She doesn’t know where it comes from, this desire, this traitor. She only knows when it blooms into consciousness: in the moonlight spilling through a wide castle window, oddly diffuse through treated glass, but liquid silver on the pale skin and bleached hair of the naked predator sprawled beside her. Spike’s mouth is slack in sleep and he only avoids looking dead by breathing occasionally, a soft, long sigh that makes her smile as it makes her heart contract, because he doesn’t need to. Ever the iconoclast, even dreaming.
He is beautiful, and despite death and undeath, after all the years of guilt and terror and grief between them, still hers. And yet it is only in these moments, when his eyes are closed, that she dares to watch him this way, in awe and tenderness and disbelief that he is real.
He is hers, but she still cannot bear him to see it, how much he could hurt her.
And it’s then that it hits her. This need, sharp like a sob. It shakes her. The one thing she never thought of wanting, and she wants it from him. The one thing he cannot give her.
She must have made some noise, because he shifts, reaches for her, his eyes blinking open. “Buffy?”
She hides her face, burying it in the hollow between his neck and shoulder. “I love you,” she says, fierce and indistinct; he pulls her closer.
“Love you too, Slayer. Come here—no, under the covers….You’re shivering. This castle’s no place for California girls; got more drafts than a crypt. Couldn’t sleep?”
“Bad dream,” she half-lies, pressing into him as if she could sink into his skin, a familiar, welcome heat flooding her belly as his body wakes against her.
“No nasties here. ‘Cept the one, of course, yours truly.” His hands soothe, then stroke lower, and the hungry noise pulled from deep in his throat makes her writhe as much as his touch does. “Well, well, couldn’t have been as bad as that, now could it? You’re wet, love. Bloody soaking. Something you wanted, then?”
“Yes,” she says, rising to his hand as he cups her, his fingers dipping deep, holding her. “Yes. I want you in me. Now, Spike—I need to feel you--” And with a growl and flash of gold in his eyes he’s there, atop her now, driving his cock home, their tongues tangling; she arches, clutches him close with arms and legs and lips and core. Exorcising one demon with another, the real one, the possible. She may not get everything, but she has this, the fire between their skins and souls.
Still, when they’re done and he’s holding her, shuddering as he softens inside her, she knows. The exorcism didn’t work.
He lifts his head and she catches his gaze, no gold now, but a mistake to let him see. The desperate clot of want and words she can’t say clogs her throat.
“Buffy. Talk to me.”
She shakes her head, mute. Feels him slide out of her, his cool seed pooling between her thighs.
“C’mon, Slayer. You’re scared, I can see that. Hell, I can smell it.” He brushes hair off her sweaty forehead; she turns her eyes away and her lips to his hand to kiss it, an apology. He sighs. “Stubborn bint. Just wish you’d tell me what you’re afraid of.”
What could she tell him? Don’t ever leave me. No, their lives were not made for such promises. I need something of you that will last. Something of me, of us. Something that will not turn to dust, next time you…
I need something more than you can give.
“I can’t,” she whispers. She can’t hurt him like that, not again. Can’t run the risk that he’ll go for her own good.
A pause, in which he’s as still as only the dead can be. Not breathing. Then he inhales. “Right, then,” he says, and there’s something new in his voice, some distance. “Suit yourself.”
They rearrange themselves for sleep in silence. They fit together as they always do, his chest against her back, his arm around her. But she knows she’s hurt him anyway.
They are so raw to each other. Maybe that will never change; maybe it’s just them.
Maybe a little distance would do them good.
Maybe he feels that way, too, because the next night, he announces abruptly that he’s leaving for Korea. Something apocalyptic going down there, and he’s the one best qualified to deal with it.
Buffy hears the pride in his voice and doesn’t have the heart to ask him to stay, to wait out this wanting with her while she figures out how to tell him about it. Spike in his second afterlife--Spike 2.0, as Willow calls him—is a new man. Vampire. Person. Comfortable in his soul as in his skin, and he lives with purpose of his own now, not just the one she used to give him. He likes having a part in saving the world.
She tries not to feel supplanted. After all, she was the catalyst. In a way, she ushered the Spike-that-is into being.
She wishes that was enough.
She lets him go.
* * *
“You reek of yearning.”
Buffy jumps guiltily and turns from her vicious abuse of a thirteenth-century brick wall that was probably not designed to withstand a flurry of Slayer kicks. “Excuse me?”
The self-styled God-King of the Primordium regards her, head tilted to the side, eyes a little too wide in that creepy way of hers. Everything about Illyria wigs Buffy out, every motion screaming not-human in a human skin. It makes her Slayer senses twitch. “You stink of it. I smell it constantly. Desire. Frustration.”
Old Ones, not big on the courtesy. “The dark side of the Force are they? Thanks a bunch, Yoda. I’ll try to wear more deodorant.”
“Does the vampire not satisfy you?”
“What?!” Ok, now she’s really pushing it. Buffy folds her arms and glares. “Spike is—I am—you know, that’s really, really none of your business. Not even a little bit.”
Illyria doesn’t look intimidated in the least. Buffy decides she needs to work on her Slayer glare. She once perfected it on Spike. Maybe she’s out of practice.
“It does not surprise me,” the Old One says. “He is sterile, like all his kind. But you are not.” Her nostrils flare. “You are fertile. You long to reproduce.”
Stunned, Buffy stares at her. “How do you--You can smell that? Gross. Am I that obvious?”
“My senses are superior,” Illyria says placidly. “There is no reason to feel shame. All beings have such impulses.”
Buffy looks away, focusing on the brickwork again. It looks a little battered. Ancient. Her eyes burn. Must be the wind out here, blowing cold and harsh off the moors. “Except vampires.”
“No,” Illyria says. “Even the half-breeds feel the urge to make more of their kind, though they do not do so in the context of pair-bonding.”
Spike’s fledglings, dead and buried by both their hands....Buffy shivers. Death is my gift. Maybe she aspires to something she cannot be. But there is a strange note in Illyria’s voice, and she has to ask. “Do you? I mean, did you? Reproduce?”
Illyria’s eyelids drop like shutters, a single blink. "Once."
“It was a long time ago,” the God-King says simply, but untold eons echo behind the words, behind her eyes. In her stolen body, Illyria does not look old, and sometimes Buffy forgets. Not now, as those inhuman eyes, impossibly blue, meet hers. "Continuation is life. For you, it is immortality. If you wish for progeny, follow your wish."
“Well, I can’t,” Buffy says, to the brickwork. “One of the few downsides to a dead boyfriend. Lives forever, but gets really bad sunburns. Great staying power, shoots blanks. Can’t have it all.”
“That is not the only way.”
“Yeah, I know. There’s always the sperm bank and the turkey baster. Believe me, I’ve thought about it.” At Illyria’s questioning expression, Buffy flaps a hand. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” To her horror, her voice cracks, dissolves into a whisper. “I want my child to be his.”
“He is still your mate,” Illyria says. “Blood is not all.”
Buffy chokes out a laugh. “That’s not what he would say.” Of course it’s got to be blood.
“Perhaps you should ask him.”
“What are you, my guidance counselor all of a sudden?”
“I know this creature,” Illyria says. “Your vampire. He is proud, it is true. But it is also true that he loves you. He told me.”
Buffy shoots the demon-god a glance. Illyria stands beside her, considering the brickwork. “He told you that? Why?”
If Illyria could look uncomfortable, she might now. “I exist within a human shell,” she says. “Human emotions have come to interest me. Particularly love. It is an…artifact of the shell’s former inhabitant. I wish to understand it.”
“You? Feel…love?” Buffy clears her throat. “No offense.”
“You do not offend.” Illyria at her most remote. “It is this contamination which offends. My perspective is altered, limited. Certain things become important that should not be. I do not know why. That is what I wished to understand.”
“So you asked Spike, and he said…?”
The God-King turns to look at her, and Buffy squirms a little under the alien gaze, feeling very much like a bug under a high-powered microscope. “He said that love is when the happiness of another becomes as important as one’s own benefit. One’s own happiness.”
Oh. “Did that help?”
Illyria inclines her head. “Perhaps. It is strange to me. Yet it was familiar to the shell, natural as the intake of air into these lungs. A habit. And so I find myself…susceptible.”
“You talk about love like it’s a disease.”
“It is,” Illyria says austerely, “a structural weakness of the human brain.”
“I prefer to think of it as our greatest strength.”
Illyria looks away, her blue-tinted face still as a mask. She speaks so quietly that Buffy barely catches it.
“How can such a thing be strength if it brings its bearer so much suffering?”
She speaks from experience, Buffy realizes. It’s almost like she got herself a soul. Or the remnants of one.
But Spike loved her, Buffy, before he ever had one of those.
The happiness of another…
“I am afraid that this will hurt him,” Buffy admits. “Make him feel less of a—well, less of a man, I guess.”
“But he is not a man.”
“Not in every way,” Buffy says, with a grimace. “But in most of the ways that count. He takes pride in that. In his humanity.”
“Then he is a fool,” says the God-King; and her bitterness is almost human.
“Maybe.” A giggle bubbles up behind the word. “But he’s my fool. And you’re right. He has a right to be part of this decision, too.”
Illyria frowns. “What right? You will carry the offspring in your own body, and it will not be his seed.”
“But I want him to be the father.” Buffy smiles up at Illyria. “You know,” she says, “for a sociopathic, several-thousand-year old god-thing, you make a pretty decent guidance counselor.”
* * *
“You’re out of your fucking mind,” Spike says.
“I know,” Buffy says. “I’m insane. I know. I’m sorry.”
He’s sitting on the bed they share at Slayer HQ, a ridiculously big and melodramatic canopied four-poster, because she made him sit down before she told him. He runs his hands through his hair, which he keeps longer these days and a little less bleached, until it escapes its prison of gel-within-an-inch-of-its-life and stands on end in a riot of boyish curls. “Well, don’t be sorry, pet,” he says, though he looks blank, wary. “If you want it, you want it. What I don’t really understand is why. Why is it so important to you? Why now?”
“Because! Because I’m getting older…I’m twenty-nine now, Spike…and, well, built-in expiration date, remember? It’s not like I have all the time in the world to do this.”
“That’s only half an explanation, Slayer.”
And of course it’s only half an explanation because she doesn’t really know why. The desire must have crept into her mind like a thief, covertly, when she was too exhausted for vigilance. Now it has put down roots, has grown, until it shadows her waking thoughts and stirs in her dreams, a demon of mixed metaphors and half-acknowledged fears.
Perhaps it is some stubborn vestige of the old, angry ache that used to beat in her as a girl, newly a Slayer, coveting the lives that other girls took for granted. Envious that they had nothing more earthshaking to worry about than making the cheerleading squad, getting a date to the homecoming dance, being on time for dinner with Mom and Dad. College applications. Career aspirations.
The cheerleading squad had been bewitched, her homecoming date had been pulse-challenged and on-and-off evil, Mom had dated a killer robot, and college…well, college had never quite worked out.
Her career is saving the world, and she is not supposed to have lived this long. Not supposed to want these things. Especially not this particular thing.
Death is my gift.
“Life,” she whispers.
“A long time ago,” she says, “you told me that death was my art. Something I make with my hands every day. ‘That final gasp, that look of peace…’”
He cocks his head at her. “Quoting me, are you? Trying to butter me up?”
“Yes. Is it working?”
“A little. Must admit, I didn’t know you were paying such close attention. It wasn’t exactly your favorite lesson, as I recall.”
She smiles a little. “But I learned it well. I always paid attention to you. Even when I didn’t want to. You are hard to ignore, and you have a way with words.”
“Flattering the poet,” he mutters. “This must be serious.”
“It is! So here’s the thing, Spike. Art or not, I’ve made enough death for several lifetimes. For once, I want to try my hand at creating life.”
He just stares at her.
“And,” she says softly, “I want a family.”
“You’ve got plenty,” he says. “Your sister. Your Scoobies. Your Slayerettes. Isn’t that more than enough family for you?”
“With you, Spike. I want a family with you.”
“Me.” As if propelled, he surges to his feet and begins to pace. “See, that’s where you’re off your gourd.”
“Why?” She steps into his path, grabs his arm when he tries to detour around her. “I think you’d make a good father, Spike.”
“Right.” He shakes his head, like a lion harried by flies, and then again, more deliberately; she hears the soft crunch of shifting cartilage and he’s looking out at her suddenly from a lion’s golden eyes. His demon face. His laugh is harsh, a flash of fangs and a sharp huff of breath he doesn’t need. "Can't see me bringing new life into the world, now can you?"
“I don’t mean like that,” she says, thinking of her own father: smooth-faced, human, virile. Absent. “There are other ways to make a baby.”
He spins away from her, out of her grasp. "You, shot full of some other bloke's spunk? Yeah, it's always been my dream."
“Stop it, Spike.” She takes him by the shoulders, spins him back to face her. Come on. You know you wanna dance. “Will you just listen to me?” He’s still in game face, and she reaches up with both hands to stroke it, fitting her fingers along the ridges of his forehead.
“I’m listening,” he says, but it’s half a snarl.
“I want this with you,” she says, looking in the demon’s eyes. The demon glowers back at her, but they’ve been here too many times for that to scare her anymore. Demon or man, she’s still talking to Spike. “I’m not doing it without you one hundred percent on board. I need you.”
“Not for this.” His jaw is tense under her palm.
She sighs. “For everything else. Sperm donation is easy, Spike. I need you for the hard stuff.”
“Diaper changes in the middle of the night?” he grumbles.
“Well, you are nocturnal…”
She’s still stroking his ridges and as she does, they smooth themselves, melt away into his human face, though his jaw remains tight as a wound spring. His eyes slide away from hers, spooked. “Can’t say I’ve had much in the way of good models for fatherhood, love. My own father died when I was still in short pants. And Angelus…” His face twists. “The Poofter wasn’t exactly Mr. Rogers, in his glory days.”
Tears prick in her own eyes, unexpectedly. His jaw works and his hair is hopelessly mussed and he’s so beautiful she wants to kiss him, but she knows she can’t yet, knows she has to gentle him back. “Angel would be a terrible father,” she says.
This gets his attention. “Angel was a terrible father, pet. Made a right mess of Connor, he did. And Angelus made a right mess of me.”
“I think you turned out okay.”
“Believe me, Slayer. It’s not on his account.” His eyes soften a little. “Much more on yours than anyone else’s.”
“And on yours,” she says firmly. “But don’t you want a chance to do it better than he did?”
“No,” he says. “I don’t want to risk fucking it up. Your baby, Buffy. Your flesh and blood. Bloody hell, do you even know what you’re asking me? Don't you know what I am, what I've been? You are insane. Bloody crazy, ridiculous, damned foolish Slayer.”
She’s holding him now, his taut body against hers, stiff with resistance. “Yes,” she whispers in his ear. “Yes, I know what I’m asking you. And what’s more, I know you can do it. I know what you are, and I trust you, Spike. I trust you with my body and with my child, with the flesh of my flesh. Wholly and completely. I trust you.”
At that he goes still. “That sounds like a vow,” he says, his voice strange and thick. He has dropped his head to her shoulder, and she can’t see his face. "Can't say I understand what makes you so sure."
"Spike, I don’t have to wonder what kind of parent you’d make, what kind of care you would take of my child. I already know. I've watched you with Dawn. But even if I didn’t…”
He lifts his head, and his expression strikes her to the heart.
“Love,” she says, her fingers tangled in the soft hair at the back of his neck. “It’s when the happiness of another becomes as important as one’s own happiness.”
“You’re quoting me again. Have you been talking to Blue?”
She ignores this. “You have it, Spike. You’ve always had it, soul or no. Love is your gift. How could I not want that for my child?”
He starts to speak, then shakes his head.
“You told me once that I was the only thing you'd ever been sure of." She speaks slowly, softly, picking each word with care. "Well, being sure is kind of my thing. It has to be, in my line of work. But the only man I've ever been sure of, sure of like this, is you....What is that look for?”
“Just...thinking. You never fail to surprise me, Slayer. I never would have dreamed...well. We’ve come a long way from Sunnyhell, you and I.”
“And I’m grateful for it," she says fervently. “So does that mean you’ll say yes?”
He leans his forehead against hers.
“I’m scared, Buffy,” he says, and sighs. Forgetting he’s not human, like he does.
“Me too,” she says, holding onto him.
“I won’t say no,” he says, finally. And for now, it is enough.
It's a beginning.