Title: Readjustment 4/15
Rating: This chapter PG
The encounter with the principal called for a family meeting post haste, so they all gathered in the Summer’ living room the following afternoon. No one was happy with the change in circumstances. The bot was bad enough at impersonating a somewhat vapid version of Buffy’s public persona. It was far too much to ask for it to fool someone expecting to see the greatest slayer who ever lived. Spike would lay odds Wood could beat it, hardly the slayer who had handed Spike his arse more than once.
“If he has been raised by a watcher, and his fighting last night would suggest he is telling the truth, he will never be fooled by a robot,” Rupert insisted. “He will be trained to notice details and he’s suspicious enough to be observing closely.”
“Do you think we could get away with a shell game?” Xander asked, miming moving shells around on a table. His hand gestures tended to get larger the more nervous he was. Spike leaned forward to rub at the tension in his neck. It was gratifying to watch Xander relax back into his hand, but it didn’t answer the question.
“I don’t think we have a choice.” Willow was a nervous wreck sitting on the couch. Tara rubbed her arms trying to calm her just like he was trying to relax Xander. He wasn’t sure either of them was having that much success. He was fairly sure they were royally screwed this time.
“Quite so.” Rupert looked like he wished there was someone to reassure him.
“So, shall we call the bloke up and invite him to join our little coffee klatch?” Spike proposed. Willow looked like she’d rather put the whole thing off for as long as possible. Rupert looked like he’d had the same idea Spike had. This man was a threat. Inviting him in seemed the best way to calm his suspicions. Spike knew the others would never consider killing the man to be an answer, but accidents happened on patrol.
“We gave him an invitation last night,” Xander reminded him. “I think we should give him time to check with his contacts. Get the word that there’s a no stake order for you.”
Spike gave a slightly firmer rub to Xander’s shoulders that had him humming in appreciation. “I think you delivered that message rather handily last night, luv.”
“I think we should give it a day or two,” Willow said, obviously stalling for time.
They did a few rounds on the subject. Eventually, they agreed to wait until the next day.
They scattered after dinner. No one wanted to discuss Wood anymore, but conversation on other topics definitely lagged. Spike was having a bit of a nosh while Will did the dishes. They were mostly ignoring each other, lost in their own thoughts, when the phone rang.
As bad luck would have it, Red was the one who answered. She was a big, bad uber-witch who had gone toe to toe with a hell god, but put her against a little mortal authority and she crumbled like a stack of cheap playing cards.
“Principal Wood, how are you?” Will grimaced like she’d just been caught sneaking off school grounds. How these children had ever conducted a successful, clandestine campaign against the underworld was beyond Spike. Chalk it up to Sunnydale obliviousness.
“Ask him his business, Will,” Spike said loudly enough it would carry through the phone line. He made a gesture which he hoped conveyed both “get on with it” and “don’t let him push you around.”
The embarrassed shrug he got in return could have meant she didn’t understand, but she seemed to stiffen her spine a bit and, with a bit more force, “I assume you found out we were telling you the truth.”
“I heard it, but I still don’t believe it,” Wood responded in that clipped condescending tone. “What kind of slayer calls a vampire an ally? Not to mention one as ruthless as William the Bloody.”
Spike hadn’t been called ruthless in quite some time. It warmed him to his toes.
Willow took the comment as besmirching Buffy’s reputation, and it put a fire under her. “Oh yeah? Just how many apocalypses have you averted, buster? We’re at six and counting!”
Spike smiled into his mug, maybe he could leave this to the witch after all.
“The ends justify the means, Miss Rosenberg? Is that really how you want to play this?” Oh he was a smooth one, he’d have the little witch tied up in knots in no time.
“No, that’s not what I said at all,” Willow protested. “You don’t even know Spike! He’s saved all our lives more than once. He even helped us avert an apocalypse before the chip.”
She just had to bring up that humiliating bit of trivia. If he let this go on she’d spill everything she knew before she was done. Time to take over. He wrested the phone from Willow who was loath to give it up. She was spitting mad by now, and eager to give Wood a piece of her rather brilliant mind.
“Maybe you should take your poke at me, mate, rather than sully the Slayer’s good name.” Spike had had about all he could take of this self important prick.
“Just what are you suggesting?” Suspicion dripped off his tone. That was all right, he had plenty of reason.
“I believe I suggested you come talk to us. I suspect Xander was thinking we were offering a nice dinner, but I don’t think that’s our best course, is it?”
“What time do you begin patrol? I’m not coming to have tea.” Spike was bizarrely relieved not to have offered hospitality. The whole situation was a powder keg.
“Nine sharp. We like to have Dawn in bed before we head out.” It amused Spike to sound like a responsible parent type.
“I’ll be there.” The click of the line going dead was sharp in his ear.
“Best assemble the troops,” Spike told an anxious Willow. “Company’s coming.”
Dawn was out of the line of fire for this interview. She’d no doubt be listening in at the top of the stairs, but as long as she stayed quiet that was fine by Spike. Willow had filled everyone in on the earlier conversation and they had their cover stories ready. The Slayer was definitely unavailable to Principal Wood. He was too sharp.
They had the television on as a distraction, but no one could have said what program was on. Conversation had gotten so strained that they had all lapsed into silence. No one wanted to be in midsentence of something damning when the knock came at the door, and no one could think of anything but Wood’s imminent arrival. When the knock finally did come, it was more of a relief than anything else.
Rupert opened the door while the rest of them held their seats in the living room. “Principal Wood,” he greeted without offering any kind of invitation to enter. In this case, it was only partially vampire protocol.
Wood nodded, approving the caution or acknowledging the adversarial roles Spike wasn’t sure. “Mr. Giles.”
He stepped in and his eyes swept the assembled Scoobies, a sneer prominent on his face. Spike didn’t really mind the fact that Wood looked at him with hatred. Hatred wasn’t a bad thing to have aimed at you, if it was tinged with proper amounts of respect and fear. But the wanker was eying Xander like he was something loathsome and that made his hackles rise.
Ever the peacemaker, Tara broke the silence. “Won’t you sit down?”
“I think I’d rather stand, thanks,” Wood said in that smooth, cultured voice that made Spike want to push his face in.
“Perhaps it would be wise to state our intentions.” Rupert smoothly inserted himself into the situation. Spike fancied that he was no happier at the way Wood was snarling at his children than Spike was. “If this is some new attempt by the Watcher’s Council to gain control of the Slayer I believe Buffy made her views on that quite clear last time.”
Spike realized that thought hadn’t crossed his mind. Trust Rupert to come up with a new horror to contemplate.
Wood smiled for the first time since he’d entered the house. “She made quite an impression. No, I’m not here from the Council. You might call me an independent operator.”
He and Rupert nodded at each other. “So, what is your interest then?” Rupert pressed.
“I’ve heard a lot about this slayer, thought I’d see what she was all about for myself.” Wood eyed Spike again. “Hard to believe a slayer would work with not one but two vampires.”
Spike held his tongue. This was Rupert’s show. Spike didn’t go in for subtle, it wasn’t his strength, so he’d leave it to the Watcher. Xander was not so inclined. “You’d be astounded how much more effective you can be if you have powerful fighters on your side,” Xander said snidely.
Spike had to hide a chuckle even as he wished Xander would keep quiet. They needed to maneuver this bloke, and antagonizing him would just keep him on his guard.
“I prefer allies it’s safe to turn my back on,” Wood shot back. “And where is the Slayer. Thought I’d be meeting her here tonight.”
“She’s closing tonight. Child Protective Services prefers her to be gainfully employed to retain custody of Dawn.,” Rupert supplied smoothly. What he didn’t supply is that they had made sure the bot volunteered for the late shift to keep it out of the way.
Wood surveyed the group again, his gaze lingering on each of them as if he was trying to read their secrets. “Is that right? Then who was I patrolling with tonight?”
“Me, mate,” Spike said casually. It seemed the best opening he was likely to get.
“Along with the rest of us,” Xander was quick to add. As great a joy as Xander’s love for him was, Xander’s protectiveness was going to throw a serious monkey wrench in the works.
“Not this time, luv,” Spike corrected without looking away from Wood. “Principal wants to know why the Slayer would work with a vampire, he ought to see first hand.”
“Spike,” Xander hissed. “You can’t trust this guy at your back.”
“And he doesn’t trust me at his. That’s the point, isn’t it.”
Spike could hear Xander drawing breath to launch a fresh protest when Rupert intervened. “Spike is quite correct, Xander. Principal Wood needs to see for himself why we allow Spike such access.”
Spike cut his eyes briefly to Rupert. In that briefly exchanged glance he thought he saw agreement in the Watcher’s eyes. He was far too cagey a man not to have figured out what Spike had in mind. They would talk later, after the deed was done.
“Can’t he do that without Spike being alone with him?” Willow asked. Spike found himself rather touched that Willow was so concerned for him.
“How will he know one of you isn’t holding my leash that way?” Spike reasoned.
“I don’t care what he wants. I don’t like the idea of you alone with him when you can’t defend yourself against him.” Xander was like a dog with a bone.
“Afraid I’ll stake your pet vampire?” Wood sneered.
“I’m very afraid you’ll kill my boyfriend, yes.”
“Can’t be a very powerful fighter then, can he?”
“The chip only works with humans. He kills demons just fine.” Give it another minute and Xander and Wood were going to be punching each other’s lights out.
“Calm yourself, Xander.” Spike insisted. “I can’t hurt the principal here and he’s not going to hurt me. He’s one of the good guys, isn’t that right?”
“That’s right,” Wood returned in a confident tone. This was going to be one nasty patrol.
Xander looked like he was going to protest more but he focused on Spike and seemed to come to a different conclusion. Maybe he just didn’t want to make Spike look weak in front of Wood. “Don’t turn your back on him,” he said, gave Spike a searing kiss and left the room.
Spike gestured to the front door. “Shall we?”
“Why not.” Spike made sure to exit the door first. It was the last time he’d turn his back on Wood this evening but, for the moment, he still had people he trusted guarding it. Spike stifled laughter at the sight the two of them must make, walking down the street absolutely even with each other with a couple feet of space separating them, as if they were afraid that brushing against each other would contaminate them.
“I want to pick up a couple weapons at home before we head out,” Wood said. Spike saw no difficulty in indulging him. The side trip would give him more time to come up with an appropriate hunting ground. He doubted a simple encounter with a couple vampires would do the job. This required something more impressive, but something that wouldn’t look so dangerous immediately that the prey would bolt. There was the ghora down in the sewers but there were far too many escape routes there. There were a few mora demons set up on the east side that had possibilities. It was too bad they’d killed that skin eating demon, the gnarl, last week, some paralyzing claws would be damn useful right now. They had been too damn effective in clearing out nests of late. It didn’t leave many trap opportunities.
“How did you end up working with the Slayer?” Spike rolled his eyes. The last thing he wanted to do was get chatty with Wood, especially on anything so personal.
“Had this chip stuck up in my head,” he replied. Maybe a partial truth would satisfy. “At first I didn’t know I could hit demons, I thought I was helpless. White hats have to help the helpless, don’t they?”
Wood didn’t seem satisfied with his grin. “I would think the only thing she would give you is the mercy of a quick staking.”
In honesty, that possibility had been pretty close in Spike’s mind at the time as well. “I’d worked with her before a couple times, and I had information on the Initiative. It was to her advantage to keep me in one piece.”
Wood seemed to digest this. Spike allowed himself to entertain the chance he might not have to arrange an accident. If he could convince the bloke there was nothing to see here he might just leave them alone. As difficult a time as he was having coming up with a likely trap it was worth a shot.
“That still doesn’t explain why you decided to start fighting on the side of the angels.”
Once again Spike thought a half truth would be more believable. Besides, he hardly wanted to reveal his hopeless crush on Buffy to this wanker. “Once I found out I could kill demons, seemed the thing to do. I could get my spot of violence on, keep myself in blood and fags, and have protection from all the demons I was hacking off in the process. Worked out well.”
Wood nodded to himself, clearly satisfied. “Thought it was probably something like that.”
They traveled along for a few minutes in silence before they came up to Wood’s house. He led Spike around back to a shed or workshop. “I keep my weapons in here,” Wood explained as he removed the padlock. He actually allowed his back to face Spike for a few moments while he unlocked the door. When he had the door open he turned to Spike and said formally, “Come in, Spike.”
Spike had been expecting to wait outside while Wood grabbed his weapons. He wasn’t comfortable playing on Wood’s turf, but declining such an invitation would look suspicious so, displaying trust he didn’t feel, he preceded Wood inside.