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Strawberry Fields

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Buffy didn’t know how she found her way back. The time between leaving the dock and entering her building was a blur. She was too consumed with the feel of Spike’s arm around her shoulder, too aware of the limping steps he took, the hard grunts that spilled from his mouth whenever his wounded feet landed on something hard or sharp. She’d offered to carry him back, but he’d declined, saying it’d look too bloody weird and they didn’t need to draw more attention to themselves.

Which she could appreciate, even if she didn’t agree. The threshold for visual weirdness had already been passed, given Spike was a mess of purple and red, plus naked to boot. That on top of being in LA gave them more cushion for weird than they might have experienced elsewhere.

At any rate, they didn’t have any trouble. Thank god for that. If anything kept her from getting Spike to safety, she might lose what tenuous hold she’d managed to maintain on her control.

“Almost there,” Buffy said as she navigated Spike around the corner to their hallway. “Sure you don’t want me to carry you the rest of the way?”

He snickered but tightened his arm around her shoulder. “Cart me over the threshold and all? Not exactly a blushing bride.” He shook his head. “I told you, I’ve had it worse.”

“And that’s supposed to make me feel better.” Buffy shook her head and drew to a stop outside their apartment door, then frowned. “Uhh, do you think we’d get the security deposit back if I kick this open? I think I forgot my key.”

He chuckled. The fact that he could laugh at all filled her with astonishment, never mind that the laugh turned into a hard cough. Spike had just had his body used as a knife sharpener, punching bag, and god knows what else, but he could crack jokes and freaking laugh.

She wished she knew how to do that. All she wanted to do was cry.

But before she could do anything, the door to her apartment swung open of its own accord, a very pale Fred on the other side.

“Thank god,” her friend said, her face flooding with relief. That was until she shifted her attention to Spike. Then she looked like she might be sick. “Oh holy fish nuggets.”

That seemed strangely appropriate.

“Explanations later,” Buffy said, pushing inside. “I don’t think wandering the halls naked and looking like you just lost a fight with a lawnmower is the best first impression to make to my landlord.”

“Eep!” Fred said, slapping her hand over her eyes. “He is naked!”

“Bloody hell,” Spike murmured with a wince. “She always this shrill?”

There was a brief pause. “Sorry. I…I just wasn’t expecting nakedness.”

“Vampires have very sensitive ears,” Buffy said as she walked Spike to the sofa. The same one where she’d all but mauled him earlier that day, which felt roughly like a thousand years ago. “Might try to stick to our indoor voices.”

Spike collapsed against the cushions with a hard sigh and rolled his head back. God, he looked even worse here. The winding trails of red that had been carved into his skin stood out against the overly bright light beaming from the overhead, but not nearly as much as the pattern of purplish-black bruises. The rage that had flooded her body earlier that night came roaring back with a vengeance.

If she ever saw Briggs again, she might just kill him.

And yes, that thought was in fact terrifying.

“Umm,” Fred said. She remained by the door, staring at the back of the sofa and looking nearly as pale as Spike. “I think I might just…let you two… Unless there’s something I can do?” A pause. “There’s not, is there?”

Buffy shook her head. “No. I’ll—”

“Yeah,” Spike said suddenly, jolting forward so hard he winced. He started to turn to look over his shoulder, then seemed to think the better of it and focused his attention instead on Buffy. “There is, since you’re offerin’. Gonna need to juice up before I start attacking the neighbors.”

Fred wrinkled her nose and, as though remembering she was a neighbor, inched closer to the door. “Huh?”

“Blood,” Spike said, eyes still on Buffy. “That’s what I was—”

“Doing when Briggs n’ friends decided to make you their personal piñata. I know. Gunn told me.” Buffy pressed her lips together.

“Right,” he agreed slowly, brow furrowing, which looked downright painful given the massive bruise that had swollen his eye shut. “So if your chum’s offerin’, I could use a pick-me-up.”

Yes. That made sense. All kinds of sense. What didn’t make sense was the way Buffy’s throat went dry and her heart leaped. What didn’t make sense was the burning sting of disappointment, or the need to shout at him that he had all the blood he needed right here. It was so quick, so natural that it scared her.

The mark on her throat twinged in agreement, and that scared her even more. Being pierced by vamp fang wasn’t something she’d ever wanted—hell, up until Angel had redefined the word nightmare, her recurring bad dreams had all centered around being bitten or drained. Or worse, being turned. Yet Spike had bitten her twice and neither time had those old fears surfaced.

The first time, she’d been in shock.

The second time, she’d been…well, preoccupied. Those bites hadn’t been planned bites and, aside from the oodles of post-claim pain that had followed bite number two; she hadn’t given either much thought.

But Spike needed blood. And her first thought was take mine.

“Umm,” Fred said, at last, breaking Buffy from her thoughts, “you’ve been quiet a long time. A-and he just said he needed blood, but I don’t particularly want to be dinner.”

Buffy kept her gaze on Spike. “Drink me,” she said.

Fred made another squeaking sound.

“No need,” Spike replied, not breaking eye contact. “Might not be as filling, but pig’s blood’ll do the trick.”

“Spike—”

“Is there a place to get blood?” Fred asked loudly, rushing forward, then turning away again with a blush. She must have forgotten Spike was naked.

“Spike, this is dumb. I’m standing right here with all this slayer blood and you know that’ll do more for you than whatever—”

“Just bloody shut your gob. I’m not drinking from you, all right?”

“Why not?”

Spike didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at her. His gaze had dropped to the ground, and god, he looked so broken that her eyes were suddenly stinging and a wealth of things she had been quite keen on not thinking stormed her already overfilled mind.

“Fred,” Buffy said hoarsely without looking away from her vampire, “you should be able to find blood at any butcher shop. Get a lot of it, okay? I’ll—we’ll pay you back.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Fred give an enthusiastic nod. “Blood. Butcher. Got it. Will you… Will you guys be okay until I get back?”

At that, Buffy couldn’t help but shift her attention to her friend. Worry creased every line of Fred’s face, and though she clearly felt uncomfortable, she was also hesitant to leave Buffy alone. Something Buffy would have appreciated had she not needed Fred to be somewhere else right now.

“We’ll be fine,” she replied and tried for a smile. “Thanks.”

“All right.” Fred pressed her lips together, nodded as though agreeing to an internal pep talk, then turned and bolted out the door without another word.

The second they were alone, Buffy turned back to Spike, crossing her arms. “Why?”

He stared at her, his one good eye unblinking. “Too much to hope you’d drop it, then.”

“I’m serious. You look like…” Her jaw tightened and the tears she’d managed to fight back before returned with gusto. “Drinking from me would help, right?”

Spike swallowed but didn’t respond.

“Did…did you not like my blood? Is that it?”

“Are you off your rocker?”

“Well—”

“I don’t wanna drink from you because the last time I had my fangs in you it was nothing short of a sodding miracle that I stopped. Satisfied?”

Buffy frowned and felt her cheeks heat. That wasn’t quite how she remembered it. “The last time…”

“Not talking about that,” he replied, his voice having grown thick. She watched as he eyed the mark on her throat—the one that had tied them together. It seemed to burn under his scrutiny. “That was something else.”

She shifted her weight between her feet, her skin prickling with awareness.

“When I bit you then,” Spike continued, his gaze still on her throat, “it wasn’t outta need. It was…” He trailed off, then shook his head and huffed. “Way my body needs it now, there’s no tellin’ if I’d have the sense to—”

“Stop.”

“Right.”

“No, stop with the excuses.” Buffy uncrossed her arms, then crossed them again, trying to fight back the sting of hurt. “You won’t hurt me. I know you won’t.”

“You can’t—”

“Yes, I can. You won’t drain me because, hello, mated.” She indicated the bite mark on her throat. “If you didn’t drain me after your ex decided to make you a human pin cushion, then you won’t now because…well, see above, re: mated.”

Spike stared at her a long moment, his throat working, his expression unreadable. At last, he sighed and looked down, shaking his head. “It’ll hurt, love,” he said softly. “And that’s one thing I don’t wanna do. My bones’ll mend just fine on their own. I don’t need… You don’t need to get yourself in a state over me. So thanks but no thanks. I’ll wait for the bloody swine.”

“So your excuses are you don’t think you can stop, which is baloney, and that it’ll hurt.” Buffy narrowed her eyes. “Again, didn’t really hurt the last time.”

And that seemed to trigger something.

“The last time I bit you was in mid-fuck,” Spike snapped, balling his hands into fists. “Of course it didn’t hurt. You were on fire. It doesn’t hurt then. If you’re hot and burning like that, like you were, it feels bloody amazing. But if I did it now… Fuck, Summers, you remember what it felt like back in Sunnyhell, don’t you?”

At that, she licked her lips, looked down. Truth of the matter was, she didn’t really remember much about that night beyond finding Spike pinned to the wall and killing Angel. Well, remember much insofar as Sunnydale went, at least. The rest of it seemed divided into someone else’s life—what had happened in that motel room. The way he’d pounded into her, whispering things that would make Tracy Lords blush. The way she’d bitten him back and…

Buffy shifted again. There had been so much wrong in the way they’d come together, but she’d be lying if she said the memory was unpleasant.

Spike inhaled a deep breath and the blue of his good eye darkened a shade. “Slayer,” he said softly. “You gotta give me a bloody inch here. But if you look at me like that, if you smell like you want it, I’m gonna want to give it to you.”

Oh god. How did he know she was turned on?

The question must have been all over her face because he grinned. “Briggs mighta fancied himself Picasso, but he didn’t rearrange me so bad that I can’t smell you.” Spike lowered his gaze so that he was staring at her crotch. “You want me even like this? Beaten and bloody?”

“I… I was just thinking about the bite.” Buffy looked away, her cheeks burning. “You’re right. It was…uhh…I was…”

“It was brilliant,” he murmured. “Can’t say I regret it.”

“E-even the claim?”

Spike lifted his head. “No. Can’t say I regret that either. Maybe the way it happened. That you didn’t know what it was and it got us in this mess. And even if you never…” He trailed off, his jaw tightening. “Slayer…”

“So now your main reason for not drinking from me is thinking it’ll hurt.” Buffy neared him on shaky legs, her mind screaming at her that this was a bad idea but the rest of her not really caring. “What if… What if I’m…”

Spike stared at her in that unnerving way of his. “This is gonna be one of those things we don’t talk about tomorrow, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know.” She worried a lip between her teeth. “Would that be so bad?”

He studied her for a long moment before looking away again, his nostrils flared and—yes—she let herself look, let herself see that the conversation was having a definitive effect on him. His cock was swollen, thick, curved toward the ceiling. Even amid all his injuries, he wanted her.

The knowledge made her tremble.

“Think I’d rather not,” he said at last, still not looking at her.

“You say that, but…” She waited until he met her eyes, then nodded at his erection. “Seems like—”

“I can’t do this back and forth with you, love,” Spike said. “I want you so much it hurts. More than anything that wanker did to me. But getting you and not having you isn’t gonna cut it. When I touch you, I don’t wanna stop and I gotta. Because that’s what you said you wanted.”

And just like that, the spell lifted. Buffy gave her head a shake and stepped back, a swell of both remorse and guilt flooding her system. She pressed her lips together and nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re right. That is a bad idea. And for the record, I wasn’t suggesting anything…err, intense. Just enough to get me to a place where you can bite me without it hurting.”

“With us, pet, it’ll always be intense.”

“At least let me help you clean up?”

He hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Yeah,” he said, wincing and edging toward the end of the sofa. “All right.”

Buffy released the breath she’d been holding and moved forward to help him to his feet. She was entirely too aware of him, even now. The weight of his arm over her shoulder, the feel of his skin against hers, the smell of him joined forces and stormed the beach that was her mind. He was right—it was weird that she wanted him like this. Weird and a little sick. And combined with what had happened earlier—the thing she was not yet thinking about—she could only hope that was the claim talking.

If it was the claim talking, she needed to figure out how to get it under control. Because beyond random and somewhat icky bouts of horniness, this wasn’t fair to him. As much as she hadn’t asked for what had happened, neither had he, really. And he was doing everything he could to give her what she needed as she adjusted.

She needed to give him what he needed in return.

She just hoped she could figure out what that was.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He was a stupid sod.

Spike gritted his teeth as he stepped under the water spray, doing his best to ignore the pounding in his veins and the primal roar in his chest. Fuck, even his fangs hurt. Saying no to Buffy’s offer was the most bloody difficult thing he’d ever done, and with her so near and her scent flooding his nostrils, he was having a hell of a time remembering just why exactly it was a bad idea.

Except, no, he remembered her face that morning after they had pulled apart. How she’d looked after he’d been so ready to strip her panties down her legs and bury his face between her thighs. There had been a healthy dose of want there, but confusion as well. Confusion and self-loathing.

And yeah, that last thing had hurt. A lot. Almost enough to make a man say sod it and stalk out, except that wasn’t exactly an option and even if it were, he’d never make it more than a few feet. He was in the love with the girl. He’d follow her until she loved him back or staked him nice and proper.

The worst of it was he knew he was being unfair. But she wasn’t playing fair, either. Snogging him, moaning into him, offering him her body and blood but knowing it couldn’t be more than that right now.

The scent of tears brought him out of his head. He turned and saw a fully clothed Buffy sliding the shower door closed behind her, her gaze locked on his body. Yeah, he knew he looked like hell. Felt like it too. And he knew she wanted to help. He also knew she was shaken, and wouldn’t forget how she’d almost gone feral on Briggs back there.

And that was how he was being unfair. So much of what Buffy was experiencing was tied to a fresh set of instincts he’d given her. Couldn’t really expect a slayer to adapt to a vampire custom in a few days, especially one so old most modern vamps hadn’t heard of it. If she’d felt anything like what he’d felt the moment he’d seen Gunn waltz her into view—even knowing that the bloke was on his side—then it was no wonder she was so turned around.

And now she was crying over him.

Fuck.

“I’m sorry if this stings,” she said, her voice choked. She made no move to wipe her tears away, instead turned rather methodically to collect a bar of soap from the shelf. “But…”

“Buffy…”

“A…human did this.” She shook her head, not looking at his face. “I can’t…”

“It’s all right, pet,” he said, trying for a smile. “Had it worse, haven’t I? Told you as much.”

“That doesn’t make it all right.” She lathered up a washcloth then gently scrubbed at his aching skin. “I’m so sorry, Spike.”

His chest twisted. “Huh?”

“For…earlier. This morning.” Buffy met his eyes briefly before looking away again, her face flushing. “And for being Miss Insensitive a few minutes ago. I-if I hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t have—”

“Stop that.”

“Why? It’s true. We would’ve spent the day together like we’d planned.” She barked a laugh, the hopeless kind of laugh, and he experienced another punch to the gut. “I would’ve gone with you to get blood. We could’ve mopped the floor with them.”

“Or they could’ve nabbed us both and we’d be in a right pickle.”

Buffy shook her head, her gaze following a stream of dirt and blood as it slid off his skin and circled the drain. “You don’t believe that. We kick all kinds of ass together.”

Spike couldn’t help but grin. “One hot power couple, we are.”

She met his eyes again. “I’m going to try to be better. I was trying to be better, but that kinda blew up in my face. And I know it’s not fair to you. I know you didn’t ask for this any more than I did—”

“Buffy—”

“And you’re trying so hard to be what I said I needed and I still think I do need it, Spike. I need to figure out who I am and what happens from this point on and all that stuff.” She swallowed and looked again to his chest. “But part of that is not being a total shit when I mess up. I shouldn’t have run from you this morning. It just wigs me out—all these things I’m feeling that are new things and old things mixed with other stuff and it’s not like the sitch in my head was the most stable place to be before this. But if we’re gonna…be together in any way, the State of Buffy needs to be good enough to build something real on. And I’m totally babbling, aren’t I?”

He felt the corner of his mouth kick up in a grin he couldn’t help. “I like it when you babble.”

Buffy looked at him with those wide, soulful eyes of hers. “I…” Her face began to crumble again. “I don’t care if it hurts. I just want to make you better.”

Spike drew in a breath, sucker-punched. “Buffy—”

“I don’t care. This hurts more.” Now those soulful eyes were swimming in tears again. Hard to tell through the shower water, but he knew the way those tears smelled and tasted, and fuck, he hated being the one that had put them there. “Please drink me.”

He tipped his head back. “Bollocks.”

“Spike—”

“We do this, we’re gonna do it right.” He looked back at her, then down the length of her sodden body. Her nipples were hard, poking through her T-shirt, which was plastered to her flat stomach. Further down, the fabric of her sweats clung to her legs. He swallowed, hard, then jutted his chin toward her waistband. “Slip your hand inside your pants, love.”

He heard her inhale sharply, but she didn’t protest. Barely hesitated. Just obeyed.

Fuck, he thought again.

“Cup yourself for me,” he said, his chest even tighter now. Christ, this was going to be torture, but he wasn’t sure he cared anymore. “Right. Tell me what you feel.”

Buffy’s gaze shot to his as though needing to make sure she’d heard right. Her cheeks flushed a pretty pink. “Uhh…hot.”

Spike closed his good eye, forced his throat to work. “Yeah? That’s good. Real good. Now run one of your fingers over that pussy for me. You feel wet?”

He knew she did. He could smell it. She was hot for him.

His cock pulsed angrily; his fangs began to tingle. He swore and braced a hand on the wall behind her head, trying to focus on the water hitting his skin, but fuck if he felt it. All he could feel was her, even like this. Not touching her, just watching as her lips went slack, those cheeks even redder, her eyes glossy with want.

Still, he wanted the words.

“Tell me, Slayer,” he murmured, “do you feel how wet you are?”

She jerked as though coming out of a daze and offered a hard nod.

“No. I want the words.” Because, apparently, he was a masochist. “Say, ‘Spike gets me wet.’ Let me know who does that to you.”

Buffy inhaled and rolled her head back, bearing that luscious throat to him. “Spike…gets me…wet.”

He growled, pounded the shower wall with one hand and fisted his cock with the other. “Now I want you to push a finger inside that pussy for me. Can you do that?”

She made a sound somewhere between a whimper and a moan, but nodded, her face still pointed at the ceiling.

That didn’t sit well with him.

“Look at me.”

Buffy released a trembling sigh but did as she was asked, her brilliant green eyes fixing on him.

“Tell me again,” he said, his voice rough. He began pumping his cock in slow strokes—slow both to prolong and torment, because he was ready to fucking blow. The second her blood hit his tongue he’d be a goner. “Tell me who gets you wet.”

“You do.”

Spike sighed and pressed his brow to hers. “Another finger. Stretch yourself as much as you can, all right?”

She dragged her teeth over her lower lip just to torture him—he was sure—but obeyed. He knew she obeyed, even if he couldn’t see what was happening behind her slacks. The sounds she made were indication enough. Buffy reached with her free hand and seized his right biceps to steady herself, and fuck if her touch didn’t make him burn.

“Now fuck that pussy for me, Slayer. Fuck it with your fingers.”

“Oh god.”

“Mmm,” he agreed, his fist working furiously at his dick. “Tell me how it feels.”

“Hot,” she said, the word riding out on a gasp that he felt in his balls. “Slippery.”

“Is it enough?”

Buffy pressed her lips together, then shook her head.

“I know. Not enough for me, either.” Spike squeezed his erection at the base, changing tempo. Needing this to last because it might be a long bloody time before he got to see her like this again. So he made a show of it, dragging his hand up the length of his shaft, then down again. Then again and again until she had no choice but to look and watch what he was doing. The scent of her arousal intensified, a damp smell fragranced by the water spilling from the nozzle.

“Now,” he continued, then dropped a kiss on her cheek before he could help himself. “Now, I want you to touch your clit. Keep your fingers doin’ what they’re doing, but press down on your clit with your thumb. Can you do that?”

Buffy whimpered but gave him yet another nod before a hard gasp road through her lips and her eyes squeezed shut.

“Again.”

“Spike, I’m so—”

“I know,” he replied and kissed her properly this time because fuck it. He missed kissing her. Missed every part of this—of her. The simple pleasure of tasting her mouth with his. But it wasn’t what she wanted, not really, so he pulled away before he could lose himself, and nudged her head. “Buffy…give me your throat.”

It humbled him how quickly she did this. How there was no hesitation, no fear or second-guessing. In a flash, she had presented him with the creamy line of her neck, the area unmarred, save for the prominent mark he’d given her. The one that would never fade.

“Press down on your clit again,” he murmured as his fangs slid into his mouth, the bones in his face shifting. The scent of her intensified, arousal now competing with the delicious rush of her blood. “And again. Keep doing it, love. As long as you can until those glorious legs of yours go out.”

“Spike…please…

He brushed his lips across her throat. The thought surfaced that now would be a good time to tell her he loved her—that was if it wasn’t the first time he was saying it. While he was more or less certain Buffy knew how he felt about her, he didn’t want to risk it now when so much was still up in the bloody air. Because no matter what happened in here, out there was the world set up by her rules, barmy or not. Throwing love at her now would just bollocks things up even more.

Still, he wanted her to have the words on the off chance she didn’t know what she’d done to him. So she’d appreciate just how much this meant.

But he didn’t say them. Instead, he kissed her skin again, then bit down and drank.

And Buffy shuddered hard, his name tumbling from her lips as her blood hit his tongue, and holy fuck. Spike growled and jerked her to him, his fangs sliding deeper into her neck, his dick throbbing and his head pounding and she tasted so fucking good. Hell, he could feel his muscles relax. Could feel the pain in his joints receding, the welts on his skin shrinking, the pain fading until it was nothing more than a dull buzz. His bad eye cleared and he could see her properly now. But beyond that, all he could feel was Buffy. Buffy’s body pressed to his, her breaths at his ear, her heat and softness and purity and everything that made her his slayer.

Spike thought pulling away from her throat would be hard, but it wasn’t. He licked the bite mark once, twice, then dragged his head up so he could meet her eyes.

They were closed again.

“Buffy.”

“Mmm?”

“Buffy…” Spike nudged her brow with his. “Baby, I need you.” He thrust his hips forward, his still-hard cock desperate for attention. “Touch me. Just touch me. Just tonight. Please.”

He thought she’d protest, but praise god, she didn’t. The next second, her hot hand was around his cock, pulling, stroking, squeezing and making his legs tremble all over again. Then she dragged her fingers over the head—fingers that had just been inside her pussy—and he couldn’t take it. He barked a curse and ejaculated, white ropes of semen hitting her stomach. And she didn’t stop. She continued pumping his shaft until the tremors began to recede and the pounding in his veins calmed to a low hum.

At last, seconds, minutes, centuries later, Spike returned to himself. Buffy was pressed against him, her face buried in his shoulder, her hands balled into fists at her sides. Spike swore under his breath and switched off the shower, submerging them both into deafening quiet.

Then Buffy stiffened and started to draw back. “I keep doing the wrong thing, don’t I?”

“Hush,” he said, hesitated, then drew his arms around her to hold her to his chest. “Look, I haven’t forgotten what we talked about. I know the last thing you need right now is to muck with all this. And I’m not gonna ask you to.” He pressed his lips to her brow. “Knew this was a one off going in.”

“But—”

“But nothin’.” He clenched his jaw, then pulled back to meet her eyes. “Funny thing about being strung up by that bloke is it gives a fella time to think. Mind does wonky things when it thinks it might not be around come tomorrow.”

“But in the living room… You said—”

“Sod what I said. I was a prat.”

Buffy shook her head. “You were right. I keep going back and forth and everything makes sense when I think it but then I try to… It’s like I can’t control myself. You’re trying and I’m being a doofus. But tonight, and this morning… Something comes over me and I…”

“Part of you can’t help it.” Spike tucked a lock of her damp hair behind her ear. “Much as I’d like to think it’s because I’m irresistible, I wager a lot of what you’re feelin’ is there because we put it there that night. Like the bloody stomach ache the both of us had when weren’t together. And yeah, I’m ready to get to the part where we’re shagging ourselves raw and sod the rest, but it’s not as clear for you as it is for me. Forever doesn’t scare me. I already got the wiring for it. Forever’s a whole other bloody thing for you. Bleeding selfish of me to think you could…”

He didn’t know how to finish that, so he fixed his gaze on the corner of the shower and swallowed.

“If it makes any difference,” Buffy said a moment later, “I’d really like to be okay with it right now. But it’s so big.”

“I know, love. It’s not for me ’cause it’s in my blood already. Thinking the other way’s what would blow me over.” He paused, raised his gaze to hers again. “Goin’ a little mad because some wanker is cutting up your mate’s in my wiring too. And even though you didn’t get to the sod, I know you wanted to. And I know that scares you.”

She pressed her lips together and looked away. “I’m trying not to think about it.”

“But you will is what I’m saying. Not thinkin’ about it’s gonna do you no good, either.” Spike inhaled a lungful of her scent before forcing himself to put a space between them. “Reckon a slip here or there’s gonna happen. Instincts, and what all.”

“A slip that involves giving each other happies, you mean.”

The corners of his mouth tugged. “Right. But I… You wanted to be what I needed tonight. I want to be what you need. Always. And for now, that means doing this all hands off like.” Another beat. “Still like to sleep next to you, though. If you’re up for tryin’ that again. Can’t promise my hands’ll stay on my side of the bed but if they don’t, just give me a good wallop and that oughta do the trick.”

Buffy stared at him for a long moment, long enough for quiet that settled to feel endless all over again. Then a gentle smile spread across her lips.

“I want that too. Sleeping next to you, that is.”

“Thank Christ.” He barked a laugh and tore his hand through his wet hair. “The rest we’ll suss out as we go, yeah?”

“Even if there are slip-ups.”

“By god, we’ll find some way to endure it.”

Buffy laughed outright at that, and it reached her eyes, and he thought if he could get her to do that once a day for the rest of his years, he’d be a happy bloke.

He just had to wait until she was on the same page—body, mind, and that glorious soul of hers tossed in as well. Until he could have all three, he’d never really have her.

And she was worth the wait.