“This Film Theory class was a total mistake,” Buffy complained over the rock music blaring from the speakers. The party at Lowell House was in full swing. “I thought it was gonna be just watching movies, and instead it’s all theories and methodology.”
“Actual learning. Who’da thought?” Willow mused, taking a sip of her drink, wine from a box served in a plastic cup. Nothing but the best at these college parties.
Buffy frowned. “And the course description sounded so promising.”
“At least you’ve still got a week until the drop/add deadline.”
“Yeah, if there were any spots open in any good classes.” She pouted. “No one wants to let me in. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson last semester.”
“Maybe we could talk to Walsh,” Riley offered. “I bet she could get you into Psych 110.”
Buffy looked doubtful. “Aren’t you TA-ing again?”
She glanced pointedly at where his hand was resting on her waist and then back up at his face.
Riley grinned sheepishly. “Guess I’m not quite used to the idea of dating an underclassman yet. Think that’d be an ethical violation?”
“Think so.” Buffy drained the last of her rum and Coke. “It’s okay. I’ll just have to beg Professor Keebler again to let me into her poetry class.”
“Mmmm, Keebler,” Willow giggled. “Like the elves.”
“Okay, no more booze for Willow,” Riley teased. He took the empty cup out of Buffy’s hand. “You want a refill?”
She nodded. “Last one, though. Two’s my limit. You don’t wanna see Cave Buffy come out and play.”
Not completely sure what she was talking about, Riley glanced over at Xander and Anya, who were hovering on the edges of the conversation. “Can I get you two anything?”
“Nah, we’re good,” Xander replied, holding his beer aloft. Anya in turn took a sip of her own drink.
“You’re such a good host,” Buffy called after him. Turning back to her friends, she asked, “Isn’t he a good host?”
“The best,” Xander mumbled.
“What’s the matter, Xander?” Buffy asked. “You guys have been quiet all night.”
“Non-college guy here. Can’t really sympathize with all the class schedule talk.”
“I don’t like this place,” Anya chimed in. “This is where the commandos live.”
“Anya, for the last time, they’re not looking for you!” Willow blurted out. “The only way they’re gonna know you’re an ex-demon is if you tell them you are.”
“Oh, no,” Buffy groaned, catching sight of a familiar bleached blond head bobbing among the crowd. Breaking off from her friends before an argument could erupt between Willow and Anya, she made her way over to where Spike was chatting up a petite freshman with a pixie haircut.
“Spike!” she barked, grabbing him by the collar.
“Whoa, sorry,” said the frosh, backing up a step and putting her hands up in a gesture of innocence. “He didn’t say he had a girlfriend.”
“She’s not my – oof!” Spike grunted as Buffy dragged him away from the girl. “Hey! Easy on the goods, love.”
“What are you doing here?” Buffy demanded. “Trolling for willing blood donors?”
Spike shot her a dirty look as he disengaged himself from her grip. “Scoping out these commando guys,” he retorted, keeping his voice as low as he could while still being heard over the music. “See if I can find a way in.”
“Why on earth would you want to go back in?” Willow asked, coming up behind Buffy, flanked by Xander and Anya.
“So I can figure out how to get this damn chip out of my head!”
Buffy was about to make a snappy comeback when something else caught her eye. “What the hell are you wearing?”
She could see a triangle of the ever-present black t-shirt, but it was mostly hidden under a royal blue polo shirt. He’d exchanged the black jeans for faded blue ones, and the combat boots for sneakers.
“Tryin’ to blend in,” he replied with a scowl.
Just then, Riley reappeared, a drink in each hand. “Here you go,” he said, offering one drink to Buffy before he stopped short, staring at the new member of their group. “That’s Hostile Seventeen.”
“Who, me?” Spike said defensively. “No, I’m just an old pal of Xander’s, remember?” He hit the r’s hard in his poor attempt at an American accent.
“This is Spike,” Buffy jumped in, quickly stepping between the vampire and her increasingly suspicious boyfriend. “He’s not – not ‘hostile.’” She glared at Spike, silently warning him to keep quiet.
“Buffy, listen to me, that’s –” Riley was abruptly cut off by the sound of his pager. He glanced down and then back up at Buffy. “I gotta go.” He pointed to Spike. “Don’t let him get away.”
Hurrying away, he glanced over his shoulder at Spike one last time before falling into step with Forrest and Graham on their way to report to the Initiative. Spike started to follow but Buffy grabbed his arm to hold him back.
“And where exactly do you think you’re going?”
“To follow them,” Spike replied exasperatedly. “Find the way in.”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough excitement for one night?” She let go of him roughly, giving him a shove toward the door. “Go home, Spike.”
With a parting scowl, the vampire stalked off, disappearing into the writhing crowd of dancing co-eds.
“Man, I was really hoping we’d seen the last of that leech,” Xander grumbled. “Now that I finally got him out of my basement.”
“What, you think just because Spike isn’t living with you anymore, he’s going to leave us alone?” Buffy replied skeptically. “Trust me, he’s gonna be as annoying as possible. It’s all he has left.” She rolled her eyes.
“Uh-oh,” Willow said suddenly.
“What-oh, Will?” Xander asked. “You gonna hurl?”
“No, Parker alert. Nine o’clock. He’s coming this way.”
Buffy quickly turned to look for him. “Where?”
“The other nine,” Anya supplied helpfully.
She spun in the other direction, only to find herself staring at a green and white checked shirt. She tilted her head up to see his face. “Parker. Hi.”
“Oh, hey, Buffy,” he replied casually, glancing down as though he’d only just noticed she was there. He gestured to the guy next to him. “Hey, you know my friend, Kevin, right?”
Buffy nodded, feeling like she was smiling way too much. “Yeah, I – I think we were in Psych together last semester.”
“Looking good, Summers,” Kevin said with a slight leer. Buffy blushed, knowing what the guy probably thought of her if he was friends with Parker.
“Thanks,” she muttered, resisting the instinct to put her arms up to cover the skin her skimpy tank top left exposed.
“Well, this has been fun, but I think we have an elsewhere to be,” Xander stepped in, putting a hand on Buffy’s shoulder and gently steering her away from the guys. “Fellas,” he said in parting, with a nod to Parker and Kevin.
“Oh, God,” Buffy groaned as soon as they were out of earshot. “How is that still awkward?” In desperation, she began chugging her rum and Coke.
“Hey, slow down there,” Xander cautioned her.
“Ugh. There are some advantages to being Cave Buffy,” she replied dryly. “For one thing, I don’t have a problem clubbing that loser over the head. Whoa,” she said, swaying slightly as a sudden dizziness came over her. “Strong.”
Shaking off the woozy feelings, she gave Xander a nudge toward Anya and then grabbed Willow’s arm, leading her toward the makeshift dance floor. “Come on. Let’s dance.”
Buffy awoke to a terrible pounding in her skull. She peeked her eyes open to see sunlight filtering through unfamiliar curtains. It took a moment for it to register that this wasn’t her bedroom, but once it did, her eyes flew open and she shot up in bed, only to feel bile creeping up her throat at the sudden movement. Fighting down the nausea and the god-awful headache, she gritted her teeth and took in her surroundings.
Almost immediately, she breathed a sigh of relief. She was in Riley’s room. Letting the tension ease from her body, she leaned back and slid languidly down into the bed, closing her eyes, hoping to recapture the lovely oblivion that had preceded her horrible hangover. As the soft sheets rubbed against her bare skin, she realized she was naked, and a frisson of surprise and arousal went through her. Slowly, she raised her arms over her head, grasping the headboard, and stretched her legs out to their full length, curling her toes and arching her hips off the bed. Her muscles ached in protest, but she was sore in all the right places.
Unfortunately, she had no memory of the night before.
Wow, I shouldn’t have drunk so much, she chided herself, rubbing her throbbing temples. My first time with Riley, and I don’t even remember it?
It was disappointing. She and Riley had been progressing so slowly, and she’d been so looking forward to this, and now she wouldn’t even be able to cherish the memory. Her sex felt raw and stung a little, but she couldn’t call to mind the rough attentions that might have caused it. With a sigh, Buffy kicked the covers off, only then noticing the bruises on her stomach and arms. As she dragged herself out of bed, she spotted her shredded panties on the floor, and she blushed. She might not be able to remember spending the night with Riley, but judging by the state she was in, it must have been fantastic.
Riley was nowhere to be found, which hurt a little, given her previous sexual experiences, but she sternly reassured herself that Riley wasn’t like that. She remembered that he had been called to the Initiative last night during the party – maybe he’d had to run off again this morning for some emergency. He wasn’t like the others; he wouldn’t leave her to wake up alone unless he had to.
With her doubts reasonably assuaged, she grabbed a spare towel and hopped in the shower. It went a long way toward easing her hangover, and she let the hot water soothe away the aches and the nausea.
As she stepped out into the hallway, clean and refreshed and wrapped up in the towel, Buffy saw Riley heading for his room, still dressed in his soldier gear. A broad grin broke across her face as she realized she’d made the right assumption.
“Morning,” she said, flashing him a sexy smile as she sauntered toward him.
Riley glanced up at the sound of her voice, a startled expression on his face. “Buffy,” he said, pausing outside his door. “You’re still here.”
“Yeah.” She slipped her arms around his waist and pressed her body against his, tipping her head back to look at him, wet hair cascading down her back. “So, did you have fun last night?”
“Not really,” he replied, a hint of bitterness in his tone.
Buffy jerked away from him as though she’d been burned. With memories of Angelus and Parker smothering her, her throat tightening painfully, she asked in a tiny voice, “You – you didn’t have a good time?”
“Buffy, I spent the entire night at the Initiative,” Riley said shortly, seemingly unaware of her insecurity as he strode into his room. “I didn't get any sleep.”
She stopped dead in the doorway, one hand clutching the towel tighter against her chest. “You… were there all night?”
“Yeah, I’m just getting back now.” He paused, taking in the disheveled bed. “Did you sleep here?”
Buffy swallowed hard, her eyes widening with realization as an icy wave of dread washed over her.
“Oh, my God, Buffy, are you sure?” Willow leapt from her desk chair and hurried to where Buffy was perched gingerly on the edge of her bed, her eyes focused on her hands folded in her lap.
“It – it has to be, Will,” she said softly, as her best friend sat next to her and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. “I mean, if it wasn’t Riley…”
It had all come together as she stood there shell-shocked, taking in Riley’s words and his innocent expression. She’d wanted to say, “You’re joking, right?” because even a joke as cruel as that would be better than the reality. Instead, she’d watched the horrifying pieces fall into place – the soreness, the bruises, the ripped panties, all signs of fairly rough sex. Sex she had no memory of.
She suddenly felt sick at the notion that she’d been turned on by those things when she thought it was Riley she’d slept with. Nausea, which this time had nothing to do with a hangover, overwhelmed her, and she dove for the trash can by her desk. Willow crouched behind her, holding her hair back as she vomited up the contents of her stomach, the acid burning her throat.
Someone had touched her, violated her, without her knowledge.
She wretched until there was nothing left in her to come up, and then she collapsed back against the foot of the bed, her face drawn and pale, a film of sweat forming on her forehead. Willow stayed next to her on the floor, gently smoothing loose strands of hair out of her face. She must have been dealing with her own hangover, but her face showed nothing but concern for her friend.
“I’m so sorry this happened, Buffy,” Willow murmured. “I never thought someone could… I mean, you’re the Slayer, you know? I – not to be insensitive, because I totally believe you, but… couldn’t you fight off someone who wanted to… to…”
“Not if I was unconscious.” Buffy glanced up, her eyes welling with tears. “Will, I don’t remember anything. Anyone could have just…” She broke off, her voice hitching as she started to get upset again.
Willow pulled her into a tight hug. “It’ll be okay. We’ll figure it out. I just can’t believe… I mean, the Lowell House guys are all so nice. Who at the party would have wanted to do that to you?”
Buffy burst into Spike’s new crypt, startling the vampire from his attempt to hook up his stolen television. Before he could react to her presence, she grabbed Spike by the lapels of his duster and slammed him against the wall, knocking the wind out of him. “What the hell did you do to me?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Slayer,” he protested as she pinned him in place with one strong hand on his chest.
“The party last night.”
Something flashed across Spike’s eyes at the mention of the party, but it was gone in an instant, and Buffy questioned whether she’d just imagined it.
“What about it?” Spike asked cautiously.
“Someone raped me.”
His face flickered with a myriad of emotions, finally settling on shock and indignation. “And you think it was me?”
“Let’s see. Vicious killer. Mortal enemy. Yeah, I’m thinking so.” She grabbed him by the throat, pulling him forward and then shoving him back against the wall even harder than before. “What was it, Spike? Curious whether fucking a Slayer would be as good as killing them?”
“No! Didn’t –”
“Bet it made you feel like the Big Bad again, huh?” she cried, holding him in place with one hand while she punched him with the other, her eyes frantic and wild with fury. “Did you feel like a tough guy while I was unconscious?”
More calmly than expected, given the hysterical, ranting Slayer at his throat, Spike said, “Forgetting one important detail, love.” He pointed to his head. “I can’t hurt you.”
Buffy was stunned into silence at this. He was right. He could never have caused the bruises on her body without inflicting pain on himself. Abruptly, she let him go, backing away from him with a horrified expression on her face. If it hadn’t been Spike, then it was most likely a human, someone with a soul, who did this to her.
She’d been running on autopilot, holding back as much emotion as she could in order to keep herself from falling apart, but now it all caught up to her, and the shock and the fear and the shame came crashing over her. She gasped, her hand flying up to cover her mouth as she choked back tears.
“Oh, God,” she whispered, starting to shake uncontrollably, unable to stop herself from crying. Her shoulders heaved with broken sobs, and she threatened to crumple to the ground at any moment.
Spike took a hesitant step toward her, uncertain what to do. “Hey,” he said, his voice unexpectedly gentle, given the disturbed expression on his face. “Don’t – don’t – do that.”
“I – I can’t –” I can’t help it, she wanted to say, but she couldn’t get the words out past her tear-clogged throat. Her legs trembled, and then her knees gave out and she was sliding to the floor.
Spike caught her before she collapsed, moving with vampire speed and pulling her against him for support. She raised her eyes to his, finding that he seemed almost as surprised as she was by his compassion.
“Don’t cry,” he said uneasily, clearly at a loss for the right thing to say. But his awkward attempt at comfort was at least enough distraction to help her get herself under control, and her sobs quieted in his arms.
After a moment, she pulled away, swiping hastily at her wet cheeks. “I have to go.”
Spike briefly looked like he might protest, but then he nodded, almost with relief. “Yeah, okay.”
As she was headed for the door, his voice stopped her. “Buffy?”
She turned, and they just gazed at each other in silence until Spike finally said, “I’m sorry. About…” His voice resonated with sincerity.
She nodded. “Thanks.”
When Buffy got back to her dorm room, all she really wanted was to be alone. She had opened a floodgate, and though she’d managed to stop crying, her emotions threatened to just keep spilling out of her from a bottomless well of grief and despair, and she didn’t want anyone else to be witness to it. But she knew Willow would be clinging to her like an overprotective parent on the first day of kindergarten, so she braced herself for the onslaught of well-meaning comfort.
She stood outside her door, taking one deep breath after another until she thought she could speak without her voice trembling. Tamping down her emotions, she pasted on as brave a face as she could muster and opened the door.
Despite her preparation, she still managed to be caught off-guard as Xander unexpectedly swept her up in a stifling hug.
“Buffy, are you okay?” he asked, his large, familiar frame suddenly feeling intimidating as his arms tightened around her until she felt trapped. She had to fight down the urge to resist, to burst out of the embrace and throw him across the room with her full Slayer strength. This was a new sensation, one she hadn’t felt when Willow and Spike had tried to hold her, and it distressed her to realize she was frightened of one of her best friends.
“Xander?” Buffy’s face flushed with humiliation as she disengaged from the hug, suddenly becoming self-conscious that he knew what had happened to her. “Will… you told him?”
“Of course,” Willow replied, the we tell each other everything left unspoken. Her face fell as she realized that wasn’t what Buffy wanted. “I’m sorry, Buffy. Did you want to do it yourself? I thought it might be hard…”
Buffy hadn’t wanted to tell him at all. There was just something… shameful about Xander knowing, something she couldn’t put her finger on. The thought of the way he would look at her, the way he would judge her, made her cringe inside.
“No, it – it’s fine.”
“God, Buff, I'm so sorry,” Xander said, shaking his head.
It seemed like all anyone wanted to do today was apologize to her, as though that somehow made things better. “It’s not your fault.”
“Yeah… yeah, it kind of is.”
She turned to him with confusion written across her face. “What are you talking about?”
Xander heaved a sigh and sank down on the edge of Willow’s bed. “Last night, you started getting pretty spacey, you know? We figured you just had too much to drink. You looked ready to pass out, so I helped you upstairs to Riley’s room.” He rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands. “I thought you’d be okay there. I never expected someone to come in and – and –”
“Xander –” Buffy started.
“I just left you there… I didn’t even think…”
“You couldn’t have known,” she insisted.
“It was Riley’s room. I thought – I thought you’d be safe.”
“I know.” Taking a hesitant step toward him, Buffy took his hand in hers. He raised his head, and their eyes met. “Thank you… for taking care of me.”
“So, what did Evil Dead have to say for himself?” Xander asked her. “And please let this story have a dusty ending.”
“It wasn’t Spike.”
Xander looked skeptical. “And we’re ruling him out… why?”
Slowly, Buffy shrugged out of her jacket. She was still wearing the clothes she’d worn to the party last night, and her tank top left exposed all the bruises on her arms. They had almost faded, thanks to Slayer healing, but the vague outlines of handprints were still visible where she’d been forcibly held down.
“He couldn’t have done this.”
“Sure he could,” Xander scoffed. “It’d just give him one hell of a headache. But raping the Slayer? Probably worth it.”
Buffy visibly flinched at his crass words, a reminder of her own accusations. “It wasn’t him. I was just there,” she insisted. “I – I talked to him, and he… it wasn’t him.”
“Then, who was it?” Willow wondered.
“It doesn’t matter,” Buffy replied, slipping her jacket back on and pulling it tightly around her. “It just – I just want to forget about it, okay?”
“You don’t wanna get the guy who did this?” Xander asked. “You’re the Slayer, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way!”
“That’s not the Slayer, that’s Superman.”
“So? You’re a superhero. Don’t you think this deserves a little justice?”
“I fight demons,” Buffy reminded him. “Whoever did this – they were human. I don’t do that kind of justice.”
“So, we go to the police,” Willow suggested.
“And tell them what? We have no evidence. These bruises look like they happened days ago. I can’t remember anything. What are the police going to do?” She shook her head. “I’d rather it just go away.”
Willow and Xander exchanged an uneasy glance. “If that’s what you want, Buffy,” Willow said finally.
“Right now, I just want to be alone.”
Willow nodded, grabbing her backpack and motioning Xander toward the door. “We’ll go. I’ll be studying in the library if you need anything.”
“Guys?” Buffy hesitated, directing her gaze to the floor, unable to meet their eyes. Her voice breaking, she said, “Don’t tell Giles.”
As soon as she was alone, Buffy stripped off her clothes, not caring that she tore her tank top in half getting it over her head. She just needed them off. She’d never wear them again anyway. Wrapping herself up in her bathrobe, she grabbed a towel and her shower caddy and headed for the girls’ bathroom.
She turned the water on as hot as it would go and stepped under the scalding stream. Her skin was bright red within minutes, but she could barely feel the heat, couldn’t feel anything except dirty. She fumbled in the shower caddy for a loofah and body lotion, and scrubbed her skin until she saw pink-tinged suds swirling into the drain.
Finally giving up on ever getting herself clean, she slid down to the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest as the water sluiced over her. Her forehead dropped down to rest on her knees, and she cried.
Going to class on Monday was harder than any demon she’d ever had to face.
She didn’t want to leave her room – ever, if possible – but Willow would worry if she didn’t keep up with her normal routine, and the last thing she needed was more questions and concerned mother henning.
Buffy slouched down low in her chair, surreptitiously scanning the lecture hall while her professor droned on about Hitchcock and formalism, unable to shake the anxiety that gripped her. Now that she’d ruled out Spike as a suspect, that only left the entire population of UC Sunnydale as potential rapists. Any one of her fellow students could be her attacker. She could be sitting next to him in class and not even know it. He could be out there in the hall right now, laughing with his friends about the easy lay he’d had Friday night.
How did this happen? She was the Slayer, always in control of her environment, always confident that she could thwart any attack. She shouldn’t be afraid of stupid college boys that she could best one-handed without even breaking a sweat.
The shuffling of papers and the rustle of students filing out of the lecture hall alerted her that class was over, not that she’d absorbed any of it. Numbly, she slipped her books back into her bag and joined the procession out of the room.
The hallway was bustling as students darted to and from classes, and she was swept up in the crowd, jostled and poked as backpacks brushed against her and elbows jabbed into her sides. Clutching her bag to her chest, she felt the panic building up, like she was being smothered and she couldn’t breathe. She fought her way through the streams of bodies until she broke free, stepping out onto the quad.
She found a vacant bench and sank down with relief, willing herself to take deep breaths until her heartbeat slowed to its normal tempo. She wouldn’t cry – she would not cry. Not here. Not in front of people.
She hadn’t let herself cry since the morning after, first with Spike, then alone in the shower. It was an imaginary barrier, a line in the sand she couldn’t cross, or she would become a victim again. She hated that some guy whose name she didn’t even know could make her feel this way, hated that this stranger had torn apart everything she’d built herself up to be. But mostly, she hated herself for being weak, for being vulnerable, for letting this get to her when she’d fought much fiercer demons and won.
With one final deep breath to steady herself, Buffy strengthened her resolve, swallowing down the unshed tears and snatching her bag from beside her on the bench as she headed to her next class.
“Hey, Buffy! Wait up!”
She turned to see Riley jogging across the quad, flagging her down with one hand. The thought flitted across her mind that it was too late to pretend she hadn’t heard him, and then she was angry with herself for even considering it. She’d avoided him all week, unable to face the shame of explaining what had happened to her. She longed to be comforted, to hear him reassure her that it would be all right, but every time she imagined telling him, all she could picture was disappointment on his face, like she’d betrayed him, like she was to blame.
On top of everything else, she couldn’t stomach his rejection, especially not so soon after Parker, and Angel before him. She’d do whatever she had to, even if it meant keeping her assault a secret from Riley. The only problem was, she didn’t know how she could act normal and pretend that nothing was wrong. Thus, avoidance was of the good, but she knew she couldn’t do it forever.
Dutifully, Buffy stopped and waited for him to reach her, but she instinctively turned her head so that his kiss landed on her cheek instead of her lips.
“Where’ve you been?” he asked her. “I’ve hardly seen you at all this week.”
“Oh… just around.” She shrugged. “Busy with classes and stuff.”
Riley shifted nervously. “I thought… maybe you were mad.”
“Why would I be mad?”
“I dunno, you’ve just been pretty scarce since the party. I thought maybe you were pissed that I had to skip out to do Initiative stuff instead of spending time with you.”
Buffy exhaled a deep sigh. “No, no, that’s not it at all.” Catching herself, she quickly added, “I mean, there isn’t anything. I’m not mad. Just… busy.”
“You sure?” he pressed, with all the insecurity of a new relationship. “I mean, I wouldn’t have wanted to be around crabby, sleep-deprived me, either, but you left pretty quickly that morning. And you seemed, I dunno… strange.”
“It was nothing. Just a hangover.”
“I’m glad.” Riley smiled, then bent down to kiss her again, and this time she couldn’t avoid his lips meeting hers. Not that she wanted to. She pressed her mouth against his, kissing him earnestly in denial of her earlier impulse, swallowing down her discomfort at the intimacy.
When it seemed as though his concerns were assuaged, Buffy pulled away, forcing a smile as she met his eyes. “Listen, I have to run, but how about we do something tonight?” she suggested. “Willow was talking about Bronzing it – we could all go.”
“Yeah, okay,” Riley replied, stealing another kiss before he let her go. “Sounds like fun.”
As he walked away, Buffy felt a wave of guilt for wanting to keep him at arm’s length. It wasn’t Riley’s fault, and he didn’t deserve the cold shoulder for what had happened to her. She would have to get over it, because avoiding her boyfriend was going to be a big red flag that there was something she wasn’t telling him, and Riley wasn’t stupid. Besides, this was just a temporary thing, just some residual freaking out due to recent trauma. It would all go away soon enough, and she and Riley would be fine again.
“Ooh, good song!” Anya exclaimed. “Let’s dance.” She grabbed Xander’s hand and dragged him onto the dance floor before he had a chance to protest.
Riley glanced at Buffy. “You wanna?”
She hesitated for a moment before nodding, and they followed Xander and Anya out to the floor. The music had a decent beat, and Buffy started to loosen up as she was swept along by the pulsing crowd. The song was fast enough that no-touching dancing was acceptable, and she pulled Willow into the mix, making it harder for Riley to pair off with her.
When she’d suggested the Bronze, she hadn’t realized how uncomfortable it would be. She hadn’t considered that the feel of Riley grinding against her would send her imagination into overdrive, wondering if this was what her rapist had done, if he’d rubbed his crotch against her hip, slid his thigh between her legs. She wondered if his hands had clung to her waist with the same possessiveness, if his skin had glistened with the same sweaty sheen, if he’d looked at her with the same hungry expression before he took her.
Riley knew none of what was going through her head. He was just trying to have a good time with his girl. But every time he touched her, it reminded Buffy that someone else had touched her without her permission, and all the sickening feelings came rushing back.
It became like a game of cat and mouse, with Riley continually dancing closer, and Buffy always edging away, covering her discomfort with laughter and flirting, as though she were just being a tease.
They went on that way for several songs, until the band segued into a ballad, and Riley caught Buffy by the wrist, drawing her against him as they began to slow dance.
“Finally,” he said, his tone just a fraction too hard to take it as a joke. “Chance to get my hands on you.”
Buffy stiffened in his arms, swaying awkwardly to the music. “What?”
“You’ve been avoiding me all night, Buffy.”
“I’m not!” she protested. “I –”
“You are.” He shook his head. “Look, if you’re mad at me, just say so.”
“I told you I wasn’t,” she said softly.
“Then why are you acting like this?” His eyes suddenly darkened with insecurity. “Is there somebody else? Another guy you’d… rather be with?”
Yes, there’s another guy, Buffy thought. But not someone I’d rather be with.
“No, there’s no one else,” she reassured him. “I just…”
“I don’t understand, Buffy. What did I do?”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Can we please not do this right now?”
Riley withdrew his arms and took a step back. “Fine,” he said, his frustration evident. “Let me know when you feel like talking about it.” As the surrounding couples looked on with curiosity, Riley turned and walked away, leaving Buffy alone on the dance floor, her cheeks burning with embarrassment.
Willow watched Riley’s retreating form from the sidelines. “Buffy, you have to tell him,” she said quietly, escorting her friend back to their table.
“I can’t, Will. I couldn’t bear him thinking of me like I’m…”
Willow reached out and covered Buffy’s hand with her own. “Buffy, what happened to you wasn’t your fault. But you’ve been avoiding Riley the entire week, and if you don’t tell him what’s going on, he’s gonna think…”
“I know,” she insisted. “But I – I can’t talk about it. Not with him.”
“Maybe you should talk to someone else,” Willow suggested. “Like a – a counselor or something.”
Buffy shook her head. No way was she going to even consider that. Talking to a counselor meant that her problems were real, that something was actually wrong with her. As long as she didn’t need professional help, she could convince herself that it wasn’t serious, nothing to worry about.
“You know what? I’m not really feeling the Bronze tonight. I’m gonna go patrol,” she said, making a hasty exit.
“Shouldn’t be out all alone, little lady,” a voice from behind her crowed. “No one to protect you.”
Buffy whirled around to face the vampire. “I don’t need protecting.”
She didn’t give him a chance to retort, vaulting over a headstone to land in front of him with a well-placed kick. She followed it up with a backhand to the face and then another kick aimed at his legs. The vampire crumpled to the ground, but Buffy grabbed him by the hair and dragged him back to his feet.
“We’re not done yet,” she snapped, delivering a series of rapid-fire punches that drove the vamp backwards several steps. He tried weakly to fight back, but he was practically fresh out of the grave and was no match for the Slayer. His blows didn’t even slow her down as she slammed her boot into his chest and then grabbed his arm, spinning him around and twisting it behind his back until it snapped.
The vampire howled in pain, jerking out of her grasp, but Buffy didn’t relent. “You think you can attack some unsuspecting girl, huh?” she cried. “You think you can take whatever you want and I won’t fight back?”
She kicked again at his kneecaps, this time hearing the crunch of bone as one leg bent at an unnatural angle. Again he fell, and again she yanked him upright, pulling his arm out of its socket in the process.
“Please, stop!” the vamp begged her, until Buffy’s hand closed around his throat, holding him in place while she used his face as a punching bag. His head snapped back with each blow, but Buffy was too absorbed in her rage to hear the crack as she broke his neck.
All of a sudden, she was roughly shoved aside, and the vampire she’d been pummeling exploded in a cloud of dust. As the ash settled, she realized Spike was standing in front of her, a stake in one hand and the heel of the other pressed to his forehead in pain.
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded.
“Puttin’ this bloke out of his misery,” he retorted.
“I was handling it.”
Spike shot her a disapproving look. “Turnin’ him into hamburger, more like.”
Buffy stood with her hands defiantly on her hips. “So?”
“So, you’re meant to slay ’em, not beat ’em to a bloody pulp!”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, like you’ve never beaten someone up for the hell of it.”
Spike shrugged. “I’m evil. You’re meant to be above all that.” He said it casually, but she could see in his eyes that he’d somehow lost respect for her.
“He deserved it,” she pouted, hopping up on a tombstone and crossing her arms over her chest.
“Yeah? How’s that?”
“He – he – It doesn’t matter,” she mumbled, shoving off the grave and storming away from Spike. “Just go away.”
“Slayer,” Spike called, following briskly after her.
“Leave me alone!” she cried, whirling to face him as he caught her by the elbow. “I don’t want to talk to you right now, and I definitely don’t feel like a lesson in vampire ethics, so just leave. Me. Alone.”
She intended to spin on her heel and walk away from him, but no sooner had she turned her back than her vision started to blur with tears. She stumbled, unable to distinguish the grave markers from the ground, and she felt a tentative hand on her back.
“Buffy,” Spike said quietly. “Are you all right?”
“Why are you being nice to me?” she shot back, inwardly cringing at her harsh tone.
“Sorry,” he replied, removing his hand from her back and holding both hands up in protest. “Won’t happen again.”
“No, I…” Buffy sighed. “It’s just… I feel… wrong. Like I don’t fit in my skin… like it doesn’t belong to me anymore.” She glanced up at him, meeting his eyes for the first time. “I hate feeling like this, like my body isn’t mine. I hate that I feel… I just want it to go away.”
“Buffy,” Spike said, taking a deep breath as though screwing up his courage to say something meaningful or sensitive. But when he spoke, he only said, “You’re not gonna cry again, are you?”
Buffy grimaced. “No, I’m not.” Surprised to find herself slightly hurt that he’d back down from his attempt at comfort, she added, “Forget I said anything. Goodbye, Spike.”
This time, when she walked away, he didn’t follow.
When Riley came out of the class he was TA-ing, he was surprised to find Buffy staked out by the doorway.
“Can we talk?” she asked, her voice plaintive, before he could even get a word out.
He nodded coolly, not giving away any emotion in his expression. “Sure.”
“I’m sorry about the other night,” she started, as they left the building and headed across the quad. “You were right. I was being distant, and it was totally not fair to you.” She squared her shoulders and looked him in the eye. “I’m prepared for whatever groveling you feel is necessary.”
“I don’t need your groveling, Buffy,” Riley said with a sigh. “I just need you to talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong. ’Cause right now I’m feeling like you’re not as interested in me as I thought you were, and –”
“No! No, that’s not it at all!” she exclaimed. “Riley, I – I really like you, and I don’t wanna screw this up. I just…” She took a deep breath. “I’ve been preoccupied with Slayer stuff lately, and I haven’t been handling it as well as I should have.”
He brightened up. “Oh, well, if it’s Slayer stuff, I can help. Pretty experienced demon hunter here, remember?”
Buffy just gave him a slightly condescending smile.
“Okay, maybe not by your standards,” he conceded, “but I do have a whole army backing me up. If there’s anything I can help with…”
“Thanks,” she replied. “I’ll talk to Giles and see what he says. He can be a little prickly about the whole secrecy thing.”
“So, you lied to him,” Willow concluded, setting her lunch tray down on an empty cafeteria table.
“I didn’t lie,” Buffy protested, taking a seat next to her. “I just… didn’t tell him the truth.”
“Buffy, you apologized for your behavior, and then kept right on doing the same thing. I mean, I get that you’re going through something really awful, and I don’t mean to judge or anything but… you’re avoiding the problem.”
“Says the girl who tried to magic her way through a breakup,” Buffy muttered through a mouthful of her sandwich.
Willow froze, fork halfway to her mouth, a put out expression on her face. “That’s totally different. Or… okay, maybe it’s not, but – but I learned a valuable lesson from that.”
“That you should never say Spike and I should get married while under the influence of a spell?”
“That you can’t just skip over the pain,” Willow corrected her with a sidelong glance. “You can’t just make it go away, not by magic, and not by ignoring it, either. This stuff with Riley isn’t going to disappear just because you want it to.”
Buffy was saved from responding by one of Willow’s classmates, who chose that moment to approach their table, asking to borrow notes from a lecture. Dragging a French fry through her ketchup, Buffy watched the exchange with relief, welcoming the distraction.
Willow just didn’t understand. This thing with Riley would go away, just as soon as she was back to normal. All she had to do was find a demon to distract him until that happened.
“Giles!” Buffy called, bursting into his apartment without knocking. “Giles?”
“What is it, Buffy?” Giles replied, emerging from the kitchen, drying his hands with a towel. “What’s the matter?”
“I need a demon.”
He blinked in confusion. “What?”
“I need a demon,” she repeated, swinging her arms restlessly at her sides. “Come on, there’s got to be some prophecy or portent in one of those old books of yours. Some big ritual I have to stop? Demon raising that needs thwarting? You gotta have something.”
“I – I’m sorry, Buffy,” Giles said, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes. “Things seem rather quiet at the moment. Is there a reason you’re so… eager for an assignment?”
Because I lied to my boyfriend about having a Big Bad to deal with, and now he wants to help?
“No,” she said aloud. “Just wanna do my sacred duty, you know? I’m Duty Girl.” After a pause, she added, “Hey, you think I could convince Spike to do something evil? Then I could go stake him.”
“I’m sure it wouldn’t take much convincing,” Giles muttered. “But, ah, let’s not go around encouraging it, shall we? You know, if you’re so anxious to do something, you could start indexing the Watcher’s diaries. I’ve been meaning to organize them for some time now, but –”
“That is so not going to cut it. I’m looking for something with kicking and fighting… and possibly a role for an Initiative soldier who’s feeling a little neglected by his girlfriend?” she finished in a wheedling tone.
Giles let out a sigh. “Buffy, I warned you about the danger of getting involved with this organization. We know nothing about them.”
“I know, Giles. And I’m not involved with them. I’m involved with Riley. And since he kills demons, and I kill demons, I figured maybe we could make it, like, a couple’s activity or something.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can find,” he said. Buffy could tell he was restraining himself from rolling his eyes, and undoubtedly thinking he should’ve done more to dissuade her from the idea of mixing dating and slaying back when she was in high school.
“You’re the best,” she replied, heading for the door.
“Buffy?” he called, halting her in his tracks. “Are you sure everything’s all right?”
“Yeah.” She shrugged, making an effort to appear indifferent. “Why wouldn’t I be?” She flashed him her best attempt at a million-dollar smile before making her way outside.
As soon as the door closed behind her, she let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Her face fell and her shoulders slumped as she let the façade drop.
Buffy felt slightly guilty about not telling Giles the truth, but the idea of him knowing about the rape felt particularly shameful, even more so than Riley or Xander. As a Slayer, it was embarrassing; she should’ve been able to fight off an attacker. It would mean admitting to her Watcher that she’d been foolish enough to let down her guard.
But even beyond his professional interest, Giles was like a father to her, and the thought of admitting to him that she’d been sexually violated made her ill. It had been difficult and awkward enough when he’d learned that she had lost her virginity. This would be so, so much worse.
“Sorry, Giles was a no-go on the Slayer stuff,” Buffy told Riley later that night at Lowell House, where he’d made dinner for the two of them. “Something about not wanting government interference.” She kept her voice light, hoping he wouldn’t pick up on her lies. As she spoke, she cut up her chicken into tiny pieces, pushing her food around the plate to make it look like she’d actually eaten some of it. “But maybe you could patrol with me or something.”
“Yeah, okay,” Riley replied, trying not to sound disappointed. He glanced down at her plate, watching her efforts. “What’s the matter? Not hungry, or does my cooking suck and you’re just too nice to tell me?”
Buffy smiled sheepishly and shook her head. “No, it’s good. I just don’t have much of an appetite.”
“It’s all that Slayer worrying you’re doing. Ruins the appetite.” Seeing that he wasn’t going to get any more food into her, Riley got up and cleared her plate along with his empty one.
Truthfully, it was primarily the choice of location that was making her feel ill. The Lowell House guys were better housekeepers than most frat boys, and so the place didn’t even look like it had hosted a party recently, but Buffy couldn’t help going over her last memories of that night. Seeing Spike, Riley running off to the Initiative, Parker, dancing… and then nothing until the next morning. She felt nauseous knowing that someone at that party – maybe even someone who lived in this house – had snuck upstairs while she was unconscious and –
“Think I can take your mind off it for a while,” Riley announced, interrupting her thoughts as he reemerged from the kitchen.
“I said,” he replied, tugging her out of her chair and leading her into the living room, “I think I can take your mind off your worries for a while.” He sank down on the sofa, drawing her into his lap when she tried to sit next to him.
“Riley, I –”
He cut her off with a probing kiss she wasn’t really ready for, coaxing her lips apart with his tongue until she pulled away.
“What about patrolling?” she asked anxiously.
Riley grinned. “That can wait for another night.” He kissed her again. “Right now, I just want to be with my girl.”
Buffy pasted on another smile and let him kiss her, forcing down her distaste at being in this house, pushing away the fear and uncertainty that came with being intimate for the first time since the incident. She let Riley take the lead, his mouth capturing hers and his hands skimming across her back and arms.
You can do this, she told herself. She had to do this, or she’d never get over this feeling of discomfort.
As the make-out session grew more intense, Riley shifted subtly, encouraging her to lay back on the sofa, only to meet with Buffy’s resistance. Her fists clenched, balling up the fabric of his shirt as she tensed her muscles, prepared to throw him off her if necessary.
As if in compromise, Riley changed positions so that he was lying down, pulling Buffy onto his chest. She felt slightly more in control that way, and managed to relax enough to enjoy the kissing. Pressing the full length of her body against him, she felt his erection hard against her thigh, sending a tremor through her.
“Mmm, been waiting for this,” he murmured into her neck as he eased himself back up. He slid his hands beneath her ass and lifted her off the sofa. Instinctively, she wrapped her legs around his waist as he carried her.
“Where are we going?” she asked, breathless.
Riley looked at her as though it was a silly question. “My room. Better than down here, where the guys can walk in on us.”
It was like she’d been doused in cold water. I can’t go back there. Not that room. Immediately, Buffy began to struggle, twisting out of his grasp. “I can’t.”
“Buffy, what…?” he protested, as she disentangled herself and dropped to the floor. “I don’t understand. I thought…”
“I’m sorry,” she managed, her heart beating wildly, panic seizing her at the thought of going back to his room, lying down on the same bed, Riley expecting her to –
Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe, her vision swimming, her chest feeling like it would explode. “I’m sorry. I just can’t. I have to go.”
Without waiting for a response, she sprinted out the door, leaving a bewildered Riley behind.
The next day, Buffy hesitated in front of the entrance to the small campus building. She stared at the sign next to the door, reading it over and over until the letters blurred together.
With a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped inside.
Buffy shifted uncomfortably in the hard plastic chair, trying to avoid making eye contact with the only other person in the infirmary’s waiting room. To her dismay, it was a girl she recognized from one of her classes last semester, so she was keeping her head down, hoping the other girl wouldn’t notice her.
“Hey, you’re Buffy, right?”
She glanced up, giving the girl a thin smile, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment just at being spotted here. It was silly; it wasn’t as though someone could tell she’d been raped just by looking at her, and yet she felt like her secret was emblazoned on her forehead. “Yeah. You’re… Cindy?”
“Cindy Pritchard. What’re you in for?”
“Um… cramps. I get bad cramps.” She pressed her hand against her lower abdomen in a half-hearted demonstration.
“Oh, you should so try this new birth control I’m on,” Cindy offered helpfully. “I used to get the worst cramps, but the pill totally gets rid of them.”
Buffy gave her a vague nod. “Thanks. So, uh… what are you here for?”
“Chlamydia. Those losers at Pi Sig don’t know how to wear a condom.”
Buffy shuddered involuntarily at the reminder that she could have an STD of her own. Rapists generally didn't do their victims the courtesy of using a condom.
“Buffy Summers?” the receptionist called.
She stood quickly, eager to escape Chlamydia Cindy. “Well, you know, good luck with that,” she said over her shoulder as she followed the nurse back to the exam room.
Buffy took a seat on the examination table, clutching the paper gown tight across her chest. She shivered as the cold, padded plastic touched her bare thighs, and she hunched her shoulders, crossing her legs at the ankle to draw herself in as small as possible.
The counselor she’d seen had insisted that she immediately get checked out by the campus infirmary. It was too late for a rape kit, but they were giving her a pelvic exam anyway. A nurse had already drawn blood to test for pregnancy and STDs, and Buffy nervously fingered the bandage on her inner elbow. The needle prick was probably already closed by now, but she resisted the urge to rip off the dressings lest she have to explain her super healing.
She glanced up as the doctor came in, a frazzled, overworked woman who spent most of her day dishing out STD treatments and busting kids who were looking for excuses to get out of class. After a perfunctory introduction and a quick glance at Buffy’s chart, the doctor asked her to lie back on the exam table.
“How long ago was the assault?” she asked, pulling on her rubber gloves.
“A w-week and a half ago,” Buffy stammered.
“Any significant bruising or other injuries you noticed?”
“Bruises… on my arms,” Buffy replied. “And – and my stomach.”
The doctor checked her arms, and then spread open the paper gown to examine Buffy’s stomach. “Well, they’re gone now.”
Inwardly, she cringed. “I heal fast.”
“Put your feet in the stirrups and scoot down to the edge of the table,” she instructed, taking a seat on the stool between Buffy’s propped-open legs. Buffy winced as the doctor spread her knees further apart, exposing her vulva. Hearing her reaction, the doctor asked, “Does that hurt?”
“N-no. It’s just… you know…”
“Have you felt any lingering pain or soreness in your vaginal area?” she went on, making no effort to soothe Buffy’s embarrassment. “Bleeding? Painful urination?”
Buffy shook her head to all the questions, wondering why she was even here. Her Slayer healing had taken care of any physical signs of rape; she wouldn’t have been surprised if the doctor had called her a liar.
The insertion of the cold metal speculum made Buffy gasp, and she squeezed her eyes shut as her discomfort worsened. Oh, God, just make this be over. I’d rather be dismembered by a pack of Fyarl demons than have this woman poking around down there.
The doctor talked her through the pelvic exam and a cotton swab for more STD testing, which didn’t help in the slightest to make it less unpleasant, and then instructed her to sit back up.
“Are you on any type of birth control?”
“The pill,” Buffy said, for once thankful for her mother’s obstinacy. After finding out she’d slept with Angel, Joyce had forced her to start taking birth control, saying that if Buffy couldn’t be trusted to make wise decisions about sex, at least she’d have the reassurance that she wouldn’t get pregnant. Buffy had simply accepted it, thinking it was probably not the right time to explain to her mother about vampire physiology.
“Well, we’ll have you tested just in case. That and the results of your other tests should come back within the next several days. We’ll call you when they come in.”
After a few more instructions, and a strong recommendation that she make a weekly counseling appointment, the doctor left the room. Buffy had held back the urge to cry throughout the entire exam, but now as she was getting dressed, she couldn’t help the tears that slid down her cheeks.
Willow had been incredibly relieved to hear that Buffy had sought help, and even offered to go with her to her first regular appointment with the counselor, but Buffy insisted on going by herself. Although she didn’t let on, she felt a slight distrust in her best friend. She had told Willow about the rape in confidence, and yet the first thing Willow had done was tell Xander. She didn’t really begrudge Xander the knowledge – after all, he was her best friend, too – but it had been her place to tell, not Willow’s. Now, she certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to a counselor with Willow there.
Buffy had obediently sat and listened during the first session, as the counselor – a balding, middle-aged man who clearly had no idea what it was like to be a nineteen-year-old girl – went through the standard speech about it not being her fault, and so she shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed, before ushering her off to the infirmary. It was all canned, and nothing Buffy didn’t already know, but that objective knowledge didn’t stop her from feeling the way she did.
She didn’t have very high hopes for these sessions, but she went to the appointment anyway, determined to give it her best shot. She was surprised when she was assigned to a different counselor than the one she’d previously seen. This one was a woman in her thirties who introduced herself as “Dr. Marshall, but you can call me Rebecca.”
“What about the guy I saw the other day?” Buffy asked.
“Who, Neil? He just happened to be on walk-in duty. You were assigned to me because I specialize in sexual assault.”
“Oh. So, are you gonna tell me it’s not my fault, too?”
Dr. Marshall smiled. “It probably bears repeating. But if there’s something else you’d like to talk about, that’s okay, too.”
Buffy shrugged noncommittally. When she was freaking out and things with Riley were falling apart, it had seemed so important to do this, to make her confession, but now that she was here, the idea of talking about it felt horrifying.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”
“I don’t know what happened,” Buffy replied stubbornly. “I can’t remember anything.”
The counselor nodded. “Okay. How did you discover that you’d been raped?”
“Um, how do you think?”
“I think you probably woke up after a party, maybe in someone else’s bed,” Rebecca said gently. “The night before was fuzzy, but you felt sore and had bruises, maybe your clothes were torn… am I right?”
Buffy just gave her a blank stare. “So you read my file. Good for you.”
“Yes, I read your file. Yours and dozens of girls like you, Buffy. You’re not alone in this; there’s nothing for you to be ashamed of.”
“Gosh,” she replied with a sarcastic laugh. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Okay,” Dr. Marshall said, in a tone that suggested she ran into this kind of unwillingness to talk from many of her students. “What are you hoping to get out of this, Buffy? Maybe if you tell me what you’re looking for, we can figure out the best way to get there.”
“How do I make it go away?”
“Well, it’s not that simple…”
“I’m sick of feeling like this,” Buffy interrupted. “I’m sick of wondering if every guy I pass is the one who raped me. I’m sick of my best friend looking at me like I’m a small animal she needs to nurse back to health. I’m sick of wanting to throw up every time my boyfriend touches me. I just want it all to go away.”
“How is your boyfriend handling the situation?” she asked, latching on to something that Buffy might be willing to discuss. “Is he being supportive?”
“I didn’t tell him.”
“Well, maybe you should,” Dr. Marshall said, clasping her hands in front of her and leaning forward sympathetically. “I understand that it can be a difficult subject to broach, but he may be making you uncomfortable without even realizing it.”
“He doesn’t need to know,” Buffy insisted. “Do you think he wants to hear that some other guy screwed his girlfriend?”
“He may not want to, but I think he needs to hear it if he’s going to understand what you’re going through. It’s important to be honest with him, Buffy, to explain why you’re not comfortable with intimacy, so that he can give you the support you need.”
Buffy paused, considering this. “What if I tell him and he’s not supportive?”
“Then it’s probably not a good relationship for you to be in right now.”
“I’ll think about it,” she conceded.
Buffy thought about it the entire rest of the day, until she went out for patrol later that night. She still couldn’t fathom telling Riley. Somehow, even though she knew deep down that he wouldn’t be angry or disappointed in her, she couldn’t let go of that frightening possibility.
She didn’t have to wait long before a vampire crossed her path, but it didn’t do much to distract her from her thoughts. She’d been doing this for so long, she could practically slay on autopilot, leaving her brain free to continue her reflection.
She carried her secret like a weight on her shoulders, the opposite side of her Slayer coin. In place of the strength, skills, and noble destiny she had hidden for so long, she now concealed her weakness, her shame, and her relegation to being a victim. She now had a new secret identity, one that not even those closest to her needed to know about.
Suddenly, the vampire she’d been fighting punched through her thoughts, knocking her to the ground, and she realized that she’d let her defenses slip while not paying attention. She lay flat on her back, and she knew she should get up, could practically see herself bending her knees and kipping to her feet, but she didn’t move.
She only hesitated a second, but that was all it took for the vampire to leap on top of her, fangs at her throat, and in that moment, she just didn’t care.
Before she felt the piercing pain of the bite, the vamp exploded into dust, and Spike stood there peering down at her. A look of disappointment flickered across his face, and he turned away, striding back toward his crypt without even offering her a hand up.
Quickly regaining her wits, Buffy scrambled to her feet and gave chase. “Spike!” she called out, causing him to pause and turn back in her direction.
“Why did you save me?” she demanded, once she’d caught up to him.
He shrugged, in an effort to seem nonchalant. “Didn’t know it was you.”
“Oh, so now William the Bloody is saving innocent victims from vampires?”
“Well, demons are the only things I can kill, yeah? Doesn’t much matter whether there’s a victim or not.”
Buffy gave him a disbelieving look. “Whatever, Spike.”
“Okay, fine,” he relented. “I knew it was you.”
“And again, I ask – why did you save me?”
“’Cause someday, I’m gonna get this chip out of my head,” he replied, pointing to his temple. “And when that happens, first thing I’m gonna do is find you and kill you.” He shrugged again. “Takes the fun out of it if you’re already dead.”
It was pretty much what she’d expected him to say, but for some reason it wasn’t as satisfying once she’d coaxed it out of him. “Fine,” she said, turning on her heel.
“Question is, love,” his voice stopped her, “why’d you let him get you?”
“I slipped up.”
“No. You don’t slip up, not with the likes of him. Pillock could barely throw a punch.”
Buffy spun around. “What do you want me to say? You ruined my suicide by vampire? Is that what you want to hear?”
She might have imagined it, but she thought she saw Spike flinch. “Is that what it was?” he asked.
“But you wouldn’t have minded if it… Christ, Slayer, is this ’cause of that rape business? You need to get yourself some help.”
“I’m getting help,” she said through gritted teeth. “But thank you for your concern.”
“I didn’t mean it like – hey, wait a minute!” he said, grabbing her arm as she started to walk away from him.
“What is this, Spike?” Buffy demanded.
“What is what?”
“This. You. I’m supposed to be your enemy, and it’s like you’ve been going out of your way to be nice to me ever since I told you about… you know.”
Spike’s mouth dropped open, momentarily at a loss for words. “I just… I don’t like… seeing you like this,” he mumbled.
“I don’t want your pity!”
“’S not pity. It’s… I dunno. Empathy, I guess.” He stared down at his boots, as though embarrassed to meet her gaze.
“You know how it feels to be raped?” she challenged him, her voice laden with sarcasm. If Spike had any experience with rape, it was more likely to be on the other side of things.
Spike clenched his jaw, nostrils flaring, as though biting back his initial retort. “Meant more I know what it’s like to feel helpless. High and mighty Slayer, reduced to a victim.”
“Slayer of Slayers,” Buffy replied with dawning comprehension, “unable to hurt humans.”
“Okay,” she said quietly, as though agreeing to an unspoken truce.
“Go on home,” Spike told her, his expression softening. “I’ll take care of any beasties that’re out.”
Dr. Marshall glanced up from her paperwork to find a student hovering in her doorway. “Buffy? What are you doing here?”
“You have walk-ins today, right?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Yes, but… two sessions in two days seems like an awful lot for a girl who didn’t want to come here in the first place.”
“I almost died last night,” Buffy told her.
“Sit down,” Dr. Marshall said, immediately changing her demeanor. “What happened?”
Buffy eased into the chair on the other side of the desk. “I was fighting… I – I got mugged, and I was fighting back and then I just… gave up. And I thought it’d be easier if I just let him…” She shook her head. “A – a friend intervened and saved me. But I almost let him kill me.”
“Buffy, are you all right? You’re not hurt?”
She shook her head. “I’m fine. I just… hate feeling helpless. And I thought, if there’s nothing I can do… why bother?”
The counselor sat silently for a moment, studying Buffy, before she said hesitantly, “Have you thought about trying to find out who did this to you?”
“How?” Buffy asked doubtfully. “The police can’t investigate if there’s no evidence.”
“I’m not talking about the police. I’m talking about you.”
“What about me?”
“You… have something of a reputation in this town, Buffy.” Rebecca smiled. “You’re apparently quite a resourceful young lady. Maybe it would give you some closure to do a little investigating on your own. At the very least, it might make you feel more proactive and not so helpless.”
Buffy leaned back in her chair, thoughtful. “Closure, huh?”
She knew that if she wanted to find out who had raped her, she would have to start asking questions, which meant she’d probably have to get used to talking about what had happened to her. And the first person who deserved to know was Riley.
She hadn’t seen him since the night she ran out on him, so she was more than a little nervous when she called and asked him to meet her at her dorm room. She’d made sure Willow was at the library, so they would have the privacy they needed.
Hearing the knock on the door, she took a deep breath to steady herself before answering it. “Hi,” she said, peering up at him in the doorway. She stepped aside. “Come in.”
“I know,” she said quickly. “I know my behavior was inexcusable, and I’m sorry. The thing is… there’s something I have to tell you.” She gestured for Riley to take a seat on Willow’s bed while she sat down on her own.
“Buffy, what is it?” Riley furrowed his brow, leaning forward earnestly.
“Remember the party at Lowell House?” When he nodded, she asked, “And you remember how I woke up in your room the next day?”
“Yeah… you said you weren’t feeling well, so you crashed there.”
Buffy bit her lip. “That’s not entirely true.” She focused her eyes on her hands in her lap. “I mean, I wasn’t feeling well, and I did stay there, but that night, in your room… someone…” Her voice hitched. “Someone raped me.”
When he didn’t respond right away, she mustered up the courage to look at him, and found his expression unreadable. “Riley? Say something.”
“God, Buffy, why didn’t you tell me? I thought…” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter what I thought. Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not,” she replied honestly. “That’s why I’ve been acting like this, why I’ve been avoiding you. I just can’t… be intimate with you. I can’t really remember any of it, but every touch reminds me…”
“Buffy, I’m sorry,” Riley said, standing up as though to come over and comfort her, but then thinking better of it after what she’d just said. “I never meant to hurt you.”
“It’s not your fault,” Buffy insisted, going to him and putting her hands on his arms. “And – and it’s not my fault, either,” she finished with some effort. “I’m getting counseling, but it’ll take time, so I’m just asking that you… understand.”
“Of course. Whatever you need.”
“I guess there’s no chance you haven’t done laundry since then?” she asked hopefully.
Riley looked at her, confused. “Yeah, I have. Why?”
“If you hadn’t… washed your sheets,” she explained with some discomfort, “they might’ve been able to, you know, get evidence.” She shook her head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Hesitantly, Riley ran his hand through her hair. “I wish you’d told me sooner.”
“So do I. But I was afraid of what you’d think of me.”
He fell silent at that, and Buffy couldn’t help wishing for some reassurance that he wasn’t thinking the things she’d feared, but she didn’t want to seem needy by asking him.
Finally, he asked the question she’d been expecting. “Buffy, how could this have happened? I mean, you’re the Slayer…”
“I was drunk,” she said shamefully, “or – or passed out, or…” She trailed off, something about that triggering her memory. “No… wait. I wasn’t drunk. I’d only had a couple of drinks before I started to feel woozy.”
Riley’s expression darkened. “Maybe somebody drugged you. What’s the last drink you remember?”
“The one you gave me… right before you got paged.”
Riley furrowed his brow again, thinking back to that night. “Graham. Graham mixed your drink. Son of a bitch.”
Buffy stared at him in disbelief. “He’s your friend. You don’t think he would…?”
“He better not have.” The muscles in his jaw twitched, and she could tell that he was ready to leave her room and go beat an answer out of his supposed best friend.
She put a steadying hand on his chest. “Riley, let me talk to him.”
“Because I need to do this. I need to figure this out myself, for closure.” Trying to diffuse his anger with some levity, she added, “Also, I don’t want to be responsible for you killing Graham.”
His nostrils flared, and for a moment, she didn’t think he’d let her handle it, but finally he asked, “You sure you’ll be okay?”
Buffy smiled weakly. “As long as he doesn’t give me anything to drink, I think I can take him.”
Buffy plunked her tray down on the cafeteria table next to Graham, causing both him and Forrest to look up at her in surprise. “Hi, guys,” she said with false cheer.
“Well, if it isn’t Supergirl,” Forrest replied in a sardonic tone, and Buffy had to resist the urge to wipe the smirk off his face. Forrest had seemed to take an immediate disliking to her as soon as she and Riley had started dating. She tended to think that he was intimidated because a teeny tiny girl could kick his ass.
Graham just gave her a half-smile and a “Hey, Buffy.”
Hmm. She’d been hoping for a bit more sinister of a reaction, but maybe that would be too obvious. “Hey, Graham, I need to talk to you about something. Think we could get a minute alone?”
“Sure,” Graham replied, exchanging a glance with Forrest, who shrugged disinterestedly.
“I’ll be back at the house,” he said, clearly not feeling like he was missing out on spending time with Buffy.
“What’s up?” Graham asked, once they were alone at the table. “Something going on with Riley?”
“Remember the Lowell House party a couple of weeks ago?” Buffy started, abandoning any pretense of small talk.
“Somebody drugged me. You want to ’fess up, or am I gonna have to kick your ass?”
Graham let out a nervous laugh and said dismissively, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You mixed me a drink. Rum and Coke. It’s the last thing I remember. Care to fill in any details?”
“Look, Buffy –”
“No, no ‘look, Buffy.’ Just tell me – did you do it or not?”
“Yeah, okay,” he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck, avoiding her gaze. “I slipped something into your drink. It was supposed to loosen you up.”
“So you could rape me?” Buffy asked, a hysterical tinge to her voice.
“No! I didn’t touch you!” Graham insisted, looking appalled at the very suggestion. “The drugs… it was Forrest’s idea. We were just trying to help Finn out, get him laid. But then we got stuck down in the Initiative all night, so I guess it was a waste anyway.”
Buffy clenched her fist at her side, resisting the urge to pummel him. “So you drugged me in order to get me more willing to sleep with my boyfriend, is that it?”
“Yeah. Look, it’s not a big deal. We just thought –”
“Somebody raped me,” Buffy gritted out. “While I was unconscious from the drug you gave me.”
Graham’s eyes widened. “Riley never said…”
“He didn’t know.” She took a deep breath to calm herself. “What did you give me? Roofies? GHB? What?”
“What the hell is that?”
He just gave her a cryptic look. “Ask your boyfriend.”
Buffy stood up, about to walk away, when finally her anger got the better of her. She hit Graham with a good dose of slayer strength, punching him hard enough to send him flying out of his chair and into the next table over, which broke in half under the force and collapsed. Every head in the room turned to stare at her as the students sitting at the now-damaged table started a commotion. Without acknowledging any of them, Buffy calmly picked up her tray, disposed of her lunch, and walked out of the dining hall.
Buffy’s head was spinning after her talk with Graham. She thought about going to Forrest to get him to corroborate the story, but she didn’t exactly relish the idea of laying out all her insecurities for a guy who clearly hated her.
Instead, she focused on what Graham had told her. Was it possible that Riley had been complicit in the drugging? Would he actually have given his friends permission to do this to her?
He couldn’t have – he’d been furious when Graham’s name had come up, and he wasn’t that good of an actor. But then, why would Graham have said to ask Riley about Hydracin-12, whatever that was?
She didn’t think she could stomach confronting Riley about it, so she avoided him for the rest of the day. I’m getting really good at that, she reflected as she gathered up stakes for patrol. Maybe too good.
Opening up to Riley about the rape was supposed to make things easier, but instead it had only thrown suspicion on him. God, if Riley’s the reason this happened to me…
She dropped to her knees and vomited on a gravestone.
Just as she was wiping the back of her hand across her mouth, she heard Spike’s voice behind her say in a mocking tone, “Slayer. Good to see you’re doing better.”
She scrambled to her feet to find him watching her, eyes twinkling with amusement. “Shut up, Spike.”
“What’s the matter? Eat some bad shrimp?”
“What happened to being sympathetic?” she grumbled, falling into step with him.
“Here,” he replied, holding out a flask. “Soothe your stomach.”
Buffy just stared at him for a moment. “Unless that’s Pepto Bismol in there, I don’t think so.”
“Suit yourself.” He took a deep pull from the flask before pocketing it again. “So, there a reason you booted on Mrs. Jamison’s grave, or did the bint just have it coming?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Spike shrugged. “Right, then. I’ll be on my way.”
“Wait.” At the sound of her voice, he paused, and she looked at him uncertainly. “Stay?”
“Talk to me.”
“I thought you said you didn’t want to talk about it,” Spike replied, cocking an eyebrow.
“I don’t,” she said. “Talk to me about something else.”
“I don’t know. Tell me what you did today. Tell me about the latest rumors in the demon world. Tell me what’s happening on Passions. Talk about anything – talk about the weather.”
Spike’s eyebrows arched even higher. “You wanna talk about the weather?”
“Yes! No… I don’t know.” Buffy let out a sigh. “Look, I’ve spent all week talking about this – with my counselor, and Riley, and his stupid friends… I just want to talk about something normal, okay? Something that has nothing to do with being raped.”
He hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. “Yeah, all right.” He took a deep breath. “Well, Tabitha got turned into a goldfish, see, and Timmy’s tryin’ to turn her back…”
“Hey, what’s going on?” Riley asked Buffy, catching up with her as her class let out. He tried to slip his arm around her shoulder, but she shrugged out of his embrace.
“Your friends are assholes,” she muttered, quickening her pace.
Puzzled by Buffy’s apparent return to avoiding him, Riley hurried to keep up. “What happened? Did you talk to Graham?”
“We had a chat,” she conceded, not giving anything away.
“And?” he prompted. “Did you find out anything?”
“Yeah. Funny thing is, he led me straight back to you.”
Riley stopped in his tracks, grabbing Buffy’s arm to pull her back. “Whoa, what do you mean?”
“He admitted he was the one who spiked my drink,” she told him. “And he said he did it for you. He was trying to make it easier to get me to sleep with you.” Her voice was wavering and thick with tears. “What, was I not fast enough for you?”
“What?” His eyes bugged out. “Buffy, you can’t think I had anything to do with this.”
“I don’t know!” she cried, attracting the attention of passing students, but she didn’t even notice the stares. “I don’t know anything anymore.”
Riley clutched her by the shoulders and forced her to look at him. “Buffy, listen to me. I didn’t know about this! I swear.”
“What’s Hydracin-12?” she demanded.
His eyes narrowed. “Is that what he gave you?”
“What is it?”
“It’s an Initiative drug,” he told her, running a frustrated hand through his hair. “Experimental. Not supposed to be used on humans. God, Buffy, if I’d known he was gonna use it on you, I never would’ve let him.”
She still wouldn’t look at him. “What does it do?”
“It causes weakness and reduces aggressive behavior. Probably also made you sleepy, a little out of it.” Riley hesitated. “We’ve been using it to make the HSTs more… compliant. One side effect in sentient demons seems to be, uh, lowered inhibitions. To your friends, you would’ve just seemed drunk.”
“So, it’s a date rape drug for demons,” Buffy replied angrily. “The regular old human stuff is no match for Slayer strength, right? So they had to find something stronger? Gosh, it’s a good thing you’re all part of a secret demon-hunting operation!”
She held up her hand and shook her head. “No. I can’t – I just can’t, right now.”
“Buffy, please,” Riley begged her. “Tell me you don’t think I did this, that I knew anything about it.”
“I know,” she murmured, and in her heart, she did – she believed him when he said he wasn’t involved. But his friends were, and it made her sick to think he’d trusted them. “I know,” she repeated, on the verge of tears. “I just… need to be alone right now.”
“Ri, wait up.”
Riley recognized the voice, and he turned around just long enough to fire a deadly glare at Graham, and Forrest behind him. Graham was sporting a black eye and a bruise that covered the entire left side of his face. Good, Riley thought angrily. Way to go, Buffy.
“I don’t even want to look at you right now,” he said, his voice low and intense with rage.
“Look, man, I know you’re pissed –”
Riley spun around and seized Graham by the front of his shirt. “Oh, really, man? You drugged my girlfriend!” He let loose with a punch that would likely blacken Graham’s other eye.
“Whoa!” Forrest said, stepping in between his two best friends before Riley had a chance to hit Graham again. “No time for that right now, bro. There’s something you need to see.”
“Get the hell off me,” Riley snapped. He narrowed his eyes at Forrest, ready to tell him to fuck off unless he wanted a beating, too, but upon seeing the serious expression on his fellow soldier’s face, he reluctantly backed down. “What is it?”
Forrest shook his head. “Can’t talk here. Come on back to base. You’ll just have to see for yourself.”
Buffy hesitated at the crypt entrance, her last chance to turn around and forget this idea. Mustering up her courage, she raised her fist and rapped on the door.
“Hey,” she said, when a surprised Spike answered her knock.
“Slayer? Didn’t expect to see you darkening my door.”
She gave him a sheepish half-smile. “I just thought… I could use someone to talk to, if you don’t mind.”
Spike nodded, opening the door wider to let her in. “Sure. Have a seat… the seat,” he corrected himself, realizing he only had the one.
The candles scattered throughout the crypt cast flickering shadows in the gloom, and Buffy could make out the ratty chair positioned in front of the old TV. A sarcophagus loomed off to one side, and cobwebs draped between the pillars.
“I’d offer to get you something, but all I have is blood and liquor.”
“Um, I’m good, thanks,” Buffy replied, perching hesitantly on the edge of the chair.
Spike took a seat on the sarcophagus facing her, his legs dangling over the side. “So, uh, Timmy saw Tabitha’s head in the fishbowl –”
“No,” she interrupted him. “This time I came to talk about… to talk.”
He nodded slowly. “Okay.”
Buffy took a deep breath to steady herself before continuing. “My counselor thinks it’ll help me if I try to find out who raped me.”
“Oh, yeah?” he said, a nervous tone in his voice, fidgeting in his seat. Buffy had to suppress a smile at how uncomfortable it must be for him to be in this position. But hey, he’d started it by being nice to her.
“Yeah. So, I told Riley, and –”
“Wait, you mean the big lug didn’t know?” Spike cut in, shocked.
She was suddenly incredibly engrossed in the cuff of her sweater. “No.”
“All this time, you’ve been pretending you were fine, and he bought it?” He shook his head. “Anyone with eyes could see you weren’t all right.”
“It wasn’t like that. He knew something was wrong, he just…”
“Didn’t know the whole story. So, let me get this straight. You told your mortal enemy that you were raped before you told you boyfriend?”
And my mother, and my Watcher… If I’d had a choice, even Xander wouldn’t know. “The only reason I told you was because I thought you did it,” she retorted, though she knew it was a weak argument.
Spike flinched at the reminder, but he saw through it just as easily as she did. “Yeah, and the reason you keep talking about it with me instead of him is…? Or, hell, you got family, friends. Why me?”
Her gaze dropped down to her hands in her lap, again unwilling to meet his. “I feel like I can talk to you… like I can trust you.”
She risked a glance up, and she thought she saw the vaguest hint of discomfort at the notion, but it was mostly drowned out by the sympathy in his eyes. It was still startling to find that reaction from him, to realize that as much as she inexplicably longed for his help and comfort, he was just as willing to give it.
“Look, it’s not important,” she said, although the expression on his face indicated otherwise. “The point is, I told Riley, and I found out who drugged me, but that was pretty much a dead end, and now I don’t know what to do.”
“Who drugged you?” he asked, mercifully letting her get away with changing the subject.
She rolled her eyes in disgust. “Riley’s friend Graham. He’s one of the Initiative guys, used some kind of experimental demon drug on me. But he swears he was down there all night, and Riley would know if he was lying, so…”
“So you’re back to square one,” Spike finished for her.
“Yeah, which is why I was hoping to bounce some ideas off of you.”
“Okay… uh, let’s start with what you remember.”
“Well, there was you. And then there was Parker. And seeing Parker made me drink a lot.” She grimaced. “So then, I started to get dizzy, and then Xander took me upstairs –”
“Wait.” Spike held up his hand. “You don't think Harris, maybe...?”
“No! He wouldn’t do that.” She flinched at the very thought.
He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows skeptically. “Boy’s had it bad for you for years now, and you’ve been shooting him down all along. You don’t think he’d take the opportunity, when you couldn’t say no?”
“No!” she repeated, springing out of the chair. “How can you say that? Spike, he’s my best friend!” Throwing him a disgusted glare in parting, she stormed toward the door. “Forget it, this was a stupid idea.”
Spike leapt off the sarcophagus and rushed to block her path. “Buffy, wait! Look, I’m sorr–”
“Shut up! I came here for help, and you accuse my best friend of rape? What, are you gonna tell me it was Willow next?”
He frowned. “Willow’s not even a – right, no, not the point,” he hurriedly corrected himself as she tried to shove past him with a dirty look. “Would you just wait a bloody minute?”
When she didn’t stop, he seized her by the arm and yanked her toward him, only to be struck by a blinding pain in his skull. He fell to his knees with a cry, releasing his grip on Buffy to clutch his throbbing head.
“Are – are you okay?” she asked, her anger dissipating as she knelt tentatively beside him. “I didn’t mean to –”
“Shh, shh. Not your fault, pet,” he murmured, catching her by the shoulders and running his hands up and down her arms to reassure her. “You were right. I’m sorry. Please, don’t go.”
One of his hands found its way to the nape of her neck, his fingers twining in her hair. His eyes, apologetic and tender, met hers, and she was once again struck by their sheer expressiveness, the depth of the emotions that lingered there. It seemed hardly unexpected, then, when his eyelids lowered and he pulled her fractionally closer, so that she could feel his hesitant breath on her cheek. Her heart suddenly started pounding, her mouth went dry, and she focused in on his slightly parted lips, hovering inches from hers.
Abruptly, Spike pulled away with a mumbled apology, and a brief flicker of self-loathing crossed his face. Not looking at her, he stood up and began to pace back and forth, his hands running restlessly through his hair.
“Spike?” she said, rising slowly, baffled by his sudden change in demeanor.
He whirled around to face her with an apologetic look. “Buffy, there’s – there’s something I have to tell you. Should’ve said something before, but…” He shook his head.
“Spike, what is it?”
He opened his mouth to speak, but then seemed to lose his nerve. “What about this Parker bloke?” he asked finally. “Didn’t seem too concerned with your well-being the first time around.”
She knitted her brow. “Yeah, but he already got me to sleep with him willingly. Why would he need to…?”
Spike shrugged. “If the milk stops bein’ free, some blokes’ll stop drinking. Others’ll steal it.”
“Ugh. Could you have possibly found a less degrading way to say that?”
“It’s still true.”
“Fine.” Buffy let out a sigh. “Okay, well, at least that’s a direction, right? I go question Parker, and we’ll find out something, one way or another.”
“What’re you gonna do if it’s him, pet? You gonna give him the thrashing he deserves, or hand him over to the police?”
She paused. “I – I don’t know. I mean, he’s human, so… the police really should be the ones to handle it.”
“Yeah,” Spike said, though it was clear from his tone of voice that he held a contrary opinion.
“Spike? What would you do? If you could get the people who chipped you, what would you do?”
He gave her a wry smile. “What do you think, pet?”
“You’re sure this is his place?” Riley asked, crouched in the bushes on the edge of the cemetery with his four-man team, his eyes on the crypt ahead of them in the distance.
“Beta Team saw him leaving last night,” Graham reported.
“So why didn’t Beta Team bag him?”
“He gave them the slip. But they doubled back and checked out the crypt. He’s definitely living there.”
“Okay.” Riley glanced over at the soldier manning the body heat sensor. “We’re sure he’s in there?”
“Affirmative. There’s a human, too. He’s got a victim.”
“We gotta move now,” Forrest said, shouldering his stun gun.
Riley nodded. “On my mark –”
“Wait!” Graham interrupted, peering at the crypt through his night vision binoculars. “I got movement. He’s coming out… oh, shit, Finn, you gotta see this.”
Riley took the binoculars from him. As expected, he saw the target leaving the crypt, but he was stunned to find Buffy at his side, Spike’s hand resting casually on the small of her back. They appeared to be friendly, laughing together, and Buffy showed no sign that she thought she was in danger – and definitely no sign that she was about to stake the vampire. Riley took it in like a punch to the gut.
“What is it?” Forrest demanded. Numbly, Riley handed off the binoculars. “Son of a bitch,” Forrest mused. “Maybe she wasn’t raped after all.”
“Shut the hell up,” Riley replied, giving Forrest a shove and knocking him to the ground. “He’s got her fooled, is all, got her thinking he’s harmless because we put a muzzle on him.”
“You gonna tell her?” Graham asked.
Riley shook his head. “No. We’ll take care of this ourselves. Come back when it’s light, so he won’t have anywhere to run.”
With newfound determination coming from her talk with Spike, Buffy sought out her next suspect as he was crossing the quad between classes. It was easy for her to find him, since she’d memorized his entire schedule back when she’d been deluded enough to think that he was actually boyfriend material.
“Parker!” she called out, hurrying to catch up with him.
“Hey, Buffy,” he replied in a casual, disinterested tone.
Buffy ignored his brush-off attitude and asked, “Hey, you remember the party at Lowell House a few weeks ago?”
“Yeah…” he said cautiously. “What of it?”
“Where did you go after I saw you?”
He scoffed. “Why? Are you jealous?”
“Where. Were. You?”
Even under the fierce glare of the Slayer, Parker exuded a brash confidence. Letting out a put-upon sigh to illustrate that he was merely humoring her, he said, “If you must know, I went home with Cindy Pritchard.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. She should’ve known he’d gone home with a girl. “And she’ll back up your story?”
“Am I being accused of a crime?” he asked flippantly. “Do I need an alibi or something?”
“Something like that.”
Slightly more serious, he said, “Yeah, she’ll back it up.”
“What about your buddy, Kevin?” Buffy pressed.
Parker raised his eyebrows, starting to look annoyed. “We’re not playing twenty questions here. What about him?”
“What happened to him that night?”
“How should I know? I was busy with Cindy Pritchard.” He laughed. “What’s the matter, Summers? Can’t remember who you hooked up with?”
It wasn’t really the truth, but it was close enough to make Buffy’s face turn bright red.
“Oh, man. You can’t!” Parker exclaimed, clearly amused by the prospect. “Well, well, well. Looks like I taught you something after all.”
His smug smile and his knowing leer finally pushed Buffy over the edge. She dropped her books and slugged him as hard as she could without actually causing permanent damage, sending him sprawling on the grass.
“All you taught me is that you’re a creep.”
“Buffy –” Parker gasped, struggling to get to his feet, but falling back to the ground.
“And by the way,” Buffy finished triumphantly, collecting her things, “Cindy Pritchard has chlamydia!”
Kevin was her next target, but he would be more difficult to pin down. She had a vague recollection that he was in the same Psych class where Riley was a TA, so she headed in that direction and hoped for luck.
She was almost to the building when someone suddenly grabbed her from behind, his hands tightening around her waist. Acting purely on instinct, she reached back and seized her attacker, bending forward at the waist to flip him over her shoulder. He landed on his back in front of her, hitting the sidewalk with a thud.
“Ow,” Riley groaned.
“Oh, God! Riley!” Buffy rushed to his side, dropping to her knees to check him for injuries. “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry. Are you hurt?”
He sat up, wincing and rubbing his lower back. “Mostly my pride.”
Guiltily, she helped him to his feet and picked up his books, now scattered on the ground. “I’m sorry. I’m… a little jumpy.”
“So I noticed,” he replied, rolling his shoulders uncomfortably. “Uh, you don’t see any pieces of my spine lying around there, do you?”
“Riley, I’m serious. You can’t just sneak up on me like that. Not after…”
“I get it, Buffy. Believe me, the body slam into the pavement made that perfectly clear.”
His irritated tone only served to get her hackles up further. “Well, what did you expect me to do? When you grab at me like –”
“Like what, Buffy? You think someone’s going to haul you off in broad daylight? How paranoid can you be?”
“How…?” She stared at him in disbelief. Conscious of the students passing them on their way into the building, she dropped her tone to a harsh whisper and said, “Riley, I was raped! I think that earns me the right to be a little damn paranoid.”
Riley just shook his head. “I gotta get to class.”
“Wait a minute!” she cried, catching his arm before he could walk away. “Look, I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me?”
He gazed at her for a moment, his expression one of sadness and regret. “A little trust would be nice,” he said quietly, taking one last look at her before going inside.
Her encounter with Riley had made her completely miss Kevin, which meant she had to hang around for an hour and a half until the class was over. She was relieved to see him come out of the building before Riley, so that she was able to corral him without getting sidetracked by her boyfriend again.
“Hey, is that class any good?” Buffy asked, falling into step with him as he headed toward the campus center. “I was thinking about taking it, but my boyfriend’s the TA, so it’s kind of unethical.”
“It’s all right,” Kevin shrugged. “Walsh is as much of a hard-ass as ever. Friggin’ drill sergeant.”
You have no idea, Buffy thought, suppressing a smile. “So… you’re friends with Parker, right? I saw you together at that party. You remember, don’t you?”
“The one at Lowell House?”
She pasted on a broad grin. “Yeah, that was it!”
Kevin gave her an appraising sidelong glance. “Sure I remember. You were smokin’ that night, Summers.”
“Well… thank you,” Buffy replied awkwardly. “Um, is there any chance that you liked what you saw so much that you, uh, wanted a free sample?”
He paused in the doorway of the campus center, staring at her in disbelief as another student elbowed past them, grumbling that they was blocking his path. “What the hell does that mean?”
Buffy dragged him through the door and ducked into a quiet corner near the student mailboxes. “Did you do anything to me while I was drugged or unconscious?”
“Did I do anything to you? Are you fucking accusing me of…? This is bullshit!”
He started to storm past her, but a strong hand on his chest shoved him back up against the wall of mailboxes. “I want the truth, Kevin.”
“The truth? I didn’t touch you, you crazy bitch!” Shaking his head, he let out a wordless noise of disgust. “God, Parker was right about you. Give a girl a fucking compliment and you get accused of rape.”
Buffy slammed him against the wall harder than before. “Someone raped me that night, and acting like a sleazeball sure isn’t helping your case.”
“Oh, please. Last time I saw you, you were draped all over some dork in a Hawaiian shirt. Is that your excuse? You act like a slut and then call it rape when they give you exactly what you were asking for? Get over yourself, Summers.” With that, he succeeded in breaking free of her grasp and left her gaping at the wall, muttering as he walked away, “Fuckin’ hate girls like that.”
She’d gotten a lot of reactions to the news she’d been raped, mostly ranging from sympathy to shock. But no one else had outright accused her of lying, of deliberately bringing it on herself.
His opinion doesn’t mean anything, she tried to tell herself. He doesn’t know me. He only knows what Parker’s told him, so why should I care if he thinks I’m a slut? What does it matter if he doesn’t believe me?
And yet, for all her reasoning, Kevin’s words ripped open a raw, aching wound, and the mailboxes in front of her blurred as her eyes stung with tears.
“What’s the matter?”
Blinking, Buffy turned her head to see a pimply freshman looking at her curiously.
“Did you forget your combination?”
“Two strikes, huh?” Willow said later that night as the gang gathered at the Bronze. “That’s a bummer.”
“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. “Parker and Kevin may be jackasses, but I’m pretty sure they’re honest.”
“They’re not exactly the type of guys to pass up a chance to brag,” Xander pointed out. “If it was one of them, you’d know about it by now.”
“Why don’t you ever brag about our sex?” Anya asked him.
“Because – that – it – Will, help?” he stammered helplessly. Willow just gave him a dubious look.
Still wrapped up in her own issues, Buffy leaned her elbows on the table and dropped her head in her hands. “The problem is, this leaves me right back where I started.”
“Did either of them say anything that might be a clue?” Willow asked.
“Actually… Kevin said he saw me with a dork in a Hawaiian shir–” Her eyes came to rest on Xander. “Oh.”
“Well, there were plenty of people at the party,” Willow offered helpfully. “I’m sure if you keep asking around, somebody’ll know something. Hey! I could help. I’m great at interrogations.”
“Wait, Kevin called me a dork?”
“Thanks, Will,” Buffy replied, unable to match her best friend’s enthusiasm, “but I’d rather do this on my own. Besides, I’m not exactly looking to spread the word around, you know?”
“If I still had my powers, I’d give him boils for you,” Anya cut in, in a tone that was clearly meant to be comforting.
“Can we please go back to the part where Kevin called me a dork?”
Buffy gave her a wary smile. “Thanks, Anya, that’s… thoughtful of you.”
“Or I could make his penis fall off. Anything you wanted.” Her face fell slightly. “If I was still a vengeance demon,” she finished with a dejected shrug.
“It’s the thought that counts, honey,” Xander assured her.
“Hey, where’s Riley?” Willow glanced around, as though she’d only just noticed he was missing.
Buffy winced. “We kind of had a fight. I don’t think he’s gonna show.” The Scoobies made concerned noises at her news, but she shook her head. “I don’t really want to talk about it. I’m heading to the bar, anyone want anything?”
When the others declined her offer, she set off for the bar by herself. There was a crowd three deep waiting for drinks, so instead of trying to fight her way through it, she took a detour and made her way to a dark, secluded corner where she could catch her breath.
She was glad she’d opened up to her friends, shared the results of her investigation, however fruitless they were. Spike was right – she should be going to them for support, no matter how hard it was to talk about what she was going through. But there was still a part of her that wanted to keep this to herself, and her friends’ eagerness to help could get overwhelming after a while.
She hadn’t told them what Kevin had said to her. Just thinking about it made her feel sick, the idea that someone could look at her and judge her, could call her a slut and a liar. And as much as she knew deep down that none of it was true, there was still this irrational nagging fear that her friends might actually agree with him.
She’d just registered the tingle at the back of her neck when a voice breathed in her ear, “Want some company?”
Buffy turned around, a genuine smile creeping across her face for the first time that night. “Hi, Spike.”
“Saw your mates over there. Givin’ them the slip?”
“Just taking a breather.”
He took a step back. “You want me to leave you alone?”
“No,” she said, with a shake of her head. She reached out and took his hand, pulling him closer. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Something’s worrying you. We could talk about it, if you like.”
“No,” she said again. “Just…” Without thinking, she slipped her arms around his waist and rested her forehead against his chest. Instantly, Spike’s arms were encircling her, drawing her against him. With one hand, he smoothed down her hair and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
Buffy closed her eyes and sank into his embrace. The world was upside down and inside out, because this was where she felt safe, hugged to a killer’s chest. The ones who should have been there for her brought pain with their comfort, the ones who should love her made her feel judged. But he didn’t judge, and he didn’t make demands, and he couldn’t hurt her.
She no longer had the energy to fight it, to pretend that they were still enemies. Something had changed between them, and she knew that they could never go back to the way things were before.
Above her head, Spike gazed out into the crowd, a pained look on his face as he held her close. He knew he didn’t deserve this, didn’t deserve her, but each passing day made it that much more difficult to face the truth. He couldn’t risk losing her now.
Unnoticed by the couple, Riley stood off to the side of the dance floor, his chest tight with anger and hurt as he watched his girlfriend seeking solace in the arms of a monster.
He knew he’d acted like a jerk earlier, and he’d come here tonight hoping to apologize, so that maybe he and Buffy could start to get back on the right track. He wanted to believe that she still cared about him, that they could still salvage the relationship they’d had before the party.
Instead, he found his worst suspicions confirmed.
Following his friend’s gaze, Forrest came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. “How’s your back feeling now, buddy? Think you’ll be up to a mission tomorrow?”
Without taking his eyes off Buffy, Riley nodded grimly, his jaw clenching. “Yeah. I’ll be up to it.”
When Buffy returned to her dorm after her morning classes, she was surprised to find Spike and Willow on opposite sides of the room, eying each other warily.
“Uh, what’s going on?” she asked, her gaze flicking back and forth between the two of them.
“Spike said he needed your help,” Willow replied. It was unclear whether Spike’s presence bothered her because he’d tried to kill her on several occasions, or simply because he was interrupting her study time. “I told him you were at class, but he wanted to wait.”
Buffy turned back to Spike, taking in his disheveled appearance for the first time. His duster was absent, his shirt was torn, and there was blood smeared on his upper arm. “What’s the matter? Is something wrong? What happened to you?”
His eyes narrowed. “Captain America and his toy soldiers broke into my crypt today.”
Buffy abruptly dropped her books on her desk and rushed to his side. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine, love,” he assured her. “Heard ’em coming and got out of there as quick as I could.”
“You’re cut.” Her fingers traced lightly over the gash on his arm, already closing up amidst the dried blood.
“Snagged it on something runnin’ through the sewers.”
Willow just raised her eyebrows in silent bemusement as Buffy grabbed the damp washcloth from her shower caddy and proceeded to clean up Spike’s injury.
“How did they find you?” she asked as she worked.
“Must’ve spotted me one night on their patrol and decided to come back in the daytime when I’d be trapped in there. It’s fine, pet. Don’t need a bandage.”
“How’d you escape?”
“Crypt has a tunnel to the sewers. I lost ’em, then made my way here.” He paused, slightly sheepish. “Didn’t know where else to go.”
“You can’t go back to your crypt,” Buffy warned him. “They’ll have the place staked out; it won’t be safe for you anymore.” Her take-charge tone suddenly softened, and she placed a gentle hand on his arm, a concerned expression on her face. “I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “No need to apologize for him.”
“So, what are you going to do now?” Willow asked, in a tone that indicated she’d be less than pleased with the prospect of Spike as a third roommate. It was pretty clear that something was going on with Spike and Buffy – something Buffy hadn’t thought it important to mention – but whatever it was, she wasn’t keen on it happening in her room.
“No idea. Was hoping the Slayer’d think of something.”
“You could stay at the mansion,” Buffy suggested.
Spike scowled. “Angel’s old place?”
“Do you have a better idea?”
Buffy shook her head. “That building is in shambles. Besides, if the Initiative comes after you again, I’m not thrilled about you being alone.” She chewed on her lip, trying to think of another plan.
“Well… there is one other place,” Willow spoke up tentatively, “but you’re not gonna like it…”
“No way. Nuh-uh. Not happening. And in case I haven’t been clear – no.”
“Come on, Xander,” Buffy cajoled him, following him around the basement as he did his best to ignore her. “It’s just until I talk to Riley and get them to leave Spike alone.”
“Oh, yeah,” Xander scoffed, tossing a load of laundry into the washing machine. “And what are the chances Riley’s going to agree to that? Personally, I think the Initiative’s on to something here. Why don’t we just let them do their thing and we’ll have one less menace in town?”
“Because he’s helpless! He can’t even defend himself, and you want to just let them kill him? Or worse, take him back to the lab and do God knows what experiments on him. It’s cruel!”
Xander slammed the lid of the washer shut. “When did you start caring about that waste of space’s welfare?”
“We’ve… spent some time together lately.”
“Oh, so you’re best buds now, is that it?” He rolled his eyes.
“I trust him.”
“He’s a demon!”
“He has the chip! He can’t hurt us.” Buffy paused, and then said quietly, “He’s the only one I know for sure can’t hurt me…”
Xander’s expression suddenly became troubled, as though he were struggling to decide whether to say what he was thinking. “This is… this is about the rape, isn’t it?”
“Of course it’s about the rape!” she burst out. “There’s nothing in my life that isn’t about the rape anymore. And he’s the only one I know for sure… the only one I can trust.”
“What about your friends? You can’t trust us?” When Buffy glanced away uncomfortably, he said, “Oh, God, you don’t think…?”
She wouldn’t meet his eyes, and Xander looked as though she’d physically struck him. “Buffy! You seriously think I could’ve done that to you?”
“Lemme guess – did Spike by any chance put that idea in your head?” He practically spat the words at her, and when she didn’t immediately deny it, he let out a disgusted sound. “Of course! Not like he knows anything about loyalty or friendship! Why wouldn’t I rape my best friend?”
“It wasn’t like that. He didn’t –”
“He didn’t what? He didn’t try to throw suspicion on someone that’s not him? He didn’t try to drive a wedge between you and the people you’re supposed to trust? Tell me, Buffy, because I’m really trying to understand how you could take the word of a freakin’ vampire over me.”
“God, Xander, you think I want to believe that you did this?” Buffy cried, suddenly feeling claustrophobic in the cluttered basement. “You think it makes me happy to have this conversation? I hate it!”
“Well, here’s a crazy idea. Maybe you could try not accusing your friends of raping you.” She started to protest, but he cut her off angrily. “No. Buffy, how could you think that? How could you possibly think that I would…?” He trailed off abruptly, meeting Buffy’s gaze with dismay, knowing what she was about to say.
She loathed the idea that it could be Xander, rejected it with every fiber of her being, but nevertheless, it had been gnawing at her ever since Spike had brought it up. She refused to even consider it except as a last resort – but here she was, out of suspects, out of leads. Xander had been the last person to see her that night; if anyone was in a position to know what had happened to her, it was him. As Spike had pointed out, he’d had feelings for her since they’d first met. And Spike hadn’t even known about the worst part.
“You tried it once before,” she said quietly.
“I was possessed by a hyena!”
“Then why did you lie about not being able to remember?”
Xander gaped at her. “You’re seriously going to throw that back in my face? You knew I lied, and you never brought it up. I thought that meant we were okay. Why didn’t you say something years ago if it mattered so much to you?”
“Because I wasn’t raped years ago.” Buffy crossed her arms protectively over her chest. “I didn’t say anything because I trusted you. I knew you would never… it wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t possessed.”
“But now you think it could?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Buffy, this is crazy. Look, if I’d wanted to take advantage of you, I’d have done it when you were under that love spell. Remember that? When you offered yourself to me?”
The way he said it made her cringe, reminiscent of Kevin’s harsh words the other day, the implication that she’d been asking for it. But Xander was right; she had been asking for it under the spell, and he’d been too honorable to take advantage. If he hadn’t done it then, surely he wouldn’t have done it at the party.
Just days ago, she’d been defending Xander against Spike’s accusation. Was she really so desperate now, so paranoid, that she couldn’t leave this stone unturned?
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Xander’s mouth twitched as though he was holding something back, and finally he shook his head. “That’s not gonna cut it. You accused me of being a rapist, and you clearly don’t trust me… what am I supposed to say to that? ‘It’s okay, we can still be friends?’ I can’t, Buffy. I can’t do that.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again, though she was already resigned to his rejection.
“I think you should go,” he replied, keeping his voice calm and level only with concerted effort. Unable to argue, Buffy turned and fled from the basement.
When Buffy returned to the dorm once again, she was still hovering on the verge of tears, but she swallowed it down, not wanting to explain what had transpired between her and Xander.
“He said no,” she told Willow and Spike simply, heaving a deep sigh. “Spike will just have to spend the night here, until we can make other arrangements.”
“Uh, Buffy? Could I talk to you outside?” With a pointed look, Willow took her by the arm, towing her out of the room and down the hall to the girls’ bathroom before she could manage a response.
“What is going on?” Willow demanded, as soon as she’d done a stall-check for privacy.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Buffy hedged.
“I’m talking about Spike! Buffy, there’s something going on with the two of you that you’re not telling me.”
“It’s nothing. We’re just friends.”
“Don’t even try. I saw the way you – you touched him! And don’t even get me started on the way he looks at you. And since when are you and Spike friends anyway? A few weeks ago, he was the annoying pain in your ass you couldn’t wait to get rid of. Now all of a sudden you’re protecting him and cleaning up his scrapes?”
“Things change,” she said quietly, in stark contrast to Willow’s manic babbling.
“Is this some kind of PTSD thing? I was reading on the internet; it says that sometimes rape victims react by becoming promiscuous –”
“I’m not promiscuous!” Buffy interrupted indignantly. “But since it wasn’t some spell you screwed up this time, there must be something wrong with me, right? Is that it?”
“I didn’t –”
“How could you possibly think I’m promiscuous? I can’t even stand it when my boyfriend touches me!” Her voice softened. “And this thing with Spike… it’s not like that. It’s not… sexual. He helps me. I can’t explain it, but he makes me feel better.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you’d been seeing him?”
Buffy shrugged, turning toward the row of sinks along the wall and leaning against the closest one, staring at the metal fixtures. “I don’t know. It’s not like I deliberately kept it a secret, I just… it was personal.” Idly, she began to flip the hot water knob on and off, watching the intermittent bursts of water as they flowed down the drain.
“I’m worried about you, Buffy. I just wish you’d let me in.”
“I can’t, Will.”
At Willow’s incredulous response, Buffy glanced up and met her eyes in the mirror’s reflection. “I can’t. Because you do this. You poke and you prod, and you never leave anything alone. And you always need to fix everything.” She spun around so that they were facing each other. “I don’t need you to fix me, Will. I need to do it on my own. If you want to be supportive of that, great. If not, I don’t have the energy for this.”
Without allowing her to respond, Buffy strode out of the bathroom and headed back to the room, Willow on her heels.
“Spike, you’re staying here tonight, until we come up with a better plan,” she announced. “You can sleep in my bed.”
“Where will you be sleeping?” Willow asked hesitantly from behind her in the doorway.
Buffy closed her eyes briefly. She knew what she needed. “I’m going home.”
Buffy opened the door hesitantly, poking her head in to look around before stepping into the foyer. “Mom?”
“Buffy, is that you?” Her mother’s voice came from the kitchen, and a moment later, she appeared, a delighted smile on her face. “You didn’t tell me you were coming home!”
“Kind of a spur of the moment thing. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course I don’t mind, honey,” Joyce replied, gathering her daughter up in a hug. “You know I always love to see you.”
Buffy clung to her mother, suddenly feeling like a child again, wrapped up in her embrace, and it was a struggle not to burst into tears right there in the foyer. All the fear and anger and frustration and guilt she’d been feeling welled up to the surface, threatening to spill out of her.
“Mommy,” she said under her breath.
“Are you hungry?” Joyce asked, pulling away to get a good look at her. “Look at you, you’re skin and bones. Don’t they feed you at college?”
“Mostly French fries and ramen noodles,” she admitted.
“Well, we’ll have to get a good home-cooked meal into you.” She paused, considering. “Except I don’t really have anything to cook. But I was about to order some Chinese – how does that sound?”
Buffy smiled. “Sounds good, Mom.”
Joyce put her arm around Buffy’s shoulders, hugging her against her side as they headed into the kitchen. “Oh, I’m so glad you stopped by. It’s such a pain to order Chinese for one person.”
“It’s that ten dollar minimum for delivery,” Buffy commiserated. “Do you know how much Chinese food you have to get to spend ten dollars?”
With their order placed and the delivery on its way, Joyce fixed drinks for the two of them and they settled down on the sofa. “So, tell me all about college. How’s the new semester going?”
“Um, my classes are okay,” she replied. “Willow’s not in any of them, which means I have to do all the homework myself. But, you know, it’s good.”
“And what about that boy you like?” Joyce gave her a knowing smile.
“Oh, Riley? He’s… well, we’re kinda dating.”
“That’s wonderful, sweetie. When do I get to meet him?”
“I don’t know…” She shrugged noncommittally. She wasn’t even sure how long she’d be dating Riley, the way things were going. It felt as though she was a completely different person now, so changed from the girl who’d come home at Christmas bubbling about her budding romance with her TA.
Not that her relationships had ever been simple – being the Slayer took care of that – but she’d had such hope for her and Riley, a relationship full of promise rather than star-crossed angst. Her rapist had robbed her of that, made her flinch at every touch, made her paranoid and distrustful and hard.
“You’re not embarrassed of your mother, are you?” Joyce teased her.
“No,” she murmured, glancing up at her mother’s face, and though her answer was sincere, she couldn’t muster up a convincing smile to return the banter.
“Honey, are you all right?” Joyce asked, cuddling her closer and stroking her hair. “You don’t seem like yourself.”
“Just a little down, I guess.”
She ached to tell her mother everything, to pour out her troubles and unload the burden of her tumultuous emotions. She longed to be comforted like a child, cradled and rocked until her fears were eased. And yet, the ever-present weight of shame held her back. Wasn’t this just what her mother had warned her about? The dangers of college parties, of frat boys with overeager libidos. Weren’t these the lessons she’d been taught? Don’t drink too much or leave your cup unattended, chew your ice, always have a buddy. Hadn’t she promised to be careful? Hadn’t she promised she wouldn’t get in trouble?
“Trust me, Mom. I can take care of myself.”
But she hadn’t. She’d broken the rules; she’d let down her guard. Her mother would be so disappointed if she knew.
“I miss you when you’re away,” Joyce mused, rousing her out of her thoughts.
“Mom, I’m just across town.”
“I know that,” she replied with a smile, her fingers twining through the strands of hair that framed Buffy’s face. “But I still miss seeing you every day.”
Leaning her head against her mother’s shoulder, Buffy closed her eyes and said, “I miss you, too.”
“You’re sure that everything’s okay?” Joyce probed, as the two of them perched on stools at the breakfast bar and dug into the Chinese food.
Buffy glanced down at her carton of rice. “Fine, Mom.”
“You and Willow didn’t have a fight, did you? You haven’t mentioned her at all, or any of your other friends.”
She was struck dumb for a moment, impressed by her mother’s intuition. “Yeah, I guess we kind of did.”
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Joyce reached over to put her arm around Buffy’s shoulders. “It can be hard living with someone. Even when you’re good friends. It’s okay to have it out sometimes.”
“It’s not just Willow,” Buffy admitted. “It’s everybody –Xander and Riley, too. They’re all mad at me.”
“What did you fight about?”
When her mother gave her an expression that said that wasn’t a good enough answer, she added, “It was all different reasons. I’ve just got a lot on my mind right now, and it’s making me kind of tense, I guess.” She sighed. “At this rate, pretty soon the only one who’ll be speaking to me will be Spike.”
“That… vampire you don’t like?”
“Turns out he’s not so bad,” Buffy replied, a small smile creeping across her face.
“He’s always seemed quite nice to me,” Joyce mused, prompting her daughter to give her a dubious sidelong glance.
“Sooo not the point, Mom.”
“You’re right. What was the point?” she teased.
“The point is… I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to make things better.”
“Talking always helps,” Joyce advised her. “You’ll never work anything out if you don’t talk to each other.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Buffy grudgingly admitted.
“Do you want me to cancel this trip to San Francisco? I can stay here if you need me.”
She shook her head. “I’ll be fine, Mom. Just being here has helped. Really.”
Buffy got her chance to give talking a try the next day, when she answered the front door to find Xander on the porch. “Xander, hi,” she greeted him, trying to hold in her surprise.
“Willow said you’d be here,” he explained, his hands shoved in his pockets. “Uh, can I come in?”
Buffy nodded, swinging the door open wide to let him in. Joyce had already left for the gallery, so they had the house to themselves. He followed her into the living room, where they perched awkwardly on the sofa, not making eye contact, sneaking glances only when the other wasn’t looking.
“Before, you asked me why I lied.”
Buffy’s head snapped up at Xander’s abrupt opening. She turned toward him to find his head bowed as he leaned forward, both elbows resting on his knees.
“I was ashamed, okay? I wanted to pretend it never happened – because I was horrified at what I did under that spell. But I would never, in my right mind…” He looked up suddenly, his eyes pleading with her. “Buffy, you have to believe me. I would never willingly hurt you.”
“I know,” she murmured.
Xander’s expression became perplexed. “Then why…?”
“Because I had to be sure,” she said apologetically. With one hand, she rubbed her forehead in frustration. “Xander, I’m losing my mind. I’m getting paranoid and suspicious, and I’m screwing things up with everyone. I just…” She heaved a deep sigh, preparing herself for the confession. “I’m having a hard time with this, more than I’ve let on.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, Buffy?” he asked. “I would’ve done anything you asked me to. If you needed help, or – or even if you just needed space, I would’ve… ”
“I know… and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did. I’ve never once thought that you would hurt me, or that you wanted to… and I should’ve listened to that. I should’ve trusted you this time. I’m sorry.”
“Me, too,” he replied, pulling her into a hug. “God, Buffy, I’m so sorry for everything. I hate to see you going through this.”
She rested her head on his shoulder. “Thanks. It means a lot that you care.”
“Of course I care,” he said, sounding vaguely surprised that she could possibly think otherwise. “You’re my best friend. And I know if it were me going through something, you’d be right there for me.”
She tightened her arms around him again briefly before they separated. “So, about Spike…”
Xander shook his head, torn. “Man, Buffy…”
“I know, I know. But he’s been helping me. Don’t ask how; he just is. And I owe him this, and it’ll be one less thing for me to worry about.”
“Yeah, all right,” he said with a sigh. “But if he so much as looks at me funny, he’s gone.”
Buffy grinned. “Deal.”
With one conversation down, she decided she might as well attempt to cross another one off her list.
Buffy hesitantly crossed the threshold at Lowell House, her first time back since the disastrous dinner with Riley that had sent her to counseling in the first place. The house was quiet, as usual. Between their cover stories as UC Sunnydale students and their secret lives as members of the Initiative, the residents didn’t get a lot of free time to just hang out around the house.
Come to think of it, maybe this was a bad idea. Why subject herself to being here when she didn’t even know if Riley was around? She should’ve called. Calling was definitely better. Calling was the way to go. In fact, she’d just sneak back out the way she came, with no one the wiser, and once she got home, she could call –
Only a few steps away from the door, she spun around at the sound of the voice. “Graham. Hi. Um, your face is looking… well, better is relative, right?”
If Graham found her awkward attempt at conversation either humorous or insulting, he didn’t let on. “You probably shouldn’t be here,” he said solemnly.
“What, Riley and I get into a fight, and suddenly I’m persona non gratin?”
Buffy blinked. “What?”
“Never mind.” Graham shook his head. “Listen, Buffy, nothing personal. It’s just… the guys don’t think very much of you these days, so it’d probably be better if you didn’t show up here.”
“Nothing personal, huh? I got raped at their house, and the guys don’t think very much of me?” she scoffed, her hands on her hips. “I think there’s something wrong with that picture.”
“I’m sorry about that, I really am. But we know you’ve been harboring an HST,” he said bluntly. “That doesn’t sit well with the Initiative.”
“You mean Spike?” Buffy stared at him incredulously. “You people already neutered him. What more could you possibly want? Just leave him alone!”
“Hostile 17 is a valuable specimen with a very expensive experimental implant. There’s no way we can just let it walk away.”
Buffy bristled at the use of the word “it” to describe Spike. “You already did, when you let him escape,” she retorted. “And if you think I’m going to help you lock him up and experiment on him some more, you’re crazy.”
Graham just took a deep breath, and though she’d never let on, his continued calm in the face of her deliberately confrontational attitude was just the slightest bit intimidating. Sure enough, his only response was a warning, “Buffy, you don’t want to go against the Initiative.”
“I’m sorry, is that a threat?” she replied, with more confidence than she felt. “Maybe the Initiative better remember that I’m the Slayer, and this is my town. You want Spike, you’re gonna have to go through me.” With that, she spun on her heel and headed for the door again. Just before she went outside, she turned back to Graham with a demure expression and said sweetly, “Tell Riley I stopped by, okay?”
“It’s one of them. It has to be.”
“What are you talking about?” Spike asked, giving Buffy a quizzical look as they sat cross-legged on Xander’s sofa bed, facing each other. His reluctant host was out delivering pizzas, and so Buffy had come to entertain him in exile. She certainly didn’t mind getting off campus, as things with Willow were still tense.
“The guy who raped me – it has to be someone in the Initiative. That’s why they’re coming after us.”
He raised his eyebrows. “They’re coming after me, love. The only reason you’re involved is because you decided to help me.”
“So, what are you saying?” Buffy replied indignantly. “This is just because of you?”
“Not everything’s all about you, pet.”
She put her hand up to her ear, miming a telephone. “Hello, Kettle? It’s Pot. You’re black.”
“Just sayin’.” He gave her a playful shove, which she of course returned. That meant he had to hit her back harder, and she had to retaliate, until the skirmish quickly escalated into a wrestling match, ending with Spike pinning Buffy to the bed.
His smile suddenly faded as he realized the position he was in, and he jerked away from her with a look of horror on his face. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
Instead of reacting with the anger and revulsion he expected, Buffy slowly pushed herself up to a sitting position. “It’s okay,” she said, her tone sounding as surprised as he felt. Meeting his eyes with bewilderment, she repeated, “It’s okay.”
“Buffy, you don’t have to –”
“I’m not.” She knew that if she’d felt at all threatened, there would’ve been a Spike-shaped dent in the far wall by now. But she hadn’t – there was no panic, no flashbacks.
Her gaze still locked with his, she grasped his red button-down shirt, left unbuttoned over his t-shirt. Gently, she pulled him closer, and before he could protest, her mouth was pressed to his in a soft, tentative kiss. He melted into it, his lips parting to taste her as long-subdued desire welled up in him.
His hands fluttered everywhere; conscious of her vulnerability with intimacy, he never let them alight too long in one place lest his touch frighten her away. In contrast, her hands remained firm against his chest, a subtle reminder that she could shove him away at any moment.
Even though part of Buffy knew she shouldn’t be doing this, her body went along willingly. As she kissed him, she felt the strongest sense memory, as though this was something she’d done a hundred times before.
Well, of course I’ve done it before, she reminded herself. But that was under a spell.
Maybe this was a spell, too, because Spike’s tentative touch made her fears and uncertainties disappear as if by magic, and she felt none of the painful reminders of her assault, which had been all too present ever since that night. He made her feel safe, protected, in a way she hadn’t been sure she’d ever feel again.
Before she could further explore her confusing emotions, Spike was pulling away, his eyes lowered. “We shouldn’t be doing this,” he murmured.
“No. You’re right,” she admitted, scuttling backwards a bit on the bed. “I just…” She wanted to tell him how incredible it was, that she could be physically affectionate with him without unbearable discomfort, but he seemed so embarrassed that she let it drop. “I – I should probably go. But, um, if you need anything else from your crypt, just let me know.”
“No, this is enough. Don’t have much in the way of possessions.” He glanced down at the pile of things she’d liberated from the crypt at his request – his duster, of course, a couple changes of clothes, and a wooden cigar box that she hadn’t opened but which she guessed contained all the keepsakes he’d collected over the years.
“Well, then I’ll, um, I’ll see you,” she said quickly, gathering up her things and giving him a tentative wave before making a hasty exit.
Willow was studying at her desk when Buffy got back to the dorm. As soon as she saw Buffy, she hurriedly began packing her books into her backpack. “I’m going to the library,” she announced, avoiding eye contact.
“Will, wait,” Buffy pleaded. “Can we talk?”
Willow let the backpack fall back to the floor and nodded hesitantly. “Sure.” She turned her chair around so that she was facing her bed, as Buffy perched at the foot of it.
“I’m sorry about what I said the other day,” Buffy began. “I know you’re trying to help me, and I appreciate that. I do. It’s just… the way you try to help… isn’t really what I need. But I should have told you sooner, and I shouldn’t have said it like that.”
“I had no idea you felt that way,” Willow said, shaking her head. “I thought I was doing what you wanted.”
“I know. I just need space to work this out on my own.”
“You can’t do this alone, Buffy. You may be the Slayer, but you’re still human.”
“I’m not alone,” she replied quietly.
Willow furrowed her brow, and when she spoke, there was a slight edge to her voice. “You mean Spike?”
“I mean Spike, I mean my counselor – and I mean you and Xander, too. Believe me, I am so thankful that you guys are supportive, but I don’t need to be treated like I’m fragile. I just want things to be as normal as possible with you guys. I don’t want this to rule my life.”
“Okay… I guess we can do that,” Willow conceded, but almost immediately, she added, “I just don’t know how you can act like everything’s normal. It’s not normal! This terrible, awful thing happened to you. I’d be going out of my mind if it were me.”
Buffy sighed. “I know. And I am going out of my mind, a little, which is why I need you guys. I need to know that things haven’t changed so much that I’m not still me. If I let this break me, then he wins.”
Her voice hitched at the end, and Willow leaned over to pull her into a hug. “Oh, Buffy. You’re still you,” she said. “You’re still strong and brave, and you still kick major ass.” They shared a grin. “You’re still the same person I admired from the first time I met you.”
Buffy smiled modestly. “Thanks, Will. So… we’re okay?”
“Yeah, we’re okay.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Buffy got up to go back to her side of the room, but Willow’s sudden “Oh!” made her pause.
“I forgot to tell you,” Willow added. “Giles called.”
“Did he say what he wanted?”
“Something slayery, no doubt.” Growing serious, she hesitated a moment before asking, “You haven’t told him yet, have you?”
Buffy shook her head. “And please don’t do it for me,” she cautioned. “I don’t want him to know.”
“Will!” After the conversation they’d just had, she’d been hoping Willow would learn when to keep out of her decisions.
“Okay, okay. I won’t say anything – but I want to go on record that I think you should.”
“However, I may have mentioned that Spike is back at Xander’s place,” she blurted out quickly, as though she felt guilty about it, “so you’re gonna have to explain that part.”
Buffy closed her eyes briefly and sighed. “I can deal with that part.”
“Hey, Giles, I’m here!” she called, letting herself into his apartment. “What’s the big emergency?”
“No emergency,” he replied, coming down the stairs. He was wearing unusually casual clothes and carried a dust rag in one hand. “Simply checking in. I haven’t seen you in quite some time.”
“Well, it’s been pretty quiet, right?” Buffy said, taking note of the fact that she’d obviously interrupted him cleaning his house. There couldn’t be too much going on if Giles was dusting. “And I’m super busy with school work.”
“Yes, of course you are. But that doesn’t mean you should shirk your duties.”
“I’m not shirking,” Buffy said defensively. “I’ve been patrolling. There’s just nothing exciting to report.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate,” said Giles, obvious disappointment on his face.
“You seriously need a new hobby,” she teased him. “Or a job or something. This ‘gentleman of leisure’ thing totally isn’t working out.”
“Yes, well, I’ll be sure to take a look at the classifieds.” His expression suddenly brightened as a thought occurred to him. “I did notice something suspicious in the paper this morning,” he told her, rummaging through the sections of newspaper covering the coffee table. “Ah, here it is. Mysterious attack last night on Hemlock Street. Might be worth investigating.”
Buffy shrugged. “Probably just a vamp, but I can take a look.”
“No, no, read the description.” He handed her the paper.
“Huh,” she said, skimming the article. “Vamps don’t usually make with the stabby.”
“No,” Giles agreed. “I think this requires some research, don’t you?”
“Is that glee I detect in your voice?” she asked, giving him a wary look. “I’ll rally the troops, and we’ll meet back here for a research party – if you can contain yourself that long.”
He gave her a thin smile in response to her teasing. “I think I can manage. Ah, Buffy,” he said, stopping her before she could leave. “There is one other thing. When I spoke to Willow earlier, she mentioned that you were visiting Spike… at Xander’s. Is there something I should know about?”
“Oh, the Initiative guys found his crypt, so it wasn’t safe anymore, and he needed a place to crash.”
“And Xander doesn’t mind?”
“He’s cool with it,” Buffy assured him. “Is there a problem or something?”
“No, of course not. It’s just that Willow made it seem… well, she sounded a bit odd on the phone. Like there was something she wasn’t telling me.”
“Well, you know Willow. She acts guilty even when she hasn’t done anything. Probably just a little weirded out by Spike, is all.”
“And everything’s all right with you?” he pressed, straightening his glasses as he studied her.
“A-okay.” It was still something of a lie, but she was relieved to find that the smiles were getting easier and easier to fake. She wasn’t sure if that meant she was really getting better, or just getting better at faking.
“All right, then,” he conceded. “Go on. I’ll see you back here in a bit.”
“New demon, huh?” Willow said, once Buffy had filled her in. “Gosh, it’s been a while. I was almost starting to miss the research.”
“You sound like Giles,” Buffy replied, flopping down on her bed, sprawled on her back. “Only without the ‘almost.’”
“I can call Xander and Anya. Should I tell them to bring Spike?”
Before she could respond, there was a sharp knock on the door. “Come in,” they chorused together. Buffy scrambled to a sitting position when the door swung open, revealing Riley hovering in the doorway.
“Hey, Buffy,” he said. “Graham said you stopped by the house the other day.”
The two roommates exchanged a silent look, and Willow quickly snatched a book off her desk. “I’ll be in the lounge if anyone needs me,” she announced, making a quick exit.
“Hey,” Buffy replied, as soon as the door had closed behind Willow, and she and Riley were alone. “Yeah, I was looking for you, until I got the whole ‘don’t mess with the Initiative’ warning.”
“That’s just Graham. He takes his job pretty seriously.” He paused, leaning back against the door, arms folded casually across his chest. “We all do.”
“Which is why you’re here to tell me to give up Spike,” she guessed.
“No,” he replied, somewhat annoyed, his arms falling to his sides as he pushed away from the door and strode toward the bed. “Buffy, I came here to talk about us. If you haven’t noticed, this relationship is kind of falling apart.”
“I’m sorry, Riley. I’m doing the best that I can,” she told him, getting to her feet. Riley’s stature was intimidating enough without the added height difference of her sitting down. “It’s not exactly easy for me.”
“You think I don’t know that? I’m trying my best to be supportive here, but you keep pushing me away.” He shook his head and sighed. “You’re different, Buffy. You’re not the girl I started dating. You’re closed off, and you don’t trust anyone anymore – you don’t trust me. I just don’t know what to do.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” Buffy retorted. “But yeah, things have changed. I don’t want to be ‘different’ any more than you want me to. I’m trying, but some things I just can’t help.”
“You can’t help accusing me of drugging you? You can’t help attacking me on the quad?” Riley responded incredulously. “Come on, Buffy. I think I’m making my fair share of concessions here. You’re not ready to have sex? Fine, I won’t push it. You don’t even want to be in my house? I can deal with that. You hate my friends? I’m not too happy with them, either. But this… it’s like you’re a total stranger. You keep holding me at arm’s length.”
“I don’t mean to. It’s just… you’re too close. There’s too much of your life that reminds me of what happened, and I can’t live like that, constantly being bombarded with memories and feelings…” She trailed off, on the verge of tears just thinking about it.
“I’m too close, huh?” he said in a resigned tone. “Well, then maybe you and I just shouldn’t be… close.”
Buffy swallowed hard, searching his face. “You mean…?”
“I mean maybe we should stop seeing each other.”
“Is – is that what you want?”
“That doesn’t really matter, does it? I’m obviously making this harder for you, so it’s probably just better if we go our separate ways. I’m sorry.”
“Riley, wait.” She grabbed his arm as he turned to go. “I didn’t want it to end like this.”
“We don’t always get what we want,” he said with a sigh, shaking off her grasp. At the door, he paused, turning around to say, “Goodbye, Buffy,” before shutting it behind him.
Buffy sank back down on her bed, slightly stunned as the tears that had welled up began to spill down her cheeks.
Within moments, Willow, who had obviously been watching for Riley’s departure, came back into the room, and she needed no explanation to understand what had happened. Silently, she sat down on the bed next to Buffy and wrapped her arms around her.
“Doughnuts!” Xander announced, plunking the bakery box down on the coffee table amongst the piles of books. “I’m Xan the doughnut man.”
“Did you get any cream-filled ones?” Buffy immediately began rooting through the box for her favorite. “The sugary cream, not the Boston cream.” With everyone in research mode, this was the closest she’d get to post-break-up wallowing in junk food, and she was determined to make the most of it.
“Is that a jelly?” Giles asked, scrutinizing the doughnut in Spike’s hand. “You took the jelly?”
Spike jerked it out of the Watcher’s reach. “Relax, Rupert. There’s more.”
“You people are like vultures,” Willow observed, hanging back until the others had made their selections. “They’re just doughnuts. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Well, sure,” Xander replied with his mouth full. “End of the world’s easy. We could do that blindfolded. But picking out the perfect assortment of doughnuts takes skill.” He settled down on the floor next to Anya and picked up the book he’d abandoned earlier. “So, did I miss anything important?”
“Nope,” Buffy told him. “We’ve found stinging demons and slicing demons, but no stabbing ones.”
“Of course, it could be just a regular demon using some sort of weapon,” Giles pointed out in between bites of jelly doughnut, “but I suppose we have to start somewhere.”
“That’s just discouraging,” Buffy remarked, snapping her book shut with an audible thump and placing it in the “useless” pile.
Having polished off his snack in three bites, Spike pulled out a pack of cigarettes and stuck one between his lips, only to have Giles pluck it out of his mouth.
“Not in here, you don’t,” he warned the vampire.
“Fine,” Spike grumbled. “I’ll be outside.”
Buffy jumped up from her seat. “I’ll go with you.” Ignoring the curious looks her eagerness earned her, she followed him out the front door to the courtyard. She took a seat at the little green metal table while Spike perched on the edge of the fountain, his head bowed to light his cigarette.
“So,” she said hesitantly, “any ideas on this demon?”
Exhaling a puff of smoke, he lifted his head and cocked his scarred eyebrow. “That really what you came out here to talk about?”
“Didn’t think so. Have at it, then.”
Buffy chewed on her lip, completely at a loss for where to start. How could she possibly put into words the jumble of emotions she was feeling? She wanted to cry and scream and laugh hysterically. She wanted to hit something, to lose herself in liberating violence. She wanted to be held, loved, kept safe and protected.
Finally, before she had a chance to think it through, she got up from the table, and then she was kissing him, slow and soft and sweet, with the lingering taste of strawberry and confectioners’ sugar.
“Wasn’t quite what I meant, pet,” he said with a bashful smile on his face, once she pulled back.
“Sorry.” She lowered her gaze and started to turn away, but he caught her by the arm and spun her back around.
“Didn’t say I didn’t like it.”
Buffy shook her head, shying away. “No, I shouldn’t have… I don’t know what I’m doing. I just broke up with Riley, and I’m being stupid and –”
“You what?” Spike did a double take. “You mean…?”
“It’s over. He – he dumped me.”
Almost imperceptibly, Spike’s face fell as she crushed his fleeting hope that she’d broken up with the tin soldier because of any feelings she might have for him. “When did this happen?”
“Right before we came over here.” She eased herself onto the fountain next to him. “It took me by surprise, and I don’t know if it’s totally sunk in yet. I’m still kinda… confused.”
He tapped the end of his cigarette, letting the ash fall to the ground. His other hand itched to touch her, to comfort her with a hand on her shoulder or the small of her back, but he restrained himself. “Confused about what?”
“How I feel. I mean, it hurts, of course, but part of me feels… relieved. I know that’s awful, and I hate myself for even thinking it, but the rape just made it so hard, you know? I wanted it to work with Riley – when it first happened, I wanted so desperately for it all to go away so that we could just go back to the way we were before. But I couldn’t do it, and there was just so much stress that it – it feels easier this way.”
Spike was silent for a long moment before saying quietly, “Can’t really say I’m sorry to hear it, pet.”
Buffy furrowed her brow, perplexed. “What?” She’d expected comfort, the usual platitudes – not this.
“Don’t mean I’m glad to see you hurting,” he clarified, mentally kicking himself for his big mouth. Nothing left now but to go all the way. With a deft flick of his fingers, he pitched the cigarette into the fountain and stood. “But hearing you’re unattached? That’s the best news I’ve gotten all day.”
Without giving her a chance to respond, he quickly made his escape, disappearing back into Giles’ apartment before she could see his embarrassment at making such a confession.
Buffy stared after him, marveling at his words. Had he just said what she thought he’d said? Had he really just hinted at wanting a relationship with her? And was she seriously considering it, only hours after ending things with Riley?
On the other hand, how could she not? How could she disregard what she’d been feeling, the fact that she felt more comfortable with him than anyone else? The fact that she could be close to him without any reminders of her trauma. Maybe Spike was her chance to heal.
More confused than ever, Buffy headed back into the house to rejoin the research party. Spike was already settled in, his nose buried in a book, and he avoided eye contact when she looked his way. She could see the vulnerability written all over his face, and without a word to her friends about what had happened outside, she thrust herself back into the research.
“Riley and I broke up,” Buffy told her counselor almost as soon as she sat down. She’d been anticipating this session more than any other she’d had. She was dying to talk to someone, and her friends just wouldn’t understand. Lately, she’d have gone to Spike, but she couldn’t talk to him about this.
“That happens sometimes,” Dr. Marshall conceded. “It’s hard to trust after something like this.”
Buffy nodded. “That’s what he said – I didn’t trust him. And, I mean, he was right.” She hesitated. “The thing is, though, there’s this other guy. And he’s… I don’t know how to explain it, but he can’t hurt me. Like, physically can’t. And that makes me feel safe. It’s totally backwards, I mean, we used to hate each other, but now… I don’t know. I trust him, when I don’t trust anyone else.”
Dr. Marshall didn’t miss the affection in her voice when she spoke about this other man. “Are you thinking about starting a relationship with, ah…?” She paused, fishing for a name.
“William,” Buffy supplied. She didn’t think her counselor would be thrilled about a guy named Spike. That sounded too much like she’d picked him up in a biker bar, which was not the recovery method she was trying to portray. “I don’t know. He – he made it pretty clear that he was interested, but…”
“But you’re not sure if you’re ready?”
“It seems awfully fast,” she admitted. “Is it wrong to have feelings like this so soon?”
“Of course not,” Rebecca assured her. “As long as you’re not letting your traumatic experience cloud your judgment. Are you sure you’re not just reacting to the sense of safety you feel with him?”
“I – I don’t know.” Thrown by this change in perspective, Buffy tried to sort out her emotions. “I guess, maybe that’s a little bit… but I’m attracted to him, you know, as him, not just because of the rape.” Blushing, she thought back to Willow’s will-be-done spell. If there was one thing she’d been forced to admit when it was over, it was that, objectively, Spike was hot. The way he’d looked at her, eyes hazy with lust, had made her tremble. And the things he could do with his tongue….
Buffy shifted in her chair, crossing her legs at the knee. “Before this happened, we kind of had a… brief… something. But he was so totally not what I was looking for, and then I was all wrapped up with Riley, so I didn’t really think about it.”
“But now you’re thinking about it again?”
“Yeah… I guess I am. I mean, I didn’t intend to or anything. But things have been so hard with Riley, and he’s been so good to me lately, I just…” She shrugged, playing with the hem of her skirt. “Maybe it’s always been there, in the back of my mind.” Glancing up at her counselor, she said, “So… do you think it’s okay? I’m not just feeling this way because I’m screwed up?”
“You’re not screwed up, Buffy. Everyone recovers at a different pace. You shouldn’t feel guilty about moving on if you’re ready. Does William know about the rape?”
“Yeah, and he’s been incredibly supportive every step of the way. I’ve told him things I couldn’t even tell my friends. He’s… careful, about not pushing too hard.”
Dr. Marshall nodded, and she looked at Buffy seriously. “Buffy, are you prepared to be hurt?”
“Wh-what?” she stumbled, taken by surprise.
“Up until now, William has been understanding and trustworthy, and that’s wonderful. You’re fortunate to have someone to support you. But people make mistakes. Sometimes they say or they do the wrong thing – it’s just human nature. But with your emotions as fragile as they are, it can be very hurtful.”
“I know that,” Buffy interrupted, thinking of the fights she’d had with her friends, the terrible misunderstandings with Riley.
“Eventually, William will disappoint you,” Rebecca continued. “I want you to be ready for that. I don’t want you to build up expectations that William is the perfect guy who can take away all your pain. I don’t want that let down to set you back in your recovery.”
Buffy smiled, thinking of Spike’s bloody past, and how clueless her counselor really was. “Believe me, I know he’s not perfect. But I think he’s good for me.”
When her counseling session was over, Buffy headed over to Giles’ apartment, where the gang was still researching the demon from the newspaper article. The doughnut box on the coffee table had multiplied, and was now joined by various pizza and Chinese take-out boxes, yet they still seemed no closer to finding an answer.
As soon as she arrived, before she even started in on the research, she beckoned Spike to join her outside. He’d been hesitant and shy around her, and he hadn’t said a word about their last conversation.
“Hey,” she said softly, once he’d followed her to the fountain. “Have a seat.”
He sat down next to her. “Buffy, I’m sorry about what I said the other day –”
Spike blinked. “Huh?”
“I’m not sorry you said it, Spike. I’m glad I know where you stand…” She took a deep breath, shoring up her courage. “…and I’d like to see where this goes.”
“You what?” he said, still unable to believe he was comprehending what he was hearing.
Buffy reached out and covered his hand with hers, her fingers sliding in between his. “It means I like you, too, doofus.” She tightened her hold on his hand. “I think I’m ready to see what happens next.”
“You’re sure?” Spike glanced down at their joined hands uncertainly. “Don’t have to rush things just ’cause I’m a git who can’t keep his mouth shut.”
She shook her head. “I talked to my counselor today. This is what I want, Spike.”
“Well, can’t deny the lady what she wants, can I?” he replied with a smile, pulling her into a kiss.
“This is your objective,” Professor Walsh said, gesturing to the image of the sub-terrestrial being projected onto the large white screen next to her. Riley stood off to one side of the screen, arms folded over his chest, his gaze flickering between his commander and the soldiers seated in rows before her.
“Sub-T: 67119. Demon class: Polgara species.” Walsh rattled off the stats with curt precision. “Though visual confirmation has not yet been made, we’re confident of the target’s approximate position as it leaves behind a distinct protein marker. Dr. Angelman will brief you on its defenses.”
“I believe we’re looking for a Polgara demon,” Giles began, handing Buffy his book, opened to a picture of an ugly-looking demon with a long skewer protruding from its arm. “They’re non-sentient, which would explain the random attack and destructive behavior. Also, they, ah, have very good eyesight.”
“What’s the deal with the pokey thing?” Buffy asked, peering at the picture in the book.
“It’s a defense mechanism, a sharp bone skewer, which extends from its forearm when threatened.”
“Nice. So, don’t get too close is what you’re saying.”
“It’s imperative when ensnaring it not to damage its arms,” Dr. Angelman directed the commandos. The overhead now had a second transparency overlaying the first, adding long, sharp protrusions from the demon’s arms. “That’s all you really need to know.”
As he stepped to the side, Professor Walsh said, “Agent Finn, deploy the teams.”
Riley nodded and walked out in front of the group, avoiding eye contact with his friends. “Okay, listen up. We’ll be going in a four squad set-up. Team Leaders: Gates, Taggart, and Stavros. Alpha Team, you’re with me.”
“Report to TLs for assignment and weapons requisitions,” Walsh added. “Remember, this is a zap-n-trap, people. Capture, not a kill. Any questions?”
“What kills it?” Buffy asked.
“A good old-fashioned neck-breaking ought to do the trick,” Spike suggested.
“You with me?” she said, meeting his eyes intently, one hand on his arm, ignoring the looks exchanged by her friends.
He nodded. “Got your back, Slayer.”
“Good.” Buffy turned to the others. “We’ll take care of this one. I’ll report back when it’s done.”
As they headed out the door, Giles stared after them in confusion. “Have I missed something?” he asked the Scoobies. “Is there something going on here, and everyone knows it but me?”
“So… I guess this is kind of like a date.”
Spike gave Buffy a perplexed look, glancing down at his side and then back up at her. “You, uh, want to hold hands or something?”
“That wasn’t what I… um, okay. I guess.” Feeling like they were back in fifth grade, she tentatively reached out and clasped his hand in hers.
“Do you always take your dates out to kill something?” he asked her as they trekked through the woods.
Buffy thought for a moment. Angel and Riley had both patrolled with her. Parker hadn’t known about the Slayer thing, but she did have to save him from those Neanderthals with the beer. Hell, even poor Owen had had a run-in with a vamp. “Actually… yeah.”
“Yeah… me, too.” He shrugged, slightly sheepish. “Course, for me it was usually humans.”
She shot him a dirty look, snatching her hand away. “Okay, you’re gonna have to try harder not to remind me that you used to be evil.”
“Used to be?” he retorted indignantly. “Still am!”
“Riiight. What’re you gonna do, put your game face on and menace old ladies into giving you their handbags?”
“Hey! I don’t make fun of your disabilities!”
She smirked at him. “That’s because I don’t have any.”
“Well, there’s your intelligence,” he teased, which immediately wiped the grin off her face.
“Did you just call me stupid?”
“Course not,” he said innocently.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“So am I,” he said, stopping in his tracks and pulling her close to him, kissing her breathless. “Think you’re bloody amazing, Buffy.”
She punched him in the arm. “You better.”
As they started walking again, Buffy said hesitantly, “Did you mean what you said?”
“Of course. You’re incredible, pet.”
“Not that. About… still being evil.” She turned to look at him. “This is serious, Spike. I can’t do this if it goes against my duty as a Slayer. I need to know that you’re not gonna…”
“What? Follow my nature? Still a vampire, even if I can’t kill.” He stopped again, this time to run his fingers through the hair framing her face as he met her gaze. Cupping her cheek, he said, “You know I can’t hurt anyone, so there’s that. As for the rest, I’ll do my best to be good, love. Want to keep you happy.”
Unexpectedly, Buffy’s eyes grew wide with alarm. “Demon!” she warned, shoving him aside as the Polgara attacked from the brush behind him. She quickly delivered two kicks to its head and chest, driving it backwards before it managed to catch her leg and flip her onto the ground.
Spike launched himself at the demon from behind, slamming his fist into the back of its neck and then kicking out its knees. The Polgara fell, one of its skewers shooting out of its forearm. It swept the skewer in Spike’s direction, and he had to jump to avoid getting stabbed in the leg.
Buffy was back on her feet, but the Polgara was, too, now with both skewers fully extended. She grabbed the demon by both arms, holding them away from her as she kneed it in the stomach. Coming up from behind again, Spike clasped his fists together and brought them around in a swinging motion, clubbing the demon in the head.
Flinging Buffy aside, the Polgara spun, aiming its skewer for Spike’s throat. He barely missed being impaled, dodging at the last minute. As he kept the demon occupied, Buffy scrambled up and jumped on its back. With both hands, she whipped the demon’s head around, snapping its neck.
The Polgara crumpled to the ground with Buffy landing on top of it. Spike pulled her to her feet and swept her up in a desperate, passionate kiss.
“See?” Buffy giggled. “Killing things is an excellent date activity.”
“He’s still pissed at us,” Forrest grumbled, crouched behind a bush while Graham scanned the area using night vision goggles, the other soldiers at attention behind them.
“He made you team leader, didn’t he?” Graham replied, lowering the goggles and peering through the brush.
“That’s not the point. He doesn’t want us under his command. He doesn’t trust us.”
“Well, we did drug his girlfriend. Would you trust us?”
“You drugged her,” Forrest snapped. “And considering what she did afterwards, we did him a favor. At least now Riley knows what kind of girl she is.”
“She says she was raped,” Graham insisted.
“You saw the tape. What’d it look like to you?”
“She’s a nice girl, Forrest. I don’t wanna –” He cut himself off abruptly as he spotted something through the goggles. “Hang on. Got something.”
“Negative.” He passed the goggles to Forrest. Peering into them, Forrest could see Spike and Buffy locked in an embrace – and didn’t that just prove his point right there? – next to what appeared to be their target, already dead.
“Hel-lo, Hostile 17.”
“We can’t,” Graham said, putting up a hand to stop him from reaching for his weapon. “Buffy’s in the way.”
“She’s the ex now.” He turned to the soldiers behind him. “You three – standard flanking. Go.”
“Don’t hit the girl if you don’t have to,” Graham ordered, ignoring the fact that Forrest outranked him. The three commandos hurried off to their positions.
“Spike, look out!” Buffy cried, as one of the commandos rushed out of the trees carrying a heavy net.
Spike spun around quickly and caught the net in his fist before the soldier could throw it. He swung it around, slamming the soldier into a nearby tree. A second commando charged, aiming his taser rifle at Spike, but Buffy kicked it out of his hands and then knocked him to the ground.
Flinching at the pain from the chip, Spike called out, “Buffy, come on!” She was still fighting a third soldier, but managed to drop him with a punch and then fled into the woods on Spike’s heels.
From his vantage point in the bushes, Forrest tracked Spike in the sight of his rifle scope.
“Careful,” Graham warned him.
He pulled the trigger, hitting the target in the shoulder. “Alert Control and Alpha Team,” he instructed Graham. “We’ve tagged Hostile 17 with a tracer and we’re in pursuit.”
Spike stumbled as he felt a sharp, piercing pain in his left shoulder. He clutched the leather with his other hand and felt a small hole where the bullet had gone through his coat. “Bloody hell!”
“You’re hit,” Buffy said, trying to push his hand away. “Let me see.”
“No time,” he replied, shaking her off. “They’ll be on us any minute. Gotta keep running.”
They took off with supernatural speed, plowing through trees and bushes, unable to avoid leaving a discernible trail, but at least the brush provided some cover to keep them from being shot at. When they reached the edge of the woods, Buffy skidded to a stop.
“Now where? They’ll have no trouble spotting us without cover.”
Spike scanned the area and spotted a sewer grate. “Down.”
“Oh, goody,” Buffy grumbled. “Sewers.”
“Know ’em pretty well by now. Even if they follow us, I’m sure I can lose them.”
“Down it is, then.”
Spike pried the grate up and gestured for her to go. “Ladies first.”
Buffy slipped into the hole, climbing down the ladder and landing in a puddle with a splash. Spike followed, pulling the grate closed behind him.
Grabbing her by the hand, he took off down one of the tunnels with Buffy in tow. “This way. Come on.”
Their route twisted and turned through the sewers, often doubling back, as Spike tried to ditch their Initiative tail. Buffy had completely lost all sense of direction, and would’ve been utterly hopeless at finding her way out on her own. She clung to Spike, unable to see well in the dark, trusting him to lead her.
Suddenly, he stopped, shoving Buffy up against the damp tunnel wall, the length of his body pressed to hers. She started to protest that this was no time for naughtiness, but he held one finger to her lips to keep her quiet. He splayed his other hand out on the wall, as though he were feeling vibrations through the cement or something.
“Bloody hell,” he breathed, after a moment of listening intently. “They’re right above us.”
“How is that possible? I don’t even know where we are, and I’ve been here the whole time.”
“Dunno, but we can’t stay here.” Snatching up her hand, he took off again at a sprint, and Buffy stumbled trying to keep up. As her arm was yanked nearly out of its socket, she heard Spike cry out in pain, and they both fell to their knees, sinking into the muck.
“Are you okay?” she asked him breathlessly.
“Fine,” he grunted. “You?” When she nodded, he prodded her to get up. “Gotta move, love.”
They tore down another maze of tunnels, crisscrossing beneath the town until Buffy felt as though they could be in Los Angeles by now if they’d just run in a straight line. “Spike, come on,” she pleaded. “We have to have lost them by now.”
Spike hesitated a moment before nodding. Slowing to a walk, he led her to the nearest sewer entrance and climbed out. “Looks clear,” he said, offering her a hand up.
“My shoes are soaked,” Buffy complained, “and I smell like a toilet.”
“Good thing I’m used to it,” he said with a grin, leaning in to give her a kiss. Suddenly, he stiffened. “You hear that?”
Buffy’s eyes widened in disbelief. “That’s not possible.” With growing dread, she grabbed Spike and spun him around, pulling his duster off his shoulder to take a look at his injury. “Spike… your wound. It’s blinking.”
“I don’t think that’s a bullet. It’s a tracking device.”
“Give me a sit rep,” Riley commanded, jogging over to meet Beta Team.
“Hostile was tagged and retreated into the sewers,” Forrest reported. “We’ve been tracking it for almost an hour now, still hasn’t come up.”
“Okay. Stay on him. Let me know when he surfaces.”
“What do we do when we spot him, sir?” Graham asked, with more formality than he would normally use with his friend.
Riley raised his eyebrows. “You know how to bring in a hostile, Agent.”
“Ri…” His voice softened. “He’s with Buffy.”
Riley cursed under his breath, then whirled around and punched the closest wall. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“Would it have changed your orders?” Forrest asked.
Without answering the question, Riley warned him, “If she gets hurt –”
“She already took out two of my guys! It’s not her you need to worry about.”
“Well, I am.” He took a breath to calm himself. “Proceed with the mission. But if anything happens to her, I’m coming after you.”
“Sir, we got visual!” one of the soldiers shouted. “Came out of the sewers about a hundred yards away. They’re headed towards a populated area.”
Forrest looked to his commanding officer for orders. “Okay, then,” Riley said. “We change into civvies and move out. No deadly weapons. Tasers and tranqs only. I’m not taking any chances.”
“What do we do?” Buffy asked, slightly hysterical. “No matter how much we run, they’re gonna find us.”
“You’ve gotta get the tracer out.”
“I can’t. Not here – it’s too deep.”
Spike nodded. “Your house, then. Let’s go.”
They took off again, trusting superior speed to get them back to Revello Drive before the Initiative caught up. Then, they’d just have to hope the military didn’t make it a policy to burst into private homes when in pursuit of a hostile. They skidded onto the front porch at full throttle, tumbling through the door and slamming it behind them. Buffy leaned back against the closed door, trying to catch her breath.
“Your mum home?” Spike asked, whipping his head around as though he expected one of the commandos to jump out from behind the furniture at any moment.
She shook her head. “Buying trip in San Francisco. Come on, in the kitchen.”
Buffy rifled through the silverware drawer until she came up with a sharp knife. “Take off your clothes,” she commanded. Spike gave her a suggestive leer, but obediently shrugged out of his duster and then pulled his t-shirt over his head. Buffy was distracted momentarily by the way his muscled chest rippled as he moved.
“Focus, Slayer,” he teased, catching her staring. “Plenty of time to admire it later.”
“Right.” She blushed, grabbing a dish towel from the sink and handing it to Spike. “This is gonna hurt.”
Spike nodded, bending over the breakfast bar and shoving the dish towel into his mouth. He gripped the sides of the countertop as Buffy made the first incision into his back, his cry of pain muffled by the towel.
Her palms were sweating, and it was hard to keep the knife steady as she tried to dig the tracking beacon out. “It’s in really deep,” she said nervously. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
He pulled the towel out of his mouth. “You have to, Buffy. Just do it. I trust you.”
She tried again, and Spike screamed in agony, causing her to jerk the knife back. “Oh, God. This isn’t working. I need something to grab it…” She darted out of the kitchen, and Spike heard her footsteps pounding up the stairs.
She returned a moment later, a pair of tweezers in her hand. “Okay, I’m gonna try this. Are you ready?”
Spike nodded, sticking the towel back in and tightening his grasp on the counter. Buffy stroked his back between the shoulder blades with her free hand, both to reassure him and to calm herself down. She swallowed hard, and then dug into the wound with the tweezers. She pulled hard, eliciting a stifled roar from Spike.
“I almost got it. Just a little more.” She pulled on the tweezers again, and finally a tiny dart with a blinking red light on the blunt end of it came free with a bloody squelching sound.
“Okay, we want to keep the hostile contained,” Riley instructed, as the team jogged down the residential street, now dressed in civilian clothes and carrying backpacks with their weapons and equipment. “So no one is to make a move without my –”
Forrest suddenly stopped, staring at the GPS device in his hands.
“What?” Riley asked him, as the others gathered around.
“It’s on the move.”
Forrest glanced up, looking around. “Straight at us. Forty meters and closing. Moving fast.”
“Look alive people,” Riley ordered the soldiers. “Weapons at the ready.”
The commandos slung their backpacks off their shoulders and reached in to grab their weapons, keeping them hidden until they spotted something to use them on.
“Twenty-five meters,” Forrest counted down, his voice getting more and more urgent. “Twenty… fifteen…”
“Where?” Riley asked, spinning around helplessly. All the soldiers were frantically looking, but the street was empty as far as they could see.
“I got nothing,” Graham said.
“To the left. Ten meters… five!”
“He’s back in the sewers,” Riley concluded. “Come on. Let’s not lose him this time.” On his orders, the team set off in the direction the tracer was moving, heading away from Revello Drive.
When Buffy came back downstairs, Spike was still leaning heavily on the breakfast bar, his forehead inches from the countertop.
“You okay?” she asked, prompting him to spring upright.
“Fine,” he replied, hiding his wince. “You get that bugger taken care of?”
“Yeah, it’s flushed. We’re safe.” Putting her hand gently on his shoulder, she spun him around to take a look at his injury. “Let me see this.”
The wound was fairly small but deep, and bleeding steadily from Buffy’s probing. Getting the first aid kit out from under the sink, she began to clean up the blood on his back. “I’m sorry,” she said as she worked. “Does it hurt?”
“Not too bad.”
“Almost done.” She taped a gauze square over the wound and rubbed his shoulder comfortingly. “There. All better.”
“Thanks, love.” He turned around, letting her hand drift across his skin, coming to rest on his chest as he faced her.
Buffy was suddenly acutely aware of his state of undress, and she traced the chiseled lines of his chest as though memorizing them by touch, learning every dip and curve of muscle, every hairline scar that crisscrossed his pale skin. With her previous experience nothing but a disturbing hole in her memory, she needed to absorb every detail of this intimacy with Spike.
Spike was still, letting her roam as she pleased, stifling a groan as her warm hands caressed him. He ached to touch her, to draw her into his arms and kiss her as fiercely as he had in the woods, but he couldn’t rush her. The slightest word or movement might break the spell, might snap her out of her tenderness and bring her walls right back up.
“Buffy,” he murmured as she leaned into him, placing soft kisses on his collarbone. Her fingertips coasted down his sides, meeting the hem of his jeans at his hips and then following the waistband around to the front, toying with the top button. Spike caught her hands in his, halting their progress.
“Don’t, pet,” he said, when she raised her head in surprise. “Don’t have to do that.”
“What if I want to?”
The question caught him off-guard. “You sure? No need to rush, love. Know what you’ve been through.”
In response, she slid her arms around his waist, splaying her hands across his back as she pulled him flush against her. “I’m ready, Spike. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you if it’s too much.”
Spike dipped his head to capture her mouth, teasing her lips apart as he played with the hem of her shirt. Trusting her to stop him if he crossed a line, he slid his hands underneath, caressing her bare skin. She shuddered at his touch, and he hesitated, but her kiss encouraged him on as he traced the curve of her breast, her lace bra scratchy against the pad of his thumb.
Gasping, Buffy pulled away from the kiss, pressing her forehead to his as she caught her breath. It felt almost foreign to her, this passion, this need, when for so long she hadn’t been able to separate the physical, sexual response of her body from the overwhelming sense of fear and panic. But just like the first time she’d kissed him, her body relaxed into a peculiar familiarity. Thank God for Willow’s stupid spell, she thought, as Spike’s hands skated up her arms, lifting her shirt over her head.
Dropping the shirt to the floor, he lowered his head to nibble at her throat, down the slope of her neck to her shoulder. When he found the stretch of bare skin interrupted by her bra strap, he reached behind her back and unhooked the bra, letting it slip off. Spike pushed her against the countertop as he kissed her again, bending her backward until her feet left the ground and she hooked them around his legs, dragging his jeans up above his ankles as she rubbed against him.
“Oh, fuck, Buffy, we have to stop,” Spike panted, dropping his head into the crook of her neck.
“If we don’t, I’m liable to shag you right here on the counter, and I don’t want that, love. Not after…” He pulled away from her, allowing her to sit up. “Owe you better than that.”
Buffy ran her fingers through his hair, tousling his curls and drawing his head close to hers. “I have a bedroom upstairs,” she murmured. “Will that do?”
Spike froze, his wide eyes displaying his conflicting emotions. “You’re serious? You really want…?”
“What more do I have to do to prove it to you?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, allowing him to scoop her off the countertop. He carried her up the stairs and laid her down gently on her bed. Dispensing with the last of their clothes, he crawled in beside her, reluctant to make the first move.
“Are you sure?” he asked again, still not trusting the permission he’d been given.
“I want it to be you, Spike,” she said firmly, one hand on his cheek as she gave him a reaffirming kiss. “I want it to be you.”
She gasped at the first penetration, his fingers sliding inside her. For a moment, she felt a sudden fight or flight instinct, her entire body tensing up at the invasion. Spike pressed a kiss to her belly, murmuring calming words against her skin, and her worry quickly melted away under his gentle massaging touch. Her legs fell open a bit more as she relaxed, letting him reach deeper inside her.
Then, she felt his tongue, swirling in ever-tightening circles around her clit, making her beg for him to touch it. When he did, finally, flattening his tongue and sweeping upwards hard and fast, she nearly leapt off the bed at the sensation. “Oh, God, do that again,” she pleaded.
And he did, over and over until she was clutching the sheet with both fists, his tongue teasing her clit as his fingers worked nimbly inside her. She came with a breathless sob, a cry so desperate that Spike’s worried face was beside hers instantly.
“You all right, love?” he asked with concern, afraid he’d done something wrong, something to bring up bad memories.
She whipped her head back and forth, her inner muscles still clenching. “I’m fine. More than fine. That was… that was…”
“Wanna make you come again and again,” he said, his voice husky in her ear. “Wanna make you come ’til you forget you were ever with anyone but me.”
She whimpered, pulling him into a kiss, tasting her own juices on his lips as she climbed on top of him and straddled his hips.
“That’s my girl,” he encouraged, letting her take control.
She sank down on him slowly, inch by inch, and he had to restrain himself from bucking up and burying himself in one thrust. He knew she needed to set the pace, needed to have the upper hand.
Once he was fully seated inside her, she went still, letting out a deep, trembling breath. She clutched his shoulders, causing pain to flare up from his injury, but he gritted his teeth against it and let her hold on, whatever she needed to feel secure.
“That’s my girl,” he said again, locking his eyes with hers and pouring as much reassurance as he could into his gaze. “My sweet, beautiful girl.”
Gradually, her grip lessened, and she began to move against him, his hips rising to meet her thrusts. Her eyes never left his, searching them relentlessly, though she wasn’t even sure what she was looking for.
What she found was awe, assurance, and a depth of affection that overwhelmed her with its intensity.
When it was over, and she was spooned against Spike’s chest, his fingers stroking through her hair, he asked her, “How do you feel, pet?”
She thought for a moment, letting the emotions wash over her.
“Whole,” she replied.
The weight was heavy on her, her arms pinned to the bed in a vise-like grip. A dark shapeless figure hovered above her, his hot, fetid breath on her neck sending shivers down her spine.
She thrashed and fought, but his hold only tightened. She was getting weaker, unable to fight him off, a leaden sensation overtaking her body until the air around her felt thick and viscous, resisting her movement.
The mysterious figure loomed closer as she lay paralyzed, and her lungs tightened until she was gasping frantically for air. Then, he began to shake her, ignoring her futile attempts to swat him away.
“Buffy!” A thin voice cut through the fog. “Buffy!” Louder now, increasing in intensity with every cry.
“Buffy, wake up!”
She opened her eyes to find Spike in a panic, shaking her awake. “Buffy, are you all right? You were screaming.”
“I – I had a bad dream.”
The world crystallized around him, sharp and clear in contrast to the murky haze from which she’d just awoken. Her breathing began to slow, and her heart no longer felt as though it would rocket out of her chest.
She was in bed, with Spike, in her girlhood bedroom. The New Kids on the Block posters were still on the walls, faintly visible in the bluish pre-dawn light. It was all coming back to her. They’d been running from the Initiative, and then the impromptu surgery in the kitchen, then sexy shirtless Spike… and then the oh, wow, I never thought I’d feel like that in her bed.
Spike ran a hand lightly down her bare arm. “Were you dreaming about…?” She nodded, and his hand paused, hovering at her elbow. “Did you – remember anything? Could you see who it – who it was?”
Buffy shook her head. “It was just an empty shape, just this… presence. Heavy and – and intimidating. Holding me down…”
He cuddled her closer, closing his eyes with a pained expression as he kissed her hair. “It’s all right, pet. Just a dream.”
“Yeah,” she replied shakily, pulling the sheet up to cover her chest.
“So… uh, you sleep well?” he asked, easing himself into a sitting position as he awkwardly tried to make conversation. “I mean, other than that last bit.”
“Yeah, I guess.” She sat up as well, tugging the sheet with her and tucking it under her armpits. “How – how about you? Did you sleep…?”
They fell into an uncomfortable silence, unable to produce the bantering small talk they were usually so good at. Finally, Buffy said, “So, last night was…”
“Yeah,” Spike chimed in, nodding along with her. “I mean, I…”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
“Really?” he asked, stealing a glance at her. “You weren’t… I mean, it wasn’t too…?”
“No. No, it was… good.”
Spike breathed a sigh of relief. He’d been terribly afraid that she would think it was all a mistake in the morning, that he’d ruined things by reminding her too much of what had happened, or by pushing her too fast. Having her wake up screaming hadn’t exactly eased his fears any. His heart had leapt into his throat, so sure that she would wake up and accuse him, that something about last night must have triggered her memory and she would think –
Buffy’s tinkling laughter brought him back to the present. “What are we doing?” she asked him, stifling her incredulous giggles.
He grinned, finding her humor contagious. “I have no idea.” He leaned over and kissed her, and all the awkwardness melted away. Buffy let the sheet fall away between them as she pulled him closer, sliding back down against the pillows.
“You make all the bad dreams go away,” she murmured.
Spike closed his eyes for a moment, pressing his forehead against hers. “Try my best, love.” He dipped his head again, relaxing his body into hers as the kiss deepened. His leg slipped between hers, and he felt her dampness against his thigh, his cock stirring in response. He hesitated, thinking he should roll them over, change positions, anything but him lying on top of her, pinning her down. She couldn’t possibly want –
And yet, her hands slid down his sides to rest on his hips, pulling them square with hers as she wriggled underneath him.
“Buffy, are you –”
“Sure?” she finished with a knowing smile, and he ducked his head sheepishly at his predictability. “Yes, Spike, I’m sure. This feels… right.”
She took him in with more ease than she had the night before, reaching up to bury her hands in his hair, pulling his head down for a kiss. Then, she closed her eyes and let her head fall back on the pillow, allowing herself to get lost in the sensations Spike was creating.
This was how sex was supposed to be, loving and wonderful and carefree. And it hit her that she’d never truly felt that way; even before the rape, her limited sexual experiences had been fraught with angst, culminating in disappointment and heartbreak. For the first time, she might actually end up happy, might actually get more than one night to enjoy this.
Her climax came hard and fast, taking her breath away. He just grinned with satisfaction as she shuddered around him, hands grasping his shoulders as though to anchor herself.
As she came down from the high, Spike continued to thrust, slowing down to a gentle, easy rocking. He wanted to savor this moment, draw it out as long as he could. He hadn’t known when she’d first burst into his crypt, all righteous anger and accusations, how hard he would fall for her. He’d thought it would be easy, tell her what she wanted to hear, get her to forget this whole mess. He hadn’t counted on wanting to help her through it, wanting to help her solve the mystery, even as he withheld the missing piece. He should’ve come clean, but it was too late now; he was in too deep, and he couldn’t risk losing her. His desire for her had overwhelmed his judgment, his self-preservation, even his guilt. But this, right here in her arms, this was perfection.
And with stomach-churning certainty, he knew he was in love with her.
The ringing telephone jolted Buffy awake to find her drawn curtains aglow with late morning sunshine. As she fumbled around on the night stand trying to answer the phone, Spike groaned, rolling onto his stomach and pulling the pillow over his head.
“Hello?” she said groggily.
“Buffy, oh, my God!” Willow’s voice burst from the receiver. Buffy flinched and held it out a few inches from her ear. “We were so worried!”
“Will?” She slipped out of bed and padded over to the window. “What’s the matter?”
“You didn’t check in last night! Giles was afraid you got skewered by the Polgara or something.”
“Giles worries too much,” she mumbled, peeking through the curtains.
“Oi! Watch it!” Spike said, his voice muffled by the pillow, as a stray beam of light hit the bed.
She let the curtain fall back into place. “Sorry.”
“What was that?” Willow asked. “Was that Spike?”
“Uh, yeah. He kinda… spent the night.”
“Buffy!” Willow shrieked, causing her to hold the phone away again. “What happened?”
With a quick glance at Spike, she said, “Hold on a sec.” Placing the phone down on her dresser, she pulled her bathrobe out of the closet and slipped it on. “Okay,” she said, taking the phone and going out into the hall, closing the door behind her.
“Come on, spill. I need details.”
“It was nothing,” she insisted, making her way downstairs. “We killed the Polgara, and then we ran into the Initiative. They shot Spike with some tracking thingamajig, so I had to, like, dig it out of his shoulder. He was injured, so I let him spend the night.”
“You are so lying.”
“Buffy, I can tell when you’re hiding something.”
Buffy hesitated, in the midst of putting on a pot of coffee. “Where are you? At Giles’?”
“Are you alone?”
“Do you promise not to tell anyone else? I mean it, Will. This is very much a ‘Buffy needs to tell people herself’ kind of thing.”
“I promise, I promise!” Willow was practically squealing. “So, did you…?”
Buffy slid down to the floor between the sink and the breakfast bar, sitting with her knees pulled up and her back leaning against the cabinet. “And… it was incredible.”
“It wasn’t, like, weird or anything, after… you know?”
“No, it wasn’t. I mean, it was a little awkward at times, but he made me feel so – so safe, and cared for, it was like none of that mattered.” Even though she was alone in the kitchen, she couldn’t help smiling.
“And Spike was good? You know, in bed?”
“Oh, yeah.” She tipped her head back against the cabinet and let out a giggle.
“So, how does it compare? Better than Angel?” Willow teased.
“Best I’ve ever had,” Buffy replied honestly. “Okay, granted, that’s not saying much, what with the whopping two other guys I’ve been with. But yeah… it was… special.”
“That’s really great, Buffy.”
It was hard to tell over the phone, but she thought she detected less enthusiasm in Willow’s tone than the words might suggest. “You’re not freaked that it’s Spike?” she probed.
Willow hesitated. “Um, I’m working on that part. Right now, I just want to be glad that you’re so happy. It’s been a long time since you’ve sounded like this.”
Buffy smiled to herself again. “I know. Listen, I should go, but I’ll stop by later. I’ve got some stuff to do on campus.”
No sooner had she hung up with Willow and checked on the brewing coffee than she felt a tingle at the back of her neck.
“Best you ever had, eh?” he rumbled in her ear, sliding his hands around her waist from behind. He was naked, and his bare erection pressed against her ass.
Her eyes widened with embarrassment. “You were listening?”
“Vampire hearing. You might as well have stayed in the bedroom.”
“Oh, God,” she whimpered, her face flushing scarlet.
Spike grinned and kissed her throat. “Like hearing what you think of me, pet.”
Spinning around in his arms, Buffy just gave him a skeptical, amused look. “You just liked hearing that you’re better than Angel.”
He shrugged and did his best to appear modest and unconcerned, but it was a lost cause. “Well, yeah.”
“You’re impossible,” she replied, resting her forehead against his chest as her shoulders shook with giggles.
“’S why you like me.” With one hand, he loosened the belt of her robe, letting the folds fall open, pooling against her breasts. Running his fingertips over her bare skin, he asked, “Shall we finish what we started in here last night?”
“I can’t. I told Willow I’d be back on campus.”
“What’d you do that for?” His hand slid lower, parting her robe on his way down.
“I have things to do,” she protested, squirming away from his touch.
“So do I.” He scooped her up and deposited her on the breakfast bar. “Well, just one. But I intend to do it many, many times.”
“Spike! I mean it. I – oh. Ohh.”
“Yeah? You were saying?”
“Do that again.”
Spike obliged, tugging on her belt with his other hand until the loose knot unraveled completely and her robe slid open all the way. His eyes were slightly unfocused as he took in the sight of her splayed out on the countertop before him. “God, that’s a beautiful sight.”
Buffy blushed, the flush spreading down her throat and across her chest.
“Now, tell me again. What’s so important you’ve got to rush back to campus for?”
Riley was seated at the foot of his bed, idly shooting baskets, when the door suddenly swung open, the toy basketball sailing straight into Buffy’s hands.
“Buffy. Hi,” he said, jumping to his feet, startled to see her.
“We need to talk.”
“Can I come in?” Buffy asked, tossing the basketball back and forth between her hands in order to keep herself busy.
Taken by surprise, Riley nodded. “Yeah, sure. I, uh, wasn’t expecting you.” He rubbed the back of his neck and then gestured vaguely. “Have a seat.”
She glanced at the bed, and a wave of disgust went through her at the thought of touching it. Ignoring his invitation, she said, “Riley, this needs to stop.”
“What?” Sinking back down onto the bed, he furrowed his brow. “What are you talking about?”
“Spike. I’m talking about your goons attacking us. I’m talking about you shooting him with a tracking whatever and then chasing us all across town!”
Riley leapt to his feet again, reaching out to her, but she jerked away from him. “Buffy, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were there – they didn’t tell me until we were already –”
“And that makes it better?” she interrupted. “If I wasn’t around, you’d still go after Spike, hunting him down like he’s some kind of rabid animal?”
“He’s a person! You can’t treat him like that.”
“He’s a vampire.”
“Well, he’s someone that I care about!” Buffy snapped, getting as much in Riley’s face as her five-foot-three frame would allow. “And I’m going to protect him. Come after Spike again, and you’re gonna find out what a Slayer really is.”
Riley held up his hands defensively. “That’s not my call, Buffy. I’m a soldier; I have to follow orders.”
It wasn’t strictly the truth – Professor Walsh hadn’t actually made retrieving Hostile 17 a priority since his escape back in the fall. She hadn’t even known he was still in town until Forrest had reported the sighting during the Polgara mission. Still, he couldn’t very well tell Buffy the real reason why they’d been pursuing Spike.
“Yeah, but you’re close with Professor Walsh, and she’s the one in charge, right? You’re her favorite; she’ll listen to you.”
“You can’t ask me to –”
“I’m not asking.” Her tone was ice cold, and her eyes met Riley’s in a hard stare. “You’re gonna go to Professor Walsh, and you’re gonna tell her that you think it’s in the Initiative’s best interest to leave Spike alone. And if you think I’m bluffing, you just remember that I’ve fought more demons than your entire squad combined. I’ve faced apocalypses – plural – and I’m still standing. So, if you think you can take me on, you better be ready, because I am not kidding around.”
Riley took a step back, stumbling when he bumped into the edge of the bed. “I believe you. Jesus, Buffy, you don’t have to threaten me.” He remembered all too well what it felt like to fight her, and she’d been holding back with him then. He really didn’t want to see what she was like fully unleashed.
“So, you’ll do it? You’ll talk to Walsh?”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to her.” Or at least talk to the guys, he thought. Get them to lay off for a while, until I figure out what to do next.
“You promise?” she demanded.
“Yes. I promise.” Riley sighed, shaking his head. “We’re not the bad guys, Buffy. I know this thing with Spike’s made you think – but we’re on the same side, you and me. Or we should be. Slaying vampires is your job, or – or your destiny, or whatever, and we –”
“You kidnap them and experiment on them,” Buffy cut in. “It’s cruel, and it’s wrong, and –”
“And I don’t see you asking me to take Spike’s chip out,” he said pointedly. “If it wasn’t for that chip, you’d still be trying to kill each other, instead of playing boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Buffy opened her mouth to protest, but quickly shut it when she realized Riley was right. She didn’t want the chip out; she needed Spike muzzled. It was the only reason she’d trusted him. She thought back to their conversation in the graveyard – “I’ll do my best,” he’d said, but he’d been quick to remind her of his natural vampiric tendencies, restrained as they were.
It was a risk she couldn’t take. If the chip came out, and Spike’s best wasn’t good enough… she couldn’t do it again. She couldn’t kill another boyfriend.
“That’s what I thought,” Riley continued, noting her silence. “On behalf of the Initiative, you’re welcome.”
Suddenly feeling much less intimidating than when she’d walked in, Buffy turned to go. She glanced down at her hands where, in her fury, she’d crushed the toy basketball into a crumpled orange mess. “Uh, here. This is yours,” she said, passing it to him and slinking out of the room.
When Buffy got back to her house, Spike was sprawled on the couch watching cartoons, making her question her earlier assessment. He can’t be evil anymore, she told herself. He’s not. Look at him.
Indeed, he looked as innocent as could be, blond head resting on the arm of the sofa, hugging a pillow to his chest as he watched the TV through drowsy, half-lidded eyes. One leg dangled unceremoniously off the edge of the cushion, burrowing the toes of his bare feet into the carpet.
“Hey, you,” Buffy said, drawing his attention away from the cartoons as she climbed on top of him and stretched out lengthwise.
Spike’s face lit up with a soft smile. “Hey,” he greeted her, slipping his arms around her waist. “You’re back. How’s Red?”
“She’s good. Minorly freaking out, but good.”
“And the other thing?”
“Taken care of.” She grinned, the good news nearly bursting out of her. “It should be safe to go back to your crypt now.”
His eyes widened in surprise. “You mean…?”
“Yep. Got the Initiative off your back.”
“I just gave Riley a friendly reminder that their neighborhood Slayer would wipe the floor with their sorry asses if anything happened to you.”
“That’s my girl,” he said, pulling her head down for a kiss. “Although… you sure they’ll do what you say? Could just stay here instead, yeah?”
“Not so much,” she replied, shaking her head. “My mother’ll be back from San Francisco tomorrow, and I really don’t want to get her involved with all this Initiative crap. I mean, she’s pretty okay with the slaying thing these days, but I want to keep it as far away from her as possible, you know? Besides…” Sliding a hand under his shirt, she lowered her voice to a suggestive tone. “We could do things at your place that we couldn’t do if my mom’s… and oh, my God, remind me to disinfect the countertop before she comes home,” she finished, abruptly abandoning her flirting.
Spike gave her a wicked grin. “Well, then. Might as well give it one more go before you clean, pet.” Buffy squealed as he sat up, scooping her off the sofa and carrying her into the kitchen.
“So… when are you going to tell the others about Spike?” Willow asked, glancing up from her studying to where Buffy was lying on the bed, reading. “’Cause I’ll be honest, I’m pretty much going crazy not being able to talk about it.”
“I don’t know. I really don’t want it to be a big deal, you know? Besides, they definitely don’t need all the details. Just, you know, Spike and I are together now, so…”
“So you better be nice to him?” Willow suggested.
Buffy chuckled. “Something like that.”
The conversation was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door. The girls exchanged curious looks, neither expecting a visitor. Willow got up to answer it, her eyebrows shooting skyward when she opened the door. “Riley!”
“Hey, Willow,” he said, already peering over her shoulder to look for Buffy, a sense of urgency about him. “Can I come in?”
Buffy scrambled off the bed, tossing her book aside. “Look, Riley, I’m not going to change my mind about what I said, so don’t think you can –”
“I know,” he interrupted. “That’s not why I’m here. So, uh, can I come in? Can we talk?”
Buffy nodded, and Willow stood back to let him in, slipping out into the hallway herself. “I’ll be, you know,” she said, waving one hand vaguely in the direction of the lounge as she gave Buffy an encouraging smile behind Riley’s back.
“What’s up?” Buffy asked, once the door was closed.
“I was cleaning my room, and I found something you should see.” Riley held up a blue polo shirt. “This was under the bed.”
“It – it’s not yours?” she asked, though she knew the answer even without him saying it. The shirt was about three sizes too small for Riley.
He shook his head. “I didn’t know where it came from, but I figured, maybe… that night, you know? If you could figure out who it belonged to…”
Slowly, she took the shirt from him, staring at it in disbelief. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she said, “I know who it belongs to.”
How could she forget? She’d grabbed a fistful of that shirt to drag him away from another girl. On anyone else, it would’ve been commonplace, but on him…
“What the hell are you wearing?”
“Tryin’ to blend in.”
She clutched the shirt in her hands, digging her fingernails into the fabric until the threads began to separate.
“Buffy?” Riley’s voice snapped her out of her reverie. “Are you okay? What happened? Who was it?”
Buffy just shook her head, unable to voice her suspicions. It couldn’t be; there had to be some mistake. Maybe it was a set-up. Maybe Riley was just jealous, and this was some scheme to turn her against Spike. There was no way, not after everything they’d shared. He couldn’t have been lying to her the whole time he was comforting her, supporting her… making love to her.
He just… couldn’t.
“I need to go,” she said quietly, choking back tears as she pushed past Riley to the door. “I need…”
How she got to the cemetery was a blur, but suddenly she was standing in front of his crypt, her stomach churning like the ocean during a hurricane.
She slammed the door open with a crash, startling him. He leapt out of his chair, muscles tensed to attack, relaxing slightly when he realized it was her. Trembling, she thrust the shirt at him, shoving it into his chest so hard he stumbled backward a step.
“You want to explain this to me?”
Spike looked down at the blue polo in his hands, obviously trying to conceal the unease that bled through his expression. “That my shirt? Haven’t seen it in ages.”
“It was under Riley’s bed,” she gritted out. “You wanna tell me how it got there?”
He glanced up at her, met her gaze, and she knew.
He didn’t even need to say a word; she could see it in his eyes. The guilt, the shame, the dismay.
“You bastard!” she screamed, shoving him backwards with both hands on his chest. “You bastard! How could you?”
She hit him with a punch that whipped his head around, hit him again and again, unleashing all of her fury. She landed a blow that sent him crashing into the TV, knocking it to the ground. The screen shattered and sparks flew out, as Spike landed in a heap of broken glass and plastic.
“Buffy, please!” he panted. “Just – just let me explain!”
“Explain what? I trusted you!” She reached down and grabbed him by the throat, dragging him out of the rubble so that she could hit him again.
“It’s not what you think. I swear to God, Buffy, it’s not –” His head reeled back from the blow, and he spat the blood from his mouth.
Buffy stood a few feet away, eyes blazing, but she didn’t come after him again. “Talk,” she demanded.
Spike nodded, his chest heaving with frantic, instinctive breaths. “I went upstairs, trying to find out more about the Initiative…”
Spike prowled the dark upstairs hallway, ready to dart into the closest hiding place at the first sign of one of the Initiative soldiers. His search had been fruitless, nothing but frat boy bedrooms, and his snooping had gotten him more than an eyeful from one lucky couple. Whatever there was to learn about the Initiative, it wasn’t up here.
He was about ready to give up and go back to the party when his senses suddenly snapped to attention. A frisson of warning went through him as he scented the distinct musk of Slayer behind the door on his right.
Slowly, quietly, he eased the door open. Another bedroom, much like the others, except this one had a familiar fan of blonde curls peeking out from under the covers. At first, he thought she was asleep, but she sat up almost instantly, as though her own senses had sounded some kind of Slayer alarm at his approach.
“Spike?” she asked, squinting at him, idly smoothing down her hair.
“Didn’t mean to disturb, Slayer,” he replied, starting to back out and close the door. The last thing he wanted was to piss her off when she’d been drinking. With his luck, she’d drunkenly decide that whole ‘can’t kill a helpless creature’ argument was just a load of bollocks.
“Spike,” she said again, more sure of herself this time. “Don’t leave.”
He glanced at her uncertainly, only to find a pout on her lips as she slid the covers down and crawled to the foot of the bed.
“Stay with me. Be my friend.”
“Must be tipsy, Slayer,” he said with a slight chuckle. “Wouldn’t be askin’ for that otherwise.”
“Giles told me what you did for him.”
He wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a counter to his statement or just a complete change of subject. “Yeah? Crashed his car, ’s what I did. He tell you I made him pay for the privilege?”
“Giles thinks you have a higher purpose,” she giggled.
He raised an eyebrow. “What do you think?”
Buffy rolled her eyes and scoffed, a delicate snort escaping from her. “Please. Higher purpose? It’s not like you have a soul or anything. Just really bad luck.”
Spike started to protest that Angel wasn’t special just because he had a soul, but he gave it up with a sigh. There was no winning that argument with her. “Bad luck. Got that right,” he said instead. “You know, if it wasn’t for this chip in my head, I wouldn’t even be here.”
“Whatever, Spike. We both know why you’re still here.” She knelt at the edge of the bed and beckoned him closer. When he got within reach, she grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him to her. “You want me.”
“Oh, yeah? What makes you think that?” he asked, trying to appear disinterested. Never mind the hard-on that had his jeans nearly bursting at the seams, listening to her throaty, provocative tone.
“You’ve always wanted me. Every time we fought. You think I didn’t notice?” She leaned into him, her nails scraping lightly down his chest. “The way you look at me, with that hunger in your eyes, that desire.”
“That’s –” He gasped at her touch. “– ’cause I wanted to drain you dry.” Oh, yeah. So going to get staked for this, he thought. No way she’d let him live after witnessing this humiliation.
“Nuh-uh.” She shook her head and let out a tiny giggle. “I know you, Spike.”
“Yeah?” he replied, warming up to the game. If he was going to die, he might as well make the most of it. “Say I do want you… what would you do about it?”
Buffy bit her lip, as though she needed to think about it, or possibly to work up the nerve. Her tongue darted out quickly, running along where her teeth had been. Spike couldn’t tear his eyes away.
Her hands tightened again on his shirt, and she pulled him closer, her lips just brushing his. “I’d do that.”
Spike let out a shaky breath. “Okay, Slayer, you’ve had your fun. Now, why don’t you go sleep this off while I run far, far away?” Or limp away, he added mentally, trying inconspicuously to adjust the front of his jeans. “It’ll give me a nice head start for when you come to kill me tomorrow, yeah?”
If his reluctance registered at all with her, she didn’t let it show. In another apparent non sequitur, she sighed contentedly and said, “Remember when we were engaged?”
“That was a spell, pet.”
She looked almost hurt. “I know, but… didn’t you like it?”
“Was all right,” he admitted grudgingly.
“Remember what we did in Giles’ bathroom?” she asked, with a wicked smile.
Oh, God, did he remember. He groaned as his erection vigorously protested its confinement. “You were quite somethin’, love.”
Buffy casually began playing with the collar of his polo shirt, running her fingers underneath it, and then smoothing it down again, a startlingly domestic gesture. “Do you think we could feel like that again?” she asked him, sounding almost nostalgic. “Without the spell?”
“Is – is that what you want?” Spike was stunned at the question. Even if it was the alcohol talking, what she was suggesting… it was madness. They were mortal enemies, for fuck’s sake.
And yet, wasn’t he still standing here, cock aching for her, skin burning everywhere she touched him, even through the thickness of two shirts, listening to her prattle on about that bloody spell in her breathy, longing voice? Wouldn’t he take it if she offered? Would he pass up a chance to nail the Slayer? This Slayer?
It’s suicide, mate, he told himself.
But what if it wasn’t? What if she meant it? What if he could have her, not as a conquest, a quick fuck or a victorious kill, but as a lover?
Would she allow it, in the morning? In the harsh light of day, once she’d come to her senses, would he be reduced to ashes or would they –
Ashes. Druilla had talked of ashes, said he’d tasted of them. Because of her. Surely, she would be the death of him.
Coming out of his reverie, he found that Buffy was mewling and nuzzling into the crook of his neck. Unwittingly, his arms had wrapped around her, were holding her close against him. For a moment, he soaked up her warmth, breathed in her scent.
“Buffy…” he murmured.
She raised her head, hazel eyes shining with want, and he promptly forgot whatever he was going to say. He could think of nothing except to capture her soft, rosy lips in a fervent kiss. Her hands scrabbled for purchase as he pushed her backwards, making room for him to kneel on the bed beside her. Immediately, she was tugging him down, her legs snaking through his as they landed in a tangled heap of limbs, mouths still fused together.
His thigh slid between hers, enveloped in her heat as she ground herself against him. She let out a moan and began to yank at his clothing, toeing off his shoes. He tore at her clothes in return, not stopping until he’d ripped her thong from her body, dropping the tattered remnants on the floor. Once naked, she arched upward to meet him, her hands clenched in his hair as she pulled his head down for another kiss.
She was slick and eager, and he fit snugly inside, groaning as her muscles began to flex and tighten around him. She clung to him almost desperately, letting out kittenish whimpers of need as he began to thrust.
“This what you want, pet?” he coaxed her. She nodded vigorously. “God, you’re so tight, so hot. You kill me now, pet, and I’ll die a happy man.”
“No,” she murmured. “Would never… want you so – so – unnhhh.” Her words dissolved into a throaty moan. His pelvic bone struck her clit on the downward stroke, and she arched her back, her hips chasing his, begging for more contact.
As they built up toward their release, Spike tried to fight back the feelings of longing, of affection for her. He tried to tell himself it was just for fun, that he was just taking advantage of a golden opportunity, but he knew it was a lie. This was absurdly reckless, and if he valued his hide at all, it wouldn’t be worth the risk.
No, he was here because he craved her, was consumed by her, and had been from the beginning. And not just the Slayer. Her. Drusilla had seen it, had known before he had. Maybe she’d known this would end with Spike’s broken heart, maybe she’d tried to save him from it.
As she reached her climax, Buffy let out a cry, her interior walls spasming around him. He followed right behind, her name on his lips like a prayer.
Their post-coital bliss only lasted for a moment before Spike heard heavy footsteps ascending the stairs. Not wanting to take any chances, he quickly dove for his clothes, scrambling into his jeans and t-shirt. Sneakers in one hand, he kissed Buffy one last time before climbing out the window barefoot. He hovered there for a second, half in and half out, torn between wanting to stay with her and needing to avoid getting caught. With a final sigh and a whispered, “Goodnight, love,” he dropped to the ground.
“You’re telling me we had this amazing, wonderful… thing, and I just can’t seem to remember it?” Buffy demanded, the skepticism evident in her voice. “Why the hell should I believe you? How do I know you’re not just making this up?”
There was really no good reason she should, and he knew it. “What does your gut tell you, Buffy?” he pleaded. “You know how I feel about you – all this time, couldn’t have faked that, could I?”
She wanted to believe him, desperately. But she knew how much the rape had unconsciously affected her – her instinctive revulsion at being touched, the sense of panic she felt at the thought of Riley’s bedroom, the nightmares – and she knew it was more than just a matter of drawing the wrong conclusion.
“You really think I could’ve forced you, pet?” Spike insisted. “Even if I wanted to, the chip in my head wouldn’t let me.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” she asked, rubbing her forehead anxiously, unwilling to leave any detail unquestioned. “If it was so consensual, why didn’t you tell the truth when I asked you the first time?”
“Would you have believed me then? If I’d tried to tell you what happened, you’d have staked me before I could get the explanation out.”
She knew he was right. Before they’d gotten close, she never would have believed that it could be consensual. She never could have imagined herself giving in to him. But now…
“I wanted to say something,” Spike said, begging her with his eyes to accept his words as true. “Buffy, that… what we did… It changed everything for me. I wanted more than anything to see if you… if you’d consider… but then you burst in here, talking about rape, and I knew I couldn’t tell you without you getting the wrong idea.”
“So you misled me?” she retorted, tears welling up in her eyes. “You acted like you were trying to help! Like I’d be able to find out who did this to me, when really it was you!”
Her words dissolved into sobs, and Spike instinctively moved to pull her into his arms, to comfort her, only to be shoved away violently.
“I’m sorry,” he tried again, catching her by the upper arms, forcing her to look at him. “Buffy, you have to believe – I’m so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you.”
She froze, staring at him, hearing the words without them registering. She was too focused on the position of his hands, and the memory it had just sparked… a memory of that morning, waking up to find bruises in the exact place he was holding her now.
“Did the chip fire?” she asked him abruptly.
“What? No, of course not. Why would it –”
“You said you couldn’t hurt me, because of the chip,” she explained, her voice still rough with tears as she tried to staunch the twin waves of horror and relief that were swelling at her sudden insight. “But I had bruises the next day, which means I must’ve been held down pretty hard.”
“The chip never fired,” he insisted. “And there weren’t any bruises on you when I…”
He trailed off as their eyes met, Buffy’s cold and hard with realization.
“Someone else was in the room that night.”
Buffy swiped angrily at the tears sliding down her cheeks as she stalked through the cemetery. It was still light out, so she didn’t have to worry about Spike pursuing her. Despite his desperate pleas for her to hear him out, she’d left him stranded in his crypt, knowing he wouldn’t be able to follow. She couldn’t bear to be with him for even a second longer, and she could not let him see her cry.
Why did this always happen to her? Why did every guy she slept with turn out to be evil afterwards? Although, technically, Spike was already evil, but she’d let herself trust him, accepted his comfort, given him her heart… only to find out afterwards that he’d lied to her, that all along he’d known everything and had let her go on in ignorance, perpetuating his cruel charade of helping her. It was a small comfort to know that her trauma had come from someone else, but right now any relief she might have felt was overshadowed by Spike’s betrayal.
God, I was an idiot. All that ‘feel like we’ve done this before’ bullshit. How stupid could I be? And he just played along and never said a word –
She dropped to her knees and vomited on the grass. Resting her forehead against a gravestone, she couldn’t help remembering when Spike had come upon her in this very position. After all these weeks, all the strides she’d made in her recovery, she was right back where she’d started.
A broken sob escaped her, but suddenly anger flared up, and she tore the gravestone out of the ground and threw it across the cemetery with an anguished cry, feeling a small sense of release as it shattered against a crypt wall. She wanted to hit something, wanted to beat up demons until she was too worn out to lift her arms. But it was still too early for vampires to be out, so she pounded her fists into the wall until the cement was cracked and crumbling.
Willow was waiting when she finally made it back to the dorm. “Buffy, what happened?” she cried, leaping off her bed as soon as Buffy came through the door. “Riley said you were upset about something and ran off – what…” She trailed off, catching sight of Buffy’s tear-stained face and vacant expression. “Buffy? Buffy, what’s wrong?”
Without responding, Buffy leaned back against the closed door as though she needed its support to stand, staring sightlessly across the room.
“Buffy, did something happen?” Willow persisted, getting more and more panicky with every second that Buffy didn’t speak. “Oh, God – is someone dead?”
She managed to shake her head at that, bringing her trembling hands up to run them through her hair, allowing Willow to glimpse her bruised and bloodied knuckles.
“Was there a fight?” she asked, grasping Buffy’s hands to take a closer look. “Buffy, please, talk to me.”
“Spike,” she finally whispered. “He lied to me, Will. He – he lied about everything.”
Willow’s eyes widened with sudden comprehension. “Oh, God. Oh, Buffy,” she said sympathetically, her heart breaking for her friend as she pulled Buffy into her arms. “I’m so sorry, sweetie.”
Buffy lost it then, falling to the floor and dragging Willow with her, seized with uncontrollable sobs. Her small frame heaved and shuddered with the force of her grief, shaking within Willow’s embrace.
Once Buffy had cried herself out, Willow gently helped her into her pajamas and tucked her into bed.
“Will?” she asked plaintively. “Could you… stay with me?”
Willow nodded, and Buffy slid over to make room for her in the narrow twin. Pulling Buffy’s head down on her shoulder, Willow stroked her hair and murmured soothing reassurances until she finally drifted off to sleep.
When Buffy awoke the next morning, she couldn’t figure out why she was so stiff and achy all over, or why she was huddled on the edge of the bed against the wall. She shifted slightly, bumping into Willow’s slumbering form, and it dislodged all the painful memories she’d been suppressing while she slept. She let out an audible gasp, startling Willow from her sleep.
“I didn’t mean to lose the caterpillars,” she mumbled. “Oh! Buffy… you’re… hi.” Once she got over her own confusion, she asked, “So, um, how are you feeling?”
“Like the floor just dropped out from under me.”
“Aww, Buffy…” Willow made her sympathetic frowny face again. “We could go down to the Rocket Café and get pancakes,” she suggested, remembering how giddy and happy Buffy had been the last time they’d done that, back when her relationship with Riley was new and things were looking up. “Pancakes make everything better, right? All the syrupy goodness, and – and they’re stackable –”
“No, I’m – I’m okay,” Buffy said. “I just… He lied to me, and he broke my heart, and it’s over.” She said the words almost as though she were trying to convince herself. “I’m not – I can’t cry over this anymore. I just have to accept that Spike’s not… who I thought he was.”
“Look, you don’t have to –”
“No, I do, Will. I need to – I need to be strong. There’s still another rapist out there, and I’m gonna find out who it is. This thing with Spike, it’s just a – a distraction.”
Willow blinked. “What? I thought… last night you said…”
“It’s… complicated,” Buffy admitted, as she proceeded to fill her in on what Spike had confessed about the night of the party.
“And you believe him when he says it’s consensual?” Willow asked when she was finished.
“I have to. If I don’t, I…” She shook her head. “I couldn’t bear it. I can’t – I can’t even think about that, not after everything we…” She covered her mouth with her hand, looking for a moment like she might cry again. But then she took a deep, calming breath, steadying herself, and the moment passed. “I can do this.”
Despite her insistence on being strong, Buffy still found herself with a lot of tension and aggression she needed to work off, so she made her way to the campus fitness center first thing that morning. With her hands wrapped up to keep her from ripping her knuckles to shreds again, she set upon one of the punching bags and began to whale on it, taking out all of her fury and frustration.
She was beyond caring about appearances, didn’t even bother to conceal her abnormal strength in the presence of her fellow students. She unleashed her full slayer power, fueled by rage and pain and betrayal, hitting the bag with such force that she knocked it clear off the chain and sent it sailing several feet until it bounced off the wall.
“Wow, you’re really strong.”
Buffy spun around to see Cindy Pritchard standing off to the side, clearly hesitant to approach her. “Yeah, it’s, um… I work out a lot. I’ll totally pay for that,” she added hurriedly, glancing at the broken punching bag with dismay.
“I… really don’t care,” Cindy replied with a nervous laugh. “Listen, um, the reason I came over is… there’s no easy way to say this, but I’ve heard some things, you know, about you… about that party…”
“What, and you believe everything you hear?” Buffy snapped. Tearing angrily at the dressings on her hands, she started to stalk away, but Cindy caught her by the arm.
“There’s a support group on campus,” she said quietly, holding out a slip of paper with a place and time written in loopy script. “If you’re interested.”
Taken aback, Buffy stared at the paper for a long moment before raising her eyes to Cindy’s face. “I – I didn’t – I thought –”
“What? You thought I was a slut? That I caught an STD sleeping around?”
Buffy dropped her gaze shamefully.
“It’s okay. It’s easier to let people believe that than to tell them the truth.” She showed no sign of being offended by Buffy’s judgment, and leaned in confidentially, lowering her voice. “The truth is, I was raped by four Pi Sig brothers as part of a hazing stunt.” Holding out the piece of paper again, she gave a disinterested shrug that belied her tragic admission. “Anyway, we’re here, if you wanna stop by.”
This time, Buffy took the slip, too thunderstruck to respond. Cindy glanced behind them at the punching bag, and then back at Buffy. “It gets easier,” she said, taking a step backwards as she started to walk away. “I’ll see you around.”
With a small wave, she turned and left Buffy standing in the midst of the training room, contemplating this startling revelation.
He’d really done it this time. Buggered things up but good.
God, I’m an idiot. Should’ve told her right from the start. Should’ve been honest that day, when she came to the crypt, and then… yeah, would’ve gotten staked without a second thought.
Not that he didn’t think he deserved it right now.
He’d thought he felt as guilty as a soulless vampire could feel, hiding this from her for all those weeks, the inner struggle amplifying the more he fell for her. But the longer he let it go on, he only got trapped deeper in his web of deception. He knew she’d be furious if she found out, would probably never speak to him again, and as they started to grow closer, as she learned to trust him, as he began to love her, it became impossible for him to bear the thought of losing her.
So, he had been selfish, thinking he could have her, could love her, without paying the price. But all of the guilt and all of the shame he’d carried these long weeks was nothing compared to what he felt now. The look of sheer betrayal in her eyes haunted him, burned into his memory. Every time he closed his eyes he saw her pressing the shirt into his chest, beneath the fury silently begging him to tell her something else, anything, any explanation but the one she already knew in her heart was true. Over and over, he saw her face falling as he was unable to deny it, her mouth contorting in pain and regret just before the fists started flying.
The violence was easy to take. He’d been getting beaten up by the Slayer for years. But that look. That look slew him better than any stake.
He wanted to go to her. He wanted to explain, to profess his love and swear on his own grave that he never intended to hurt her.
But every time he thought about seeking her out, he closed his eyes and saw that look.
“Hey, Buffy! Wait up!”
She turned to see Riley jogging across the quad, and it was just another in a crushing series of déjà vu moments, reminding her of how things used to be, before the rape, before she’d gotten involved with Spike. Maybe she’d been wrong, and Riley was really the good guy after all. Maybe she’d been foolish to let things deteriorate between them. Maybe if Spike hadn’t been around…
She slowed to let him catch up to her, exchanging hellos with a tight smile.
Riley shifted nervously, reluctant to broach the subject. “So, you, uh, find out who that shirt belonged to?”
“Yeah, uh… it was Spike’s.” At Riley’s dark look, she quickly added, “But – but he didn’t… that is, it was… consensual.” She cringed as she said it, realizing what she was admitting to. Why was she bothering to defend Spike anyway?
“Consensual?” Riley repeated, obviously pissed. “So – so you agreed to have sex with a vampire? You agreed to cheat on me? All that talk about rape –”
“It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t thinking straight…”
“Yeah, I’ll say. I can’t believe you let that… thing touch you!”
“He’s not a thing, Riley! He’s a person – the only person who’s been there for me through this whole mess.” No matter how angry she was at him, she couldn’t deny how much Spike had helped her get through those first awful weeks.
“Yeah, because he caused it,” Riley retorted. “You ever think about that while you’re making excuses for him? You never would’ve suffered at all if he hadn’t put his filthy paws on you.” Buffy looked away, unable to respond. “I tried, Buffy. I tried to be understanding, tried to be there for you, but every time I looked at you, all I could see is you fucking him!”
At his words, she suddenly turned cold. “What did you say?”
Riley’s eyes widened, realizing he’d slipped up. “Buffy –”
“No.” Buffy shook her head. “You just said… You knew about Spike, before I told you.” Her shocked gaze met his. “All this time, you knew who it was. How?”
“There are cameras,” Riley began. “Initiative surveillance cameras, all over Lowell House, including the bedrooms. After you told Graham what happened, he and Forrest had the idea to check the tape from that night –”
“And you kept it from me?” Buffy interrupted, giving his shoulder a hard shove. “When I was going crazy trying to find out what happened to me?”
“Spike didn’t say anything, either.”
“This isn’t about Spike!” she cried, nearly hysterical. “This is about you and me. You were my boyfriend – how could you say you care about me and not tell me you had a tape?”
“I wanted to take care of it myself!” He shook his head. “God, Buffy, do you know what it did to me, seeing that tape? I wanted so badly to believe it was rape, to believe that you wouldn’t cheat on me, but then seeing you with him… I couldn’t keep fooling myself. And I wanted to kill Spike for doing it.”
“So, that’s it,” Buffy said, the pieces starting to come together. “That’s why the Initiative has been coming after Spike. It wasn’t about recovering research or valuable technology. It was you and your vendetta.”
“Oh, and you wouldn’t have wanted to kill him if you thought he’d raped you?”
“Of course I would!” she retorted. “Which is why you should’ve told me what you knew!”
“Well, I probably would have, if you hadn’t been all over Spike all the time! It was like I saw that tape, and the next thing I knew, you two were best buddies, and you were going out of your way to protect him. What was I supposed to think, Buffy? And after I had defended you! The guys all thought I was a fool, that you were playing me, but I told them I trusted you. And clearly, I was wrong.”
“So you decided I really was a slut after all. Well, thanks so much!” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You know, if your so-called friends hadn’t drugged me in the first place, none of this would’ve happened!”
“You think I don’t know that?” he snapped back. “I was furious with them for what they did! But it wasn’t just… I mean, come on, Buffy. Look me in the eye and tell me you never had any feelings for Spike.” Without giving her a chance to deny it, he barreled on. “I could see it – anybody could see it. All that drug did was bring out what was already there.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” Buffy pleaded. “We could’ve talked this out, Riley. And if you’d just been honest with me instead of this passive-aggressive crap, then I would’ve known about the tape weeks ago!”
“Why do you care so much about the tape? Spike could’ve told you the day after it happened, but you’re not –”
“Because someone else raped me!” Buffy burst out, her voice breaking. “After Spike left… there was someone else, and that tape may be the only proof.”
Riley stared at her in shock. “What?”
“Riley, I need to see that tape.”
At one time, getting to see the Initiative for the first time would’ve been a big deal, and Buffy knew that she ought to be fascinated by the pure size and scope of the underground facility, but she was too focused on the task at hand to even bother taking in the details. She and Riley rode the elevator down in silence, and he briskly escorted her through the maze of corridors, past countless soldiers giving her strange looks, everything from surprise and confusion to downright derision. She figured the latter were the ones who’d heard about her.
Riley led her into a small room with several video feeds playing on a wall of monitors. “Agent Michaels,” he greeted the soldier manning the station.
“Agent Finn, sir!” he replied, leaping to his feet and snapping to attention.
“At ease,” Riley commanded. “This is Buffy Summers. We need to check out some archived security footage.” As he rattled off the specifics, the junior officer hastily began typing on his computer, and one of the screens went blank. A moment later, a picture flickered into view, showing Riley’s empty bedroom.
Buffy blanched, finally faced with the truth she’d waited so long and worked so hard to find. She glanced uneasily at Agent Michaels, a stranger witness to her most shameful moment. Noting her discomfort, Riley dismissed the other soldier, giving them a little privacy in which to view the tape. She wanted to ask to watch it alone, but she knew Riley would insist on staying.
They watched as Xander escorted Buffy into the room, tucked her into the bed, and left, closing the door behind him. The video had no sound, but the visual was more than adequate for their purposes. A little while later, the door opened again, and they saw Spike come in the room.
Buffy let out an involuntary gasp at the image. She’d heard the whole story from Spike, of course, but seeing it in black and white on the screen, it became that much more real to her. She felt a perverse desire to watch their entire interaction, to see if what Spike had said was true, but before she could speak, Riley said coldly, “I don’t need to see that again.”
Buffy ducked her head in shame as he fast forwarded until she was alone again. Then the picture abruptly went black.
“Wait, go back,” Buffy said. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Riley replied, puzzled. He played the video forwards and backwards, but it refused to play beyond Spike’s departure out the window. Calling Agent Michaels back into the room, he demonstrated the problem once again.
“What’s the matter?” Buffy asked. “Why won’t it play?”
“That’s all there is, ma’am. Recording’s been erased after that.”
Riley and Buffy exchanged a suspicious glance. “Who ordered that?” he demanded.
The soldier began typing on the computer again, pulling up the log. “Special Agent Gates, sir.”
Buffy’s stomach dropped. “Forrest?”
“He’s the one who showed me the tape of you and Spike in the first place,” Riley told her, his eyes wide with realization.
“Probably to throw you off his scent.”
Their eyes met in mutual understanding. “We have to find him.”
Without another word to the soldier on duty, they tore out of the security room and down the hall. Buffy was following Riley’s lead, having no idea where she was going or how to find Forrest. She found it easier to mindlessly follow, anyway, because her brain was still stuck on processing this revelation. Forrest, her rapist. Riley’s best friend. He’d never seemed to like her, sure, but this? It seemed unfathomable that it was someone she knew, someone Riley had trusted… but in the back of her mind, she was repeating all the statistics her counselor had told her about the likelihood that the person who’d assaulted her was a friend or acquaintance.
She was still trying to wrap her mind around it when Riley skidded to a stop, flinging open the door to what looked like a rec room. Forrest was there, seated at a table along with four other soldiers, playing poker. All five of them glanced up at the commotion, and Buffy found herself studying Forrest’s reaction for any sign of guilt or suspicion when he saw her.
She was sorely disappointed, as he only displayed the typical surprise at seeing Riley burst in with the Slayer hot on his heels. Riley didn’t give him a chance to speak, upending the card table and sending cards and chips scattering across the room. “Get out,” he growled in warning to the other soldiers. They did as they were told, hastily making their exit.
“What the fuck, Riley?” Forrest protested, getting up from his chair indignantly.
Buffy immediately shoved him back down with one strong hand on his chest. “That was pretty much my question, you asshole.” She gripped him by the throat and demanded, “Why the hell did you rape me?”
“You’re insane!” he choked out. “Riley, tell your freak of an ex to get her hands off me.”
“Not until she gets the answers she’s looking for,” Riley replied, crossing his arms over his chest and stepping back to let Buffy run the show.
“You erased the security tape,” she said, in an attempt to prove to Forrest that he’d already lost. “You convinced Riley that it was all Spike’s fault, to cover up the fact that you raped me. I know you did it. I wanna know why.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you psycho bitch!” Forrest struggled against her grip, but he was no match for the Slayer. “Riley, you actually believe this shit? Come on, man. Call off Supergirl and let’s talk about this.”
“No,” Buffy replied. “I’m done talking.” She let go of Forrest and took a step back, bringing her leg up in a sweeping kick that knocked him out of his chair and sent him flying across the room.
He staggered to his feet and returned the blow with a punch that was easily deflected. Buffy whipped her arm across his face, hitting him with a fierce backhand that left him bleeding from the nose and mouth. With another powerful kick, she sent him sprawling across the pool table, balls flying off in every direction. There was a distinct snapping of bone as he landed, and Forrest rolled off the table clutching one arm.
“Buffy,” Riley said, a slight warning in his tone. “Be careful. We mere humans are fragile.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, glancing back at him. “I won’t give him any more than he deserves – unngh!”
While she was distracted, Forrest came up behind her and managed to deliver a solid side kick, knocking her off her feet and shoving her into Riley. They went down like dominos, giving Forrest a chance to sprint for the door and escape from the room.
“Damn it!” Buffy exclaimed, disentangling herself from Riley and then offering him a hand up. The two of them set off in pursuit, with Riley again in the lead. Buffy knew that she could easily catch up to Forrest on a straightaway, but she was at a significant disadvantage not knowing the layout of the underground facility, which was a veritable labyrinth of corridors and side rooms. She had to rely on Riley’s familiarity with the floor plan, as well as his knowledge of his friend, in order to predict where Forrest had gone, when they couldn’t always keep him in sight.
After chasing him through a series of rooms that appeared to be used for various types of experimentation that Buffy couldn’t afford to get upset about at the moment, Forrest led them into a corridor that was lined on both sides with sterile white cells, each one containing a different species of demon behind an invisible force field. Buffy would’ve taken a second to stop and marvel at the sight, but Forrest was just disappearing out the far exit as they burst through the door at the opposite end of the hallway.
Buffy sprinted to the other door, but Forrest had locked it behind him. “Shit!” she cried, tugging futilely on the handle. “Riley!”
Slightly out of breath from the chase, Riley jogged up and input a security code on the electronic panel. He tried the door again, but it still wouldn’t open. “He’s overriding the system. I can’t get us out.”
Simultaneously, they ran back to the door where they’d come in, only to find it locked as well. “Come on!” Buffy said. “There has to be some kind of manual override code or something.”
“Hang on, I gotta think.” In a panic, Riley tried to mentally sift through his various security codes, trying to come up with the right one.
“We don’t have time!” she replied. “Just try anything!”
“Buffy, don’t!” he said, reaching out in a vain attempt to catch her arm as she pushed past him. She was stronger than him, of course, and managed to shake him off and began inputting random codes.
“Stop that!” He pulled her away from the security panel. “If you try too many wrong ones, it’ll lock down,” he explained. “And then we’ll never get out of here.”
“Then hurry! He’s getting away.”
“Okay, okay, okay.” Riley took a deep breath and entered in a four-digit code. When nothing happened, he tried another. This time, the electronic panel immediately turned red and began flashing.
“Uh, I don’t think that’s what’s supposed to happen,” Buffy said.
“No,” he agreed. “We can try the other door again, but I’m still just guessing on the –”
He abruptly fell silent as the force fields keeping the demons in their cells suddenly deactivated all at once.
Buffy uneasily glanced down at herself, and then at Riley, both of them unarmed. “Well, that can’t be good.”
“Did I do that?” Buffy asked nervously, watching the demons as they slowly began to approach the now-missing fourth wall of their cages and test the force fields. “Please tell me I didn’t do that.”
“No,” Riley assured her. “Forrest must’ve done it from outside.”
Her eyes widened. “He’s trying to kill us.”
He would have responded, but just then the first demon decided they were a threat – or possibly dinner – and charged at Buffy. She blocked the attack, but it didn’t deter the demon, and more were headed their way.
“Weapons?” Buffy shouted desperately. “Any kind of weapons at all?”
“Hang on!” Spinning back to the locked door, Riley aimed a kick at the emergency glass panel in the wall next to it. He reached through the shattered glass and pulled out a stun gun and six charges. Loading the first one, he fired, taking out a big bear-like demon that was lumbering toward Buffy, who was still preoccupied with the first one that had attacked her.
He reloaded, but before he had time to take aim, something black, scaly, and winged flew through the air at him, catching him by the shoulders and knocking him to the ground. He kicked and struggled, but the flying demon had him pinned with the sharp claws on its six feet.
Buffy managed to snap the neck of her demon, only to be swarmed by three hissing, spitting, lizardy things. Their saliva stung where it hit her skin, and left sizzling little holes any time it landed on her clothes.
“Great,” she muttered, keeping them at bay with a series of wild, spinning kicks. “Couldn't have been the chipped ones, huh? Oh, no, too easy.” She didn’t know how she could possibly kill them without getting within spitting range when she was weaponless, not to mention the other demons that were starting to congregate around them. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to want to get too close to the spitters, either.
She nearly slipped in blood, and she glanced down to see another demon with a mouthful of sharp, jagged fangs ripping apart the corpse Buffy had left on the floor. A scavenger of some kind, he was more preoccupied with tearing the flesh off the body of his fellow demon than he was with fighting her, for which she was truly thankful.
Riley whipped his head back and forth, trying to avoid the sharp beak that was slashing at his face and chest, leaving jagged cuts wherever it made contact. After much struggling, he finally managed to pull his weapon arm loose of the demon’s claws. He knew he could take the shot, but the current would travel right through the demon where it was touching him and electrocute him along with it. Figuring he had no choice, he braced himself for the shock and fired the stun gun directly into the demon’s soft belly. They both convulsed, and the demon let out a high-pitched screech before collapsing on top of Riley’s limp form.
Seeing this, Buffy quickly grabbed the scavenger demon and tossed it into the circle of acid spitters to keep them occupied. As it shrieked in pain, she fell to her knees and shoved the winged carcass off Riley.
“Riley? Riley!” she cried, patting his face until he regained consciousness.
“I’m all right. Demon took the worst of it,” he replied, trembling slightly as he glanced down at his bloodstained shirt. She helped him to his feet just in time for them to spin in opposite directions to avoid the charge of a horned demon coming at them pointy end first. Buffy managed to take it down with a well-place kick, while Riley took another shot, knocking out one of the spitters.
“We’ve gotta get to the other door,” he told Buffy, fending off a vampire by cold-cocking him with the gun. “I can try the keypad over there, see if I can get us out.”
Buffy gazed down the seemingly endless hallway, their path littered with snarling, angry demons who’d been kept locked up and probably starving for who knew how long. “Go. I’ll cover you,” she replied, snapping the neck of the one she was fighting and moving on to the next.
Riley took out two more demons with the stun gun, but then opted to fight hand-to-hand, knowing he only had one shot left. The blows hit him hard, and he was starting to feel the effect of the blood loss from the gashes on his chest. Behind him, Buffy was unleashing her martial arts skills on two vampires simultaneously. Other than their current opponents, only the two spitters were left standing, although the big bear-like thing Riley had tasered first was already starting to wake up. He knew the electric shocks wouldn’t incapacitate the demons for long, so he quickly got to work on unlocking the door.
Not used to fighting vampires without at least a stake, Buffy hopped on the back of one in order to get the best grip to tear his head off. He exploded into dust, sending her plummeting back to the floor at the feet of a very growly bear who’d just come out of electricity-induced hibernation. She quickly rolled away, sweeping her leg out to trip one of the spitters, hissing in pain as drips of acid burned through her pants. Kipping to her feet, she sprang into ready position, spinning around to find that she was surrounded by four demons, at least two of which had recently awoken from their tasering.
She went for the weakest one first, a petite, green being that looked like he might have been friendly, had he not been locked in a cell with nothing to eat. As it was, he was slavering at the sight of Buffy, and she quickly dispatched him with a feint and a follow-up kick to the neck that snapped his spine.
Although the other demons were still advancing on her, she’d managed to get on the other side of them, so that there was nothing between her and the door. “Riley, how’s it coming?” she threw over her shoulder.
“Got it!” he shouted triumphantly, as the door emitted a mechanical beeping sound and a whoosh like it had just depressurized. “Come on!”
Backing away a few more steps with her eyes on the demons, Buffy finally turned and sprinted for the door, only to feel the burning sprinkle of acid on her back. She cried out, bursting past the threshold as Riley took aim, felling the spitter just short of the door. He slammed it shut behind her and quickly locked down the room.
They both fell back against the door, exhausted. Riley slid down to the ground, gasping as the adrenaline began to wear off and the pain from his injuries fully registered.
“Riley, are you okay?” Buffy asked him, concerned. She wanted to run off after Forrest, but she couldn’t leave Riley behind if he was hurt. Besides, Forrest had a massive head start by now, and she’d never be able to find him on her own.
“I gotta get back-up down here to deal with this.” He struggled to get to his feet, but he quickly slumped back down, his military decorum disintegrating as the gravity of the situation caught up with him. “Holy shit. Holy shit, Buffy. Forrest –”
“Forrest tried to kill us,” she finished for him. “He locked us in there to get rid of us, which means he’s guilty and he’s covering his tracks. I have to find him before he gets away.”
“Where would he go?” Riley gasped.
“I was hoping you would know that.”
“Okay,” he said, running a frustrated hand through his hair. “Uh… loose ends… Graham? You think he’d go after Graham?”
“Unless they’re in on it together, in which case he’d go to warn him,” Buffy replied. “Either way, it’s our best shot.”
“Okay, he should be – shit, I don’t know – I think he has training exercises now.”
“Will you be okay here?” She knew she’d make better time on her own, since Riley was in no condition to continue the chase. When he gave her an affirmative nod, she asked, “How do I get there?”
After getting directions from Riley, Buffy sprinted away, shaking off the previous battle and psyching herself up for the next one. Muttering the lefts and rights under her breath, she made her way through the Initiative corridors, each lined with locked doors leading to what Riley had told her were labs for HST experimentation. The hallways were all white and sterile, and she left bloody footprints on the floor as she ran.
She’d just started to get used to the monotony when she noticed one of the doors standing open, but no Initiative personnel around guarding the darkened room. It seemed suspicious that a door would be left unlocked when no one was using the lab, so on a hunch, she slowed to a halt and peered inside. Not for the first time in her slaying career, she envied vampires their enhanced senses. With her normal human ones, she could neither see nor hear anyone in the room.
She crept stealthily across the threshold, until she realized that she was clearly illuminated by the light from the hallway to anyone who might be lurking inside. “Hello?” she said hesitantly. “Forrest?”
As soon as she’d cleared the doorway, the door automatically slammed shut behind her, and the lights flickered on, revealing Forrest across the room, his broken arm hanging limp at his side. Between them was what appeared to be an operating table, as well as a rolling cart with various surgical implements on it.
“Summers,” he said disdainfully. “Here to throw more wild accusations my way?”
“Well, I’m thinking I can add ‘attempted homicide’ to the list of your crimes,” she replied, edging carefully toward him. “Clever, though. Setting us up to get killed by demons rather than doing it yourself. This entire place is wired, right? Even the bedrooms. So anything you do will be caught on camera.” She gave him her sternest expression. “You might want to think about that before you try anything.”
Forrest smiled. “One step ahead of you.”
She followed his gaze to the ceiling-mounted security cameras, which had been smashed and the wires cut.
“Walked right into a trap,” he said, making his way around the operating table. Buffy circled the room in step with him, not yet ready to engage him in a fight.
“I just took down a dozen demons at once. You really think you can take me on?”
Forrest reached behind his back and pulled out a gun, aiming it at her. “I don’t think you’re faster than a speeding bullet, Supergirl.”
“Why?” Buffy insisted, as they continued their tense revolution. “Why did you rape me?”
“A cup of coffee,” he replied, letting out a humorless laugh. “It was all because of a freakin’ cup of coffee. I didn’t plan it or anything,” he told her, his aim never wavering. “A buddy of mine was manning the cameras that night, asked me to bring him something to keep him awake. I get down there, and what do I see? Hostile 17 fucking my best friend’s girl – in his own fucking bed!”
His calm demeanor was starting to crack, and Buffy tensed, readying herself to make a move, even as his words threatened to break through her own hardened shell.
“And you liked it, you little slut! You were like a fucking cat in heat, with a vampire, of all things!”
“So you decided you wanted your turn, too, is that it?” she shot back, her voice trembling.
“I didn’t go up there for you,” he said defensively. “Went up there to kill the undead bastard, but he was gone by the time I got there. Then you start bitching at me for interrupting, and when I try to shut you up, you start hitting me and shit! Had to subdue you somehow.”
“By raping me?!”
He shrugged. “Like I said, didn’t plan it. But if you’re gonna go around spreading your legs for anyone that comes along, you gotta figure someone’s gonna teach you a lesson.”
A furious, wordless scream escaped her as she launched herself over the operating table at Forrest. In a panic, he managed to get off a shot, hitting her in the arm, but it didn’t slow her down. Heedless of her injury, she tackled him to the floor, sending the gun skittering across the white tile. Skilled combat giving way to a feral, anger-fueled attack, she pounded on him wildly, tears of rage streaming down her cheeks.
Had she been thinking, had she been strategic and disciplined in her attack, Forrest wouldn’t have stood a chance against her. But her haphazard blows left her open and vulnerable, and he was able to land a punch right on her gunshot wound, causing her to recoil in pain. He managed to buck her off, sending her crashing into the wheeled cart.
Surgical implements cascaded to the floor, and she narrowly avoided being impaled by one of them. She snatched up a scalpel and threw it with perfect aim, hitting Forrest in the back as he ran for his gun. With a cry, he stumbled, but managed to recover his weapon.
Buffy leapt to her feet, another sharp instrument in her hand, only to find Forrest once again with his gun trained on her. He was only a few yards away, and as a trained marksman, could easily kill her with a single shot at close range. She froze, her own weapon raised to throw.
“Drop it,” Forrest commanded, taking a step closer.
She did as she was told, and the blade clattered to the floor. “Look, Forrest, you don’t have to do this. You made a mistake, okay? We can – we can –”
She heard the sound of the hammer cocking back.
“You and Riley aren’t gonna just let this go,” he said. “He’s too fucking honorable, and you? You’d kill me right here if you had the chance.”
“No, Forrest, I –”
A shot rang out.
Buffy gasped and looked past Forrest’s crumpled form to where Graham was standing in the doorway, tranquilizer gun in hand as he stared down at his unconscious friend.
“You okay?” he asked her, lowering his weapon as he cautiously stepped into the room.
She glanced at her upper arm, where the bullet was still lodged in her flesh. “I’ll be all right. What about him?”
“He’ll be out for a little while.” Graham bent down to pick up the gun Forrest had dropped, and then hesitated. “Listen, I wouldn’t blame you, if you wanted to…”
Buffy looked down at him, remembering the fury that had coursed through her during their fight. She thought about how easy it would be to snap his neck, or to take the gun from Graham and pull the trigger, to end this right here. He deserved it, and she was owed justice for what had happened to her.
“No,” she said, turning away and walking slowly out the door. Without looking back, she said, “Call it in to Walsh, or whoever. I’m a Slayer, not a killer.”
It was well after dark by the time Buffy left Lowell House, trudging across campus back to her dorm room. She could scarcely believe that it had only been that afternoon when she’d confronted Riley on the quad and learned about the tape. It felt like a lifetime ago.
Despite her protestations and assurances of accelerated slayer healing, Graham had insisted that she be taken to the Initiative infirmary so they could take care of her gunshot wound. The doctors had removed the bullet and put her arm in a sling, but she figured she wouldn’t need to use it longer than a day or so. Riley had also been taken to the infirmary, and he’d been stable by the time she was allowed in to see him. He was pretty banged up, and he’d lost a lot of blood, but none of his injuries were life-threatening.
There were a lot of questions, of course, and she’d had to give a statement to one of the soldiers, about both the rape and Forrest’s subsequent attempts to kill her. Even though she’d known in the back of her mind that this day might come, that if she ever found her rapist, she’d have to hand him over to the authorities and go through the formalities the law required, she still wasn’t quite prepared to tell her story to a dispassionate stranger concerned with “just the facts.”
It was reassuring, of course, that Riley and Graham were willing to back up everything she said. She knew they were both shocked and horrified at the turn of events, but they had seen the lengths Forrest was willing to go to keep Buffy from talking, and they had no illusions that he was the same guy they thought they knew.
Lost in her thoughts, Buffy was almost at Stevenson Hall when a familiar figure suddenly crossed her path. She stopped in her tracks, valiantly resisting the surge of longing that flared up at the sight of him, narrowing her eyes in steely disapproval.
“Buffy,” Spike said, a hopeful look on his face. His expression grew grave, however, when he caught sight of the sling and scented her blood in the air. “You’re hurt.”
“What are you doing here, Spike?” she asked tiredly.
“On my way to see you. Are you all right? What happened?” He reached out to ghost his fingers over the bandage on her arm, only to have her jerk away angrily. He dropped his hand and nodded as though he’d expected her rejection. “Look, Buffy, I know that what I did was wrong –”
“No,” she interrupted him, shaking her head and holding up her good hand. “I can’t do this right now.”
“Buffy, please –”
“I mean it, Spike! I’m tired, and I’m sore, and I’ve just been through hell, so unless you’re looking for a beat down, just leave me the fuck alone. I don’t want to hear what you have to say.”
“I’m sorry,” he tried, unable to just give up and let her go. “Buffy, really, I’m –”
“Goodbye, Spike,” she said pointedly, walking away from him without looking back. He didn’t follow her into the dorm.
Willow was at the library, according to the note on her desk, and Buffy was grateful for the solitude. Tearing off the neat bandages the Initiative doctor had put on her arm, she stripped out of her clothes and wrapped herself in a towel, padding down the hall to the girls’ bathroom. The hot shower eased her aching muscles and washed away the sweat and grime and demon blood. Little red burns were visible where the spitting demons’ acid had touched her skin, and her limbs were bruised from blocking kicks and punches.
Physically and emotionally exhausted, she fell into bed without bothering to put on pajamas or put a fresh bandage on her arm, her wet hair dampening the pillow. She was out cold by the time Willow got home.
Spike was very, very drunk.
He considered it a success, really, since his goal had been to get so smashed that he couldn’t remember his own name, let alone how badly he’d screwed up with Buffy. After receiving a rebuff of his attempted apology, he’d headed back to his crypt to drown his sorrows, but even after draining every bottle he had stashed, he still found himself merely wading in the shallow end. Needing something stronger to dull the pain, he’d dragged himself to Willy’s and parked himself at the bar, running up a tab he couldn’t pay drinking pure grain alcohol. It was technically illegal in California, but that was the least of his worries.
“I’m scum,” he pouted to Willy, who seemed not the least bit interested. “I’m the filthiest scum that ever walked th’ earth, an’ I oughta go up to Buffy an’ tell ’er to stake me.”
“If it’ll shut you up, I’m all for that,” grumbled the Kznennitz demon nursing a beer next to him.
“Oughta go right up to ’er, yeah,” Spike went on, as though he hadn’t heard the demon. “Right on up with a – with my chest bared. Do your worst, Slayer!” He flung his arms out, crucifixion-style, knocking the demon’s beer into his lap.
The Kznennitz let out a roar, leaping to his feet and toppling his bar stool. Spike just started to giggle, bending over until his forehead was touching the bar. A moment later, he was yanked up by his collar, dangling with his feet several inches off the floor.
“Hey, watch it!” Willy chastised them. “We’re family-friendly now, remember?”
The demon just grunted in response and flung Spike over the bar, shattering bottles as he slid to the floor in a pool of broken glass.
“Ow,” Spike replied, but soon he was scrambling to his feet, somewhat unsteady on the slippery floor. “C’mon!” he challenged the Kznennitz. “Izzat the best you got?” He clambered on top of the bar and launched himself at the demon. They crashed to the floor, breaking a bar stool on the way down.
“Fellas, fellas, let’s take this outside, all right?” Willy fretted. “I got paying customers in here, and no one wants any trouble.”
Spike went flying through the air again, this time sailing through the closed door that led to the street. The demon lumbered after him, ripping away the jagged remnants of the door as he left.
“Uh, thank you?” Willy said, eyes wide.
Out in the alley, Spike laughed, flecks of blood staining his lips. “A’right, ya big oaf, lessee what you got.”
As it turned out, he had rather a lot, and Spike was way off his game. It didn’t matter though, because this was one fight Spike wasn’t aiming to win. Every blow gave him pain to concentrate on, pain to take his mind away from the desperate ache in his chest.
“Yeah, give it me good,” he rasped, throwing out half-hearted punches as the Kznennitz demon pounded him with his meaty fists. “Bet a hairy git like you’s never been in love, have ya?” Spike slurred. “Dunno what it’s like t’ have your heart broken, knowin’ it’s all your own fault.”
The demon threw Spike into the wall, and his head cracked against the brick. Still seeing stars, Spike stumbled forward, punching at the air where he thought the demon should be. A kick to the gut came from about forty-five degrees to the left, and he teetered unsteadily for a moment before falling to his knees.
“Nothin’ you do… could hurt worse ’n her,” he mumbled, just before losing consciousness and slumping to the ground.
It was raining the next day as Buffy walked across town to Giles’ apartment. She wouldn’t have bothered, except Willow had mentioned that he was somewhat concerned by the way she kept disappearing for days on end without notice. She still hadn’t talked to him since she’d left to go after the Polgara with Spike, and although Willow had reported back that she was alive and the mission successful, Giles still seemed eager to see her.
She knocked on his door, soaked to the skin and shivering from the walk over.
“Buffy, good heavens!” he said, ushering her inside. “Didn’t you bring an umbrella?”
“No, I – I guess I forgot,” she said, her voice flat and detached. It hadn’t seemed to matter to her when she’d left the dorm; the rain suited her mood.
Giles disappeared upstairs, and then returned with a soft woolen blanket, which he wrapped around her shoulders. “You foolish girl, you’ll catch cold like that.”
Buffy hissed in pain as he accidentally bumped her wounded arm, and Giles glanced at her curiously.
“Buffy, are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” she insisted, but her tone was half-hearted at best.
Seeing through her protestation, Giles bundled her up in the blanket and led her over to the sofa, sitting beside her. “Tell me what’s wrong,” he instructed her gently.
She stared at him with wide eyes for a moment, and then it all came spilling out. The party and the morning after, her whole investigation, her growing relationship with Spike, the horrible revelations, culminating in the fight with Forrest. She was crying quietly by the end of it, her face buried against her Watcher’s shoulder.
“My poor girl,” he murmured as he held her. “The burden you’ve had to bear.”
“You’re not disappointed in me?” she asked with slight surprise. “No lectures about being a bad Slayer?”
“You are a wonderful Slayer,” he assured her. “The best I’ve ever seen. What happened to you wasn’t your fault.”
“And you’re not mad about the Spike thing?”
Giles sighed. “I’d say that I’m furious with him for taking advantage of you when you were out of sorts, and I should like to stake him for lying to you about his involvement. But quite honestly, Buffy, it seems he’s helped you more than any of us were able to, and for that, I owe him a debt of gratitude.”
“I know,” she said softly, his words mirroring her own feelings. “But I mean… you’re not mad that I got involved with another vampire?”
He gave her a small smile. “It seems it would be rather futile for me to try to prevent it. You cannot control who you fall in love with.”
She opened her mouth to protest that she wasn’t in love with Spike, but she remembered the heartbreak of the past few days, and the words died in her throat.
Spike awoke to a constant dripping on his face, and briefly wondered if he’d stumbled into some sort of Chinese water torture. Before he could admit to himself that he probably deserved that, too, he slowly realized that the dripping was all over, not just on his face, and he was lying in the middle of an alley during a downpour.
His preternatural body clock kicked in, telling him it was well after sunrise, and he jerked himself to his feet as fast as his aching limbs would allow. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view – the cloud cover was thick enough to prevent him from burning up.
Battling against the sensation that his head was about four times its proper size, he slowly made his way out of the alley and back to his crypt, where he could better nurse his hangover. His rain-drenched coat felt like it weighed a hundred pounds, causing his shoulders to slump.
Without realizing where his feet were headed, he found himself going out of his way to pass by Giles’ apartment complex. He hesitated at the entrance to the courtyard, staring longingly at the fountain where he and Buffy had sat not that long ago. Where they’d had their second kiss… and their third, where he’d confessed his feelings for her, and where she’d made him indescribably happy by saying she wanted to be with him.
Bending down, he scooped up a small stone and flung it into the fountain with a frustrated, wordless cry. It landed with a splash, but the ripples were quickly obliterated by the heavy rain hitting the surface of the water.
Choking on his sorrow, Spike turned away from the courtyard, shoving his hands in his duster pockets as he trudged home.
“You understand why this can’t go to trial,” Professor Walsh said, her voice firm yet sympathetic. “Don’t you?”
Buffy swallowed hard, her throat constricting painfully. She shifted in the hard wooden chair, unable to meet the gaze of the woman seated on the other side of the desk. “I, uh…”
“The Initiative is a top secret military operation. We simply cannot allow any mention of it to be brought up in a trial,” she explained. “None of our security footage is admissible as evidence, nor can Agent Miller testify to the experimental drug that was used to… incapacitate you.”
“So, I guess mentioning that the guy who raped me also tried to sic a whole pack of demons on me is out, too, huh?”
“Absolutely,” Walsh agreed, ignoring Buffy’s flat tone of voice. “And without that, it’s merely your word against his. No attorney would bring a case to trial with so little evidence. I’m sorry, but a court-martial just isn’t possible, not without revealing highly classified information.”
“So – so what happens, then?” My rapist just gets off scot-free? she finished bitterly, although she would never be so bold as to say it aloud in front of Professor Walsh.
“Agent Gates will be demoted, of course, and transferred out of the Initiative. He’ll be reassigned to regular combat duty and stationed overseas.”
Buffy held back a scoff, nodding politely instead. “And I just… go on with my life?” she asked, tears welling up, unbidden. “Pretend this never happened?”
“The Initiative would be more than willing to provide any sort of medical care you require,” Walsh said. “Physical or psychological.”
“No, thank you,” she replied tersely. “I’ve seen the Initiative’s definition of ‘medical care’ and I’m not interested.”
Walsh raised an eyebrow. “You mean Hostile 17? Agent Finn informed me of your… relationship.” She said the last word as though it left a bad taste in her mouth.
It didn’t have much better associations for Buffy. “That’s none of your business,” she snapped. “Just remember that I know all of your classified secrets now, and if you ever come near me and mine again, I’m not afraid to tell the world what it is you’re doing down there.”
“Do you honestly think anyone would believe you?”
“Do you really want to find out?”
“I think we’re done here,” Professor Walsh said, folding her arms across her chest.
“I think we are.” Doing her best to conceal her shaky legs, Buffy rose and walked out of the room with as much dignity as she could muster.
Out in the hall, she passed Riley, still moving slowly due to his injuries. “Hey, Buffy,” he said, trying to sound cheerful, though he couldn’t hide the sadness that now clung to him like a second skin.
“Don’t,” she replied, brushing him off as she continued on her way. “Just don’t.”
“Buffy, I’m sorry,” his voice echoed after her.
She paused, and without turning around, she said, “Yeah. Me, too.”
Dr. Marshall had mentioned the group counseling sessions more than once during Buffy’s one-on-ones, but she’d always shied away from the idea, thinking that talking about her rape in front of a group of strangers was the last thing she wanted to do. But after her encounter with Cindy, and everything that had happened over the last few days, Buffy felt more willing to give it a chance.
She glanced one last time at the slip of paper in her hand before heading into one of the campus center’s meeting rooms. She found all the chairs arranged in a circle, but hardly anyone was sitting in them. There were several girls milling around, chatting in small groups, some laughing genially, others talking in hushed, serious tones.
She almost backed out without announcing her arrival, but Cindy turned and spotted her, her face lighting up when she recognized Buffy. “Hey!” she said, coming over to escort Buffy into the room. “I’m so glad you came. Let me introduce you to some folks.”
“Oh, no, that’s –” she started, but Cindy was already rattling off names, and Buffy pasted on a fake smile, shaking their hands though she wouldn’t remember a single person’s name later on.
Slightly overwhelmed, Buffy drifted toward the circle of chairs, taking a seat next to a quiet, unassuming girl whose head was bowed so that her dark blonde hair fell forward, hiding her face. The girl looked about as interested in talking as Buffy was, so she figured it was a pretty safe bet for not making conversation.
She was startled when the girl looked up at her curiously. “You’re B-Buffy, right?” she stammered, having been listening in while Cindy made introductions. “Are you W-Willow’s friend Buffy?”
“Yeah,” she said, a surprised smile forming. “Not too many Buffys on campus, I guess. You know Willow?”
The girl averted her gaze, as though she were embarrassed by something. “W-we do m-m-magic sometimes.” Glancing back at Buffy, she added, “I’m Tara.”
There wasn’t much time for chitchat before the group counseling officially began, and the women took their seats in the circle. Buffy felt a sense of relief when Dr. Marshall joined them, immediately more comfortable that someone she trusted was running the session. Upon spotting her in the group, her counselor gave her a reassuring smile, equally pleased to see her.
Buffy didn’t share much of her own situation, but just sitting and listening to the other students speak made her realize why Rebecca had been encouraging her to attend. The others’ stories managed to drive home the fact that she wasn’t alone, in a way that just hearing the words from her counselor hadn’t.
When the meeting broke up, Buffy turned back to Tara. Just as she’d suspected, the shy girl hadn’t spoken up during the meeting, either. “So, did Willow tell you, y’know… about me?” she asked.
“J-just that you’re f-f-friends,” Tara hurriedly assured her. “Nothing about…” She trailed off, glancing around the room pointedly.
Buffy nodded. “She didn’t mention you, either.”
“She doesn’t know.” Tara trained her eyes on her lap, shifting with discomfort. “W-when I was younger, m-my brother would, um…”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to.”
She glanced up with a grateful smile. “D-do you want to walk back together?”
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
Once Buffy informed Willow of their now-mutual friend, Willow immediately suggested that Tara be invited to “hang with the gang,” which was how they, along with Xander and Anya, ended up at the Bronze that Friday night.
“So, Tara,” Xander said. “You’re a witch, huh?”
She nodded shyly.
“She’s really powerful,” Willow chimed in. “It’s kind of amazing.”
“I’m really not,” Tara protested with an embarrassed smile. “I’ve just been p-practicing longer is all.”
“And you two do spells together?” Xander asked.
“Is it sexy?” Anya blurted out, before they could respond. When Buffy and Xander looked at her strangely, she added, “What? Sometimes it can be sexy.”
With raised eyebrows, all three turned back to the witches, who were both now blushing. “Of course it’s not,” Willow managed, while Tara stammered helplessly.
Buffy leaned over and stage-whispered, “Xander, you’re drooling,” prompting Anya to smack him.
“Hey, how’s the pizza delivery business, Xander?” Willow asked, in a deliberate attempt to change the subject. It turned out to be unnecessary, though, as everyone on the other side of the table had suddenly focused their attention on something behind her. She turned around to look, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “What? What is it?”
“Peroxide menace, straight ahead,” Xander replied, his expression darkening as his eyes followed the vampire, who was making his way through the crowd on the other side of the dance floor.
“I don’t understand,” Tara said, looking at the others, confused. “W-what’s –?”
“Spike,” Willow explained, able to point him out now that she knew what she was looking for. “He’s Buffy’s…” She paused, searching for the right word.
“Ex,” Buffy supplied, her face shuttered to hide her emotions. Tara got the distinct impression there was more to it than that, especially given the other girl’s presence in the support group, but she didn’t push the issue.
“So, what’s the protocol here, Buff?” Xander asked. “You want us to help you kick his ass, or what?”
“No, I – I’ll talk to him.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with that?” Willow pressed. “We can just go somewhere else if you want. That new place that opened near campus –”
“I’m fine, Will.” Cutting off any further discussion, Buffy pushed away from the table and got to her feet. Steeling herself for confrontation, she walked purposefully over to where he was lurking in the shadows on the edge of the crowd. Unlike the last time she’d seen him, he made no attempt to talk to her or get her attention until she was standing in front of him.
“Hi,” he said, ducking his head, but not before she caught sight of the bruises on his face.
“What happened to you?” she asked, concerned despite herself, though she managed to restrain the urge to reach out and tip his chin up to get a better look.
“Nothing. Just a demon.”
“Must have really pissed him off.” She’d seen him take down demons twice his size, so anything that could do that to Spike must have been either really huge or really angry.
“He’s not the only one.” He took a deep breath, but before he could launch into another round of apologies, Buffy help up a hand to stop him.
“Don’t. Not here.”
“Can we go somewhere, then? Please, Buffy, I just need you to hear me out.”
She glanced back at her friends, all of them pretending like they were engaged in conversation while secretly watching her out of the corners of their eyes. “Fine. Come on.”
They cut through the crowd to the back hallway, past the bathrooms to the door that led out into the alley. Once they were outside, Buffy folded her arms protectively across her chest and waited for him to speak.
“I know what I did was wrong,” he began, pacing back and forth in front of her. “Okay? All of it. Shouldn’t have let anything happen between us while you were drugged, shouldn’t have left you there for some prick to find, shouldn’t have lied about it afterwards, shouldn’t have let you find out the way you did. I know that, Buffy. I know I did everything wrong, and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, and I’ll do anything –”
“It was because of you,” Buffy said quietly, so low he almost didn’t hear it over his own desperate pleas.
“Forrest came up there to kill you, because he saw us together. But you were already gone, so instead he…” She broke off, choking back emotion.
Spike visibly deflated at her words, a horrified expression creeping over his face. “Oh, God, Buffy, I never –” He raked a hand through his hair, pacing even more furiously than before. He’d escaped out the window to save his own hide, but it had never occurred to him that someone might go after Buffy instead. “If I’d known, I swear I’d’ve let him stake me before I let anything happen to you.”
“It doesn’t matter now.”
“But you got him, yeah?” he asked, as it finally sunk in that she’d given him a name. “You know who it was, and you got him, right?”
She nodded. She got him, for all the good it had done.
“That’s – that’s good, right? It’s over now,” he said, trying to sound optimistic. “You can get on with your life and all.”
She just turned away from him. She’d thought she was getting on with her life, thought she was starting to heal – with him – only to have it all destroyed by his lie.
“Buffy, please, don’t – don’t walk away.” He rushed to stand in front of her, cupping her cheek and guiding her gaze up to meet his. “I love you.”
Her eyes began to water, and she was taken aback at how much his admission affected her. Her chest tightened painfully, a longing ache so deep it felt as though her insides had been hollowed out.
“Can you forgive me?” he asked softly.
She closed her eyes, her lower lip trembling as she drew in a deep, shuddering breath.
One Month Later
“I have a chip!” the vampire cried, forcing Buffy to skid to a halt just before she pounced on her prey. “Please don’t hurt me!”
Buffy let out a sigh. This was happening more and more lately. “Fine. Hit me.”
She rolled her eyes. “You don’t think I’m just gonna take your word for it, do you? You’ve got a chip? Prove it. Try to hit me.”
The vampire hesitated, and then, realizing she was serious, delivered a punch to the stomach that had them both doubling over in pain.
“Okay, you can go,” Buffy told him, wincing. “But if I catch you doing anything even remotely evil, you’re gonna meet Mr. Pointy, chip or no chip.”
After thanking her profusely, the vamp went on his way, leaving her shaking her head in disbelief. Third one this week, and she still wasn’t used to it.
Then again, a lot of things had changed in the past month. Willow was a lesbian, for one, and Tara was now an official member of the Scooby gang. Buffy was happy to have a new friend – particularly one who understood the healing process she was going through – but more importantly, she was glad to have another witch in the line-up. If what Riley had told her was true, things were about to get very dicey in Sunnydale, and she’d need all the help she could get.
The Initiative had pretty much gone all to hell. Apparently, rumors about her rape and what had happened with Forrest spread through the ranks like wildfire, and several soldiers were appalled at the lack of a trial and the minimal punishment Forrest received. The security cameras, too, had caused a stir, as most soldiers had been completely unaware of the invasion of privacy.
And so the ethical debates began.
During her tenure as Riley’s girlfriend, if Buffy had learned one thing, it was that soldiers didn’t question their superiors. It was how they were trained, Riley had told her, part of the military mindset. But now, she wondered if maybe all that questioning of authority was just simmering under the surface, waiting for that first pinprick of doubt for it all to come bursting forth.
By the time it became known that the demons weren’t the only ones being used as subjects for the Initiative’s experiments, one faction of soldiers was more than ripe for full-out mutiny. Scores of demons were set free in the underground facility, and not all of them were chipped. There were numerous casualties, Professor Walsh among them, and the top secret project known as the Initiative was terminated.
The compound was still open, and a new commander had been brought in, but the experimentation was over. Riley had said it was all strictly defensive operations from here on out, protecting the public from the dangers of the supernatural – which she’d kind of thought was her job, but she didn’t mind the help. Besides, Riley said they were planning to close the Sunnydale branch as soon as all the loose ends were tied up, redistributing their forces to parts of the world that weren’t lucky enough to have a local Slayer.
Of course, the only thing that mattered was that a strange mix of creatures had been released into the Sunnydale demon population – some local, some foreign, having been captured abroad and brought to this facility to be studied – some chipped, and some the victims of far worse kinds of experimentation that had only made them more deadly.
Like, for instance, the eight foot tall, growling, slavering thing that was headed toward her right now.
It didn’t appear to have a head, but it had a mouth in the middle of its chest, where it was gnashing its teeth, long strings of drool hanging from its lips. Buffy figured that’d be a good place to start kicking.
Unfortunately, Headless also had arms ending in razor-sharp claws that sliced furiously at her legs, leaving long tears in her pants and red gashes on her skin. She backed up quickly, circling cautiously as she and the demon sized each other up.
Glancing down at the stake in her hand, she frowned. “I’m gonna need a bigger weapon.”
Headless chose that moment to rush her, so she back-flipped out of its path and managed to land a solid kick to its side. She bent down and ripped the nearest tombstone out of the ground, bludgeoning the demon in the upper torso. That clearly wasn’t where the brain was housed, though, because although the demon stumbled, it was nowhere close to being knocked unconscious.
The demon recovered to sweep her legs out from under her, and she fell hard on her back. The heavy tombstone landed on her chest, knocking the wind out of her. She moaned in pain, but scrambled to her feet as quickly as she could. Fending off the fierce claws, she received another bloody slash across her arm. Then, out of nowhere, she felt a sharp blow to the head.
The momentum spun her around, sent her tumbling, and she could see the ground rushing up to meet her as she landed face-first. Her head was throbbing so hard she thought she might puke, but she forced herself up on her hands and knees, breathing hard. A kick to the side sent her sprawling on her back again, and she looked up to find Headless looming over her, claws extended. A globule of spittle dripped from its mouth and landed on her cheek.
Just then, the demon let out a howl of pain. Mustering up her strength, Buffy propelled herself to the side, rolling out of the way just in time for it to come crashing down where she had been moments before, an axe buried in its back.
Beyond its hulking corpse, Spike appeared out of the darkness.
She had known he was following her, had sensed him off and on during her patrols in the past month, but he’d remained in the shadows, never approaching. She’d thought perhaps she should mind, but she couldn’t bring herself to confront him, to ask him to leave her alone. She just kept remembering their last conversation in the alley, when he’d told her he loved her.
“You all right?” he asked, leaning forward uncertainly, as though he wanted to help her up, but was afraid to close the distance between them.
“Yeah,” she said, getting to her feet on her own. Her head still hurt, but at least the nausea had passed. “I think I’ll be fine.” She hesitated before meeting his gaze. “Thank you.”
“I wasn’t – I mean, I’m not – Was just passing through, an’ I saw –”
“You – you’re bleeding, and your clothes are torn.” He hesitated. “Could get cleaned up back at my crypt if you want.”
She nodded. “Thanks.”
They walked in silence, and when they got to the crypt, Spike busied himself with gathering bandages and a clean change of clothes. He deposited it all on top of the sarcophagus and then stood back, suddenly shy. “Uh, I can, uh…” He pointed back over his shoulder.
“Okay,” Buffy replied, finding his newfound modesty somewhat absurd, but appreciating it nonetheless. She quickly stripped off her clothes while his back was turned, slipping into his t-shirt and jeans, which were baggy and rode low on her hips. “Okay, I’m done.”
Spike turned back to face her. “Let me see your arm.”
She held it out while he cleaned off the blood and then bandaged the cut. Her body trembled at their close proximity, and she found herself, despite her better judgment, longing to touch him. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed him until she’d seen him again.
When he was finished, he let her arm drop back to her side, but didn’t move away, standing close enough that if he tilted his head just a little, he’d be kissing her. But he didn’t kiss her, instead just studying her face intently, while his displayed all of his vulnerability.
She saw the spark of hope in his eyes, and she knew he wanted to read more into this intimate moment than he ought to. She opened her mouth to speak, though she had no idea what she was going to say, but Spike beat her to the punch.
“I waited, every day,” he said, his eyes downcast as his fingers traced the patterns carved in the top of the stone sarcophagus lid. “Waited for you to come here to tell me I’m forgiven. Every day, thinkin’ maybe today’s the day. But here we are, and I just – I need to know, Buffy. Is that day ever coming, or am I just being a fool?”
His soft, doleful words ripped a raw, aching wound in her chest. With one gentle hand, she cupped his face, her thumb brushing across his cheek. “I did… love you,” she said haltingly, finding it hard to speak around the lump in her throat. “Sometimes… I think I still do.”
“But you can’t forgive me,” he finished for her. Resigned, he pulled away from her touch, taking a reluctant step back. “Okay,” he said, trying to cover the hurt. “Won’t bother you anymore. Know when I’m not –”
“I’m sorry, Spike. I wish…” She shook her head. “I just can’t right now.”
“What can I do?” he begged, the shield dropping just as quickly as it had appeared. “Buffy, I’ll do anything. Just tell me what to do to make this right.”
“There’s nothing you can do. Some grand gesture isn’t going to fix this. I just need time.”
But she’d had time, she’d had a month, and she wondered if she wasn’t fooling herself, thinking that she could wait out the hurt. Maybe this was just something she’d never be able to get past. Maybe time didn’t heal all wounds, and by stringing Spike along, she was only giving him false hope for a someday that would never come.
But something inside her just couldn’t let him go.
“It’s a little sad, isn’t it?” Buffy asked, dropping her bookbag on the floor as she took her regular seat. “My last counseling session.”
Dr. Marshall smiled at her. “Look how much progress you’ve made. The first time I saw you, you couldn’t wait to be rid of me.”
Buffy blushed, grinning sheepishly at the memory. “I’ll admit, I was… skeptical at first…”
“That’s one word for it,” Rebecca teased.
“But I think this has really done a lot of good.”
“Well, I’ll still see you at the group sessions, but Buffy, you’ve made a remarkable recovery over the past couple months. I’m very proud of you.”
“Thanks,” Buffy said, ducking her head at the praise.
“So, anything going on that you want to talk about? Or should we get right into the exit interview?”
Buffy bit her lip. “Actually, there is one thing… I saw William the other night.”
Dr. Marshall raised her eyebrows. “You haven’t mentioned him in a long time.”
“I know.” She grabbed a paper clip off the counselor’s desk and began to fiddle with it, twisting it around in her hands. “I was so upset when he hurt me, and I thought… I don’t know. I guess I expected it to go away somehow. I thought I could either forgive him or stop loving him, but I can’t, and seeing him again…” She sighed. “It’s driving me crazy how much I miss him.”
“What do you need in order to be able to forgive him?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I know he’s sorry. I know he’d never do anything like that again.” She glanced down at the paper clip, which was now tied in a knot. “I just… I feel like I’ve lost something, like there’s a piece of me that’s missing, that’s just gone because of him…”
Dr. Marshall pursed her lips, giving Buffy what was now a familiar look of determination. “Then maybe it’s time to get it back.”
Buffy raised her fist, pausing to take a deep breath before she rapped her knuckles against the door. A moment later, a familiar face was peering down at her.
“Riley, hi. I need a favor.”
“Come in,” Riley said, standing back to let her into his room, now mostly barren except for the numerous cardboard boxes scattered across the floor.
“You’re leaving already?” she asked with surprise.
“Yeah, we’re closing down as soon as finals are over. Just packing up the last of it.”
“Wow, I – I didn’t realize it was so soon.”
Riley nodded, his expression solemn, their recent history still weighing on him. “Listen, Buffy, I know I’ve said it before, but I want you to know, I really am sorry… about everything. I wish I’d done a lot of things differently with you.”
“It’s okay,” she replied. “It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. You and I.” She wondered sometimes if things would’ve been different between them, without the rape, but she knew in her heart that if it hadn’t been that, it would’ve been something else that came between them, and they’d still be just another failed attempt at “normal.”
“Maybe I can make it up to you. You said you needed a favor?”
“Yeah.” She rubbed her hands over her face, pushing her hair back. “God, I don’t even know how to say this. Do you, um, do you still have access to the security footage from the Initiative?”
He shook his head. “Most of it’s boxed up in storage. Might even have been shipped out already.”
“Oh,” Buffy said, crestfallen. “Oh, well, it was worth a shot…”
“Wait.” Riley bent down and rummaged through a drawer, unearthing a video tape. “Is this what you’re looking for?”
Her eyes widened. “Is that…?”
“You and Spike. Don’t look at me like that; I haven’t been watching it. All of the footage from the bedrooms was erased from the official record to protect the soldiers’ privacy, but I figured, at some point, you might want to see it, so…”
Buffy gave him a dubious half-smile. “That’s either very sweet or incredibly creepy. Possibly both.”
“Well, it’s all yours,” he replied, handing the tape over.
“Thanks,” she said, as she pulled him into a hug. “You came through when it counted, Riley,” she said softly in his ear. “That’s what I’ll remember.”
“You’re an amazing woman, Buffy,” he told her. “I’m really going to miss you.”
With a sense of apprehension and a strangely voyeuristic feeling, Buffy settled down on the sofa, tucking her legs beneath her. She stared at the remote in her hand, tracing her thumb over the “play” button. She’d waited until her mother was at the gallery, so that she’d be sure to have total privacy to watch one of the most intimate moments of her life.
Despite already hearing Spike’s account of the events, the prospect of watching the tape provoked a confusing jumble of emotions. What if it opened the floodgates to her memories, and she was able to recall not only her time with Spike, but the horrible encounter with Forrest as well? Or what if it wasn’t the way Spike had described it? What if she didn’t like what she saw?
What if she did?
Would she be ready to take that step, to let Spike back into her life? She couldn’t deny how much she’d missed him, but she’d needed time to heal. And still, she needed closure.
Drawing in a deep breath and holding it, she pressed the button and the television screen flickered to life.
He sensed her arrival before she even knocked on the door, her presence vibrating through his body like a tuning fork that had just been struck. He could feel her, hear her, smell her, hesitating on his doorstep, and for a moment, he dared to hope.
He quickly dashed the thought as he strode across the crypt to answer the timid rapping of her knuckles. Too many days he’d hoped, and too many days he’d been disappointed.
Sure enough, when he opened the door, she was standing there with the clothes she’d borrowed from him the other night, freshly washed and neatly folded, tucked under one arm.
“I just… wanted to bring your stuff back,” she said, holding them out to him.
Instead of accepting them from her, he took a step back, nodding in invitation. Part of him was afraid she would thrust the laundry at him and run, but she gamely crossed the threshold, hugging the borrowed clothes to her chest.
As he closed the door behind her, she spun around to face him, expression determined, lips parted as though about to say something. But before she could even get a word out, she seemed to lose her nerve, snapping her mouth shut as she deflated a little. Awkward now, she stared at him in silence, and he stared back, each other waiting for the other to speak.
“So, uh, the Initiative’s moving out soon,” Buffy said finally.
“Yeah?” Spike quirked an eyebrow, though his curiosity was more toward Buffy’s reasons for making small talk, rather than the Initiative itself.
“Yeah, I just talked to Riley, and, uh, he said they were packing up.”
“Heard some rumors along those lines. Demon world’s been buzzing about the soldier boys for weeks now.”
“Things are changing,” she said solemnly.
He tilted his head a bit, with the fleeting thought that perhaps her words encompassed more than just the Initiative. He searched her expression for some deeper meaning, but her face was shuttered.
“Anyway,” she went on, her tone forcibly lighter. “I just came to give you these.” Again, she held out the clothes, and this time Spike took them from her, fingering the fabric thoughtfully for a second before tossing them onto his easy chair. No need to get sentimental about a bleeding t-shirt she’d only worn once. Didn’t even smell like her anymore.
“Thanks,” he said, trying to keep the defeat out of his voice. “Listen… you need help with anything, demons or what have you… you know I’m always willing.”
“I know.” She glanced down at her feet, chewing on her lower lip. “There’s… one more thing…” She looked back up, trembling, and met his eyes. “Today’s the day.”
A moment of confusion flickered across his face, followed closely by disbelief, which quickly faded into awe. “You – you mean that?”
“You… hurt me,” Buffy started, her voice wavering with tears, “in a way I didn’t even realize I could be hurt. And for a long time, I didn’t know if I could ever get past it. I trusted you, more than I’ve ever trusted anyone, and you betrayed me.”
She shook her head, determined to get out what she needed to say. “I know. That’s not – I didn’t come here to – You’ve said everything you could possibly –” She took a deep breath, trying to clear her head and get past the false starts. “The thing is, I wanted to be mad at you. I wanted to just – cut you out of my life. I tried. But you…” She gently cuffed his shoulder, a teary smile on her face. “You made me care about you, you stupid vampire, and I need you. I just –”
She broke down, overcome with sobs as Spike’s arms encircled her and drew her close against his chest. Clinging to his t-shirt, she let out everything she’d been bottling up for the past month, feeling the anger and the confusion and the longing seeping out of her.
“Buffy, love, don’t cry,” Spike consoled her, stroking her hair. “Hate to see you cry.”
When her sobs had quieted to a soft snuffling, she raised her head, swiping the back of her hand across her tear-stained cheeks. “I’m sorry, I’m a mess. I – I wanted you to know that I forgive you, and I miss you, and now that I’ve said it, I really should just –”
Before she could finish her sentence, he’d pulled her back into his arms and was pressing his lips to hers with a month’s worth of pent-up desire. She kissed him back desperately, a fervent need welling up inside her, the intensity of it drowning out all the conflicting feelings she’d been trying to balance. She knew that someday, Spike would hurt her again, and undoubtedly, she would hurt him, too, but all that mattered in that moment was that she loved him.
“…go,” she breathed, when he finally released her.
“Don’t you dare,” he murmured, tangling his hands in her hair, just holding her in place and drinking her in. “Don’t know what I did to deserve this.”
“You didn’t do anything,” Buffy replied, only partly teasing. “Giles told me something once. He said you don’t forgive someone because they deserve it. You forgive them because they need it.” He opened his mouth to speak, but she silenced him with a finger to his lips. “We need it.”
“Wise fellow, your Watcher.”
His head dipped toward hers again, but just before their lips met, she put up a hand between them.
“That doesn’t mean I can forget,” she whispered, her soft breath caressing his cheek. Hurt, Spike took an abrupt step away from her, but Buffy caught him by the arm and drew him back in.
“Trust isn’t something that just happens like that,” she explained, with a snap of her fingers. “It has to be earned. It takes time to build – and I want to, Spike,” she rushed on, seeing his troubled expression. “I want to build that trust with you again.”
“But we can’t just go back to the way it was before,” Spike finished for her.
She shook her head. “But we can start over – no secrets, no lies – and take it one step at a time, see where it leads us.”
He nodded slowly. “I can do that.”
Buffy ducked her head, as though trying to hide the smile creeping across her face. Brushing her hand against his, she let their fingers intertwine, gently lacing them together. As if in response, his other hand closed around hers, rubbing small circles on the inside of her wrist with the pad of his thumb.
She glanced up to find him gazing at her, and once she met his eyes, she couldn’t look away. He inclined his head toward her until their foreheads were almost touching, his lips slightly parted in silent invitation. The moment stretched on as they lingered there, just shy of a kiss, until Buffy closed the distance between them.
“I love you,” she whispered, her mouth just grazing his cheek. “I missed you so much.”
Before Spike could respond, their lips met in a feather-light kiss, and the words caught in his throat. As the kiss deepened, his hands skated over her back and then grasped her shoulders, drawing her close, her body molding to his like pieces of a puzzle locking together.
Much as their separation had pained him, it was worth it to have her come back to him like this. When he’d fallen in love with her, she’d been a broken, fragile victim, but the Buffy who loved him back was well on the road to healing and forgiveness. He had always been hesitant, seeking reassurance from her that he wasn’t overstepping any bounds, but he could see now that was no longer necessary.
Buffy turned her head, letting his lips trail down her throat before pulling away. “We should probably take it slow,” she said reluctantly, fingering one of the buttons on his shirt.
“Right, yeah.” Spike let her go and ran a hand through his hair, trying to quell the lust that threatened to overtake him. “Starting over.”
“One step at a time.” Eyes sparkling, Buffy licked her lips and glanced toward the door of the crypt. “You wanna go kill something?”