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I stole a line from Charlie Brooker in this chapter.

Chapter Four

"Dawn took your chip out?"

Buffy's incredulous outrage was still ringing in the vampire's ears as he browsed the small selection of convenience products in the service station, and he was torn between amusement and trepidation. Before Buffy had been kidnapped, and there'd been time for idle consideration and 'when I get this chip out' type thoughts, he had thought she'd not be best pleased. And apparently his daring and heroic rescue hadn't bought him the get out of jail card he'd been expecting. He was hoping when she'd heard the full story and realised his other choice was abandoning her to the tender mercies of amoral government departments she'd relent, timing being what it was Spike had escaped that explanation but he couldn't hide in the shop forever, not in the middle of a getaway.

Spike wasn't exactly the kind of vampire that stopped still and allowed things to occur to him, as evidenced by the empty tank in the middle of a getaway and the general vagueness of his rescue plan. Even trapped inside during the endless daylight hours he'd been more concerned with pacing and fretting - and trying not to strangle Dawn when she'd wondered aloud for the hundredth time what was happening to Buffy - than thinking. The obvious side effects to their plan of attack hadn't really sunk in for the vampire.

The Slayer seemed almost angry to be rescued. And when he'd seen the look on her face when she'd first spotted her unconscious sister Spike had been braced to defend himself, but she'd got into the car without fuss, sat twiddling her thumbs without so much as a thank you. Which had rained on his fantasies of charging in, the knight in shining white armour for a change, to be greeted by a grateful and horny Slayer. Maybe gratitude was too much to ask from his favourite alpha female. Not used to being rescued, he reasoned, didn't like playing the damsel in distress. Still, he was the big damn hero whether she acknowledged it or not.

And he had to admit there was a bit of a thrill to be found there, storming the castle, getting the girl. Just... manly. And not only because of all the soldiers he'd gotten to punch, though that was a rush too. Spike didn't even know if he'd killed, certainly hadn't had time to sink his fangs into any of the tasteless wankers. Wasn't ready to think about feeding at all, it caused worrying little thoughts like 'Buffy really wouldn't like it.' Time enough to think about being evil when his girls were safe at home.

And Spike was going to carry right on and pretend he hadn't thought that. Bad enough that Buffy had possessed him, damned if he was going to start designating her annoying little sister 'his' too. Frustrated with himself and his uncharacteristic uncertainties, and afraid of what he might be avoiding by skulking in front of the cheesy snack section, he grabbed a handful of random junkfood and dumped it in a pile on the counter. Threw in one of those bottles of expensive tap water she seemed to like so much. It had taken a good few hours to find the place, the first stretching interminably for both Spike and Dawn until the drugs had kicked in and she'd taken an involuntary little nap on the backseat. Despite the Slayer's obvious disapproval, Spike couldn't quite bring himself to regret that little example of skulduggery.

It was likely to be a long drive home, may as well stock up on the necessities. As he handed the cashier notes liberated from Anya's till float, he noticed the clock over the counter was pushing half past midnight. Make that a three hour drive then.

Spike shoved the lot in his deep duster pockets and headed out. He could sense Buffy outside, should have known she'd not stay put; it was no wonder really that Summers Junior was such a pain. The blur of Slayer launching herself at him as he stepped through the door was a surprise, but still Spike didn't realise she was attacking him until he registered the stake sticking out of his chest. His life didn't flash, and if not for thick leather and even thicker skin Spike's last moment of existence would have been wasted bemoaning the unfairness of it all. It took a couple of seconds to realise he wasn't crumbling to dust.

Buffy seemed surprised about that too, and to Spike's utter disbelief she was moving her hand, lunging forward to drive the stake the rest of the way home. Spike was faster, instinct alone saving him as he wrapped a hand round the wooden shaft and pulled it out with a painful squelch.

"You fucking bitch!"

He lashed out with the hand now holding the stake. Buffy made no move to duck, the blow sent her flying across the deserted forecourt, crashing heavily into a pump.

"That's fucking it?" he yelled after her. "No warning? No thank you? No 'hey Spike, we're mortal enemies again, now stand still while I stake you'?"

A few angry strides and he was nearly on her, Buffy pushed herself into a sitting position with one hand but made no other move to fight or flee. "Is that how you white hats play fair nowadays? Lure vampires in then stake them when they're not looking?"

"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "I didn't mean to make you mad."

"No? Well a funny fucking way of going about it, wouldn’t you say?" The vampire was shouting despite himself, he bunched a fist in Buffy's loose blouse and hauled her to her feet, too hurt and angry to see or comprehend the fear on her face. "I didn't kill her all day. Do you know how annoying she is? And I didn't kill her. For you. Hare across state to rescue you from the one group of people I've good reason to fear and you bleeding well stake me for it! Damn right I'm mad!"

It was a harder blow, somehow, than her stubborn lack of swooning at his manly rescue. He defied nature, threw himself in with the forces of light, and he didn't even rate the perky quip and last fight even fledglings got before the inevitable dusty ending. Except it would be more accurate to say he was trying to be mad. Because she had just staked him. But in such a sneaky and ineffective way Spike was having trouble believing that it had actually happened. And even if he'd been completely on board with the anger those huge hazel eyes staring back fearfully would have derailed that train. The fearfully part was just starting to register with Spike; he paused a second, cocked his head on one side and tried to figure out this unusual expression.

"Are you afraid of me, Slayer?"

Her eyes flashed and Spike braced himself for the violence he'd expected since he'd stalked over here. And far too late it occurred to the vampire that if she really wanted him dead he didn't stand a huge chance even without the handicap of not actually wanting to kill her back. But Buffy didn't move. He was holding her off the floor by her clothing and she didn't move.

"Yes!" Buffy spat.

"That's new," commented the vampire mildly. "So, love, you wanna explain why you're not punching me right about now?"

********


The timing and aim were perfect, the stake drove home true. But Buffy had misjudged the resilience of ribs and cartilage; her full strength was behind the blow but only an inch of wood embedded itself into his torso. There was a split second where vampire and Slayer were both processing the failed staking. Buffy could have acted then, one sharp tap to the end would have driven the stake like a nail through his heart but she was too slow. She hadn't planned for that, it hadn't occurred to the Slayer that her drugged and leaden muscles wouldn't have the strength to manage what even Dawn had accomplished on more than one occasion.

Spike mirrored her shock. More than that, he glanced from the wood to the Slayer in utter disbelief, for a second Buffy could have sworn he looked hurt. But when she moved to finish the job he was faster, pulling the stake out with a plop and though Buffy saw the fist flying towards her face, the anticholingerant she'd been dosed with was slowing down her reflexes to the point of uselessness.

Buffy landed awkwardly, a sickening pain shooting home from her elbow. The stars hardly had time to clear from her eyes before Spike was on her, picking her up and shaking her until the stars returned, bringing nausea with them. She'd miscalculated badly, Buffy was beginning to understand. The Initiative hadn't just removed her Slayer powers; they'd left her as weak as a kitten. If her arm wasn't broken it was badly sprained and it didn't matter anyway as she had no strength worth hitting him with. Even this far from Sunnydale the sparse traffic and night-shift staff ignored the sight of a girl being thrown across a gas station and Buffy was partly glad of it. No help likely to be forthcoming but then who could help? The guy had just taken apart an army base with his bare hands; the best Buffy could hope for now was he would kill her before she ever knew what happened to her sister.

But absent minded shaking and some swearing aside, the violence never came. Spike was ranting passionately but the only part Buffy really took in was the unlikely phrase 'rescue you'.

The shaking ceased and as Buffy's brain stopped rattling around in its skull she slowly processed that idea. Spike had come to rescue her. Buffy decided overall it was a good idea, if a little far fetched. And she had to admit that it fit in perfectly with the events of tonight as she'd witnessed them. Spike had indeed come bursting into the place in which she was held captive, removed her from that prison and unchained her; that could, on the surface of it, be taken as rescue-like behaviour. Almost a logical conclusion - if it wasn't Spike, and if going around rescuing Slayers didn't contradict every single thing Buffy knew about him. The same Spike whose response to not being able to kill himself a Slayer was to cheer from the sidelines as others tried. But there was no mistaking the surprise and indignation in his voice - he'd really been intending to help her.

Which would make staking him a bad call.

At least Buffy had the comfort of knowing she was now in the situation she'd originally assumed - faced with a vengeful vampire. Cold comfort as she dangled there, choosing to hang limp rather than struggle futilely. Staring straight at the hole in his precious duster that lined up neatly with the hole over his heart. But now that the sudden - and okay, Buffy could admit it - understandable anger had abated he looked more puzzled than vengeful as he asked if she was afraid of him. Buffy had little choice but to confess she was and hope the staking could be explained away as a misunderstanding, but his next question blew another assumption out of the water.

"So, love, you wanna explain why you're not punching me right about now?"

"I think you broke my arm" Buffy stalled. He was still frowning, confused, like it was her that had just had the personality transplant. She watched him carefully for any sign that it was faked, that he was mocking her, but nothing. It was astounding, what with the patheticness of her assassination attempt and her leaden fall after one meagre punch, but Spike seemed perfectly sincere in his ignorance.

He restored her to her feet carefully enough, straightened her blouse in a manner hard to marry with murderous intent. Took her swelling forearm between his hands in a gesture that had nothing to do with aggression, all the while not knowing she was without her Slayer powers. No wonder he'd looked so surprised when she'd ambushed and staked him, when as far as he knew he'd been sitting there, an open target, for the last twenty minutes.

Made no sense of the big question - why the hell was Spike rescuing her in the first place? It was hardly the first example of weirdness from this ever unpredictable vampire, maybe the chip had been affecting his brain more than they'd realised. Maybe the behavioural conditioning really did work. Buffy had to bite her tongue to keep that comment silent, if anything was likely to send Spike off on a sudden killing spree it would be the suggestion that he really had been neutered.

But killing sprees didn't seem to be on the agenda. And maybe, just maybe, drugging aside, her sister was in safer hands than she'd first thought. Certainly it was hard to imagine this vampire, that puzzled crease still between his brows as he gently examined her injury, torturing her sister for easy entertainment. But then that was always a problem with Spike. He could be so personable when he chose, seem so human, that it was hard to remember he was really an enemy even when he wished them all dead daily. More a Cordelia than a Glory on the scale of Big Bads. Buffy kept that thought to herself too.

"So how'd I hit your face and break your arm, then?"

"I landed badly," answered Buffy with a shrug that sent a sharp pain through her elbow and reminded her just how badly. Though he'd finished looking at her injury Spike still held her hand and Buffy hardly liked to jerk it away. If he really intended to return her sister safely home she didn't want to annoy him any more than she'd already done with the little assassination attempt. He was looking at her with concern, which changed his face entirely from the usual snide self confidence. As she stared back into those bright blue eyes Buffy realised she'd hardly ever seen him neither glaring nor smirking, the concern brought out a whole new man. Well, vampire.

"Wha's going on, Slayer?" he asked, running a thumb softly, absently, over the palm of her hand.

"What do you mean?"

"Well first you try and stake me for, y'know, rescuing you. Then I break your arm and you don't even punch me. Seems to me you've got one perfectly good punching arm left here."

Oh hell. If only she'd just sat back and let herself be rescued Spike would never have reason to think she was without her Slayer powers. But despite the staking Buffy was starting to get the impression they still hadn't deviated from the rescue plan, unlikely though it was, and now it was inevitable he find out.

"I can't punch you," she confessed.

"They put a chip in your head, Slayer? 'Cause it just so happens I know how to deal with that. Leastways your sis-"

"No. No chip. Just drugs, I think. I've got no strength."

"No Slayer powers?"

Buffy nodded and the vampire's eyes took on a gleam that she didn't like one bit. He glanced down at his wounded leather coat with sudden comprehension, then back to her, his blue eyes dancing wickedly.

"Well ain't that the abrupt change of fortune?"

Oh how Buffy wished she'd done nothing. That just for once she'd taken a passive role in this little drama, sat back and let things play out, held off on the action until she'd seen where things were going. She could see his evil little vampire brain almost light up with the possibilities.

"Well it's not as good as a chip of your very own, but still enough irony there to appreciate, don't you think, love?"

Buffy merely frowned, torn between wanting to hide her fear and playing the helpless girl card. The vampire was still holding her hand, fingers running up and down her lifeline as if determining exactly where it should come to an abrupt stop.

"Looks like I get a turn at being the annoying bossy one," Spike continued. "And you can do what I tell you for a change?"

He made it a question, held her eye until reluctantly Buffy nodded. Spike leaned forward, that familiar cocky smirk now firmly back in place. "Good. Now get in the bleeding car!"

And because it would be downright humiliating to be carried, give him another demonstration of her pitiful human strength by resisting, Buffy turned to obey.

"And no more staking me!"

Spike followed her back to the car, got in and started the engine without another word. Dawn was still laid comfortably across the back seat, looking naturally asleep, one hand making a pillow the other against her shifting chest.

"Are you still rescuing me?" Buffy asked hesitantly, as he roared out onto the freeway with frightening speed. The vampire took his eyes off the road to glare at her.

"No," he said firmly. "Turns out you don't take too well to being rescued. I don't want to use up all nine lives in the one night. 'M lucky they doped you, aren't I?"

"I wouldn't have been scared if they hadn't," the Slayer burst out, letting slip more than she'd meant to but discovering she didn't care. She still had no idea what had activated the 'rescue Slayer' mode but she could hardly think too much about her pride if he would only go on not killing her sister. Some grovelling might not go amiss. "I'm sorry. I thought you knew I couldn't fight you, that... that you had some big evil scheme. I couldn't let you hurt her."

"And did I not say I wouldn't? You said 'don't kill her' and I said ‘okay,’ I remember distinctly because it was only twenty fucking minutes ago! Sitting in this very car, do you recall? And just to make sure we were perfectly clear on that particular subject I then said 'I won't kill her.' Was I speaking Swahili?"

In any other situation his annoyed sarcasm might have been entertaining, even now it was hardly evil-big-bad scary. Still, pointing out that he'd been known to lie was hardly the diplomatic answer she was looking for.

"You didn't say anything about letting her go," Buffy said eventually. "And there are worse things you can do than kill someone."

"Well I sure as hell ain't turning her. Fourteen forever, can you imagine?"

But the annoyed glare subsided, reluctantly, and Spike turned back to the road before continuing gruffly. "I didn't know I had to say I'd let her go, because I wasn't keeping her captive, but I'll say it now. I don't want anything more to do with your sister until you get her a mute button and some Ritalin. And the sooner I dump her, alive, and this god-awful car back in good old SunnyD the happier I'll be, okay? And if you can think of a reason for me to be lying to you, well then you're batting for the wrong team love because you've obviously got a more devious mind than me."

Buffy nodded, muttered her thanks. "I just don't understand..." She considered the words carefully and Spike raised an eyebrow at her polite tone. "I don't understand how your big rescue involved kidnapping her in the first place?"

"Weren't no kidnapping involved," Spike snorted. "She wouldn't take my chip out if I didn't promise to take her with me, so I took her with me. She never said anything about conscious; I only wish it had occurred to me to drug her earlier. It was for the best, yeah? Would you trust the little brat to stay out of trouble without a little synthetic aid?"

Well there was one point they could definitely agree on. Apparently the little brat couldn't get through an innocent sleepover without dechipping a vampire and blackmailing herself into a hostage situation. Buffy was still fuzzy on those details, almost afraid to ask for an explanation. "I'm going to kill her."

"Bleeding well can't," said the vampire indignantly. "I spent the whole day with her, if anyone gets the privilege of wringing her scrawny little neck it's me."

Buffy wisely stayed silent at that, it felt safest to assume he was joking.

"'Sides," Spike added, "She's pretty ballsy, gotta give her that. I just didn't want to storm an army base with a fourteen year old girl helping me - it'd be embarrassing. And she's a natural with the old mojo, you wanna watch that."

"How did she even know how?"

"I had this book, see, or rather Giles had this book and I, er, stole it. The one you ripped a page out of? Probably wiped a couple grand off its resale value there, by the way."

"And Dawn comes into it...?"

"Needed someone to work the spell, didn't I? Drives a hard bargain, your sis. Not allowed to kill her, not allowed to kill you, spoil all my fun. And what do I get for it?" But even Buffy could see the glare he gave her wasn't exactly furious and he was grinning again in seconds. "Sure as hell wasn't a big sloppy kiss."

"I said I was sorry."

"Well that's alright then. If I'd'a dusted it would have been a great consolation to know you didn't really mean it. I'll have to try that one sometime - oops, broke your sister's neck, but it was by accident."

Though by now ninety percent sure he was only talking, Buffy couldn't stop her eyes jumping nervously to her sister. She'd never before found sitting still to be so thoroughly exhausting. Spike's manner might be more sulky than angry but she'd seen how casually he could kill and could not force herself to relax, every muscle still tensed for the disaster that had to be coming.

His explanation did little to calm her fears. If Spike had felt bound by whatever vestige of honour a vampire might have left to keep the deal he'd struck with her sister she'd surely negated that by trying to kill him. And while he'd been right, she could think of no reason for him to lie, neither could she see anything stopping him from changing his mind and bagging his third Slayer.

Spike seemed to catch both her glance and its meaning. "Ain't no fun being helpless, is it Slayer?"

And Buffy had to admit that it was not. She'd never truly been at the mercy of anyone before; to be reliant on the good will of this vampire was hardly her favourite new experience. Even when he seemed inclined to supply that good will, with a healthy side order of sarcasm.

"I do get it," Spike continued. "I bleeding well should. 'S scary when you can't fight, I've been there and I know... I wouldn't hold it against you. But a little faith wouldn't hurt, love."

"Because you're usually just gushing the milk of human kindness." Crap. Buffy really couldn't help herself, the snark won out. It wasn't that she didn't want to be rescued, it just seemed so unlikely she couldn't help wanting to argue against it. And she wasn't used to trying to hold her tongue.

"Bin hanging 'round you too long," the vampire snarked back. "That gentle and caring nature must be rubbing off." He narrowed his eyes speculatively. "Bet you'd look lovely chained up in my bathtub."

That look sent a shiver through her, one not born entirely of fear, and for the first time Buffy realised another possible motive for his actions, cursed herself again for revealing her lack of strength. As his leer took in even more skin than she usually displayed, Buffy had to fight to keep her hands still, itching to cover herself more than vest and shorts generally allowed.

The Slayer had hardly been oblivious to the fact that Spike found her attractive. He'd made no secret of leering at her on many occasions but then it wasn't as if she dressed to be a turn-off and Spike was hardly discriminating in his lasciviousness. She'd seen him peek down Tara's blouse a time or two. Buffy had assumed he was just being male, or maybe trying to make her uncomfortable. Okay, maybe there was a tiny bit of denial in that assumption. Not enough to make it completely implausible. It wasn't like she hadn't noticed his compact and muscular physique herself, didn't mean she'd ever thought further on the subject.

But something about the way Spike was eying her up told her he had thought further, and was doing it again right now. That was unsettling. For the first time it occurred to Buffy to fear for something other than her life. That feeling was fear, really.

"Is that supposed to be funny?"

"It'd be bleeding hilarious, for me. And I've heard your puns, Slayer, frankly I don't think you're in any position to slag off my sense of humour."

"There's nothing wrong with my punning," Buffy said automatically, Spike snorted.

"Love, you set the bar so low it would be banned from a limbo dancing championship as too bloody sadistic. But cheer up, Slayer. Just so happens I don't have a bathtub, and I'm sure those drugs'll wear off soon enough."

"Am I going to live that long?"

"Reckon you might."

The vampire turned his attention back to the road, switched gears for the turn off to Sunnydale. Shot her another sly glance before addressing the windshield. "Truth of it is, Buffy, I ain't wishing you any harm at all. You're safe now."

There was a certain shifty awkwardness in the way he spoke that might have been a tell on a human, but for Buffy it lent veracity to his reassurance.

"Why is that?" she asked quietly.

"Bleeding hell, Slayer. Your sister's brighter'n you. Why do you think?"

Because you're completely insane. But she didn't say the words out loud. It was looking less and less like Spike was about to remember how evil he was and act accordingly, and yet still there was a ball of dread in Buffy's stomach that wouldn't be shifted. And though her conscious mind wasn't ready to accept the possibility, somewhere inside Buffy already knew the answer.

Had known since that night in the alley when he'd tried to kiss her, even as she'd gone home and told herself it was a fancy of her imagination.

"Because it's nearly Christmas?" she hazarded flippantly. "You've been infected with yuletide spirit?"

He grinned easily. "Gone midnight, love."

"Of course. And you turn into a pumpkin?"

"Not nearly, but actually. As we speak, Saint Nick is hurrying on his rounds, delivering presents for the good boys and girls. Merry Christmas, Slayer."

"But why-"

"Gordon bleeding Bennett! Because I'm in love with you, you moron."

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