Chapter Three (3/9)
Wearing more normal clothes than the baggy sweats of the night before, Buffy left to patrol the following evening, telling her laughing mother that if Riley parked in front of the house again she should call the police on him.
“You don’t mean that, Buffy,” Joyce said with an understanding smile.
“The hell I don’t,” Buffy muttered, stuffing her stakes into pockets and her waistband. She pulled her hair into a business-like ponytail and grabbed a light jacket. “Don’t wait up.”
“All right. Goodnight, honey. Say ‘hi’ to Spike for me, please.” At Buffy’s thunderous look, she amended, “If you see him of course.”
“You think you’re smart, don’t you?” Buffy said, trying not to return her mother’s smile.
“I think I’m more than capable of reading a vampire’s face – at least one that I’ve known as long as I’ve know Spike. He’s interested in you, and if you’re giving him any sort of encouragement…”
I wonder if having sex with him in his crypt could be considered encouragement?
Aloud, she said, “It’s complicated, Mom. I need him right now. For some reason, Riley doesn’t get that. That Spike is the only one, other than me, who is strong enough to slow Glory down.”
“Well, if that’s all it is, I think you need to be very clear about it with Spike. I like him, and I really would hate to see him get hurt.”
“Oh, me too, Mom. That’s why I want to keep Riley away from him, and--”
“Buffy,” her mother said gently, “I meant hurt by you. If he thinks he has a reason to hope for…more than your gratitude.”
Buffy had no response to that. Worrying about hurting the feelings of a vampire was just not something that had ever been on her radar. She nodded ambiguously and waved her hand as she went out the door.
She sent a quick glance up and down the street, wondering if Riley would be stubborn enough to show up again. When she saw no sign of him, she began to walk in the direction of Restfield cemetery, telling herself that she hadn’t been there for two nights and if she happened to see Spike, and if he wanted to offer some extra muscle in case she ran into Glory or her minions…
Two fledglings and a small demon that ran off later, she was sure the area was clear and she still hadn’t seen Spike. Not that she was really looking for him. Or actually wanted to see him. Or had any intention of repeating the huge mistake of a few nights ago…
Shaking off the disappointment that she refused to acknowledge, she left Restfield and headed for the next cemetery on her rounds for the evening. Unlike Riley’s former comrades, she didn’t follow a regular route when she patrolled, preferring to mix it up so that fledglings lucky enough to have had someone planning to wait for them to rise would find nothing but dust when they finally crawled out of their graves.
The unmistakable sounds of conflict coming from the far end of Sunset Hills sent her running in that direction, stake in hand. She skidded to a stop when she saw what had been making the noise. Spike was on the ground, holding his head and moaning while Riley stood over him and snarled, “Don’t think you’re fooling me, Spike. Buffy might think you’re just helping her out of the kindness of your heart, but I know better. If you want to stay undead, I suggest you find somebody else’s girlfriend to ‘help’. Buffy doesn’t need you.”
He followed up his tirade with a well-placed kick to Spike’s side, one that would surely have broken ribs and perhaps even been fatal to a human.
“Buffy does need him,” she said into the brief silence. “And even if she didn’t, that would be no excuse for you to beat up on somebody who can’t fight back.”
Riley looked up, surprise and guilt fighting with the anger still visible on his face.
“This isn’t a ‘somebody’, Buffy, it’s a something. And the sooner you and your Scoobies realize that…”
“Go home, Riley,” she said quietly. “And let me worry about what my friends and I realize.”
“But, he… he attacked me!” Riley blustered. “He just came out of nowhere and...”
“And deliberately set off that chip so that he’d be on his knees and helpless when you retaliated? Try again, Riley. Even Spike isn’t that impulsive.”
“So, you’re choosing him over me, huh? I was right.”
“I’m choosing to stop you from hurting him. If that means I’m choosing Spike’s welfare over your need to boost your ego by beating him up, then, yeah, I guess I am.”
“Fine,” he snorted. “Take care of your pet vampire and send your boyfriend away. But don’t expect me to take this kind of crap forever, Buffy.”
Speechless, Buffy just gaped at the oblivious man. Was he just threatening to break up with her? Did he have no idea how close she was to dumping him right on the spot?
A wet cough from Spike brought Buffy’s attention back to him and she gave a little cry as she noticed the dark stain on his mouth. She’d been a slayer long enough to recognize blood when she saw it, no matter how dark the night. She knelt down beside him, and gently forced him to lie down so that she could go over his body. The jagged edges of several broken ribs protruded through the skin and it didn’t take a medical degree to figure out that the other ends had probably punctured his lungs.
“Good thing you don’t have to breathe,” she muttered. “A human would probably be dead by now.”
She rolled him over carefully and ran her hands over his back, wincing when she felt the spasming muscle where Riley’s booted foot had connected with his back, just missing his spine.
“Do you think you can stand? I don’t think I can carry you without hurting you more.”
“Give us a minute, pet, and I’ll try.” He gasped. “I think I can. He hadn’t got to my legs yet.” He stopped speaking and Buffy remembered that his lungs were probably full of pieces of broken rib.
“Yet? You mean that wasn’t the first kick?”
He shook his head dumbly. Using her arm as his support, he pulled himself to a sitting position, wincing with pain as he did so. He paused there; then with a small nod he allowed her to help him get to his feet. He stood for a minute, swaying slightly before he straightened up. They began walking slowly towards the gate, Buffy doing her best to support him without putting pressure on any of his broken or bruised areas.
Just as they reached the gate, they heard raised voices. Buffy left Spike propped against a tree and went to investigate, finding Xander and Riley deep in conversation. She bit her lip, shrugged, and slipped behind a stone gatepost to listen.
“I’m telling you, Xander, he’s not chipped anymore. He attacked me. I barely got away." Riley waved his arms around for emphasis. "And I know he’s looking for Buffy. We have to stop him before he gets to her; she trusts him too much and…”
“Yeah, I get all that, big guy, but killing Buffy? I just don’t see it happening –and not just because she can kick his ass.”
“He’s a dangerous killer!”
“Who’s never killed anybody Buffy cares about. I just don’t see it, man. I don’t feel right about staking him without talking to her first.”
“Are you going to make me do this myself?”
“Well…yeah…good point. You’re the big Army guy. Why do you need me?”
“He trusts you. He’ll let you get close…he wouldn’t do that with me. He’d run away or something.”
“See, there’s another thing. I just can’t picture Spike running away from anybody if his chip isn’t working – especially, you. No offense, but he’s got reason to hate you.” He stopped talking and gave an embarrassed shrug.
“Are you crazy? Do you hear yourself? This is Hostile Seventeen we’re talking about – Spike, William the Bloody. He’d kill me in a heartbeat.”
“Maybe…” Xander seemed dubious. “I don’t know, man. I just think I’d better talk to Buffy first.”
“We don’t have time. He should be back in his crypt pretty soon. We need to do it now. Trust me, Buffy will thank you.”
“Trust me, she won’t.”
Both men spun around at the sound of the Slayer’s voice. Without taking her eyes off Riley, she gestured behind her.
“Xander, will you go get Spike, please? He’s just back there. He’ll need some help,” she added as he walked past her without question.
“Buffy…” Riley thought frantically, trying to figure out how much Buffy might have heard.
“Don’t talk to me. I can barely look at you right now. I definitely don’t want to talk to you.” Suddenly the angry slayer was gone and a bewildered girl was in her place. Her eyes blinking back tears, she whispered, “How could I have so misjudged you? I thought you were…”
She shook her head as Xander and Spike made their way slowly out the gate and over to Xander’s truck, turning her back on Riley and hurrying to help Xander get Spike into the bed of the pickup. With the aid of a street lamp, Buffy could now see that Spike’s face was a mass of bruises, indicating that Riley had been working on him for some time before she interrupted the one-sided fight. She shot one final glare over her shoulder, and then climbed up beside the injured vampire.
“Take us to my house, please, Xander,” she said, sliding behind Spike and putting his head on her lap.
He raised his eyebrows, but nodded and closed the tailgate, walking around to the driver’s side. Before opening the door, he sent Riley a puzzled, disappointed look, then got in and drove off leaving the ex-Initiative soldier standing on the sidewalk.
Xander drove slowly and carefully, occasionally peering in his rearview mirror to see Buffy leaning over, apparently talking to Spike. As much as he thought he disliked the vampire, he found himself feeling slightly sick about what it seemed Riley had done to him. Obviously Riley had lied about the chip not working; had that been the case, the ex-commando would be drained and dead now. Or, at a minimum, as he remembered what he’d told Riley about Spike’s unwillingness to kill anyone Buffy cared about, it wouldn’t have been the vampire with the bruises and broken bones.
When they got to Buffy’s house, they repeated their motions in reverse – sliding Spike from the truck bed and doing their best to support him without pressing against any of his broken ribs. He stood unsteadily beside Xander while Buffy opened the door and waved them in. Joyce, who had just been on her way upstairs to bed, took one look at the battered vampire and pointed to the living room.
“Put him on the couch,” she said. “I’ll get the first aid kit.”
As the mother of the Slayer, Joyce’s first aid kit was a little more elaborate than one might normally find in a suburban kitchen. In addition to the usual gauze, bandages and ointments, it had splints, athletic tape, - even a small suturing kit.
She handed Buffy the kit and went back to the kitchen for hot water and towels, returning with a basin of water and some clean dishcloths. While Xander watched, unconsciously flexing his fists as Spike’s injuries became more visible, Buffy carefully cut off his tee shirt, exposing the jagged bones pushing through the pale skin in several places.
After seeing blood every time Spike’s attempts to talk turned into wet coughs, Buffy shushed him sternly. Joyce moved to his head and took one hand in hers, allowing him to squeeze when Buffy’s attempts to push the ribs back into place caused him more pain than he could hide. She stopped in frustration, unable to keep them flattened down long enough to get tape around his chest. Finally, Xander stepped timidly forward.
“Just let me…” He nudged Joyce to one side and gently pulled both of Spike’s hands over his head, stretching out the battered chest and allowing the ribs to slide back into place. “Sorry, Spike,” he mumbled when the involuntary gasp that accompanied his motions escaped the vampire’s mouth.
With Spike stretched out so that he was flat from hip to shoulder, Buffy could more easily move the ribs back into place. She picked up the tape, then sighed.
“He’s going to have to sit up, Xan,” she said with an apologetic look at Spike. He gave her a short nod and braced himself as all three humans helped him get upright, Xander still holding his arms up so that Buffy could wrap his ribs in layers of soft gauze and tape. When she was done, they lowered him to a horizontal position again and she went to work cleaning up the cuts and bruises on his face.
The whole time she worked on him, she kept her eyes turned away from his – unwilling to see the dawning emotion she could almost feel pouring off him. Joyce and Xander had stepped back, their help no longer needed as Buffy quickly washed off the blood and placed cold packs on his cheek and head. Still without speaking or looking directly into Spike’s eyes, Buffy stood up and carried the bloody water and cloths to the kitchen.
In the living room, Spike had closed his eyes; without any chest movement to give it away, Joyce and Xander had no idea if he was awake and conscious, or completely out of it.
“He looks dead,” Joyce whispered.
“Um, yeah, kinda the description of a vampire. Living dead? Ringing any horror movie bells?”
She flushed and nodded. “I knew that,” she insisted. “It’s just that Spike is always so…so vibrant.”
“Yeah, he is surprisingly quiet for somebody who lives to annoy,” Xander agreed, grinning when he noticed Spike’s irritated twitch.
“Do you think he’s going to be all right?”
“Oh yeah. Buffy’ll get him the blood of some poor pig and he’ll be fine in a day or so. Vamps heal really fast – even harmless, ineffectual, weak ones…”
“I can hear you, you know,” Spike managed to get out before coughing again.
“I know,” Xander said with great satisfaction. “But you can’t do anything about it without coughing and making Buffy yell at you. It’s kind of a win-win for me.”
Just as he’d predicted, Buffy came back in the room just in time to hear Spike coughing up more blood as he attempted verbal retaliation. While Buffy scolded and grumbled, Xander grinned at the glaring vampire, making rude gestures behind Buffy’s back until Joyce stopped him.
“Xander! I’m ashamed of you. Taking advantage of Spike’s condition like that!”
Doing his best to appear sorry, Xander apologized. “Sorry, Mrs Summers. It isn’t that often I get a chance to pick on the evil undead there without having to listen to him talk back.” He stretched and started towards the door. “But now that he’s all safe and sound here, I guess I’d better get home before Anya sends out a search party.”
“Thanks, Xan,” Buffy said, walking to the door with him and giving him a brief hug. “I don’t know what I would have done without you and your truck.”
“No problem, Buffy. I’m just …I don’t get Riley. That’s not like him.”
“I wouldn’t have thought so either,” Buffy said, sadness flickering across her face. “But it’s not just what he did to Spike, it’s what he was trying to get you to do. The way he lied, and…” She shook herself. “I guess I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Right now I need to get some blood into Spike.”
He nodded. “See ya, Buffy, so long Mrs Summers.” He hesitated, then called out, “Try not to run into any more fists, fangface.”
By the time Buffy had closed the door on Xander, Joyce had already been to the kitchen and back with a mug of warmed pigs blood. Buffy took it from her hand, bending the straw so that Spike could reach it without sitting up again.
“Go to bed, Mom. I’ll take care of this. You need your sleep.”
“All right, honey. If you’re sure…”
“We’ll be fine. You’ll be amazed when you get up tomorrow to see how recovered Spike is. I promise. Go on. Go to bed.”
With a grateful nod, and a pat to the top of Spike’s head, Joyce walked out and climbed the stairs to her bedroom, too tired to worry about what she had just learned about Buffy’s boyfriend and his capacity for cruelty and violence.