Chapter 38: Hunkered Down

May, 2001

A low, familiar voice brought Buffy slowly back into consciousness as two figures moved around her.

“Harris, get her hand out of there. I've got her.”

Someone gently pulled her wrist away from the space between the pipe and the wall as two strong arms lifted her, one behind her back, one behind her knees. She leaned into the familiar smells of cigarettes, whiskey and leather, slowly piecing her situation together.

“Sparky?”

“Yeah, love. I've got you.”

Her eyes fluttered open. “You're late.”

“Actually, you are.”

“Is Dawn going to kick me again?”

“Went willingly. Scared, though. You been playing hide and seek with the knights all this time?”

“For a while. Then I was lost. Disoriented. ...You got my message.”

“Oh, yeah. We saw it.” Xander forced back a shudder. “You really should keep a pen in your pocket.”

“No sniffy, no findy, Xan. It's always got to be blood...” She let her eyes close again. “It took so long to lose them. ...I couldn't think straight, made some stupid mistakes.”

“But you pulled it off, Buff,” Xander said, trying to sound cheerful. “There's no one on our tail.”

“For now.” Buffy fell silent, and soon drifted out of consciousness again, her head dropping against Spike's shoulder.

*~*~*

“Oh, dear lord.” Giles stopped pacing and joined the others in staring at the woman being carried into the bunker. “She's... She's not...”

Spike shook his head. “Heartbeat's strong and steady.” He put Buffy down on the bed and pulled the first aid kit from the drawer it shared with Tara's magic supplies. He left the drawer open. “Glinda, Dagon's cloak. Not just you. All the humans. Need all the protection we can get. Use the scythes if you need to. Harris, a basin of warm water and a cloth. Red, barrier. Seal the entrances. Anyanka, get some food sorted out. Fledge, settle sleeping arrangements, get the beds made up. Rupert, work out a watch schedule. We're hunkering down for the night.”

With final concerned glances at the woman on the bed, everyone went into motion, save Willow. She stood perfectly still, watching Spike ease Buffy out of her bloodstained jacket.

He looked over at her. “That wasn't a bloody request, Witch,” he growled, his fangs suddenly bared.

She tried not to flinch. “I-- I'm not used to taking orders from... you.”

“The general's out, so I'm calling the plays. You gonna do what you were brought here for, or not?”

She was still looking into his amber eyes when Giles' voice came from behind her. “Willow.”

“Yeah...” She shook off her surprised stare and turned away. “I'll see if I can put up a barrier.”

*~*~*

The bunker was lit only by a candle on the nightstand by the bed. Everyone outside of its range was trying to sleep. On the bed, Buffy was curled on her side, her head pillowed by Spike's stomach. He was slouched against the wall behind the bed, holding her. Tara slept across the foot of the bed, one hand extended out to rest on Buffy's ankle. Her place beside Willow on one of the mattresses still had a blanket stretched neatly across it.

Giles leaned forward in the metal folding chair he'd placed beside the bed, peering at Buffy in the dim light. “There are times I envy you your enhanced senses,” he whispered.

“Breathing isn't as shallow now. I think the danger is passing.”

“Thank god.” Giles reached over Spike to rest a hand on Buffy's shoulder. “I'm not certain I've ever seen her so severely injured. ...Have you?”

Spike swallowed against a reflexive growl. “I helped you pick out her grave site, once. That answer your question?”

The hand withdrew from the slayer's shoulder. “Of course. That. I hadn't thought of that. Her death, certainly, but not your part in the... aftermath. You were close at that time?”

“Barely.” Spike's focus drifted back to Buffy. “She knew where I stood, but didn't count me for much more than an ally. ...And then I failed her. Didn't keep Dawn safe. Next thing I know, you and me are drinking together in her kitchen, talking 'bout hidden corners of sacred ground.” He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. “Nibblet woke up from a nightmare in the middle of that conversation. Came downstairs to us. We moved to the living room, and she fell asleep on the couch, curled up to me a bit like this. Another half bottle or so, and I passed out with her. Woke up to find the curtains shut tight, a blanket over Dawn, and the bottles cleaned up.” He opened his eyes. “It was the first time you ever treated me like a friend. Took losing Buffy to do it, and when she came back, I saw it wasn't gonna stick. The second you lot didn't need me, I went right back to being in the way.”

Giles shifted his weight in the hard metal chair, his discomfort obvious. “She's not the only one carrying grudges from another timeline, is she?”

“Crosses on the walls, Watcher,” Spike whispered. “You've heard her say that.”

“I have, but I don't understand it.”

“Has to do with you and Nikki Wood's sprog trying to get rid of me a couple years later. These days, 'crosses on the walls' is a catch-all term for any sort of betrayal. ...There are some things that can't be left behind, Rupert. You and Buffy patching things up, trying to make a fresh go of it... It's grand. You know that's what I wanted for her.”

“You've made that clear, more than once.”

“But it doesn't erase the memories, doesn't take away the damage that was done. Doesn't take me off my guard with you.” Spike looked the watcher in the eye. “You so much as think of putting crosses on the walls again, they'll be finding pieces of you for months. That clear, too?”

“It is.” Giles forced back his impulse to tighten his grip on the sword resting across his lap. “I'll make the same promise to you as I made to Buffy. Your family is safe in my hands, Spike. All of you.”

Both men looked up at the hatch in the ceiling as a faint fizzling sound came from that direction.

“Barrier's fading again. Best wake up a witch.”

Giles held his wrist toward the glow of the candlelight to look at his watch. “Both of them, I think. Willow will need to strengthen the barrier again, and Tara's watch shift is about to begin.”

“Glinda can see to the barrier. She's been studying up on it.” Spike stretched his leg out toward Tara's sleeping form and nudged her shoulder with his toe. “Wake up, pet.”

Tara woke up immediately, tightening her grip on Buffy's ankle. “Is she awake? Is she ok?”

“She's getting there. Need you on watch and working some mojo, besides.” Spike nodded to the fading blue haze around the hatch, drawing her attention to it.

“Yeah, I guess it needs a power boost.” She sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Go on, Giles. Get some sleep. I can take over.”

The watcher frowned for a moment, noticing for the first time that she'd stopped calling him 'mister' at some point. He stood up and offered her his sword.

Tara shook her head, declining the weapon. She crawled off the bed and lit a candle from the one on the nightstand. “I'll do the sewer side barrier first.” Seeing Giles was still hesitating to go to bed, she took the sword from his hand and leaned it against his vacated chair. She locked her eyes with him, giving him a look that reminded him very much of Buffy. “We've got this. Really. The Time Scoobies are on duty.” She glanced at the woman curled against Spike. “Half of us, anyway.”

*~*~*

When Willow opened her eyes, Tara was sitting at the foot of the bed, whispering to Spike. She watched and listened, careful not to move, and hoping Spike was too focused on Buffy to notice she was awake.

“I was right there,” Tara whispered. “So close. That bruise between the nail marks... Glory could have easily snapped her neck.” She looked down at her interlaced fingers in her lap. “I-- I should have stayed with her.”

“Got yourself out of there, Glinda. Didn't need the bitch to have time to figure out you aren't what she thinks you are, anyway. It'll work out.”

“I could have helped, and I didn't. ...Spike, that's the whole reason I'm here.

He reached for her, and she met him halfway, offering her hand so he didn't have to lean forward. “Pet, she's alive, and so are you. So far, so good.”

“We both know this is just the beginning.”

“We're all gonna make it.” His gaze drifted back to the woman sleeping against him. “We have to.” He squeezed her hand and released it. “'Sides, the bloody idiot seems to think the white flashing is some sort of protection spell.”

“Oh, goddess. She knows about that, too?” Tara sighed. “I guess one babbling crazy is all it takes.”

“You'd know.”

“That's not funny, Spike,” she snapped, glaring at him. “What did she say about it?”

“Just heard her mention it over the phone, telling Buffy it wouldn't save her. …I hope she's wrong.”

“She is. She has to be.”

“You think we're just trying to talk ourselves into believing it?”

“Probably.” She sighed as she stood up. “I'm going to get ready for bed.”

“Time for the changing of the guard, is it?”

She nodded, bringing their whispered conversation to a halt as she climbed off the foot of the bed. She lit a candle from the already lighted one on the nightstand and took it, along with her messenger bag, to the bathroom alcove. When she returned wearing a set of flannel pajamas, it was with a strange expression on her face. “I know you were in a rush, so how did you manage to get all the essentials?”

“Been living together enough months to know your clothes.” He raised an eyebrow. “And do you really think I spent over a century roaming the planet with Drusilla the Mad without learning how to pack a woman's luggage in a hurry?”

Tara chuckled. “Good point. But I have yours and Buffy's bathroom stuff, and none of my own.”

“Yours were in the wrong room.” He gave her a significant look. “The other...”

She winced in realization. “Oh. Of course.” She held up a hand to stop him from saying more. “I get it. You don't have to explain. Where are Buffy's clothes? I can help you get her changed.”

“In my duffel, but don't bother. No need to disturb her.” Spike nodded to the notepad on the large table. “Who's next?”

Tara squinted at the watch schedule in the dim light. “Xander. I hate to wake him.”

“Don't,” Willow whispered. “I'm awake. I'll take Xan's watch.” She climbed to her feet and stood at the end of her makeshift bed, waiting for Tara to give her a goodnight kiss.

Tara gave her a quick hug instead. “Goodnight, Sweetie. Keep an eye on them for me, ok?”

Willow returned the hug awkwardly, surprised at not being offered more. “Um, sure. I mean, of course. Goodnight, baby.”

With a grateful smile, Tara settled down to sleep, leaving Willow staring after her, obviously hurt. After taking a moment to mask her emotions, Willow took a seat in the chair Giles had left beside the bed after his watch shift. She picked up the sword that was propped up against it, and laid it across her lap.

“Still on UK time, Red?” Spike asked, not looking up from the woman curled against him.

“Yeah. And I was going to need to be up soon to renew the barrier, anyway. It will collapse if I don't keep feeding it energy.”

“No rush. Glinda just charged it up at the start of her shift.” He looked up at her. “About earlier...”

“You're worried about Buffy. I guess I get that. I don't think that's any excuse to be flashing your fangs at me, for the record, but I sort of get the 'you being freaked about Buffy' aspect of it. ...You know, assuming that's who you guys really are.”

He blinked. “Come again?”

“I tried the locator spell a few times, Spike. It picked up Eddie wandering the sewers, so I know I wasn't screwing up on the demon tracking part. It picked up Xan when you two went out before that, so I know I wasn't screwing up the human tracking, either. I tried a couple of variations, even after Tara gave up. But none of them picked up you and Buffy. It's like I'm looking for the wrong people. Am I?”

“There's a little magic on me and the Slayer. That's all. I'll explain it to you sometime.”

“The white flashing?”

“Listening for a while, were you?”

She nodded. “Does that have anything to do with the spell Tara did that made you guys sleep?”

“No.” Spike turned his focus back to Buffy. “Something else.”

“But there's a story there, right? That code Anya told me about, getting your soul when no one was looking, you and Buffy hooking up and getting married super, super fast. And now locator spells don't work on either of you. Something's funny. And not in a 'good joke' sort of way. What's really going on here, Spike?”

“Tell you what, we all come through this alive, I'll see if I can't talk the general into telling you a few tales. Will that do for now?”

“I guess it will have to,” she whispered reluctantly. “But calling her General is another weird thing on the list, for the record.” Willow watched as Buffy began to stir, wincing in pain before she was even awake. “I came back to help as a friend, Spike,” she whispered.

“I know that.”

“Not as a soldier, or as a hired witch. But what you said earlier, 'what I was brought here for.' You made it sound like I wasn't called in as a friend.”

“Wartime, Red. Friend and ally mean pretty much the same thing.” He closed his eyes against a flood of bad memories. “On a good day, anyway.”

“That's not a clear answer.”

“It wasn't a clear question.” Spike returned his gaze to Buffy in time to see her eyes open. “Welcome back, love.”

Buffy squinted at the dimly lit room in which she found herself. “The bunker. Are we good?”

“Got a barrier up. We're all safely inside.”

“They want Tara,” she murmured. “They've all fallen for it.”

“Yeah, about that...” Willow began.

Buffy lifted her head to look at her. “Wils.” She smiled weakly. “You're home.”

Willow looked around the room. “Not exactly. I'm in Sunnydale, at least.” She struggled to keep her voice to a whisper. “You guys should have told me what you were doing. Tara should have told me.”

“What matters is that it's worked.” Buffy forced herself to sit up. “Ugh. My brain is trying to explode.”

Spike reached over to the nightstand to get the bottle of painkillers and glass of water he had standing by. “Try this.”

“Worth a shot.” She took the items with a smile. “Why are you only sweet when I feel like shit?”

“Called dibs on taking you out a long bloody time ago. Gotta keep you in shape for it.”

“I don't think Glory got that memo. I'm not sure about the knights, either.” Buffy took two pills and downed the glass of water. “But at least they didn't try to crack my head open with a payphone.”

“I'm still trying to figure how you got away from her and picked up these Knights of Byzantium guys between campus and here,” Willow whispered. “It's not that far.”

“I wasn't coming here,” Buffy explained as she handed the pill bottle and empty glass back to Spike. “I mean, not directly. I figured Tara was headed this way, since it was the closest safe place, so when I got a chance to break free from Glory, I ran out into traffic--”

“You what?” Willow asked, her wide-eyed focus on Buffy causing her to miss Spike's smirk of remembrance, having once heard a similar story while driving a Winnebago.

“Hey, it worked. She got hit by a pick up truck for trying to chase me across the street.” Buffy shrugged. “Anyway, I ran. I didn't really know where I was going, just that I needed to make sure I lost her before I headed here.” She exhaled slowly and leaned against Spike's shoulder, careful to keep her weight on the side of her head, away from her wound. “I think she got the better deal. My head is pounding. Are you sure I don't need to be in the ICU or something?”

Spike kissed the top of her head. “Skull's in tact. Contents don't seem much worse than usual.”

“Jackass,” Buffy mumbled, giving him a gentle elbow to the ribs, but not lifting her head from his shoulder. “So I looped around to the east end of campus, not thinking too clearly... That's the route home Tara and I took yesterday, when we were spotted. The wooded area out there, you know, where the cave entrance to the Initiative was?”

Willow nodded. “Full of knights instead of Frankenstein monsters this time?”

“Pretty much. I should have known they'd have at least a few out that way, watching for us to pass by again.” She rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. “Someone shouted to follow the Key's protector, the chanting started, and the next thing I know, I'm running around town, ducking into alleys and cutting across backyards.” She dropped her hands into her lap. “At least no one's after Dawnie. ...Right?”

“Far as we can tell, none of 'em had any reason to even be interested in her. Thinking I'll head out to check on her, though. Nearest phone's outside the convenience store down the street.”

“Oh, hell no.” Buffy lifted her head to look at him. “Did you get hit in the head, too? Glory would love to have you hanging from her ceiling again, especially right now, to draw me out.”

“No one's looking for me,” Willow offered. “I've been gone for months. I can put a door in the barrier and go make the call for you, Buff. No one will even care that I'm out walking around.”

“Except Sunnydale's Midnight Snack Brigade. We're in the middle of a cemetery, Wils.”

“One I've been walking with the slayer for years. I think I'll be ok.”

Buffy and Spike exchanged glances. He reached down to open one of the drawers under the bed. “You go out armed, Red. No argument. No detours, either. Quick phone call, and hightail it back.”

She frowned at Buffy.

“Don't look at me. Brain Damage Buffy is off duty.” She settled back against Spike's shoulder again, closing her eyes. “You have to answer to my lieutenant.”

Willow bit her lip for a second, then traded the sword she held for a stake and a dagger. “And where exactly is it I'm calling?”

“Los Angeles. The Hyperion Hotel.”

Her eyes widened in disbelief. “You sent Dawnie to Angel? You? I thought you two hated each other.”

“Just following orders. You gonna do the same?”

*~*~*

The ringing phone brought both Dawn and Lydia out of their borrowed rooms. Dawn ran for the stairs, trying to catch it before the answering machine picked up the call.

“Dawn, you shouldn't!” Lydia called.

“Lydia, no one's here. Something's wrong. You know it,” Dawn said over Cordelia's cheerful outgoing message. She reached the phone just as a familiar voice came over the answering machine.

“Um, hi. Angel? Cordy? This is Willow. Um, Buffy and Spike sent ...a package to you--”

Dawn snatched up the phone. “Willow? It's Dawn. Are you in Sunnydale? Are Buffy and Tara ok?”

“Dawnie, hey! Yeah, they called me home... for magic help. Tara wasn't hurt. Buffy was, but I think she's going to be fine. She's awake and talking.”

“Are she and Spike arguing yet?”

“Not really. Why?”

“When they start bickering again, it means they're ok. Listen, Willow. Something strange is going on. Angel's not here. No one is. His car is gone, but nothing here looks like anyone planned a trip. I think they left unexpectedly.”

“There's no telling what they've gotten themselves into, Dawnie. Are you and Lydia safe there by yourselves? Do you need to move to another location?”

“We're good. It's a big place, with lots of hiding places and lots of weapons. I think we're going to stay put. Maybe Angel will be back before sun up.”

“Hopefully. Well, one of us will call to check on you again when we can. You'll be careful?”

“We will. And Willow? Give Buffy, Spike, and Tara hugs from me, ok?”

“I will.”

*~*~*

When Willow returned to the bunker, Buffy was sitting up on the bed, dozing against the wall behind it with her chin down against her collarbone. Spike was moving silently in the darkened kitchen area, making a sandwich. Willow joined her friend on the bed and gave her a gentle shake. “Buffy? I talked to Dawn.”

Buffy's eyes flew open as her head lifted. “Is she ok? Were they followed?”

“Angel isn't there, but they're fine. Dawnie sent you a message.” Willow wrapped her arms around her in a tight hug. She pulled away just as Spike approached the bed. “And a message for you, too.” She stood up and gave Spike a similar hug, pulling away quickly, and with an awkward blush. “Ok, I don't think I've ever done that before.”

“You'll live.” Spike offered the plate to Buffy. “After this, you get back to sleep. You look like hell.”

Buffy took the plate with a smirk. “I knew you'd eventually turn that around on me.”

He settled down beside her. “Figured out that code, too.”

“What's the code?” Willow asked, returning to the nearby chair.

Buffy swallowed her first bite of the sandwich. “'You look like hell' means 'I'm worried about you.'”

“So why not just say that?”

“'Cause me and the slayer have an unwritten rule: Never do anything the simple way.”

Buffy nearly choked on her second bite. “We're not that bad.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Yeah? When was the last time it was simple?”

“Um... Hang on, I'm thinking.”

“Bloody hell. We'll be here all night.”

“Hey! Head injury, remember? I think that buys me thinking time.”

“You've got nothing. Admit it.”

“Ah! I've got it. Our wedding.”

“The ceremony itself, maybe, but sod all else about that situation was simple.”

“But, for about ten minutes, it was so simple, it was actually almost normal. Like, human normal, not us normal.”

“And then you started that bloody dancing argument.”

“You started it with that goofy carrying across the threshold bit.”

The whispered argument was halted by Willow's giggles. “I spoke too soon. Dawnie was asking if you'd started arguing yet.”

The pair on the bed shrugged. Buffy returned her attention to her food.

Willow watched her eat. “She says this means you're ok. Is she right?”

Buffy swallowed. “I still have a raging headache, but I guess so.” She tilted her head forward. “How's it looking?”

Spike parted her hair to look at the gash in her scalp and the deep purple hand print on the back of her neck. “Better. A bit worried a couple of those claw marks might scar, though.”

“They damn well better not. The last thing I need is more scars on my neck.”

“Seriously!” Willow agreed. “But you're really ok? 'Cause you didn't look so hot when Spike carried you in here.”

Buffy finished her sandwich. “I'm good. I doubt it was the awesome concussion that did me in. My money's on the blood loss. There was kind of a lot. Aside from the headache, I'm just a little weak. I'll be fine if I get some more sleep. Slayer healing to the rescue.” She offered her plate to Spike to put on the nightstand, but Willow took it.

“I'll get it. I should reinforce the barrier again, anyway. I'll be right back.”

“Thanks, Wils.” Buffy settled herself against Spike's chest, ready to go back to sleep.

Spike waited for Willow to light a candle and take it with the plate to the kitchen area before leaning close to Buffy's ear to whisper, “The last thing you need, eh? Got another place in mind?”

“Please! We both know I couldn't talk you out of the place you have in mind if I tried. But it won't be an additional scar. It'll be a trade up.”

“How could you know...?”

She closed her eyes. “Your son told me.”

*~*~*

Buffy woke to the sounds of a quiet argument taking place across the room.

“I can do it, Giles. I'm the safest choice. Buffy and Spike agreed to it last night.”

“I was gone for half of the winter, if you recall, Willow. I'm not certain Glory is even aware of my direct association with the slayer. Now lower the barrier, and let me go check in on Dawn.”

“Dawnie,” Buffy whispered, slowly sitting up. She looked around. Anya and Xander were asleep, snuggled together on one of the mattresses. If it weren't for the fact that they had their shoes on and swords resting only inches from their hands, they would have looked peaceful and normal. Tara had her back to the room, facing the argument between Willow and Giles near the sewer entrance, which she was trying to referee.

“Where's Spike?” Buffy asked, loud enough to draw attention. “And Eddie?”

Tara turned around. “Hey! How are you feeling?”

“That depends. What have you guys done with the vampires?”

“They've gone on a... sniffing expedition, for lack of a better term,” Giles answered. “They're hoping to determine the whereabouts of the Knights of Byzantium without going above ground.” He addressed Willow. “And they should be back soon, so the barrier will need to be lowered, anyway.”

“Long enough for me to step outside of it, seal it up, and go make a phone call.”

Tara looked from one to the other and sighed. “I wish I'd never said anything.”

Buffy climbed out of bed. “What time is it?”

Tara hurried over to make sure she was steady on her feet. “4:30 pm. You've been out for a while.”

“Yeah,” Willow said. “Like twelve straight hours.” She turned to Giles, her focus still on the argument. “Which means it's been twelve and a half hours since I last checked on Dawn.”

“Twelve hours? Damn.” Buffy shook her head. “I guess I needed it.” She grabbed a towel from the linens bookcase and threw it over her shoulder. “Next question: Did Spike think to pack me a bag?”

“Your toiletries are already in the bathroom. Don't freak, but you and I are sharing a toothbrush. He didn't grab my bathroom stuff.”

Buffy waved away her concern. “We'll live. I'd suggest you borrow Spike's, since his mouth is pretty germ-free by default, but you're better off not even mentioning it. You do not want to risk getting into a discussion about proper dental care with an old vamp. Like, ever. I made that mistake twice in my life, and regretted it with both of them.”

Giles smothered a laugh. “I suppose some concern for tooth care is to be expected, given the nature of the species, particularly with those who have achieved some longevity.”

“No, Giles. Not 'some concern.' Obsession.” She shook her head at her audience's amused expressions. “I'm not exaggerating. And judging by Angel's 'The American Dental Association is Underrated and Underpowered' speech of 1997, it only gets worse as they get older. Improving oral hygiene standards are his favorite aspect of modern times, if you've ever considered asking him. And for future reference, don't.

Willow coughed, her attempts to keep her laughter quiet nearly choking her. “Why did I never hear about this before?”

“Because at sixteen, I wanted to talk about romance, and you wanted to hear about it. Neither of us was interested in reality. And the reality is that some vampires are just as quirky as humans.” Buffy sighed. “But at least I know what I have to look forward to with Pearly White Fangs the Younger. I should thank his grandsire for the preview.” She addressed Tara. “Clothes?”

“With Pearly's,” Tara pointed to Spike's duffel beside the nightstand, still chuckling. “He did pretty good packing for me, toothbrush aside, so I'm sure he did great for you.”

“And for that we can thank Dru.” Buffy put the duffel on the bed and began digging through it, gradually piecing together an outfit. Her own smile fell as a black, cap-sleeved shirt was added to the pants and underthings on the bed. Then a thin, white pullover joined them. “No way... He didn't,” she whispered. She kept digging, and pulled out a short, black, leather jacket. “Tara...”

“I see it.” Tara whispered back, stepping closer. “Is there another outfit in there? The one you, um...”

“Black cargo pants, a black tank top, and a grey button up,” Buffy reported, sorting through the intermixed clothes with her head nearly inside the large bag. She looked up. “Not even remotely close. Like, intentionally not close.”

Willow stepped up behind them. “What's with the whispering? Do we have a fashion crisis of the 'a vampire packed my luggage' variety?”

Buffy began gathering the clothes she'd laid out, all but the jacket. “Um, the opposite, actually. He remembered everything. Does anyone need to get in the bathroom before I shower? I don't think I can shampoo my hair yet, but I plan to give it a good soaking to get the rest of the dried blood out. I might be a few.”

“Excuse me a moment,” Giles said with a nod, stepping out of the room to the bathroom alcove.

“So no fashion whispering?” Willow asked. “Everything's ok?”

“Yes, sweetie. Everything is fine,” Tara assured her. “We're just marveling at--”

“Vampires incoming,” Buffy interrupted. “Wils, open a door.”

“Our vampires?”

Buffy dropped her armful of clothes to reach into the open scythe case on the floor. “Does it actually matter? Open the damn door!”

“Ok, ok! Geez!” Willow raised her arms in the direction of the sewers, her palms up. “Mood swingy, much?”

Xander and Anya stirred awake at Buffy's shout. “What's going on?” he asked.

Giles returned from the bathroom in time to hear Buffy say, “Ours. Running. Gear up!”

The hazy blue barrier just beyond the bathroom alcove split open just in time for Spike and Eddie to come racing through.

“Close it!” Buffy ordered. “Status?”

Spike held up a hand. “We're clear, we're clear.”

Weapons were lowered all around the room. Buffy took the scythe Spike carried and placed it in the case with her own. “Then what's the rush?”

“Need to know something, love. Right now. Is the second front named, anywhere in the house?”

Buffy tightened her grip on one of the scythes, and lifted it back out of the case. “She's in our house?” she nearly growled. “Again?”

“Sent her minions. Bells going off like a bloody Salvation Army Santa parade. My guess? They're trying to crack the code you gave me. The place is being ransacked.”

“Did you go inside?”

He shook his head. “Was cloudy enough for us to run by a few windows and back to the sewers without much singeing. Glanced about and got away unnoticed, far as we can tell. Is any of it written down? Anywhere?”

Buffy put the scythe back in the case. “No, not that I can recall. But Spike...” The tension in her shoulders dropped suddenly into a defeated slump. “The box.”

“The letters you wrote, the two I never saw... How detailed did you get?”

“Very direct. Very clear. One of them is a full explanation. The other...” She trailed off, biting her lip.

He narrowed his eyes at her hesitation. “What did I put in that envelope, Buffy?”

“Um... Let's just call it extra motivation for her to want to use you as slayer bait.” Buffy's hands were shaking as she stood up. “Not to mention what might be in all the other notes. Dawnie...”

Spike took her hands in his. “They aren't likely to find it, Woodchuck. You know that. And we've left them nothing to crack the code by, if they don't.”

“Nothing that brain-beaten Buffy can think of right now, you mean.” She looked up at him. “Sparky, what if she opens the box? So much is in there.”

He locked eyes with her, swallowing hard against the familiar look of panic and despair. He fought to keep his voice firm and even. “Don't you dare skip out on me, Slayer. Not this time.” He touched the towel still draped over her shoulder. “Go. Have a shower, get your wits together. Sick leave is over in twenty minutes, General. Make good use of it.”

She took a few long, deep breaths, calming herself, and then retrieved the clothes she'd dropped. “Ok, but for the record, I'm not getting hauled in here unconscious again, Lieutenant. You're annoying when you're in charge.”

“That makes two of us.” Spike pointed toward the bathroom. “Go.” As soon as she was in the bathroom, his stern expression dropped. He sat down on the edge of the bed, pushing aside her leather jacket. “Glinda, there anything you can do at this distance?”

“To protect the box? No, Spike. I'm sorry. I'd have to be there.”

“I think I speak for everyone who doesn't live in that house when I say, 'what box?'” Xander asked.

“Buffy and me keep a lock box in our room,” Spike answered quietly. “Full of paper, including notes about the Key's identity.”

“But not where she is,” Tara quickly added. “And the box isn't easy to find.”

Giles looked around. “I gather no one outside of the house knows where it is?”

Tara shook her head. “Until now, no one but the three of us even knew it existed. Not even Dawnie.”

Anya wrinkled her nose. “Why not? She knows who the Key is. Is most of that paper money?”

Spike and Tara glanced at each other. “It's just private papers, Anya,” she said. “That's all.”

“Spike!” Buffy shouted from the bathroom. Spike was on his feet and halfway across the room when she continued. “Dawnie's journal!”

“Took it with her!” he called back.

“And the phone? Redial?”

“Last call was to the shop!”

“Which is the other place the Key's identity is written down,” Giles said, sinking into a chair.

“Rupert, tell me you're still keeping the diaries in that hidden drawer behind the counter.”

“How do you know about...? Never mind.” He shook his head. “When the counter was rebuilt, I didn't have the drawer replaced. They're in the office. Sitting on a bookshelf.”

“Bloody hell.” Spike ran a hand through his hair. “Who's slept most recently?”

Xander and Anya raised their hands.

“You two, take watch. Everyone else, try to take a nap. I gotta talk to Buffy, but it's a safe bet we're going out to grab the evidence tonight.” Spike went into the bathroom. “Love?”

“Since when are you ok with us meeting like this?” Buffy asked from behind the shower curtain.

“I'm really not.” Spike leaned against the sink. “About that twenty minutes I promised you...”

“Great. Now what?”

“Rupert's diaries are at the shop, sitting in plain sight in the office.”

There was a long silence. “Between that and our lock box, we have to go out tonight, don't we?”

“Looks like.”

“And what are the odds the Knights are watching at least one of those places?”

“If they were near the house a bit ago, they did a poor job of tracking me and the fledge.”

“Or they didn't think you would lead them to what they want.”

“Possible, but they aren't the quietest lot. Unless the bells were masking them, they weren't around.”

She sighed. “Oh goody. We might only have Glory's minions -and possibly Glory herself- waiting at home. That's so much better.” There was another silence from the other side of the curtain. “Tell everyone to grab naps, and we'll head out after sunset.”

“Already done.”

“You, too.”

“I'm alright.”

“That's an order, Lieutenant. I need you rested.”

“What about you?”

“I've been asleep for the better part of a day. I'll be busy raiding the fridge and trying not to panic.”

*~*~*

Anya smoothed Buffy's hair back over the healing wound. “You'll be able to shampoo tomorrow, I think.” She sat down at the table beside her friend. “You know what really hurts?”

“Not making any money on a Saturday?”

Anya leaned her chin on her palm and sighed. “Yeah,” she said wistfully. “All those bored weekend shoppers, taking their money right by my door...”

Buffy patted her on the shoulder. “On the plus side, if Glory stopped by, you weren't there to get your arm broken again.”

“Do you really think she did?”

“I kind of doubt it. I think my house is the focus. But we need to be sure.” Buffy sighed. “It would be nice if you were still a vengeance demon right now.”

“If you'd wish for something awful to happen to Glory, I'm sorry. Hellgods would fall above my pay grade. The knights, though...” Anya's wistful look returned. “I could really get creative there.”

Buffy chuckled. “I'm sure you could.”

“Oh, it would be a beautiful little bloodbath.” She shook her head. “But what about the crazy one, the one who pointed out Tara? Would I need to exclude him from the vengeance, because he's a victim?”

“You've been around humans too long, Ahn. You've gone soft.”

“Xander's fault, I guess.” Anya frowned. “But isn't that a good thing?”

“As far as we can tell, that one brain-sucked guy is the reason we're hiding from both the knights and Glory. He may be her victim, but he still did some serious damage. And don't forget that the whole reason he was in town to start with was to destroy the Key.”

“He's the one you really want vengeance on.”

“If I could go back in time, right now, I'd kill him before he ever saw Tara.”

Anya studied the slayer's profile: set jaw, tight lips, and cold eyes. “I never thought I'd hear you say something like that about a human.”

“Some humans are more dangerous than any demon,” Buffy whispered. “You know that.”

“Well, yeah. That's part of what kept me in business for over a millennium, but I'm not a sl...” Anya trailed off when she realized Buffy's gaze was focused on Willow, sleeping across the room. She was about to question it, but Buffy abruptly stood up, ending the whispered conversation.

“Xan,” Buffy said to the man sitting near the sewer entrance with a sword across his lap. “Start waking everyone up. It's time.”





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