My Baby Is A Centerfold

My Baby Is A Centerfold

By Barb C.

Rating: PG-13
Summary:Spike and Dawn undertake a mission of honor. If you've ever wondered what became of the nerd trio in the Barbverse, wonder no longer.
Pairing: B/S, Spike & Dawn
Setting: Post-Gift /AU Season 6/7
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Distribution: Ask and you shall receive, I'd just like to know where it ends up.
Authorís notes: This story takes place in the same universe as "Raising In the Sun," "Necessary Evils," and "A Parliament of Monsters." It's set in the summer between NE and POM, and contains minor spoilers for NE.

***

I could tell something was wrong the minute I walked in the door. The house had that too-quiet thundercloud feeling about it, and it wasn't just because of the blackout curtains. Buffy was still at the rink, Tara was at her summer job, and Willow was probably asleep (she's not as much of an early riser as Spike is). Normally this means an afternoon of bad TV and junk food with Spike, but the TV wasn't on. Spike =always= has the TV on.

When Spike moved in there was a whole big reshuffling thing, like musical chairs with bedrooms, and Spike ended up getting my old room as an office for Bloody Vengeance Inc., the demon-hunting business he and Anya started. I figured he was probably holed up in there downloading porn or something. Never overlook an opportunity to collect blackmail material is my motto. I dumped my library books on the couch and snuck upstairs with super-Slayer's-sister stealth, which wouldn't do me any good at all if Spike was actually, like, paying attention to his super-keen vampire hearing. Which apparently he wasn't, since I got all the way upstairs without a single physically impossible threat bellowed in my direction.

Spike was in the office, all right--I could see his hair glowing in the light of the computer monitor. I couldn't see what he was looking at, but whatever it was, it must have been really good, 'cause his eyeballs were practically SuperGlued to the screen. Or maybe really bad, because he looked horrified, not turned on. OK, what horrified William the Bloody? Besides the prospect of squiring Buffy to "Fantasy On Ice?" This I had to see. I rounded Spike's desk and peered over his shoulder. "Hey, mister, you got feelthy pictures?"

If it was Willow? Two clicks of a mouse's tail and whatever was in that window would be closed, password protected, PGP-encrypted, and accessible only through an FTP server in Outer Mongolia. Spike's way better with technology than some vampires I could name, but when he's taken by surprise he still resorts to more primitive methods. He scrambled around in his chair with the panicky flail of a cat falling off a windowsill and slapped a hand across my eyes. "Don't look!" he ordered, about half an octave higher than usual.

Which meant it was a moral imperative for me to put some of that self-defense training he'd been giving me into practice and kick him in the shins--oh, come on, you'd have done it, too. "Fuck!" Spike yelled. He grabbed for his ankle, overbalanced, and banged his head on the edge of the desk as his chair rolled out from under him. He crashed to the floor, leaving me with a free-and-clear view of the computer.

Now, I want to make it real clear that I'm a sixteen-year-old of the world. I know all about the birds and the bees and the vampires. I've even done a little buzzing myself. And of course I know that my sister and Spike have--well, 'having sex' is way too tame for what they do. Anyway, I know all about The Sex in theory. I also know how sausages are made, in theory. That doesn't mean I'm panting for an up-close at the gooey details of either process. Especially when it involves a grainy RealPlayer file of my very naked sister bouncing up and down on my very naked best-friend-and-platonic-lust-object in Barbie's S&M Playhouse.

I may have said something. It may have been 'gleep.' Luckily for my retinas, at that minute Spike lunged up over the edge of the desk and put his fist through the screen. The monitor exploded in a shower of pretty green sparks, and Spike stood there glaring at it all clenchy-jawed and snarly, breathing hard through his teeth. He turned the glare on me. "I swear by all that's unholy, Bit, the next time you sneak up on me like that I'm going to put you in a two-by-three box without benefit of hacksaw!"

I glared right back--no way was he going to make this my fault. "How was I supposed to know you were watching Vampire Pervert Theater 3000?" I snapped. "I thought you were just watching NORMAL porn! Jeez, Spike, if you and Buffy are gonna to videotape your stay in the Satellite of Love, at least--"

Spike vamped out and hurled the monitor clean off the desk and into the wall with a roar (and when I say 'roar,' I don't mean 'loud yell,' I mean 'roar') of "WE DIDN'T BLOODY WELL TAPE IT!"

Wow. I never knew monitors were made up of that many pieces. "You mean you taped it without =telling= her?" I squeaked.

"NO!" Spike flexed his computer-punching hand (bloody knuckles, shards of glass, v. sexy) and shook off the lumpies. "Someone soon-to-be-departed did! I've never seen the sodding thing before in my life!" He looked really bewildered underneath the homicidal fury.

"OK, where did you find it?" I asked. I didn't exactly want to say so, but it occurred to me that maybe Buffy had taped it without telling =him=. Buffy may play it all Sandra Dee on the outside, but on the inside? Pure Gypsy Rose Lee. She had to keep it all bottled up during The Angel Years, and during The Riley Years she had to be really careful not to break him, and now, well--Exhibit A, currently lying in ten zillion pieces on the floor. "Was the file just sitting on your hard drive, or...?"

Spike looked super-guilty all of a sudden. His head ducked down between his shoulders, vampire ninja turtle style. "Mighthaveclickedonalinksomethin'boutSlayers," he mumbled.

"In other words, you were surfing for Slayer porn?" I folded my arms and settled in for some primo foot-tapping. "Don't you get enough of that at home?"

"I was not! I just...happened on it, like, looking for something else!" Spike is the world's second worst liar (Willow is the winner and still champeen) and he could see I wasn't buying it. "And anyway, it's a bloody good thing I did! Christ knows how long that's been out there for any spotty little deviant with their mum's credit card number to--" His eyes went Inuyasha-huge as fresh horror overtook him. "How long =has= it been out there?"

"I'm more worried about who the cameraman was," I said. Spiders walked up my spine for a second. "I mean, that was your bedroom, right?"

Two seconds later we burst in through the door of Mom's old room, now Buffy and Spike's House of Ill Repute. I dove for the closet and Spike ripped open the door of the big old mahogany wardrobe he'd dragged over from the crypt. (But he didn't go inside, because as everyone knows, it's very foolish to shut yourself inside a wardrobe.) I stared at the crush of cute tops and kicky boots, ooh, I bet Buffy won't miss this one, she hasn't worn it in weeks... "How many shoes does she OWN?" I pulled a box free and the whole Leaning Tower Of Gucci collapsed on me.

"Stop larking about," Spike growled, grabbing my feebly waving hand and yanking me out of the sea of footwear. "By the angle it's got to be around here somewhere..." He did one of those effortless vampire leaps and chinned himself on the top of the wardrobe, peering over the facade of wooden curlicues on the top. "Got the bastard!" He snaked one arm over the rim and jerked something small and black free, and dropped back to the floor with a thump. "What the hell...?"

It was a tiny, palm-sized camera with a little antenna sticking out of the top. Witness the creepiness. "I'm freaking out here," I said, plopping down on the bed. "Someone actually broke into our house and hid that up there!"

Spike snarled and closed his fist, and the camera joined the monitor in Electronics Heaven before I could yell, "Wait, that's evidence!"

"Not any more, it's not."

"It could lead us back to whoever planted it," I said impatiently. "We could have woken Willow up and had her...I don't know, do something technical."

"Point." Spike shoved his lower lip out and scowled. "If there's one, there may be more. In fact, there's got to be."

I blinked. "How can you tell?"

He looked guilty and embarrassed again. "Ah, well, you see, the web site said...

"Oh, as they say, my God." Xander stared at the tiny repeating clip with sick fascination. "'The Hottest Slayer in a Century Meets The Coolest Vampire Ever, and Guess Who Gets Staked! Sizzling Action With Cold, Dead Seed!' And this is just the teaser. You can order a whole DVD, only $49.99. Hours of fun for the whole family."

"Well, I must say both of you have excellent technique," Anya said with an approving nod. "And Spike has a large and well-formed penis, though personally I prefer circumcised men. But I can certainly understand why you're upset if you're not getting your rightful share of the profits."

"Spike, could you cool it with the growly noises?" Willow asked, her fingers flying over the keyboard. "It's distracting. OK, there's definitely more cameras... six at least. The Magic Box, the skating rink, Spike's crypt...this one's dead... Directory, directory, who's got the root directory...hah! Xander, hand me that Unicode list."

"What I still don't get is why someone bothered to break into our house and plant cameras," I said from the opposite end of the dining room table. I was staying as far away from follow-the-bouncing-Buffy as possible. "Especially considering Spike would have ripped their heads off if he'd caught them, and Buffy would have gotten REALLY mean. If you want to make a sex film, why not just go over to one of the frat houses on campus and hire a couple of college students?"

"I hate to say it, Dawnie, but I don't think they were making a porn film." Xander tore himself away from Willow's laptop. "This is surveillance camera footage. Someone's been spying on Buffy, and the porn film is just a happy byproduct."

"But that doesn't make any sense," Willow muttered. She picked up one of the larger camera fragments with a pair of tweezers. "Look, it's all dusty, and the battery pack was dead. This hasn't worked for weeks, maybe months. Do we have any toner cartridges we could break open? I think we could use the toner as fingerprint powder, and if whoever installed these left any prints, and if Spike didn't smudge them all up with his macho camera-crushing..."

"Oh, right, blame the victim," Spike groused. "Christ, I need a fag." He stomped over to the kitchen door, and I got up and followed him out to the back porch, which was in shadow at this time of day. He lit a cigarette and stood there puffing furiously, all formal and stiff, and it weirded me out. I mean, Spike doesn't just walk or stand or sit. Spike struts and lounges and sprawls and tucks his thumbs in his belt all "Hi, I'm Spike, and this is my crotch!"

On the other hand, somewhere underneath Spike, Vampire Sex God, is still a guy who grew up when ankles were an erogenous zone. "Spike...are you OK?"

"Didn't want you to see that," he said at last. "Not right. Not proper."

He looked absolutely miserable. Any other time I'd have patted his shoulder, but I figured I'd better roll my eyes instead. I leaned against the side of the house, ultra-cool and sophisticated and untroubled by the certain knowledge of Naked Spike a mere two layers of cloth away. "It's OK. Honest. It's not like I've never seen a naked guy before--"

That was a mistake. Spike went yellow-eyed, achieving zero to over-protective in six seconds. "And just who the hell--"

"You and Xander, dope, when we all went skinny dipping after that clambake. Get your mind out of the gutter." Of course vague glimpses of guy-parts decently veiled by darkness and ice-cold seawater and didn't quite, uh, measure up to, well, let's just say I'm going to be comparing my future boyfriends to Spike in more ways than one, but you know, I wasn't going to =let= this be weird. Spike is a total hottie, and maybe, just =maybe= there have been a few daydreams. Detailed daydreams. With a sound track and special effects. But there are hotties all over the planet, and not all that many guys you can talk to about important stuff like whether or not you really existed before two years ago, and whether the monks that created you remembered to add a standard-issue soul to the mix, and how incredibly annoying older sisters can be. "On second thought, I'm deeply traumatized. I think I might get over it if you talked Buffy into letting me get my navel pierced."

Spike stared at me, various bits of him twitching. "Dawn--"

I patted his shoulder, because I could. "You're gonna be inhaling filter in a minute. Let's go inside."

When we got back inside, Willow had bit and pieces of camera wired up to the laptop. "Curiouser and curiouser," she said. "The server this camera was supposed to send information to doesn't exist any longer, or at least, it's not turned on. The web site's on a regular commercial server, and the domain name's registered to Horatio Hellpop--pseudonym much? Good news, it looks like the site's only been up for a couple of days--" She broke into a triumphant grin. "We're in!"

"What're you waiting for, then?" Spike doesn't usually use his sire-to-minion voice on Willow, but he was using it now. "Take it down!"

"Patience, Grasshopper." Willow typed a few more cryptic strings of symbols into the laptop. "Bad news, it's going to take me a few hours to find out who the owner really is. I'll have to hack into Paypal to get his bank account info and track IP addresses and stuff."

Spike began pacing back and forth, tense and borderline vampy, looking like he really, really wanted to kill something. Or someone. "And in that time this berk could run off a hundred more copies and pass 'em out to friends as door prizes."

"Or keep them and sell fifty-seven of them to the list of people I'm downloading now," Willow said. "OK. I've disabled the site and changed the passwords, so no one will be able to order any more." She cracked her knuckles. "Give me six hours and I can clean out Larry Flynt Junior's bank account, ruin his credit history, and send anonymous tips to Donald Rumsfeld that he's a terrorist child pornographer." Willow's a little less scary without her magic, but really? Not by that much. She looked around. "Not that I would ever do anything like that."

Spike snatched the list of names and credit card numbers off the printer and squinted at it. "Bloody hell. There's addresses all the way from Juneau to Key West." He looked at the list again, and smiled. Need I say it wasn't a very nice smile? "I think it's time to pay a visit to the locals. Could be some of them have an idea who they're ordering from. Harris, you want to take out the rest of those cameras, and--" He turned to Willow. "Will, when Buffy gets home, for God's sake don't let her suss out anything's wrong. If she finds out about this..."

All of us shuddered in unison. If Buffy found out there would be an explosion of thermonuclear proportions. Spike grabbed his motorcycle jacket and blanket and headed for the front door, and I leaped to my feet and ran after him. "Wait up! I'm going with you!"

He scowled at me. "I think not. You're going to stay here, and distract your sister like a good little minor."

"Uh-uh." I used all of my hey-Dawnie's-tall-now height to advantage. "Look, Spike, all this stuff getting out does to you is make you mad. If Buffy finds out, she's going to be..." I floundered for a minute. "=Humiliated,= and nobody humiliates my sister except me. I'm gonna go with you, and we're gonna find out who did it and...and... kick their butts with pointy-toed shoes."

Spike glared, but it was the old I-disapprove-on-principle-but-you're-a-bit-of-all-right,-Niblet glare, and I knew he'd be caving in ten, nine, eight... "Move yer girly arse, then," he said with an unconvincing growl. "We've got villains to apprehend."

I scooted for the DeSoto before he could change his mind. Maybe he thought that it would be a good idea to have someone soul-having around when he was this mad, just in case. Or maybe, and I really prefer this version, he just wanted a partner in crime because it's more fun that way. Spike flung the blanket over his head and copied my dash for the car, and we flung ourselves into the DeSoto's dark interior just as Spike was beginning to sizzle. "You come along, you mind what I tell you, yeah? I say stay in the car, you stay in the car. I say you run, you run. I say you take that fucking pathetic excuse for music out of the CD player and toss it out the window--"

"--and I ignore you like always," I said cheerfully, turning up the Jennifer Lopez.

"Fine. If anyone dies tonight, it's on your head. Some things are beyond any self-respecting vampire's endurance." Spike slammed into reverse and backed out of the driveway with a screech of tires. I grabbed the door handle. Driving with Spike is always a character-building experience, and today was no exception. "First on the hit parade?"

I scanned the list. "Vernon Blakely, 1583 East Beechwood. What are we gonna say to Mr. Blakely when we get there?"

Spike gazed out through the little clean space in the windshield, obviously pondering which limb he should rip off first, and peeled out like there was a mob with torches after us. "Improvisation is a virtue, Bit."

Spike was smoking gently beneath his blanket when the shade-deficient door of 1583 East Beechwood opened to our urgent hammering, and a middle-aged guy with thinning red hair and freckles and a pot belly opened it and blinked at us. He looked like Mr. Weasley gone to seed. "Mr. Blakely?" I said with my brightest, shiniest smile.

The Blakely looked from me to Spike, and the contrast seemed to produce some kind of cognitive dissonance on his part. "Can I... have we met?"

"Only in spirit." Spike leaned heavily against the doorframe, with a smile that was probably supposed to be reassuring, but which made him look like he was sporting fangs even when he wasn't. Spike isn't a big guy--in fact, he's on the smallish side, but he's got, you know, muscles. And this air of being able to rip your liver out. Also did I mention the muscles? "I'm given to understand you made a purchase recently from...ah..." He glanced surreptitiously at the paper in his hand. "...Mad Genius Productions?"

Mr. Blakely looked at me, dubious, and at Spike, nervous. "What of it? If I'd done anything like that, which I didn't."

"We're from the, uh, department of quality control," I chirped. "The DVDs are..."

"Radioactive," Spike put in. "Rot your goolies off just like =that.=" I gave him an elbow-jab.

"Defective," I said firmly. "Glitches. Pixelization. It's criminal the kind of shoddy merchandise we put out. We're recalling them and giving you a replacement at absolutely no charge!"

Spike held up a jewel case and flashed it under Blakely's nose. "Director's cut. Added scenes. 40% more filth for the price."

Suspicion was gathering in Mr. Blakely's watery blue eyes. "Hey, you're that guy from the video," he said.

Spike heaved a melodramatic sigh. "All right, all right, as you've twisted my arm, I'll autograph it for you."

The watery eyes brightened. "Really?"

Five minutes later we were dashing for the car again, with the confused Mr. Blakely waving us goodbye. "So what's he going to do when he discovers he's been suckered for a bootleg copy of J-Lo's latest?" I asked, as we tore away from the curb.

"Long as it's got some bint with her tits hanging out on the cover, I doubt he'll notice the difference." Spike grinned. "There'd just better be some hitting involved in the next one."

"I don't believe there's any such thing as a Department of Quality Control," Mr. Angusson said, looking us up and down. "What the hell kind of scam are you pulling?"

"All we want to do is to replace--" I started.

"Look, missy, I bought that DVD nice and legal, and I don't give a crap if whatever goombah and his girlfriend put on plastic fangs to do it is having second thoughts now. So you and your boyfriend just toddle off and--"

"HEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLLLLPPPPP!!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. "HE'S SHOWING ME HIS THING! IT'S ALL GROSS AND PURPLE AND--"

Angusson disappeared and reappeared in two seconds flat, chucking the DVD at our heads.

"Better," Spike said as we tore out yet again. "But I'm still feeling a lack in the hitting things area."

Mr. Fishbein retreated a step from the threshold. "I'm not giving you anything, and I'm not letting you in," he quavered. "What do you think I am, stupid? You're a vampire!"

Spike rolled his eyes. He's learned from the masters. "Oh, bollocks, you don't really believe--"

"Oh, yeah?" Fishbein challenged. "Step through that door!"

I stepped through the door, grabbed Fishbein's hand and gave him a good hard yank, right across the threshold and into Spike's waiting fist.

"What was that?," Spike caroled, drawing back for another punch. "Come on in and have a cuppa, Spike? Better repeat it, I'm a touch deaf in that ear."

"That was unnecessarily bloody," I said as we hopped into the car and stepped on the gas, one DVD richer.

"He'll live," Spike said dismissively. "Probably. Next?"

"Can you see--?" I hissed, trying to get a better view through the front window. It was getting dark, and I was out of practice at sneaking around not-really-abandoned buildings. Spike shushed me and crept around to the door. I peered through the sad straggly thevetia hedge, cupping my hands against the dirty glass. The place was just crawling with innnnnnteresting monsters, all huddled around a crappy old black and white TV. There's some law against demons watching flatscreen color, apparently.

"Oh, my God, are they really...you know....doing it?" The Gorthesch demon bumped a couple of Fyarls further down on the couch and plunged a scaly paw into the bowl of popcorn as they all stared at the flickering screen. "With a =Slayer?= I mean, I heard about it, but I didn't think even a vampire could sink that low."

"Real vampires don't," the lone vampire in the crowd protested, voice dripping disgust. "Maybe great big Slayer-whipped pussies do, but--"

"Shut up!" came a chorus of squeaky, growly, and croaky voices. Despite the complaints, everyone seemed to like the show. There were tongues hanging out. At least, I hope they were tongues.

"Yeah, it's just gettin' to the good part," a Syvithis demon whispered.

"Oooh! The one with the pommel horse?"

"No, where the Slayer goes down on him in the graveyard and he--"

The front door imploded with a crash, splinters flying everywhere, and Spike strode into the room over the wreckage, a gleam in his eye and a really, really big axe slung over one shoulder. He surveyed the assortment of demons with a grin almost as big as the axe and about twice as vicious, ran his tongue over his teeth and and tucked his free thumb in his belt loop, fingers splayed over the merchandise. Just like old times. "Looks like you're right, mate," he said. "We are just getting to the good part."

"OK, I take it back," I said as we headed for home. "THAT was unnecessarily bloody." It was after midnight, and we'd collected twenty-two DVDs, broken and entered fifteen houses and/or lairs, killed or maimed eight demons, broken five human fingers accidentally-on-purpose, and signed two autographs. Spike had definitely achieved his hitting things quota, and it was a safe bet that no one in Sunnydale would be mentioning Spike and Buffy's brief but eventful movie career in public any time soon.

"All right, p'raps the railroad spike was a bit much, but a bloke gets nostalgic." Spike stretched, all luxurious and satisfied, and lit up a fresh cig, trailing smoke out the window. He had a black eye and a split lip and a scrape right across the place where his cheekbone goes all knife-edgy, and the stretching made things creak inside that probably weren't supposed to creak, but he was in a much, much better mood. "He'll grow a new head."

"If you say so," I said, a bit dubious. "Doesn't that only happen when you cut the old one off?"

"So it'll take a bit longer." Spike bounced a little in his seat, all hepped up on the old ultra-violence. "Still haven't found the bastard who's selling the things, though. Must be a bleeding criminal mastermind if--" =I Wanna Be Sedated= beebled from the cell phone in his pocket. (Like I said, a lot better with technology than some vampires I can name. He can even program it, though considering the songs he picks, sometimes we wish he couldn't.) He grabbed the phone one-handed and didn't slow down even a bit as he zipped through freeway traffic. (Well, he =is= evil.) "Yeh? You must be joking. You must be--fuck. That little--I'll tear his soddin' head off! Yeh, I know. I'll just bruise him a little." He clicked the phone off and stuffed it back in his pocket, spun the wheel and zigged across four lanes of traffic towards the off-ramp, leaving a chorus of screeching brakes behind us. "=After= I tear his soddin' head off."

"Where are we going?" I yelled.

Spike hunched over the wheel, eyes grim. "Off to see the wizard."

We pulled up in front of one of the cruddy lease-by-the-month apartment buildings over by the UC Sunnydale campus. Maybe it was the same one Dad and I stayed at when he came down from L.A. to take care of Buffy's estate that time she was dead--the second time, I mean, not the first time. Some of the grease spots in the parking lot looked familiar.

"Apartment 42B, Will says." Spike sucked in his cheeks and narrowed his eyes, scoping out the disintegrating stucco overhead. "There at the end." He slapped his hands together and bounded towards the stairs like he was scaling Everest. I followed like I was scaling a rickety stepladder. (Hey, lack of supernatural stamina here. I was getting pretty darned tired.) The lights were on in 42B, and we paused outside the door, which was painted that barf-making 80s turquoise. Spike pounded on it with one fist. "Open up! Land shark!"

I heard some rustling and thumping noises inside, and a crash like a bookcase falling over. "Go away!" a strangely familiar voice yelled. "You can't get in here anyway!"

"Yeh? Maybe not, but I can stand out here till you starve to death. Or set the building on fire, or...uh..." Spike paced the catwalk for a second, smoking like a fiend, which I guess is appropriate. I was pretty sure the fire thing was a bluff, since Spike's not usually one for indirect mayhem. He's got the whole hitting things fetish, after all. Then his eyes lit up and he grinned. "Maybe I can't walk through your door, but there's nothing says I can't kick it down and send in my terrible mute minion, Paco." He whirled around and unleashed one of his shitkicker boots at the door. =BANG!= The whole building shuddered (which sounds impressive, but considering it was probably made out of pressboard and Kleenex, isn't so much). =WHAM!= A hinge sprung and the doorframe cracked. I buffed my nails and waited--obviously Spike was holding back.

"I'm gonna lose my deposit!" the voice inside wailed.

"My heart bleeds. Oh, wait, no it doesn't. Open up, or--"

The door flew open, or tried to (Spike had knocked it kind of cattywompus, and it stuck halfway.) A face peered out, pale and pear-shaped and nervous under slept-in dark hair. Behind it was a barren little studio apartment littered with pizza boxes, comic books, and boxes of DVDs and padded mailers. There was practically no furniture except a mattress and a desk with a pretty sweet computer and home studio setup.

My hand shot out and I grabbed Pasty-face by the ear and pulled, hard. "Jonathan?!" I yipped. Jonathan squirmed and batted at me, but I dug my nails in. "YOU'RE the criminal mastermind?"

"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!" he yelled. "Let me go, don't let him kill me, I didn't mean to, it's not my fault!"

"Oh, for God's sake, quit whining," I snapped, letting go. "Spike hasn't even touched you."

Spike took a drag on his cigarette, peeled himself off the railing and sort of glided over, all slouchy and menacing, with the angle of the floodlights leaving black caverns where his eyes should be. Jonathan squinched in on himself. "You just don't learn, do you?" Spike asked, soft and pee-your-pants scary. "How long've you had those cameras on us?"

Jonathan backed away with a panicky shuffle. "They're not mine! They were Warren's, and they haven't worked since the police confiscated all his computer stuff! Honest! I just happened to have some files I'd saved for, for--"

"Wanking material?" Spike asked, excessively sarcastic.

"Research!" Jonathan reached the wall and sat down very abruptly. "I didn't mean anything by it! All I wanted was to raise some money so Warren and Andrew could get a better lawyer! Someone who knows about demon-related cases, like Goldberg & Osbourne, or Wolfram & Hart. I didn't think you'd ever find out, and I'm really, really, really sorry, please don't kill me, please, please, PLEASE don't kill me--"

"Didn't mean anything by dragging a lady's reputation in the dirt?" Spike roared (and again, by roared, I mean, well, roared). He grabbed Jonathan by his Robotech jammies and hauled him up nose-to-nose--Jonathan's one of the few guys Spike can look down on. "Well, maybe I won't mean anything when I rip your balls off and stuff them in your eye sockets, how's that?"

"Why?" I asked, grabbing Spike's arm. I realized I'd been wanting to ask that question for a long time. "Why, Jonathan? I mean, I get Warren and whatsisface--they had grudges against Buffy, but you used to be--" Well, not her friend, not really. "She saved your life! You gave her the Class Protector award! She let you off the hook when she turned Warren over to the cops--you were an accessory to murder, Jonathan, and she let you go! I don't get it. Why are you helping them?"

Jonathan yanked his pajama top out of Spike's grip and pulled himself up like he'd taken a dose of Insta-Spine. "Because they're my friends," he said, very simply, meeting Spike's yellowing eyes head-on. "And I know they're not much, but they're all I've got. Whatever else happens, you've got to stand by your friends, right? Or what's the point?" He sighed, squared his shoulders, and looked up at Spike with a little smile. "It's a fair cop. I guess you'd better do whatever it is you're going to do."

Spike stood there looking at Jonathan, head cocked in the His Master's Voice pose he gets when he's trying really, really hard to figure out the motivations of the souled. And I knew what was going through his head. Spike was looking for a reason not to kill him.

See, Spike doesn't have a soul. He doesn't do good stuff because it's right. He can't. He's not wired that way, as he puts it. But he can do good stuff if there's a reason--like if it helps him somehow, or makes someone he loves happy. Or if it makes him feel, for a minute, like he's a man and not a monster, which is a feeling he really likes. And that's the cool thing about Spike, the thing I really love about him, and I think probably the thing Buffy loves too: not the cheekbones or the attitude or the mad combat skilz or what's under those jeans, but that he does like that feeling, and so Spike =looks= for those reasons. Looks real hard. Harder, I think sometimes, than some people with souls.

"Right," he said at last. And he hauled off and punched Jonathan right in the nose.

"YEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOW!" Jonathan fell over, clutching his face, and gore splattered everywhere. "By dose! You broge by dose!"

"Just be glad that's all I've broke," Spike said. He wiped his knuckles on his t-shirt instead of licking the blood off, which was a pretty big compliment, really. Congratulations, Jonathan, you've graduated to Not-Food! "Christ, where's the fun in beating the shit out of a pathetic little wibbling sod like you?" He pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket (that's another moderately cool thing about Spike: he carries pocket handkerchiefs) and tossed it to Jonathan. "Grab the goods, Bit. It's time to call it a night."

Jonathan sat there snorfling blood into the hanky while I ferried the DVDs and Jonathan's hard drive out to Spike--I figured Willow could check it out for contraband and return it, so we weren't stealing it exactly. As we started down the stairs with the last armload, Spike turned back to Jonathan, almost amiable. "Word to the wise. I don't forget what your =friends= put Buffy through. If you want to do your pals a real favor, maybe you ought to remember that while I'm out here, and they're safe in stir, no one's likely to get eaten accidental-like, eh?"

Jonathan stared at him, and nodded a little. And we left.

It was past two o'clock when we got home. We locked the DVDs in the trunk of the DeSoto, which had been the closet for a lot of other skeletons in its day, and after a short consultation on how to best avoid Ordeal By Buffy, we strolled into the house as if we were coming in from a late patrol and nothing in the universe was wrong.

Willow was still tapping away at her laptop in the dining room. "I'm just tracking down the copies on eBay," she whispered, "and sending out fake cease and desist orders from Mad Genius Productions. Buffy's in bed. She doesn't suspect a thing." She noted our alarmed glances and added, a bit huffily, "Don't worry, Xander took care of the the subterfuge part. Did you get him?"

"Yeh, he's got." Spike rolled his head and rubbed back of his neck. "Battle of the ages. Christ, I'm glad that's done with." He eyed our crumpled list of victims thoughtfully. "Wonder if I could fake a business trip to Juneau."

"Don't press your luck," Willow said drily.

"Someday I'm going to sire someone with a minimum of respect for their elders," Spike growled.

Willow grinned, smug. "And they'll bore you so much you'll stake them inside forty-eight hours. Shoo. Buffy's waiting for you."

So we headed for the stairs, and as I put my foot on the first step, I heard Spike heave a big sigh behind me. "Thanks, Bit. Couldn't have managed without you." When I looked back, he was staring at the toes of his boots, all awkward and embarrassed. "I just hope this hasn't... hasn't..."

"Spike, I'll always think of you as my brother." I waited two beats, and added with a perfectly straight face, "My brother with the enormous schlong."

I got three whole steps before Spike came after me and chased me all the way upstairs.

The End

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