that.  This is about the chip.”

Her veins ran cold as she braced herself.  It was going to keep coming back to this, wasn’t it?  Why was it they couldn’t trust her when she said it was all right?  Or listen to Tara?  OK, so maybe they didn’t know her as well as they did Buffy, but they’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blinder than Giles during Willow’s spell last fall not to see that she was the most rational one of the bunch.  “What about it?” she asked tightly.  “We’ve already had this conversation in the car.  It’s not like we can put it back inside his head, you know.”

“As much as I love the idea of trying, that’s not what I’m talking about here.”  He perched himself on the edge of the couch, taking a deep breath.  “It just doesn’t make sense, Buff.  Why would anyone want to unleash Spike?”

“Yeah,” Anya said.  “This Cecily person that you and Tara were talking about.  The one Spike seems to think is responsible.  What’s her motive for making him capable of killing again?”

“We don’t know,” Buffy admitted.  “We don’t even know who this Cecily person really is.  Spike said the only Cecily he’d known was from his pre-fang days.  We toyed with the idea that it might be Sandrine’s doing, but that doesn’t make sense to us now.”

“Why?  Sandrine’s powerful.  What we saw at the hotel is just the tip of the iceberg.  If she wanted, she could sink us faster than the Titanic and we’d never even know what hit us.”  She nodded as all eyes settled on her.  “Trust me on this.  I’ve run across some strong witches in my time.  She’s one of the best.  Taking the chip out would be child’s play for her.”

“Because Freddie said she’s got all of Willow’s memories.  She knows that Spike’s chip made it impossible for him to hurt her.  She knew he wasn’t a threat.  Taking it away turns him into one, and if there’s one thing I have figured out about Sandrine, it’s that she’s not stupid.”  Her energy seemed to fail her, and Buffy collapsed onto the opposite end of the couch, sighing wearily.  “It’s got to be just some fluky coincidence.  Spike’s got some mysterious benefactor who just happened to be in New Orleans the same time we did, and wanted to do an old friend a favor by magically cutting out his chip…”  Her voice faded, and she grimaced.  “OK, I’m not buying that, either.”

“Maybe it’s Iris,” Xander said.

Buffy shook her head.  “She didn’t even know about the chip.”

“Maybe Sandrine told her.”

“And that would accomplish what exactly?  I’ve turned this over and over in my head until the big wheel just smashed into the wall of no good answers, Xander.  There isn’t anyone I can think of---human, demon, or otherwise---who could have the smallest iota of motivation in seeing Spike get back into the buffet line.  All it’s really done is serve to distract you from thinking about our Sandrine problem and focus instead on him when he’s not the issue here.”

“Maybe that’s it,” said Anya.  “Maybe it’s a diversionary tactic.  That could be why Sandrine did it.  She probably figured that if Spike was loose, you’d go after him and leave her alone long enough to summon Sira.  Of course, she didn’t take into account that you’d care enough about him to be willing to overlook the fact that he’s now capable of ripping out the throats of your family and friends.”

The bluntness of her tone took all three of them aback, but Buffy was the first to find her tongue.

“Spike is not going to hurt anyone!” she argued vehemently.  “How many times do I have to tell you guys that?”

“I didn’t say he would,” Anya countered.  “Just that he was capable of it.”

“And what’s this about Buffy caring about Spike?” Xander said.  “Last time I checked, she found him just as repulsive and irritating as the rest of us do.”

The quiet that met his words echoed dully around the room, the only responses they garnered a bemused raising of his girlfriend’s eyebrows, and the sudden stain in the Slayer’s cheeks.  His gaze darted between the girls, expecting some sort of back-up from one of the others, but gradually clouded as he realized it wasn’t coming.

“Oh, no,” he said.  “Don’t tell me you’re all Blind Vamp’s Buffy when it comes to Spike, now---.”

“Don’t.”  Her eyes flashed in warning.  “You don’t know him the way I do, Xander.  He’s changed.”

“But you haven’t,” he said in a low voice.  “It’s always about the vamps with you, isn’t it?”  Whirling on his heel, he marched through the patio doors and into the midnight, slamming them behind him so hard that they rattled in their frames.

“Crap,” Buffy muttered.  They couldn’t afford to have any dissension now, not with both Spike and Willow at risk. 

“Don’t worry,” Anya said, surprisingly cheerful.  “He’ll come around.  He may be slow, but he’s been remarkably insightful the past couple days.  And if he gives you a hard time, just remind him that he’s head over heels with an ex-vengeance demon.  That should shut him right up.”  Both girls looked at her with wide eyes, and she shrugged.  “Just because I love him, doesn’t mean I’m not aware he can be a complete ass sometimes,” she said.  “Now, about Spike’s chip.  Do you think it could’ve been Sandrine who came around the hotel wearing some kind of glamour?”

Tara shook her head.  “This felt totally different.”

“Well, what did she look like then?  Maybe I saw her hanging around with Sandrine and Iris.  In between being kicked, magicked, and generally abused, of course.”

“Just…normal.  Pretty.  Dark curly hair.  Huge eyes.  Great skin.”

Anya seemed to muse on it for a moment, repeating Tara’s words under her breath.  On the second reiteration, she stopped and rolled her eyes.  “Damn it,” she said.  “I should’ve known better.”

“What?  You know who this Cecily is?”

“She’s not Cecily.  She’s Halfrek.” 

Tara frowned.  “That is…your vengeance demon friend, isn’t it?  The one you told us about?”

“That would be her.  The bitch.”

“But I thought vengeance demons only were able to cast spells like that if someone made a wish.”  Buffy felt her stomach plummet.  Spike hadn’t mentioned this even as a possibility.  “That would mean…”

“He didn’t.”  Tara was firm.  “He was just as taken surprise by the chip being gone as any of the rest of us.  He didn’t know what to make of it.”

“She could’ve still done it if D’Hoffryn authorized it as a valid use of her powers,” Anya explained.  “That’s one of the perks of being the boss.  Damn it all!”

“And this is the guy who tried to stop you from getting involved back in Sunnydale,” Buffy mused.  Rising to her feet, she resumed her pacing, her body screaming in gratitude for the diversion.  Something she could tackle.  Something definitive.  A demon.  A demon she could kill.  “Sounds like he’s got a vested interest in seeing Sira summoned.”

“No, he’s got a vested interest in getting the voix mortelle back.  Which means it has to be intact, which means he’s probably planning on getting it after she’s fixed it and done her job.”

“So…he wants his staff back.  We want to get it away from Sandrine.  It sounds to me like we’re on the same side here.  So, why is he trying so hard to stop us?”

“How about, because you’re the Slayer.”  Anya spoke as if she were addressing a child.  “Opposite sides of the fence, remember?  Good, evil.  He takes those labels very seriously.  And, frankly, he probably thinks you’re beneath him.  He’s Mr. Man in Charge when it comes to the vengeance world, and you…you’re just another vampire slayer with a limited life span and a pointy stick.”

Buffy stopped in her tracks, her head already lost in potential plans.  “You can summon him, right?  Isn’t that what you were going to do when Willow’s spell went wonky last fall?”

“No, I can open a portal to Arashmaharr, which, please tell me, you’re not even considering.  That’s suicide.  That’s playing on D’Hoffryn’s home turf, and if that’s your grand plan, you might as well just kill yourself now because if you try and attack him there?  You’re just going to be one more bloodstain on his floor.”

“Maybe we don’t need to kill him,” Tara volunteered.  She ignored Anya’s muttered, “Like you even could,” and added, “Maybe we just need to convince him that it’s better to work together on this than apart.”

“Convincing him requires his presence, and I already told you, I can’t do that,” the ex-demon argued.

“So we get an envoy,” the witch countered.  “Halfrek.  You summoned her before.  We’ll just summon her again.”

Brown eyes flickered between them, resulting in a long-drawn out sigh.  “Fine, I’ll do it, but I’m telling you, it’s a waste of time,” Anya said.  “D’Hoffryn will never agree to a truce.”

“Time seems to be our favorite commodity today,” Buffy commented.  “And lucky for you, my schedule seems to be free.”

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

He wasn’t in pain, but he was bored as all fuck, staring at the witch’s prone form on the bed through the flames that danced around his head in a serpentine scarlet.  She’d left up the barrier before collapsing into a traitorous slumber, green eyes shooting daggers with every passing glance in his direction.  Keeping himself still and far away from the danger wasn’t an issue, but it couldn’t keep his mind occupied, and Spike was hungering for distraction.  Even Harris would be welcome, at that exact moment in time.

When she stirred on the bed, he almost didn’t notice, accustomed already to her restless sleep.  When she sat up, though, muscles sluggish like liquid tar, and turned her head in an inexorable arc to look at him, Spike frowned, trying to listen past the magical barrier to her body’s rhythms.  It was impossible, he knew; every thump and pulse of her veins was hidden beneath the hiss and crackles of the conflagration that bound him to the icy wall.  Yet, when she rose from the mattress and crossed the distance between them, he could’ve sworn he could hear the adrenaline pumping incognito beneath her skin.

Her pale face was distorted behind the fire, eyes locked on his as her thin hands came up to press palm-side out against her spell.  Immediately, the licks of crimson disappeared, vanishing in a vapor that left him facing her in confusion.

“If you think all it takes is a little time for me to change my mind,” he said, the tension easing slightly as he relaxed his stance, “you’re goin’ to be sorely mistaken.”

A slow shake of her head, as if the exertion took her full attention.

Spike’s eyes narrowed, blue searching green.  The same emerald orbs that had burned into him so maliciously just a few hours earlier now glinted in quiet desperation, begging him without a word to look past the façade.  “Red?” he murmured, and felt a stab of satisfaction when she smiled back at him.  “What…?  How…?”

She quieted him by putting her hand to his mouth, and instead pointed toward the exit.  His eyes followed only to return to her uplifted face.

“You want me to go.”  A nod this time.  “Not without takin’ you with me.”

He saw the struggle play itself across her fine features, and heard the heart that had been pumping in lazy beats begin to quicken.  The small rise of her breasts was accompanied by the closing of her eyes, as if she were preparing herself for a race.  The last thing he expected was to hear her voice.

“I can’t.”  Soft, and breathy, and oh yeah, that was Red.  “She’s…stronger than me.  I can only take control when she’s sleeping, or just waking up.”

“I’ll protect you.  Just let me get you back to the Slayer.”

“No.”  Eyes open now, shining up at him.  “Sandrine’ll kill you before you make it out of the sewers.  But there’s a way to stop her, to send her back.  Tell Freddie…”  Her voice broke off in a harsh rasp that sent shivers down his spine.  As Spike watched, the redhead’s muscles tensed and released, tensed and released again, as she fought for control.

“…tell Freddie…”  Whispers now, and he began to inch away from her, torn between not wanting to be caught by the mambo’s fury when she awoke and not willing to leave the fragile witch behind.  “…if he calls for the djab, it can be reversed.  But…it has to be soon.  She’s…summoning Sira…tonight.”

His heel caught a small stone on the floor, hesitating his gait.  “I’m sorry, Red,” Spike said.  “I wish…”

“Just go.”

Those words were rougher, and he watched as she stumbled back against the bed, finishing his flight to the door.  “Tara,” he said.  “She loves you, y’know.  She’s fighting for you.  We all are.”

He caught the shine slip down her cheek before fleeing into the darkness of the tunnels, his bare feet slapping against the stone as he ran as fast as his legs would carry him.

Distance first.  Get away from her vicinity so that she couldn’t find him.

And then get to Buffy.  Before the sun came up and he was trapped.

The question was…how?

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

He’d known someone would come out after him.  Nobody could ever let anything go in this group, gnawing at each and every word or action like it was a bone and they were a starving dog.  The fact that it was Buffy didn’t even surprise him, either.  After all, she was the one he’d just flayed open with his words.

“Hey,” she said softly, sitting beside him on the bench that overlooked the lanai.  She leaned back onto her hands, staring up at the night sky, hair trailing down her back in a fluid sheath made silvery by the moon.

“Hey,” Xander replied.  He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, his forearms resting on his knees.  The stress was getting to her; he could see it in the tautness of her muscles.  Yet, at the same time, a softness lingered behind the limpid pools of her aspect, one he hadn’t witnessed in the Slayer for a very long time.  And the possibility of why it was there made his heart ache.

“For as many hours as I spend outside at night, you’d think I’d have learned at least some of the constellations by now.”  Her tone was light, but he’d known her too long not to have noticed the sobriety behind her words.

“Ah, but then slaying would be an educational activity, and we can’t really have that now, can we?” he joked half-heartedly.  “Mindless violence.  That’s what it’s about.  Leave the booklearning to Will and Giles.”

A ghost of a smile curved her lips.  “Tara and Anya aren’t so shabby in the brains department either.  I think they’ve figured out who might be behind Spike’s chip being gone.  They’re in there now getting things set up.”

And there it was.  The albatross he’d been hoping to avoid.  It was stupid, really, to think that she would come out here and not talk about the very thing that drove him from her presence in the first place.  After all, subtlety was never Buffy’s strong suit. 

“Why do you hate him so much?”

Neither was patience.

Xander’s head dropped at her question, blankly staring at his feet.  “I don’t hate him,” he said quietly.  “I don’t like him, but that’s different.”

“Then what’s your problem with this?  With him…and me, being together?”

“Because…”  Long fingers ran through his hair, rumpling it even more, as if his answers could be pulled out from his follicles and grant him a reprieve from his ignorance.  “…you can do better than that,” he said.  “You…deserve better than being with another vampire.”  He looked up then, and Xander knew that his confusion shone in his eyes, though he hated looking so weak in front of her.  “Is it a Slayer thing?  Is that why you only seem to be truly happy when you’ve got a vampire for a boyfriend?”

She stiffened, head turning from the velvet of the sky to look at him with a frown.  “No.  Why would you say something like that?”

“First there was Angel, and you bent over backwards to get us to accept him.  But he finally figured out he couldn’t give you what he needed and he did the smart thing and left town---.”

“He ran away, Xander.  Call it for what it is.”

“Maybe that’s the way it looks to you, but trust me.  From this male’s perspective, it makes perfect sense.”

“Spike doesn’t think so.”

His hands balled into fists at the sound of the demon’s name.  “My money says he just told you that so he could get into your pants, Buff---.”  He never got the chance to finish the sentence, the words choking in his throat as she shoved him forcefully from the bench to send him sprawling against the cement.

“Is that what you think of me, Xander?”  She was standing over him, hands on her hips, righteous indignation seeping from every pore of her exposed skin.  “You think I’d go all weak in the knees and soft in the head, risking everyone and everything, just because Spike’s so good in bed?  God, what kind of a person do you think I am?”

“Buffy, that’s not what I meant….”  His head was aching as he pulled himself up into a sitting position, his fingers automatically going up to feel the knot already forming over his eye.  When her hand shot out to help him to his feet, he took it silently, staying his tongue until they stood facing each other.

“I’m sorry.”

Their apologies were mutual, as well as their corresponding blushes.  He held his hand out to let her know to proceed first.

“I shouldn’t have pushed you,” Buffy said.  “It’s just…my nerves.  I’m a little frazzled right now.  I’m lashing out.”  She snorted, rolling her eyes.  “Literally.”

“And I’ve got to learn to keep my big mouth closed,” he replied.  “You don’t need to be hearing my garbage when we’ve got so many other things to be worrying about.”

“It’s not garbage.  Your opinion…matters to me.  It’s just…I don’t think you’re giving Spike a chance here.  He’s…it’s…he’s not like he used to be.  I mean, he is, but there’s more, like he’s letting us, or me rather, because if you were seeing it too, we wouldn’t be having this conversation…”  She stopped.  “I’m turning into Willow.  Listen to me babble because I’m terrified I’m going to say the wrong thing here.”

“Then that makes two of us.”

She took a deep breath.  “I’m not asking you to be his best friend, Xander.  I’m just asking that you trust my judgment enough to know what I’m doing.  Spike’s doing everything he can to try and be a better person, and OK, so maybe you guys haven’t seen a whole lot of that, but I’m telling you.  It’s there.  I’m not being blinded by his hair, or taken in by the accent.  It’s real.  What’s between us…is real.  And it’s not going away.  Not even if you guys don’t approve.”

“It’s not that I don’t approve.”  He blushed at her lifted brows.  “OK, so maybe it is a little bit.  It’s just…you deserve better than just another vamp.”

“I know.  But…he’s not just another vamp.  He’s more.  He’s taking what he’s been given and trying to make himself into something better.  The chip being gone doesn’t change any of that.  All it does is prove to the world that Spike is stronger than his demon.  That he has the power to choose to do good.  Which he has, Xander.  He saved Tara’s life, and he’s doing everything he can to help get Willow back, as well as countless other things you guys haven’t had a chance to see.”

“And you love him.”

“Yes.”  Her eyes ducked.  “I wasn’t expecting it, but you of all people should know that you don’t get to pick who you care about.  I mean…”  And her gaze came back up, searching his with an openness that pleaded him to hear her.  “…did you ever see yourself falling in love with an ex-demon?  I know we sometimes give you a hard time about Anya, but…I can see now what you see in her.  How she’s trying so hard to do the right thing.  Because she cares.  Just like Spike does.”

For the first time since she’d come out, he realized he couldn’t hear her breathing over the song of cicadas in the shadows, not even with having her stand so close to him.  Waiting.  She was waiting.  Holding her breath while she anticipated the sentence she knew he was going to pass onto her.

“I still think you deserve better,” he finally said, and was relieved to hear her exhale.  He smiled, a crooked grin reminiscent of easier days.  “And chip or no chip, if he hurts you in any way, I’ll stake him myself.  Or get Willow to cast a spell that gives him gout or something.  I’m not sure which.”

Her laugh was musical in the clear air, her relief palpable.  “Vampires don’t catch human diseases.  You know that,” she joked.

“Wood it is, then.  Which is probably better in the long run anyway, because my luck with magic borders on the obscenely bad.”

They were chuckling as they began walking toward the house.  This was better.  He didn’t like it when people argued.  He especially didn’t like it when he was one of the arguers.  And she was right about Anya, which meant there was a good chance she was right about Spike, as much as he hated to admit it.  People changed.  Demons changed.

And life went on.

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

It was the creak of the floorboards that woke her.  Muscles froze as Clara tensed, listening to the soft tread of whoever had just let themselves into her apartment near her bedroom.  Peeking through her lashes at the clock at her side, she noted the early morning hour, and wondered just what it was that was bringing someone to her before the sun could even rise.  An emergency, obviously.  That’s all her life was these days.

When the door opened, she had already sat herself up in her bed, reaching for the robe that was draped over the foot of the mattress.  Her dark eyes captured the reflection of the low-hanging moon through the window, but it was nothing compared to the ivory cut of Spike’s bare chest as he stepped into the pool of light.

“Just because you have a standing invitation into my home,” she said, the slightest of scolds in her tone, “doesn’t mean you can stop on by and visit for a spell whenever the fancy takes you.”

“This isn’t a visit.”  The fabric of his trousers shimmered as he moved closer to her, deceptively dark against his pale skin.  “I need your help.”

“I know.”  She sighed.  “I just wish you didn’t need it at this hour of the morning.”  She swung her legs over the side of the bed.  “I’ll have to call Peter.  I don’t do much driving anymore.”

“Hang on there.  I haven’t even told you what I need you to do.”

Clara shook her head.  “Not necessary,” she said.  “I already know.  Seer, remember?”  Softly, she patted his cheek, as if she were reassuring a child.  “Don’t worry, Spike.  I’ll help you find your Slayer.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 36:  Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home