No Place Like Home

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"Spike." Buffy pulled the vampire from behind the tree in her front yard and glared at him.

"Hi, Buffy," he replied, a softness in his voice that she had never heard before.

It unnerved her, seeing him there in the midst of everything else that was happening. "Don't take this the wrong way, but-" She slammed her fist into his nose.

"Ow!" he cried, covering his face, then shaking it off.

"What are you doing here? Five words or less," Buffy said absently, crossing her arms over her chest.

Holding up his hand, he counted the words off. "Out. For. A. Walk." Four fingers up in the air, he added his thumb and spat out, "Bitch."

Buffy continued to glare. "Out for a walk at night by my house. No one has time for this, **William**."

Spike took a step back. Oh, how his given name rolled off her tongue. Her hair was fanned around her face, begging for him to brush his fingers through it. Damn her. "On your merry way, then? You know, contrary to one's self-involved world-view, your house happens to be directly between parts..." he paused, waving his hand around. "and other parts of this town. And I would pass by in the day but I feel I'm outgrowing my whole 'burst into flame' phase."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Fine. Keep going, I cut you a break."

Spike puffed his chest, his annoyance at her getting the better of him. "Oh, yeah. Okay, let me guess... you won't kill me? Wooo... the whole crowd-pleasing threats-and-swagger routine. How stunningly original. You know, I'm just passing through. Satisfied? You know, I really hope so because God knows you need some satisfaction in life besides shagging Captain Cardboard and I never really liked you anyway and-" He'd show her. Dreams of loving her be damned! He would make her cry! "-and you have stupid hair."

Buffy watched him turn and stalk off, hands in his pockets, head held high. She shook her head absently and glanced down at the spot behind the tree where he had been standing. Several cigarette butts littered the ground. Eyes wide, she realized the answer to the question that had plagued her for two days.

<><>

Earlier that afternoon, when she was setting up for the spell, she had opened her window so that she could burn the incense and still breathe. There, on the roof and littering the gutter, were several stubbed out cigarettes. The telephone had interrupted her thoughts, and she had gone to get it. It had been Willow, reminding her that she had to close herself in with the aromas and not open any windows. Buffy had forgotten all about it until that moment.

Staring down at the butts, she recalled a conversation with her mother two days before. The woman had asked her if she had taken up smoking and Buffy had assured her she had not. Joyce had let her know that there were ashes littering their back porch. Now it became crystal clear.

Spike was stalking her.

She was going to have to kick his ass. Just as soon as she found out what Dawn was and why she was there.

<><><>

Spike hated what she had reduced him to. Skulking around in the shadows, watching her from afar. He hated it. He maintained his distance as he followed her across town and into the same abandoned warehouse where she had fought the Gorvlox demon. He watched her pause outside the doors, looking left and right, and then duck inside. Waiting had never been a particular strong suit for him. Leaning his head back against the building, he fired up a smoke.

*And you have stupid hair.* What the hell had he been thinking? Stupid hair? Stupid hair didn't haunt you with its smell and texture. Stupid hair didn't remind you of commercials with pretty faces and gleaming smiles. No. Stupid hair was definitely not what the Slayer had. She had perfect hair. "Sod it all!" he growled, shoving his hands into his pockets.

He wanted to hate her. He needed to hate her and a part of him was screaming that he should hate her, but he didn't. Couldn't. Dru had been right. She had accused him once of having the Slayer all around him, staining him, making him taste like ashes. If Dru was standing before him, he would ask her what he tasted like now. Honey and wine, like the Slayer? Dark passion and need? Or just like the fluffy poof he had become. Closing his eyes, he took a deep, unnecessary breath, and tried to relax.

He was still so caught up in his thoughts that he never heard them approaching.

The fist that connected with his jaw was powerful and he just knew it belonged to the Slayer. Instead, when he opened his eyes, he saw a gaggle of teenage boys turned vampire. He recognized two as friends of Harmony's and growled low in his throat. "You boys looking to play?"

"You're gonna pay for what you did to Harmony," one of the skinnier ones replied.

Spike nodded and flicked his cigarette with his finger. "Let's get on with it then."

<><>

Spike had just dusted the last vampire when the entire building seemed to shake and he could hear crashing inside. "Slayer!" he shouted as he ran into the debris. There were steps leading up to the top level, but they had been wiped out and were laying in a broken heap. Clouds of dust blocked out every corner and he called her name, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Buffy!"

Nothing. Dead silence. Not even a scurry of mice. If she was alive, she'd be coughing, struggling to breathe through the mess. He stood still, head cocked to one side, reaching out for anything that would indicate where she was. Digging his lighter from his pocket, he lit it and surveyed the damage more closely. Whatever had caused this could still be nearby. If he couldn't find Buffy, he could find it and make it pay.

He searched the bottom floor first, and when that came up empty handed, he made his way upward, clinging to anything he could find along the wall to aid in the climb. The third and fourth floors were still intact, but the top floor was a mess. He could smell her there. Lifting random pieces of the ceiling, he called her name again. Then he noticed the broken out boards to the window. He made his way to it quickly and saw her kneeling over a brown bundle of something next to the fence.

Relief. That's what it was. Relief that coursed through him as he made his way out of the warehouse, around the corner, and sprinted across the parking lot. "Slayer!"

Buffy continued to sit motionless, staring down at the dead monk. A look of peace was on his face, a look of contentment, and his lips were pulled back in a small smile. Lifting a hand, she touched him on the cheek, then pulled it back as if she'd been burned. Death was no stranger to her; she was intimate with it, but it still shook her to her core. Wiping her hands on her pants, she stood up, not bothering to look at Spike, then took a step. "Ahh!"

Spike caught her before she hit the ground. "Did you jump out of that window?"

"Yeah," Buffy massaged the back of her thigh. "I have to go home."

"Who's that?" Motioning at the dead monk, Spike kept a firm hand on her arm.

Buffy cast another withering glance down at the corpse. "I don't know."

"But he said something to upset you, yes?"

Shrugging out of his grip, Buffy turned on her heel and headed toward the gate's entrance. She could hear him swearing behind her and knew that he was following her again, but she could barely think straight, much less question him. Wordlessly, she made her way down the street, determined not to cry or stumble. If he was lingering behind her, waiting for her to crack and need him, he would have a long wait.

<><>

Spike climbed the trellis outside her window and peered inside. Her light was off and no one was there. He noticed that the runt's light was on and slowly made his way to her window. Dawn was on her bed, arms crossed, her back to the window. He watched as Buffy spoke to her from the doorway and the moved to sit beside her, brushing her fingers through the younger girl's hair. They sat next to one another for a while, then Dawn leaned her head into Buffy's lap and cried. Spike frowned when he saw the big puddles in Buffy's own eyes, but she wouldn't let them fall.

He moved back between the two windows, Buffy's and Dawn's, and lit a cigarette, pressing himself against the side of the house. Who had the monk been and what had he said to Buffy to cause her current state of - shock? He had seen it in her eyes when he had made his way across the parking lot. She had been shaken to her very core by something. He was still lost in thought when Buffy turned her own light on and threw open the window. He jumped when she poked her head out and pointed her finger at him.

"Spike, I knew it!" she growled angrily as she climbed out her window. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Spike shrugged, trying to look indifferent. "Trying to get an eyeful of Slayer. Go on back inside and change clothes and forget I'm here." He leaned closer to her. "But make sure you face the window this time. Sometimes all I get is a glimpse of your backside and let's be honest, your tits are-"

"Spike-" she warned.

"Be honest, Slayer." He grinned cockily. "You want to shag my brains out."

"I think someone beat me to it a long time ago! What the hell are you doing?" She drew her fist back to hit him when he smirked, and he held both hands up, trying to look innocent. It worked. Letting her hand fall to her side, Buffy moved to sit next to him and glanced up at the sky. She said nothing for several seconds, then she looked his way. "You've been watching through my window?"

"If I say yes are you going to stake me?"

"No."

"Yes."

"And you saw me with Riley the other night?"

"Yes."

"And that's why you were so hell bent on killing me?"

"I wasn't really going to kill you," he said in a low voice. "But yeah, that's what did it. And then he showed up all high and mighty in the cemetery. If I had this chip out of my head, he'd be sorry!" He gave her a sidelong glance. "How'd you know I saw?"

Buffy chuckled a little. "You called him Captain Cardboard, that pretty much gave it away. You'd have to witness that to believe it."

Spike joined her in the laughter. "I call 'em as I see 'em." He watched her for a few seconds, then added, "And I saw that you really weren't satisfied. I've seen the real thing, baby, you can't fake with me."

Blushing a deep red, Buffy opened her mouth to say something, then snapped it closed. He was right. Riley didn't begin to scratch the surface of what she needed. No one had ever made her body come to life like the blond vampire next to her. He literally made her skin tingle every time she saw him. "Spike?"

"Yeah?"

"Why are you here?"

"Why are you letting me be here?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I don't know either." He watched as Dawn's light went off and sighed. "Do you want me to go?"

"I really don't," Buffy told him. "But I've got a lot to- to think about so-"

"Like, what that monk said to you?" When she didn't reply, he moved toward the trellis. "Fair enough."

"Hey, Spike?"

"What?"

"If you leave anymore cigarette butts in my yard or on my porch or up here, I'm going to kick your ass." She smiled.

"I'll hold you to that."

<><>

Buffy tossed and turned in bed, unable to get comfortable, unable to silence the thoughts in her head, and unable to work the cramp in her leg out. The spot where she had landed on it was dark blue, swollen and achy. She stretched onto her stomach, flopped to her back, then stood and paced across the room, massaging her thigh lightly. She could hear the steady breathing coming from Dawn's room and walked slowly down the hall, peering at her little sister.

Her little sister who wasn't even real.

Limping into the room, Buffy pulled the cover over Dawn and kneeled down beside her. She remembered like it was yesterday the time that Dawn had fallen off her bike and gotten stitches on her chin. The tiny scar was there, making her seem all the more genuine, and all the more helpless at the same time. Buffy glanced at the photo on the night table of Dawn with the gang. That's when Buffy realized that Dawn really didn't have any friends of her own. For as long as she could remember, it had been Dawn tagging along with the gang. Scrappy Dawn.

But she was more too.

Dawn had been at the hospital with Buffy when someone was killing kids and Buffy had the flu. She had cried, begging Joyce to let her stay, and then decorated Buffy's room when she came home. She had cooked her chicken and stars soup and ran up and down the stairs to make sure Buffy had enough to drink. Dawn had been the one who helped Buffy unpack after she had run away and came home and the entire time, she kept glancing at Buffy and smiling shyly, then she told her she missed her. Dawn had been the one who would bring her tissues when Angel made her cry. After graduation, Dawn had appeared with a tub of ice cream at her door and a stack of girl-power movies. And when Buffy had moved into the dorms, Dawn had helped her pack and kept asking if she'd come back often.

The monks had made her out of energy because the "Key" needed protecting.

But Buffy was almost certain that someone out there and given her Dawn because she needed her. She needed to know that her mom wouldn't be alone when Buffy lost, when she died. And she needed a friend.

Limping back out of the room, Buffy decided to go patrol. She needed to exercise her leg to get the stiffness out and she wasn't tired at all. She dressed quickly and was soon walking briskly back toward the factory. Making sure no one was around, she ventured toward the dead monk, who was still propped against the fence. It could take days for anyone to find him in this part of town. She knelt down next to him, wondering at the look of contentment on his face. What must it be like on the other side? When the Master had killed her she had been too scared to remember anything, but as she sat looking at the monk, she recalled a floating sensation, the sense of safety and rest. Rest and no fighting. How bad would it be to go? Her mom wouldn't be alone and that was her main concern.

Right?

She moved her hand toward the monk again, but someone chuckled low behind her. Turning, she saw Harmony standing with her arms crossed, next to a very large male vampire. Without a word, the male charged at her and Harmony began to bounce on the balls of her feet, doing a Sunnydale High School cheer.

"Go, Skull, he's our man, if he can't do it, no one can."

A fist connected with the side of Buffy's jaw, splitting her lip open and cracking the vampire's knuckle on one of her teeth. She tasted her own blood, bitter and strong, then she tasted the vampire's blood. It was sweet, smooth and rolled over her tongue like cool water. She swallowed, licked her lips, and smiled sweetly at the vampire.

He didn't know what hit him when she attacked.

Harmony stopped clapping mid-cheer, the words died on her lips, and she staggered backwards when Skull's head literally rolled across the parking lot toward her. In shock, she slowly met Buffy's gaze, taking in the Slayer's shimmering eyes, the bloody streaks across her face, and the small sneer that curled her lips back. Harmony suddenly realized how mice felt when they were cornered in a python cage, only this was no python, this was a cobra.

The Slayer said nothing.

Harmony never moved.

And then Buffy brought a bloodied hand to her mouth, lapped at the blood, and closed her eyes, a look of contentment washing over her features.

When she opened her eyes again, Harmony was gone.

But there were more to hunt. She felt them, and quietly followed their trail, blending into the night as if she had been born there.

<><> -Fin

Written, Not seen

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