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Graveyard Shift

by Steph L

Willow jolted out of sleep with a gasp. She automatically reached toward the other side of the bed, seeking the reassurance of another warm body. Spreading her fingers across Tara's stomach, Willow relaxed into the pillow. Oh, that was...I feel... she frowned, trying to remember. What happened? After the First Slayer stalked the Scoobies in their dreams, Willow took her own very seriously. This one, however, slipped away before she could recall it. Tara mumbled something that sounded like "canned peas," and Willow rolled onto her side, slipping her arm around Tara as sleep reclaimed her.

It had been a month since Buffy died. Giles had re-opened the Magic Box, Xander had been promoted to head of his construction crew, and Dawn was speaking again. They all felt a little guilty for resuming their old routine, but the truth was, getting through each day was becoming less difficult.

*// "She'd want us to do this, wouldn't she? Will?"*

*"Yeah, Xand. She would." //*

Immediately after the final battle with Glory, Willow and Tara moved into the Summers house. So did Giles, although he kept the lease on his apartment. Xander and Anya continued to live in Xander's apartment because, he confessed in a flat, unemotional voice, moving into the Summers house would kill him as surely as a gunshot to the heart. Everything still felt unreal without Buffy, but they were beginning to learn how to operate in this unreality.

Except Spike.

Spike was almost always at the Summers house, although he invariably left at some point, presumably to sleep for a few hours in his crypt. (Giles later admitted that Spike spent many of those late nights at his apartment, which was the main reason he kept the lease. After Buffy died, Spike all but abandoned his crypt, invoking as it did memories of another Buffy, one programmed to fulfill his every whim.

And a single kiss. A real kiss.)

Spike also patrolled alone, every evening, long before the others were ready to resume hunting the things that go bump in the night. From the rumors circulating through Willy's Place, Spike had an astonishingly high kill rate. He had always been a reckless fighter in the past, willing to take on one more demon than he could really manage, just for the thrill of it. But from all reports, lately he had consistently been fighting large groups of demons - more than he could handle alone. A nest of vampires. Ten Fyarl demons. Numbers that would brand any lone person - or vampire - as crazy. Or suicidal.

Willow woke in the middle of the night, not abruptly this time, but as though someone were repeatedly, softly calling her name, needing her presence. "Tara?" Willow whispered. No reply. Not Tara, then. She peered around the room - Joyce's room - wondering if Dawn had another nightmare and had come to her mother's room out of habit. Nothing. Sighing, she curled up, intent on getting at least four more hours of sleep. As she drifted off, a sudden snippet of a dream came back to her: cold...a solid, persistent feeling of cold....

In the aftermath of the battle with Glory, any "outsider" status that Spike had retained simply disappeared. Xander and Giles still regarded him with a vestige of distaste, but even they didn't dispute Spike's inclusion. Not a Scoobie, exactly (whatever that was, anymore), but certainly tied to them irrevocably. And although Dawn was the only person with whom Spike was openly tender, everyone accepted his presence. The hostility, the attempts to avoid him - gone.

Despite the others' change of attitude, Spike was indifferent to everyone except Dawn. When he was at the house, Spike hovered protectively near her, never more than a room away. He seemed to actually enjoy, not just endure, her sullen company. During the month in which she wouldn't speak, he didn't push, content to sit silently with her for hours.

In fact, silence seemed to suit Spike after Buffy's death, and he seemed almost disappointed when Dawn began speaking again.

*// She walked into the living room, eyes downcast. Spike, alone in the room, waited patiently, without a word, for her to look up and acknowledge him, as had become their routine. Then, softly, she said, "So, I feel like ice cream. You feel like ice cream?" Slowly, she met his gaze.*

*Long pause, during which Spike never blinked. "Yeah, Little Bit." Pause. Blink. "If that git Xander hasn't eaten it all. Boy's getting thick around the middle, you ask me." //*

Spike's behavior since Buffy's death was odd...and yet oddly familiar.

"So, is anyone else having serious dj^ vu?" Xander asked, leaning back in a kitchen chair, feet on the tabletop. Spike had just followed Dawn into the living room; through the doorway they could see Dawn flipping through a teen magazine in a desultory manner, while Spike appeared to be reading a red leather-bound book, peering over the top of it at Dawn from time to time.

Willow pushed Xander's feet off the table, shaking her head. "What do you mean?"

"Spike. Doesn't he seem like someone else? Someone...more broody, but still very much undead?"

"Angel?" Giles turned from the dishwasher. "Xander, we've all been, well, not ourselves since..." Giles trailed off. He still hadn't said Buffy's name since she died. "And Spike is certainly no exception. It's only natural, given the...circumstances."

"It's creepy, is what it is." Xander leaned over slightly to look through the doorway again. "He's Spike. He doesn't brood. Even when Dru left him, he got all psycho crazed and kidnap-y. But this is just weird. He's always, you know, Action Vamp, but now he's all silent and lethargic." Xander frowned. "I think he's kind of sick. Can vampires get sick?"

Anya spoke up. "No. I mean, I never saw a vampire get sick, in all the years I was a vengeance demon, and I saw my fair share of vampires, let me tell you." She glanced at Xander. "Right. Not about me. Anyway, I think the whole being dead thing keeps vampires from getting sick. I mean, they're dead, what else can happen? A cold?"

"Anya is right," Giles said. "They can't become ill, although they can become weakened from not feeding. Has he been eating?"

Tara smiled at the parental phrasing. "I think so. The blood from the butcher keeps disappearing, and I've seen him microwaving...well, something almost every day. I guess I just figured it was blood."

"I don't think it's a vamp anorexia thing." Xander tapped his fingertips on the tabletop. "He just seems...not right. You guys keep a closer eye on him, you'll see what I mean." was cold again, moving through her...and pressing down...she was gasping... The alarm cut through Willow's dream, startling her awake. She shook her head, trying to ignore the alarm and hold on to the image. So much for the nap...god, was that...? She'd have to consult some of the dream interpretation books she bought after the dreams of the First Slayer. It can't be what it seems...

To the untrained eye, the activity in the Magic Shop indicated that life had fully resumed its normal rhythm. Giles was with a customer, explaining the use of ravens' feathers in spells, while Anya happily pored over the ledger. Willow and Tara were each deep in a book (Tara: Possession and Mental Energy; Willow: Dream Symbols and Their Significance). After the customer left, pleased with her acquisition, Giles cleared his throat discreetly. None of the women looked his way. He cleared his throat again, louder. Still no reaction.

"Honestly, does it take a giant snake to get your attention?" Giles' voice startled Willow, and she slammed her book shut, head snapping up.

"Is something wrong, Mr. Giles?" Even after going through an apocalyptic battle together, Tara still kept Giles at a verbal arm's reach.

"Well, I must confess I hadn't been paying any attention to Spike's behavior, after...what with adjusting to arrangements, and..." Giles paused. "In any case, Xander may have a point."

Anya smiled proudly, while Willow muttered to Tara "It's usually something big when Giles admits Xander's right."

Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them, talking all the while. "It's not big, Willow. Just...Spike isn't sick; you were right, Anya, vampires can't get sick. And he seems to be feeding regularly - a starved vampire becomes gaunt and drawn, much like a starving human. That's clearly not the case, either. But his behavior isn't normal." He put his glasses back on. "Although, really, none of us has been normal since..." Giles trailed off, apparently finished speaking.

"You can say it, Giles. Since Buffy died." Willow's tone was matter-of-fact. "You haven't even said her name since she died, do you know that?"

Giles' lips thinned for a moment before he spoke. "Yes, Willow, I'm very aware of that fact, and I don't need you reminding me of it. If you can all tolerate Dawn's total silence for a month, then the least you can do is allow me my peace on one...single...word!" As Willow's eyes filled with tears, Giles turned and stalked to the back of the shop. Anya opened her mouth, looked at Willow, looked at Giles, and then closed it again.

Tara, surprisingly, was the first one who reacted. She stood, stroked Willow's hair once, and walked to where Giles stood, his back to the women. She said nothing for a moment, then tentatively put one hand on his shoulder. Her voice was softer than usual. "Mr. Giles...I...I know. What you're''s okay, you know."

Giles turned to her, eyes reddened but dry. "Thank you, Tara." He looked to where Willow sat, her eyes fixed on the cover of her book. "Willow." She looked up. "I'm sorry I snapped at you. None of us knows how to deal with this. That includes me, you know." Willow nodded, afraid she would burst into tears if she tried to speak. "Spike isn't the only one who is barely making his way through this."

He paused for another long moment, then went to the table, followed by Tara. He sat down heavily, and began to talk, about vampires, and blood, and the nature of the undead. Not one word about Buffy.

"So basically Spike's depressed?" Xander was clearly skeptical. He and Willow were alone in the kitchen; Anya and Tara were at the Magic Shop, taking inventory, Spike and Dawn were somewhere upstairs, and Giles had gone to his apartment after dinner "to look through a few things," (likely with a bottle of Scotch).

"Well, yeah." Willow had a small frown on her face that, oddly, reminded Xander of high school. "Giles says that it's like humans becoming depressed. They have the same basis for personality that we do, so they can get depressed like we do."

"Well, that's just pathetic," Xander said. "Couldn't it be some weird vampire disease, or possession, or something?" He received a glare from Willow. "Okay, we don't need any more supernatural trauma right now. But a depressed vampire? That's so lame."

"It's not any different from the way the rest of us feel, Xand," Willow said. "Giles thinks that if it gets bad enough, Spike might try to kill, really," she added at Xander's smirk. "You remember? How he was going to dust himself in your basement after he got the chip? And that was nothing compared to this. He...he loved her, Xander. You've heard how he is on patrol, taking on way too many demons at once - it's like he wants to die, but won't do it himself."

Xander rolled his eyes, saying, "Well, would it be so bad if he did dust himself?"

"Xander, we all need him right now. For patrol - he's the strongest and quickest of us. And the only one actually going out on patrol right now. He's the only one who Dawn says more than three words to. We need him to not dust himself." She paused. "Besides...he loved her, and it's like having part of her around." Her voice was small. "You know?"

Xander put his arms around Willow, holding her close. "I know." They were quiet for a moment, and Willow's grief, held so tightly in check, threatened to spill out. I miss her, I miss her so much. I feel the way Spike is acting, all the time. I don't know what to do without her, I'm no leader... But before she could speak, Xander asked, "So what do we do? How do you make a vampire un-depressed? I mean, if it were easy, wouldn't Angel be, like, a game-show host by now?"

Willow swallowed hard before meeting Xander's eye. No solace here. I can't break down; they need me. "Giles says it's different for every vampire, I guess like with humans. But he thinks that Spike needs human contact. Because he's always been such a human-y vamp anyway, with the eating, and the music, and the TV, and, well, the whole way he lives." She frowned. "Un-lives. You know."

"He has human contact, Will. He's essentially living in this house. He's around humans 24/7...or maybe 20/7, something like that. How much more human-y can the unholy dead get?"

"He's separated himself, Xander. He's here, but he's not here, you know? He follows Dawn around, but he hardly says a word to anyone else - in fact, I can't remember the last time he's looked me in the eye. He doesn't talk much, and, well, he's just not a pain in the ass the way he used to be."

"Sounds like Angel to me. Why isn't Angel at risk of staking himself - wait, he didn't, did he?" Xander looked half worried and half hopeful.

Willow shook her head. "Not as far as I know. But Xander, Angel has people in his life. I saw that when I went to L.A. They seemed so...intertwined. I mean, yeah, he was stunned when I told him about Buffy, but even so, he just doesn't seem like Detached Guy the way he used to. Giles says it anchors Angel to be connected to people. So why not Spike?"

"Well, I'm fuzzy on vamp therapy. Should we just walk around hugging the guy or something?" Xander seemed appalled at the thought. "Cause, I mean, he's been a big help, but - he's Spike."

"I thought maybe he needs human blood," Willow said. "That all the animal blood and not having any human blood is making him more detached from humans. He won't even drink blood-bank blood. I've read things...but Giles said that's not likely, that vampires can survive on animal blood forever, if they have to. But I think..."

Xander cut her off. "We should slit our wrists for him? 'Here, Spike, have some breakfast. I squeezed it myself.' No way, Will."

"Not slit our wrists, Xander, but - well, people donate blood all the time, humans can give a pint and be fine, and I don't think the issue is amount, anyway. Drinking human blood somehow - makes him more human. More himself. We could figure something out and..."

"You think I'm drinking anybody's blood, you're not nearly as smart as you seem, Witch." Spike was standing in the kitchen doorway, eyes blazing. "Not gonna happen. Not in this unlife."

Willow turned around. "Spike!" She put her hand to her mouth, and then forced it back down. This was a trite plot twist from a bad movie. "Did you...did you hear us..."

"Planning how to feed the stray vampire at the back door? Yeah. I did. You can forget about butcher knives or any other hare-brained scheme. I will not drink your blood. Not any of you."

Xander's temper flared. "Oh, Spike. You've become so noble. I'm touched."

Willow put a hand on Xander's arm, warningly. "Spike...but...we would, and it would help you..."

"Red. You want to know what's wrong with the 'depressed vampire'? How about the fact that I couldn't stop Little Bit from being sliced and diced? How about not saving the Slayer? I know what she said, before she jumped - her blood closing the portal. Giles told me. Her blood. Human blood." He paused, measuring his words. "I don't want your sodding blood. Won't drink it. I'd rather starve!" His voice rose to a shout on the last word, his hands clenched at his side. Then he pushed past them, and stalked out the back door.

Xander and Willow stared mutely at each other.

Sunnydale was having an unusually hot June, and that night was the hottest yet. Willow tossed and turned in bed, unable to fall asleep. Her mind was racing with thoughts: Spike...blood...Buffy...Dawn...Giles... She got out of bed, opened the window, and crawled back under the sheet. Kicked the sheet off. Turned onto her back, wishing for a breeze, a block of ice, something. Eventually she slept, fitfully.

Cold again...nice, dark, cold...holding her down...spreading...turning to heat. Willow clutched at the sheets, whimpering in her sleep. Heat moving through her, until there was only heat...heat and... She woke, eyes wide and hair damp. And knew what she was meant to do.

A week had passed. Dawn was still speaking, although with such bitterness that almost everyone secretly wished she were still silent. Spike continued to appear at the Summers house every morning, huddled under a smoking blanket, generally with a few new gashes and bruises. He spent all his time with Dawn, who, for her part, glowered when anyone else approached. Despite Dawn's glares, Willow tried to talk to Spike, but after that aborted discussion in the kitchen, the subject of drinking human blood was strictly off-limits. The discussion might as well have never happened. Giles continued to express concerns about Spike, but privately, only to Willow.

And Willow's strange dreams were gone.

She stood outside the door to Giles' apartment. At 2 a.m. it was pitch black, with very little sound anywhere in the neighborhood. She rubbed her hands over her bare arms, although she wasn't cold. Nor was she uncertain. But this was new territory for her. She raised her hand to knock, then thought better of it. He wouldn't answer the door at 2 a.m. She tried the doorknob, gently. Unlocked. Wonder if the lock has ever worked. She opened the door slowly, and entered the dimly lit apartment.

Without warning, she was slammed against the wall by an angry vampire, who just as suddenly released her to clutch his head in pain.

"Bloody Hell! Red, have you heard of knocking?" Spike glared at her, reaching past her to shut the door. "What are you doing here, anyway? Isn't it past your bedtime?" He paused, taking in her serious expression. "It isn't Dawn, is it? Something wrong with Dawn?"

"No - I'm sorry I startled you, Spike, but..."

"Oh, for God's sake. What is it, then? Some Hellbeast loose in Sunnydale? Need Spike's fighting skills again? Or...did little Xander lose a tooth?"

"No, I came you."

"The Watcher tell you I was here?"

"He said you might be. I checked your crypt first. It's so...empty."

Long pause. Then: "Well, Witch? What d'you need to talk about so badly you come over here in the wee hours?"


Spike's features registered surprise, and then wariness. "How's that?"

She spoke rapidly. "I...I know you don't want to talk about it, Spike, but I think you need human blood."

"You're right, Witch. I don't want to talk about it." Spike crossed his arms across his chest. "If that's all you've come to say, you might as well go."

"I won't."

Twice in less than a minute, Willow managed to elicit surprise from Spike. Then he laughed humorlessly. "Stubborn humans. You won't go? Fine. Do what you want, then." He turned his back and started for the stairs. Her next words stopped him.

"What I want, Spike, is for you to...drink from me. My blood. Now."

"Red." He didn't turn around, but had halted his ascent to the bedroom. "You know I can't bite you. And if you think you can come over here, wave a butcher's knife, and just..."

"No." She interrupted him.

Spike turned. "No?"

"Spike, I know vampires can smell blood. I know you can smell mine. Right now."

"Willow." He smirked, a teasing edge creeping into his voice. "Wicked Witch Willow. Are you offering me your monthly blood? You think that's what I need? You think you have enough for me?"

"You can live on animal blood, Spike. Having enough isn't the point. You...there's something about human blood. It affects you, and you haven't been... you've been barely surviving. And maybe human blood would help you do more than just survive."

He didn't answer, didn't move.

"Spike, we need you. We need you to, again. Really badly. And you're not. This could help." She frowned, and added hastily, "Not because it's me; because you need this. I happen to be the only one offering."

"You don't want me to do this, Red." Just a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

"It's 2 a.m., Spike. I left my girlfriend asleep in our bed to come here. You need to do this. I can help. So yes, I want you to do this."

"What if I say no?"

"You're not, though, are you?" Willow's voice dropped, taking on a seductive tone. Whatever it took, she would do it. No one else would do this, but she would. "You're not saying no to this. I'm offering my blood to you, Spike. Hasn't it made you crazy, month after month, around so many women? You can smell it from there, can't's hot, it's human, you haven't had it in so long..."

With that, he rushed down the stairs and suddenly pushed her into the armchair behind her. She gasped at his force, briefly wondering why the chip didn't activate. Then he grabbed the arms of the chair and leaned in, his face centimeters from hers. "You want this, Witch?" She didn't flinch. He dropped to his knees in front of her, sitting back on his heels. His eyes were burning oddly bright. He reached forward and pushed her long skirt up. He raised his eyebrows. "Well, either you missed laundry day, or you really expected me to take you up on this. Bit messy, though, no knickers at a time like this." His voice deepened. "Here, let me help."

Spike grasped Willow's hips, sliding her forward. He met her eyes again, and received only a steady, cool gaze in return. Then he pushed her legs further apart, and brought his head down. Still holding her hips, Spike thrust his tongue inside her, moaning as he tasted her blood. She felt his tongue, cold and hard, darting in and out, and then cold, insistent lips as he began to suck. Almost painful. Almost...but not quite. She closed her eyes, clenching the arms of the chair, as he swallowed rhythmically. His hands, warmer now from her body heat, held her in place as he continued to drink, his tongue slipping in and out of her body.

Flashes of her dreams came back: his cold weight on her... icy hands spread across her waist...his cool lips, sucking and licking and drinking...until she... Willow opened her eyes. This was not going to happen! She suddenly sat back in the chair, pulling herself out of his grasp, startling Spike. He was sleepy-eyed, intoxicated. "Willow?" He reached for her, but she pulled her skirt down. Forgetting her earlier statements, she asked, "Is that enough...did you have enough?"

He sat back again, still fuzzy. "Uhhh...yeah. But you didn't even..."

She cut him off, standing and heading for the door. "Good night, then." She left Spike sitting on the floor of Giles' apartment.

Willow poured herself another cup of coffee, ignoring Giles' look of disdain at her choice of beverage. Too much caffeine generally made her shaky and jumpy, but she had slept very little the night before and could hardly keep her eyes open. After she had gotten home and slipped into bed with Tara, who was in an enviably deep sleep, Willow couldn't fall asleep. She laid on her back, staring at the ceiling for hours, trying to sort out what she just did. And why. *(And trying to ignore the guilt.)*

Dawn had come unwillingly to the Magic Box that morning, claiming there was no reason she couldn't be left home alone. After all, Glory's portal was permanently closed. Giles had insisted, though, saying that it wasn't for her protection; it was for his peace of mind. Dawn watched Willow pour more powdered creamer into her coffee, and suddenly spoke.

"I heard you and Xander."

Willow, numbly tired, had been staring into her mug as though it held portents, and didn't hear Dawn.

Giles had, though. "What was that, Dawn?"

"Last week. I heard Willow and Xander arguing about Spike." She glared accusingly at Willow. "They think there's something wrong with Spike. And Willow has this crazy idea to fix him."

"Dawn, not fix him," Willow started, but was cut off.

"I heard you. You think because he's not signing up for group activities that there's something wrong with him. God. Maybe he just doesn't want to be around anyone, did you ever think of that? But you're the leader now; you want to fix him. Give him human blood. But he's not broken."

Giles' eyes widened, and he glanced at Willow. Then he cleared his throat, saying, "Dawn, this has been a trying time for all of us. And Spike hasn't been himself lately; surely you've noticed that. He seems rather...withdrawn."

"You know, Spike is the only one who seems to even know how to deal with this. No one else seems sad, no one else seems like they can't even remember how to tie their shoes, or - God, even how to get out of bed!" Dawn's voice was full of accusation...and pain.

"Dawnie..." Willow spoke gently, moving to lay a hand on Dawn's shoulder.

Dawn flinched away violently, jumping out of her chair. "No! I can't believe that neither of you understands - why it takes a vampire to get it. There's nothing wrong with him - we're just the only ones who know how to grieve!" She ran from the table to the training room, slamming the door behind her.

Neither Willow nor Giles spoke for a moment. Then Willow said, "I should go talk to her."

"Actually, perhaps she needs some time alone; she might feel some comfort being in her sister's training room." Giles' statement elicited a look of surprise from Willow. "I have spent several years deciphering the moods of teenagers, you know."

"Oh. Right." Willow yawned.

"Willow, are you all right? You seem a bit...distant today."

"Oh, sorry. I'm just tired." Willow hastily gulped her coffee, not meeting Giles' gaze.

"Right, then." Giles paused. "Willow, I wasn't entirely truthful with you when we talked about Spike."


"When we discussed his mood and you asked about human blood. You were right. Vampires can live on animal blood for many years, perhaps forever, but human blood does have a powerful effect on them. Different from that of animal blood."

Willow's brow was furrowed. "Why is there a difference between human and animal blood?"

"There's no anatomy text for vampires, but I gather it's because the demon inhabits a human body. And human blood is what the human body craves."

"What about Angel? He only drinks animal blood, I'm sure of it. Cordelia told me once..."

"Angel, yes. Well, he is a unique case, a souled vampire. He's certainly outside the norm. And, as I said, vampires can live on animal blood indefinitely. But they generally don't. Spike has been forced to, for some time now. I think his human emotions,," he paused, "Buffy...and for Dawn, have kept him a part of humanity. But now..." Giles shook his head. "William the Bloody. He's in mourning, Willow. Like the rest of us. And it's destroying him. Like the rest of..."

"I know, Giles." Willow spoke softly. Then, pleased: "I was right?"

Giles smiled thinly at her satisfaction. "You were right. About the blood, and about how much we need Spike right now. I can't patrol. I suppose I'm simply a sentimental, weak fool, but when I even think of patrolling... And Spike is out there night after night. If he stops...well. I just rather wish Dawn hadn't overheard you and Xander. She's in a very fragile state right now - I'm afraid she might act rashly on what she heard." Giles' attention was focused on the door of the training room just then, as if it were Dawn herself, and so he missed Willow shifting uncomfortably in her chair at his last statement.

Willow hesitated outside the door, unsure of whether to knock or walk right in. Although, after getting slammed against the wall for failing to knock the previous night, walking in seemed like a risky prospect. She raised her hand, noticed that it was shaking, inhaled deeply, and knocked.

Ten seconds...thirty minute. No answer. Willow thought for a moment, weighing the possibilities. He's not here. He's here and not answering...why? Is he mad? Is he asleep? Visibly putting on her Resolve Face, she knocked again (more softly this time). Again, over a minute passed with no response. Shrugging, Willow turned to leave when she heard the door swing open and bounce off the wall.

"Well...if it isn't the Witch of Endor." Willow raised her eyebrows, surprised at Spike's familiarity with that reference. "Back for more, eh? Didn't get enough last night?" Spike leaned against the doorjamb, slouching at an alarming angle.

"Spike, are you drunk?"

"Imagine so, pet. Couple of the Watcher's Scotch bottles in there are quite a bit lighter....what?" He asked defensively, taking in her shocked look. "You don't drink, then? Hmmm...a lot you don't do...drink liquor, shag men, smoke..." he paused. "You don't smoke, do you, Red?" He fumbled in his pockets, presumably for his cigarettes, while Willow, still staring, shook her head negatively.

"Must've left them on the sofa." Spike turned and re-entered the apartment, weaving slightly as he made his way toward the couch. He stopped halfway, looked over his shoulder, and asked, "Well? You coming in? Mind shutting the door; this place gets a hell of a draft. Worse than a crypt."

Willow stayed by the door, still surprised at Spike's intoxication. "Spike, why..."

" I drunk?" He finished her question. "Why not? Don't have to think... passes the time." He gestured broadly toward the clock on the wall, sending a lamp to the floor as he did. "Bloody hell!"

Figuring that, as drunk as he was, Spike would only cause more damage to Giles' apartment trying to pick up the lamp, Willow crossed the room to help. As she bent down, Spike caught her wrist. "Spike!" She gasped.

"What? Oh, please. Tell me you didn't come over here tonight with only one intention."

"No...well...yes, I did, but..."

"But what? Thought we'd have a civilized cup of tea first?" Willow shook her head. "No, 'course you didn't. So let's not pretend." Still holding her wrist with one hand, he put his other hand on her waist and pulled her closer to him. Then he asked, voice low in her ear, "You sure you're not here for anything else, Red? You just selling, not buying?"

Willow pulled away from Spike, shoving him as she did so. The combined effect of two bottles of Scotch and a decent shove sent Spike stumbling backwards onto the couch. She was surprised when he chuckled.

"Fair enough, love. Just asking. I'm not totally selfish, y'know. Now," he held out one hand, "come here."

Staring at him with some trepidation, Willow slowly took his hand. Silently, Spike pulled her down next to him with unexpected gentleness. Giving her a long, appraising look, he slid one hand between her shoulder blades for support as he eased her back on the couch.

When Willow was satisfactorily lounging against the pillows, Spike turned his attention to her long, diagonally striped skirt. Grasping the material below her knees with both hands, he suddenly paused. "Y'ever think of wearing anything other than the Baggy Test Pattern Look, luv? Not that I don't appreciate the easy access," he slowly pushed her skirt up, "but you'd do well in something tight...something low-cut..."

"Thanks for the fashion tip, but I'm not a vampire." Willow shifted to recline further. "Don't you have something to do?"

Spike raised his eyebrows. "I'll get right to it, then." Giles' narrow couch presented more of a challenge than the armchair had the night before, but Spike was more than willing to work around the problem. Pushing Willow's skirt further up, he frowned for a moment, and then took hold of her outside leg, just behind the knee, and gently repositioned it until her foot was flat on the floor. "You okay, there, Red?"

Willow nodded, not meeting Spike's gaze. His gentleness, while surprising, was jarring her memory...creating a response she'd rather not be feeling. Not now, not after all this time. It wasn't right... Her face grew warm, and she realized she must be blushing. To her relief, Spike didn't notice, since his attention was on her hips, as were his hands, as he angled her just a bit more accessibly. Then he brought his head down much further, and Willow closed her eyes.

It felt different from the night before...slower, and more...greedy? Willow wondered if it was because he was drunk, or if it was just his bloodlust, given free rein after tasting her once. She could feel his lips on her growing warmer as he continued to drink. Could he actually take more than I have there? No, that's not possible, physiologically, not even for a vampire... Willow's musings were interrupted by Spike's insistent swallowing, punctuated by brief flashes of his tongue slipping inside her. Suddenly she was incapable of following any train of thought.

Without realizing it, Willow arched her back toward Spike. He responded by tightening his hold on her hips and sucking harder. Willow gasped, and Spike, common sense blurred by Scotch and blood, changed into vampface, fangs piercing Willow's tender inner thigh. Her cry was one of pain, causing Spike's chip to send electricity arcing through his brain. The shock made him growl against her, overwhelming Willow with memories that were very nearly physical. Unwilling to respond to Spike any further, she pushed at his shoulders.

Slowly, Spike sat up and half-turned away from her, as he struggled regain his human visage. Willow wiggled until she was sitting up, and adjusted her skirt. Spike finally turned to her, vamp features gone, a look of apology on his face. "Red? Are you..."

"I'm fine." At Spike's quizzical look, she repeated, "I'm fine. Really." Long pause. "I just...I have to go." She stood and fairly ran for the door.

Willow glanced at the bedside clock as she dropped her clothes on the floor. Thank god - only 3 a.m. She crawled into bed, debated with herself for approximately five seconds, and then whispered, "Tara? Tara, wake up." Willow ran her hand along the smooth curve of Tara's shoulder and down her arm. "Tara, come on, wake up."

Tara opened her eyes, peering groggily at Willow. "Honey? What is it? Something wrong?"

"Not a thing. Just this." Willow kissed Tara hard, and after a moment, Tara responded. Soon Tara's nightclothes joined Willow's Test Pattern skirt on the floor.

After the way she had responded - started to respond, she thought, started - the previous night, Willow hadn't intended to continue offering to let *(insisting that)* Spike drink from her. It's too complicated...too risky. Then she found out over breakfast that Xander - patrolling for the first time in a month, with Anya - had been on the receiving end of a Q'elan demon's sharp claws and swift right hook.

*// "Xander, why did the two of you go out alone? Look at you!"*

*"Will, we just wanted to be...useful again. And Spike was nowhere. We waited, but he didn't show up. So we went. It's not like we expected this to happen, you know."*

*"Can you even use your arm?"*

*"Oh yeah, look...gahhh! Okay, not so much. But it'll heal. And until then, patrol's covered. As long as Spike decides to show up. You think he disappeared last night because of his...crazy vamp depression thingy?" //*

Which led to Willow standing in Giles' living room, arguing with Spike about the wisdom of him continuing to drink from her.

"Red, this is a bad idea." In sharp contrast to the previous night, Spike was completely sober. "You keep doing this, it just makes me want...and you're telling me your witchy lover doesn't mind this?"

Willow didn't reply.

"Ohhhhhhhh." Spike smirked. "She doesn't know, does she? Little hard to explain the time-share arrangement?"

"Spike, you're disgusting. This isn't something I wake up in the morning and get all excited to do..." She paused at a strange glare from him. "Well, I don't. But Xander got hurt last night because he decided to patrol. And it could happen again, worse next time, to any one of us. We need you to patrol. That's why..."

Spike interrupted. "Why I need to drink human blood, your blood, it's right there and don't I want it." He recited as if by rote. "Yeah, yeah, I know your sales pitch." He frowned. "You think this is easy for me? To do this and then stop? To know as much as I want more, I can't have it without a million volts? I don't want a little, Red; I want it all. But you think I've got no self-will, that I'm not gonna turn down your offer. Think again."

*//The gash down the inside of Xander's arm wasn't long. It was, however, very, very deep.//*

"Okay, Spike." Willow dropped the argument. "I know I can't make you do anything." She turned her back on him and walked to the stairs. She unbuttoned her blouse, dropping it on the stairs behind her as she ascended. "I won't force you." She didn't look back.

At the door to Giles' bedroom, Willow paused. I shouldn't do this, I shouldn't do this...God, I have no other choice...stupid "Boss of Us" sign... Then she slipped off her shoes, unbuttoned her jeans, and climbed into bed. Giles' bed, Giles' bed, oh god, this is insane... She wriggled out of her jeans entirely, kicked them to the floor, pulled the covers up to her neck, and waited.

She looked at the clock. Three minutes., he's really stubborn. She hadn't heard the front door open, though, so Willow assumed that Spike was still in the apartment. What is he doing down there? Reading?

Ten minutes. Willow was about to concede defeat and put her clothes on so she could slink home, when she heard footsteps on the stairs, accompanied by low-pitched grumbling. At first, she thought Spike was growling, a uniquely frightening *(and sexy, oh, sexy too)* vampire sound, but he was actually just muttering under his breath.

"Think I'm such an easy target...throw your damned clothes around like some chippie..." Spike appeared in the doorway. He closed his eyes briefly at the sight of Willow under the covers. "Witch, you'd better have clothes on under there."

Willow poked her foot out of the covers, wiggling her toes. "Nope. The rest...the rest of me's like this, too. You still want me to leave?" He has to drink...if this is what it takes, so be it...

Spike groaned, a sound caught somewhere between pleasure and resignation. "Not like that, love. You'll catch a nasty cold, and everyone will wonder where you got it." He walked over to the bed, a predatory gleam in his eye. "You warm under there? Because these covers," he pulled them back, "have to go." He smiled as he took in Willow's state of complete undress. "So you needed to lose all the clothes for this, then? Not just the pants?"

"I needed to get you upstairs. Leaving a shoe on the steps might have worked for Cinderella, but I didn't think you'd appreciate subtlety."

Spike chuckled softly, snaking his way across the bed until he could run his hands along Willow's stomach. His cold fingers made her jump, but he didn't seem to notice as he let out a groan. "God, you're so feel..." He closed his eyes again, taking a deep breath. He stroked her stomach with one hand as the other trailed slowly upward.

Willow stopped him. "Spike...I...okay, this is going to sound crazy because, well, naked here, but - I wasn't - I didn't intend to - I just did this so you'd come up here so you would.... And you probably think that this is a big tease and I don't mean to be, but I just don't think I...and I guess I didn't plan ahead, and..."

"Willow." Spike interrupted. "S'okay. You ought to get something out of this, but if you don't want to, I'll take my pleasure."

Willow, unaware she was breathing faster, replied, "Okay. You can. I...I want to do this..."

Spike looked intently at her, his hands still on her stomach, thumbs tracing lazy circles. "All right, then." He slid his hands to her hips, and Willow unthinkingly shifted to allow him easier access. As he tasted her blood *(again, again, again)*, Spike murmured, " hot..." Then he pressed his lips more insistently against her and began to drink. His tongue slipped inside her as he swallowed her blood.

Willow clutched at the sheets pooled beneath her as she felt Spike's lips pulling at her, deeper and deeper. It seemed to go on and on, sucking and licking and drinking... He growled very low, very softly, against her, a long unbroken rumble that rippled into her stomach. She was making little noises in the back of her throat as he drank; when he finished, she almost cried out in disappointment. *(And guilt.)*

Spike appeared contented, a lazy smile on his face. "Love, I can feel your pulse racing down here." He slid his hands from her hips back to her stomach, eliciting a soft moan. "You're burning up...why don't you let me just..." Willow shook her head weakly. This isn't me, I don't want this. But...he loved her, and she's gone, and I miss her so much, and he misses her too, and he's offering me what he wanted with her...

"I can tell how aroused you are, witch." Spike's voice grew deeper. "It'll be very good, I promise." He trailed his fingers along her ribcage, and Willow arched toward him. "I've been inside you, pet, and your body wants more. Don't deny it..."

He misses her so much, like me... Willow, thinking only of solace, *(just comfort, nothing else, really)* interrupted Spike, reached down, and simply threaded her fingers through his hair, pulling him back to her. She closed her eyes. Tightly.

She felt Spike smile against her, and then felt his tongue, hard and shockingly cooler than his lips, thrust into her...and then withdraw. Slowly, teasingly, he licked upwards. Willow gasped and jerked, once, as the sensation built, tangling into a great knot within her. Spike ran his tongue just around the edges, cupping Willow's ass in his hands and pulling her closer.

And closer...and closer...oh, just once, just right...

*Everything was receding, everything except feeling, feeling and sudden memories...Tara, and sweet, sweet nights in her arms...The first time she made love with Oz (Whatareyoudoing?Panicking)... Kissing Xander, at the old factory (last time last time)...*

Willow could feel Spike's tongue darting lightly at her opening, his lips moving against her *(is he whispering?)* and it was tangling inside her, even tighter... Willow clutched harder at Spike's hair, and he responded by moving upward, his tongue hard and deliberate against her clitoris. She arched further, threw her head back on the pillow, and...opened her eyes.

Oh. Giles' apartment. Giles' room. Giles' bed...Giles' bed...

That thought, as much as anything, brought her over the edge, as she cried out and everything within her untangled, hard and sweet and on and on...

Slowly, she came back to herself. She raised one hand to brush the hair from her face and was surprised to find Spike's hand already there.

She met his eyes. He was smiling at her, oddly tender. "Back with us, love?"

Willow let out a long, shuddering breath. "...Spike..."

He continued stroking her hair even though it was out of her face. "Hmmm?"

"That...that was..." Willow broke off as tiny jolts continued to shoot through her. She took another deep breath, as rational thought made its way back from hiatus. "You..." her brow furrowed. "You're still dressed!"

"Mmmm. Certainly am."

"Do you...after that..." Willow wasn't sure of what she wanted to say. "I mean, you...and then I...but you're still dressed, and, after that, it would be only fair if..."

Spike interrupted. "S'okay, pet. Not necessary."

Willow looked hurt for a moment, and then her eyes widened as she realized something. "Oh, Spike. You haven't...with anyone since...Buffy died, have you?"

Spike looked away. "What does that matter?" His voice was rough.

Willow didn't reply *(Who does he have to turn to for solace?)*, but slid her hand up to his shoulder and tugged until he was lying down, his head resting on her stomach. "I miss her too." Willow's voice was barely audible, but she figured it was loud enough for a vampire to hear.

They were both silent for a long time. She could feel Spike's fingers move occasionally, idly stroking her ribcage. Then he asked, "Witch?"


"How long d'you bleed?"

"Oh. Umm...four days, usually."

"So, then. Same time tomorrow?"

Willow smiled ruefully. Guess this is going to be a regular thing, then. "Same time tomorrow." She felt him settle more solidly against her. Have to go home...would it be rude to just get up right now? Okay, a few more minutes. Just a few...

Willow woke up with a start. She looked around wildly for a moment, trying to figure out where she was. And... vampire! Vampire lying on me! On my naked naked everything...oh, wait. Willow remembered.

The faint grey light suddenly registered with her, and she twisted slightly under Spike's *(dead)* weight to read the bedside clock. *5:30!!* She wriggled out from under Spike, which was a more arduous task than it seemed it should be. He muttered briefly, and then rolled over, kicking the covers aside with his booted feet.

Willow located her pants and shoes and pulled them on. She crept downstairs, found her wrinkled blouse on the stairs, dressed swiftly, and ran for home.

Quietly, quietly...Willow made her way into the sleeping household. She tiptoed up the stairs, debated using a silence spell, and then decided against it. They've all got to be asleep. No need for a spell. Willow stood over the bed for a moment, looking at Tara's slumbering form. No way I can sleep next to her like this. Willow slowly took her clothes off *(again)*, dropped them in a pile on the floor, and disappeared into the bathroom for a shower.

When she came out, Willow was deliberately noisy, bumping into the dresser and dropping her hairbrush. Tara opened her eyes, peering blearily across the room. "Honey? Why are you up?"

Willow sat on the edge of the bed, hair damp on her neck. "Just couldn't sleep, so I got up. Do you want to go back to sleep?"

Tara smiled. "Not with you looking like that." Tara pulled Willow to her, never noticing that Willow's side of the bed had been cold.

A week later, Willow began to suspect that drinking human blood had had some effect on Spike.

Tara and Willow were making dinner, trying to work around Xander, who was slouched at the table and definitely Not Helping.

"Xander, do you think you could even..."

"Arm, remember? Sorry!" Although the waving of the aforementioned injured arm was the tiniest bit suspicious.

"Well, when do you think Anya and Giles will be done at the shop? I don't want this to be done too soon and get ruined sitting around." Tara pulled pots from the cabinet as she spoke.

"Giles said he needed to go over the accounting system with Anya - something about future plans." Xander stood and opened the breadbox, earning a glare from Tara. "What? I'm just going to make a snack since we don't know when dinner is. Believe me, it's not possible to spoil my appetite." Maybe Xander hadn't been lying about his injured arm, because he was unable to open the peanut butter jar.

"Here, let me." Tara took the jar from him and opened it effortlessly. "Ewww...nasty! Who would have left half a dill pickle in the peanut butter? At least, I think it's dill."

"You're kidding. In the peanut butter? That's disgusting."

"That's not a Xander-type sandwich?"

"No, he's more peanut butter and banana," Willow offered. "When we were kids, he used to hoard bananas so they'd have time to turn mooshy enough."

"Hmmm. You don't even like pickles, and I can't see Giles eating a peanut butter and pickle sandwich. That leaves Dawn. Where is she, anyway?"

"Upstairs," Willow said. "She said something about painting her nails, I think, and maybe she'd come down for dinner."

Just then, Spike came in the back door. "Dawn here? Told her I'd meet her after sunset...mmm, didn't miss dinner, did I?"

"You haven't mooched our food in weeks, Deadboy. What gives?" Xander took the peanut butter back from Tara and pulled the pickle out, aiming for the garbage can."

Spike noticed, reaching over to take it from Xander. "Here, don't throw that out - wondered where I left that." He left the kitchen, crunching contentedly on the pickle.

Willow, who had turned to rummage in the pantry as Spike came in, sighed deeply. She had been avoiding Spike for almost a week, since the last time he drank from her.

*// She had been napping the next afternoon, when she was slowly awakened by hands on her hips. Strong, cold hands. Spike's hands.*

*"Spike?" Hard to wake up, she was so tired from the night before (and the night before that, and the night before that). "What are you doing here?"*

*"Shhh, pet, you don't need to wake up. I'll do everything."*

So groggy...he slowly slid her pants down. "Spike," she summoned up something like concern, "is anyone else here?"

*"I was just at the shop, love. They're all there." //*

Willow remembered people in her dorm joking about one-night stands, and the best methods of avoidance afterward. Buffy and Parker. Crazy to avoid Spike, though. This wasn't like that. Impossible to avoid him, too.

*// ", you...not tonight?" Hard to think.*

*"Carpenter Boy really was hurt as bad as you said. Figured I ought to patrol tonight. They said you were here, napping. So I thought I'd..." Wicked grin. "Something tire you out last night?"*

Half-drifting back into sleep, but those hands, moving downward... "Just tired...Spike!" Willow gasped at the feel of his cool lips and tongue running the length of her opening.

*He murmured, "Just let me, love, just let me...mmmmm..." //*

She was running out of "This book must be at the Magic Shop / I have to go to bed / I'm going to Xander's" excuses. But it was embarrassing...hard to look at him.

*// Couldn't wake up fully...she felt him drinking, lapping at her, soft growls against her skin...deeper, his tongue searching for more, more...sucking harder, almost painful...and then upward, his hands tight on her hips. Tracing designs with the tip of his tongue...she sighed, arched toward him, moaned when he stopped. Again, cold lips, firm against her...the knot coiling tighter and tighter inside her...lips softer now, like lazy kissing...her hands in his hair...and then his fingers, his tongue, all focused on one point...ragged cries, now, and it was all washing over her and through her and then away away away...*

*She barely noticed him slipping out of bed. Then, snatches of conversation from downstairs:*

*"Little Bit? That you?"*

*" here?"*

*"...figured you'd come back here...just get back?"*

*Willow drifted soundly into a dreamless sleep.//*

"...Spike?" Willow heard only the end of Xander's question.

"What? Nothing! I...I mean, what did you ask?"

"I said, what's up with Spike? The careless, slobby, rude thing is new...well, not new, but it's just been absent for a while. Maybe he isn't all vamp-depressed after all..." Xander broke off as incomprehensible music started blaring from the living room, and then shouted, "because he sure seems his annoying self again!"

Willow bit her lip. "I...I guess he just needed time. Because, it takes time to get over losing someone, right? Even for a vampire?" She turned to wash some vegetables, hoping to hide her shaking hands.

She loved Tara. And all the complicated tangled feelings, the cocktail of grief and exhaustion and the burden of sudden leadership *(stupid glittery sign)* - they didn't excuse her doing any more than just giving Spike what he needed. But he loved Buffy, and he missed her the way that Willow did - with a dull ache that seemed endless. It didn't seem right to turn to Giles for solace, Xander wasn't willing to grieve with her, and Anya and Tara didn't love Buffy with the weight of years. But Spike's grief and pain matched hers.

Besides, the simple fact was that Spike needed human blood. Nobody else was going to offer it, Willow was sure. But she could take care of it, without ever dragging the others into it. That was what leaders did.

Later that evening, after a dinner punctuated by stony glares from Dawn, and Willow repeatedly shifting in her chair and staring at her plate, Spike announced without preamble, "So, let's talk about patrol tonight, yeah?"

"What do you mean, 'let's'? As in we? As in more than you?" Xander seemed genuinely taken aback, rather than sarcastic.

"You're damn right as in more than me. Word at Willy's is that there's a band of Lovaran demons in town - some ritual they have to perform on a specific date, and apparently on the Hellmouth. Bloody Mecca for the demon world."

"But Spike, you've been patrolling without us every night and doing just fine." Which Xander knew as well as everyone else was not quite true. "Why all of a sudden are you talking group function?"

"Because, lackbrain, a band of Lovaran demons? With the spines on the arms, and the flying?"

"Flying?" Dawn's face showed a mixture of fright and curiosity.

"Oh, yes," Anya piped up. "It's more short-distance hovering, clearing the treetops, that sort of thing. But it really gives them an edge in fighting." Everyone stared at her. "...which wouldn't bode well for a Lone Ranger-type fighter, would it? Although you haven't seemed to care about being outnumbered until now, so what gives?"

"I'm with the ex-demon on this," Xander said. "Why now, Spike?"

Spike was wearing his expression that translated roughly to Are these people entirely brainless? "Don't like the odds. I'd rather tip them in favor of me not getting killed. That so crazy?"

"Well..." Xander backed down at Spike's dirty look. "No! Completely with the sane!"

"Right, then. Everybody in?" At Dawn's look of excitement, Spike amended, "Not you, Nibblet. Don't want you tangling with Lovaran demons. They can take your arm off without even slowing down."

"Well, the rest of you are putting yourselves in danger, and isn't it about time that I..."

Tara interrupted with, "Dawnie, no. These demons sound pretty serious, and we can't fight the way we need to if we're watching you, too. We need you to stay here, stay in, lock the doors. Before we go, Will and I can work a protection spell, right?" Tara glanced at Willow, who was still staring at her plate as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world. "Will?"

"What?" She jumped. "Oh, right, a protection spell. Definitely. Piece of cake by now."

"For you, maybe," Tara replied with a smile.

"Right, right," Spike broke in. "Sprinkle the pixie dust, cast the spell. Let's talk about patrol. Red," Willow jumped again at the sound of her nickname, "there's gotta be a way to use your mojo on patrol. What about that telepathy bit you did when we were fighting Glory and her band of the insane?"

"Uhh...yeah, I can do that," Willow replied. Okay, I have to act more with the program before everyone notices that something's wrong here. "I could...climb a tree or something, and tell you guys which way the demons are coming from."

"Psychic sniper Willow!" Xander said. "I like!"

"Now, what about weapons?" Spike rattled off a list of questions, shocking everyone with his preparedness.

Willow leaned closer to the table, trying to help with the planning. Her mind was racing, however. Spike seems back to normal...well, his normal. I was right! I knew it! Human blood was all he needed to snap him out of his mood. I fixed it! I can handle this. No problem. Unless he needs it every month for the rest of...well, ever. Willow's frown went unnoticed as the others began to get caught up in the familiar rhythm of planning for patrol.

Xander finished bandaging Anya's lower arm. "That should do it, An." He eased the sleeve of the t-shirt (borrowed from Tara) back down over the bandage. "You were a very good patient. Would you like a lollipop from Dr. Harris?"

"Xander, save your innuendo for a night when my favorite shirt wasn't slashed to ribbons by a Ka'ak demon. That was an expensive designer blouse!"

"You know, honey, you're not the only one with collateral damage," Xander told Anya. "This," he pointed to his left cheekbone, "is going to bruise a lovely shade of purple before morning, which will clash with all the new fall fashions. Tara isn't going jogging any time soon," he gestured to the couch, where Tara rested with a bag of ice on her right ankle, "and Giles' arm still hasn't healed from the battle with the Lovaran demons."

From the couch, where he was tending to Tara, Giles protested. "That was two weeks ago, Xander. The doctor assured me I could patrol again by now."

"He said you could patrol?" Spike was smirking, slouched in the overstuffed chair and drinking a beer. "You and the doc had a conversation about the perils of demon slayage?"

Giles rolled his eyes. "He said I could resume normal activities. And patrolling is a normal - and necessary - activity on the Hellmouth. I should have gone tonight, but..."

"Not ready to get knocked on the head one more time?"

"Prat," Giles muttered under his breath at Spike. With his vampiric senses, Spike heard Giles' epithet and merely winked at him, still smirking.

In a normal tone of voice, Giles said, "If I had been there tonight, perhaps Tara wouldn't have injured her ankle, and..."

"Giles, we just need everyone at full strength," Willow interrupted as she descended the stairs. "Even with the Buffybot working again, we still need all of us on patrol, and that means full strength. But if your arm really feels back to normal, we'll need you tomorrow night.

"She still has a few glitches," Willow continued, focused on her own train of thought, "but I think I fixed the big ones. The wiring isn't hard to fix, but the programming is a little tricky. Warren knew what he was doing when he made her a..." she glanced at Spike and then quickly away, "...when he made her."

Two weeks had passed since the first group patrol. They had been unsure at first, but the blow that sent Giles flying into a wall, arm bent at an unhealthy angle, shocked them into some semblance of their old fighting mode. Willow, aided by Xander, had clambered up into the wide branches of an oak tree, where she could see any approaching demons and warn the others telepathically. (Although that took some adjustment, because Xander jumped and whirled around, brandishing his axe, every time Willow communicated with him.)

*// "Oh, real good, lackbrain," Spike had drawled, amused. "That won't give us away at all."*

*"Look, deadboy, just because you've been patrolling all month while we haven't been...doesn't give you any right to act all superior."*

*Spike had opened his mouth to retort but before he could say anything, the Lovaran demons attacked. //*

Two weeks. Two trips to the hospital (Giles' arm and Tara's ankle, both ultimately minor injuries, but no one knew that right away).

*// Giles, broadsword in hand, had cornered a Lovaran demon. His primary concern was avoiding the sharp spines along its arms; his secondary concern, killing the creature. It wasn't surprising, then, that he didn't see the second Lovaran gliding soundlessly through the air to his right. Willow had gasped audibly, and then warned Giles telepathically. "Giles! To your right!" Giles had spun a second too late, and the flying demon hit him with such force that he was thrown ten feet before crashing into a wall. //*

Two weeks. Fourteen nights of patrol. Two broken axes. One burn on Spike's hand, which healed quickly. Three gashes on Xander's right arm. One leg scratched from top to bottom when a flying Lovaran demon knocked Willow out of the tree in which she was perched. Eight full work hours, Anya pointed out several times, that the Magic Box was closed because they were all needed to search by day for a Travok slime demon.

*// As the first Lovaran demon approached Giles' unmoving form, Spike had come running around the corner of a mausoleum, yelling as he ran, "Come on!"*

*Weaponless, Spike attacked the demon, throwing punches and dodging the spiny arms. The demon kicked him squarely in the chest, sending Spike sprawling on the ground. He was back on his feet in an instant, though, charging back in to the fight. //*

Two weeks. Five dead Lovaran demons. Twenty dusted vampires. Three dead Ka'ak demons. One dead Travok slime demon.

*// The surprise was Tara. She fought boldly, aware of her limitations, but unafraid to jump into battle.*

The Lovaran had Spike in a chokehold from behind. Preparing to strike, it had raised one arm, spines fully extended along the length of it, when it suddenly slumped and released its grip on Spike's neck. Spike spun around and then dodged out of the way as the demon fell face down into the dirt. A crossbow bolt protruded from the demon's back, piercing its heart.

*Spike looked up. "About bloody ti..." He broke off in surprise at seeing Tara standing before him, crossbow in one hand. "Well, witch, nice aim. Expected one of the menfolk, though. They die?" //*

Two weeks, and they were keeping the demon population under control. With the help of the Buffybot. Willow had repaired it after the battle with the Lovaran demons, when they all realized that Buffy's absence was starting to raise questions among the demon community. Even Willy had asked about the Slayer; Xander's fumbling reassurance that Buffy was just out of town simply increased suspicion.

The Buffybot was the only way they could keep Sunnydale from being overrun by demons; they all agreed. Except Spike, who exempted himself from the discussion, returning hours later reeking of alcohol.

*// "This won't work as a long-term solution," Willow had said. "Shouldn't you tell the Council, Giles? Couldn't they do something?"*

*"Faith is in jail, Willow," Giles replied.*

*"They could have her released, couldn't they?"*

*"I fear they would think the expedient thing would be to call the next Slayer."*

*"Well, great," Anya said. "With Buffy dead, and the other Slayer in jail, we need a replacement as soon as possible."*

No one spoke for a moment.

*"What? Isn't that the best solution?" Anya asked.*

*"An, one Slayer is called when the previous one dies," Xander explained.*

*"So? Buffy died. Where's her replacement?"*

*"Anya, Buffy died once before, though only briefly," Giles said. "When that happened, a new slayer was called, and now the line of descent is not through Buffy, but through Faith. And in order to call a new Slayer, Faith would have to be..."*

*"Oh." Anya was silent. " she still bad? Because if she is, then maybe..."*

*"An, now not the best time to think about another Slayer dying," Xander winced as he spoke.*

*"So we can't call the Council. That means all we have is us. And a Buffybot that speaks word salad half the time," Willow said.*

*"We have no other options, Willow. If you can think of any, I'd like to hear them." Giles stood abruptly, ending the discussion. //*

Willow remained convinced, however, that the Buffybot could never be a long-term solution, but at the moment, she had no better ideas. She did have access to all the books in the Magic Box, and decided to research alternate ways of controlling demons. She immersed herself in every supernatural tome on the shelves, practically drinking in the text. Mass hypnosis wasn't a viable option, because it didn't work on certain types of demons, and was apt to cause others to grow in power. Willow found one method that may have worked - teleporting all non-human sentient life forms into another dimension - but it was voted down immediately as too risky by Tara and Giles; alone, Willow didn't have enough power to work the spell.

Still, she continued to research by day, surreptitiously dipping into the books Giles kept in the loft, while by night she patrolled with the others. She was honing her telepathy skills, directing the others in battle and warning of sudden attacks. Xander still jumped in surprise half the time Willow communicated with him telepathically, but he was slowly growing used to it, and patrol was manageable.

The Buffybot was invaluable to them; not only did it fool the demons into believing that Buffy was alive, it also could be programmed to fight nearly as well as Buffy. While they were grateful for the help, the robot's presence unnerved them, Spike most of all.

Willow had deleted all of the Buffybot's Spike-responsive programming (at least, she thought she did), and it simply treated Spike as one of the group. That wasn't good enough for him, apparently, because he refused to patrol anywhere near it, and one night after a sweep of Restfield Cemetery he demanded, in a rough voice, that Willow "keep that thing locked away when you don't need it."

Spike had barely spoken to Willow since she repaired the Buffybot, other than to demand that she erase all of the modifications Warren programmed into it, and to keep it out of sight when they weren't patrolling. Willow was relieved, mostly, because it eased her feelings of embarrassment around Spike, given that he was never around her. Maybe he won't need to feed this month - that would be a relief.

Truth be told, though, she wasn't at all surprised when Spike cornered her in the kitchen one day.

"So, Red, been about a month now, hasn't it?"

"Spike..." Willow quickly looked around for anyone who might overhear.

"What? Worried the others might find out about our arrangement? Think they won't approve? You're willing to do anything for the team - they ought to be in favor of that. Work your witchy spells, resurrect the Buffybot - what's feeding Spike compared to all that?"

"Spike, are you mad at me?"

"Mad? Let's see, you brought back that...that thing I had the nerd build, bring it out on patrol every night, let it walk and talk, remind everyone of...and you ask, am I mad?"

"Spike, it was actually a good thing that you had the robot built...I mean, creepy when you did it, sure, but right now it's the only thing that's buying us some time with the demons, until..." Willow trailed off.

"Until what? You going to fix this too? Quite the president-elect, aren't you, love?" His tone was harsh.

"Spike, what do you want me to do? Let us all die? Because, yeah, I'm sad, too. I miss her every day. But I'd rather not die, and I don't think you want to, either. No one else, not even Giles, has any idea what we can do long-term, but me - I'm trying to find a solution. If you don't like that, then why don't you leave?"

Spike was silent for a moment, jaw clenched. Then: "I promised to look after Little Bit. And I'm going to keep that promise. To her." He paused again. "You going to keep your promise to me?"

Willow sighed. Should have known better. "Yes. As soon soon as I can, I will. You'll know anyway, won't you?"

Spike smirked. "I will, at that. Well, then. Be seeing you soon, Boss."

Willow watched him leave through the back door, and didn't hear Dawn come in the kitchen.

"What was that about?"

Willow jumped at the sound of Dawn's voice. "Dawnie! Did you...did you hear all that?" Does she overhear every conversation in the kitchen?

"Some. Why is Spike so mad?"

"Dawnie, know he loved Buffy. And he misses her like we all do."

Dawn glared at Willow with a look that said Do you think I'm stupid?

"Right. You know that. Well, it's just that...the Buffybot, even though it's a big help to us, he doesn't like having it around. Because it reminds him of Buffy."

Dawn, to everyone's surprise, had actually become attached to the Buffybot after her initial shock. She tended to it, brushing its hair, and, Willow suspected, sleeping with it most nights. "You aren't trying to get rid of it, are you?"

"Well, not yet, but..."

"God! You can't do anything that helps! All you do, all day, is research for something that doesn't exist, when you have the one thing right here that does help you. And now you want to get rid of it? What is wrong with you? None of your research helps, but the Buffybot does." Following Spike's lead, Dawn stomped out of the kitchen.

Willow sighed deeply. She hadn't told anyone yet - not even Tara - about what she found the day before, in a book so old that the paper was tissue-thin, crumbling at the edges. Death caused by mystical energy. Returning the essence to the body. Resurrection.

Not reanimation; resurrection. Restoring Buffy's soul to her body.

She could do it. She'd need the others on board, but she could do it. Willow could bring Buffy back. And everything would be okay again. They needed Buffy, not the robot, the real Buffy. The scrapes and injuries they'd all sustained in the past two weeks were proof enough of that. Sooner or later, even with the Buffybot, someone would be badly hurt. Or killed.

And the Buffybot wouldn't fool the demon population forever. If it were hit in the right way, hard enough, its robotic insides would be clearly on display. Once word got out, every hellion in the northern hemisphere would be packing up and moving to Sunnydale. The robot was only a temporary solution. Raising Buffy would be permanent. The real thing. They needed Buffy.

And...Buffy needed them. *(Probably.)*There was no way to tell where Buffy's soul was, what might be happening to it right now. And if there were a chance that she was in a hell dimension like Angel was... Well, Glory's portal didn't look like a doorway to Valhalla, let's face it. Any dimensional gap that spews forth dragon-like creatures and unimaginable demons could not be a portal to anywhere good. Willow was sure of that. Wherever Buffy - her soul, her essence - was, she needed to be rescued.

Willow needed Buffy, too; not in the fight-the-demons, save-the-world way that they all needed her, but because she was Buffy. Willow's best friend. The one she counted on when things were bad. And...Buffy was the leader. The real leader. If Buffy were back, then Willow wouldn't have to make these decisions, she wouldn't have to decide how to keep the demons at bay and be the one to plan for the future. She wouldn't have to bear everyone's grief and keep her own inside. She wouldn't have to take care of everyone.

She wouldn't have to take care of Spike.

As she was thinking this through, Willow felt an all-too-familiar pain in her abdomen. Damn. Did I somehow evoke it? Resigned, she put on her jacket and left the house for Giles' apartment, all the while planning in her head. If Buffy were here, Spike would be back to normal; he wouldn't need Willow to feed him. I won't have to do this ever again.

They all needed Buffy back.

Willow could do it.

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